I was only in Adelaide for about two and a half days (arrived Feb 15th, around dinner time, left Feb 18th, 2018, around noon), and most of that time was spent convalescing (from the massive concussion I was suffering), so I really didn’t get to see more than glimpse of the place. That said, I would happily go back again. It’s the sort of city that’s big enough to have a bit of everything you’d want in a city, but not so crowded that you can’t find a parking space. (Sort of like Evanston, IL, or Chattanooga, TN) — also not many photos were taken
The first night we were there my travel buddy (who is an Aussie himself) walked me over to the “Rundle Mall” partly just to see it, but also because we needed to run by the local Target (yes Australia has this chain too) in order to pick up REALLY BASIC things the Airbnb host had not thought to provide for us, and I’m talking pillows and towels sufficient for two people. (This Airbnb sucked so bad that the sheets on the bed didn’t pass the sniff test — not by a long shot — for having been washed after the last guest had left.)
Oh, and he told me that in Australia the term ‘a mall’ tends to refer to a human-traffic only shopping street (cars are excluded), which may or may not be covered, as if not more often than it means a massive indoor shopping town, as it almost always does in the USA. An arcade by comparison isn’t a place full of games, but rather it’s something like the picture below (which is closer to an American idea of a mall, only it seems to be one walkway with shops on each side)This sculpture located in mall and according to my is fairly iconic to Adelaide, and is titled, A day out. I only took the one picture, but it actually consists of a four different pigs scattered about….
If you look carefully at the bench where the guy is sitting and talking on his phone, below it is a 2nd pig….
Alongside the pigs statue (I’m blanking on the correct word, I’m finding my ability to recall words is still not back to 100% even though it’s almost six months since my accident)… OH, remembered it… the ‘art-term’ I was searching for was an installation, since it’s actually a collection of statues rather than one.
Adjacent to the pig statues stood this group of protestors, the screens were all showing a movie that demonstrated the conditions of pigs on farms, including how they were killed, and the squeals. The protesters stood there silently. Add the two things together and you really do essentially have a performance art piece… even if it wasn’t what was intended by the artist of the pigs.
This art piece is another Adelaide landmark called either Mall’s Balls (I have a feeling this is Aussie humor), or ‘the spheres’ that serves as a meeting spot for people.
(the google map refuses to embed, so please check this link for the location)
Personally, it reminded me as an inferior version of Chicago’s (my home town) Cloud Gate, affectionately referred to, and better known as “the bean” — in fact I doubt most Chicagoans could tell you the proper name.
During my time there I ate at one fairly decent restaurant, a Japanese place called Gyoza-Gyoza, which is apparently a local chain Japanese Izakayas (sort of the Japanese version of a pub, where folks come after work to drink and eat).
Overall the food was pretty good, very authentically Japanese
Katoomba is a cute but small town, located about an hour and a half by car from Sydney (or 2.5 hours by train) about 2 kilometers from one of Australia’s natural wonders (which I of course was visiting), whose major industry is tourism. It’s a lot less tourist-trappy than most towns of this sort, while still having a sort of enough to keep visitors happy.
NOTE: I’m writing this blog post well AFTER the fact. I was In Katoomba from January 12th to 18th of 2018 — about 5 months ago. BUT, because of the massive concussion I suffered only one week later, on Jan 25th… I have fallen woefully behind on the posts for that the Australia trip … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) I am taking the opportunity to rectify that…
The downtown area begins, essentially, at the top of a VERY steep hill, where it runs a bit alongside the rail road tracks, and then extends about a half mile South, down hill, in the direction of the natural attractions. (Other than a local movie theater, there’s little of any interest to none locals on the north side of the tracks).
Getting around: And of course I am ASSUMING you don’t have a car… if you do you can just skip this part
Getting from Sydney to Katoomba by train is actually a rather easy and enjoyable ride (see blog post). One of the things to remember is that IF you’ve already been in Sydney over the course of a week, and have actively been using the rail systems “Opal” transit card, once you have used it for eight trips in the course of one week (Monday to Sunday) you to qualify for 50% off on all trips for the rest of that week… including the price of the rail trip out to Katoomba and back.
That said, while there are also some bus routes you can take from the station to get you to your Airbnb or hotel, most of them stop running around 6pm … which I learned the hard way, when I arrived on a 6:30 pm train and ended up having to drag my heavy suitcase the 20 minutes it took to walk (almost a full mile) to my Airbnb… Luckily it was all down hill or I would broken into tears (the Airbnb host had COMPLETELY neglected to mention that fact in spite of my having told her what train I would be arriving on).
That said, I soon learned (not from her) that there are TWO 24 hour taxi services which will pick you up from pretty much anywhere, and run you home (I STRONGLY suggest keeping their phone numbers with you). The one you’re most likely going to be using is the Wentworth Falls Taxi, +61 (0)2 4782 1311; as the other, Blue Mountains Maxi Taxi, specializes in large wheelchair accessible vans that can accommodate up to nine passengers, +61 423 890 670, although they’re perfectly happy to pick up just one. Places to eat:
First off, this place is TINY and popular. As such, unless you come on a non-vacation weekday and get very lucky… you WILL need a reservation (call +61 405 402 130) The time I opted for the basic home-style dishes my ex-boyfriend’s mother used to make regularly… Mandu-guk (it’s a dumpling soup) and Japchae (which they spelled japjae)… I also ordered Kimchi, as this is the first Korean place I’ve ever been too that does NOT include the obligatory Banchanside dishes for free… and an order of Ginger Tea. That said, if you look at the reviews on Trip advisor, and pay attention to the ethnicity of the writers, you’ll see the western customers seemed to be way more enamored with the place than the Koreans (did I mention no obligatory Banchan?). For myself, the Madu-guk and Japchae were fine (they are two kind of hard to screw up dishes) but the Kimchi is SO incredibly mild that I could not smell it, or taste any of the red pepper.
