To say that my holidays are researched would be a grand understatement. My investigations are on the level of a CIA operative. We’re talking Jason Bourne, a Harrison Ford or Richard Gere affair. I review pages of reviews, and then analyze (and over-analyze) the reviews. Often, I read other reviews the reviewers have written for context. I interrogate friends, colleagues and web-friends, and then proceed to fire off dozens of questions, drilling down to water temperatures and fluffiness quotients of pillows. Why the blinking? Is there something you’re not telling me? I feel like you’re withholding critical information, etc, etc.
My research is torturous, maddening, riddled with a constant fear that I’ll make the WRONG DECISION. I’ve been known to cancel reservations on a whim and re-engineer itineraries based on trusted counsel, so believe me when I say that planning an itinerary for a three-week European sojourn took MONTHS.
MONTHS, PEOPLE. Let that sink in.
And then AirBNB happened. Scores of my friends have used the service and have sung its praises. Rhapsodized over the easy check-ins, the well-appointed rooms and terrific locations. You’ll save hundreds, they cried. You can cook! In an actual kitchen! Imagine the money you’ll save! Yet all the while I was thinking that this was some sort of trickery, a ploy to dupe and kidnap deal-seekers. I’ve seen Hostel, Taken and Taken 2 (brief aside: the sequel was terrible) more times than I care to admit. Who just rents out their home to a stranger? More importantly, would I book a room and lose an organ?
I’m happy to confirm that all my organs are intact. Not only do I find the concept of AirBNB genius, I had two very exceptional experiences in Paris + Rome. Registration is a cinch, and the communication (email/text), flawless.
Midway through my holiday, I decided to nix the Bordeaux trip. Since the idea of paying $250+/night (if I was lucky) in Paris gave my heart pause, I made a last-minute booking at this lovely apartment in the Bastille district (photos 1-5) (4th Arrondissement) in Paris. From the rapid response to my urgent plea for a booking confirmation, to the spacious, quiet apartment, I was incredibly pleased with my choice. Although I never met my host (I’m told this is fairly common), her boyfriend was kind enough to greet me, show me around the apartment, and was helpful answering any questions I posed (there were many). From fast WIFI to a washer in the apartment (apparently, having a washer in your apartment is quite normal in Europe, while I’d have to sacrifice a spleen to afford one in NY) to great cable, a functioning shower, and a comfortable bed, I was impressed. My only gripe was that once I booked the apartment, the host’s responses to my questions (How do I turn on the heat? The stove?) lagged, and I did experience some noise at night from drunks spilling out of a nearby nightclub.
I’ve written about my fondness for the quirky Hotel Original (photos 6-7), also located in the Bastille district. My love of Bastille is sentimental, the stuff of greeting cards. Over the past ten years I’ve always stayed in Bastille, and I don’t plan on breaking the trend. It’s a given that hotels in Europe tend to have smaller rooms, but this doesn’t bother me as a hotel functions as a place in which to sleep and edit photos and blog posts. Original is perfect as it’s a block from the Metro, and convenient to Place des Vosges and the Marais (two of my beloved spots in Paris). While the staff is attentive and genuinely warm, on two occasions during my trip I encountered issues with my shower and slow WIFI (constantly having to log-in is annoying). Also, I noticed that all of the cheeky accoutrements were missing from the rooms. Each room is themed — from concept to design and accessories — and I enjoyed learning about the origins of the room and leaving with a small souvenir. Minor, but I noticed a difference from my last visit in September.
On advice from a very discerning Brit and former colleague, I decided to book a boutique hotel off of Tablet: Continentale, Florence (photos 8-9). The description was certainly seductive (as were the photos) — a sleek, Ferragamo-designed hotel within walking distance of the Uffizi and Ponte Vecchio. All of this is true: the location was perfection, the service courteous and expedient, but the accommodations were lackluster. On certain days I’d enter the hotel and there would be this smell, and the only word that comes to mind is mold. The rooms, while lovely and sound-proof, offered a leaking shower (This is just how it is, I was told by a non-plussed attendant), extreme temperature shifts (it was always too hot or cold) and a sleeping/living area that was disproportionally smaller than the bathroom. Odd. The breakfast was delicious, albeit expensive, and I found their list of recommended restaurants to be borderline touristy. Great location, great service, mediocre room.
When I arrived in Rome, I had to deal with lost luggage, incompetent Alitalia + Lufthansa representatives, and a heartless United Airlines. I spent a few hundred dollars just to stock up on the essentials + clothes since I all I had were a carry-on and the clothes I’d been wearing during twelve hours of flying. Suffice it to say, my holiday got off to a shaky start. However, that shouldn’t diminish the greatness that is Matteo’s Trevi Fountain/Coliseum (photos 10-12) abode. Matteo was born for AirBNB. He greeted me with a book (WITH DIAGRAMS!) describing the apartment, replete with color photos and detailed instructions. The perfect host, he even left me with fresh fruit, snacks and Italian coffee. I practically burst into tears because he was an AirBNB-fearing, Type-A woman’s dream. Not only was his home historic (the building is over 400 years old), it had all the modern trappings (fast WIFI, washer, terrific shower, cable TV/DVD player with videos). Conveniently located near the Trevi and all the great spots, it was still quiet at night and made for an excellent way to start my holiday (if we forget about the HORROR that is United/Alitalia/Lufthansa).
For those of you who have been following my exploits, Biarritz was nothing short of magical. Typing this in New York, I will remember Biarritz as the place where I composed short stories, read in front of the ocean and finally tiptoed into the dark, wondering where the next few days, months would take me. Biarritz is not the sort of place where you drop your bags and start ticking off landmarks, rather it’s a place where you lay your head down to rest. And Hotel Ocean, Biarritz (photo 13) was the perfect spot for my chrysalis. Located in the city center, Ocean is literally steps from the beach, and if you don’t start quivering over the thought of waking to the ocean, there’s no helping you. The hotel was simple, minimal. It’s not modern by any stretch of the imagination, however, Biarritz is the sort of place that doesn’t have a Starbucks and I was fine with the austerity. The room was comfortable and the staff was incredibly accommodating and kind. Ocean made for a nice respite after a long day of thinking about what I’ve got planned for the rest of my life.
And there you have it. Two countries, many homes not my own, considered. Feel free to drop me any questions about AirBNB or the hotels in the comments!