Currently in Chiang Mai, Thailand (06/12/2013) - 31200km cycled

15 Jul 2012

Working at Goodbye Lenin Hostel Zakopane

Posted by Will

I stopped here as a guest and ended up staying on as staff. When I arrived a small notice on the hostel whiteboard read: ‘Help needed! 20 hours work per week in exchange for bed and breakfast’. My legs and head felt tired from three months on the move, the Euro 2012 football championships were kicking off in a matter of days, the mountains seemed beautiful at first sight and the atmosphere fostered by the setting and staff augured well for a good stay. So, I zapped off an email to Stan, the manager, and within 24 hours had managed to secure a job as the fourth member of the Goodbye Lenin team.

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The hostel lies several hundred metres up a steep track surrounded by trees. It is a large wooden lodge, previously a private residence, which is now able to sleep 30 guests comfortably in two dorms downstairs and three private rooms upstairs. There is a common room furnished with two large leather sofas, three comfy armchairs, a surround-sound music system, a Euro-2012-capable TV (when strong winds aren’t fuzzing the signal) and a kettle positioned within shaking distance of a full jar of instant coffee. There is a small kitchen in the entrance hall although it often isn’t used. This is because a core tenet of the Goodbye Lenin philosophy is to have a barbeque every night whatever the weather (we rigged up an umbrella on a large stick in case of showers/thunderstorms). Other than the barbeque, the garden boasts a hammock-swing, a wooden table and benches, a pit-oven (recently dug in an attempt to emulate Ray Mears’ outdoor cooking techniques) and a beautiful view of the Tatra mountains.

The week is divided up into shifts so that at any given time one of the four staff is on duty. That member of staff does everything required during that shift. So I’ve done a wide range of tasks in the hostel. I’ve done the cleaning, reception work, breakfast-monitoring, outdoor maintenance (digging ditches, strimming etc…) and of course I’ve answered guests’ questions and advised the best trails to take. A large part of the job involves constantly being on-hand to socialize with the guests, remember their names, make them feel at home and tailor advice around their circumstances and preferences. Work here has never been stressful but that’s not to say it hasn’t been busy. I’ve found the guests who make it this far off the tourist-trail are relaxed, accepting people to the extent that any lapses in staff competence can be redeemed over a beer and an interest in their travels. Plus, if the hostel is quiet for a few days and all tasks have been completed then work can consist of swinging in the hammock-chair while drinking a beer and chatting.

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My co-members of staff are the main reason I’ve enjoyed myself so much. Let me introduce them. Stan, the manager and supreme overseer of all things hostel, is the in-house expert on town and trails. He keeps everything running smoothly while at the same time managing to humour the wacky ideas for hostel ‘improvements’ (pit-oven, herb garden, air-rifle) tabled by the rest of us. Stan is the one who gave me this job and for that I am extremely grateful. At Goodbye Lenin, Dave is second-in-command, although in his areas of expertise he bows to no one. He is the ultimate barbeque chef and has taught me everything I will ever need to know about grilling animals and vegetables over a fire. Dave epitomises the chilled-out vibe reveberating around the hostel, frequently condemning anything vaguely trying as ‘messing with his zen-thing’. For as long as I’ve known him, he has judged no one, always sees the best in people, can not get angry and is incredibly enthuastic about passing on his skills and knowledge. Everyone has a lot to learn from Dave. Last, but not least, is Aga, the only girl on our team and the person I’ve spent the most time chatting to. We walk the trails together, swing on the hammock together and never get tired talking about how we may have found the perfect summer job. It is no exaggeration to say that Stan, Dave and Aga have made my time here.

The lifestyle of a staff member at Goodbye Lenin couldn’t be much better. We eat incredibly well here with each of us taking a turn to cook on the barbeque every four days. Top meals include: pork and apple burgers with cheese, fried onions, apple sauce, lettuce, tomato and chilli sauce; sausage with an hour and a half slow-cooked potato, onion, cream and parsley mix served with salad; chicken breast with a raspberry-onion sauce, the local smoked sheep’s cheese and kale; colourful pork, courgette and onion shashliks (kebabs). All this is supplemented by 0.5L beers at staff prices (2.50zl = 45p) and occasionally an after-dinner vodka session. Zubrowka Bison Grass vodka is delicious when mixed with apple juice and a pinch of cinammon on top. Much of this consumption has taken place in front of the Euro 2012 football where we took it in turns to cheer for either Poland or England (unfortunately it’s not easy supporting either of those teams).

To counteract the weight-inducing effects of such bountiful eating and drinking there are the mountain trails no more than five minutes from the front door. I have spent the last 5 weeks exploring the trails as far as possible yet still I have been unable to conquer them all. As my photos show, the views are stunning and even though high season is now upon us it is perfectly possible to enjoy a peaceful walk in the woods. I can’t recommend visiting the Polish Tatra Mountains enough. The trails range from gentle strolls to death-defying ridgeline climbs. Anyone keen on hiking must try to visit this place at some point.

It’s time to move on from this little mountain paradise and doing that will not be easy. Soon, I will be back in the world of squalid food, few showers and a tent for shelter. It will be hard not to think about what Dave will be cooking up back at the hostel. It will be hard not to wake up every morning to the half-blurry but always cheery breakfast greetings. It will be hard not to walk the trails and swing with Aga. But there is something about getting back on the bike and into the unknown that holds an irresistable appeal. That is the foggy reason behind leaving, but that is enough for me.

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3 Comments already on “Working at Goodbye Lenin Hostel Zakopane”
  1. 5:19 ampermalink
    15 Jul 2012

    Mark E Martin

    That sounds like an idyllic setting for such a chill experience. Wish I was there and out of this Louisiana heat. Lucky you!

  2. 10:09 ampermalink
    17 Jul 2012

    Saravanan

    great.. it was nice to meet you at GBL! keep going :)

  3. Will

    10:57 ampermalink
    20 Jul 2012

    Will

    Thanks Mark and Saravanan. Mark, I’ve now cycled out of the mountains and am down on the plains of Ukraine – it’s pretty hot! Although still nothing like Louisiana I bet.