For those who don’t get what I’m talking about, proper Kimchi should STINK, and at least mildly burn your mouth with the heat of the pepper. I had a Korean roommate back in college who initially kept a small bottle of Kimchi in our fridge, which because of the layout of the dorm room was in the same tiny room as our closets… we quickly banned the practice and forced her to keep it downstairs in the dorm room of some other Korean girls, because the stink had passed through the refrigerator’s walls and all of our clothes were suffering from Aux-d’kimchi. Additionally — keep in mind I lived in South Korea for almost three years while working as a professor, one of the first signs that I was back ‘home’ after spending some time in the States visiting my other home, was walking into an EMPTY elevator and being accosted by the scent of the Kimchi that some previous occupant had left behind (usually sweated out, like an alcoholic’s stench, or way too much cologne)
This restaurant would have been worth trying if only because it’s a piece of Australian history.
It was the countries oldest continually serving Cafe (101 years when I went), the place is quaint beyond belief and is like a walk back in history to the 1900’s.
That said, I thought the food here was ok, WOEFULLY overpriced, and in spite of that nothing to write home about (the fact that it was struggling was therefore not a surprise). If you look closely at this menu (below) you’ll know what I ordered.
When I finally spotted this place, located at the far south-east corner of the downtown area I decided that I was in love; This is a former church that for lack of congregants was converted into a cafe, that surrounds a gingerbread house/shop devoted to all things ginger!! (And as my friends know I LOVE ginger.)
While there I found what may be the ultimate ginger drink, it’s called Rochester Ginger and (according to the company), it’s recipe is based on one made by Dickens himself … which I would happily drink regularly but for the fact that it’s $9.40 for a small bottle, about as pricy as wine … when I got home I found Amazon has it for slightly more. … By the way 1 cup = 236 ml, so this stuff is a bit over 177 calories a cup (while Coke is about 96 calories a cup)
they also had me try this organic ginger ale assuring me I would love it, but it was blah.
There was also a ginger flavored Turkish Delight which was ok, but after the Rochester everything paled.
Based on the amount of business they do, this restaurant located not far from the train station seemed to me to be one of the most popular places in town. Their “specials” didn’t seem to change much Kangaroo burgers and pancakes with ice cream), and what finally drew me in was the burger. (Not my first taste of ‘skippy‘, which is what all the locals seem to call it, that was at Pins On Lurline, an upscale restaurant located outside of the downtown distract in what was once a private home … hence not included in this blog)
The burger was less a burger than a sliced meat sandwich, with little rounds of kangaroo meat… not all that tasty and very chewy. While sitting there waiting for my food, I spotted this girl sitting next to me. I asked her if it was alright for me to take the picture and she allowed it…
The picture is completely untouched … the light was just perfect … and I of course allowed her to send a copy of it to herself.
Carrington Hotel Let’s hear it for hotels that could not afford to update their facilities, until the fact that they had not becomes they’re selling point. Looking at the Carrington it’s pretty clear that’s the reality.
I of course don’t know this for sure but after walking around the place I’m willing to take a bet that once the building was old enough to qualify for a World heritage landmark listing, and restoration funds that come with it, that that was probably the first time since 1927 that any serious renovations of the property happened…. and we should all be grateful because walking through its doors is like stepping back in time. According to Wikipedia it’s the only 19th century grand hotel still in use in all of New South Wales.
This massive hotel property is located right in the downtown area, a meer steps away from the train station.
The Yellow Deli
The interior is VERY cute and Hobbit-warren like, and every food program (Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc) ranked it as the most popular eatery in town (must number of reviews, with almost all of the people giving it positive votes).
I had arrived in Katoomba on a Friday night, and was mystified to find this place closed, but once I finally stepped inside I understand why. Every single man working there had a beard, a pigtail and was wearing very similar natural fiber clothes; That and the fact that women were all dressed akin to Mormons in terms of coverage, sent off a bell in my brain saying, “this is a restaurant owned by a cult.”
So I asked, and it turned out they’re a religious group founded in Chattanooga Tennessee. They keep sabbath Friday night to Saturday…. like Jews, but they are not vegetarians like the 7th day Adventists (of whom there are many in the Chattanooga area)… at least based on the menu of what they were serving. They only believe in the old testament not the New Testament but don’t consider themselves to be Jewish… but rather they consider themselves to be Christians. The guy I spoke to, the manager, who was VERY excited that I had keyed into the cues that they were probably a religious group and asking about their beliefs, gave me a bunch of reading material
All that said, they make a very good Carob hot chocolate.
I really liked this place, I liked it enough that I ordered their fresh watermelon & ginger drink more than few times. You tell them what you want, and they throw the ingredients in a blender and serve it up.
If you’re the sort of person who is into BIG things, i.e., roadside attractions designed to lure motorists off of main roads and into small towns that they would otherwise have no reason to pass through… at least long enough to stop and have a meal or fill up their tank, than you’re going to LOVE Casey IL, pronounced ‘Kay-zee‘ by the locals.
That said, when I say Casey is a town you probably would never come to otherwise (unless your family or job necessitated it), I mean it ! THIS ladies and gentleman is pretty much the whole of town (plus or minus a side street or two), if you don’t count the fast food options located adjacent to the highway off-ramp, about a 15 minute walk, or two minutes of driving away.
These photos were taken at around 4pm on a Monday afternoon, and so many of the businesses were closed, even the ones that were still in business, that at first I thought I might have made the strategic error of showing up on a Sunday.
Let’s be clear, Casey isn’t just kind of quiet, its dying. According to Wikipedia the most recent 2010 census, the population of the town was 2,762, down from their 2000 census count of 2,942, and while the next census isn’t for a few years, the estimated numbers for 2016 are even worse, 2,698… to put this in perspective the suburb I grew up in has a population of 12,187 and my highschool had a population of about 4,500 when I graduated, although it’s down to about 4K now…
That said, there’s something kind of brilliant in the efforts of town local, Jim Bolin to not only bring attention to his town, but do something to try to revive its economy, which is something I learned from these postcards in his wife’s shop:
That said, the following video is worth seeing, as Casey made the iconic CBS Sunday Morning show, in that section where they talk about wonderful and/or odd things to be found off America’s beaten paths….
Watching the show I found it really interesting how its producers assiduously opted to ignore a huge element of the oversized objects scattered around town… namely, Casey is a town that takes its love of all things biblical, SERIOUSLY!
Apparently, the wind chimes were the first item Jim built (with the aid of the Guinness organization), in order to hopefully draw traffic from the highway (with the aid of billboards) to his wife’s failing coffee-house, and it proved so successful that he started to create other items to help other stores in town…. that were “appropriate to the business” being helped.
