Showing posts with label VRBO. Show all posts
Showing posts with label VRBO. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Living in Italy: Rethinking Life’s Routines

We ‘lived’ in Italy for a very short time this fall. Staying in apartments that allowed us to play house, we were able, for a brief moment, to experience what expats must when dealing with new cultures, customs and behaviors. 

We sampled this travel style last year in Spain and were eager to try it again in Italy.

Two apartments. Two cities. Two completely different experiences.  But each provided us an opportunity to re-think the routines of daily life.

MilanBolgTusc2012 100Our first home was a warm, cozy place in Bologna,  where the owners had anticipated  our every need, right down to scotch tape and scissors.

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Our Venice home was  functional, but lacked the warmth and charm of the first place. You can probably tell that  from the photos.

If you’ve ever lived – for however long – in another country you know that everything about daily life is sort of the same as the one you live back home, yet different.

VeniceSanJuanIsl 188Different, in visible ways,  like water-craft ambulances in Venice and gas stations to fill up your boat (photo below). 

Tasks as simple as turning on the dishwasher, washing machine, adjusting the heat, buying groceries and cooking, finding the ATM machine, even locking the front door were just enough different to require some thought about how to accomplish them.

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Our first night in Venice, a bit tired, somewhat disappointed in the apartment and short-tempered, we thought we’d locked ourselves out of it because no amount of turning the key opened the door.
Why hadn’t we tried the lock before both of us stepped outside and shut it? How could  it be so impossibly difficult? we grumbled.

You  are probably thinking, wouldn’t it be much easier to stay in a hotel? For that matter, it would be easiest to stay home where those day-to-day routines require no thought whatsoever. 

But one of the great things about this type of travel is that it forces us to sometimes live on the edge of comfortable. 

VeniceSanJuanIsl 097It makes unlocking the front door a high-five accomplishment and  turns fresh bread, cheese, olives and a glass of wine – eaten ‘at home’ – into a feast.

It forces us to turn off life’s auto-pilot and rethink the art of living. It also makes us grateful for the familiarity of the home we return to after each trip. 

It’s a great way to take travel to a new level. We’ll do it again and would recommend it, but with reservations because it isn’t for everyone. 

VeniceSanJuanIsl 189

On this Travel Tip Tuesday:  We recommend that before before booking such a stay, you ask yourself:
1.  Am I comfortable not having a front desk resource available 24/7 to answer questions, provide maps, and solve problems?  Can I figure out how to call for emergency response (medical, fire, police) if the need were to arise?
2.  Do I want to go grocery shopping and prepare some meals at home?
3.  Have I researched the area and the user reviews of the place enough to feel comfortable, if not eager, to book it?
4.  In case I find myself in a neighborhood where English isn’t prevalent, do I speak enough of the language to get by?
5.  Am I ready to live on the edge of comfortable and rethink the routines?

If You Go:  We booked both our apartments through the on line rental agency, Vacations to Go.  Another similar site is HomeAway.  Both these websites offer user reviews, but we often check TripAdvisor as well.

Have you ever traveled on the edge of comfortable? If so, where was it that made you re-think routine?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

TPThursday: Sample Bologna’s Beauty and Bounty

It could well be Italy’s hidden tourist gem; this capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, just north of  its better-known neighbor,Tuscany.

I wrote some weeks ago that we were returning for a second helping of this culinary haven nicknamed ‘la grassa’, (the fat), whose historic town center is recognized for both its towers and a ribbon of arcades (porticos) that wind through its ancient narrow streets for some 38 kilometers or 24 miles.

MilanBolgTusc2012 111I can tell you, we heaped our plates (literally and figuratively) the four days we spent there and yet didn’t satiate our appetites.

We could easily return to this history-rich university town; the place where in 1088 the Alma Mater Studiorum – the first university in the western world -- was founded. Today university students bring a round-the-clock buzz to this once Etruscan capital.

On this Travel Photo Thursday I am offering a sample of the piccolino, (small), details that become travel treats here:

MilanBolgTusc2012 164

Let’s begin with this building.  At first glance you notice the arcades, those famous covered walkways that loop like pastel ribbons through the town. But look more closely, up at the roof line:

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It’s a facade of faces. . .who were these people watching over the square, immortalized by time?

