Barcelona is the first city I’ve ever visited outside of my country, so going back there is always a special event for me. Everytime I’ve went there I’ve met vibrant, fascinating people, and this time was no exception. I was fortunate enough to have the chance to sit down for a cup of nice warm tea and a good chat with Luis – the manager at the Gracia City Hostel.
Luis is a Rastaman from Mexico. He’s also worked in several other places in Spain before he settled down in Barcelona, falling in love with the city’s artistic character. He plays in his own band (he promised to send us a CD, but still hasn’t, ntz ntz), he’s a vegan, and all around a very cool, interesting guy. Here are the most interesting parts of the chat I had with him.
How did you settle down in Barcelona?
I came to Barcelona because life brought me to Barcelona. I started traveling in Switzerland, and then London, and then I went to Mallorca. I worked in a club, raised some money, and then travelled to Barcelona – I loved it the first time I came here. The parties, the artists in the streets… I just wanted to come and live here!
Clearly you made a good decision! I love this artsy city as well – it’s just fantastic! What about the hostel – how did you come to manage it?
It’s been 5 years since I came here – and I’ve worked in clubs, in a Mexican restaurant, as a waiter, in construction, many things… and finally I came to work in the hostel, initially like a worker, and then I was promoted. It’s not a big hostel, but it’s a big responsibility, lots of things to take care of, but I like it. I wanted a challenge, because I was a little bored.
This is definitely not your average job… what’s a work day like in your life?
Now I am still living in the hostel, but I will move out in a few days. First thing I check to see if everything is alright, and then I go to the reception, talk to our guests, see if they are happy, if they slept well, if there’s anything wrong.
Is it hard sometimes, like if you have a bad day or you’re tired, to take care of everything and have a positive impact?
No, not really. When you are in the reception, you are the face and the customer doesn’t want to hear the full of your problems – and he’s right. It’s not hard for me because I don’t stress, and I try to learn from everything, and separate the good things from the bad. It’s more difficult for me because sometimes I am tired, and the people, they see this right away.
So tell us a bit about your staff – I noticed they’re international.
Yes, now we have 2 Russian girls, one from Slovenia, the cleaning man is Catalan, because we need one local… so there’s a big difference in culture.
Is it full time, part time employees, how do you manage the staff?
Most of them are students, some doing internships. Sometimes they don’t want this responsibility, but hey, I put this responsibility on them, especially when I have to leave, because hey – I have my life too. We work together and help each other. You make mistakes, it’s not a problem, everyone makes mistakes. It’s important not to repeat them.
Hey, that’s a really good story. I think this is what separates the hostel from other forms of accomodation, right? This kind of getting along on common sense… I don’t think it would ever happen in a hotel.
Yeah, that’s right.
So what do you think makes hostels different than hotels or resorts ?
The people working there [hotels]… they are soldiers. Hello, bam-bam-bam, goodbye. There’s not a lot of interaction. When the people go to a hostel, they want to have a home in the room. Some hostels are also big, and they don’t have this atmosphere. But here [Gracia City Hostel] and other small hostels, we try to have a very friendly family hostel. When the people come here, they meet each other and us, and I really like this thing. The people get happy, they talk and they have fun. This is what we try to do here, create that atmosphere.
Well, I think you managed to do that.
Thanks! It’s not always like this. I notice that every month, for a few days, the atmosphere is strange. The vibes are strange, there are some people who don’t like to talk too much, or they complain a lot… strange day, different vibes. Some people just want to have a place to sleep, and that’s perfectly fine too.
What clients are the most difficult for you?
The Russians [laughs a lot]. Usually, the people who want other type of accommodations. They usually go to the hotel, they see the cheaper price for the hostel, and they come here. But they don’t read what the hostel is – when you book a hostel, you should read: usually, shared bathroom, mixed dorms, all this.
So usually people coming to a hostel for the first time?
Yes, exactly. People come and say “There’s not a shower in my room”. Well, what did you book, man? But most of the time, people who are coming for the first time have a great experience, they’re always saying “Wow, what a great thing, I loved this experience, and blabla” [laughs again].
Is it a lot of Spanish people, or just international tourists that come to you?
Mmm, recently, for 1-2 years, it’s a lot more people from Spain. Before, they didn’t travel a lot, and if they did, they stayed at a hotel or something, but now, they start to come here more and more.
Is it younger or older people?
Usually young, but we also get older people. Like one time, we had a group of 7 old women. Old, old women, man, 60-70 maybe 80 years; and they don’t want to sleep in a mixed dorm. They come to me saying “There’s a man in my room!” – so I told them “But you booked a mixed dorm!”, “But I don’t want to sleep with a man in my room!”. [laughs]
It’s not about the age – the hostel is a place for people with young spirits. It doesn’t matter if you’re old, if your spirit is young! We had some old Polish people, traveling all of Spain on bikes – not speaking Spanish, not speaking English.
Wow, that’s really amazing!
Yes, they really knew how to enjoy life; sometimes the communication is just with the hands.
Would you say that Barcelona is a hostel friendly city?
Phew, now, yes it is, my friend. But one year ago, there were only few hostels. Now, people see that a lot of tourists come, so many hostels open – and many fake hostels too.
Fake hostels, what do you mean?
