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Author Topic: Italy- information, impressions – ckmk47’s Trip Report  (Read 1275 times)

Online ckmk47

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Italy- information, impressions – ckmk47’s Trip Report
« on: August 17, 2017, 01:50:12 PM »

We were ready for a Big Trip.  We picked vacation days, bounced around some ideas, and chose Italy. It has history, beauty and some Jewish infrastructure. The planning then practically took over my life.  Getting some basic information to set up the framework- how many days, in which cites- then the fine planning of booking places to stay, setting up tours and train rides, finding out where and what time is davening and food. The details took weeks of on-line research and even phone calls to Italy. (+6 hours to NY time, so need to call in my morning for their afternoon.) We used google maps to see walking distances and taxifarefinder.com to guess at taxi costs.  We used the shul as a center on the map to choose where to stay.


I have in mind to write this in sections by topic, rather than as a straight story.  We’ll see if that works.   I’ll start by giving our basic itinerary.
We were able to get tickets to fly into Rome and out of Venice, so that is what we did.
Friday morning - land in Rome- get to our Airbnb near ghetto. 
                Daven.  Brunch at Yotvata.
               Pm - Jewish Ghetto tour – Yael of Jewish Roma (Michaela’s group)
               Get our Shabbos food package from Little Tripoli
Shabbos - walk around.  Motzoei Shabbos –gelato.  Prepare for being out all day Sunday.
Sunday- Pompeii, all day.  Supper at Ba’Ghetto Milky.
Monday- Colosseum Tour – Guida (?) of Rome for Jews (David’s group)
                -Lunch at Ba’Ghetto Milky.
                -Some of us made a quick trip back to the apt to shower and change.
               -Capitoline Museum
               -Supper at Little Tripoli
Tuesday-Vatican Tour – David Walden of Rome for Jews
                -bagged lunch. Walk to>
                - Castel Sant'Angelo
                -Supper at Ba’Ghetto Milky.
Wednesday- Leave Rome -Rent a car- drive into Tuscany region
                  -Siena. Bagged lunch
                  -winery tour
                  -drive to Florence, return rental car, get to Airbnb
                  -Supper from R Wolvovsky of Chabad.
Thursday- Jewish Florence Tour- Giovanna of Jewish-florence.com
                  -Lunch – extra meals ordered from R Wolvovsky.
                  -train to Venice. Get to our hotel.   Supper- takeout from GamGam.
Friday-Rick Steves’ Grand Canal Tour
            - Burano, Murano
            -pizza from Gam Gam Goodies.
Shabbos – food at the Gallery. Walk all over town.  Motzoe Shabbos- pizza.  Pack.
Sunday-airport to home.


Offline davidmal

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Re: Italy- information, impressions – ckmk47’s Trip Report
« Reply #1 on: August 17, 2017, 02:35:12 PM »
WOW CAN'T wait to see what else you have to post!
-DMC
"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it ~Ferris Bueller"

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Re: Italy- information, impressions – ckmk47’s Trip Report
« Reply #2 on: August 17, 2017, 02:37:43 PM »
great itinerary!

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Re: Italy- information, impressions – ckmk47’s Trip Report
« Reply #3 on: August 17, 2017, 06:48:31 PM »

        Tours, Guides.
To get to know the Jewish side of a city, you’re best off using a Jewish tour operator, who will concentrate on aspects of history that only Jews are likely to be interested in.

Jewish tours:
1)   Rome has 2 to choose from.  For the Ghetto Tour, I used Jewish Roma, Michaela’s group.  My guide was Yael.  She was fantastic.  She gave a real idea of what ghetto living must have been like. She had emotion when covering the WWII era. She was well informed and enthusiastic.  I got a feel for the current community, too. (1st Friday )
2)   Florence –Giovana (  Jewish-florence.com)  had what to say about the history of Florence and Florence’s Jews. She also offers tours of 2 art museums- the Ufizzi Gallery and the Academia.  I booked her for a combined history and museum tour.  She loves art and has lots to say about it- composition, meaning, etc.  She led us to beautiful works of art (many of them nudes) and described the meaning and symbolism (mostly Christian themes).  I recommend her only for the Jewish History Walk Tour.  Unless you’re into art and don’t mind mini lessons on Christian legends.  (Thursday)
3)   Venice shul walking tour- given through the Jewish Museum.  I’m sorry I missed taking it.  I don’t know how much history they cover, but it gives you the opportunity to visit the old shuls that were built in the 1500’s.  I got to see one old shul because it is open for services. (2nd Friday)