For the yarn store he created the world’s largest knitting needles and a crochet hook, which would have brought me into the store and I might have purchased something, but for the fact that in spite of it being a Monday afternoon, the place was closed. (I’m pretty sure these had biblical text on them as well, but since the store was close I don’t know what it was.)
… But that said, THIS is the password for the free wi-fi his wife’s business, the local coffee-house, offers. My provider is T-mobile and while my phone worked there, there was absolutely NO data other than this available for me in the whole town; otherwise, I might not have spotted this.
I looked it up, the verse is “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” Once I saw that, I got a tad suspicious, as it’s not the sort of thing you expect as a WiFi login outside of a religious institution.
After seeing the WiFi password it quickly became clear that every single one of these oversized item in town (from what I saw), while it does clearly serves to help bring customers into the various stores who might never otherwise enter them, each item also comes with an apropos bit of evangelicalism … via bits of biblical text.
According to the (very) professional video located at this web site, the shoes weigh 1,500 lb, and according to the video from CBS, not only does the mailbox work, but if you mail things from it the postmark stamp says “world’s biggest mailbox” rather than Casey, IL. (Wish I’d known that when I was there, I’d have sent some post cards.)
While most of the items are located in the downtown area, and were kind of easy to find with these sign posts that were scattered around town:
Easily the single biggest “big-thing” in the whole town was the rocking chair… although is a rocking chair a rocking chair when it’s not allowed to rock?
While the final two items, the golf-tee and the pitchfork were both in locally owned businesses (not a national chain, etc), these were not in the downtown area but rather nearer to the highway.
In addition to Guinness World record holding items, there were also other big items scattered around town items that did NOT earn that merit, but were none the less very big… and again, evangelical….
Also while walking around town, I came across this sign referring to a road I’d never heard of, “The National Road”
… it wasn’t until I got home and wrote this blog that I learned it was actually the Cumberland Road, the first federal highway built by the United states government, which ultimately became route U.S. Route 40 …. so of COURSE that I had heard of that …
That said, there’s a quote from one of my favorite books, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, that comes to mind anytime I’m in one of the tourist trap/roadside attractions
“So what is this place?” asked Shadow, as they walked through the parking lot toward a low, unimpressive wooden building. “This is a roadside attraction,” said Wednesday. “One of the finest. Which means it is a place of power.” “Come again?” “It’s perfectly simple,” said Wednesday. “In other countries, over the years, people recognized the places of power. Sometimes it would be a natural formation, sometimes it would be a place that was, somehow, special. They knew that something important was happening there, that there was some focusing point, some channel, some window to the Immanent. And so they would build temples or cathedrals, or erect stone circles, or…well, you get the idea.” “There are churches all across the States, though,” said Shadow. “In every town. Sometimes on every block. And about as significant, in this context, as dentists’ offices. No, in the USA people still get the call, or some of them, and they feel themselves being called to from the transcendent void, and they respond to it by building a model out of beer bottles of somewhere they’ve never visited, or by erecting a giant bat house in some part of the country that bats have traditionally declined to visit. Roadside attractions: people feel themselves being pulled to places where, in other parts of the world, they would recognize that part of themselves that is truly transcendent, and buy a hot dog and walk around, feeling satisfied on a level they cannot truly describe, and profoundly dissatisfied on a level beneath that.”
― Neil Gaiman, American Gods
So who knows, maybe there is something special about Casey…
This is a blog post I will update regularly based on changing conditions: (Last update, April 2018)
I am NOT your average Airbnb customer, I’m a woman in her 50’s on a tight budget (I can afford about $70/night on average) who lives the Airbnb lifestyle, which is a bit like the RV retirement lifestyle but without the RV…. and I’ve been doing it pretty much non stop since June of 2015. So my NEEDS and concerns are different than that of some kid in his or her 20’s, most of whom would be perfectly happy with an air-mattress on the floor if the price was cheap enough. The point of this blog post is to try and help out other people around my age who are considering using the far more affordable airbnb’s rather than relying on hotels.
Back in 2014 folks the media started talking about the Airbnb lifestyle, people who rather than renting one apartment for year at a time, rents them for weeks or months at a time. Folks did this for one of two reasons, either either: A) they were bouncing around the various neighborhoods of a new city where they now worked as they got to know the area, allowing them the opportunity to make an educated decision about where they would like to settle, or B) they were part of the new internet driven working class whose office/factory for work is a computer linked to the internet via a reliable high speed connection … and therefore can essentially be ANYWHERE in the world.
First step: Setting up your profile to include your needs expectations
No really, your first step shouldn’t be looking for places to rent, it really should be setting up your profile. And while there should be a short description of you (I list my areas of education, previous jobs, hobbies, etc… as well as the fact that while I’m very outgoing and friendly I tend to hole up in my room with my computer for hours on end)… the focus (in my own opinion), should be on what your expecting from them.
Take the time to really craft out a description of yourself and list out your expectations of any place you rent. Let’s be honest, MOST owners won’t bother to take the time to read it, but SOME will; and, if your description clearly stated your various requirements its then ON THEM if their place doesn’t meet them. (It will help you out later when dealing with airbnb corporate if there are any disputes, if you have done this.)
List what you need, and why you need it: This should include allergies, mobility issues, and or if you have diet restrictions and or medications which mean you WILL be needing kitchen access, even if you won’t be cooking…. etc. Do you expect the room to be smoke free?? This isn’t a motel, this is not restricted by the laws that obligate smoke free zones. This is someone’s home. Are you someone who lives on your computer devices (like me) and expects to be able to charge 5 items at once but doesn’t have space in your suitcase for power strips with 6 foot cords? Because believe me, some of these places won’t be set up to support that if you don’t don’t warn them, they won’t even have a spare power strip in the house (unlike hotels).
Do you prefer to work at a desk or in bed propped up by lots of pillows? (If the latter, makes sure to warn them because I’ve come across more than few who will give you one pillow and not understand the problem.)
So really think about your habits and needs, and where should the plugs/power points be relative to bed or desk? Things like that…. and communicate that.
