What staying at a Chinese-run hostel in Europe is like

Beds in dorm

The first time I was in Europe in Barcelona in 2009, I stayed at a Chinese-run hostel to save on accommodation.

This time in Florence, I did the same since accommodation in Italy isn’t that cheap.

A Chinese-run hostel is unlike the usual international hostel that you see:

  • The business usually doesn’t advertise on hostelbookers or similar sites (but I’ve seen one advertise on AirBnb).
  • The clientele is mainly Chinese-speaking people (as you would expect).
  • The hostel is in an apartment.

In Florence, I stayed in the Chinese-run hostel for 5 nights since it was one of the cheapest option around.

I paid 25 euro for each night  I spent in the dorm and paid an extra 5 euro for dinner. The price includes a Chinese breakfast every morning.

Back in Barcelona, I booked a double room for myself and was given a room large enough for 6. This time in Florence, I wasn’t able to be as generous with my money so I opted for a bed in the dorm.

On the night I went, my dorm which had 6 beds (including one unoccupied upper bunk) only had 4 residents. One of the beds was occupied by the other lady who helps out at the hostel.

However, on the busiest night, there were 8 people sleeping in it (with extra beds stuffed into the large space). The lady who helped out at the hostel had to sleep in the kitchen, along with the owner of the hostel.

Dorm beds in hostel

What does a Chinese-run hostel look like?

First off, it’s usually in an apartment with rooms boarded up to make smaller rooms or in the case of dorm rooms, a large room with a few beds pushed against the wall.

The Florence hostel I stayed at had 3 large rooms with multiple beds and a smaller room with a double bed. One of the large rooms was used as a dorm room while the other 2 were rented out as doubles for couples.

There is a kitchen/dining room where everyone has their breakfast.

If you are lucky, there are more than one toilets/bathroom. If you aren’t lucky (like me in Florence), there is only one bathroom/toilet.

I had to share that one toilet/bathroom with 13 other people on the busiest day in Florence but it wasn’t too bad because everyone was polite about doing their business quickly.

What I like about a Chinese-run hostel is that the guests are less random people: everyone is Chinese (either from China, Taiwan or less likely Malaysia). Since we share a common language, things get friendlier easier.

The dorm owners are usually very generous about travel tips in their cities. The lady in Florence took us out for a walking tour of Florence while the lady in Barcelona had a notebook filled with travel tips.

The people you meet at a Chinese hostel in Europe

The people I’ve met at the hostels were usually from China.

A lot of them were students studying in other parts of Europe, taking time off for a weekend holiday at a nearby European city.

Most of these Chinese kids are spoiled.

Two of the people I met in Florence were studying in Switzerland. They took the train down to Italy the night before and came to Florence to “do some branded goods shopping”. The transport for each of them were 300 euro for a return trip but it wasn’t much of a problem for them.

But I did meet one not spoiled Chinese student who was studying in France and was visiting Florence.

In Florence, I also met a newly wedded couple from Taiwan who were more rational beings. I’m thinking it’s a combination of being Taiwanese and being adults that made them so much more pleasant than university kids. (I sound like a cranky old lady.)

I’ve only stayed at Chinese hostels run by ladies from mainland China. I’ve read about those run by Taiwanese families but not stayed there before.

I never sat down and asked the ladies why they decided to leave their country and come to Europe. And if running a hostel was their ambition when they left home. I feel that it’s too personal to ask such questions, although they do make good stories.

Food at a Chinese hostel in Europe

The Chinese hostels usually provide breakfast. The food is likely mainland Chinese-styled breakfast with buns and noodles as dishes. I did eat a seafood paella once in Barcelona.

For some extra euros, the hostel owners would prepare an extra serving of dinner for you. The food is still Chinese.

In Florence, I got the chance to eat dumplings–something I haven’t seen for a whole month. The filling of the dumpling was odd though, there was glass noodles and some vegetable with soy sauce. (I like dumplings with juicy meat fillings the best).

Chinese dumplings for dinner

Other dishes include stir fry dishes such as this. On the upper right is Chinese-style pork knuckles. They are divine!

Sides to go with porridge

Would I stay in a Chinese-run hostel again?

It would depend on the price and the country.

For example in Athens, there was a Chinese hostel advertising on online forums. However, the price for a dorm bed was exactly what I paid for a single room.

In Rome, I e-mailed a Chinese hostel to ask about their bed prices. The hostel didn’t have any dorm beds left and only had a 60 euro private room. I decided to opt for an AirBnb room instead.

