I remember when I first learned the meaning of the word community. My grade school teacher instructed the class to draw a circle on a piece of paper. Then she told us that our neighborhood was our community, our circle. We each belonged to our own community, while other people belonged to different ones. When I asked the teacher if I could belong to more than one community, she said no, I could not. My friends and I looked at each other sadly. Not one of us lived in the same neighborhood and according to our teacher that meant we didn’t belong to the same community.
Today, I doubt if anyone would define the word community in such narrow terms. We may have a community that looks much more like a Jackson Pollock painting, with dots and splashes of color all over the globe rather than a simple, isolated circle on a child’s paper.
So when I set out with my daughter on a European trip, I wanted her to experience what dedicated, globetrotters already know: our community is as big as we want it to be, and we really can belong anywhere. Staying at airbnb’s seemed like a natural fit.
“Aren’t you nervous about staying with strangers?” my friends asked me. I had to admit that I was and I scoured the airbnb website looking for places that came highly recommended by others who had already been there. I chose locations that were close to the sights we wanted to see. I also looked for amenities like kitchens, washing machines and WiFi.
When I finally made my choices and requested bookings, the hosts and I emailed back and forth several times. Some of them asked me questions about who I was and why I was traveling and I had lots of questions for them too.
Our first stop was Vancouver and we spent one night in Chan’s Richmond home with its immaculate en suite rooms. Chan was a charming host and we enjoyed several conversations with him at his kitchen table. Pleasant encounters like this one were repeated many times with other hosts.
In Dubrovnik, our host, Maro came to meet us at the Pile gate and helped us carry our luggage. We stayed in his ‘sweet, modern studio’ in what had been his grandmother’s home in the center of Dubrovnik’s Old Town. It turned out to be a perfect location to explore the city and Maro and his sister, Kate were the perfect hosts, giving us great advice on restaurants and sightseeing.
In Venice we stayed at ‘BnB Vale’. This bnb is one of my favorites as it is located in a Venetian palace right on the Grand Canal and is close to all the sights. The palace is an elegant building with marble staircases and fresco paintings on the walls. We even had our own terrace and boat landing right on the canal. Valeria, our host was a wonderful person with a generous, lovely spirit. She served us a delicious breakfast each morning and when we lost a passport she helped us fill out the police report. We couldn’t have done it without her!
Our pleasant, two-bedroom apartment in Verona was the largest bnb we stayed in. Our host, Andrea calls his bnb, ‘Maria Callas’ in honor of the opera festival where Maria Callas made her debut. It’s a five-minute walk to the Roman arena where the festival is held each summer. It’s also an easy walk to Juliet’s House and other sights in Verona.
Next we stayed in Marco’s ‘comfy flat in the center of Milan’. Marco even came to get us at the subway stop when we got lost and he helped us with our bags. The apartment was very comfortable and within walking distance of Milan’s Gothic Cathedral and city center. It also had something that I quickly learned was a novelty, an elevator!
Silvia’s ‘Da Baranin BnB’ in Cinque Terre was worth the climb, but then everything in Cinque Terre is uphill! Da Baranin BnB has lovely views, private patios, nice rooms and a fantastic breakfast with homemade cakes and excellent coffee. Top it all off with a helpful staff and it made for a wonderful stay.
The most adventurous place we rented was in Florence. It was Noel’s artist studio with a beautiful, rooftop view of the Duomo. The studio is in a five-hundred-year-old building that must have been newly constructed when Leonardo was painting his masterpieces. This bnb is not for the faint-hearted, (think camping in the middle of Florence). The studio is up six flights of stairs, the floors are dusty from the plaster walls and the bathroom is tiny. It is however, very charming and historic (the kitchen sink is a roughed-out stone slab) and the view is breathtaking. Oh yes, remember to bring your own towels.
In Paris we stayed in Gilles’ ‘flat in the heart of Le Marais’. This location could not be more picturesque and convenient. We loved Gilles’ compact and efficient studio with its exposed beams and winding staircase. Our window looked down on the cobblestone courtyard with its wide doors leading out to the street. Originally the doors were built large enough to allow for the carriages of the aristocratic noblemen who lived in this neighborhood in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
In London we stayed in two different places and the experiences were completely different. Manthe’s Chelsea studio was much nicer but Glenn’s private room with a shared bath in Soho was a better location. The Book of Mormon was at the Prince of Wales Theater just around the corner and it was a two-minute walk to Piccadilly Station. I was initially nervous about sharing a bathroom with strangers but it turned out fine. Be forewarned, the water didn’t always work well in the mornings.
At the end of the day, did we have any negative experiences or safety issues with airbnb? Not one. Would I stay with airbnb again? Absolutely. What I learned was that while the locations and amenities of airbnbs are important, the most important thing by far are the people, the hosts who made us feel right at home. We experienced firsthand that we weren’t just renting a room. We were making local connections, making true friends and expanding our community one bnb at a time.