Posts Tagged ‘Guest Post’

Mexico City: a Lazy Daisy Experience

Editor’s Note:

Anastasia Chernykh is this blog’s Social Media Manager. She lives in Kharkov, Ukraine but recently we met up in Punta Mita, Mexico for our annual work retreat. Anastasia then spent a few days in Mexico City. Here is her guest post about navigating logistics, street tacos, and Mezcal. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

– Jen Pollack Bianco

Eclectic city architecture: view of Plaza de Bellas Artes and Torre Latinoamericana

After a relaxing Punta Mita experience, lively and vibrant Mexico City was a bit hard to embrace. Yet I tried to stay on my Pacific chill wave even in a place with a population of 20 million.

Mexico City has a huge number of attractions and tourist places, so the challenge was to narrow down the list and not to skip something really cool. The logistics were also difficult, as the distances are large and nobody wants to spend all day on the road instead of enjoying their visit.

The starting point was obvious for me – Palacio de Bellas Artes. Located in the historic center of the Mexico City (and conveniently close to my hotel), this impressive white building isn’t only an architectural delight, but also an important cultural center.

Palacio’s main facade is made of Italian white marble

Palacio de Bellas Artes is home to Mexican Symphonic Orchestra and folklore ballet. It also hosts a variety of notable events from live performances to art exhibitions.

Together with Alameda Park, it is surrounded by crowds all day and its Plaza turns into some kind of social scene for Mexican City youth at night… I’ve never seen so many kissing couples at the same time!

Alameda Central park

After a short visit to Alameda Park I headed to Zocalo, the main square. The best way to get there from Palacio de Bellas Artes is to walk down pedestrian Francisco I Madero street and enjoy colonial buildings, street music and mime acts.

Madero Street walk

Mime angel on Madero street

Plaza de la Constitución, or simply Zócalo, is the heart of the Old Mexico. It has been a gathering place for Mexicans since Aztec times and it’s one of the largest city squares in the world.

Zócalo, the main plaza of Mexico City

Since a visit to pyramids was on my bucket list for Mexico, I was incredibly happy to discover the one right in the middle of the Mexico City. The Templo Mayor or The Great Temple of of Tenochtitlan lies just to the northeast of the Zocalo. 59 pesos get you an entrance not only to active archaeological site, but also to The Museum which houses the Templo Mayor Project and its finds.

Templo Mayor or Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan

An offering at Museo del Templo Mayor

Aztec goodies

Friendly squirrels in Chapultepec park

The city gets even better at night. After a long day walking the best thing is to treat yourself an authentic street taco and watch the city life just in front of you.

Casual Mexican dining + people watching at Salón Corona

What else is a must while in Mexico City? I’d say mezcal tasting. I was happy enough to have my dear friend Fabiola Santiago showing me the great place to try this tequila’s “country cousin” (no cocktails! drunk straight, served with sliced oranges).

Daily special at Bósforo Mezcalería

And a cherry on the top was my walk home, the illumination is just stunning in Mexico City at night!

Palacio de Bellas Artes, beautifully illuminated at night

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Guest Post: Turks & Caicos A Trip Report Part 2

Editor’s Note: This guest post is the second in a two part series written by my friend, interior designer and lifestyle guru Brian Toth. Brian recently returned from a trip to the Caribbean island of Turks & Caicos. Not only does his trip report include some great travel tips and excursion ideas, but he even discovered where you can get gluten free pasta in Grace Bay. You can can read the first post here. You can also follow Brian Toth Lifestyle on Instagram and Twitter. All the images in this post are courtesy of Brian Toth- Jen

Day 4 was excursion day, the one day we took a break from being lazy all day on the beach drinking rum, and actually did something active. We scheduled a trip with Provo Ponies, an experience that lets riders go horseback INTO the water, and ride in either groups or private parties. We had originally wanted a 90 minute afternoon ride, but were booked solid, and had a cancellation for a 60 min morning ride. It worked out in our favor. They provide a 9:30 am shuttle pickup, and after a few other pickups, were at the place by 10. by 10:30 you’re on the ride, enjoy the time, and finished by 12, ready to go back to the shuttle. (having to do that by leaving your beach day at 3:30pm would be too difficult, especially with the temperatures and rum drinks.).