Anyone who spends time at Professional hotels knows that they are actually pretty much set up for all possibilities in these regards, but airbnb homes are not (although they should be). In fact, to my experience, with the exception of Superhosts, most airbnb hosts when they start out are pretty clueless that the reason pretty much every hotel room on the planet now includes a mini fridge is as much for medication storage as an opportunity to sell tiny bottles of booze at obscene prices. If they ever went to a good, four star hotel room, and really bothered to pay attention to what’s in there and asked themselves why things are where they are relative to other objects in the room and replicated that in their airbnb’s… they’d all have 4 star airbnb’s. But they don’t… they’re like my old students who did “C” level work and expect me to give them an “A” grade for it, and throw tantrums when they don’t get it.
So makes sure you state your expectations clearly and give the owner (whose job it is to host you like an honored guest) the chance to meet those needs… and assume they’re clueless teenagers, because a lot of them are.
So, as an example of what I write: I’m allergic to fur, so in mine I write: “I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE cats and dogs, and have had multiple pets in the past; that said, I learned the hard way that I’m a bit allergic to them; so, if your space has decent ventilation and it is kept clean of fur and dander not a problem (PLEASE remember to vacuum under the bed). However, If my bed is where they love to hang out and sleep when no one is there, please warn me.”
Over the course of that time I’ve stayed at a handful of Airbnb’s run by folks who either did not take the JOB (and it is a job) of being an Airbnb host seriously, or suffered some “blindness” in what it means to host an older person with even the MILDEST of mobility issues, etc., ones that are understood as NORMAL to anyone my age. So, while there is definitely a market for super-affordable Airbnb rentals that are only an air mattress on the floor, I am definitively NOT their target customer. As such, I’ve learned it’s safer to explicitly state rather than assume my (reasonable) expectations, just like I used to have to do with students, and list the things that I assume owners will provide, based on the sort of stay at their homes that I will be doing.
SO, My List is VERY LONG and detailed:
RECENTLY Airbnb has added accessibility descriptions, but the reality is Airbnb has not OBLIGATED owners to make fill them in (as in we won’t post the site unless the you have made these changes in your site’s description) and as such most owners who’ve been on the airbnb for a while have NOT bothered to fill it out, or worse don’t because they don’t want the hassle of having anyone with any sort of disability in their home …. and as a result, if you do check any of them, you’re severely limiting the number of homes you’ll be shown
In my book, there are two types of stays: short-term and long-term stays:
Short term/overnight, etc:
Parking: If I am road tripping OBVIOUSLY I need someplace to put the car. Some owners can be quite the little shits when it comes to this. Airbnb has “free parking on premises” as a search variable, so make sure you click it if you need it before looking at what’s available … but that said, BY THEIR OWN ADMISSION all this means is free street parking near the rental even though BY LAW this is NOT a correct interpretation of the term because on the property (which you own) does not mean on the street (which you don’t) … and some owners, in spite of this, will even consider street parking where you need to jump out of bed at 8am to move it every 2 hours until 9pm to be “free parking on premises” … when clearly it’s NOT in the mind of any person doing the renting … so be CLEAR about your needs and expectations. And if you’re driving something that’s hard to park, such as having a trailer in tow, be clear about that. And while on a short term/overnight stay I can happily live out of my suitcase if I have to, even in that case I’ll assume they have
Fast reliable Wi-Fi: and in my case this is a non-negotiable. This means, a minimum of 5mbps/per user (the slowest speed necessary for normal low definition streaming and regular usage ….. while 20 mbps/user is suggested for high definition TV/films, and is of course greatly preferred, I do not expect it). But here’s the thing, a lot of owners don’t get the “PER USER” part… they’ve got 10mbps and their home has two parents, any number of kids, and then you the person renting the airbnb… and don’t understand why your frustrated that you can’t stream your favorite show in your bedroom since it’s working just fine in their living room where they’re sitting and watching Netflix — while their kids are probably in their bedrooms streaming music.I make a point of being clear with the owners of just what my internet usage is… I expect to be able to stream all my shows, but other than uploading some pictures to from my camera to the cloud, I don’t do a lot upstream traffic. Some people do, and if you need decent upstream be honest about it.
Air-conditioning, and/or a fan: I am an overweight woman in her 50’s and am in menopause, which means I will SUFFER when trying to sleep at temps above 75F/23C the way a normal person would in a 90F/32C degree bedroom; and, even at 75F degrees or cooler, I need a fan on me (unless it is cooler than 67F/19C). It’s kind of ridiculous that I have to say this, but I find that have to remind them that if they have a ceiling fan/lamp combo, to please make sure the cords are long enough that a shorter person can reach them, as I’ll want to have the fan on at night, but the light off, and I’m too old and unstable to be climbing up on beds and chairs to do it. Part of the problem is age bias, YOUNG airbnb owners who can just pop up on the bed and reach up to the cords (or are tall enough to do it themselves) can’t conceive of a future where their legs no longer support that sort of activity… and can actually be really intolerant of mobility issues in the folks who rent from them. So be clear.While Airbnb is STARTING to hint to owners that they should include mobility access issues, most owners just don’t “get it” unless they themselves have “experienced it”, or if their own aged grandmother comes by and bitches at them about it.
An easily accessible bathroom: or better yet en-suite if I can get it (I’m at that age where I stagger eyes half open to the bathroom multiple times a night). This is however negotiable as long as the bathroom is very easy to get to, i.e., there are no stairs or steps, or things I could trip over on the way there, and the distance is short enough that I don’t have to fully wake up to do it. Let’s face it when you’re in your 50’s sleeping is hard enough to do as it is, and if I have to do any of that to get to the bathroom in the middle of the night I’ll have a hell of a time getting back to sleep.
A WORKING, 3 pronged/or grounded electrical outlet located directly adjacent to the bed: You’d think this was a no brainer but it’s not. I work in bed propped up by multiple pillows, with one shoved under my neck to support my head, and I DO NOT want to have cords blocking my ability to move around safely. (I travel by car, with my own power-strips of varying lengths, if necessary). But have on occasion been boggled that I had to explain to an owner that old-fashioned two pronged/non-grounded outlet is really only acceptable (in this day and age) for lamps, and is absolutely NOT OK for sensitive electronics like computers…. which is why you don’t see laptop computers being sold with two prong plugs… USB chargers are sold as two prong, because the technology itself alters the current running through it, but at this point, computer’s won’t charge off of a USB cord. I’ll tell you right now, owners who won’t bother to put in an extensions cord or a power strip usually turn out to provide an inferior product/stay.