I do like Chinese-run dorm better than international ones because I get anxious interacting with too many people. In a Chinese dorm, the number of people is limited to the rooms they have, which makes it easier to interact since there’s not as many people around.

Greece day 1: No Museum Day in Athens [YQrtw Day 38 May 15]

Location: Athens, Greece

Hello I’m back on my laptop! I was afraid that my netbook would die and leave me after it got wet from a leaky water bottle. I switched it on last night and it shut off when I tried moving it.

I gave it a night to dry and was glad this morning to find that it was OK!

Back to today’s event. After many days of museumseeing in Italy, I was getting quite tired of seeing lovely old things.

Plus, I really didn’t want to do any planning for the day so I rested by setting today as No Museum Day.

Anyway, I will be in Athens for 7 nights (much longer than any cities I’ve been) so I’m sure I’ll get to see lots of the city in the following week.

[My airconditioner is making noises like a lawnmover as I write. Last night, I had to switch it off and rely on the cool night air of end of Spring, or else I would get no sleep.]

Back to the day’s event. So what does No Museum Day mean? It means I get to leave my room late at past 10am–not possible when you need to be in line for a gallery before it’s opening–and I do not need to plan anything.

Of course I still need to tick a few things off my To-Do List, the most important being #1 Get a local SIM; and somewhere down the list is Get a cheap hat that fits my head.

After getting a weekly transport pass in the shape of a small ticket, I started my SIM hunting at Syntagma Square. The square didn’t seem very busy compared to the cities I have been to on this trip. Maybe there weren’t too many tourists around crowding the place.

I walked down the sloppy pedestrian street near Syntagma Square. When I looked at the cafes, it didn’t seem like Greece was in a downturn. I saw a lot of locals sitting at cafes, chatting over coffees. Today is a Wednesday, why are you all outside?

While walking, I passed a bakery, overflowing with bread and pastries. I grabbed a braided bread–which might have been a tsoureki–that was only 70 cents. The bread was big and had lumps of sugar on it, giving me the energy to continue my search for my SIM card.

While walking, I saw some parts of the Acropolis from afar. There was a gated area which had an unguarded door, leading me to think that it is possible to sneak in without paying charges.

Acropolis from afar
Acropolis from afar

Sipping Greek coffees

As I walked down the street, I checked out the menu of one of the cafe. The waiter came out to greet me, and left me with a stunning employee who was the “coffee master”.

The coffee master looked a little like Jason Stackhouse from True Blood. Of course, how can I say no to getting the recommended cappucino freddo which was overpriced by 2 euro? Damn these sneaky businesspeople and people with fairy blood.

The coffee tasted different from the smooth drinks I had in Italy. Its taste reminded me of Turkish coffee but, thankfully, without the coffee grounds.

I took my time with the coffee and read a few chapters on my Kindle. Not running around after museums is really fun.

After the coffee break, I ended up at a tram station. I took the tram to nowhere, deciding to stop when I see a Wind shop to get my SIM.

The tram snaked its way into the residential area. It wasn’t long when I spotted a large Wind shop.

Getting a local SIM in Greece was much easier than Italy. I didn’t have to wait a whole day for activation and there was a promo where I only pay 5 euro for 500MB. That works out awesome for me.

I never figured out which part of Athens I was at but it was a wealthy-looking neighborhood. More people hung out at cafes and the shops were selling shoes that cost more than 50 euro.

It was in this unknown neighborhood that I replenished my sunblock and had a taste of my first Greek frappé (for only 1 euro).

I saw the lady put two spoonfuls each of sugar and coffee powder. She poured in water, beat the cup’s content with a machine and added milk.

The mixture was fun at the beginning. I tasted some of the unmelted sugar and was jolted by the thick caffeine.

Later when the drink was almost gone, the foam and the leftover remained, the coffee turned sour and bitter. I had to toss the thing away.

After more walking aimlessly, I head back to my hotel, stoppined at Carrefour for a roasted chicken to feast in my room.

From 4pm onwards, I retired and did a bit of reading and writing.

Tomorrow, museum seeing will continue. Until then!

Italy day 4: Florence Tuesday market [YQrtw Day 30 May 7]

Florence Tuesday market

Location: Florence, Italy

Florence Tuesday Market

Today was Florence’s Tuesday market day. The hostel Aunty took me, another girl studying in France and the newlywed couple to the market which was just a walk away. (I wouldn’t really call it a short walk but it’s not too long neither.)

It turns out, most weekly markets are quite the same with lines of vendor selling things on makeshift tables.

