View of Ortygia Island, the historical centre of Syracuse, Sicily

AirBNB Adventures 1: Italy & Sicily 2012

In Travel, Italy by tony2 Comments

Featured image: View of Ortygia Island, the historical centre of Syracuse, Sicily

ORT_Logo   Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony,  25 May 2016


AirBNB Adventure 1: Florence to Syracuse, Italy & Sicily 2012

Introduction

In thinking about this series, I decided to contact all my previous AirBNB hosts to ask whether they were still active and wanted to be identified specifically or only in vague terms. It was a pleasant experience contacting previous hosts, rather nostalgic on both sides. In some cases we went to lengths to get around AirBNB’s contact control to show them my blog and to enter private communications.

At the same time, I wanted to get in touch with AirBNB to ask their advice on contacting hosts and to alert them to the articles I was going to write. That proved impossible — although I could have tried harder. AirBNB does not appear to have any easy route to the corporate level. Although I suppose one could contact their corporate headquarters in San Francsisco by snail mail.

Besides that I’ve always found Air BNB excellent if you have problems and need solutions. The young people they employ to provide the interface between hosts and customers are well-trained, intelligent and really help to solve issues that arise occasionally. We even stayed with one of these you people in Dublin.

Chiesa del Gesù, a baroque extravaganza, Palermo, Sicily

Chiesa del Gesù, a baroque extravaganza, Palermo, Sicily


The History of AirBNB

“Airbnb is about so much more than just renting space,” says Chesky. “It’s about people and experiences. At the end of the day, what we’re trying to do is bring the world together. You’re not getting a room, you’re getting a sense of belonging.” In other words, a stranger is just a friend who hasn’t slept in your spare bed yet. (Inc. Magazine 2014)

AirBNB grew out of the social sharing phenomenon and particularly couch surfing, where hosts want to spice up their life by offering free accommodation to strangers.

Back in 2007, the idea barely got off the ground. [Brian] Chesky and [Joe] Gebbia, newly graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design, were sharing an apartment in San Francisco, struggling to pay the rent. Both had the startup bug but failed to come up with anything mainstream. Then they had an idea. A design conference was coming to town, and they decided to rent out air mattresses on their floor to visitors for $80 a night. They called and emailed every major design firm in San Francisco, asking if anyone else had a room for rent. They built a web site, airbedandbreakfast.com, to connect hosts and guests. They even persuaded conference organizers to email attendees about it, linking to the site.

The result was a near total failure. They convinced those three nice people from the elevator portraits to stay. But after contacting the city’s entire designer population, only three other San Franciscans agreed to open their homes. (Inc.)

Nathan Blecharczyk a gifted computer engineer joined as the third founder. Between August and December 2008 they managed to sign a couple of thousand listings in 576 cities in 67 countries. Their revenue (a 6 to 12 per cent cut of each rental, the same as today) puttered along at $200 per week. Desperate for money they travelled to and focused on New York offering hosts a professional photographer they’d arrive with a camera and try to learn everything they could about the hosts. In 2010 the sites earnings doubled and doubled again.

A disaster happened in 2011, when a host blogged that a guest had damaged her apartment and stolen all her valuables while sending cheery emails. AirBNB failed to respond for a day whilst the blog took off in the electronic media. Air BNB then responded promising a 24/7 customer hotline and $50,000 damage guarantee.

The rest is history. AirBNB has retained its quality and helpful service. Hosts and guests are satisfied and the mutual review system works well. Although now one can’t see what either hosts or guests say until you have posted your review. Some have suggested that this is a negative change, but perhaps inevitable.

Many Guests and hosts await in trepidation for an IPO or sale that may change the nature of airBNB. Whereas at the beginning and new adopters:

Admit it. When you first heard about people renting rooms in one another’s homes over the internet, without much more than a friendly email exchange to break the ice, you thought it was a crazy idea. Maybe a little creepy. 

I’m not sure that we did.

Our adventure with airBNB in Italy in 2012 and whilst not early adopters we were in the first growth phase before airBNB really took off (see graphs in Growthhackers article below).

We hadn’t heard of airBNB at all until some weeks before we left for a holiday in Italy in October 2012. A friend Stephen who was going to be in Florence at the same time told us about airBNB. It seemed a good idea and we booked a couple of places before we left. We initially found it daunting and hard to choose places, but this soon passed.

On this trip we were rather cavalier and only booked our accommodation a few days ahead. We almost came unstuck in Trapani when booking for Agrigento only 24 hours before. We didn’t have computer Wifi and there was some problem with AirBNB on our smart phones. A call to San Francisco via Skype solved everything quickly. Regarding Wifi using Apple equipment, we had enormous problems in 2007, a few in 2012 but almost none in 2014. The world has changed. Nevertheless, Wifi can be a huge problem when travelling, if it is promised by the airBNB host but not delivered. This is rare these days.

