AirBnB Makes Travel Available to Everyone


AirBnB is a very popular new way to rent a place to stay almost anywhere in the world. Using the Internet, travelers can choose to rent an entire house or apartment, a room in someone’s home, or just a sofa to crash on. I’ve used vacation rentals many times. For my recent trip around Europe I rented 11 places, six of them via AirBnB.

I liked booking with AirBnB more than with the other companies offering similar services. Why? One reason is that all the places I rented were managed by their owners. The difference between the welcome I received from AirBnB hosts and professional managers was very noticeable. Most of the owners met me when I arrived. The three who couldn’t arranged for their mothers or a friend to greet me and make sure the place was ready for my arrival.

Two other important benefits are offered by AirBnB. The first is that the cost is generally lower than that offered by other large online vacation rental companies. The second is that many hosts on AirBnB offer very liberal cancellation terms. (AirBnB has three levels of cancellation; not all of them offer a full refund if you cancel – watch out for this!)

The website puts the owner and the tenant in touch with one another via text message or email very quickly and maintains that link indefinitely. This is really helpful when you have questions or need directions for finding the place you’ve rented. Although I never used it, I was glad to know that an AirBnB employee was just a phone call away if I had a problem.

One drawback of using AirBnB is that the company wants immediate payment of the full rent at the time of booking. That is held until 24 hours after your arrival as protection for you in case the rental is not available or you arrive to find that the rental is unacceptable. This was never the case with any of my AirBnB rentals.

Here’s a brief description of each of the places I stayed in that were arranged on AirBnB. Click the blue city name to see the apartment.

My AirBnB in Antwerp is located in the recently restored old port area of the city meaning I could easily walk to the center of the city. The apartment is owned by Astrid, a young mother who no longer lives in the city. Her friend Gloria manages the apartment and was very helpful to me. The apartment is large. It includes a commodious living room with kitchen on one end; and a bedroom that’s bigger than mine at home. Astrid has made a number of improvements such as installing a washing machine and a dishwasher. The apartment is located on the third floor (American) in a hundred-year-old building. Although I didn’t meet Astrid we communicated via email and phone several times. She was always pleasant and helpful.

My AirBnB in Collioure is a four-story, single family home with a very small footprint. Each floor contains one entire room and nothing more except the staircase. The building is old but has been totally rehabbed and has a new kitchen (pictured above) and bathroom. It’s just steps from the Mediterranean sea. It’s owned by Elise who lives in another part of France. Her mother met me at the train station and welcomed me to the rental with the next morning’s breakfast and lots of information. I was only here for three days in February but the weather was mild and the location allowed me to totally explore the small town. Communication with Elise was easy. Her English is excellent and so is her vacation rental.

My AirBnB in Nice is one of the very best of the entire journey. The owner, Beatrice, is a very charming French lady who speaks English well. She welcomed me warmly and spent an hour or more telling me about the apartment and the neighborhood. Her place is beautifully decorated and very comfortable. It’s in a high-rise apartment building in a middle-class neighborhood not far from the center of Nice. When I left Beatrice came to see me off. I felt like I’d made a new friend.

My AirBnB in Quimper is a nicely decorated, one-bedroom apartment located in the center of the city on a pedestrian-only street that was very quiet. As you’ll see if you click the link this apartment is stylishly furnished. The owner, Marion, is a young woman who has recently married and moved to another city; this was her apartment prior to her marriage. Marion refused to meet me upon arrival until I insisted that she do so – then she arranged for her very pleasant mother to clean the apartment and to meet me. This was the only time I had an AirBnB host who was anything other than professional.

My AirBnB rental in Totnes is a “mother-in-law” apartment attached to the home Denise has occupied for a number of years. The experience of sharing Denise’s home made my stay there very nice. I had been reluctant to rent a room in someone’s home until I decided to go to England where the cost of anything else is very high. Staying in my hosts’ home turned out to be one of the best discoveries of the trip! Denise and I went out to dinner on the evening of my arrival and then on to see a movie with her friends. The space I occupied included a fully equipped kitchen, but I often settled myself at Denise’s kitchen table to use my computer. Denise is a charming and helpful hostess. I enjoyed my days in her home.

My AirBnB rental in Hastings was a room in a six-bedroom home where Francesca has lived for many years and raised her family. There were women coming and going in this traditional rooming house almost any time at all and after nearly four months alone I really enjoyed their company. Francesca provided breakfast and I could use the kitchen to prepare my own dinner. A real bonus here was the sometime-presence of Francesca’s two-year-old grandson. He’s a darling and it was nice for me to spend a little time with a young child. Francesca and I have become friends on Facebook, and I look forward to seeing her again one day.

This has become a very long post so I’ll stop here but next time I’ll share with you some of what I learned about traveling the AirBnB way.

Leaving Hastings


On my way to Rye last Friday the bus I was riding passed through a beautiful old village and passed by this ancient church. I had to return to it today. The town is called Winchelsea. Today I returned to take pictures and investigate this small but historic place.

I learned that this is the second Winchelsea, the first having been wiped out in by a storm in 1288. That first town had been an important and prosperous port. You can read much about its history here. It was decided to move the town inland and onto higher ground. That is the village I visited today. Here are some photographs of what I found in this very old, very beautiful village.



