Florence first. In the footsteps of Dante, of Michelangelo, of Botticelli, of the Duma and of David, of the Medici, the Ponte Vecchio, stepping back into the Renaissance. A city of alleyways and lanes and Lambretta’s and art, the most glorious art in of all Italy, in all the world. You would hardly be surprised, hardly bat an eyelid if, while strolling across the Ponte Vecchio you bumped into Dante himself, fully robed, wearing earphones and checking his Android, for Florence is still, after all these years, a Renaissance city.
Our Airbnb apartment was in one of the myriads of narrow back alleys of tall ancient buildings. It was on the 7th floor. And there are no lifts, just a narrow, steep, winding marble staircase.
Now as it happens I travel fairly light, no more than a briefcase-sized piece of hand luggage, but Patricia, she requires at least nine pairs of shoes, plus those she is wearing, and of course, nine sets of appropriate accessories and outfits, resulting in a huge and heavy monstrous piece of luggage. It’s O.k. when wheeling it across an airport concourse or a railway station lobby, but six or seven levels of a renaissance staircase – we are not fit young backpackers – and your heart sinks. What we needed was a team of Sherpa’s who could set up a base camp of the sixth floor, from where we could rest before making the final ascent, either that or abandon Patricia’s shoes. But we made it, exhausted and sweating. It was a disappointment. We might have wanted, after such a strenuous climb, to collapse into a comfortable sofa, but the apartment furniture was more knackered than we were. It was old and scruffy, the sort of stuff you might donate to Oxfam; the sort of stuff Oxfam would politely decline and refer you to the nearest skip. It really shouldn’t have been allowed by Airbnb at all. And there were no wine glasses, and god forbid, in the land of vino, in a city whose hills were vineyards, Buon vino fa bon sangue, no corkscrew! I don’t want to push the Sherpa analogy too far but I reckon that these days if we had ever reached the top of Mount Everest we would probably find a corkscrew. But there, there was none!
One of the pleasures of Airbnb, over the hotel room, is that you can retreat, as and when you please, nip in from the heat and the crowds, take a glass of wine, play some music, have a dance, and then, refreshed and restored, venture out again into the city you are visiting. Problem here was that to nip in from the heat meant climbing a mountain to a not very pleasant retreat. The one redeeming feature of the apartment was its location. We were but minutes from the Ponte Vecchio and the Uffizi gallery, and hardly more than ten minutes from the Duma.
Florence is too gorgeous to allow such trifling’s as a bad apartment to spoil your visit, there is too much to explore and too much to experience. But this piece is about Airbnb. I did write a little blog piece about the real experience of Florence, you can read it here, but in the context of Airbnb, someone made good money on that ill-equipped poorly furnished apartment. And it wasn’t worth it.
And so to Venice.
From the Railway station, you catch a bus into Venice. Except that it’s a not a bus, it’s a boat, a boat-bus that casts off from the station and sets off across to the city built in the sea.
Vaporetti they call them, their buses, and its already exciting to be on board watching the city draw ever closer as the boat- bus calls at various bus-stops on the way. We were met on board the valporeto by our Airbnb host, on the bus, on the boat. God knows how she recognised us for me, in my flat cap and tweed jacket almost always blend in with the locals, it must have been Patricia’s suitcase full of shoes. She took us, our host, to the correct bus-stop for we would surely, on our own, have got lost. Spirito Santo bus stop.
Spirito Santo Bus stop.
The apartment was less than fifty yards away, and it was to be a most pleasant surprise. On the ground floor, the canal right outside the front door, it was the most stylish and elegant and glamorous and spacious place, with marble floors, beautiful paintings, rich pieces of Murano glass, a little open courtyard to take breakfast in the morning or wine in the evening. And superbly equipped, including, not only a corkscrew but a bottle of welcoming cold Italian prosecco in the fridge. We were less than ten minutes away from the Guggenheim museum and gallery,
Guggenheim looking onto the Grand Canal
which means ten minutes from the Grand Canal. We could catch a bus down the Grand anal! For €1.50! Surely the most astonishing bus route on all the earth. Never mind yer London or Dublin hop on hop off, rip off tourist double decker’s, this was breath-taking. Oh, to be a bus driver in Venice, bus-stops at St. Mark’s square, Salute, Accademia, the Rialto bridge, Piazzale Roma, travelling through a Canaletto painting, dodging Gondoliers, and there’s a water-taxi, and there a water fire engine, and a refuse truck, except it’s a boat!.
Patricia on the Grand Canal bus
You could stroll through the city discovering gorgeous churches, little squares, with pavement bars and cafes where you sit and listen to buskers playing Vivaldi, and no cars, no skateboards, and best of all, oh glory, no bicycles. Here’s a street market except that the streets are canals and the stalls of fruit and vegetables are boats!
I have resolved that I will win the lottery and buy a marbled floored spacious apartment in Venice. I have resolved to become a bus driver in Venice. I have resolved to be a bin man in Venice or a Gondolier, I wonder if they have Uber gondoliers, for I will be an Uber gondolier, in Venice.
Shortly after we left our gorgeous Venetian apartment the news bulletins and the newspapers were full of photographs and reports of Venice being flooded, with St. Mark’s square, under two foot of water. I was a little worried that in our glamorous Venetian apartment, I might have left the tap running.
And so to Bologna.
This was our third visit to Bologna, the second this year, and most certainly won’t be the last. We know from experience that the location of your Airbnb apartment can be quite critical. This was by far the best located of all the places we have ever stayed while in Bologna. On the Via dell bella Arte, the Way of the beautiful Art, who could possibly not want to stay on the way of the beautiful art. It was only minutes away from a rich selection of quite exceptional regional Italian restaurants, and after all, it is mainly for the food of Bologna that you go there at all! But it was also in close walking distance of a wide range of Bologna’s sights and museums and galleries. The longest walk was about 25 minutes, to the Museum of Resistance, but that’s on the other side of the city. So, for location, it couldn’t really be much better.
