It may sound like an exaggeration to say that the Apple Hostel in St. Petersburg saved my trip at this point, but in a way it did.
After spending the previous month in a homestay on the outskirts of St. Petersburg, I was feeling a bit socially isolated and my morale was lagging. I desperately needed a boost. In hopes of meeting other travelers and experiencing more of the city, I booked three nights at the Apple Hostel and planned to spend the next two nights couch surfing before heading on to Novgorod.
I chose the Apple Hostel in part because of its prime location just a block off of Nevskiy Prospekt and in part because it was a smaller hostel that seemed cozy – and had plenty of amenities like free laundry and free wi-fi.
I was not disappointed.
The hostel is definitely small – but in a very cozy, everyone-here-is-family way. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the hostel seems to attract outgoing, interesting, independent travelers who are open to meeting new people – which I did not find at my hostels in Finland and Estonia.
I met Stewart from New Zealand who was driving a van through Russia and Eastern Europe; Ari from Brazil who is practically my travel twin, also wanting to visit random places like Tuva and Kamchatka and all of the ‘Stans; Carolina from Brazil who is also gluten-free; Tomer from Israel who had practically moved into the hostel and is heading to Georgia next; Jessica from San Diego but living in Madrid; even Dustin, an art teacher from my hometown of Chicago.
I went to the ballet with two girls from Ireland and a group of us went to watch the bridges open over the Neva River. I spent several hours just hanging out in the common area, drinking tea and sharing stories.
I laughed so hard in the midst of one conversation, I fell off my chair.
But beyond the great atmosphere, the service that Irina and Alla and the rest of the Apple Hostel staff provided was incredible – far above and beyond what I expected. It started when I checked in and Irina gave me a full run down on sights to see, restaurants and grocery stores in the area and how to get around. Then she offered me the free use of the printer so I could print my Trans Siberian tickets (my hostel in Tallinn charged 1 Euro per page!). Later that evening, as I chatted with Roman about my plans for the rest of Russia, he quickly pulled up videos about the Ural Mountains and started explaining some of what I might see.
The next day, I returned from sightseeing with a broken zipper on my shoulder bag. I showed it to Irina, asking if there was a place nearby where I could get it fixed. To my surprise, she summoned Alla, who tried to fix it herself. When we realized it required a more professional hand, Alla accompanied me to a repair shop and even returned to pick up the fixed bag when it was ready because I had tickets to the ballet.
Of course, what topped it all was Irina’s and Alla’s assistance in retrieving my lost ATM card.
If you have been following my journey, you know that within hours of checking in to the Apple Hostel, I lost my debit card in an ATM machine. I returned to the hostel feeling deflated and stressed, but not really expecting the staff to do much about it. I mentioned it casually to Irina and she was more than sympathetic – she said someone could help me call the bank to try to get the card back. And then she offered me chocolate (and anyone who knows me, knows that I believe chocolate makes almost anything better).
On Friday, Alla tried to call the bank first with no success. But Irina would not accept that and she persisted until the bank agreed to return my card. I am 100% certain that I would still be without my ATM card if it was not for Irina’s persistence. It may sound like hyperbole, but I really am forever grateful.
By the time I departed St. Petersburg on Monday morning, I was sad to be leaving the hostel, but I was feeling good about my trip again. I was ecstatic and relieved to have my ATM card back. And I was feeling fun and social and not quite so isolated anymore.
I had my groove back.
So I am writing this as a big public thank you to the wonderful staff at the Apple Hostel and the amazing fellow travelers I met there. You made a huge difference at this stage of my trip and I hope we will cross paths again some day!