Other tours:
4)   Vatican Museum in Rome – Without any guide this would be overwhelming.  To get the most out of it, you need someone to point out certain works of art and put them in context of their time and help you understand what you’re looking at.  If you take a secular tour, you’re likely to get a lot of religious information since, after all, this artwork was collected by the Popes.  I used David Walden (Rome for Jews).  He’s got a sense of humor you may or may not like, but he’s got a strong viewpoint about Christianity and other things as it relates to Judaism, and it puts Popes and Christianity in perspective. (Tuesday)
5)   Colosseum in Rome- There’s very little Jewish-themed aspects to the ancient Rome tours. I used Rome for Jews and had an interesting guide, but felt it unnecessary to pay 50-100 Euros more per person for a “Jewish “ tour.  I think it is very helpful to use some sort of guide or tour to understand what you’re seeing. Many are offered locally. Rick Steve’s free audio tours may be enough.(Monday)


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Re: Italy- information, impressions – ckmk47’s Trip Report
« Reply #4 on: August 17, 2017, 11:25:24 PM »
WOW CAN'T wait to see what else you have to post!

+1 thanks for all the great info!

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Re: Italy- information, impressions – ckmk47’s Trip Report
« Reply #5 on: August 18, 2017, 01:13:04 PM »

The Activities:
--Pompeii
We wanted see Pompeii.  Pompeii is a port city that was covered by ash during the eruption of the volcano Mt Vesuvius in the year 79.  It stayed buried until about 1750 and has been dug up a little at a time ever since.  It is a place to see Roman port city as it probably was 2000 years ago. We went as a day trip from Rome.
Getting there:  High speed train Rome to Naples is just over 1 hour.  Then you can take a local train for 35 minutes right to the ruins and meet a (prearranged) guide there. Rick Steves has a Pompeii tour and one area of Pompeii has signs with explanations where you may not need a guide.  The main area is poorly marked and needs some sort of guide to understand what you’re looking at (Think Massada without signs.)
Some in my group wanted to use a tour that picks up people from the Naples train station, but since we wanted to daven with the minyan in Rome , we wouldn’t get to Naples until 10:30, and they all balked at the late hour.  We finally found  www.mondoguide.com  who provided a car with a driver for the day and a guide to meet us at Pompeii for 2 hours.  Our car was clean and had ample room.  The driver spoke English and was helpful and polite.  The tour guide was good.  She took us through different streets of Pompeii and explained the uses of the buildings and structures and gave a feel of life in Pompeii 2000 years ago.  We all enjoyed it. If you have an interest in history it’s definitely for you.  Even those in our group with moderate interest were glad we went.
Marble chips interspersed with regular paving stones to reflect the light at night to better see the way.

 We then had the driver take us to Mt. Vesuvius. It’s popular to climb to the summit and peer into its crater. We walked up a steep gravel snake path in 100+ degrees.  It took us slow-pokes 45 minutes to get up and 15 minutes to come down.
Part of our crew hiking up.
  At the top is a rocky crater.  Waaay overrated.
I should have skipped Mt Vesuvius completely.  Maybe spent more time in Pompeii self-touring the marked part or maybe just ended the day earlier. There’s a museum in Naples that houses some treasures looted from Pompeii that we didn’t visit.  Naples is known to be not a very safe city.
« Last Edit: August 18, 2017, 02:53:08 PM by ckmk47 »

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Re: Italy- information, impressions – ckmk47’s Trip Report
« Reply #6 on: August 18, 2017, 01:38:34 PM »
Wow great start following...