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You could – and we did – walk for miles through the labyrinth of arcades that wind through the historic center of town. Some sadly defaced with graffiti, and others intricate murals of art.  But if you  looked at the doorways along those arcades. . .

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You find magnificent works of art in the  form of door knockers, many as ornate as this one . I fought the desire to grab them and rap hard, just to see who might answer the door.

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Buildings so old that their ages were hard to comprehend but their history reflected in the details. . .

MilanBolgTusc2012 158

In even the more modern rainbow-colored neighborhood where we had rented an apartment . . .

MilanBolgTusc2012 105

even a flower’s blossom on our deck each morning  made for another travel treat in Bologna . . .

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If you go: Bologna can be reached by any number of European gateway cities and is served by numerous airlines. We flew to Milan and took a train to Bologna – an excellent way to see the countryside.
We rented our apartment through the online company, Vacation Rental by Owner 

Map picture

That’s it for our contribution to TP Thursday hosted by Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox, so head on over there for more destinations.

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Friday, October 26, 2012

Ciao! Ciao! Celebrity ~ Hello Harmony

We said farewell to our floating home, the Celebrity Silhouette, on Tuesday and have set up our Venice ‘home’ in an apartment called Harmony.

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We arrived in Venice in the early morning, gliding through the darkness on the Guidecca Canal toward the cruise terminal as quietly as the gondoliers who ply the waters of the nearby Grand Canal. (I was among the die-hard 'arrival fanatics' who were up at 4:30 to view our arrival.)

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The ship stayed overnight, so Wednesday afternoon we toasted our old friend from our neighborhood waterside bar as she set sail at sunset to retrace the steps that brought us here.

Our home this week, an apartment rented from the website Vacation Rental By Owner, is in the Zattere; an area away from the concentrated hordes of tourists; a place so down-home that the man at the corner bar knew we wanted our ‘two Americani coffees’ this afternoon when we walked in and we’ve only been there twice since our arrival.

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This is ‘our’ street – we enter our building through the second door down from Joel.  We are on the first floor (that means second floor by US terminology). Our apartment isn’t as cute and warm as the one we rented in Bologna; but it is spacious, clean and functional – and a fraction of the price of hotels here.  So we are in ‘harmony’ with our digs. (Yes, pun intended)

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The kitchen is both the living area and kitchen as the television is against the right wall in this photo.  The bedroom, bath and second bedroom/den down the hall.

washington wednesdays 051
The Zattere is exceeding our expectations; we stroll this section each day to get home.  (BTW, that large ship is a private yacht.)  The only problem is that the days are rushing past far too quickly.  And there’s a lot of city here to explore, so ciao for now. . .I’ve gotta get going!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Monday Meanderings: A Second Helping of Bologna

The night we spent in Bologna, Italy as part of a return to Seattle from Venice a few years ago wasn’t enough. 

The snippet of a taste we had – Roman ruins, great food and wine, architecture – was enough to draw us back this fall for a ‘full meal deal’ taste of this gourmand land known for its stuffed pastas and 'Bolognese' sauce. 

We’ve extended our ‘land-time’ prior to the cruise from Rome which allows a visit to Bologna. After successfully changing our frequent-flier mile airline seats, The Scout (that’s Joel) went to work on finding accommodations there.

An apartment named Cassiopea, in central Bologna, won out over the dozens of other options he perused.  Joel was taken with the more than 40 reviews singing its praises and I was sold when this photo came up as part of the information:

A flower trimmed deck for morning espresso and afternoon wine will sell me on a place every time.  We’ve booked this  little Italian ‘home away from home’ on a quiet side street with a view to the hills beyond town for four nights.

One of the previous guests wrote that the La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese cooking school is nearby and an afternoon lesson and tasting there shouldn’t be missed. Others wrote about places to visit and people watching in the piazza each night.  Will we have time to fit it all in?