Our group was about 10, all with different experiences, from zero to professional riders. The guides pair you up with a horse suited to your comfort level (they get all this info before-hand when you book). The bigger guys in our group got ex- carriage draft horses that were BEAUTIFUL, and all the others got native provo ponies- cute horses all grown up from the island, that were enjoying a semi-retired life. Once you’re comfortable on your horse, the ride begins with leaving down a big open dirt road, until you get to go through some foliage. Once passed, it opens up to this glorious beach, with not a soul in sight, and the horses don’t just get the hooves wet- they get belly deep in the water! (they make sure you’re valuables are safe, and even offer alternative shoe choices in case you come in sandals). The ride was incredible, and everyone had a great time. This is an experience you should have once in your life!

While driving back to the hotel, we noticed an Italian restaurant, Bella Luna Ristorante, and decided we felt like needing comfort food for dinner; a little break from all the fish. Once again, it was just in town, and easy to walk to. That night, With plans to have a pre-dinner sunset cocktail at a nearby hotel, we stopped by the restaurant as they opened, and put our names in for a reservtion an hour half from then. After a 10 min walk, we arrived at the upscale hotel resort, the Grace Bay Club.

Its a beautiful property, where clearly no money was spared. It may be one of the nicest hotels in Grace Bay, with the lobby and grounds, and pool all perfectly brand new, cabanas and linen flowing in the breeze. We read that this place boasted their “Infinity Bar”- a sleek 90 foot long bar facing straight towards the ocean. Although it is just a long bar, serving fun tropical cocktails and light bites, the view and ambiance it provides is spectacular.

We arrived just at sunset, and the colors were breathtaking. This place definitely had more guests and visitors, as their neighboring outside dining experience on the ocean front lawn was packed. Tike torches, linens, lanterns in the trees- very picturesque. More of a polished resort experience, making our resort seem like a cozy hideaway far removed from the world. Drinks were fun, and we ordered coconut shrimp (excellent- I can still taste them)!

Ready for dinner, once arriving to restaurant, it was ready for Italian food. This place is actually 2 levels- the bottom open air patio style is open daily as a pizza place, and upstairs  (through trees- very Swiss Family Robinson) is the Italian dinner side. Service was fine, food was comforting. Not loud, not busy, but booked. Seated on the veranda high up was a nice experience, getting just a bit of the breeze. The best part of this menu was something not offered on it- they actually have gluten free pasta here! This was a big win for for me! They are known for making their own handmade pastas and bread, so I felt a little bad, but not as bad as if I had eaten it! We had a gluten free carbonara which hit the spot, and a meat pizza that was pure Italian. Portions were large enough that we didn’t need dessert.

Things to know: There is a grocery store Graceway Gourmet, that has everything you need to feel like you’re at home. Because our suite had a fridge, we wanted to get some afternoon snacks to enjoy on our balcony. Being active- and gluten free- vacations can be tough, because you may not find things your stomach would like you to eat. Graceway Gourmet had everything your normal grocery store would have- including probiotic drinks, an extensive wine and liquor selection, and of course, a deli, coffee shop, and snacks for the room. It was close enough to walk to, no taxi needed. The pries are quire a bit higher than the states, because everything is imported. a bag of nuts was around $11 dollars, while protein bars were upwards of $5.

The liquor stores are outrageously priced, so get your liquor at the grocery store. A bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue was $266 here, when you can get it for $150 back home. We also noticed certain wines available at Trader J0es for under $20, were going for double the the price! Same goes for any of the hotel sundries shops. My advice: make like a local and shop at the grocery store. You’ll get overcharged anywhere else.