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Re: Italy- information, impressions – ckmk47’s Trip Report
« Reply #7 on: August 18, 2017, 10:29:22 PM »
Nice!  I'd love to go some day.  The idea of hiking up Vesuvius...wow!
AK,AZ,CA,CT,(DE),FL,HI,(IL),ME,MD,(MA),(MN),MT,NV,NH,NJ,NY,OR,PA,(RI),TX,UT,VT,VA,WA,WY

Online ckmk47

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Re: Italy- information, impressions – ckmk47’s Trip Report
« Reply #8 on: August 21, 2017, 12:00:20 PM »

Rome activities
--Ancient Rome- the ruins of Rome. The colosseum, Arch of Titus, etc.  It covers basic Roman history.  You can’t miss it.  Buy your ticket in advance on-line. Then you skip the physical lines on site.
Look at the vast size of the Colosseum amphitheater.  There were wood structures for seating around the sides.  A small part of the wood floor has been rebuilt and you can see people on it.  What you’re looking at are the rooms and hallways underneath the floor where the animals and fighters waited their turn.   
The Jewish depiction on Titus’s arch is clearer in official photos than I saw in person. 
Museums in Rome and Florence are beautiful buildings full of works of art.  The building itself is part of the things to admire.  The walls may have frescoes (paintings painted into the wall plaster) and beautiful ceilings of moldings and paintings.
--Capitoline Museum- I used their ipad self-guided tour using a wire with 2 earpieces, so we could both listen at once.  Beautiful rooms with some nice art and statues and things.  There are some Jewish gravestones in the basement.  I enjoyed this museum, but not a must see.
Pieces of a giant statue
Ceilings and wall paintings


--Vatican Museum- Unbelievably gorgeous rooms. Some full wall frescoes and tapestries. Lots of art. One of the best collections anywhere.  Good for those into art! Or into beautiful buildings.  Well worth seeing.  If you’re doing one art museum- this one is it.  Buy your ticket in advance on-line. Then you skip the physical lines on site. (Tour guide comments written earlier.)
I don’t have too many pictures, but you can google some here.
Ceiling in one of the huge rooms.
--Castel Sant’Angelo- A round building inside a square fort.  Castle-like.  In continuous use for one purpose or another for nearly 2000 years.  You can see how a castle was built to be defended.  It also has some things about the Papal apartments that were there, and some areas have artwork like an art museum.  On the top porch, there’s a great view of Rome. It’s located walking distance from the Vatican Museum (This was the Papal escape house; there’s a walkway leading from the Vatican here.) so we saw it on the same day.  It’s a nice filler activity.  They have an app to download to hear their tour, but the information is exactly the same as the explanation boards available to read throughout the museum.  We had to wait in line in the sun to get in. It was a long walk from the exit back to the main street where we could get a taxi.  Nevertheless, I was glad I went.


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Re: Italy- information, impressions – ckmk47’s Trip Report
« Reply #9 on: August 21, 2017, 08:42:26 PM »
Nice report! Thanks for taking the time to share.

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Re: Italy- information, impressions – ckmk47’s Trip Report
« Reply #10 on: August 22, 2017, 02:30:02 PM »
I am finally able to upload a blurry picture of part of the view from the top of Castel Sant'Angelo.
The arrow is pointing to the square-domed building- the Great Synagogue of Rome.

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Re: Italy- information, impressions – ckmk47’s Trip Report
« Reply #11 on: August 23, 2017, 01:11:46 AM »