The photos in this post are courtesy of the apartment owners/hosts, Anna Rita and Piero.  I’m not showing you all the apartment views yet, but those of you who know what animal lovers we are, will understand why the second photo --  after the one of the deck -- to catch my eye was this one:

Portraits with cats and dogs line the walls. We've learned through our email exchange since booking the apartment that these works are Anna Rita’s.  A quick visit to her web site shows she’s an artist who loves animals as much as we do.  If you want to see more of the art (or videos of her furry ones) just follow this link:

One of the best benefits of this type of rental is getting to know real people. On the flip side, renting any place – hotel or apartment – does requires a somewhat moderate leap of faith; you hope photos and reviews are truthful. In the case of Cassiopea the reviews not only sing praises of the place but of the people as well.

One guest proclaimed, “It was like staying with the most wonderful cousin you could ever have.” And in my mind that said a lot. I suspect that our stay in Cassiopea will only make us want another – bigger -- serving of Bologna the next time!

If You Go:

We found Cassiopea on  Vacation Rental By Owner where deposit and payment is accomplished using Pay Pal.  It is also listed on the French-based site, Homelidays, or on Perfect Places.  

Bologna is about 2.5 hours from Rome and a half hour from Florence by fast train. For more information visit the city's user-friendly website:  Bologna Welcome.

Map picture

Now that you know we’ll be in Bologna, do you have some recommendations for us?  What shouldn’t we miss while there?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Bucerias, Mexico: Back to our Future

There was a time when Bucerias, Mexico, a small fishing village north of Puerto Vallarta on Mexico’s west coast was our future. Now, it's a sizeable segment of our past. Earlier this month we revisited that past.

RivieraNayarit2012 177Seven years ago we sold our last property there, The Dolce Vitas, and filed Mexico away in our history book.

(Unlike our Casa de la Playa below, the DV’s still stand – next to them these days is a restaurant offering live music and dancing.) 

Back to our Future

Casa de la Playa 001In 1991 the laid-back fishing village we selected as the site of our second home --our heads filled with all the giddy future plans that go with such investments – there were maybe six restaurants.  Accommodations included a couple of Mexican-owned and operated low-end  hotels, a condo building or two, and a few privately-owned homes, such as ours, that served as vacation rentals.

The town’s landmark were the stalls of oyster vendors that lined the two-lane Highway 200 that bisected it.

From our U.S. home we brought supplies – sheets, towels, kitchen supplies –to the south-of-the-border house (in oversized suitcases; thankfully, before baggage fees came to be).

Today:  Tourism and Touts; Big Boxes and Banks

 Bucerias  is now a part of the tourist-zoned, Riviera Nayarit.  And tourism has come to town! (Along with the multitudes of over-zealous trinket touts and timeshare sales people that seem to come with Mexican tourism.) 

RivieraNayarit2012 058The gauntlet of trinket touts lines every street leading into town from the old footbridge over the dry, dusty arroyo. The constant calls:  “Hey Lady, come look!” “Hey, how long you here?” “Good prices, almost free!”  made us want to shout: “Enough already!”

RivieraNayarit2012 320Oyster vendors? We saw one  lone table  stacked with oysters to the side of  a ‘lateral’.

The laterals, those local access roads to the side of the highway, have been enlarged to two lanes each direction as has the highway itself,RivieraNayarit2012 069 making the road through town an eight-lane super structure with a palm-tree lined median strip.

RivieraNayarit2012 318Accommodations abound. This hotel sits across from the fish restaurants that still line the beach in the town’s el centro.
High rise condo buildings with unit price tags starting at $300,000US, are sprouting like beach grass all over town. The rental site, Vacation Rental By Owner, lists 129 accommodations – unlike the half dozen listed when we owned there.

RivieraNayarit2012 184Household supplies are readily available from Costco, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Home Depot, in Puerto Vallarta, and the Mexican chain, Mega in Bucerias.  Each store is stocked with ATM’s.  Bucerias  has banks now as well.

Bucerias isn’t the town it once was, but we aren’t the same either. As we all know sometimes change isn’t always bad.  Have you revisited your future lately?  If so, what changes have you found?


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