Drapes or shades on the bedroom windows: for privacy and to block the sun, (again, you’d think this is a no brainer, but based on my own experience, it is not). Firstly, I do NOT raise with the sun … and more importantly, I want my privacy. I want to be able to walk around my room naked if I need to, and not worry about being seen. In Miami I once stayed in a room that had hip height to ceiling windows on two sides of the room, with neighboring homes all around… that ALL had unobstructed views right into my bedroom … and the 20 something male owner didn’t understand why I might take issue with this. (His bathroom was the same, THE BATHROOM!!!)
A comfortable bed: THIS is a hard one, because different people have different definitions of this. So for the purposes of this, let’s say that it is an actual mattress a normal distance off the floor (an actual bed, not an air mattress)… and there are no springs poking me in the back. One home I stayed at belonged to a retired woman who admitted that the mattress I was lying on was the one her daughter (now a mom with kids of her own) had slept on growing up … and hence the mattress was about 40 years old (I still shudder at the thought). It had coils poking me in the back that she had tried to obscure with one of those memory foam tops. IF you go to Asia be cognizant of the fact that the traditional culture there is to sleep on a futon on the floor (which is actually way better for your back… the soft beds you enjoy are why westerners suffer from so many back problems in later years), so that even their ‘western style beds’ in five star hotels will come with super firm mattresses. That and a lot of places still will only offer futons that are folded up and put away during the day time. My reality now, with my hips and knee problems is that I can’t easily get up from the floor on my own, so sleeping that way really isn’t a possibility for me anymore. (Maybe if I’d spent a lifetime having to do that on a daily basis I’d still have that flexibility, but it is what it is.)
Stairs: I’m at that age where I am starting to have some difficulty with stairs, so I ask them to please warn me if the room I’m considering requires more than one flight. That said, as I have a hard time just getting myself up a flight of stairs, I need help lugging something like a suitcase the same, so I ask for it. For short stays, knowing this, I have a backpack type thing I put what I’ll need for overnight into, and I leave my suitcases in the car.
Long-term (more than a few days):
If I ask to stay between three weeks and two months (depending), then that town is my destination, and I expect to be able to unpack and ‘get comfortable.’ So, if the Airbnb offerings are REALLY NOT set up for that, or amenable to having an extended-stay guest comfortably ensconced for MORE than a few nights, I tell the hosts to PLEASE be honest and tell me about it. (My experience is they get gleeful about the possibility of earning a lot of cash with little effort, and forget that REALLY that room is not set up for it, and the result will be a very UNHAPPY customer and a lousy review.) I will assume a long term rental includes EVERYTHING I mentioned for sort term stays, PLUS:
A closet and or clothes rack: for hanging clothes – I’m a woman, I have nice clothes, like dresses, that require hanging, airing out, etc. The way airbnb works “hangers” like short term parking are considered an amenity that owners may or may not include. I travel around with a box of 50 velvet lined hangers in my car (you can get them at Costco for like $10)… so I don’t need nor necessarily want their cheap ass wire hangers left over from the dry cleaners … but I DO need some place to hang my stuff. You’d be surprised the number of times I’ve been put into rooms that did not have anywhere to do that.
Empty shelving for clothes, at least 2 or 3 drawers worth, so I can unpack my suitcase; with empty being the operative word. (Again, you’d think this would be obvious, but apparently it is not)
Free Parking, that is NOT on the street: While street parking is ok if I’m only staying for a few days, most cities, towns and villages have stickers they sell to locals that need to be there if they’re going to be using street parking for an extended period. My car is easily identifiable due to ample bumper stickers, and police have ticketed me for not having a local tags after a few days of parking in the same location; if it’s in a driveway or in a garage then it’s on private property and not under their purview. Airbnb owners tend to completely forget this little detail, and when you get ticketed, they’re NOT going to pay the fine for you.
Kitchen access: A reasonably sized microwave: that I can actually cook my single person meals in (I prefer nuking to most other formats). And by reasonably sized I don’t mean one of those tiny ones, I mean one I can put a single serving pyrex into, or a full sized dinner plate. A refrigerator with freezer space: This does NOT mean a mini fridge in the bedroom. I have a medically restricted diet and live mostly off of frozen ingredients which don’t come in tiny bags. So I need at least one shelf each of fridge and freezer space, A sink for washing food and dishes in, I once rented what had been advertised as an “entire apartment” which was a bedroom over a garage that had a mini-fridge and a microwave but where the owner freaked out when she realized I was having to wash my dishes in the bathroom’s sink… and “NO you can’t do that!!! It’ll clog the pipes!” … well lady, where do you WANT me to wash these? The toilet?
and HOPEFULLY a toaster or better yet, a toaster oven. I can microwave toast, but it’s kind of nasty.While I love access to freshly brewed coffee in the morning, if it’s something the owner normally provides, if not, I can made due. Some grocery stores sell cold coffee in their fridges, and if not I can drink stuff I bought the night before at a cafe in a pinch…
A washer/Dryer: this would be a washer IN the house or garage that I have access to, and detergent; or if an apartment… not coin operated ones located down in the basement or some such. In some places, like Australia, the sun is SO hot and the air so dry that even wet jeans will dry on the line in a two or three hours, so dryers are only ever found in high rise apartments, and sometime not even there. So I’m flexible about the dryer part.
Help on stairs with suitcases: if I am staying more than one night I WILL need help from someone stronger and steadier on their feet than myself (I’m also at the age where I’m starting to have balance issues) in getting my bags up and down stairs.
Privacy while in the bathroom: I never thought I would have to say this, but experience is a harsh teacher: A bathroom for showering that offers privacy from the neighbors. Recently, in a male owned home I was assigned a bathroom where my nudity was only hidden from the waist down, and when I asked the host that he do something to fix it (I had actually upon arriving intended to ask Airbnb to move me, but he begged me not to, promising to make changes), he answered, “how is increasing the safety of female guests going to increase my profit margin?” Seriously, not making this up.