You may notice that the dates on the headings and on the tables aren’t the same. The dates on the tables are our official AirBNB bookings but we had flexibility and often extended.


View of Pompeii, Italy

View of Pompeii, Italy

The trip (~ 2 months)

Rome, My Place B&B, 12 to 16 October & 7 to 13 December

We stayed with Luca, a nice guy, on Via Giovanni Giolitti in a spotless new studio with shared kitchen. This is a small commercial B&B behind the Termini Station with four rooms.

The area is pleasant far enough from Termini to be out of the problem zone. There are many nicer places to stay in Rome, but Via Giovanni Giolitti is good for short stays, with good access to the airport and trains out of Rome. There are trams nearby and a 10-15 min walk to the station and metros.

We stayed a week here at the end of our holiday, booking directly with Luca and getting a cheaper rate. As a commercial B&B, Luca’s Place would be slightly cheaper renting through sites other than AirBNB.

B&B In my Place, Rome Accommodation cost 
4 nights
€70 per night€282
AirBNB fee€33
Total €315
Cost per night €78.75

Florence, Unique palazzo, 16 to 27 October

Dining Room, Unique Palazzo, Florence

Dining Room, Unique Palazzo, Florence

The apartment in Florence was not far from Piazza Santo Spirito, Oltrano (the other side of the Arno). We’d stayed Oltrano before and liked the area.

Bedroom, Unique Palazzo, Florence

Bedroom, Unique Palazzo, Florence

This was our first booking with AirBNB (though we stayed in Rome first). The apartment was huge rambling and run down. The 16th C ornamentation was extensive. Aurora and her boyfriend who had a painting studio in the apartment theoretically managed the place. Our introduction was much too brief, for such an unusual space. They were supposedly available for help, but weren’t really (it was the other residents who helped us).

The apartment was advertised as unique and a Palazzo. The place was quirky and we enjoyed it, but it was a mix between staying in a Palazzo and a student dormitory. Our room and the dining room were huge with lovely 16th C paintings on the ceilings and walls, but hanging space was limited because all the furniture was stuffed with someone else’s possessions and the bed alcove wasn’t ideal. The electricity was dodgy at best.

Doors, Unique Palazzo, Florence

Doors, Unique Palazzo, Florence

We were sharing one small bathroom and a pleasant kitchen with three young women art students from Brazil, Ireland and the USA who were permanent residents. Had they not been welcoming and amazingly helpful (which they did not have to be) it may not have been so pleasant.

The other problem was that the Wifi that had been promised was not available. This was a major hassle because of the length of our stay and the lack of easy Internet access elsewhere. We had to rely on bars but had to discover those offering wifi first. Wifi in Europe was a problem, especially with Macs in 2007; not much of an issue in 2012, except in Florence; and not a problem now.

The stay was a mixed experience, based mainly on price versus facilities.Nevertheless we did stay one day extra. This was probably the first and only time in our travels with AirBNB that our expectation was really different from the reality, but it wasn’t a bad experience. The property is no longer listed. I’ve included our AirBNB reviews of all the properties we stayed at in Further Information.

We’d booked through a manager for nine properties, Lisa Rosa Luppino. Stephen our friend who’d introduced us to AirBNB was coincidentally staying on her farm out of Florence picking olives. We went out and visited him for a day to pick olives and met Lisa Rosa and her family, who were very welcoming and good cooks. Lisa Rosa still manages properties in Florence listed on AirBNB.

Unique Apartment, Florence
Accommodation cost
 
10 nights
€71 per night€714
AirBNB fee€72
Total €786
Cost per night €78.60

Amalfi, Bay of Naples, Italy

Amalfi, Bay of Naples, Italy

Sorrento, Heaven of Peace, 27 October to 1 November

I received an email from the son who took over bookings from his sister. They are no longer running the listing since late last year, so I’ll keep things anonymous. Although this was one of the nicest places we ever stayed in.

Heaven of Peace, aptly named, was a large middle class family home on the hill above Sorrento, surrounded by olive orchards. We were the first guests of a family of three, son daughter and mother. The daughter whose business it was picked us up at the station and ferried us back and forth into town all the time, supposedly for 5 EU a trip, but at the end of the time she wouldn’t even accept half. It was a pleasant walk down the hill in the daytime, but scary when wet.

Sorrento is a pleasant but touristy town on the Bay of Naples. We only ate a couple of meals there. Our hosts offered us dinners for 10 EU and because we were engaged in long tourist driven days, we took them up the offer most nights (very cheap for 2). As we were going to Sicily, they frequently cooked us Sicilian delicacies.

Our room was in a separate wing of the house with the mother. It was a large room and the view of the Bay of Naples out the window was to die for. There was a pleasant patio out the back, a couple of nice dogs, and a large living room up a half-stairway. There were computers here with Internet access and the room was for our exclusive use. So we had privacy, but we also felt part of the family and had wide ranging and interesting conversations with them, as all spoke good English.