The apartment itself was rather compact, but we knew that when we booked. The furnishing was dull, lots of brown stuff, not very stylish, probably late ‘50’s early 60’s, but hey, you can’t always find a place with perfect taste, and in fairness we were rather spoilt, for we had just come from an apartment in Venice which was so astonishingly elegant and stylish and spacious that there would be few properties anywhere else on Airbnb’s books that could compare. But the Bologna gaff, well it was in need a bit of makeover. It didn’t matter too much as we were out exploring most of the time, the food shops,
the food markets, the restaurants, the café/bars, the old churches, concerts, and the bookshops, and as a base location, well it couldn’t be much better.
We almost left early. Not because of the furnishing or any inadequacy of the apartment but because while out to dinner on our first night we got a finger-wagging message from the host complaining that we had left a light on and a record playing and were treating his apartment incorrectly.
Well, how do you respond to that? We left the light on, as we do at home, for reasons of security. It’s recommended by the best crime prevention people. We left the disc playing, a classical disc, at low background volume, (Dvorak) because it was a gift from our son, who had recently passed away, and it gave us great comfort to do so. It rather spoiled our dinner, that message, we thought it was exclusively our apartment for the next four days, not a supervised lodging. We were not disrupting neighbors or anything and thought it a bit over the top and intrusive. But rather than respond in kind we just thanked him for providing us with a second set of keys. When we got back to the apartment, we found he had been in. He had turned off the lights and removed the disc from the player. Now that WAS intrusive and very creepy, and a strong interference with our enjoyment of the property. Patricia was very upset, mostly about the disc, to the point of tears. So, we nearly left. In retrospect, we probably should have. It was me that counseled restraint, It was late and the chances of finding somewhere else slim, and besides I didn’t want to have to pack all those shoes again.
So we stayed on for the full four days and left in the early hours of a Sunday morning at the end of our stay, which apart from the disc incident had been a wonderful gastronomic break.
But, and this is a big but, the double bed in the apartment was an old model IKEA bed. At about 4 am on Sunday morning, our final morning, the bed collapsed on the right-hand side. It collapsed as I got into it after attending the bathroom. You could hear the slats cracking or splitting. I fell or slipped off the mattress onto the wooden frame and then on to the floor. The bed was low set, a bit like a futon, so the fall was only a few inches. I was not hurt, just a bit shocked, as if you’d banged your leg against a table, that sort of thing.
Because we were leaving so early, we were up at 5.30 am and had a taxi booked for 6 am, I had no chance to tell the host.
By the time we reached the airport and just as we were boarding the plane, we had another offensive message, angrily blaming us for the damage to the bed, and suggesting, somewhat incredibly, that it had caused by us acting like teenagers rather than mature adults.
I took that to mean that we had engaged in intense athletic sexual practices so vigorous that the bed could not take it and had collapsed under the strain, meaning that we were therefore responsible.
Well, that might have been true some 35 years ago when we first got married but it was not true now! The message was accompanied by an immediate demand for compensation so that a new bed could be purchased.
It was very offensive and I was angry and a little outraged at the innuendo and inferences of the message. I composed a stiff, but restrained reply to Francesco, for it was he who was being so offensive. It was a sort of lawyer’s letter in which I suggested liability for the damage rested with him and referred him to the doctrine of Res ipsa Locqitar. *
I left it to him to look up on google what res ipsa locquitar * means, for it is a hallowed legal phrase, often the last resort of many a personal injury lawyer, who sprinkle it liberally throughout their pleadings and from whose lips the phrase often drops like the dribbling of a toothless man.** It is designed, this Latin lawyer’s phrase, to bemuse and confuse. It is what we lawyers do.
Communications between an Airbnb host and an Airbnb guest must, by the terms of the contract, be conducted through a special Airbnb portal which is monitored by Airbnb to ensure, amongst other things, that mutual due respect is paid, by each party to the contract. My letter was half written in the hope that some Airbnb legal person, knowledgeable of the common law and its Latin phrases, would spot the phrase, perhaps with a cynical inward smile, and intervene to calm things down a bit.
In due course, we received a communication from an Airbnb “trust and safety” officer advising, in very neutral and polite language that Franseco was no longer pursuing his claim for compensation.
Let it be said then, that restraint, therefore, can sometimes pay off quod erat demonsrandum, one might say.
The offense I felt at Francesco ’s lack of respect communication has by now, been softened by the passage of time, the outrage has come back in, and the anger has been doused by distance. But I have a message for Francesco,, I hope he gets the opportunity to read this for it is exclusively for him, an unrestrained message.
You can stuff your compact perfectly located apartment up your creepy Italian arse.
How’s that for restraint?
So we are back home now, in Ireland, and it is wet and cold and there is a turf fire burning and we have such happy memories of our Italian trip. I may moan or complain about the accommodation, hopefully not too much, for, in the context of Italy, they are ephemeral things. It was Italy we went to see, Italy we went to eat, and Italy we went to drink. We shall unquestionably return to Italy, to Venice, to Rome to Florence, even to Bologna, for Bologna is just too wonderful not to return and we have rather fallen in love with it.
That apartment was in a perfect location, but I guess, next time, we will just have to find somewhere else.
* the principle that the mere occurrence of some types of accident is sufficient to imply negligence.
**This term includes a toothless woman or a toothless non-binary person.