Skepticism

My experience staying in the Mountain Hostel (and first ever experience in any hostel) was not good. Let me explain.

I felt skeptical about this trip before I even left to study abroad. The idea of spending six hours to travel to this far off place in Gimmelwald, Switzerland, initially put me off.  I wanted to spend as much time as possible at our destination in the short time we had.

But six hours on three trains, two buses and one shaky gondola up the mountains taught me to let life happen.

Surprise and shock

When my group of seven arrived to Lauterbrunnen, the Swiss village at the base of the mountain, a bus ride to our shaking gondola up to Gimmelwald finally finished the trip. The theme from James Bond played on the overhead speakers, as the summit of the mountain played host to the film “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” Immediately I started dancing suavely, moving my shoulders to the short-lived music that only lasted 10 seconds as a distraction from the high altitude.

Just up the gravel hill past the yellow and purple wildflowers, next to the map of the village sat the Mountain Hostel, our place of residence for the night. A beautifully painted wooden sign with flowers similar to those we walked by hung from a tree announcing our arrival. We sat on wooden benches to take in the moment of our long-awaited weekend to Switzerland. A stranger asked me to take a picture of her group and we kindly asked to have our first group picture taken as well.

Walking into the hostel, my eyebrows lifted in surprise. To my left, a brightly-lit community-style bathroom and to my right rocking washing machines full of laundry. The Baylor-green stairs in front of me displayed the word “hello” translated into different languages with carefully painted designs symbolic of the various cultures. The smell of cow manure punched me in the nose.

Step by step, I noticed a lack of conversation throughout the hostel. A climb up the stairs proved the place to be empty of people, including the hostel staff. I quietly strolled through the dining area, filled with wooden benches lacquered to a bright shine. A sign pinned to the wooden paneling on the walls just above a large booth read “No phones, pretend it’s 1993 and talk to each other.” Taking the message to heart, I tried to limit my technology time and enjoy the scenery.

Hiking, Daisies and Chocolate

Check-in didn’t open until 4:30 p.m., so my fellow travelers and I decided to explore. A hike through the village gave us time to be grateful for the amazing opportunity to travel. We walked past numerous treasures, including some friendly goats announcing their presence with the bells around their necks. A further downhill walk allowed us to meet a lonely cow, eating casually in the light green pasture. Daisies collected and placed behind our ears, we ventured further down the gravel pathway and I decided to head up a steep hill to stop hiking before I fell victim to exhaustion.

Fifteen cruel minutes later up the slippery gravel slope, I made it to the mini summit of the Mountain Hostel. Sitting on another wooden bench, I took out my golden yellow Moleskine journal and started to write my observations of the piece of Heaven that our group traveled to. I looked to the hostel for writing inspiration and saw that the name of the Mountain Hostel stood out in white letters against the rich brown wood, faded from the sun after many years.

I looked to the mountains and instantly thought of chocolate. Maybe I craved the sweet delicacy in a place known for its milky confectionary, but somehow the mountains themselves reminded me of one of my favorite foods. The dark chocolate of the mountain clashed with the white cream snow and clouds. Craving some food, I stepped inside the hostel to see if anyone had arrived to check people in.

Hostel, not Hostile

Inspecting the lobby area, I saw an antique piano sitting alone in the corner, surrounded by backpacks people had dropped off before starting their Swiss adventures. The instrument had seen the test of time, and I wanted to show it some love. I played one key, heard the delay in the sound and smiled softly. People began to congregate in the common area, turning on the tiny television to watch a World Cup game.

I stepped into the kitchen and found flies. On our arrival, flies followed us everywhere and curiosity made me wonder about the annoying phenomenon. Baskets sat on a metal shelf just above another metal table that served as counter space for cooking, each labeled with a name, date and bed number.

Check-in opened and I stepped inside. A young hipster-looking guy stood behind a wooden bar stocked with drinks, hiking trail maps and brochures describing local activities. One feature of interest sat proudly on display, a red and white cow statue with a sticky note taped to its belly, reading “This type of cow tipping is fun.”

Right in front of me, a woman just a few years older than me checked in, and when the hipster-looking guy saw me he invited me to check in as well. The guy introduced himself as Joel, and he quickly blasted me with information about the hostel, kitchen and room rules, and check out process for tomorrow. After I received my bed number, leaving confused about what my bed number meant, I climbed the spiral staircase leading to the girls’ room.