When we first arrived a cousin and her partner were staying for the weekend. They were from Naples and very proud of their city, though conscious of its bad reputation. Their advice on what to do in Naples was very welcome but they also cautioned us on what not to do.

We ignored their advice one day when our host gave us a lift to Naples, and introduced us to a wonderful coffee and patissserie stop, on the way to see her voice coach. We visited the marvellous Naples Museum (with its treasures of Pompeii and Herculaneum — not to be missed) and went to the recommended Antico Pizzeria. We walked back to The Circumvesuviana train (near the railway station) in the dark, which we’d been warned not to do — although the streets were busy at this time and we weren’t worried.

Later, we were targeted twice at the main railway station, early and late evening, but we became aware early and took avoidance measures. You do need to take care in Naples, but it is also a lovely and vibrant city. We didn’t have any problems on the Circumvesuviana train though we travelled on it regularly, with and without luggage.

As the first guests, we felt like insects in a terrarium for the first few days during meals, especially at breakfast, but the family soon got over it. Because they were so kind and well-meaning, it wasn’t a problem.

Sorrento is a good base for visiting Pompeii, Herculaneum, Naples and the Amalfi Coast and we took every opportunity. For those with a limited time I’d recommend Herculaneum over Pompeii. It is more manageable and more interesting. But don’t miss the Naples Museum because that is where the treasures are.

It was a wonderful place to stay with lovely people. We checked out late afternoon (no extra fee) because our train to Sicily was in the late evening. We’d booked a sleeper.

Italy was still gripped by financial crisis in 2012 and many Italians were asset rich but cash poor. The Heaven of Peace was the daughter’s idea to make money to support herself with the cooperation of her mother, who owned the house. Later she moved to Rome to work and her brother continued the business, while he was still studying further at university.

The best experience one has with AirBNB, for both hosts and guests, is when it retains the flavour of couch surfing rather than becoming just another commercial accommodation business.

On the hill above Sorrento Accommodation cost 
5 nights
€40 per night€200
Cleaning fee€10
AirBNB fee€25
Total €235
Cost per night €47

Sunday afternoon Port of Palermo, Sicily

Sunday afternoon Port of Palermo, Sicily

Palermo, Sicily, Central penthouse, 2 to 7 November

Baroque Relief, Chiesa del Gesù, Palermo, Sicily

Baroque Relief, Chiesa del Gesù, Palermo, Sicily

Palermo is also a slightly dodgy city like Naples and some tourists don’t like it. We walked almost everywhere even late at night and had no problems. However, I did get pick-pocketed when getting on the bus to Monreale but it was my own fault. I was incautious. The thief went to great lengths to return my wallet sans money, but with two credit cards and other things I didn’t want to lose, which I unfortunately had with me on this day. It was an unpleasant experience and we didn’t go to Monreale. (The route had been closed for a year six months previously because of pickpockets). I also had a rather unskilled pickpocket try to relieve me of my wallet on a bus to Fiesole in Florence, so it can happen anywhere.

Nevertheless, the wonders of Palermo are breathtaking and the city needs to be experienced properly. It is also a gourmet town with great markets.  We spent a week and enjoyed every minute. We extended our stay by two days.

Sunset from our bedroom window,Palermo, Sicily

Sunset from our bedroom window,Palermo, Sicily

The upside of booking just a few days ahead is the flexibility to extend. You come to a private arrangement with the host and don’t pay the AirBNB fee. I’d hope that AirBNB is comfortable with this, as with being cut out for second and consecutive visits to the same place. The downside of course is that maybe you can’t extend and sometimes this makes your arrangements quite difficult.

Our host and her partner are no longer in AirBNB. They were living in a compact three-story apartment near the old historic centre, with a nice kitchen and outside terrace on the top floor. The terrace had a lovely panoramic view of Palermo. We had the best of the rooms to rent on the top floor, with a nice view of the hills. When full the apartment was crowded and not as convivial as some places, but the breakfasts were excellent and our host had the perfect, vibrant personality to make one’s stay memorable.

She and her male partner, also pleasant, were typical of well-educated young people (in their twenties) in Palermo. She had a double degree and was completing her master’s and working in a related archive, but it was a dead end job. Her partner was in IT but also had no real job prospects. Her mother owned the apartment and she said that she and her partner were resigned to missing out on the careers they’d like to pursue. They were very entertaining and worthwhile young people with no prospects at that time.