They trick people to book something, they look for it, but the place doesn’t exist. Or they book one thing, and they go to an apartment with some bunk beds, there is no reception, you go to another apartment to find the people, it’s not like it says on the website… it’s very strange.
Wow, I didn’t really know about that! It sounds like a really big problem; how can people protect themselves from such scams – how do you know if it’s a phantom hostel?
I think it’s pretty difficult to know in advance.
Maybe look on some reviews on the internet?
The thing is, these places, they have reviews.
Yep. Barcelona is a fake review city! A lot of people do this – hostels, hotels. There are people who work especially in this [writing fake reviews].
Gee, that’s definitely not something I was expecting to hear. But this is part of why we developed Travel Hostel – we want to write good, accurate reviews. We’re not the best, and we don’t have so much experience as other travel writers who’ve been doing this for 20 years or something, but we write honest reviews [and information], which people can rely on – so thank you for this opportunity [to review Gracia City Hostel].
No man, thank you! It’s really good you’re doing this.
[Ok, I’ll admit, we had a hi-five moment after this one]
The good news is, that many hostels in Barcelona are going to close – only the good ones are going to stay. The hostels which have all the things good, and prepared, they gonna stay. The other hostels, they gonna be closed – a big inspection is coming. We had lots of problems passing the initial inspections, we had to work for 2 years to get the license! Just in February [2 months before] we finished the work, but it’s worth it. Now there’s a big difference, and everything is falling into place.
I know there’s a lot of work behind the scenes at a hostel – and most people don’t see this, they just see the end result. Do you sometimes feel like they’re not appreciating the work enough?
Maybe a little bit. As I said, we try to make a real home thing. This means that if you use something from our kitchen, you have to clean it. If you make a mess, you have to clean it. Some people are not used to this, they want to be tourists and see as much as possible without working but… help us a little bit man! This is how it works, just clean the things you use – it’s only 2 minutes!
Ok, what were your best and worst experiences as a hostel manager?
My favorite experience is when people are happy – when they take a part of the hostel back home, and when they leave something from themselves in the hostel.
Oh, one week ago, a group of 40 (!) children stayed with us. They were very nice, it was their first time at a hostel – and when they left, they were crying! This was the best feeling for me.
The worst experience is when people steal things. When I hear that… I’m like “Ooooohh maaaan” 🙁 I give the report and the camera footage to the police, but that is the best I can do. But thanks to our videos, we caught 3 thieves out of 4.
That really sucks. Do people really do this? Like the guests, do they steal sometimes?
Very rarely… but sometimes they do. I advise people to use the locker at all times. But these people who steal, they don’t have souls – they’re like rats. They’re never gonna be happy, even if they have lots of things – they don’t really have nothing.
That’s a really interesting way of looking at it – and a really positive one I think.
Yep. When you are at a hostel, you are like a psychologist. You ensure the people have a good time, you try to help them when they have a bad time, you need to always be with them and listen to them.
When I travel to some place, I always try to look it up as much as possible and see what I can do and see… but when I get there, there are always things which pop up, things which I only find out after I’m there. Like in Barcelona, nobody told me about horchata [a drink from a palm tree]. It’s only in Spain (at least I haven’t seen it anywhere else), and nobody told me about it. What are some things like this in Barcelona, some hidden gems?
In Barcelona there are so many local concerts – and it’s not very touristic, even though it’s really good. For example, every Tuesday there’s a reggae jam session – locals love it, but the tourists, they don’t know about it. Also, the beaches; the best beaches are outside the city! Barceloneta is full of tourists, the sand is not real (it’s from construction rock), but the beaches outside the Barcelona are much better – my favorite is Waikiki beach. For the food, it’s the churros [a sausage-like Spanish doughnut]. Oh, and the typical streets – the small streets, the typical neighborhoods… I think this is pretty much it.
But how can you find about the concerts? They’re not in touristic guides.
You have to ask the locals. The locals know these things, you ask them – you can find lots of cool stuff like this.
That’s really good insight, man. If I knew this the first time I visited … phew! So, how much would you estimate the average 7 day trip to Barcelona?
Hmm… almost 300 euros ($400) if you don’t want to party. If you want to party… it’s expensive here. But you can get a beer here even for 1 euro, from the men in the streets.
What about you, where do you like to go on vacation?
Uhm, wherever life takes me. I go where I feel that I can go, you know? Last time, I went to Morocco in February… and I don’t know where I’ll go next time. I just decide in the last minute, and this is good for me. The desert, the dunes… was fantastic for me. I am a simple man, I don’t need much.
That’s the hostel way of life, in a way.
Yep, that’s all you need. A good bed to sleep, a bathroom, a safe place for your things, now WiFi, and if you have a kitchen, that’s all you need. For the other things, you do the rest.
Anything else you’d like to share with us?
Mmm, just one thing: people in the hostel business are passionate people, usually with a very good heart. We are psychologists, and we try to help people – if you travel a lot, you need somebody to talk and share experience, good or bad. You need to open your heart, and we are here to help you do that – sometimes we do it good, sometimes maybe not so good, but we always try.
I love this idea! Awesome approach!
Again, many thanks to Luis and the rest of the staff at Gracia City Hostel, which were really awesome while we stayed there. Stay tuned for a hostel review soon!