Logistics: Upon leaving this wonderful island, a 15 min ride to the airport was quick and easy. Once you got in the airport- it was back to reality. The lines for customs isn’t the best, but not the worst. The worst is once you get past it, the combination waiting area/lobby/terminal is so small and packed and crowded, we felt like sardines in a can. What wasn’t helping is that certain flights were having 6 hour weather delays. Fortunately we found that there is a “secret” upstairs waiting are, which offers a small makeshift bar, and has music, as well as an open air view of the tarmac. While it may be warm, it is better than being trapped downstairs. There is a bar area in the main room, but it is too busy to deal with- my advice: skip to the roof!  Also, Beware of the bathroom there- it does not feel up to US standards, so don’t expect them. The boarding process was a mess, as there really isn’t a terminal, once you fight your way to the “gate”, you’re free to go outside and board the plane from the stairs on the tarmac (again- remember about any purchases or luggage you might not want to carry up). Once inside- nothing but cool mist, and air-conditioning help ease your way back home.

We took US Airways, (now part of American Airlines), which seems like the really need to update their planes. We usually fly Virgin, so I expect nothing less than personal TVs, ordering service, etc. This plane had no TVs or music or entertainment anywhere, and for a long trip like that, it can be very monotonous. The silver lining is that while we traveled coach- we booked the same seat for every leg of the trip -22d and 23E- they are at the emergency door with more leg room than first class, and only the 2 seats side by side- no stranger is near you. Plus, its not a bulkhead seat, providing you with storage in front of you.

Much thanks to Brian Toth for this guest post.

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Guest Post: Turks & Caicos: A Trip Report (Part 1)

Editor’s Note: My friend, Brian, is an interior designer and serious foodie. He recently celebrated his anniversary with a trip to Turks & Caicos. It’s an island I’ve been been curious about and I found myself drooling over the photos in his Instagram feed, so I asked Brian to write a guest post for my blog. Below is the first of two parts of his trip report. – Jen

We booked this trip on Jetsetter, and with great rates in comparison to other Hotels. Naturally wanting an ocean view, we made sure to book “ocean view suite”. The resort we stayed at was The Sands at Grace Bay, in the north eastern part of the island called Grace Bay, one of the “worlds top beach areas.” We’d never been before, but we read about the best lobster and conch and seafood you could imagine, all while soaking in the best weather with the most unrealistic blue water.

Coming from the mainland US, it is only 80 miles from Miami. Coming from LA, we  had a longer flight. We chose to take a Saturday night redeye, in plans to sleep and arrive fresh on a new day in T&C. I wouldn’t recommend a redeye. Leaving LA at 11pm, we arrived in Charlotte NC at 6:30am, with a 3 hour layover.

First- you can’t easily sleep on a plane. then with the time difference, and 3 hours waiting in the airport- you are extremely tired. Good thing is, the airport is completely empty- not a soul except for the breakfast places. Once we boarded, we were off to paradise. Upon landing and looking out the window, it was more astonishing than the pictures online. The water was the most obscene mix of blue and green I had ever seen. The fun part about the smaller island getaway, is deplaning on stairs on the tarmac- its very “vintage flying”.

However, make sure you check your bags, or travel light- because going down those stairs with suitcases and duffles is not fun! Upon entering the tiny airport, you must wait through customs, and once thru, pick up your luggage, and go through another line past inspection. Finally, when arriving at Taxi area, you are in for an awakening. Taxi zone is literally rows of shuttle vans, and a makeshift tent; and its in the middle of what looks like a quarry. Rocks and dust galore, without the ocean breeze, you’d forget you were on a tropical island. Once we got in our van, we were on our way- about 15 min to the resort.

The Sands at Grace Bay is charming, in the truth is that its not brand new, and is slightly dated (mid 90s?). The small lobby is met with the most friendly staff offering a rum welcome drink- making up for any jet lag you may be experiencing. We had arrived early, and our room wasn’t ready. We changed in the lobby bathroom (literally a single person toilet, sink, and pocket door.) so we could enjoy the beach for a while.  You have to remember- we are in the British West Indies, where local economy is not the best, and solely driven by tourism. (we were told 45 min for room, we arrived at an hour later, then waited an additional 30 min- the jet lag wasn’t helping). Other than that, The concierge and front desk girls were extremely helpful with all aspects of our trip, from offering reservations to restaurants, to providing drivers; they were extremely helpful.