Penthouse central, Palermo Accommodation cost 
3 nights
€55 per night€165
AirBNB fee€20
Total €185
Cost per night €61.67

Erice at Dusk looking away from Trapani, Sicily

Erice at Dusk looking away from Trapani, Sicily

Trapani, Sicily, Comfortable apartment, 7 to 10 November

Trapani was bigger than we expected and a littler harder to get around. This was particularly an issue because Erice the granite hill above Trapani was hard to reach. We walked to the cable car but it was closed and would be for the entirety of our stay. Fortunately, we did manage after some difficulty to get a bus up to Erice in the afternoon but there was only one return bus after dark, so we spent more time up there than we had intended. However, it was fabulous. The views, the medieval town and the famous patisseries. Trapani is mainly a summer tourist destination with good facilities and trips to nearby islands. The old town is on a peninsula and rather nice.

Vito picked us up from our bus and took us on a brief orientation tour. The apartment was well located in the centre of town a few minutes from the beach with supermarkets and restaurants nearby. It was very comfortable and larger than we needed. The old city on a peninsula was a 15-20 minute walk.

We extended our stay by one night. Vito was a school teacher nearing retirement and one day after school he took us on a tour of the outside of town in the late afternoon (for the price of petrol) and took us home to his home out of town to meet his family and have a meal.

Vito is an avid scuba diver and could provide good information on diving. He was similarly asset rich and cash poor. He’d taught for most of his career in Italy because Sicily didn’t offer the same prospects. He had a comfortable lifestyle, but rented his apartment out for extra money.

Comfortable, cheap and very nice Trapani Accommodation cost 
2 nights
€26 per night€52
Cleaning fee€10
AirBNB fee€7
Total €69
Cost per night €34.50

Concordia Temple with modern sculpture, Valley of the Temples, Agrigento, Sicily

Concordia Temple with modern sculpture, Valley of the Temples, Agrigento, Sicily

Agrigento, Sicily, Monte dei Pegni B&B, 10-14 November

In Agrigento we stayed in the old medieval part of town in a small commercial B&B with lovely rooms and facilities. It was spotlessly clean. The old town in Agrigento is wonderful. There is a slightly unattractive modern town above it, but we didn’t go there.

Agrigento has the most marvellous UNESCO world heritage Greek temples. The museum is also excellent. We really enjoyed our stay in Agrigento. It is laid back and relaxing, with good eating places We extended our stay by one day.

Our hostess Anna didn’t speak much English (but she was better than she thought). Her daughter spoke excellent English, which was useful when we needed to see a doctor. The commercial B&B was only one component of a family business. During the day a young African, second-generation refugee, was employed for half the day in the B&B and half the day in the other business. She was in her mid-twenties and also had poor English, but wanted to learn. She was a real communicator and delightful company. Her family lived in the far north of Italy, but she was going back to West Africa to get married in a year’s time to someone she had never met. We tried to discourage her because she had much better prospects in Italy, but to no avail.

On the first bus down to the ruins on two days, we travelled with two African illegal or semi-legal immigrants, who spent the entire day outside the ruins trying to sell uninteresting nick nacks and umbrellas to the tourists. They seemed nice people. We felt sorry for them, because they sold little. Times are tough in Sicily, but especially for them.

B&B Monte dei Pegni, Agrigento Accommodation cost 
3 nights
€40 per night€120
AirBNB fee€14
Total €134
Cost per night €44.67

Piazza Duomo, Ortygia, Syracuse, Sicliy

Piazza Duomo, Ortygia, Syracuse, Sicliy

Syracuse, Sicily, Lilia’s house, 14 to 20 November

Syracuse is another wonderful city and we extended our stay by three days. The apartment was about a ten-minute walk from the historic centre of Ortygia, and a 15 to 20 minute walk in the other direction to the Archaeological Park (with its magnificent Greek theatre) and to the wonderful Archaeological Museum. We didn’t mind staying out of the old centre.

Marco met us at the bus, train station and walked us to his guest apartment nearby. It was a small very modern, beautifully designed little flat, squeezed in a mezzanine between floors in an old building. Opposite it on another staircase was a similar space that Marco had used as an office, but began redeveloping as another identical unit, while we were there. We loved the apartment and Syracuse. Upstairs lived an old woman whom we met briefly once, but as Marco said she rarely went out. At that time we had the building to ourselves, until the workmen came to start on the other unit. Marco was concerned that they might make a noise and disturb us, but they were very careful not to.

Marco is an agronomist and an avid photographer. Some of his photographs hung on the walls of the unit. He was very helpful, a really nice person, but basically he left us alone.

One night at the traffic circle five minutes from where were staying we sat out on the pavement in the dusk to have a glass or two of wine and watch the passing parade. While we were there another group of middle-aged men sat at the adjoining table and asked to borrow our unused chairs.

We watched the cars and the odd motorcycle pull up and one or two young men exchange kisses and chat with the occupants, before one of them entered the car or hopped on the back of motorcycle and drove off, to return some minutes later. At one stage a police car stopped on the circle and watched for twenty minutes. It took us a while, but we finally realised we were watching drug deals being made and that the nice men at the next table, who were drinking and chatting as we were, were controlling the whole operation. Whether the police were a supportive or hostile force, there was nothing that they could have done. It was a slick operation.

