Stalag Russell Square

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Smart Russell Square hostel is my first hostel of the trip, so I have no idea how it stacks up. I'll just lay out some of my impressions:

Here's what my first room looked like. (I had to change rooms a couple days ago because I'd only booked for 3 nights at first. It just seemed simplest to stick here, so I had to move to another room for my second reservation.) The place has rooms with 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 14, 16, and 24-beds; I have opted for the Cadillac-priced 4-bed version . That means 2 sets of bunk beds, one very tiny sink (not pictured), and one inconveniently located power outlet.

One bunk in my 4-bed room costs £19.99 for weeknights, and £24.97 for weekends. The real barn-like rooms with 24 beds start as low as £7.99 per night.

You get issued two sheets and a pillowcase when you check in, and you return them when you check out. If you're lucky, you get a pillow that's not coated in vinyl.

As you can see, each bunk also has little privacy curtains that you can draw over the opening, which I like very much. This is the only place I found with this feature, and it's one of the reasons I chose it from among the zillions online.

There are 2 large built-in drawers under each set of bunks; they unlock with the same swipe-card that gets you into the dorms. They're big enough that I can put the whole Aeronaut in one, though most people have to leave their bags sitting out, just putting important or expensive stuff in the drawers. (One more reason why I am so cool for traveling with one small bag. Heh heh.) However, you have to pay an extra £1.50 per night to use a locker drawer. This was a surprise to me, since it doesn't seem to be mentioned anywhere on the website. Still, I'm glad they're there, and use mine to full advantage.

The Common Room has a couple of TVs that are usually tuned to music videos or incomprehensible game shows, a pool table, vending machines, some couches, and a bunch of tables and chairs, mostly used for eating at. Right now I am just out of frame to the left of the pool table pictured below. Also, the room is NEVER as empty as in this picture. Right now I can count about 57 people, so it's kind of loud.

The hostel advertises free breakfast which is, technically, true. There's toast you prepare yourself in one of those neat conveyor-belt kind of industrial toasters. You can have your toast with jam or margarine, or jam and margarine. There's also an industrial-sized bin of corn flakes, and a big urn of hot water with tea bags and instant coffee. It's extremely basic, but it's free. I've been supplementing with fruit bought at a local convenience store, and that helps. There's also a communal kitchen where you could prepare actual meals, but I haven't bothered with that. There are enough cheap eats close by that it just hasn't seemed necessary.

The showers are exactly 5 flights of stairs down from my cell, in a room in the basement. It's a bit of an event getting down there, but the facilities are reasonable. The showers (and the taps in all the sinks) have those buttons you push that turn the water on for a preset period of time. In the shower, this is exactly long enough to let the water go from cold through a brief 1.2 second period of comfort, to a temperature that surely must correlate with a label somewhere reading "parboil". They remain on for an additional 6.3 seconds, and then shut off after a total of about 10 seconds of thermally-challenging bathing time. I'm not kidding - that water is HOT. I'm convinced they're trying to make Backpacker Soup in the sub-basement, in a twist on the Sweeney Todd story... "Worst Soup in London".

The first roommates I had were quite nice and friendly, and the ones in the new room were a trio of 18 year-old Aussie girls just here to party. They departed noisily at 5:30 this morning, and I've just inherited a similarly-minded trio of German girls who were busy applying makeup and spandex when I was up there a few minutes ago. They make me feel old, but also profoundly grateful that I'm doing this trip at 40 and not 20.

And that's a snapshot of life in the hostel. Let's just say that though I'm reluctant to leave London, I'm very excited about getting to Kent next week, where I'll be visiting family and staying in a single room at a real B&B!


Robert Hamilton said...


It looks like you had some wonderful adventures and (re-)discovered some great friendships even before you left town. You will need even more kleenex when you see all your friends again when you come back!

Foreign Laundromats: Expensive and not plentiful. Viva the Joys of North American Public Laundries.
Who knew you had to travel the world to appreciate such things back home?

I am glad you got your passport in such a convoluted last minute, middle of the night transaction.
I too have 2 passports (CAN+UK). While in the air I feel like James Bond as I swap identities to take advantage of the 10 second EU customs glance-thru. Love it.

Hostels? I have stayed in a few and they are generally 400% better than when I first stayed in one around 1989. They have some occasional and inherent challenges but meeting other travellers to have fun with is the key. And you can ditch them instantly without offense - it is understood by all that traveller groupings are tentative.

Try to take a day off from being a tourist one day a week. If you don't you may get burned out in a few weeks.

Have fun.

Rob H.

Heather Moore said...

That looks like a nice B&B you will be staying in. Although I admit I don't understand the breakfast. What's Canadian breakfast? ;)

Anonymous said...

Give Daphne a big hug for me!! She might want fish and chips from the shop round the is awesome!! Check out the Clarks store and Walmer and Deal castles and the Time Ball museum you will understand when you see it. There is a great hotel with a pub downstairs that we ate at a couple of times across from the seashore. Nice 20ish lad waiting tables can't remember his name but he was a riot. Say hi from the 3 crazy canadian ladies that were there in Sept!!
You will love Deal it is a beautiful little village.


Karen said...

Just check out photos of the Abbey. Fantastic. Thanks for sharing.

Hope your having an awesome day today. No twitter updates I see. You must be very, very busy. :-0

I'm a bad speller said...

Lord, check out the spelling! Sorry 'bout that. Yeesh. Will you still be my friend?!

Wissler said...

Woah, I guessed it's changed a lot in 2 years..

I stayed there last week, and I hated it. Our lamp was broken, and we had to ask nicely twice in the morning and yell at them once at night to get a new one. The window was unable to close the firt night so I had t sleep with 3 shirts and a jacket and still woke up freezing.
The other group of 7 girls were sleeping in the bottom room and therefore didnt't dare to open the winow so their room was too warm to even breathe in.

We found mold in the showers and under the soap thingyes so a lot of girls refused to shower at all.
The bathrooms were awful and some of us used bathrooms in resturants instead.
In our room there were 4 beds but only two of them had those curtain sheets and locker drawers.

But I guess it was in better shape when you stayed there.

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