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September 14th, 2009:

Why Europe Sucks €. 7: Horrible mattresses

Hostel Life

The beds are no more comfortable than they look.

For the last month I’ve been sleeping on one of those foam IKEA mattresses. You know, the spring-free pads that look so alluring when placed on the sleek, low-profile bed frames in the showroom.   I’ll let you in on a little secret, though: after about five minutes, IKEA mattresses suck. Their hard, unyielding foam and lumpy texture thwart even the most exhausted, medication-aided attempt at sleep. I think it is because they are made from the same recycled material as IKEA’s $20 coffee tables.

But of course, crappy mattresses are not an IKEA phenomenon—they are a European institution.

Don’t believe me? Try traveling around Europe for a few weeks. You’ll spend sleepless nights sprawled across several different types of mattresses. The one thing they will all have in common is that none of them are remotely comfortable.

Here is a quick guide to the different types of mattresses found in Europe:

The IKEA-style mattress: When you see these mattresses in the store they look interesting. The coil-free design is reminiscent of those memory foam pillows they advertize on late-night TV.  But after you spend a night on one of these mattresses, you’ll immediately realize that the inspiration behind their design is not futuristic space foam but rather the hay-stuffed mats that peasants slept on.

The thin spring mattress: These mattresses really have nothing to recommend them. Their narrow and thin design does not even look comfortable for a second. What’s more, the padding on the top is so thin that you can see the outline of every metal coil. I’m not sure who manufactured these horrible mattresses (perhaps they were Soviet surplus), but whoever it was managed to get them into every budget hotel and hostel in Europe. Be careful not to move to fast at night else you get a nasty scrape from one of the barley-covered springs.

The deceptively normal mattress: If you check into a more middle-of-the-road hotel or a Bed and Breakfast you might find yourself welcomed by a deceptively normal looking bed. Normal, that is, until you lay down on it and find that the springs are so shot that you’re actually resting on the bed frame. These mattresses were normal once, but their owners haven’t bothered to replace them since the Second World War. Apparently Europeans think of mattresses as some kind of family heirloom, to be handed down from generation to generation.

Next time you’re traveling in Europe, splurge for the premium American-owned chain hotel. It is the best shot you’ll have at a decent night’s sleep. Otherwise just ask for a second or third blanket at check-in. You’ll need them for extra padding. Oh, and don’t forget to pack extra Aspirin to deal with the back pain.

(Hat tip: Robin R)


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