Obsessed with Lodgings in Italy

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I don’t know why I get this way, but now that I know we are going to Italy, I am obsessed with finding just the right places to stay at just the right prices. I know. We have five months! Maybe I am a little crazy when it comes to travel, especially with my niece or nephew, but I want to make sure everything is perfect, I don’t break the bank, and we don’t miss out on a great place to stay because I was disorganized.

As I have mentioned, I prefer Airbnb because we can get two bedrooms (teens need their privacy and alone time), a lounging space, and a kitchen for about the same price I would pay for a single hotel room.

Here’s how I search:

  1. Just as in buying real estate, I go for location, location, location. The first thing I do is research neighborhoods. I am not that picky since every area as something to offer and it will all be exciting and new to me. I prefer to be a bit off the beaten track in a neighborhood where real people live. That’s another benefit of Airbnb. It does mean that it takes a little longer to get to the top tourist sites, but that is a trade I gladly make.
  2. Price. To trick myself into not getting big eyes, I put this filter on immediately. I don’t want to know what I can have for $300 a night, because I am not going to be able to have it. Make sure you look at the total and not the per night price. People set all kinds of cleaning and service fees that can make one place look cheaper up front, but really be more expensive.
  3. Amenities. We need WiFi. Sorry, but this is the modern world, we don’t speak the language, and we are leaving loved ones home. Plus, how would I post the blog? We also want a well-equipped kitchen. I don’t need to eat three meals a day in restaurants. Sometimes you just want to bring a sandwich with you. Then, I think about specifics. I want air conditioning in case of an Italian heat wave. Convenience of public transport is also key since I am almost certain I will not rent a car no matter how enticing driving the narrow, winding roads of Italy seems. Check the list of amenities! I saw one where a visitor said the oven wasn’t working. The owner replied that he should have checked the listing more carefully because the oven was not included in the price although it was pictured. What? Also, make sure the price includes linens and towels, unless you are bringing your own.
  4. Reviews. Yes I read them, using Steven’s rules. Throw out the gushiest and the worst and see what’s left. There’s always one complainer, but if many people mention that the bed was lumpy, it probably is.
  5. Check the specifics. What are the check-in and check-out times? Are they flexible if you have flights that don’t coincide? What is the
  6. Agonize, search a dozen times, make a decision and forget about all the other places you looked at. Let’s face it: We’re going to have a great time whether we stay a few blocks to the east or west, or even 20 minutes by bus. Everything is an adventure when I travel.

 

Random Thoughts From Utah (and Vegas)

This is a bit of a rant, but so be it. If there’s one thing that really bugs me, and I am a pretty laid-back guy, it is the old bait-and-switch. Tell me up front and I’m fine; sneak in different conditions after I’ve bought, and I’m not fine. This happened when we checked into New York New York. I had booked what I thought was a room with a king bed. When we arrived, the woman at the reception desk said, “Oh no, you get whatever we have and we only have rooms with two queen beds.” We could have upgraded for $30, but why should we have to. Then I looked online and saw that they list the king room and the queen room separately and you can book either one. Frustrating.NYNYrooms

We also had an issue with our AirBnB. Again, tell me the rules up front and I can decide if I want to follow them or go elsewhere. The day we were checking into the place, Sue got an email asking us to strip the bed, put all the dishes in the dishwasher and turn it on, put the towels in the hamper, and take out the garbage. OK, but you’re charging us a $52 cleaning fee. The silliest was that in the rules of the house, it said, “No shoes in the house.” Fine, but we had to walk into the condo in our shoes in order to see the rule book. Later, we asked our real estate agent, the Marvelous Mrs. Megan Ahleen, and she gave us a reasonable explanation: The soil is a very fine, red sand and it gets on everything. Somehow, it managed to get under my shoes and socks during our hike. The place itself was perfectly comfortable, with a few nitpicks I won’t bother to enumerate here.

IMG_20190819_203941447.jpgThe best feature of the condo was that we could walk to the end of the road where there was open land and watch a gorgeous sunset.

One thing we were looking forward to was a visit to Hash House A Go Go. The Chicago outpost of this Indiana chain closed. They say they serve “twisted farm food.” I don’t know about that, but I do know they serve is enormous portions. Sue had a vegetable skillet plate that came with two eggs and tons of veggies smothering crispy fried potatoes and just in case that wasn’t enough food, a biscuit. I had the “downsized” burger , so named because it only has one patty the size of my forearm. My favorite part was getting to use the 55+ (he means old man–next step, early bird special) discount. Woo hoo!

 

The “Joy” of Booking Travel

We are all set to go to St. George. We spent this week searching airfares, hotels in Las Vegas, AirBnB’s in St. George, and rental cars. It always ends up being more complicated than it should be and there are way too many permutations that can’t be searched at once. Our plan is to fly to Las Vegas on Saturday, stay overnight, then drive to St. George in the morning. We will look around St. George from Sunday to Wednesday and then fly home from Las Vegas on Wednesday evening.

We started on the big search sites like Orbitz and Travelocity. The nice things about them is that we can search for a package of airfare, hotel, and car. The drawbacks: We could not exclude the basic economy flights from the search and so any pricing required us to separately search for airfare and add back any additional costs if the site allowed us to “upgrade” to regular economy. (I am sure Sue will use a blog post at some point to rant about the injustice of the multi-economy pricing model, but we will leave that for another time. You know it.) I will confine my whine to say that the option to upgrade–if available at all–is usually buried somewhere towards the end of the booking.