Activities: Tuscany, Florence
--Siena is in Tuscany between Rome and Florence. It’s a famous quaint, old Italian town that I stopped in because I had time to spend in Tuscany on the way to my winery tour. You park your car in the stadium parking lot or elsewhere, and walk up and up the stone street into the city’s open plaza.  When you get there, you see tourists and shops.  It is a quaint little town with narrow lanes and stone houses. The climb up reminded me too much of Mt Vesuvius. The overall feel of the streets reminded me faintly of Tzfat. Recommended for those who like quaint tourist traps. 
Steep stone street
--winery
Tuscany is known for its vineyards, wineries and beautiful scenery. I found 2 Kosher wineries in the area that give tours and tastings.  www.terradiseta.it/eng/  and  www.cantinagiuliano.com  Cantina Guiliano is further North and West, but seems to give tours throughout the day.  Terra di seta is more conveniently located near Florence, but only books tours for 11am and 5pm.  I chose to drive to Terra di Seta, with a stop along the way in Siena, for a 5 pm tour. That was the plan. 
Although the winery is not that many miles from Siena, because it’s all country roads, the GPS said it would take almost half an hour.  We got back to the parking lot only 25 min before 5, so we were already barely on time.  When we entered the lot, we took a 'ticket' from the entry machine. Now we took the ticket to the payment machine to pay and the machine said it was unable to read it!   I looked high and low for an official person to help me, but no office was occupied and no one was around.  I finally asked another customer if he knew what to do and he showed me a button on the machine that connected to a live operator that actually spoke enough English to help me.  He had the machine spit out a fresh ticket for me to use.  I paid my 2 Euros and left the lot.  It was about 5 to 5.  I drove along a small highway, then turned off onto a smaller road.  The GPS then had us turn off onto a gravel road and we kept going.  We were driving through hills of grapevines with grapes hanging.  There were occasional old farmhouses overlooking acres of greenery.  It was beautiful.  But I was beginning to wonder how far we needed to go on this small road when the GPS announced that we were here.  Where?  Maybe down that dirt road to the left over there. We followed that road for a bit, but it couldn't possibly be a way for a truck to reach a winery; it was barely wider than our car. So when I found a wider area, I turned the car around and went back to the place we'd turned off.  It was now 5:30. We googled the winery and found a different address than I'd had.   GPS said 20 minutes. We decided to go for it.  We went back on the road we'd come, stopped to take a picture of the vineyards and grapes, and turned down a different secondary road than before. 
When the GPS again said we were here, we were again no place that looked like anywhere.  But wait! If we inch forward a bit there's a turnoff sharply to our right!  There's a small sign next to another small sign! It says Terra di Seta! We're in the right place.
A locked gate blocked the road so I rang the bell next to the gate and apologized for missing my tour, but could I perhaps buy some wine? She let us in and ended up giving us an explanation/ mini tour. They make 5 different varieties of Chianti and Chianti-type wines made with their own grapes- mostly Sangiovese grapes.  I bought a few bottles, some of which are not available in the USA. They’re not mevushal- at least the ones I bought.  She seemed like a nice lady.  On our way from the gate to the wine barn, we passed her husband sitting on a lounge chair near a BBQ.  Grocery shopping must be a challenge.
Driving away, the GPS sent us back toward Siena and then on to Florence.  The highway SR222 is known to be very scenic and we enjoyed it immensely.   We saw some lakes that were a light green – bluegreen- not moldy- a color I’d never seen in a lake. No pictures unfortunately. It’s along a highway, so we couldn’t stop, we were using the phone/camera as a GPS, and, most importantly, the photographer was driving. 




--Florence-I’ve heard that people love Florence, finding it beautiful, charming and wonderful.  I didn’t.  The buildings by and large had plaster covering their brick and stone construction as that was fashionable in the 1600’s. The building trims were also understated instead of something to appreciate. As far as things to do, I could have passed on the whole city.  It has some major art museums with major art collections; it was a center or Renaissance painting and art in the 1400’s and 1500’s. Michelangelo and others worked here. But as I’m not into art, I’d seen enough in Rome to last me through my trip in Italy. A train from Rome to Venice can take less than 4 hours, a plane only 1 hour, so unless you have something else to do in the neighborhood, you can zip on by.
In Florence we met up for the day's tour, with another DDFer who was in Italy with her husband and teenage son and daughter.  In the Uffizi gallery, our tour guide enthusiastically brought our attention to the great art and the study of specific paintings - artfully painted naked males (so the teenage girl could squirm), richly painted naked girls (so the teenage boy could find somewhere else to stand) and also religious paintings like  Annunciation by Leonardo DaVinci, who at least has Mary wearing clothes. 
The guide also did a walking tour of Florence where, among other things, we saw the Florence shul which dates from the late 1800’s.  It was built in the ‘Moorish’ style.
A wall and lamp from inside the shul.


