Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Hostel Night of Hell

I came to Rome with a cold, and wasn't very impressed with the hostel I'd booked. You see, I went to the main building to check in, where someone's at reception 24 hours a day, and turns out my room was in another building just around the corner. But that's common enough, no problem.

So, key and keycard in hand, I get to this other apartment building, go up to the second floor, and inside the unit discover the "common room" (kitchen?) has a fridge, an electric kettle, and a sink that I discovered hiding in a closet. (No soap.) Also, the bathroom door off of this room did not open, and no one was inside. (aka if the bathroom in your dorm room was in use and you really had to go, there was nowhere else to go.)

So I did some grocery shopping under the worst-case-scenario option that there was nowhere to cook. Later on I realized we can call the reception desk from this phone in the old reception area in my building, so I do so and ask "Where is the kitchen?" to the woman who picked up on the other end.

She says it's down on the first floor. (Note: This isn't connected or anything, you leave the apartment, go in the building's stairwell, and enter another apartment.) I had checked the first floor earlier, to see if there were another part of this hostel down there, but all I could see were signs for "Melissa's Guesthouse" on one door (and "Private" signs on the other two).

So I responded, "You mean the door that says 'Melissa's Guesthouse'?"

"Yes, that's it."

What?! Why wouldn't anyone have told me that when I checked in? That's some pretty necessary information, if you ask me—which was completely left out. So I leave the hostel, go downstairs, and enter this other hostel part. It's kind of creepy because when you enter it's just a hallway with various numbered doors (presumably private and dorm rooms). At the end the hallway turns to the left, I follow it all the way to the end, where I finally discover the kitchen. I see a microwave, stove, sink, and fridge. No electric kettle. Cheap plastic dishes. But it was many steps up from the previous "kitchen" I thought I had.

The annoyance now is that you have to carry the food downstairs that you want to use. I took a plastic cup, bowl, and spoon from the kitchen back up to the second floor complex so that I could make tea with the kettle up in my building, and eat cereal out there in the mornings too, without needing to leave the hostel to go downstairs.

So that's our basic setup. From what I can gather, there are only three other rooms here besides my four-bed female dorm. One's right across the hall from my room, and two are off of the common room. The first night was fine. I awoke with a full-on cold, but somehow still managed to shower and make it to a 10am walking tour.

It ended near the Vatican, so I waited in line for about an hour to see the Basilica.

By then it was a bit chilly and would sprinkle on and off, so I was ready to be back in a warm bed. Here's a chilly, sick me, after visiting the Basilica:

I watched a documentary about the Camorra back in my hostel, and the three other girls in my room were nice and calm. Sometime after 10pm I went to sleep.

And then at 3am I awake to shouting.

The shouting is in French—male voices, more than two.

Ugg, dang drunk people. How are they this loud?

A little while later, one of them starts belting a song at full volume. Are you kidding me?

Then at one point, this singing turns into strange wails—incoherent howls. The sound honestly first reminded me of a developmentally disabled person. I can't imagine what could be going on out there. Perhaps they were drunk, but it was clear early on that this wasn't just drunk banter. I've been staying in hostels for years and I had roommates in college—I know what it sounds like to get woken up by drunk people at night.

This was different. One of the voices clearly became aggressive.

The tone and severity of all the shouting were sharp and argumentative.

Now I could hear things being thrown around—it sounded like the common room was getting destroyed. The shouting continued, with severe voices.

"Arrête ! Arrête ! Arrête !" (Stop! Stop! Stop!) one of the voices shouted over and over again, on top of all the others.

But the main voice was upset and the others could not constrain him. He was going berzerk.

Shouting. Wailing. Arguing. Shouting Wailing Arguing.

All of a sudden there are fists pounding on our door.

Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam!

So loud, so loud.

Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam!

He rattles the door knob violently.

What would he do if he breaks in?

Punching. Wailing. Shouting. Aggression. Danger. Not safe, not safe.

Had it been drunk people, you could shout at them to shut up and go to sleep.

But in this case, opening the door was not an option; we were truly scared.

Despite being wide awake due to the noise (and nature of said noise), I'm still a bit drowsy from being awoken at 3am. All I can think is that somebody needs to call the police, these guys are going to hurt someone (or each other).

Then the phone in the old reception area starts ringing off the hook.

Ring ring ring. Shouting. Punching. Wailing. Ring ring ring.

How can we get help? We can't use the phone because that would involve opening our door to go out where they are.

Ring ring ring. Shouting. Punching. Wailing. Ring ring ring.

What can we do, what can we do. I consider pulling out my laptop and sending an urgent email to the hostel's email address.

Ring ring ring, ring ring ring.

I compose the subject line in my head: URGENT - Help! Call Police for Annex Building.

But I'm tired and can't bring myself to pull out the laptop. I check the time on my phone: 4:45 AM!? I've been awake listening to this madness for almost two hours?

Aggressive shouting pierces the air. More objects get thrown around.

This goes on, and on, and on.

Now it's a little quieter, as if they were farther away. It's now when I think to record an audio file on my cell phone. Should have done it earlier—as it's much harder to hear now, but I leave it running for a few minutes.

The final memory I have is when I heard someone knock on their door. A man's voice said something like, "Please be quiet. Go to bed." Was he working at the hostel? Or was it someone else on this floor? Either way, why did they wait so long to say something? After that the French guys quieted down enough for me to eventually fall back asleep.

