We picked going in May as it is the "spring skiing" end of the ski season -- and we're not huge spring skiing fans -- yet before the beginning of the way-to-short hiking season. I'm also anchored by my annual trip to Montreal to see the Formula 1 Grand Prix, which is in the beginning of June each year.
We wanted to live somewhere else, not just visit somewhere else. The idea wasn't to play tourist every day, but rather to live like locals.
Our first year, we went to Amsterdam. Great place. Loved the city, loved the surroundings, loved the Dutch people, loved the canals, loved our apartment, loved Dutch basketball, loved riding bikes, and had a great time. Highly recommended.
Last year, we spent a month travelling around the Southeast USA. Not really a "Month In..." but I got a new car out of it. Liked Washington DC, the swamps of South Carolina, Shenandoh National Park, the Black Hills of South Dakota, and eating a LOT of genuine barbecue. There was lots of stuff we didn't like (Kansas City springs to mind). But it wasn't really a "Month In..." anywhere, and love them as I do, I'm not sure living anywhere in America is so much different from living in Canada.
For our 2013 "Month In...", we started with a big desire to visit South Africa. We bought guidebooks and other such things last Fall, but we got busy and planning went by the wayside. Six weeks ago, we noticed that May was getting pretty close and we had booked nothing. We had a long discussion and came to the conclusion that we could not go somewhere too new for our "Month In..." as we had run out of research time. We also realized that unless we got on it, we would lose all opportunities as finding a furnished apartment to rent for a month on short notice is a challenge, even in big cities. We did some random scoping on the interweb and proved that to be the case.
So another two weeks went by, and we narrowed it down. We could really only do a "Month In..." one of three major European cities. We like all three cities, as we have been to each before. All three were big enough to have lots of accommodation options. All three allowed us to get past a language barrier, since we don't have time to learn much of a new language. All three are reasonably easy to get to from Calgary. We put them in priority order, and took a day to study accommodation options. We made "must have lists" in that accommodation, one of which was that we could book it on line (or at least see a current availability calendar on-line). We found 3 possible places to stay in one city, but none in our second choice. We sent out one apartment enquiry Monday, but found out this morning it was unavailable (so much for on-line calendars). We sent out a second immediately and got a confirmation within minutes. Ladies and gentlemen, this year we're spending a "Month In..."
We really wanted to go to Venice, but we could find nowhere to stay. Karen found an OK place, but it had no internet, and that's crucial for us. We also thought about London, but everything we saw was at least 50% more expensive than any of the three places we found in Rome.
Our apartment is a little less central than we wanted; it's 10 min west of the Vatican. The first one we found was in Rioni Monte, our favourite Rome neighbourhood, but alas, we couldn't get it for the full month. So we'll be spending more time on Rome's transit than we wanted (and that's not that great, because Rome's transit system isn't as good as London's or Paris'. Or even as good as Red Deer's.)
But we'll be there from May 7th to June 3rd. And given how much we love Italy, we're really looking forward to it.
We learned a few things from this process:
- There's LOTS of apartment rental sites. Many times, the same apartment shows up on several of them, often with different calendars.
- Most people don't keep their availability calendars up to date. Even those that look up to date commonly aren't.
- Many people are crappy at getting back to you. 36-48 hrs is a fast response in VRBO or other sites.
- Most don't want to map their places. They'll provide a paragraph of approximate locations, but rarely an address
- The rates shown are commonly not the rate you'll pay. In some cases, you'll see the "lowest of the low" season rates. In some cases big discounts (25-40%) will be offered for stays longer than 3 weeks. So sifting through rates is an issue
- People take crappy photos of their apartments. They'll show 40 pictures of the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain and Vatican, one shot of the kitchen (that you can't make out if they have a stove), and no pictures of the bathroom
- Some really nice people offer approximate floor plans. We like these people.