Wednesday, August 18, 2010

In praise of hostels

I'm out here on a lovely deck overlooking trees and a small meadow, enjoying my morning coffee as the sun slowly rises, twinkling through dew-kissed leaves. Bees lazily check out the rose-of-Sharon next to the deck, and move on, not finding any blossoms open yet. The chirps of insects and birds intertwine and the air is still cool.

As pleasant as the morning is, my thoughts return to last night's dinner: spinach-and-ricotta-stuffed ravioli and a large salad of heirloom tomatoes, fresh oregano and marjoram, avocado, and butter lettuce, dressed with red wine vinegar and sunflower oil seasoned with paprika, salt and pepper.

I wish I could recommend the restaurant where we dined so simply yet well, but it was no restaurant. We ate in.

And for me, that is the beauty of a hostel: So many options, for a reasonable price. That is why I became a life member of  HI-USA (formerly AYH) many years ago, although sometimes years pass between visits.

Some offer great chances to meet people from all over the world; some are in beautiful spots; some require you to spend early mornings doing chores.

The Harpers Ferry hostel is one of the better ones, with two "family" rooms (for $40 per night for members) with coded locks, a well-appointed kitchen that only lacks sharp knives, an herb garden and selection of dried herbs in the kitchen, and large bathroom/showers segregated by sex. They have lockers available for those in the dorm rooms. The hostel is on a flat area on a hillside, with plenty of parking and room for campers ($10 for adults, less for groups and youth) as well. It has picnic tables, grills and a fire ring for cooler evenings. A nice big supermarket (where we bought the frozen raviolis, lettuce and avocado) is a few miles away in the town of Brunswick. The hostel store keeps a supply of organic canned soups, top ramen, frozen pizzas and ice cream bars for sale; and there's a fridge with free food as well. This hostel also comes with another perk: Free make-your-own pancakes from 7-10 a.m., with raisins and chocolate chips to sprinkle in the batter, and plenty of syrup and soft margarine on the table.

During the summer, it stays open all day, a real convenience for Appalachian Trail hikers who can't time their arrival to precisely 4 p.m. The only chores required are to wash and put away your dishes, and to strip your bed and put the linens and towels in a hamper on your way out.

The guests were about evenly split between youth and older guests; only two, young women from Germany, were backpackers who stopped for a comfortable night with showers.

On the map above (click on it to see it at its full size), the hostel is just south of the junction of Keep Tryst and Sandy Hook Road; you can either drive to the Visitor Center and take a shuttle to the old town of Harpers Ferry (1 on the map) and other sites, or you can walk to the town via the C&O canal path, which has a pedestrian crossing into the town over the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers.

For more information on the hostel, click HERE. For more information on Harpers Ferry, click HERE.

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