Booking an Airbnb:
Use the airbnb search engine: It helps you to find homes with the amenities you want on the dates you want. Check and double check because sometimes the settings don’t take the first time out (the web site isn’t perfect and is always undergoing tweaks that create new bugs). Really think about what you NEED, and makes sure to check those items… if you don’t check air conditioning you can’t complain or rebook because a heat wave came into town. For me, I always check: Private room or entire apartment, maximum price per night, the number of bedrooms and beds I need, washer (and or dryer depending on the climate), Wifi, Kitchen, aircon in summer and heat if I’m going there in winter (actually in high rises I’ll also look for aircon because the higher you go the hotter the apartments get to the point where you can have all the windows open even in the dead of winter and still be too warm)
NEVER ASSUME, STUDY the pictures: unless they’re Superhosts, a lot of the owners are clueless and would never live in the room they’re expecting you to pay them money to live in. REALLY look at the picture, I mean REALLY… and if there are no pictures or insufficient ones, don’t book there. How big is your bedroom? Does it have windows? Are there shades on the windows? Is there a side table? A night lamp? A closet or someplace to put your clothes? And if the room doesn’t have what you’d assume it should have … ASK BEFORE BOOKING!!!(I’ve had owners realize the deficit and promise to rectify it before my arrival. Once that’s in the emails, if they have NOT done it by the time you arrive, you have cause for Airbnb to refund you, and evidence of their contractually agreeing to do it. Airbnb considers any communication in the emails as part of the contract. )
READ ALL THE REVIEWS!!!! IF an owner is pretty sure the review that’s going to be left to them is going to be a bad one, there’s a trick to pushing it down the queue… if they do NOT leave the guest a review, the bad review won’t show up for 15 days (which is an improvement, as it used to be the bad review didn’t show up at all), and if they know two or three guests are set to rent in that time, that ensures that the review might not show up till the next page (which you might not bother going to). So read all the reviews and believe what you read.That said, read BETWEEN THE LINES!!! A lot of Guests are afraid of leaving bad reviews for fear that other hosts won’t want to rent to them if they do… so sometimes they just kind of hint about the place being bad. So be wary and exaggerate the importance of any tiny complaint. This is especially true if it’s a room in a house, because most people are unwilling to leave bad reviews if they have met the owner. All of this tends to sort of “break” the whole value of the review system.
When booking well in advance:NEVERbook an airbnb that has a strict cancellation policy, unless its for within the next few days! A lot of folks never bother to pay attention to this but airbnb has THREE booking policies: Flexible, Moderate and Strict. The first two are utterly reasonable and designate how far in advance you can cancel with a refund (24 hour or five days, respectively). The third one, STRICT, which seems to be the setting about half of the owners opt for is in my opinion NUTS. I recently read an article, and MOST experienced customers will avoid those bookings, till the last minute (as in within the next week),— Airbnb is currently using a carrot method to try to wean owners off of using strict, as the increasing prevelence of it is making former customers reconsider hotels. (An owner informed me that the company has informed them that it will now take a larger percentage of what the customer has paid if the owners set the refund policy to strict.)
With a strict booking you will NOT get your money back, PERIOD(great for them, shit for you). IF you call Airbnb and cry long and hard enough, and can come up with something justifiable, like you Dad just died, they MIGHT let you out of the booking with a refund, but it’s not a sure thing. In my mind there’s really no justification for strict to exist, especially if the bookings are made well in advance. I for instance book a good three months in advance… now I could understand it if Flexible changed to Strict with two weeks left to go, or some such… but strict bookings three months out is crazy.
— Talking to Airbnb I just learned something important… IF in the emails with the owner, (BEFORE YOU BOOK!!!) you can get them to agree to something OTHER than strict… so for instance, if you might say in your emails with the owner, ‘as I’m booking this 6 months out, would you agree to give me a full refund if I cancel at least three weeks out?’ And they agree to it explicitly (make sure they ACTUALLY agree, not say they might, or it’s possible… what you need is a solid YES) and THEN you book … IN THAT CASE, when you need to do the cancellation, CALL airbnb, DO NOT use the web site to cancel, and ask the staffer to read the emails from before the booking happened, because there’s an agreement in there for a full refund under these conditions. Airbnb will consider that part of a pre-existing modification to the contract, and give you the refund, the owner won’t be able to go back on that agreement.
—That said, BE AWARE!!! Airbnb has a new policy, IF you reserve the room for 27 days or longer the booking is automatically strict. They are doing this now as a way to appease local ordinances that are trying to get rid of airbnb’s all together, because of the slum lords who are changing their long term rental units to airbnb’s in order to earn more money from them… thereby creating local affordable housing shortages. This change, as much as I personally don’t like it because I always booked one month at a time, makes sense to me.
Unless they’re Superhosts with 50+ 5-star reviews, contact the host: Do this BEFORE putting in a booking request, and wait for them to respond. Talk to them, ask them a few questions. Do this EVEN with folks who are set up for auto booking set up — unless you’re road tripping, they have “self check in” as an option (they don’t need to be there for you to get in) and you’re desperate to find a place to sleep that night. My experience is if they don’t get back to you within two hours, your most likely dealing with a host who won’t be responsive to your needs, and worse you might just find yourself hanging around for a few hours waiting to be let into the rental. THAT and once you put in a booking request, you’re kind of married to that rental until the owner gets around to accepting or rejecting… and they have 24 hours to do it.
Leave an honest review! The review system only works if you’re honest.
When things go wrong:
Let’s face it, life happens. Both for you and the people hosting you. One of the things to remember about Airbnb is that it is NOT a hotel… most of these people aren’t organized enough to have back up staff… and life happens.
So, the main thing to remember is, CALL AIRBNB!!!!
No seriously. I strongly suggest that your first move should always be to call them rather than deal with problems via their website. For the most part their customer support people are very good, and very helpful… and when they’re not hang up and try for a different one.
This includes: IF YOU NEED to cancel because of a REAL reason (and ‘we decided to stay with friends, or a hotel’ … isn’t a real reason), and can CONVINCE them that it’s a real reason, they will try to work with you and might even under certain circumstances arrange a full reimbursement including fees. What they’ll do will depend on who you talk to and how much empathy you can build with the person on the other side of the phone and the legitimacy of your issue.