In my dreams that followed, the police had come and resolved everything. I felt so relieved. In my mind I recounted again and again what had happened. After a few hours of sleep, though, I was so disappointed to discover that had all been a dream.

Sometime after 9:30 I finally got up and talked with two other girls in the room. One had heard the guys go in and slam the elevator door in the hallway for a period of time in the night. She'd also heard them as early as 11, and wasn't sure if they'd then left or stayed in.

One thing was certain: Any retelling of the night's events—in writing or verbally—would not do justice to what we'd heard and experienced. I knew then that any attempt would not paint the full story, the harshness of the shouts, the slushy sound of those wails, the fear we felt—but I would tell it as best as written words can do.

And as the three of us girls were talking, we could hear them—those same French guys—loudly laughing and talking from their room across the hall. Is this real?

I hadn't even brushed my teeth yet, but I put on clothes and shoes, spit out my retainer, and walked over to the main office to talk to whoever was working. I was not going to stay in that room if the guys were booked multiple nights. (Shouldn't they be kicked out anyways?)

When I walked into the reception area, two staff people were talking to someone at the counter. "Yes, I understand. I'm very sorry," said the man with a French accent.

"So you must pay 120 euros for the door" said one of the staff. "Normally it's 150."

"How much?" "One five zero?"

"You pay one twenty."

The staff people told him that this cannot happen again. If it happens again, they'll be kicked out. You and your friends must be calm tonight.

"Okay, okay, yes I understand. We will be calm."

This is the only punishment they were getting?! They were allowed to stay more nights?

"Look, we got emails from people at 3 in the morning, very scared. Do you want to see? I can show you these emails."

The French guy peeked around behind the counter at the computer screen.

Wow, so I hadn't been dreaming—many other people had been awake in their rooms, and thought to do the same thing!

"We're very sorry. Okay, we pay for the door and we are calm."

As soon as the French guy had left, they turned to me. "Sorry for the wait, how can we help you?"

"Actually, I came because of those guys," I said, my voice raspy as my cold had gotten worse with the lack of sleep. And those of you who know me well, know that when I don't get my 8-9 hours of sleep, I can cry ever so easily. So before I even knew it was happening, I was tearing up and my voice was getting shaky as I briefly recounted to them how terrible a night it had been—that we were scared and trapped, and it was much worse than some drunk partying. They had been violent and aggressive (and apparently had broken the bathroom door). "But you said they're staying more nights?" I asked in disbelief, well aware of the answer.

One of the two staff people was the owner, I think, and he was very kind and apologetic. They had never had someone like that stay with them before either. They said they'd reimburse the night and the following night for me (which actually hasn't been done yet...I'll find out tomorrow. Update 2/15: I was reimbursed in cash for just the Thursday night. Better than nothing...), and they'd move me into the main building right away (where someone's working at reception 24/7). If the other girls in my dorm wanted to move as well, they could.

Exhausted (both physically and emotionally) and unshowered, I went back to the other building (where the French guys were still laughing) and packed up everything. When I grabbed my food from the fridge in the common room, I checked out the damage to the bathroom door and snapped a pic.

I wonder what the rest of this place had looked like first thing in the morning.

Back in the main building they had made up the beds right away, so myself and another girl from my previous room got put into the four-bed female dorm in the main building, right behind the reception desk. The kitchen was right across the way from the reception, on the same level. This was good.

As we're unpacking, Ron knocked on the door and asked if either of us wanted a free pass to the Colosseum. The German girl turned it down, saying it was her last day and she was going to spend it at the Vatican. Then he turned to me. "Sure" I said, excited at the turn of events. Apparently some guy had bought a two-day pass the day before and he checked out this morning, so it was still valid today. A ticket costs 12 euros, and I wasn't planning on buying one (especially since I'd seen a colosseum and amphitheater at Pompeii).

My only plans at that point had been so go sit in a park and sketch—a calm, restful day—so I easily changed plans and off I went walking towards the Colosseum (after eating breakfast at the hostel and brushing my teeth). It was a sunny day.

There wasn't too much of a line for people who already had tickets, but I did wait a little. Then I went through security, sending my bag and jackets through a scanner. And finally, the entrance that scans your ticket. I hold the ticket over the scanner. Red light, red light. I try scanning it again, still red. The man working there takes my ticket, scans it and looks at it.

"You already used it," he said.

"What? But it's valid two days," I said.

"Valid two days, one entry," the man said, visibly annoyed, "You already came here yesterday."

Dang. I couldn't argue with that. Although I hadn't actually been here yesterday, the ticket had been used once. So apparently you buy it and can use it once on one of two days. Daaang.

So I turned around and walked back through the lines. Change of plans again! But I rolled with it. Two hours earlier I'd had zero expectation of getting to see the inside of the Colosseum, so I was right back there—though someone had tried to do something nice.

I walked around for an hour or so before making my way back to the hostel to eat lunch from my groceries. I thought I'd be heading back out, but ended up taking a nice nap and stayed at the hostel all evening. A friend from my French course in Montpellier two years ago lives in Rome, and we were meeting up at 8:30 for dinner.

Thus was my hostel night of hell—the worst hostel experience in over ten years of hosteling. I have to emphasize again that this retelling is far from a full picture of what it was like to hear what I heard during those early hours of the morning.

The rest of my stay in Rome has been fine, rather low-key actually, and I've felt safe where I am staying. Lesson learned, I paid a bit more for a nicer hostel in Florence, where I'm heading tomorrow by train!
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