We enjoyed the beach front property- just a row of thatched umbrella stands as far as the eye could see, on pristine white sand. The water was heaven. What we also noticed, was that there were not very many people. Which is great- I’d rather have a slightly empty resort all to ourselves, than a busy one with no available lounges, crowded pool area, screaming children, etc. What we realized was the beginning of their off-season. Spring break had just ended, so most people had already come and gone. The few groups we met and talked with were there for a small destination wedding, or honeymoons. We only saw 2 other families with children the entire time.

When getting to our room, we saw that it was towards the back of the property- not promising when we had asked for ocean view. Once inside, we found that our bed and screened in large balcony had a straight on view of the grounds and ocean beyond. No complaints. Our suite had a kitchen area with sink, fridge, glassware, stemware, a living area, and the best part- a washer dryer in a closet in the bathroom. For that, we could forgive the laid back 90s design (it would prove handy later when packing to leave, and having clean clothes).

Staff was always charming, full of help and acknowledgments. Everyone said Good morning, and hello, down to the maintenance. Its definitely appreciated when you’re a guest and feel good about it. We used the concierge several times; for dinner recommendations and reservations, as well as booking activities or scheduling taxi service.

One god thing to do is pick up a few of the local magazines, provided in your rooms. The dining and activities list is key in planning your days and nights. We mapped out or dinners, (as that was the most important)! We were there for 5 days, so we wanted to try a variety of things the island had to offer.

Almost everything is fish, conch and lobster. HOWEVER- we had gone when lobster season was over. YES, that is correct! No lobster for us, and every brochure spoke of lobster. Apparently, lobster is only from Dec- April 1, and we were at the end of April. So as much as I was disappointed, there was a joy in knowing that none was serving “flown-in” or “frozen lobster”- that all the restaurants prided themselves on providing only the freshest seafood, caught locally.

The first night we wanted to try a “locals” spot, Mr Grouper’s, known for some of the best food. The place was a 10 min walk outside the hotel grounds. When leaving the grounds on foot, you must realize that there are no signs. There are two ways to go- into town, or the opposite direction, to the locals side. That’s were we went. There are barely any street lights. The cars drive on the opposite side of the road, and you realize that you are not in the safety of an American sidewalk. Nothing but open fields, weeds, dirt, and dilapidated buildings, like an abandoned town. We got lost and asked a nearby motel for directions. We had gone down the wrong street, but finally found it. We would have google- mapped it, however- you must remember there is no service on the island once you leave a wifi hotel room.

Mr Grouper’s is basically a shack in the middle of nowhere, with plastic chairs and little tables outside the perimeter. It reminded me of something you’d find in backwater Florida- candles, neon rope lights, Caribbean music. We ended up sitting next to wedding group we had met earlier, and also a family with 2 kids. The family was leaving and said it was the best meal they had on their trip, at half the price anywhere else. The wedding group had been there before, and said they were returning because they loved it. The service is on “island time”, meaning everyone moves at a much slower pace. Because of this, the owner/manager noticed, and brought us conch cevice as an apology. It was delicious. We ordered the grouper, and the seafood pasta. Both were fantastic, probably the best fish I have ever had. The pasta was by far such an amazing flavor, that we joked we might need to order another one to go on our last day, to bring on the plane with us. Yes, it was that good. The dessert you can pass on, not their specialty. But this is one place you must try. Forget that you’re not in some upscale eatery- this is for foodie lovers! If you want true authentic island for, made by the locals- this is the place to go. And remember one thing abut eating outdoors at night- mosquitos. That evening I ended up with 12 bites on my legs. (I then discovered that all restaurants provide mosquito spray at the front desk, or if sitting outside, will bring it to you at the table).

