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Story Time: Life is Smelly

A hungover Andrew hanging out in my bunk, because he couldn't bear to make the climb.

"I think I could endure just about anything as long as I have my own bathroom," I said as I got ready to shower in the ensuite our Airbnb room featured in Bristol. A beat. Then, "That could have come out of my mother's mouth."

We'd just come from a hostel in Oxford whose bathrooms were not nearly the worst we'd seen, but were a long walk through several sets of fire doors from our 12-bed dorm room, and the dorm room door had a 6-digit code that you had to unlock every time you got up to pee in the night, which for me can be quite frequently depending on how much water (read: beer) I'd had just before bed. We were now in a "shared" Airbnb--something we've been doing more and more frequently to save a few bucks--where you have your own bedroom but not the whole apartment to yourselves. This one in Bristol was very pleasant and quiet; just us and the owner/resident of the apartment who was very friendly and eager to make our stay comfortable. (Our room had a king-sized memory foam mattress, and 2 pillows each, and the BEST comforter I think we've ever slept under. And an ensuite bathroom.) 

But speaking of my mother's words, on our last phone chat, she called me out for omitting some of the less pretty, less fun details of our experiences in our recent blog posts. I didn't do this intentionally; I just got distracted by describing the fun things to see and do! But it's true that 50% of this trip has been really cool sights and meeting new people and trying great food, and the other 50% is really gross and smelly and inconvenient and kind of weird. 

So to balance things out, here's a little story about Bucharest. 

Back when we hadn't ventured farther east than Sukosan, Croatia, we'd made plans to spend three weeks in Romania's capitol. We enjoy being able to spend a while in one place; moving around frequently is exhausting, and it's so much better to soak it all in when you have time. However, half a dozen people we talked to between Split, Sarajevo, Belgrade, and Timisoara told us that was too long in Bucharest, and there are other, cooler places around, so last-minute we modified our plans to add Brasov to the itinerary and shorten our Bucharest time. We canceled the Airbnb we'd booked, which was going to be a little far outside of town anyway, and looked for one that worked for our new dates. 

We found a listing that looked bigger, more comfortable, was closer to the center of town, AND was cheaper than our previous booking! This seemed like a good omen. However, it wasn't available until the last week we were in town. Oh well, we decided we'd split our time in Bucharest between this Airbnb on our own and a hostel. This would save money and help us be social. So we booked the nights leading up to the Airbnb in a hostel right in the heart of Old Town. All of these changes happened at the same time as our plans for Brasov, and didn't take terribly long to sort out. 

So we rolled into Bucharest after a restful week in Brasov, gritting our teeth for another hostel stay but overall in decent spirits. At first it was slightly confusing to find the hostel itself, because it turns out there are two sister hostels that operate fairly intertwined; we thought we'd booked beds at Pura Vida, but were shown to a room in Little Bucharest down the street. This honestly didn't matter. The room we were given had windows with a view of the town and the shining copper rooftops, and we were shown our bunk beds. I automatically get the bottom bunk every time, because I get up to pee in the night. We settled in, already noting how the metal frames of the bunks creaked loudly as I sat down to take off my heavy boots. 

The street our hostel was on

(We always have to be hasty when we go from travel-mode to settled-in-mode in hostels, because at this stage in the trip both of our boots are pretty nasty inside. We always wear our heaviest boots when in transit, of course, because they would be terrible to try to shove into our already maxed-out packs. So we pull off our boots, and shove them far under the bed before too much smell escapes, and then peel off our sweaty socks to be hidden deep into our drawstring laundry sacks. It's always at this point that I notice my shoes and socks aren't the only things that smell, which is disheartening when there isn't an accessible washing machine.)  

Over the next 24 hours, we had the joy of discovering all the little ways that Little Bucharest Old Town Hostel ticked...or didn't. I will say this: the staff were lovely. They were friendly and funny, and I'm pretty sure they were all doing their best. But some things can only be fixed by the highest-up, and here, they weren't. I already mentioned the creaky beds, but "creaky" sounds a little more mild than it was. Thanks to the plastic-y waterproof protective mattress cover that came in direct contact with the metal slats of the bedframe, every time Andrew shifted in the top bunk, it sounded like the walls were collapsing around me. (The bottom bunk isn't always so glamorous after all!) The bathroom--gender neutral and shared with the whole floor of something like 4 dorms--had two functioning toilet stalls, but neither lock really worked. And even when the bathroom was cleaned thoroughly and like clockwork every day, nobody's cleaning schedule can battle the onslaught of too many usually-drunk hostelers. We're talking pee on the toilet seats, unidentified sticky floors, beard trimmings in all the sinks, and always the faint smell of vomit. There were 4 showers in our floor's bathroom. We were told they sometimes got hot water, but they never did when either Andrew or I tried to use them. One's shower head was so broken, the water just basically trickled back down the hose without spraying anywhere else. One's drain was so clogged the floor nearly flooded within about a minute of me running the water. One had mysterious yellow stains that may or may not have been permanent. None ever got hot.

So the showering situation wasn't great. The kitchen wasn't terribly impressive, either. It seemed that folks were doing their best to clean up after themselves, but with such high traffic, that's not always easy. The microwave seemed to be out of order. Every single chair around the tables was broken, and the chair cushions questionably stained. Honestly, it was like college. 

We slept terribly. The music from all the bars and clubs on our street bumped until about 7 or 8 in the morning, and were then only quiet until about noon. We learned quickly that most people were just staying out until morning, and then sleeping during the quiet hours of the day. We tried this once, but we're not actually in college anymore, and there might not be anything worse than a brutal hangover when you're in a bunk bed with a dozen dorm mates and an unfortunate bathroom and no shower. 