What’s different about this market and the one back home is that people bring their dogs out. Vendors here that sell porchetta display a WHOLE ROAST PIG. There are also carts selling delicious coffee, serving the dark elixir in double layered plastic cups to prevent customers from burning their fingers.


The road for the market was very long. I managed to buy only a pair of 5 euro shoes and a bracelet which I thought was a necklace.

Aunty and us were separated on our way back from the other end of the market. We decided to feast on the local delicacies while waiting for her.

I bought a porchetta which was served in a jaw-breaking piece of bread. Some parts of the meat wasn’t seasoned well but when I hit the well-seasoned parts, it was heavenly. There were even bits of liver-like parts in my bread. Yum.

Our next stop was a gelatto place across the river.

We passed the US embassy along the way. The building was guarded by Italian officers in a brown-green uniform. They glared at us when we stood outside for too long to admire the river.

Finally we reached the gelato place and had a cheap two-scoop gelato for only 1.50 euro. The previous organic gelato I had in Pisa was 2.50 euro.

1.50 euro gelato in Florence

The Aunty took us down the road and pointed out to interesting places. We passed the Medici bridge and the Ufizzi (where there was a horrible queue).

We took time to admire the fake David’s naked body (there are plenty of naked bodies around, keep your pearls out for lots of clutching).

Then we were at a cafe at the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. The latte macchiato was so tasty! The cup was a larger serving than a cappuccino and was well worth the 1.60 euro. I heard that the desserts are to die for too.

While at the cafe, we used its toilet. The washroom was guarded by a lady and there was a entry fee box where everyone had to drop money before going in. This didn’t stop the line from hold at least 4 persons at any time.

Santa Maria delle Floire

After oohing and aahing at the beautiful exterior of the basilica, we stopped at Bifolli Shop which was packed with gorgeous toiletries. Since I did not have any luggage space, I was torn between a lavendar (my all time favorite plant) or a spice and patchouli (smells great on my skin) perfume.

In the end, spice won out. I am now a proud owner of a 19 euro perfume which I hope can mask my backpacker scent (not that I know if I have any).

On our own

Aunty brought the student back to the hostel, leaving me with the Taiwanese newly wed. They are a very great couple, allowing me to tag along with their shopping.

We checked out many candy shops, leather shops, souvenir shops. We walked from one end of the sights to the other and walked more.

The highlight of all this walking was the Plaza Michealangelo (and the Rose Garden along the way). The lowlight of all the walking was the slope to the plaza.

From the plaza, you can see beautiful Florence. It looks more like a medieval town than the present. I did wish that I could ride on a dragon back to town.

View of Florence from Plaza Michaelangelo

We walked back to the hostel. According to Google Maps, the journey would take us 40 minutes.

We did manage to drag ourselves back, stopping by a supermarket along the way.

At night, we had dumplings for dinner. I’ve been having Chinese food these few days because of where I am staying at.

Italy day 3: Cloudy day in Florence [YQrtw Day 29 May 6]

Florence Cathedral

Location: Pisa, Italy
Location: Florence, Italy

Breakfast at Hotel Moderno was a self-service breakfast bar. The layout was very cute. I gorged on coffee (even this cheap drink is so tasty here) along with a piece of toast slathered with butter.

Breakfast bar at Hotel Mordeno, Pisa

My train to Florence left at 11:11am. It was a non-stop service which meant that it was punctual and very fast. It took 49 minutes to get to the city, in contrast to an hour or so on the normal train.

The owner of the hostel I was going to stay at wasn’t at the station as she promised to. For 5-nights, I will be staying at a Chinese-run hostel 民宿, an accommodation I first discovered in Barcelona. I’ll write a follow of this type of hostel soon.

I called the aunty and she said she will come and pick me up. I waited a while before I saw a Chinese lady waving her hand at me. She immediately started talking about how we should start sightseeing a little before we go back.

I stored my bags with one of her Chinese friends who sell souvenirs opposite the train station. Then we went to a Chinese grocery store where we even used the bathroom.

It turned out that Aunty and her friend wanted to go shopping and I was tagging along. However, they did point out the good eateries and even introduced me to lampredotto (made from the fourth and final stomach of a cow, says Wikipedia).

Yummy cow stomach sandwich--lampredotto

I told them I would go and explore on my own so they can go shopping. For an hour, I circled the Florence Cathedral which was a piece of art from every single angle. From the photos, you can’t tell that the walls are pretty with green borders and flowers but up close, there is so much detail.