Next morning we asked the front desk for a coffee or smooth place, and was recommended a place in town. This was a easy walk, about 7 minutes. The town is literally one road with shops on both sides, and restaurants sprinkled throughout. Very cute, and very quaint, it makes you realize how much of an island getaway trip you really are on.

The place we went to was called Lemon2go, and its both a small florist shop and coffee/smoothie shop. The have scones, and cookies, sandwiches and salads, wine and juices to pick up if you want to have something for the day. We got both a mocha and a “green smoothie”- which we ended up going back for EVERY single morning the rest of our trip. I highly recommend the green smoothie- a mix of greens, avocado, ginger, cucumber, kale (very US)- it was perfect as a substantial way to start the day, plus a way to recover from daily rum punch drinking. They even offer to add protein powder, for all the guys wanting to stay in shape or health conscious. The same guy helped us every morning, and was really friendly, and a pleasure to see.

Lunch was spent everyday at the same place: Hemingway’s Beach Restaurant, at our hotel. We tried it the first day, and were hooked. Not only is it conveniently at the edge of the beach and hotel, but it is open to anyone looking for a lunch escape while on the water. The convenience of leaving out tiki hut umbrella, walking 10 yards through the sand, and ending up at a friendly place was all we needed. There is both outdoor and shaded areas to sit, and the staff is extremely friendly. I had to try the fried conch ( very similar to calamari), and although very good, was also a huge portion served in a conch shell. It literally put me to sleep after.

Every other day we got the same thing- Grouper tacos. Grilled, mango salsa, and large portions. They were so good, we didn’t want to order anything else. You can choose a salad or their special fries- go for the fries a couple times. They are so good- they had added some sort of spice seasoning to them that made them addicting. To keep it consistent, we ordered the same thing that we did at the beach – “rum punch”.  By then end of our trip, the server girls and us were practically friends, and they playfully fought over who’d get to wait on us. The last 2 days, they gave us an extra free rum punch each- just as their way of thanking us for being loyal, and because we enjoyed their hospitality. A couple things to know about tipping- tax and 12% gratuity are already included with every bill- so we’d always add a bit more to let them know we appreciated them. Also, Hemingway’s has its own wifi- perfect for being able to upload your beach photos to make all your friends back home jealous (and to see how the rest of the world is coping).

Second nights dinner was at Coco Bistro, pretty much centrally located in town. It was recommended that we get reservations, and to take a taxi. The taxi ride was $12, and we went just a few walking minutes past our daily coffee spot. Hence, no need for taxi if you’re doing anything in town of Grace Bay. This place was a nice indoor/outdoor feel, lights in the trees; but to be honest, I don’t remember what I had. Maybe swordfish? It was just “Meh”. No complaints about the place, but nothing worth remembering, clearly. I definitely know that it wasn’t worth the price of the food. Limited wine list. We were able to walk home, and it’s a nice 10 min walk through town.

Third night was Caicos Cafe. This was the best overall experience, and the reason you go out to dinner in Turks & Caicos- also a reason to dress a little more “resort”. By far the best- best service, best trained staff, best presentation. The wine and drink list was extensive, carrying not only familiar wines, but local exotic rums and spirits. We were told this was the most popular place to eat, and the hardest to get in. Also, that there were no reservations available, but if we went early, there was a chance to be in. We took a taxi, as recommended,; and even though it was just a little farther out of town, it is still walkable.

We arrived just after they opened for dinner, asking if there was a chance of getting a table. They obliged, and we walked around the beautifully tropical orange building, through a garden patio oasis- and it was completely open! It was explained that early walk ins can get a table, but not later dinner times. (we were there 6:30… by 8 pm it was packed.) All seating was outside, amongst beautiful trees and lights- you literally want to make a place like this at your home. Servers were all extremely well trained, table side serving was impeccable, as well as etiquette. There was always someone nearby, and always attentive.

I had the curry spiced Mahi with potato cake- it was wonderful. Great wine list with plenty to choose from. Just before ordering dessert, the Manager came to or table, asked how we enjoyed our meal, and took the time to ask about us, without being overly invasive of our dinner. We ordered dessert-you have to get the coconut cake with 3 sauces- they’re known for it. (We even asked for an additional side of the caramel sauce- so good).

