8 newly renovated apartments in the center of Florence

The winter is a time when things slow down enough for us that we can focus on adding new properties to the site (and weed out some that we don’t think represent the best options to our guests).  Over the years we’ve a seen a bit of a pattern emerge where an individual who does well renting their apartment scales up, adding other people’s apartments too and becoming a small property manager.  On some sites, like Airbnb, this can seem misleading to guests, when you expect to stay in someone’s house, and instead are staying in one of many vacation rentals that are operated as a business.  For us, however, we welcome this, partly because we want to only work with professionals (whether renting 1 apartment or 10 – being professional is a key element) and also because if people are good at what they do, and doing well, they should grow and expand.  In some ways, it easier to manage 10 properties well with a small team who can do checkins, clean, repairs, and divide up the time so someone can always be on call, than to manage 1 apartment by yourself.

In the case of these new apartments in Florence, they are all managed by a local company called Etesian, founded by a former personal trainer in 2012.  They manage 16 properties on the site (a number that is constantly growing) in the center of Florence – divided between the Oltrarno, the San Lorenzo market and Piazza Santa Croce – in other words, all in the center and close enough to each other that between them, they can manage check-ins, maintenance and emergencies quickly and efficiently.  We’ve worked with them for years and have always found them to be fair, efficient and professional, and their apartments are all recently restored and well thought out so that they combine the amenities people want, a good sense of design that’s pleasing visually but also functional.

Keep in mind that their availability is all synched in real-time so when displayed on our site in a search, they are definitely available.

Prices published are for high season (April through October) for the entire flat, regardless of the number of guests, and discounts are offered in March, August and between November 1st and February 28th (excluding Christmas and New Years).

Appartamento Badesse in Sant’Abrosio (near Piazza Santa Croce) – 2 bed / 2 bath – sleeps 6 guests – €164 / night

Appartamento Costa San Giorgio in the Oltrarno at Porta San Frediano – 2 bed / 1 bath – sleeps 6 guests – €156 / night

Appartamento dei Neri near Piazza Santa Croce – 1 bed / 1 bath – sleeps 4 guests – €131 / night

Appartamento Number 11 in the Oltrarno at Porta San Frediano – 2 bed / 1 bath – sleeps 6 guests – €118 / night

Il Magnifico near San Lorenzo market – 2 bed / 1 bath – sleeps 5 guests – €144 / night

Appartamento Isola at Piazza Santa Croce (in the same building, across the hall, from Appartamento Stinche) – 2 bed / 1 bath – sleeps 2 guests – €94 / night

Appartamento Stinche at Piazza Santa Croce (in the same building, across the hall, from Appartamento Isola) - studio / 1 bath – sleeps 2 guests – €102 / night

 

Should you stay in the Giudecca neighborhood in Venice?

Giudecca is an often overlooked part of Venice.  Located across the Giudecca canal, the widest canal in Venice, it’s cut off from the city by foot, which creates some notable pros and cons.  Lonely Planet describes it well in their mini-guide to the area:  ”Located just across the canal bearing its name, Giudecca is Venice minus the plastic trinkets, touts and camera-toting tourists.”

 

If you check the forums, you get some pretty polarised views.  Pretty everyone agrees that it’s a lot less crowded with tourists and generally cheaper/more authentic restaurants (though few of them.

At the same time, many people visiting Venice are there for a very short time and don’t want to mess with ferries and just want to be as close to San Marco and the Rialto as possible.

My personal opinion is a bit of a mix.  The water taxi / ferry ride across to Dorsoduro is easy and frequent.  It run every 10 minutes from 5am to midnight and then all through the night (but reduced frequency).  However, it can add up – over 6 euro each way.  So unless you’re buying a transport pass, that can be expensive if you’re the type of traveler who doesn’t want to stay out all day and needs a few rests back at your home base.

But I also can’t stand the crush of humanity in the summer months that radiates out from San Marco – nor do I like all the trashy commerce and tourist traps that sprout up around the throngs of tourists.

