The good, the bad & the ugly
A rollicking review of my recent rentals!
Just got back from 4 weeks of travelling in Europe and the US, and naturally I stayed at Airbnb properties whenever possible. In stark contrast, I also stayed in a couple of hotels and it is interesting to compare. Overall it was a mixed bag of experiences, but they all add to my hosting arsenal - walking a mile in a guest's shoes is a great education for a Host! Here are my observations (which are written for your amusement rather than as a serious critique! Enjoy...).
My best experiences were the Airbnb properties I stayed at in Vienna & Prague and to be fair, one London hotel.
The hotel in question is a German chain deceptively called Motel One, and I stayed at Tower Hill. It is a business hotel at the budget end of the spectrum, but surprisingly well appointed and fantastic value. The room was stylish & comfortable, the large foyer was a cosy and inviting area to hang out on a rainy London night with open fireplaces and leather chesterfields, and the reception & check in/out processes were as seamless and efficient as you would expect a German operation to be. But there was one thing I was not expecting... They had the best-looking guests I have ever seen!
Breakfast is served in the open-plan foyer, and what a feast it was! Being in the heart of the London financial district, the place was positively teaming with German bankers. Their impeccably groomed chiselled profiles, immaculate manners and sartorial style was enough to make you reconsider the American Breakfast and send you screaming to Carnaby Street for an emergency blow-wave and a wardrobe makeover. Definitely not good for your self-esteem if you are having a bad hair day, but enough eye-candy to make you wish you had paid attention in Economics 101. Dress to impress, practice your German and don't be late checking out!
I had completely opposing experiences with my 2 accommodations here. The first was an Airbnb property, and the second a hotel which I am saving for the Ugly part of this story.
A beautiful old style apartment in a central part of Vienna, I was in my Happy Place the minute I walked in...
Parquetry floors, high ceilings, casement windows and french doors took me back to Belle Epoque European apartments like my family had in Berlin. The decor was simple but thoughtfully put together, and a lesson in minimal chic. The apartment was very "white" but that gave it a dreamy ethereal quality, especially at night when the quirky lighting created pretty effects on the walls & ceiling.
My Host Sandra was there to greet me and was every bit as gracious as the apartment. She had a bottle of my favourite prosecco waiting for me in the fridge, and spent time helping me to orient myself with maps and advice on public transport before disappearing and leaving me to it for the next 3 days. We kept in contact and she was wonderfully helpful at all times. Highly recommended!
This was an Airbnb recommended to me by my hosting buddy Bronwyn Maddock, with whom I would share a place in LA later in the trip. She insisted that I stay with her friends Monika & Jaroslav in their apartment, which turned out to be the best recommendation ever!
This was an in-home hosting experience, but the apartment was enormous and I had my own suite of bedroom, lounge/dining and ensuite bathroom (see pic below). M&J had their own quarters, and my days were spent exploring the fascinating city, and having wonderful chats with my hosts when our paths crossed in the mornings and evenings. The apartment was very similar to the previous one in Vienna: same age, parquetry floors, spacious, light and very European. M&J could not have been more helpful and welcoming... SuperHosts indeed!
The apartment is in the heart of the Old Town, a delightful thousand-year-old labyrinth of ankle-breaking cobble-stoned streets, Absinthe dens and inappropriately located Thai massage parlours in fresco-facaded buildings. The place is honestly so old, it makes the Colosseum look avant garde! For a look at the modern part of the city, go to the New Town which is veritably next gen as it only dates back to 1350 AD!
Take one of the free walking tours from the town square to learn about the age-old Czech pastime of Defenestration (google it but be warned... it will mess with your head!) and tour noted landmarks where this quaint custom was practiced. Prague is the most walkable of cities, and I swear I came back 6 inches shorter as a result!
Goodbye Europe, hello LA! Off to the Airbnb Open conference, and new places to explore!
I am going to include this apartment in The Good - I didn't actually stay there, my kids Zoe & Alex did, but I think this is a great example of a good listing for a few reasons:
It was someone's home, and it looked it (in a good way). There was a lot of art on the walls and every surface, interesting nick-nacks and decor, lots of thoughtful amenities, well located in the Downtown area of LA.
But best of all, the Hosts were 2 cats! Peanut and Marvin are experienced SuperHosts and the creature features of the owner's home, so feeding them was part of the deal. They provided free neck-warming and early morning wake-up services, and endless hours of entertainment for their pet guests!
This is where things start going downhill, and I am not going to name & shame the listings because they weren't terrible, but they just weren't that great. The sad thing was that a tiny bit of effort from the Host would actually have turned the experience around for me.
My first night in LA was a one-night booking as I had arrived a day earlier than planned and couldn't check into the apartment that I had booked with my travel buddy, Melbourne host Bronwyn Maddock. So I selected something nearby that looked cheap and cheerful. On the up-side, the host was a delightful girl who communicated well and allowed me an early check-in and late check-out which was much appreciated. The place could accurately be described as "hippy trippy"... all that was missing was a dream-catcher and a bong. Lots of home-made art & clutter, much messier in real life than in the photos, hardly a space to put anything down. But the bed was comfy and I was tired, and it was only for the one night.