Noticing an expansive display of Scotches and Rum near our table, along with ice buckets and fellow tables’ wine cooling, I asked our server to see the dessert drink list. It was expansive, and not overpriced at all. I wanted to try a rum that was a local type, and nothing I can get anywhere else. He recommended one that was not on the menu, was a 30yr old rum from the Dominican Republic. While he went to pour it, the manager came back to check on us, and told me of my choice in rum- it is not distributed anywhere, and difficult to find; the bottle they had, was actually brought back by one of their servers on a recent trip. It was delicious. one of the best rums, almost like a heavy brandy, smooth, and all for $18.  This meal was the priciest of all meals, coming in at just over $212 for two, but worth every buck.

…Stayed tuned for part 2 of Brian’s Turks & Caicos Trip Report

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The Selman Marrakech: Stylish Moroccan Paradise

Black and white tiling is one of the main motifs in the hotel’s decor

Editor’s Note: Anastasia Chernykh lives in Ukraine and is the social media manager for My Life’s a Trip. She’s also a great photographer. Anastasia joined me on my recent trip to Marrakech and stayed for two nights at The Selman. I asked her to cover the hotel for the blog. Here is her report. – Jen

When you come to Marrakech for the first time, it is definitely a must to stay at riad (the one I stayed in was pretty nice), but Medina can be really overwhelming for a visitor. And if you get tired of the crowds it’s time to check out another traditional Moroccan option- a palace hotel. A short taxi ride brought me from the madness of the old city to stylish and calm oasis which is Selman Marrakech.

Selman Marrakech is one of the newest hotels in a city, opened in May 2012 and already won Villegiature Awards as the best hotel in Africa in 2013. The palace hotel, created by French architect and designer Jacques Garcia, is a perfect extension of the Red City from outside and a real work of art from inside. Plush interiors, black and white mosaics, dark marble, purple curtains, Persian rugs and of course hotel’s highlight – photographs and paintings of horses hanging on the walls throughout the property.

Dark & Chic at Selman Marrakech

I stayed in a deluxe double room which was a great combination of traditional decor and modern technology with a framed mirror slash flat screen TV, full mini-bar, coffee machine and signature Marrakech’s ochre colored furnishing.

The king sized bed was extremely comfy. The spacious bathroom with a separate shower (wow that water pressure!) just made a perfect ending after another full day of exploring Marrakech.

Left: working and sitting area  Right: Selman’s welcome amenity, complete with local wine

King sized bed and sitting area in the Double Deluxe Room

Bathroom decorated with zellige tiles and black marble

The ground floor room came with a private terrace facing the garden. Soft chairs and glass tables with palm trees reflections made it the best working place I could imagine (thanks to a free in-room wifi too).

Outdoor Patio of the Room 110

Green diversity at Selman’s Garden

The heart of the property is the tropical paradise with 80 m long pool surrounded by palm trees, snow white sunbeds, beach cabanas and jasmine flowers. Pool Bar offers drinks and snacks for guests until the sun goes down.

At the end of the pool there is one of the three Selman’s restaurants, Pavilion, which serves lunch (and has a Sunday brunch complete with an equestrian show) Dinner and breakfast are served at Le Restaurant Selman located at the lobby.

Selman’s main pool is one of the longest in Marrakech

Le Restaurant Selman

Pool Bar  is open for guests until the sunset

The most beautiful (living) thing you can see on a property, which makes Selman so special- horses. Pure bred Arabian as well as local Berber horses are housed on the hotel’s grounds. They are part of the private collection of the Selman’s owner, Abdeslam Bennani Smires, who breeds Arabian horses. Some of them can be seen in the Jaques Garcia designed paddocks near the pool. The horses are friendly and highly photogenic!

Selman Marrakech

KM 5, route d’amizmiz+212 524 45 96 00

Room rates start at 4,000 MAD ($477.62)

Special rates at the Selman can be found here.