Lilia's house, Syracuse Accommodation cost 
3 nights
€46 per night€138
AirBNB fee€16
Total €154
Cost per night €51.33

Taormina from above, Sicily

Taormina from above, Sicily

Taormina, Sicily, Casa Lucia, 20 to 22 November

We went to Taormina via Catania. At the bus station Denise talked to two well-dressed young African men. They were legal refugees and were off on a trip for the day for a job interview. They were not hopeful and said that they were treated with prejudice almost everywhere they went. It was not a good time to be a black refugee in Sicily, as life for the Sicilians was tough as well.

Daniela met us at the bus station and helped us walk into the town square, which was not far. The location was fantastic. We had to climb four flights of stairs with our luggage, which was not unexpected. The final flight was a struggle as the stairs were so narrow that we had little room for the luggage and had to juggle as best we could. Taormina is a small narrow town perched spectacularly on cliffs above the sea.

Taormina is the famous tourist destination in Sicily, but despite that the town is rather charming and there are plenty of restaurants of various standards. Lonely Planet describes it as a chic resort town. There is a small Greek theatre near where we were staying, fabulous views, a bus into the hills and a lovely walk back down, and a quaint museum. One has great views of Mount Etna from the town, though we only saw it once. Most of the time it was swathed in clouds.

The apartment at the top of the stairs was small, clean and relatively comfortable. It was a typical holiday apartment, quite different to what we had been staying in. We were at the top of the house and the family resided below, but because of that we had a million-dollar-view. It was a short but pleasant stay.

Casa Lucia, Taormina Accommodation cost 
2 nights
€48 per night€95
AirBNB fee€12
Total €107
Cost per night €53.50

View of Vulcano from Lipari Island near Pianoconte, Sicily

View of Vulcano from Lipari Island near Pianoconte, Sicily

Lipari Island, Sicily, House particular, 22-29 November

The trip to Lipari was slow but pleasant. The bus from Taormina to Messina was slow particularly as the main road was blocked and we had to return to Taormina and take a tortuous route through the hills to avoid the road works. Then there was a bus to the coastal resort and an hour’s wait for a ferry.

We’d initially wanted to take the house in town, but it was unavailable and we settled on a converted cowshed and dairy in the middle of the island near Pianoconte village. We were a bit apprehensive about this, but it turned out to be the best option by far. Alfredo, a real estate agent in town handles the properties. He met us at the wharf, helped me hire a Vespa (an absolute necessity) and gave Denise an orientation, including showing us the nearest supermarket whilst I followed on the Vespa.

I drove the Vespa up the hundred-metre track from a dirt road once. It was only a walking track, the steep start too difficult for the motor scooter, and parking was safe enough by the road.

The converted cowshed, owned by Germans, was a kitchen separated from a studio bedroom by a patio entrance. Upstairs was a mezzanine with a second double bed, which we didn’t use, and a patio next to it (the roof of the kitchen) with a ladder up to the roof. You could also access this patio by stairs at the back. The place was absolutely delightful, a simple but gorgeous design, on its own surrounded by fields.

There was a marvellous view of the sea from the kitchen and bedroom and a 360-degree panoramic view from the roof. Transport was essential as buses were few. Pianoconte had a pizzeria and a three-day a week upmarket restaurant, as well as the supermarket. The hard-working young couple who owned the pizzeria also had a field of vegetables beside our accommodation and were kind to us, even though having almost no English.

Storm at Sea, The downstairs view, Pianoconte, Lipari Island

Storm at Sea, The downstairs view, Pianoconte, Lipari Island

Alfredo the real estate agent was more of a consultant and perhaps an aristocrat. His office hidden in a lovely old building away from the commercial centre of town was not the type of place one wandered into without an appointment. He was professional and slightly aloof but also kind, generous and considerate. We extended our stay to eight days and loved every minute. Alfredo told us he was going to the mainland one day but said, he was going to Sicily, as if it were a foreign country. The Sicilians don’t think of themselves as Italian and obviously the islanders don’t think of themselves as Sicilian. They have a long history of separation, so why should we colonialists understand.

Lipari is an absolutely beautiful island with plenty to see. The Aeolian Islands are a UNESCO World Heritage site. We also visited Vulcano and climbed the vulcano, and Salina. But, because it was so late in the season we didn’t venture to Stromboli, because of the high chance of getting stuck there. Our friends from Naples had a summerhouse on Panarea and had extolled its virtues. While we were there the temperatures were idyllic but I imagine in summer they would be rather hot. The Northern Europeans seem to love summer weather and go to Turkey and Dubai when to Australians it seems too hot for the beach, but then we are spoilt.

We’d had perfect weather until our last night when the wind got up. We were due to depart on an overnight ferry to Naples at 12-noon next day. Alfredo phoned us early in the morning and suggested that we pack up and get down to the port by 9 am. It didn’t help. Our ferry was cancelled and it was mid-afternoon when the first ferry of the day departed for Sicily. We arrived in Messina about 5 pm and were lucky enough to get overnight sleepers for Naples, and a fast train to Bologna.

