The first week I stayed in a hostel in Lyon. When starting to plan my trip I happened to read about the Slo Living Hostel on a travel magazine's list of Europe's best hostels, and it looked really nice. The registration desk doubles as a beer and wine bar, which helps you slow down. You could also buy a breakfast buffet of breads, jam, juice and espresso. The communal space for working was ideal as I was working on an article during the first week and still needed to plan out most of my travel arrangements. It was also nice to kick back, meet a few folks and play cards at the end of the day, a.k.a. preview my Golden Girls "me-tirement" fantasy. There was no cheesecake, but there were cheese plates available at the bar.
My main goal of staying at a hostel was to meet travelers. I met a few here and there, but most were only in Lyon for a day or two. I stayed in a room with six beds, and for most of the week, three were occupied by smelly, worn-out travelers. Worn-out and smelly is an even smellier combination than just plain smelly. These dudes wouldn't get out of bed for an entire day, not even to grab a coffee in the morning or lunch in the afternoon. I know this because I usually would come back mid-day to get my laptop and do some work. They'd still be asleep every time. The only reason I knew they were alive is because they all snored loudly. Smelly snorers aren't my ideal travel buddies.
I occasionally saw one out of bed in the common area, hazily staring at the wall or watching a movie on a laptop. Some early evenings they would venture out and bring a piece of food back to the hostel, usually something messy (and smelly) like a fast-food burger or shawarma. This bothered me because the food in Lyon is incredible, and they were missing out on all the local Lyonnaise treats. I understand needing to save money, but come on!
There was an Arab bakery around the corner that I went to almost every morning for a 1 euro pastry (fresh beignets were my favorite) and a 1 euro espresso. (Nerdy writer note: A lot of menus spelled it "expresso," which I found confusing. Someone suggested that maybe it's a higher-caffeine version of espresso, but that's not true. If it was I'd never trust myself to drink one.)
The first night, I was greeted by a lovely Algerian man, Hichem, who insisted on making me a nice dinner when I arrived from NYC > Paris > Lyon in one swoop. The kitchen was only big enough for one person, but I tried to help as much as I could. It was my intro to a very rich milk that's used in a lot of French dishes. Somehow, though Hichem was only there for two days, he knew every single person who walked through the door of the hostel. This guy's definitely a networker and was in town for business. He has since invited me to visit Algeria.
Later, there was a cool Australian, Ryan, who was very excited to eat in Lyon. Finally! Once we decided on dinner plans, he politely announced to the common room that we were going to dinner if anyone wanted to join. No one responded. The language barrier and lack of food enthusiasm both contributed to this silent, awkward moment.
We went to a classic bouchon for a three-course meal, where I had a bizarre dessert of tangy yogurt with scallions. He had the chocolate souffle. Mine was basically onion dip served with bread on the side. Why this would be a good dessert food, I'm not sure. It was not. We got lost on the way there and the way back. He was just as bad with directions as I was.
After Ryan, I didn't make too many more hostel friends, other than occasional friendly chatters in the common area and a few card games. There was one guy who surprised me by speaking one night when I entered the room, which had been a silent space minus constant snoring.
"Are you American?" he asked.
How could he know that? Was it because I locked up all of my stuff except for bath products? Or because I seemed angsty whenever I entered the room? Were my sighs distinctly American?
"Yes, how did you know that?" I replied.
"Because of the Goldfish," he said, gesturing towards the half-crushed bag of Goldfish crackers on my bed. Remains from the dramatic amount of food I brought on the plane.