Friday, November 4, 2011

Bonnie and Hotels vs. Apartments

It was January 1995 when Bonnie suggested I go ballroom dancing.  That was soon after my divorce and I was feeling down.  Dancing would be good, she told me.  It involves exercise, music, socializing, and, if nothing else, gets you out of the house.  In those days, I called her twinkle toes.  So I went and because of Bonnie I met Manuel and from there a lot of things changed and new vistas opened up.  But that’s another story.

I’ve known Bonnie since about 1972 when our two husbands worked together at the university, and last week I had the rare pleasure of spending time with her.  She was traveling in Europe for the first time in many years, toes now encased in sensible shoes, seeing parts of France and finishing in Barcelona so she could give me a hug

Bonnie used to come to Europe every year but it has been many years since she’s made the trip.  She was here with her friend Forrest who was visiting Europe for the first time.  Before coming to Barcelona they had been in Paris, to Normandy, and along the Loire.

Rather than staying exclusively in hotels, on this trip they rented two tourist apartments.  They were very pleased with their Paris apartment experience.  The apartment was operated by the owner who provided good service and well-thought-out conveniences.  In addition to the well-equipped kitchen, they also had a clothes washer and dryer, and an iron and ironing board.  They could comfortably have breakfast at home before venturing out and in fact, they could buy local ingredients and cook if they wanted.  But they didn’t.  After all, they were in Paris and part of the fun is eating out.  Still, it is convenient to be able to keep food at home and eat in if you feel like it and many hotels forbid any food in the rooms.  The apartment was well situated and the owner was friendly and helpful.

In Barcelona they also rented an apartment.  But unlike in Paris, this one was operated by a large rental firm.  When they booked, they were told the approximate location but not the exact address.  Upon arrival in Barcelona, rather than go directly to the apartment as they had in Paris, they had to go first to the agency’s office.  There, after waiting some considerable time in line, they were given the keys and the address.  They had taken a taxi into the city from the airport but now had to venture out again with their luggage to find the apartment. 

Unfortunately, finding the apartment and then getting into it wasn’t as easy as it should have been.  First of all, the rental firm had given them the name of the street in Spanish (Paseo de Gracia) whereas it, as most streets, goes by its original Catalan name, Passeig de Gracia.  There is no reason why someone who isn’t familiar with the city would know these two are the same street.  All the street signs in Barcelona are in Catalan as are the local maps.  How it is that the company would ignore that and use the Spanish name is hard to say.  But after some initial confusion, they figured it out.

When they got to the building, it turned out that they had been given the wrong key.  Luckily the building had the old-fashioned arrangement of a concierge and he was kind enough to help them out.  Otherwise it would have meant a trip back to the rental office, hauling their luggage (two suitcases each), to get the problem resolved.  The first stop at that office, en route to the apartment, had already added considerable time to their arrival and they were worn out.

This apartment was in a wonderful location, right on Passeig de Gracia, facing the Casa Batlló and Casa Amatller and just down the street from Gaudí’s more famous Casa Milà (La Pedrera).  But in addition to there being no one there to welcome them or tell them about the apartment or the neighborhood, there was also no written orientation material.  There was nothing to explain how to dispose of garbage, no tourist information, no information about where a grocery store might be found nearby, nothing but the user’s manuals for appliances and electronic equipment, and that was all in Spanish.  And oddly, there was an iron, but no ironing board.

So what are the advantages of tourist apartments?  Apartments have kitchens, allowing you to eat in as much (or little) as you choose.  Apartments have normal living rooms with sofas and more space than normal hotel rooms, even the generous ones.  Apartments give you the sense that you are actually living in the city that you are visiting and allow you to be more comfortable when you are at home.

What apartments do not have is a hotel concierge who can help you with problems and difficulties.  What would you do if the hot water stopped running or the electricity went out?  And apartments, unlike hotels, do not have someone on the premises who can help you with tourist questions.  Then there is the check-in, check-out procedure to pay attention to.  If you have an early morning plane to catch, checking out in an agency office might present a problem.

With tourist apartments and villas, there is no set way of paying deposits and rental fees.  Every private rental will ask for a deposit to make the booking and usually (but not always) the deposit is not refundable.  I have seen that many British owners who have villas for rent in my area want the full rental payment weeks before the tenant arrives at the villa.  Many others accept payment upon arrival.

When I rent out my villa I do it this way.  I send a signed contract to the tenant.  When the tenant signs and sends the contract back and pays a 25% non-refundable deposit (by bank transfer), the booking is confirmed.  The contract details what is included in the rental as well as the address of the property.  The remainder can also be paid in advance by transfer or upon arrival in cash.  Some owners accept PayPal or even credit cards, but I don’t.

Renting an apartment is sometimes less expensive than a hotel, especially if you consider the possibility of eating in.  It can be a good way to get more into the feel of a place, and renting a larger one, perhaps with two or more bedrooms, allows you to spend your more relaxed moments in the company of your friends or family if you are traveling with others.  And in that case, it will certainly make your stay much more affordable.

1 comment:

  1. as always..good makes me think that there is a market for a cooking class that each town can offer, so you can meet up with a local at a market, buy ingredients, go back to their place and prepare and eat locally grown food along with a little history of the area...blah blah..that would be my idea of fun.