House Particular, Lipari
Accommodation cost
 
3 nights
€30 per night€90
Cleaning fee€50
AirBNB fee€16
Total €156
Cost per night €52

Gourmet shops, Bologna, Italy

Gourmet shops, Bologna, Italy

Bologna, Sunny private room with own bath, 30 November to 7 December

We arrived in Bologna in the rain and it was relatively cold. It got much colder over the next few days. We’d come from almost summer in Lipari to a typical northern winter. It didn’t snow while we were in Bologna but it might have been warmer if it had. We’d never been to Bologna before but we loved it. Bologna is not quite on the tourist routes but it should be. The historic old town is lovely and up to the standard of the more famous cities nearby. It is also a gourmet town with wonderful restaurants and food shops; and it is also convenient for travelling to other locations in the Po Valley.

We stayed with Shoshanna in one room of her apartment out of the old city, but only a ten-minute bus ride away on a frequent bus route. The apartment was warm and modern, which may not have been the case in cheaper places in the old town. Shoshanna’s directions from the railway station were very precise and we had no trouble finding our way to her apartment.

Shoshanna is an American who has lived in the Bologna area for twenty-five years. She does work in English on radio and translating. She and the Swiss student who was renting the other spare bedroom, made us very welcome and part of their family. While we were there Shoshanna took us to an art opening and dinner afterwards, suggested things we should do and occasionally gave us a lift into town. She is not currently active on AirBNB but may be again in the future.

We also extended our stay to a week and then left for Rome for our final week, before flying home to Australia.

Sunny, private room w/ own bath, Bologna, Accommodation cost 
4 nights
€43 per night€172
AirBNB fee€12
Total €193
Cost per night €48.25

Bologna prepares for Christmas, Italy

Bologna prepares for Christmas, Italy

Comment

This trip in 2012 was undertaken towards the end of AirBNB’s first period of growth, when it was beginning to become very popular and about to really take off into phase 2.

The strength of the AirBNB model is in the listing. A series of photographs reveal the accommodation. There is a detailed description of the property and its location, the services offered, the house rules and of course the price. The reviews by others who have stayed at the property are also crucial.

The Two Towers, Bologna, Italy

The Two Towers, Bologna, Italy

At first when we looked up listings online for a particular location there seemed to be so much on offer. How did you choose? How did you know what would suit? You quickly learn how to judge properties and the task no longer looks daunting. There are filters on price and other factors. It is a good idea to put in the dates you want to stay because only those properties that are available come up. The maps are useful both to locate individual properties and the general maps to show what is available in a particular area.

Once you have selected a place, it is sometimes a good idea to email the host to ask questions or to introduce yourself. There is an Instant Book button on some properties. We are not sure that it is a good idea to use this often because it is somehow outside the spirit of AirBNB, which is to communicate with the host.

In 2012 you reviewed the host and the host reviewed you. Whoever left the first gave the other the opportunity to read the review before replying. You also had 30 days to respond. Now you have to write your review before you can see the other person’s review. Although I can intuit the reasons for this and problems may well have arisen, the trust generated by the first system added value to the process in some way. I think that reviews under the new system have become more perfunctory. You only have 14 days to respond now.

Both then and now in most instances hosts and guests tend to be very happy with one another. Problems are rare. One tends to be generous to the other party in reviews.

The mutual review process is a very good one. In our profile we are better people than we really are, more like the people we’d like to be. The profile has also proven useful as an adjunct to references for house-sitting applications. AirBNB was happy to provide a link for us to use.

The AirBNB process makes you better guests and better hosts. You are on your mettle to behave, as if a referred visitor into someone’s home or the welcomer of a special guest. You tend to become more considerate of the other persons point of view.

You also get the chance to give the host private information in your review. For example, in Taormina the shower was not draining properly and the noise of the water pump was a bit intrusive. They fixed the first and said that there was nothing they could do about the second because the pump was necessary to get water to the fourth floor. But, you didn’t have to put it into the review or not tell them at all.

You can also provide private information to AirBNB. We have never given negative information in this category and only use it to extol the virtues of the host.

AirBNB is a great model. One lives in hope that they don’t tinker with it, or sell to a larger corporate.


Key words: AirBNB, Italy, Sicily, Rome, Florence, Naples, Sorrento, Palermo, Trapani, Agrigento, Syracuse, Taormina, Aeolian Islands, Lipari, Vulcano, Bologna


Sunset, The downstairs view, Pianoconte, Lipari Island

Sunset, The downstairs view, Pianoconte, Lipari Island

Further information

AirBNB history

Burt Helm AirBNB is Inc.’s company of the year 2014 Inc. Magazine Dec 2014/Jan 2015 Issue

Morgan Brown Airbnb: The growth story you didn’t know Growthhackers, ~2014-2015.