We also searched the airline websites, which also offer packages and while we are able to book the right airfare, the hotel booking option is limited–at least on American (and United as far as I could tell) –to a hotel in the city where you are flying and for the entire time you are there. Not what we are looking for, so strike two. We were able to book the flights and then a separate booking on the airline site for the hotel (which got us extra miles!), but it is the same price as booking the hotel from the hotel site. Both of those exclude the mandatory resort fee from the price of the room. I don’t mind if they exclude the costs of options that we may not use (breakfast, internet, parking, etc.) from the listed price of the room. I might not want those extras and so I shouldn’t have to pay for them. But the “resort fee” is mandatory so I don’t have any option but to pay it. Seems like that should be part of the room fee. What next? Mandatory check-in fee? Or perhaps an elevator use tax? Please, just add $35 to the price of the room and just be done with it.

Parking is another issue. Since we need a car, we will have to park at the hotel for one night. I thought it might be a better idea to pick up the car Sunday morning–one fewer day of rental and not paying for the parking would be offset by the cost of two taxi/Uber/Lyft rides from/to the airport. The taxi/Uber/Lyft ride would be $10 each way. When I searched the cars, it is somewhat counter-intuitively $10 less expensive to rent the car on Saturday rather than on Sunday. No idea why. Perhaps there is a sin tax for renting on Sunday, although not likely as it is Las Vegas and if they were going to tax sin, renting a car on Sunday would have to be pretty far down the list. Either way, we have now booked it for Saturday and will pay the $15 to park.

We booked an AirBnB in St. George and I have the same sort of issue with their pricing. he place was listed at about $70 per night but the total was about $350. Last time I checked, and I realize I have been out of school for a long time (although he is allegedly an accountant) 4 nights@$70 per night should be about $280 (for those of you following along with your calculators do this: press the 4, press the * key press the 7 and then press the 0. Now press Enter; you should see 280. I don’t mind paying $350 per 4 nights, but that is NOT $70 per night.

So, here is my recap for this post. 1. Please let me search your site for what I want. 2. Give me a break and allow me to define what options I want/don’t want up front 3. Please organize the prices in a reasonable and logical order and 4. (and finally) JUST TELL ME THE DAMN PRICE. NO MANDATORY FEES OR NO HIDDEN CHARGES.

Hello London!

Well, thank you United for simultaneously getting us here on time and reminding me why I really don’t like flying the friendly skies. No power to juice my laptop, non-working earphone jack in the “entertainment” system (which I think is circa 1981 with channels for the different audio and continuously running movies–want to see the beginning of the film? Guess that start time), and unavailable personal electronics entertainment.  To add insult to injury, the coffee tasted burned and flavorless at the same time. Boy that cup of joe sunk below my meager expectations for airplane sustenance.

We img_20180530_161758074_hdrarrived at our AirBnB near St. John’s Wood without much distress and found that it is lovely, although the owner neglected to mention the 61 stairs we had to climb to get to it. My nephew promptly fell asleep, while I drank coffee, unpacked, showered, and found some very British telly to watch. A game show where you are given numbers and you have to do math calculations to end with a certain sum? Yeah, that would go over big in the States (I think it is called Countdown and the woman who used to do the math or as the Brits say maths, was Carol something or other).

Once Jake was awake and semi-conscious, we decided to head to the Sherlock Holmes Museum. Kind of a ripoff at 15 pounds a piece but fun to do since it was within walking distance. And I got a cool pic of me. Yes that’s me in the famous Sherlock Holmes hat that the amazing detective who never lived never wore.

Side note: Here’s a helpful hint if you are dragging your laptop with you: Make sure your converter is grounded. Mine wasn’t. Oops! We were passing a hardware store on our way to Baker Street, popped in, and got one for less than the prices I saw online. Plus, we met some friendly people.

For our first real meal here we had — surprise! — fish and chips at Hobson’s since it was on many best of lists and was close. A mile walk was about all we wanted.  I had matzo meal breading on plaice which I had never even heard of, but is firm, flat and moist; Jake had the classic battered cod. Both were delicious. I also ate mushy peas, because, well, funny British food. Plus, I had a soda called Fentiman’s Dandelion & Burdock. Don’t ask me what it really was, but it was pretty good if a bit sweet. The label was in English and Slovak, which we figured out with a little help from Google Translate. We finished the day with a walk just so we wouldn’t fall asleep to early. No time for jetlag.

All-in-all a good day, except that I wasn’t with Steven on his birthday. Happy birthday, Steven! (Thank you!  I am weeping into my COLD non-English beer because you are not here.)

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Next Up … London

 

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What? Big Ben is silent and there are no doubledecker buses or telephone booths? My image of London is shattered (sha doo be).

Next up for me anyway. Steven is going to miss this trip.  Aunt Susie is taking her nephew to London as a high school graduation present. (Yes, I am the world’s best aunt!!) My nephew is a joy to travel with. He laughs easily, is game to try things, and looks at the world with interest and intellect. We will miss the royal wedding (I didn’t realize you were invited); our weeklong trip starts May 29 and we’re are staying at an AirBnB in St. John’s Wood.

All suggestions are welcome! I haven’t been to London for more than 25 years. We don’t have a complete game plan, but he is a math/science guy getting ready to head off to college, so Greenwich, Stonehenge, a museum or two, and Oxford or Cambridge (which one do you recommend?) Don’t come home if you don’t get a picture of you crossing Abbey Road. I am going to be the ultimate tourist. Too bad Big Ben is silent. I guess we will have to go back.Maybe I will even wear big, white sneakers so everyone will know without me opening my mouth that we are American. We are thinking about Chunneling to Paris for the day, but there is a train strike in France and as much as I would love to be stranded in Paris, I think my sister-in-law would kill me if I didn’t bring her son home.