— That said, just recently (Feb 2018) I’ve noticed that instead of getting routed to a stay at home mom working from home (with the occasional sound of kids in the background), Airbnb has switched to call centers staffed by guys. Ever since this happened, customer service has DROPPED like a bomb… so be prepared.
Don’t cancel unless you’ve GOT a REAL reason. For myself I’ve in about three years only ever cancelled twice. The first time it was when I had decided to completely change my travel plans and go to Australia instead of stay another month in Orlando … and that time it was all on me, so I lost service fee but was reimbursed the rent and tax. In the second case it was a rental I had made over a month previous that wasn’t due to happen for yet another month going forward (I like to book a good three months in advance when I can). When I had booked, the male host was new to Airbnb and only had one or two reviews… it being a month later, and just for shits and giggles I decided to see what folks had written in the time since… and was utterly freaked out of my head by what one woman had written about her stay. I immediately called Airbnb, told them that as a single woman traveling alone I would feel UNSAFE staying at the home of this man (because of what this other woman had written), and told them I had already decided on a DIFFERENT Airbnb that I wanted to be moved too… the woman on the line read the review, completely agreed with me that this was NOT OK behavior on the part of the host …. she reimbursed my full price including fees (and promised to send a sharply worded letter to the unsafe host) and I re-booked to the new location.
Remember what I said about leaving honest reviews? You have an obligation to the people booking after you to warn them about bad shit…
But there’s a second case, sometimes a host will cancel on you, and my advice is the same. Just the other day I met some strangers at a restaurant (they were at the next table) and we got to talking. They told me how on their very first airbnb attempt, the host, “some young guy” who was subletting his apartment out while he was going to travel, had decided he wasn’t feeling up to it and canceled on them at 5am on the same day they were supposed to check in.
I asked them, “did you call airbnb” … and of course, no they had not… they just put their tail between their legs and decided to never use the service again. I explained to them how when my bookings had fallen through at the last minute, Airbnb has put me up in reasonably priced hotels (I paid and sent them the bill and they reimbursed me) when a host left me hanging like that, and while in my case it was just an over night stay, I would assume they’d do it until I was able to secure a different airbnb booking in that location… or one nearby…. while stuff like this is pretty rare, it happens.
Here’s a list of other sites I found that discuss some of these issues:
Came across this on the AtlasObscura website, it’s a breakwater that was constructed by sinking a bunch of due for the graveyard ships.
I made a strategic error, I tried to walk across the sand that had been exposed by the low tide, and at a certain point it became like quicksand and it stole my shoes off my feet. I was able to get them back… but then it stole them a second time. And then, as I tried to pull them loose, I fell down. Suffice it to say I was good and muddy with some really FOUL smelling gunk that soaked through EVERYTHING…
That night I had a major score. I have since before the breakwater to make a booking with an Airbnb in the area, figuring it was late, and would like to see the place in full daylight in the morning… and the woman I had made the pending booking with never responded. So I called Airbnb to try to cancel. I told them that it was getting late, and I couldn’t afford to wait much longer for her to respond because I was a good 2 1/2 hours away from my place and the sun was going down and I was tired… basically worried that it wouldn’t be safe to drive (no lights along those roads, and I’m starting to loose my night vision). Basically I said, “If I’m going to have to drive back I need to start now” …. Happily, they not only cancelled the request, but they told me that if I could find a decent hotel for the night they would reimburse me for the cost up to $150. So I stayed at the Holiday Inn on their dime…. Score!
That night, I took the shoes, the socks, the pants, into the shower and tried to wash them clean. I kept wringing out the socks and this black water kept coming out. Even after, and I used shampoo, the stuff still stunk. Took them home the next day and put them through the wash….
Glacier National Park is HUGE, as in you can’t really see and enjoy the whole place in one day, not even if you’re going to do the whole thing by car. It is just too big. This was my second day, when I explored the western half… and then wished I’d allowed myself a full week at the place.
Warning: If you arrive at the park early in the season (I was there at the very end of May) the “Going to the Sun” drive which connects the east and west segments and travels through the middle of the park will most likely STILL be blocked with snow. If it is you’ll be forced — as I was– to leave the park and circle around via lower altitude roads.
I stayed two nights at Brownies Youth Hostel and Restaurant, which is near the eastern side of the park. I had found it via Airbnb, but had then contacted them directly and made the booking by phone in order to ensure that I got the specific room I wanted (a private and across the hall from the ladies bathroom). It was the ONLY Airbnb near where I wanted to be, as close to the park as possible but not far off the highway I was going to take up to Calgary, and every hotel I found in that same area (note: I was not yet truly skilled in the ways of finding high quality mom and pop motels yet, so this price was compared to the larger hotels, etc) were asking WAY more than I wanted to pay. Here at the hostel, a bunk-bed in a shared dorm room is $22/night, and a private room with a double bed is $65 — utterly reasonable prices. I really enjoyed my stay there and met a bunch of really nice college kids who were roughing it, as well as a really nice married Indian couple who were both young professors (one taught business, the other psychology).
I will say the only unexpected (it is a hostel and not a hotel) downsides of Brownies were 1) the WiFi in my bedroom sucked to the point of useless; the modem was down the hall where the shared spaces were — kitchen and living room and was good and fast there, but the signal just didn’t really reach to my room. And, 2) while the rustic log cabin walls were cute and provided visual privacy, they resulted in small gaps between the interior and exterior walls with the result that they did not block noises from the other rooms pretty much at all. This would not really have been a problem were it not for the fact that the college dude sleeping in the bed on the other side of it had a snore like a freight train (thank the lord I ALWAYS travel with an ample supply of top of the line ear plugs). He was in a group of guys who were bicycling their way across America (raising money along the way), and we all kidded him about he’d have to do something about that snore if he ever wanted to get and stay married.
After breakfast I headed around south and then west along route 2 through the Marias Pass to the other end of the “Going to the Sun” road, which I had not been able to reach the yesterday due to snow and ice still blocking the roads at the higher elevations.