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Guest Post: Great Experience Renting a Paris Apartment Using AirBnB

Editor’s Note: Over the past year I’ve become a fan on AirBnb, the service that allows guest to find rooms and properties in 192 countries. I had a positive experience using them in San Francisco, and my friend, Mike, used them to find an apartment in Paris over the summer. When he sent me a photo of his rental and I noticed a lamp I have in my own living room at home, I asked him to write us his experience as a guest post for the blog. Hope you enjoy the read- Jen

Last year, Jen asked me to write about my experiences traveling to London and Paris with my family – wherein we found accommodations in professionally-managed private and corporate apartments.

This summer, our family returned to Paris for an 11-day visit. Our daughter, now 8 years old, was scheduled for one week of “French camp” at a school in the 16th arrondissement; we wanted to find an apartment within easy commuting distance, but which was also situated in a lively, active neighborhood. These constraints ruled out our preferred Parisian apartment service (Guest Apartment Paris) because the journey from their apartments to the camp would have required 35-40 minutes each morning and afternoon. Conversely, Parisian friends advised against staying close to the school in the 16th, which they deemed too conservative, sleepy and staid.

Detail of a few art pieces in the living room

I started searching anew for rental apartments on VRBO, and found myself once again disappointed by their limited search options, opaque pricing/availability details, and woefully bad photos. Not a thing had changed since I had considered using that service four years ago… Aside from the presence of a spunky new competitor to consider: Airbnb.

I had heard about Airbnb since it launched in late 2008, but never had reason to explore its offerings. Its youth serves it well, as the site feels modern and is intuitive to navigate. Click on “Paris” on the front page and you’re presented with various neighborhoods, tagged by areas of interest. Alternately, you can click on “All Listings” and filter to your heart’s content: Lodging type, number of bedrooms/bathrooms, price range, neighborhood, and targeted amenities. Airbnb search listings feature a live-updating map, showing approximate locations of filtered properties, so you can more easily target a specific corner of a neighborhood or access to a métro (subway) line.

Individual listings on Airbnb are generally very impressive. They use a standard rubric for presenting information, the photos are usually very high quality (Airbnb sends photographers to assist property owners with this), maps and street view are available so you can get a feel for the neighborhood, and a calendar of availability is maintained (sometimes slightly out of date, but better than I’ve found on VRBO). Each listing has a bookings feature that will give you an accurate price for the dates of your intended stay – so you don’t have to negotiate that later on with the owner.

Panorama of the living room

Using their search interface, I quickly narrowed down my search to 3 properties. I sent in requests to all 3 owners for our intended dates. The first to confirm definite availability was the one we booked. The apartment we landed at was a great find – just 2 minutes from a metro station, and 5 minutes by foot to the Seine. We were steps away from the Champs-Elysees, and just two blocks from a grocery store. Amenities in the apartment were everything we needed (washer/dryer, dishwasher, full kitchen, wifi, computer/printer, cable TV, DVD player). The decor was lovely, including tasteful furniture and intriguing art. It was situated on an interior courtyard, making the apartment incredibly quiet and protected from the noise of the city and streets. The stated square footage was over 1900 square feet for 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, an office/gym, and large living room. Best yet: We had all of this for $400 per night – the cost of an entry-level shoebox-sized bedroom in most of the city’s brand-name and boutique hotels.

Airbnb takes great steps to increase confidence and trust between property owners and the renters. They verify mobile phone numbers on both sides, encourage linking your profile to “real-life” networks like Facebook and LinkedIn (to show that you’re a real person), and can even offer Verified IDs to those who send in scans of documents like driver licenses or passports. Also, Airbnb renters pay fees directly to AirBnb, which holds funds until one day after you check in. You don’t have to deal with odd forms of payment (wire transfers, money orders) to complete strangers, and you don’t lose out on your money if the listing was false or misleading.

We were blown away by the ease-of-use and the transparency offered by Airbnb. It put our family at ease and made our stay in Paris a true delight.

Panorama of the courtyard outside the apartment

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