UpMarket in DownTown
Next day, on to better things. Met up with Bronny and moved to our glamorous new digs on the right side of the tracks. The apartment was flash and new, in a massive complex, and had stunning common areas: 2 swimming pools, a well-equipped gym, a roof garden, fantastic views, glam hotel-style foyer with coffee machine, and best of all it was on top of a Whole Foods store! The host had been very sparing with communication which had annoyed us somewhat in the lead-up, but was there to greet us and show us around. After our initial excitement, we soon noticed the small shortcomings of the space:
No House Manual
Bath towels were limp, worn & grey (but had once been white by the look of it)
The concrete floor would have benefitted from a rug for comfort and visual appeal
Some art on the bare walls would have taken it from ho-hum to wow
Pics on the listing turned out to be real estate photos, so accuracy was dubious
It was a 2 person apartment. It had 2 plates, 2 bowls, 2 knives, 2 forks, 2 mugs, no chopping board, 1 drinking glass and 4 glass jars. Almost no other crockery or utensils. Although I'm sure most people staying here would be taking advantage of the vast array of dining options nearby, I did not appreciate being reduced to drinking my morning OJ from a glass jar if I wasn't quick enough to score the drinking glass. Honestly, a few more kitchen amenities would not have broken the bank for this host.
This one is for Bronny - 2 wine glasses but no champagne glasses! That prompted an outraged complaint from my Roomy to our host, who promptly responded but never followed through, proving that prompting is pointless.
However despite these grizzles we did enjoy our stay, and I will finish on a high note: We had our own bus service! On the first night we came out of the door with the intention of hailing an Uber, to be greeted by the ever-smiling Michelle in the driver's seat of a big fat bus! She offered to take us anywhere we wanted to go in DTLA, and we only had to call her for a pick up or drop off! This turned out to be a service for residents of the complex (and their guests) which is contracted to the building. What a score! We didn't understand why our host would not have mentioned that wonderful guest benefit in his listing. I would have!
Ho Hum in WEHO
Next stop was West Hollywood.
Our new Airbnb was in a lovely leafy street off La Brea, walking distance to the dubious delights of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Initial impressions were not good as the hallway carpets had large alarming stains, but other than that the building looked ok. The apartment also looked fine at first glance until you looked closer and noticed the lack of maintenance. There were lots of things very obviously broken or missing.
The toilet roll holder ripped out of the wall
The kitchen cupboard door ripped off its hinges (and later found in the hall closet)
One half of the glass shower screen missing
The wall clock that had clearly been dropped and had one third of its decorative rim missing (but that didn't stop someone putting it back up on the wall!)
A lovely balcony, but no furniture on it so you couldn't really enjoy it unless you were prepared to stand up
The mess of wires dangling out of the TV & cable box with no attempt to conceal them
Most things were broken or worn
Many of the aforementioned omissions:
No House Manual
Not enough kitchen equipment by a long shot
No spare blankets, which saw us going to bed wearing our clothes as the nights were cold
Pics on the listing were much nicer and showed a newer apartment with more furnishings
You got the impression that the host had not set foot in that apartment for a long time, and with over 2,500 reviews, I doubt she even knew it was hers. Must be hard to get around to all of the properties you manage when you clearly have quite a few! But again, the host can't be faulted on communication and friendliness, and once again obliged with a few hours' grace on the check-out. Makes you feel churlish to mention the other matters.
So in summary, all of the Airbnb Los Angeles properties lacked one thing... love. They don't believe in House Manuals or home cooking in this Land of the Long White Limousine, and they have a short attention span when it comes to home maintenance, but they are big on friendliness and that's got to count for something.
Ok, I've saved the best for last. Yes, I am being funny.
It wasn't my fault - I had a conference to attend and this was the venue.
It shall remain nameless as I don't wish to blame & shame (or attract litigation) but honestly, it was straight out of the 80's (the decade that fashion forgot!). When did you last see cane furniture in a hotel? I was expecting Starsky & Hutch to burst through those drapes at any moment! But the cane furnishings were not the only assault to the sensibilities that I had to endure for 3 long days... There was also:
The inexplicable 2cm step as you entered any room in the hotel, guaranteed to catch your kitten heels resulting in a less than elegant entry to the room accompanied by some pretty blue language every time
The permeating pong of eau de cigarette in the hallways
The sunlight peeking through the moth-holes in the drapes
The stale bread-rolls that could have been put to better use repairing the cobble-stoned roads. They appeared at breakfast, lunch & dinner so I started to think that maybe they were decor, and I had been mistaken in thinking they were on the menu
On the up-side, the rooms were huge and the staff were of the old-fashioned European school of impeccable Swiss hotel training - I'm sure they were embarrassed but they never let on, and kept their upper lips staunchly stiff despite the shabby surroundings. Stoic to the end...
So that's my summary of the highlights and the low-lights of the Kypros World Tour 2016. More soon...
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