Online ckmk47

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Re: Italy- information, impressions – ckmk47’s Trip Report
« Reply #12 on: August 23, 2017, 11:03:53 AM »

Venice:
My preparation for Venice was woefully inadequate.   In retrospect,  I would do the Jewish Museum shul tour, and the combined Museo Correr / Doge’s Palace for the history and pageantry of Venice.  But that’s just me.  The rest of my group was satisfied with what we ended up doing.
We bought a day pass for unlimited rides on the Vaparetto – the water bus. (The price is less than the cost of 3 bus trips.)  We went to Murano, an island known for glass blowing.  Today it’s totally devoted to tourism.  A usual tourist visit includes watching some glass blowing and then buying blown glass.  But in August most studios are not blowing.  We found one that was.  We got a 10+ minute show.  For that we each paid 10 Euros that goes toward a purchase.  I got myself a pair of earrings. There were all sorts of jewelry, drinking glasses and art pieces.  We saw a beautiful whiskey glass for about 300 Euros.
From Murano, we caught a vaparetto to Burano, known for its colorful houses and lace making.  We wandered around and one of us bought a tablecloth.  There’s also Murano glass products sold here.


--I really enjoyed walking around Venice.  The streets were laid out over a long period of time 100’s of years ago. You can go down an alley that twists and turns, pass various front doors and locked gates and come to a dead end - or arrive at a main street.  The whole concept of half (?) the streets being water ways – some with sidewalks against the water, some having the backs of houses and no sidewalks- has a Disneyland feel to it.  Main walkways continue onto bridges and resume on the other side.   Some canals have motorboats parked on both sides with just enough room for another to pass between.  Others are wider and have more commercial traffic going by.  We were standing on a sidewalk and saw a guy park his boat against the building across the way, but there was no dock or door into a house.  He took his packages one by one and climbed up a ladder that’s screwed to the wall and put the packages on the outside windowsill. Then he climbed up and through the window, went down some stairs inside and brought his packages inside.  He must think that’s easier than parking at the corner, unloading and carrying his stuff around to the front of the buildings and down the block to his house.  Besides, not everyone can park at the steps at the end of the block.  Since walking is one of the main activities of Venice, going there over Shabbos works well. 

The right side of this picture is the dock that is the bus stop. There is a bus at the stop loading passengers. 
There are ‘no parking  at the bus stop’ signs here, too. 


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Re: Italy- information, impressions – ckmk47’s Trip Report
« Reply #13 on: August 28, 2017, 08:15:22 PM »

Food/restaurants-
In Rome and Florence we ate breakfast in our apartment with food brought with us from the States;  in Venice our hotel provided food in the morning.
In restaurants, there’s no tax on the bill nor is a tip expected.  They charge for bread- whether you order it or not. They also charge for water-even tap.   I found the service interesting.  At both milchig restaurants I went to in Rome, the waiters ignore you for as long as they can.  If you want them in the middle of the meal, you have another hard time getting their attention.
Rome
-We went to Yotvata, milchig, for lunch on Friday when we came.  The food was good. The waiter helped upsell us to appetizers and main dishes, and most importantly, refused to get an American coffee.  He was asked for it several times, and promised to bring it each time, but never did.
-The other milchig meals in Rome we went to Ba’Ghetto Milky.  The food was great. They have nice combinations of pasta and fish or vegetables.  When we ordered a melted cheese dish, the waiter tried to dissuade us (I presume because most Americans don’t like it), but allowed us to order it (and brought it) after he explained what it was.
-The Gelato was exquisite.  It’s ice cream that’s fluffier than usual.  And its flavor is what it says it is.  Pistachio gelato tastes not like pistachio flavoring – it taste like pistachio nuts! You can put up to 3 flavors in the largest size cup, so sharing works well.  All are cholov yisroel.
-Little Tripoli is a taxi ride away from the ghetto area. They have flaishig.  We ordered  Shabbos lunch and dinner from Little Tripoli.  There was enough food for Shalos seudos and more.    The food was good.  We also went there for supper one night.  We enjoyed the food, and the service and friendliness was wonderful. 
Florence-
We contacted Chabad to find out if there’s any Kosher food in the area.  He prepares meals and delivers it to your hotel for (the exorbitant price of )42 Euros.  He sent a lot of food.  Most of which was good.  We bought 2 meals per person so we’d have chicken cutlets for the road the next day.  Way too much food.  We should probably not have ordered 8 meals for 4 people for 2 days.  He’s got to get a better system than the horrible order form he has now.  Rabbi Levi Wolvovsky:  jewishtuscany@gmail.com
We found cholov yisroel milk in a 1 liter box-drink like container in the supermarket in Florence.
Venice-
GamGam’s food is good, if ordinary.
    GamGam Goodies- The pizza is thin crust and saucy.
Venice Shabbos food ordered through Chabad.   The main site is at the restaurant, GamGam for 100 Eu/person for all 3 Shabbos meals.  The Gallery is down the block and cost 75 Eu for all 3 meals.  In both of these sites, your reservation gets you a table with your name on it. You can come when you want and sit for as long as you like.  I ate at the Gallery. They brought each table serving platters with food, and were willing to bring more as necessary.  The food was good-nothing spectacular, but it felt like Shabbos. 
Those who don’t make a reservation can eat at the shul. Davening is in the shul on the square and spills out into the square.  After davening, they set up tables in the square.  There are barely any lights for nighttime davening and eating. There is no reserved seating. When I was there in August, the crowd exceeded the table capacity, so they ate in shifts-first come, first served.  I don’t know if they ran out of some types of food by the second shift, but it seemed to me not as nice a situation.  But great for socializing with others – which may be what makes a good Shabbos meal for many people.
« Last Edit: August 28, 2017, 09:16:55 PM by ckmk47 »

