Monday, December 12, 2016

When an Old Woman goes Backpacking

I haven't felt as old as I did when I went backpacking in Amsterdam recently.  Amsterdam is an awesome city and I loved it.  Lots to see and do, great restaurants (and coffee houses), fantastic public transport.  A great place to visit.
However, not having the money to blow on luxury accommodation, I decided to stay in a backpackers that was amazingly cheap.  Unbelievably cheap.  Only 21 euros for 3 nights kind of cheap.  It was really cheap.
When I arrived, the fire truck was loading a stretcher through a window across the road.  The taxi driver explained that as the stairs are so steep and narrow, sick people often need help to get to the doctor and that's where the fire brigade comes in.  This should have warned me about what was to come.
I paid the taxi driver and wheeled my suitcase to the entrance of the backpacker.  What I saw made my hair stand on end.  Stairs so steep and so narrow, I thought I was climbing up Angkor Wat in Cambodia!  I looked at my big turquoise suitcase and looked again at the stairs.  There was no way in hell I was going to make it up the stairs with my suitcase.
I looked right and left but there was nobody I could ask for help.  I was just going to have to adjust my big-girl panties and do it myself.  These stairs were not for the sick or inebriated.  I could see why a sick person had to be lifted out the window.
The steps were so narrow only your ball of your foot could fit on them.  Thank goodness I did not take my Crocs on holiday with me.  These stairs are not made for people who wear Crocs.
The stairs were not for peole like me either.
I mentally calculated how many times I would have to navigate the stairs during my stay there and quickly decided that I would limit myself to going down the stairs in the morning and going up the stairs at night.  I would just have to amuse myself during the day.
Taking a deep breath, I managed to glide up the stairs dragging my suitcase behind me, rather like a hippopotamus trying to fly a kite in a cyclone.
I nearly cried with relief when I made it to the top.  The young man in Reception looked at me as if I had just landed from an obscure planet in a distant galaxy.  The young people sitting around the reception area all managed to avoid eye contact.  Some even whispered and pointed in my direction.  It took about ten minutes before I could speak as I was rather out of breath.
I think that I am the oldest person they have ever seen in this backpacker.
Just as I was about to ask for a room on the first floor, the young man in reception smiled sadistically and handed me a key card for a room on the 4th floor.
More steps.  Lots more steps.  Even steeper than the ones I'd already climbed.  ""Bastard," I muttered under my breath.
I felt like Thomas the Tank Engine as I dragged my suitcase up another 3 flights of stairs.  By the time I got to the top I thought I was having a heart attack.  My chest cramped and I struggled to breathe.  I had to sit on my suitcase for ages before I was able to stand.  But I had done it and it was an achievement to be proud of.  I had dragged my suitcase up 4 flights of the steepest stairs I had ever climbed!
I opened the door to the 8 bed dormitory.  Now I have stayed in Backpackers before, had even backpacked through South-East Asia with my kids.  But we always stayed in a family room, not in a dormitory with random people.  Looking around the room, I quickly decided that this was a once in a lifetime experience, something I could tick off a bucket list and never repeat again....ever.  There was no way I was going to climb up onto a top bunk and all the bottom bunks were taken.  Two girls looked like they were packing up, so I sat on my suitcase and read a book on my Kindle while I waited for them to go so I could claim a bottom bunk.  The girls took their time but eventually they left and I lugged my suitcase onto a bottom bunk and then left to explore the city.
After a fun day out, I arrived back, climbed the stairs and waited for my breathing to settle down and normalise before entering the dormitory.  Much to my shock, everybody was asleep.
In the middle of the night I had to use the bathroom, as old women do.  The toilet facility was the smallest, tightest space I had ever encountered in my life!  To sit on the toilet with the door closed, you had to swing your knees to the right.  To wash your hands in the doll-sized washbasin, you could not stand up but had to swivel your body around to the left with your knees still jammed in to the right.  A contortionist would have been proud of me!  Then I realised a horrible, terrible, frightening realisation.  I had not taken my key card with me to the toilet.  I was locked out in the middle of the night, barefoot in below zero temperatures.  After an initial moment of panic, I thought about options.  I could wake up the sleeping strangers to ask them to let me in.  Or, I could make my way downstairs in the dark, barefoot, to the Reception area and pray that there would be someone on duty in the middle of the night.  I was too much of a coward to choose the first option, so I padded downstairs.
Luckily, a young man was on duty.  He gave me a spare key card and I headed back upstairs, waiting the customary ten minutes for my breathing to slow down before opening the room and tiptoeing to my bed.  I spent the rest of the night clutching the key card in case I needed to use the bathroom again.
The next morning young muscular men covered in tattoos walked around in their boxers.  I decided to pretend I was sleeping until they got dressed and left the dorm.  The shower proved to be just as small as the toilet.  There was no place to put a towel or your clean clothes without them getting wet.  I was not going to pad around half-naked like the rest of the youngsters staying there.
Throughout my stay there, everybody ignored me and avoided eye contact.  I truly believe that they had never seen someone as old as me stay there before.  I was definitely out of place and was made to feel so.  This is not something I would repeat again in a hurry, no matter how cheap it was.
Leaving, required manoeuvring my suitcase down four flights of narrow stairs again.  Somehow I made it down without killing myself - quite a miracle!  Young men stepped aside to allow me to pass, never once offering to help.  Maybe they thought if they offered to help me I'd want to come again!

Cindy Vine is a teacher and author living in Cape Town, South Africa.  She is the author of C U @ 8, Not Telling, Defective and Hush Baby.  All Cindy's books are available on Amazon in both Kindle and Paperback format.  www.cindyvine.com

3 comments:

Aya Katz said...

You are certainly brave! What an adventure!

KarinH said...

Well done. And shame on those inconsiderate youngsters for not helping. Amusingly written but I can imagine how intimidating it must have been.

KarinH said...

Well done. And shame on those inconsiderate youngsters for not helping. Amusingly written but I can imagine how intimidating it must have been.