A detailed study of AirBNB and its success, more detail than provided in the inc.com article

Carolyn Said The Airbnb effect the San Francisco Chronicle, 12 July 2015: five stories by Carolyn Said on the impact of AirBNB in SanFrancisco. This article is no longer online but search Carolyn Said who has continued writing articles on AirBNB for the San Francisco Chronicle.


The Spanish Steps at dusk, Rome, Italy

The Spanish Steps at dusk, Rome, Italy

Reviews we made on AirBNB at the time

Rome

Luca’s homeplace is exactly as shown on the internet but it is also very clean and new. Excellent bed! The B&B is centrally located and the only minor negative is the tram noise relatively early in the morning but this is only when one leaves the window open. Luca is friendly and helpful and very laid back. He is also quick to solve any minor problems.


Florence

This is a very special quirky place. The two large room provided are as shown both fantastic and unusual. You feel that you are living in a Palazzo and sharing in the history of Florence. The bed is good. However, it wouldn’t suit everyone. The bathroom is shared. The kitchen is essential for the 3 permanent art student tenants and they rightfully should have precedence. They were very welcoming and accepting of us. The electricity was also complicated and difficult and the lighting rather dim. There was also no cupboard space and we felt although living in the atmosphere of a palazzo as if we were also camping in a student shared house. We loved it but one has to accommodate and the price seemed a trifle high. The WIFI also didn’t work and had not for weeks. The residents used a direct cable to the router but our equipment had no cable connections. No effort was made to replace the WIFI and we couldn’t access the so-called Free Wifi in Florence as non-Italians, despite having Italian mobiles. Hence no Wifi was a major problem.


Sorrento

Heaven of Peace is aptly named. It is a beautiful home on the hills above Sorrento with wonderful views of the Bay of Naples. The room and bathroom are luxurious. There is also an extensive sitting room upstairs for your use with good Wifi. The bed was excellent and there was hanging space. Our host and her family couldn’t have been kinder or more welcoming. They are lovely people. It was a wonderful experience. We had several meals with the family, which were also an introduction to local cuisine at a very reasonable cost. The breakfasts were good. It takes a 25 to 30 min pleasant walk into Sorrento and a little longer back. There is a local bus at irregular intervals and our host was willing to help occasionally. Sorrento is a good base for Pompeii and the Amalfi coast with good transport options.


Palermo

XXX and YYY are delightful hosts very friendly, accommodating and very helpful with all the information you need. XXX is the perfect personality to run a B&B, always friendly, always helpful and very hard working. The location is excellent and the terrace and the view from it is wonderful. Also the lift is excellent as well and the Wifi was good too. We had a bathroom to ourselves whilst very tiny and tight was good. We stayed five nights saw much of Palermo and had a great time. The famous breakfasts were really good. XXX cares about her food and coffee and tries to provide a breakfast that you want to have. Unfortunately, she cooks excellent cakes, brownies etc and it its difficult to say no. We stayed in the Penthouse room. It was a good room and very clean. We heartily recommend this B&B. It is well located in an interesting area, easy walking distance to the station and the rooftop terrace is delightful and unusual.


Trapani

Vito’s apartment is large, comfortable and very clean, better than shown in the photographs on AirBnB. We stayed there 5 days and only used three rooms: a large bedroom with an excellent double bed, the comfortable kitchen and well equipped bathroom. It was excellent. The apartment would suit a larger group well particularly for longer stays. The rates were very reasonable. Via Messina is centrally located in the town not far from the railway station but at least a 20-minute walk from the centro storico. It is convenient surrounded by good facilities and food. We didn’t find it at all noisy. There is a good local pizzeria, supermarket and pasticceria. Vito is a good host and passionate about Trapani and the surrounding countryside. We have only a few words of Italian but Vito is a good communicator and gallantly and generously never made our lack of Italian and his own limited English a barrier to helping and informing us. We also met his wife and daughter and went to his house outside of Trapani. Vito picked us up where we were dropped off by the bus, which wasn’t a bus station and we would have been rather lost. He took us on a quick tour of the nearby town and then introduced us to the apartment. On our last day Vito took us out of Trapani to his house and on a sightseeing trip from mid-afternoon to early evening. He also gave us his wines to taste and a bottle of his nice homemade red. He and his family were very welcoming and helpful. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Trapani.


Agrigento

We extended our stay here as we were enjoying the town and the hospitality so much. The accommodation is in a recently renovated lovely old building. The decoration is very tasteful, the lovely room spacious with a modern bathroom. All is clean and well presented. You step right out onto the main street and can enjoy strolling up and down, with shops, cafes and restaurants all close by. Anna gave us a warm welcome and provided a delicious breakfast even cooking pancakes for us and bringing in delicious warm bread and pastries. Everyone was very helpful and accommodating with our lack of Italian. They went out if their way to help us, even finding a doctor and taking us to the chemist. Comfortable, stylish and friendly.


