Ever since I discovered Airbnb I have generally tended to prefer finding accommodation through them. From a log cabin in the middle of nowhere in Iceland, to an instant booking of a room in Tirana (Albania), a grand apartment in the historical centre of Girona in Spain – the selection of different types of lodging is as varied as the destinations. What I like about Airbnb, apart from the variety, is the ease of booking and personal interaction with the owner, so different from hotels where you’re just another customer who is papered through by a receptionist. Introducing yourself online, making arrangements to meet, entering the lodging, explanations … Afterwards, the host leaves an online report on the guest, which encourages good behaviour by guests so that they build up a favourable profile and track record. The guest is also invited to leave an online review to serve as guidance for future guests, and a private communication with the host, to explain what he or she liked and what she didn’t like during the stay.
The hosts themselves are also much different from one another. Some you meet in person. In many cases it’s their parents. My most memorable hosts must surely be the ones I had in Shkoder (Albania). Due to various mishaps in Montenegro and at the border going from there into Albania, I arrived two or three hours late at the house on the outskirts of the city. At the gate of the villa, still waiting patiently for me in the gathering darkness around 8.00 pm, there were two elderly people – the host’s parents. I apologised profusely for being so late, only to discover in dismay that they only spoke and understood Albanian! Eventually, they put me through on their phone to their son who had gone for a trip to Barcelona. One way or another, they made me feel welcome and catered to all my needs, including breakfast, for the two days that I spent there.
A far cry my latest hostess, Sara, in Sighisoara (Transylvania, Romania). I began to suspect that not all was okay when I received no answer from her after I explained that Gianluca and I would be arriving around 4 pm the following day. Then, the following day, on our way there we got held up in a colossal traffic jam due to roadworks. I sent Sara a message on the Airbnb app to warn her that we would be a bit late. Still no answer…
Sighisoara is a beautiful town in the heart of Transylvania. The apartment is situated inside a medieval citadel, on top of a hill that you reach by going up 201 steps. Residents have an authorisation to take their cars up inside. Maltese holidaymakers have to pay a cheap parking tariff and walk up 201 steps. “Get Directions” in the Airbnb listing for our lodging gives you a Google map marked with a very specific address: 9 Strada Scolii, Sighisoara. This turned out to be a closed up and seemingly unused place next to a souvenir shop. Oh, dear. Sara, why aren’t you answering my messages!
So I began to act the detective. I zoomed up a picture of Sara from her Airbnb account on my smartphone. Surely, the neighbours would recognise her. I showed the photo to the souvenir shop attendant next door: “Do you know this woman?”
Total, unadulterated lack of recognition. But she did notice one detail – Sara’s home address. “You need to go to Brasov, but that’s more than 100 kilometres away.”
Then I noticed another address on the Airbnb listing for the same apartment. We went to look for this address, and after much fiddling around with Google maps, 4G mobile data (thank God for the EU!), disorientation, reorientation, hobbling on ancient rounded paving stones, and further asking around, we found it. The door was open and we entered into a lovely little courtyard with a couple having a drink, served from a cafe bar next to it. The barmaid confirmed (finally!) that this was indeed Sara’s place, and the apartment was upstairs from the courtyard, but Sara was not available because mumble mumble. If we could go for a walk for half an hour she would get the apartment ready for us.
There are worse places than Sighisoara where you can kill 30 minutes of time.
We returned an hour, instead of 30 minutes, later and almost missed the closing time of the complex. In fact, if we hadn’t turned up in the afternoon we would have had to find ourselves alternative sleeping quarters that night. Good thing we didn’t have to. We settled ourselves inside an old house with furniture to match, a huge living room, a majestic bedroom, and views onto the middle ages that were only marred by a no entry traffic sign.
In our stroll, while our kind barmaid prepared the apartment for us, we had passed next to the house where it is said that Vlad the Impaler, also known as Dracula, was born about 200 metres away from our rented place. It was only appropriate, then, as darkness fell later, that a thunderstorm should accompany our first night in Sighisoara.
The amenities were basic, WiFi was practically non-existent (thank God again for 4G mobile data and the EU), windows don’t close properly and you need keep readjusting the hot and cold water handle in the shower, but Gianluca and I will only retain fond memories of this house, and wouldn’t hesitate to rent it again.
All this, dear reader, I had to publish here because good old Sara remains forever elusive, hasn’t published any glowing, or otherwise, review on her guests yet, and hasn’t published my (fair and balanced) review of her apartment. I only hope she’s okay.
By the way, if you happen to be anywhere in the vicinity, do visit Sighisoara. What a gem of a town.