Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Hotels vs. Apartments vs. Hostels

When I started looking into accommodations for our trip, I was more than a little surprised at the prices I was seeing. Granted, our first stay was in Rome, but still, a double room for 120 Euros? There's four of us, for crying out loud. My first thought was, "We're not going to make it out of Europe!"
Our plans were to be gone for nine months. I knew Italy would be the most expensive, but still, at 120/night, that was 3600 Euros (at the time, over $5000 CDN) for one month.
For half of us.
Even hostels were, at their cheapest, about 20 Euros per person, and that might have been an eight or twelve person room.
I considered that we were going to be staying in Rome longer than the average person (one week), so I broadened my Google search to 'long term holiday rental' or something like that, and stumbled upon all sorts of apartment rentals, available for anywhere from a few days to a few months. Sifting through dozens of links, I found all sorts of interesting options, from lovely two level digs with fireplaces and sitting rooms for a couple thousand euros a night, all the way down to stuff that even we could afford. After looking at loads of photos, checking availability, and nixing the ones that were just too far away from anything, I settled on The Morandi, which I unfortunately can no longer find online.
At 600 Euros for a week, it worked out to 85 a night, cheaper than many hotels. Although it was small, it had an awesome patio, and we ate out there every day.

One of the big draws of an apartment is having your own kitchen, which provides at least two benefits. First, you can save a ton of money by buying groceries and making your own meals, as opposed to always eating at a restaurant. Secondly, you have an opportunity to interact with local people in a very real way, just by buying groceries at the market, doing the normal things that everyone else is doing and being a part of the community. It was a satisfying experience.

Istanbul Kitchen

On the other hand, that means you have to spend time buying your groceries and making your own meals - and doing your own dishes. But, having an apartment to spread out in, to come home to and relax meant that at the end of a day of walking, sightseeing, museums, etc. the kids had an opportunity to do their own thing for a bit while the meal was prepared, rather than sitting at a restaurant table waiting for the food to come. You also will be able to find an apartment big enough for everyone. Needing two hotel rooms for a family holiday would not be fun.

Before we left home, I had only a few things booked:

  • Week 1 - apartment in Rome
  • Week 2 - apartment in Montichiello
  • Week 3 - apartment in Florence
  • Week 8 and 9 - house on Chios Island

Everything else was going to be taken care of on the road as I didn't want our schedule to be too rigid. After our amazing experiences in Rome and Montichiello, I was online pretty regularly, seeking out apartments. The Florence flat only solidified our opinions of apartment living.
After that, I was able to connect with Nicholas to get a great trulli rental in South Italy for late August, which we probably finalized within 24 hours of arriving. 
On August 20th, I secured an apartment in Astros, Greece for a week starting on the 29th.
On September 9th I booked an apartment in Athens for a week starting on the 12th. That one was pretty tight too, but it turned out wonderfully.
On October 9th I booked an apartment in Istanbul for two weeks, starting October 21st.

All of this was done online, and it all worked out perfectly. No hassles, no tricks, no nothing. Everyone was really kind and helpful, and I would recommend every single one of these places to prospective travellers.

The friendly Karatzos brothers don't appear to be renting their apartment anymore, nor does Angelica in Astros, Greece (got in touch with her, and yes she does still rent - to inquire, email her at akoinis@yahoo.com), but the good news is, the others are still there.

Super bright living area in Athens

Extraordinarily large deck on our Astros apartment

The Monticchiello apartment was a real highlight, and although the town takes a bit of driving to get to, it is fantastic. The apartment is reasonably large, especially if you rent the bottom part for the kids, it has a cute little back yard, and is situated in a beautiful old hill town. 

Our Florence apartment (the Dante) was a stone's throw from a Medici chapel, a five minute or less walk from the Duomo, and I only hit my head four times on the beam above our loft bed. 

View from our window in Florence

While Nicholas is still in business, that particular trulli is no longer available to rent. But there are several other trullis on his site, from ones like we rented, to some pretty high end ones with pools.
If you're looking to buy a trulli, you might want to talk to him as well.

The lane to our trulli

The Istanbul apartment was a real treat as it was right in the middle of a residential neighbourhood so we had all the amenities nearby. 

One of the supermarkets nearby

Watercolour: view as we walked toward old Istanbul

View from a playground near our apartment.

It was a beautiful twenty minute walk down to Old Istanbul, we had three supermarkets less than a block away, close to bus service, and a mosque close enough that we heard the call to prayer all five times every day for two weeks like it was right outside our window.... It actually was pretty cool.

And finally, I have to mention again the simply amazing Tasos and Margarita in Chios.

Hatzelenis office in Chios Harbour

Fabulous people, very helpful and friendly, just going beyond expectations when things got kind of tough for us.
The house was large, with a couple of bedrooms, a dining and living area, an open veranda

Breakfast on the veranda
and of course, just a couple hundred metres from the beach that appeared to belong only to us.

The beach is just down the path, beyond the red roof

A fifteen minute walk to Volissos

Geckos scared the crap out of me the first night, after that we were friends

If you plan on being anywhere (other than home) for more than a few days, I highly recommend looking at apartment rentals. Room to spread out (kids doing homework, dad writing and going through photos, Mom reading and putting her feet up

(when she wasn't doing all the cooking)), a kitchen to make and store your food, and often in established neighbourhoods - meaning a rich cultural experience.
And since they can often be less than the price of a hotel, there really is no down side.
If you're travelling as a family, it may even be cheaper than a hostel.

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