Syracuse

Marco was a welcoming and friendly host. He was also a good communicator with a warm personality. He met us at the bus station and walked us to the apartment which is close by. It is also close to the train station. It is a very well designed, well-equipped and very attractive space, light, clean and comfortable. Excellent Wifi. We loved being there. Marco left us with wine and the makings for pasta and milk and yoghurt and coffee so we were able to look after straight away! He also is very thoughtful. There is a good sink for hand washing and he provided the proper detergent plus drying racks. He was very helpful and happy to give advice. He left us alone but we knew he was available should we need him. There is a supermarket next door but also other shops close by. We found a great pasticerria up on the traffic circle. The historic centre of Ortygia is only a pleasant 10-minute walk away with many restaurants and bars. We also walked to the archaeological park and later the museum quite easily also about 10 or 15 minutes. There are also buses if needed. We caught a train out to Noto one day and it made a pleasant and easy day trip. One of the best places we”ve stayed in in Italy.


Taormina

Daniela met us a the bus station and showed us to her apartment. It is convenient to the bus station, well located in the centre of Taormina and couldn’t be better situated on the top floor. Daniela left us alone but was available for problems. The unit is pretty much as described and very clean. The view is marvellous. And the apartment pleasant and spacious. The three flights of stairs are narrow and we as older travellers had a bit of a struggle with our luggage though Daniela helped (not uncommon in Taormina I think). We enjoyed our stay. (The bus ride to Messina is much slower than the one from Catania)


Lipari Island

Alfredo is a generous and considerate host but also a professional. Others have called him a real estate agent but actually he runs a consulting business, with holiday rentals as a sideline. We had some communication issues on both sides before we arrived but Alfredo handled them extremely well. He picked us up, helped me to hire a Vespa, and drove us to Casa Particular showing Denise the supermarket etc while I drove behind. Alfredo also picked us up on our last day to ferry our luggage to the port, the time of pick up changed as circumstances changed that day. Alfredo was nice, knowledgeable and as helpful as he could be. We stayed a week and it was one of the most fantastic places we’ve been. A relaxing paradise. But you do need transport! And it is not really a place to stay 2 or 3 days, you are just getting used to it when you have to leave. It was out of season but the weather was good except for the last two days when high winds cancelled our Napoli ferry and we were not sure we could get off the island on the day we wanted to. Alfredo was very helpful by his advice and being flexible. We were originally reluctant about Casa Particular because of its isolation. Lipari is more a holiday rental than a B&B market and certainly when we arrived at Casa Particular it took us a couple of days to get settled. There was nothing there but a bottle of water and some leavings from other guests, so that a supermaket and stocking visit are essential. We also took some time adjusting to the dwelling. But the views and the location were magnificent and the house is unique. Lipari is a wonderful island and it was good to be away from Lipari Town. Pianoconte village and the locals were pleasant. La Machina is a good restaurant where we ate once (only open for us Fri-Sun). The local pizza run by a lovely couple is as good pizza as we had anywhere in Italy. It was convenient and we went several time – mostly takeaway. Thank you Alfredo you were very good to us. We’d love to come back to Lipari and House Particular, but it would be for at least two weeks.


Bologna

We had a great 7 days with Shoshanna feeling part of the household with he and her long term guest from Switzerland. Shoshanna is a genuine person and a kind, thoughtful and generous host. It was also nice for us to be staying for the first time with a native English speaker. Shoshanna’s long experience of Bologna and her maps, suggestions and small travel library made tourism in Bologna easy. She introduced us to aspects of the city we would not have experienced otherwise. The room was comfortable and the apartment very warm in the cold. I don’t know if the comfort was part of being out of the centre, but the location was convenient. The buses were frequent and the 10-min ride into town no problem day or night. The private bathroom though small was an added bonus, as was the washing machine and drying racks. It is slightly stressful arriving in a new town and not knowing where to go. It was cold and pouring with rain when we arrived in Bologna. Shoshanna had sent us a detailed and very accurate description of the bus trip to her place covering every aspect which made the trip easy for the first time. Luggage on the bus was no problem. Bologna is a wonderful city with lots to see. It is also a convenient base for trips around northern Italy. People in Bologna are friendly and very helpful. We’d thoroughly recommend Shoshanna’s as a place to stay. The room is as described.

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Comments

  1. Great rundown Tony. We’ve used AirBnB in the Middle East and Europe and always been pleased with the accommodation and service. Now to try spots in parts of Italy!

  2. Author

    Thanks Peggy. We used in Japan in 2013 and also extensively in Europe in 2014 – the next two articles. And hopefully in Spain and Morocco later in the year. It was nice getting back in touch with AirBNB hosts about writing the articles most of whom got back to me.

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