Dion, new friend and staff member, getting ready for his 2pm sleep

"Only four nights," we told ourselves. Then, "Just three more nights." "Two more." We could do it. "Last night." We laid in my bottom bunk before we went to brush our teeth, dreaming of our Airbnb that was coming next. 

"I can't wait for our own bathroom," I sighed. "And a working shower. I'm going to take a hot shower and shave my legs and everything."

"And our own kitchen," Andrew said. "We'll cook and meal plan and no one will steal our food."

"Just one more night."

The next morning, we excitedly got all packed up. Andrew pulled up the Airbnb listing before we checked out, to see if we could check in right away or if we needed to store our bags here for the day. He looked at his phone. His jaw dropped. 

"We misremembered the dates, Jill," he said. "Our Airbnb starts TOMORROW." He double-checked our hostel booking. We had indeed booked and paid for one more night. I couldn't believe it. It wasn't over yet. 

Then, "Ohhhhh nooooo." He studied the Airbnb booking even closer. "Jill. We messed up. It's not a private Airbnb, it's a private room in a 4-bedroom apartment. And there's only one shared bathroom."

I collapsed on what was apparently still my creaky bunk bed for one more night, in despair. I was nearly broken. (This was about the time the news came that Notre Dame was on fire. As deep Paris-lovers, with plans to show my family around the city this summer, we did not receive the news well.) 

It took some time that day to grieve our losses. It's hard to let go of a dream. But we've grown on this trip; we can be resilient now. We'd have our own bedroom, and that is worth a lot. We looked at the pictures again to get excited, and it did look nice. There was a balcony. We made the most of our second Last Night. (Though my hair was really, truly, depressingly gross.)

Finally, though it seemed it would never happen, our Airbnb check-in day came. I talked about a hot shower all morning. Our bags were already mostly packed, and our host told us we could check in right away. The walk was actually just around the corner, which was handy, because we'd made plans with the people at the hostel for the evening. Our room was giant and light and the bed was very nice, and it seemed like the other occupants of the place were out. Our host was friendly and showed us around. 

"Oh, but just so you know, the water for the whole building is shut off for the next two hours."

Handsome Monk coffee shop right by our new Airbnb.

Well, that was inconvenient, but we could make it two hours. We went to the coffee shop next door to use the toilet and have a croissant while we waited. When we returned, the water was back on. The hot water tank above the toilet showed the little temperature gage as "hot." SHOWER TIME. We gathered our toiletries and towels and danced our way to the bathroom. We turned on the water. We figured it would take a little time to heat up, that happens. But we didn't think it would take this long. It was taking a long time. Minutes passed. It wasn't heating up. 

We stood in the bathroom, naked and shivering, our eyes wide and desperate. Why wasn't the water heating up? What had we done to deserve this?

It was probably the saddest sight you'd have ever seen as we dejectedly put our clothes back on our smelly bodies to call our Airbnb host. He told us he'd be by to show us what to do, sorry he'd forgotten to mention. When he did make it over, he explained that the water heater had just sprung a leak last night, and there was an appointment to fix it later that day, so they'd just shut it off in the meantime. We could use the shower like normal, no problem, if we just turned the valve on when we wanted the hot water. We'd simply have to ignore the leak, and then shut the valve back off when we were done. Hope was restored. 

What he meant by "leak" was actually that the water heater, sitting right above the toilet, just spewed water when the valve was turned. Water was literally spraying everywhere, and immediately made a puddle on the floor. The space was clearly designed for this eventuality, as there was a drain in the floor and the walls were waterproof, and at this point in our lives we frankly couldn't care about anything anymore--so we shrugged and hopped in. The water was hot, we washed our hair, and I finally shaved my legs in celebration. 

The Universe wasn't quite done humbling us yet, however. When we shut off the shower and went to pick up our clean, fluffy towels, we realized our mistake. We'd set our towels on top of the washing machine, as it was within reach of the shower, but the machine had been running the whole time. At some point it started shaking so hard in its spin cycle that it shook our towels right off. Onto the floor. Onto the floor that was completely flooded with the broken water heater's river of leaking water. 

So there we stood, wet and shivering in that stupid bathroom, comfort thwarted yet again. Our towels were heavy and sopping and had to be wrung out in the bathtub and even then they produced a steady stream. We shared a hand towel to get as much of the water off as we could before dressing and padding quietly to our room, leaving wet footprints through the house as we went. We decided the best thing to do now was take a nap. 

Later that night, we did meet up with the hostel crew. Dion from Amsterdam took a look at me and said with great surprise, "Wow Jillian, you look nice." I had literally done nothing more than take a shower, so that didn't speak well of how I'd been looking at Little Bucharest. 

But things have looked up since then. The water heater got fixed, and we had several uneventful and successful showers at that Airbnb. The bed was nice and it was much quieter. The kitchen was functioning... enough. After our stay there, we flew to England to stay with my family in Colchester, and their beautiful and comfortable and operational family home felt almost too good to be true. Our hostel in Oxford wasn't too bad, and came with free breakfast. Our shared Airbnb in Bristol has felt like a luxury. 

But the ironic thing? As I've been writing this from our king sized bed in Bristol, a crack was discovered on the floor of our ensuite shower. 

- J

Andrew edits my blog post in our Bristol Airbnb.


  1. I have to agree with you about Bucharest. At Pura Vida we did have hot water, although the room was pretty smelly. Luckily I had only one roommate, but the room got warm quite quickly.

    1. You win some, you lose some. We still had a great time, but it's been absolutely comical how many less-than-functioning bathrooms we've encountered while traveling! I'm glad you had hot water!


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