I entered the wooden door with glass paneling to find the room filled with travelers getting ready for a hike. Bunk beds bare save for a top sheet and a pillow, I found my number 25 bunk right next to the door, right above the bunk of the woman I met downstairs. Taking the opportunity to meet more people, I introduced myself to her. Her name was Sarah, a nurse practitioner at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Impressed by her profession, I quietly explained that I’m studying abroad in Budapest for journalism and traveled to Gimmelwald for the weekend.

Dinner and a Welcome Back

My friends arrived back to the hostel, sweaty and tired from the hike we had taken earlier. Offering water to my weary friends, I ushered them into the lobby to meet Joel at reception to check in. We made a game plan to meet in 30 minutes to eat fondue for dinner.

I took the time to explore more oddities of the hostel. At the end of the second-floor corridor a door with glass streamed in the sun, inviting me to open the door and discover what it offered. I uncovered a wooden balcony, covered in scribbles from past travelers, leaving their mark on the historic hostel. A small rectangle on a door perpendicular to the one I entered said “Jeff’s Lodge.” I peeled my eye wide open to see if I could see through the thin gap in the door, finding a dusty storage unit.

Along with my new friend Sarah, I met our group downstairs to eat fondue at a restaurant up the mountain. One glass of rosé wine and a bowl of melted cheese with bread cubes later and I felt full and sleepy, ready to crawl into my bare bed. Briskly walking back to the gondola, I decided six francs was worth the trip back to the hostel versus a 40-minute walk through winding trails in the growing cold.

The hostel welcomed us back, offering us to make free hot cocoa in the kitchen. The tables filled with American travelers sharing stories of their explorations in Gimmelwald. Laughter spread like wildfire, and I felt like I returned home after a long and tiring semester. I grasped my mug of chocolate goodness feeling warm and content.

Once I finished my cocoa, I washed my cup according to the kitchen etiquette, climbed the spiral staircase and prepared for bed. I grabbed my toiletries, pajamas and one Franc coin to pay for my shower. The lobby still lively with loud travelers, I finished cleaning up, quietly toed back into my room and slept with a smile on my face.

Coffee, Couch and Classic songs

Breakfast was the first thing on my mind when I woke up early the next morning. After freshening up in the bathroom, I headed down to breakfast, using the communal plates and silverware to serve myself food. Bread, Nutella (an essential breakfast food), salami and cheese quickly filled me up. In need for coffee, I combined a scoop of hot cocoa powder with black coffee.

Five out of seven in our group wanted to hike another path before taking off to parasail. Reagan and I decided to stay in the hostel by chilling on the couches outside with my oversized sweatshirt and light music playing on Spotify. Reagan began strumming a guitar and singing classic songs. I felt so at peace.

A Big Cycle

I went back inside and started taking pictures of the hostel, and Joel noticed me snapping away with my camera. He asked me if I was a photographer and I said sort of, jokingly. He told me that the hostel needed some good photographs for its website. I perked up, ready to offer pictures to show the world my work. But sadly he said I would have to meet with the owner the next day, and I deflated. I told him that I was leaving that day.

“That’s usually the case,” Joel said. “People usually come one night and meet friends someplace in Europe and recommend that they come here. It’s a big cycle.”

I asked him if people ever stayed longer than one night, and his response stunned me.

“I once checked in a guy that stayed 99 days here. I came 20 times myself before the owner said, ‘Hey, do you want to work here?’ and I’m like, ‘um yes!’”

Astounded by his story, I thought that the Mountain Hostel was the perfect place to spend three months. Having access to a kitchen, laundry rooms, comfortable beds, and stunning views embodied the idea of the hostel, to explore and connect with the surroundings while making new connections.

After talking a bit I said goodbye to Joel. My group needed to leave to catch the gondola for their paragliding excursion and he needed to clean the rooms.

A Needed Getaway

I needed to take the weekend away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Usually I thrive off the rush of a busy city, but constant exploration of Budapest and other European cities on the weekends quickly exhausted me. Jetting off to Switzerland may have been expensive and time consuming, but it replenished my energy.

One more walk around the hostel reminded me that I wanted to write a story about my night in Switzerland.

So yes, my hostel experience wasn’t good.

It was truly amazing.