Giudecca is also very beautiful and picturesque.  It has the same kind of architecture and narrow streets that you want from your stroll around Venice.  Also you get views of St. Mark’s square like this:

 

If that sounds good to you, check out these two apartments on Giudecca:

 

 

And if the ferry across is a deal breaker, but you still want to be somewhere less touristy, here’s one in Dorsoduro that’s walkable to pretty much everywhere:

 

 

 

A rant about taxis in Rome

There are many con-artists in many cities all over the world – and I have issues with them all, but there’s a special place in hell that I reserve for the crooked taxi driver who preys on someone who’s just arrived – sleep-deprived and jet lagged – putting a horrible start to their trip with a bitter taste in their mouth that’s hard to remove no matter how good the pasta and pizza.

Now I know a number of taxi drivers and although they aren’t all evil, I’ve had enough first-hand (and second-hand) experience with dishonest (or simply annoying) drivers, that it’s not a case of one bad apple ruining in the bunch – it’s more like a shitload of bad apples and one edible one.

There’s a few common scams that are worth noting when taking taxies around the city:

1.  Putting the fare at nr. 2 or 3 instead of 1 (which is a higher rate used for travel outside the city center).  Many drivers always seem to “forgot” to reset it to “tariffa 1″.

2.  Driving around in circles, jacking up the fare.  This is especially true when someone who doesn’t know the lay of land mistakenly requests a driver take them to an address only 2-3 blocks away. The driver, knowing they have someone on board without a clue, will probably take the scenic route.

3.  Taking a 50 euro bill (for example) and then insisting you gave them a 10 or a 20.  Most people don’t have the stamina to argue this out successfully, even when they know they’re right.

In my experience, these aren’t that common though – not enough to avoid taxis, in any case.  The fare starts anywhere between 3 and 6.50 euro (depending on the time of day and whether it’s a Sunday or holiday), and this changes often enough that it’s better to just give an estimate.   But the city is compact and you can generally get anywhere for 10-15 euro, which isn’t bad if you’re a few people, it’s raining, and/or you’re in a rush.

The Big Scam, though, the one that keeps me up at night with fictional arguments between me and the taxi drivers, has to do with the fixed rate to and from Rome’s airports.  The reason why this scam gets a capital “S” is that it’s made possible by the city itself, out of sheer incompetence, stupidity and (I wouldn’t doubt) a dose of corruption.

Ready for my rant?  Great – here goes:

So, the fixed rate is supposed to be 48 euro to/from Fiumicino and 30 euro to/from Ciampino.  This amount is valid up to 4 passengers WITH bags, any time of day, and to any destination within the Aurelian Wall (essentially the center of Rome).

Here’s some of the petty ways a dishonest driver will try and skew this in their favour:

1.  Driver insists it’s 45 euro/30 euro per person.

2.  Driver asks extra for bags or for nighttime supplement.

3.  Driver insists that this amount is just TO the city walls, and then from there it’s metered.

What’s annoying is that taxi drivers, all parked out in front of the airport, tend to work with a wolf-pack mentality, so if driver A tries to screw you and you go to driver B, they’ll often feel the pressure of the pack to say the same thing to you that driver A said.  For one of them to break off on his own and take you for the actual fare, is an act of rebellion – one that he’ll probably pay for later.

The fixed rate is well documented though – printed on most cab’s side exterior, and there’s a card inside the cab as well that repeats these details, in various languages.  There’s even a map that shows the area that’s considered “within the walls” in orange.

And that’s where my blood finds its boiling point – because the map is wrong.  

The Aurelian Wall was built about 1700 years ago and (obviously) – it hasn’t been moved around during the last millennia and a half.  Most of it is intact, and if you do a search for images for the wall on Google you’ll get a bunch of versions – from the antique to the more modern, showing where the wall is (and has always been).  It’s not really a debate, until you search for a map that shows the area within the walls, in regards to the taxi fare.

My favorite is this one, because it shows the area that concerns one of the densest areas in Rome for accommodation – the area just North of Termini Station (about 2:00 if the orange ring were a clock face).

Here’s another version with the area I’m referring to highlighted:

This was the original map and if googled, can be found on sites that posted it from 2012, when the fixed taxi rate went into effect.