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Re: Italy- information, impressions – ckmk47’s Trip Report
« Reply #14 on: August 28, 2017, 08:40:25 PM »

Lodging
In Rome and Florence we stayed at an Airbnb.  We were eating Shabbos meals in our Rome apartment, (ordered from Little Tripoli) not out at a restaurant, so we looked for an apartment with a large dining room and a full sized table.  Ours also had a living room with couches.  Very Shabbosdik.  But there is a sensor at the door to the building.  We waited for someone else to come or go each time we used it. (learning experience)
In Florence, we got a decent apartment, but it is on the 4th floor without an elevator.  (learning experience)  Both apartments had decent air conditioning.  We were able to set it American style.
 In Venice, we stayed at the hotel Locanda del Ghetto. It’s in the main square and has kosher food for breakfast. Rolls, croissants, and coffee. We had rooms that opened onto the water, not onto the (noisy) square.  The room was spacious.  It had a little table and chairs and a large closet.  Small fridge stocked with over-priced drinks. The bathroom was spacious and had a bidet.  The there was a strange shower door.  It doesn’t have a track and was guaranteed to move to allow water to seep onto the floor.  But there were ample towels to mop it up.  Shabbos:  Manual locks, they keep the key at the desk. The hallway lights are kept on all Friday night (rather than using a motion detector).
We chose the locations based on the shul and food.  In Rome we worked with the Airbnb map of apartments and the location of the Great Synagogue. The kosher food is a block away from the shul.  Our apartment was a 7 minute walk away from them.  Our Florence apartment was around the corner from the shul.  (The shul doesn’t always have a daily  minyan.) Our hotel in Venice was on the square, right near the Chabad shul and down the block from the local synagogue and food.
Airbnb vs hotel
Cost- We were 2 couples. An apartment for $200/night was more cost effective than 2 rooms at a hotel for $150 each.
Space-An apartment is likely large than a room.
Kitchen- you have one.  You may also have a washer.
Collegiality- In an apartment we hung out together for planning and socializing purposes. When we had 2 hotel rooms in Venice, we had a more separate feel.
Privacy, bathrooms, stuff- when you share space with people that you don’t usually live with, you have to compromise on where you can leave things, how messy the bathroom is and how long you may have to wait to use it.
Concierge- At an Airbnb you don’t have one.  The host may give you the basics of where to find the night life and the grocery, but when you don’t know which bus to take or the phone number of a taxi, you realize what you’re missing.
« Last Edit: August 28, 2017, 09:12:45 PM by ckmk47 »