Florence Cathedral

While sightseeing, it started drizzling. I hid in the sidewalks of some of the closed shops, admiring the cathedral all the time.

I also popped into a makeup store and bought eyeliner. I have been travelling without eyeliner for almost a month! It’s time I get some clothes for my eyes.

When it was time, the other aunty picked me up. She showed me the way back to the hostel/house after we picked up my luggage. My backpack was so heavy that I felt that the girl from [spoiler!] Shutter was on my shoulders.

I was allowed to pick one of the free beds in the 6-bed dorm. I chose the one on the lower bunk because I like having a roof on top of me.

I met a newlywed Taiwanese couple after my check in. Later, they went shopping while I stayed in the house, drinking Ceylon tea, downloading Rick Steve’s audio guides and finishing my posts.

The dorm also has dinners for those who wish to eat in. Too lazy and cold to head out, I ate the meal. There was Chinese pig trotters (yummy) and a magically yummy bean-sort of stir fry.

Later in the evening, I met the other two Taiwanese girls in my room. One also quit her job but she was only travelling for 40 days in Europe. The other was studying in France for her last semester.

It’s quite nice getting to know people even though I’m some times antisocial.

Italy day 2: Pisa [YQrtw Day 28 May 5]

Leaning tower and friends

Location: Civitavecchia, Italy
Location: Florence, Italy

I took a morning walk in chilly Civitavecchia to warm up before breakfast at the bar behind the B&B. (Turned out the bar was closed today.)

When I found out that the bar was still closed, I headed back to my room and packed everything. The reason I suddenly became so interested in packing was that I wanted to delay going into a local cafe for breakfast. (It’s so scary!)

Anyway, I did visit the local cafe/bar called Bar Europa and ordered a cappucino and a pastry. Go me!

It wasn’t easy going there for breakfast since I am terrified of interacting with people. I had to dare myself to go to the place. “I’ll bet you don’t dare buy breakfast, you chicken!”

Breakfast in Italy

I wandered around aimlessly after breakfast. Thank goodness Civitavecchia has free Wi-Fi on the main street which I used to contact my family.

I did buy a SIM card but there was a BIG problem. Even though I bought my Italian SIM card from Wind yesterday evening, it wasn’t activated in the morning.

It wasn’t until 12 noon and a bit of fiddling by the man who sold me my SIM card that my phone started working. This is the longest I’ve waited in any country for my SIM to work.

Fast forward to after my check out and after my SIM card finally worked, I had Middle Eastern for lunch and went to wait for my train at the station.

Interestingly, my express train was on time. Yesterday’s slow trains to and from Tarquinia were both late by 10 minutes.

The view from the train was beautiful. There were meadows of wild flowers, puffs of sheeps grazing and even a view of the coast. It’s true that Tuscany is beautiful.

At around 3:50pm, we stopped at a station. I checked Google Maps which told me that we have 120km to Pisa. I didn’t think we could cross 120km in 20 minutes but miraculously, we did!

My hotel in Pisa is near the train station. I’m grateful for that because it means that I do not have to carry my heavy backpack (it has gained weight, along with me, after our cruise.)

Being the cheapo tourist that I am, I decided to walk from the hotel to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Thank goodness for Google Maps or I will be very lost while travelling.

The journey from the hotel to the tower was filled with cute old buildings. Almost 1 out of 10 people were walking their dogs. Six out of the 10 seemed to be tourists.

I didn’t turn on Google Maps while walking so I was a bit off course. (If this is the magical “getting lost” that travel pros tell us to do, I’d rather not have that much of it and get to my destination fast.) Being off course meant that my first view of the Leaning Tower was from its back.

I saw the tip of the tower first and giggled. Finally! I’m meeting the famous tower. When I saw the tower, I was surprised that it was bigger than I imagined. Usually, we see a faraway shot of the tower so seeing it being thick at the waist was a surprise.

Leaning Tower of Pisa

The highlight of the area wasn’t the tower but the exhibition in the different buildings. The entrance to the four buildings (excluding going into the tower) is 9 euro but the things you get to see is worth a lot more than that.

There were carvings, frecos, tracings behind frescos, golden wine cups, tapestries, stone coffins, and many many more. The cathedral (which is free) has a most gorgeous interior.

My check list for Pisa was all ticked after the visit. Dinner was gelato and strawberries. I passed by a gelato shop and bought a cone with macademia (yums!) and coffee (hmm…).

Strawberries were on sale at a fair and I bought 3 packs for 5 euros. This was the second night I had strawberries for dinner.

Strawberries of Italy