So, on the way there I passed through the Louise & Clark National forest, which is yet ANOTHER stop of the Louise & Clark trail… and get this, it’s May 28th, and it is SNOWING! (no wonder the higher elevations are still blocked with snow). Off to the side of the road there was an area with two big memorials, and one tiny one:
This statue is in memory of John F. Stevens (25 April 1853 – 2 June 1943), an American civil engineer who helped to build both the great Northern Railroad and the Panama Canal, [the following is according to the highly faded and barely legible sign that was standing in front of him, sad] “was charged finding a suitable rail route across the Continental Divide. In December of 1889, Stevens located and recorded the pass which had been used by area Native Americans for many centuries” i.e., what came to be known as Marias Pass.
There was also a third, very small memorial … just a big chunk of pink rock with a plaque embedded into it which I actually found kind of touching:
There’s a story (found it on the cite I linked to Morrison’s name, see below)), about how “John F. Stevens, credited by the Great Northern Railroad with the discovery of Marias Pass, spoke at the dedication of the Stevens statue at Summit. In the course of his speech, Stevens told of hardships in searching out the pass over the Continental Divide. He explained that it was December, and he had nearly perished in a blizzard at the pass. At this point, Morrison spoke up from the crowd: “Why didn’t you come over to my house? I was living right over there,” he said, pointing to his cabin.” — makes me smile
Again, there was a very faded sign in front of the memorial (that was even LESS legible than the last one) with more information:
“William H. “Slippery Bill” Morrison was a mountain man who had “squatters rights” on 160 acres at the Marias Pass summit. He donated a portion of his land for the site of the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial monument.
Morrison was a frontier philosopher who would often expound on his favorite theories to anyone who would listen. Morrison spent most of his life as a trapper and prospector.
Slippery Bill diet in 1932 at the age of 84. According to his wishes the balance of his land was transferred to the federal government after his death.”
All of which was followed by a very faded sketch of the old guy:
As I approached the park, firstly I realized that there were way more people here than had been at the other end of the park, and second — after driving over an hour to get here — I realized I had better fill up before entering the West Glacier Park entrance, because those places almost never have gas stations inside the park boundaries. Also, it was SO FRIGGING COLD (may 28th and it was SNOWING) that I decided to try to unload my trunk and dig out the down coat, winter hat and gloves that I had buried in the compartment designed for the spare wheel.
Granted, this made them kind of inaccessible, but they were there for emergencies just like this one. My overall goal with these trips is to structure my movements so as to never need see full winter, but, that said I had had the forethought to bring them just in case. Let’s face it, even southern Florida occasionally gets a cold snap. I also lug around a big thick down blanket in the backseat of my car, for the same reason, and have had a few days when I needed it. My car actually is loaded with food (nuts, olives, etc), loads of water, and a heavy down blanket just in case the car should happen to break down in the middle of no where on a cold night. Yes, I’m a planner.
Anyway, since my massive suitcases were still in there, and I needed help in order to remove them, I spotted a guy standing off to the side with a handful of papers and called him over asking him to help me. Turned out his name was John Marshall and he was from the University of Montana and was doing a research questionnaire about tourism at the park, and in exchange for my scratching his back (answering the very long questionnaire) he helped me unload and then reload my car, and we got to talking…
As we were talking the question of the local Blackfeet population came up (I forget why), and I told him about the heavily graffiti-ed obelisk I had passed on the way to my hostel, just the day before; so, he was the one actually gave me the heads up about the confrontational history between the local tribes and Louis & Clark; and he was also the one who told me to look up Elouise Cobell, and how she had brought a case titled, Cobell v. Babbittagainst the United states Department of Interior based on her own investigation of their practices (that she said “revealed mismanagement, ineptness, dishonesty, and delay of federal officials”of Indian trust assets … money owned by the government but held in trust for Native Americans… to the tune of $176 billion).
Apparently he had not long before attended her funeral, so she was active in his mind — and I got so distracted in talking to him that when I finally got into the park I realized that in all that moving, packing and talking that I had completely forgotten to actually pump any gas. So I had to leave the park after having just entered (yay for my National parks pass) to go get gas (again). At which point I realized it was already lunch time, and that I was hungry …. so I stopped at the West Glacier Restaurant and got myself an elk sausage (seriously, elk!), tomato Florentine soup and cup of a huckleberry tea (am saving room for more huckleberry pie for tonight) — it was supposed to be served in a kaiser roll type thing but I asked them to hold the carbs, and the french fries, and give me more veggies instead
And then FINALLY I got into the park!
Leading off of the lake and up into the mountains is this river, which is full of a lot of picturesque twists and turns, and rapids, etc… which the “Road to the Sun” follows alongside of, heading up into the mountains… or at least at this time of year up until the road conditions become unsafe….
and multiple times along the river you come to narrow bridges you can often drive across, but at the other side you usually find some limited parking and hiking trails (of course with my painful hips, knees, and plantar fasciitis — feet — this was not something I was going to do, that and I didn’t have proper hiking boots, just a pair of Crocs, because of the plantar fasciitis).
As I traveled around the park I kept running into this film crew who said they worked for a German TV station, they had this big red van and sometimes sometimes would prop the cameraman and his rig up over the top of at… the last time I saw them was when I was about to leave, and a park cop and pulled them over, lights and all, which made me think that maybe they didn’t have the proper permits… either that or he wasn’t pleased to see the cameraman perched on their hood
At one point I came to this place, where there were all sorts of cars parked to one side, only there was no parking for me, so I parked as far off the road as I could on the side where there was no designated parking (hoping it wouldn’t earn me a ticket.
When I initially parked here I was the only car not on the side with designated parking spot, but instead on the wrong side of the road pulled off to the side as much as possible… I came back five minutes later seven cars (two not visible) had already followed my lead
I kept driving up as far as I could, but about 45 minutes in, as the elevation started to rise, snow and sleet started to come down, I had started to approach, but hadn’t gotten anywhere near the area called
At this point the weather was definitively nasty (I actually ran into one of my fellow youth Hostel guests up there), and there was a massive road block… so there was no choice but to return the way I had come… only this time I took one of the many side roads that led back around the lake to the other side
After driving around a while I came to a section of the park that was all shops and restaurants, and a hotel complex within the park for visitors. In one of the shops I found this, and … well…. my new car is in dire need of some new bumper stickers:
Finally, I headed home and after stopping off for dinner, where I got myself that piece of Huckleberry pie, I headed back to the Hostel, at which point I realized that it was 10 pm and it is still light out… WTF?! How far North am I?