Here’s another one that shows the wall outline, but for some reason excludes a triangle north of Termini:

And here’s what you’ll see in the back of the taxi and on the website of the Comune di Roma:

What happened to the little triangle where there are about 200 hotels?  Was this ancient wall moved?

Whereas the other scams are disputable, this one is institutional.  I’ve actually written the city of Rome, asking for some sort of explanation, and the only response I received was that it would be reviewed.  The person I spoke with didn’t seem to understand what the hell I was talking about anyway.

My suggestions, in light of all this:

1. If you suspect a taxi driver of scamming you, take a picture of their ID number, and the license plate, etc.  This will almost always change their tune.  But please, don’t stop there – file a report here.  If you don’t, you’re enabling them.  Report them.  Otherwise, it’s worth it for them to keep doing it.

2.  Use a taxi app like My Taxi.  It’s free and works well and will have your route established and the fare recorded.

3. If you’re traveling solo, try Scooterino – a ride service app like *Uber but on a scooter.

4.  For airport transfer, book a hired car, called NCC (do this through us or your hotel).

5. Take the train or bus instead from the airport.  It’s quicker anyway.

 

* Uber is heavily fought in Italy and its legality is dubious.  There’s convenience, but prices are higher than taxis and not really worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

Trash in Venice – what you need to know

Venice is a unique city, and has unique problems that are difficult to solve.  Trash collection is one of them.  Trash in Venice has to be collected on foot which is labor intensive and expensive. Men with wheelbarrows cruise the alleys and canals collecting trash. A large number of plastic bottles end up in the canals each day.

From October 4th, 2016, Venice has changed their trash collection system.  It’s now illegal to leave trash bags on the street or in front of one’s building door, as they attract mice, seagulls and pigeons, who open the bags and spread the trash around.

The new law allows two methods to getting rid of one’s trash:

1) Take your trash bags between 6:30 and 8:30 am from Monday to Friday (Sunday and holidays excluded) to the trash boats located on certain streets.

2) Wait for the trash men to buzz your building between 8:30 am and 12:00 (noon) to collect the trash.

If you’re caught disposing trash anywhere else, it’s a 167 euro fine!

Each “Sestiere” has its own trash collection site, which you’ll have to inform yourself about.

Regarding the issue of plastic bottles, there are over 100 drinking fountains with good, safe, free water in the city, so buy your own re-usable bottle, or just keep using one plastic bottle, during your travels.

You can find a map of Venice’s fountains with the Fuorirotta the other map of Venice“, which are called “Fontanelle Pubbliche”

BonAppetour – Dining with Locals

Some of the best meals I’ve ever had in Italy came from home chefs, and not in restaurants.  Italian cuisine is the result of poverty + resourcefulness over lots and lots of time to prefect the dishes that remain unique to each area of Italy, and change from town to town, and region to region.   So it makes sense that if you want to eat something really authentic, you need to get something homemade.

I was lucky to recently meet two young entrepreneurs out of Singapore, who started BonAppetour, hoping to capture, and make available to tourists, something that restaurants cannot.  Below is Rinita, one of the founders, on the right, and Alexandra, their local community manager/organizer.

On their site, you can select filters that show you what dinners (and often, classes) are available, and you can read other diner’s comments.  You reserve and pay online and are then basically invited to someone’s home for a kind of dinner party – with the host present.  This makes it not just an experience of the food, but also a way to connect tourists to locals.  It’s not often easy, or possible, to score an invite into someone’s home!  This way, you get a great meal, and the kind of insight that comes with meeting people of different cultures, who are happy to share their knowledge and open up their homes to you.

Our host, Francesca, made us a Milanese-themed dinner of liver paté, ossobuco (veal shanks) and risotto alla Milanese (flavoured with saffron), finished with a kind of tiramisù cream and pavese biscuits.

They seem to have a strong presence in Asia, their stomping ground, but also have many hosts/chefs in France, Spain in Italy – probably the three places most people want to have a home dining experience in.

Just a note though – authenticity is not synonymous with the postcard perfect/stereotypical vision that many people have of their destination.  So be prepared to get out to areas that real locals live in and to perhaps engage in conversations that reflect surprising opinions!

Bonappetour can be found on Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram.