We just had a beautiful weekend, the weather was perfect, the kids were in the sprinkler for more hours than they were doing anything else, and though the grass is still soggy it has that ‘lived in’ look that lets you know that fun was had here. I had an old friend from my Austria days visiting, a woman I met one of my first days during my second stint in that beautiful castle on a hill. She was one of those people that when we met, we clicked instantly. We have been close ever since. She is from Southern Ontario as well, which helps when connecting in a foreign country. We had many adventures together, but as we walked around Toronto on Saturday night, it was one particular adventure that had us giggling for the longest time. It’s a story e often rehash when we get together…
It starts with both of us facing a busy Christmas season at work, and both of us needing time away from our tiny town, feeling the freedom of choice that only a city can offer. We loved our small town, but at times, it’s good to see new faces, to hear the hustle and bustle and let’s be honest, it’s good to be somewhere new. So, we set out on a weekend adventure to Innsbruck. That feeling, the feeling of freedom that came to us as we boarded our train was one that I can’t quite define. Knowing that at 5am the next day I would still be sleeping in my warm bed, rather than climbing a mountain to get to work on time, or hitchhiking if I was late, was extraordinary! Knowing that there was an English movie theater we could go to if we chose, or a pub, or shops… it was bliss.
We got to our hostel and had a choice. We could stay in the ‘hostel’ section of the hostel and have a curfew, or we could stay in the student housing section and not have a curfew. We were wide awake, filled with the energy that only a city can bring, and that city had so many choices for us that we didn’t want time to restrict us so we chose the student side. They gave us our key, told us how to enter the building through the back door and off we went.
Turns out that by 10 our energy was lagging. All those 5am wakes were taking a tole and we decided that we should head back to the hostel and see if there was anything happening in the lounge, then head to bed early so we could stay up the next night after a good rest. We went to our room, dropped our coats and bags, then headed down to the ‘hostel side’ to see what was happening.
Let me briefly describe this: There is an automatic door between the hostel side and the student side, when you go through the door you are in the entry way and there are two more automatic doors, one heading to the street and one heading into the hostel.
As we entered the lounge on the hostel side there was only person there, an Aussie that I still know today. We played cards and chatted about life, and made plans to all take in an English movie the following day before he finally said that he was tired and left us to continue our card game. Not long after he left we decided we could easily play cards in our room and we should head up there. We left the lounge and crossed to the automatic doors leading out the main door of the hostel and into the hall leading to the automatic doors to the student side.
It was here that we discovered a problem of mammoth proportions. It seems that the hostel worker, who had not seen us enter had locked all the doors. Including the side that led to our room. The automatic door could not be budged. No worries, there were surely doors, we had a key, it wasn’t a big problem.
We walked to every floor, every door was locked, we tried every window but the only open ones were way high at the ceiling and opened ‘in’ rather than ‘out’ so I couldn’t even climb up there and attempt a squeeze through. We looked at each other and laughed. Were we seriously locked in a hostel? Our own hostel? Did this happen to people?
Yes… I can assure you that it does indeed happen to people. Now, one thing you should be reminded of, is that we had left our things in our room. All we had was a deck of cards, no coats, no sweaters, and it was cold in that main room. We went to the desk (also locked) and attempted to find a number for emergencies, but we found none. Finally we found a phone booth, but it required change and our purses were in our room. Finally, in a desperate need for sleep and warmth we did the only thing we could think of to do, we called the only number that doesn’t require change at a phone booth… we called Austria’s equivalent to 911. When she asked what the emergency was and we told her that we were locked INSIDE our hostel she kindly explained that this was NOT an emergency and we should call either the manager or the local police. My friend, who was handling this call, explained that we didn’t have change for the phone booth to call the police and we had no idea where the number for the manager was. She again kindly explained this number was for emergencies only. Then she hung up. My friend and I couldn’t help but laugh… this was truly the silliest thing that had ever happened to us.
We set up camp near the door, hoping to see some people come through the student side that could let us in… we waited and waited, getting colder and colder… and then in the darkness we saw something that made embarrasement send us into fits of giggles… we saw the red lights of two police cars that were coming to a screaming halt at the doors of our hostel. We stood up, ready to face the music of calling 911 for a non-emergency. As the cops got out of the car, hands on holsters we could feel the burn of red fill our cheeks. This was truly beginning to turn into a night to remember.
The cops approached, and when they got to the door and attempted to open it and found it locked we found ourselves having to scream through the thick glass to be heard. (Keep in mind here that this is not an English speaking country. The door was not our only barrier in this situation). We managed to explain, and be heard what had happened. We showed them the keys we had, but explained that doors were locked from the inside and that the keys didn’t work from that lock. The cops decided to circle the building to try and find a window they could use to get our keys. We finally found one on the ground floor, but to throw our key through would be difficult since the window was high and as I mentioned, it opened at an angle facing in. We threw them up and after about 50 missed attempts we managed to get those key into the hands of our saviours. However, when they went through the locked door to the student side they only found that the automatic door was still a barrier and our key didn’t work on that door. They stood there pondering what to do, we stood there with them, pondering what our night was going to look like.
Finally, in a flash of brilliance I asked him if I could push the fire alarm door. He smiled at me with the patience and benevolence of a man who was NOT freezing to death and said simply that we couldn’t do that because it would bring the fire department and the fine for that would be HUGE. Then, his eyes lit up and he said ‘I can shoot the door, just back up a little!’ I looked at him with shock… you can shoot the door with people inside but you can’t pull the fire alarm??? What country is this?? He turned and discussed it with his older partner who thankfully squashed the idea. (men and guns!!).
Just as we were about to give up, and as my friend and I began to imagine the manager finding our frozen bodies at the door when she came to work the next morning the cops got a call through the dispatch. It seems that there were others working on our peril, and they had managed to discover the name and phone number of the manager. Though annoyed to be called in the middle of the night by the police about two ‘stupid tourists’ he agreed to make the trip across town to open the doors for us. Relief set in and we began to say our goodbyes to the cops who had so kindly helped us. Then we realized that they had our keys, so we make our way back to the open window and after about 20 attempts keys came flying down at me. I grabbed them up… the cold must have affected the brains of those kind policemen too because when I opened my hand I found that I held not my room key, but the key to the police cruiser standing at the curb. The cop and I looked at each other, both realizing at the same time the mistake, and we both had no choice but to laugh at this comedy of errors. His keys, unlike mine were big, there must have been twenty keys on that ring, mine only held one key. There was no way we would be able to fit these new keys through the window. We tried, we really did. Throw after throw they came flying back at me as if to revel in my failure.
We all set in to wait for the manager to arrive (did I mention that the manager lives on the other side of the city?). They went to the cruiser and got some food, yummy looking food, and they stood at the window chatting with us and eating their food, finding it quite funny that our mouths were watering with their every bite.
In all, the entire episode took about 2 hours to resolve, the manager came in, he was disgruntled and annoyed, the cops seemed jovial and happy to have ‘saved the day’. My friend and I were frozen but happy to say goodnight to the police and crawl into our warm beds for some sleep.
There is something special about memories like these, adventures unasked for, things that happen along the way that make great stories, that bring people closer together and build lasting friendships. Life really is just like being locked in a hostel in a foreign country… we need a savior to get out. Sometimes we need to call in the troops and ask for help, and when the craziness of life smacks you in the face and you are staring at the mirror of your own absurd situation, sometimes the only thing to do is laugh. Some of the best stories come out the mishaps on the road.