I followed this road to the edge of the town and when I followed the bend in the road I found this amazing stone gate.


The plaque on the gate calls it the “Strand Gate” and says it was built around the year 1300. The sign says it was once one-third taller and was painted white.


I found lovely “Woodlawn Cottage” not far from the church. Those shingles above the door are made of clay.


It’s lambing season in sheep country. The red mark on the ewe identifies her owner.


The charming garden gate beside someone’s beautiful home called Firebrand Cottage.

And a final shot of the church.


No one seems to know a date for the construction of this church or who caused it to be built. It is thought that it was much bigger originally and that what exists today is only the “chancel” (the choir behind the central altar) and remnants of the transepts. The missing parts were dismantled centuries ago to build the harbor at Rye and for other purposes. That was often done in England, particularly after the dissolution of the monasteries. It is thought that this church was never a monastery, but was always a parish church for what was once a very rich and much bigger town. Please read a detailed history of the church here for much more information.


Yesterday I took a long walk to the western end of the Hastings beach. The weather was fine and there were many people out enjoying the first warm weekend of the season. The avenue that runs along the beach is lined on the other side with old hotels, one or two casinos, numerous restaurants. There’s a shopping mall and a large and beautiful old church in the center, just off this main street. But mostly it was the beach that caught my interest. The sun was low enough to turn the sea silver on both sides of the long pier.

(Note added April 29, 2016: Yesterday’s Guardian newspaper had an informative article about the rebuilding of this pier following a fire and its reopening. You can read it here.)



There is sand on this beach when the tide is out!


If you look under the teardrop lamp you’ll see, as I did for the first time yesterday, high on the hill above the town the remains of the castle that William the Conqueror ordered built almost immediately after winning the battle against the English.

Tomorrow I’m off to Cambridge.


A Walk Around Rye


Join me for a walk through this small and ancient town (population under 5000, a town since 1189 AD but occupied even earlier). Several of the buildings have painted on them “Rebuilt in 1420” but I’ve found no occurrence at that time to explain those notices. Once a prosperous trading port, Rye’s fortunes changed when the river silted up. Today its economy is largely based on tourism — and I think the pictures that follow will tell you why.


This tower was built in the year 1249 to guard the entrance to the town from the sea.


The three or four commercial streets in the town center offer shopping, hospitality and dining.


This steep, cobbled street is the site of the Mermaid Inn, one of the buildings dating to 1420. The cellars date from the mid-1100s.


The view at the top of this post is taken from the top of Mermaid Street, with the Mermaid Inn on the right. Here’s a close-up of the one very old house across from the inn.


See the white birds in the window of the Mermaid Inn? They are really pigeons but it’s said that they were brought here to be released after weddings, when it’s claimed that they are white love birds.


At the top of the street and around the corner a glimpse of St. Mary’s church appears.


The church is high on the hill. An old burial ground surrounds it.



This curvaceous old tree is surrounded by English bluebells.


This gate has been guarding the old town center since 1329. It is the only remaining gate of the four that were built as part of the wall that surrounded the town.


Are you getting tired from climbing these hills? Here’s a spot to sit a while.


Here’s a corner of the house and garden where Henry James lived. Called the Lamb House, it’s now owned by the National Trust and is open for tours.


There are numerous antique dealers in Rye. Not everything sold by them is ancient or fancy!


Ah! Here’s a good pub. Let’s end our walk here, near the train station, with a drink to restore us.

I rely on Wikipedia to know everything!  Here’s a link to that page for Rye.

And here’s a link to the Mermaid Inn, said to be haunted!





Foyle’s War: A Who-Done-It in Hastings


For those who have never seen the ITV program “Foyle’s War” I’ll quickly explain it. Foyle is chief of detectives in Hastings and the original setting was the years from 1940 to 1944 when the war in Europe was on. In each episode Foyle has a murder mystery to solve, and there’s a continuing storyline for each main character. It’s a true representation of what World War 2 was like for ordinary Brits: under bombardment and living with very strict rationing of food, gasoline, clothes and more. The program stars Michael Kitchen, a popular British actor, who portrays Foyle. It moves through time over several seasons until reaching the end of the war. It was so popular, however, that’s it was revived with new programs set in post-war Hastings. If you haven’t discovered it yet, look for it on your PBS channel or find the programs on Amazon.

Hastings’ position on the southern coast of England made it a natural target for German bombers, sometimes due to inaccurate information. The first bombing was carried out by a single plane. In total the town was bombed 85 times, resulting in the loss of 154 lives and many more injuries. Today it’s easy to see how many buildings were destroyed because post-war style houses stand in their place. At the beginning of the war more than half the population fled the town: the population dropped from 65,000 to around 20,000. This website has many details of the war years in Hastings:

Having seen Old Town Hastings on many episodes of this program I’ve had Hastings high on my list of places to visit in England for a long time. I’ve been surprised by the town in some ways but not at all disappointed. The bartender at the pub where I had lunch on Wednesday told me where to find “Foyle’s House.” Hastings’ Old Town section largely survived the bombing of the town from 1940 to 1945 intact. It is filled with ancient houses, many of them antique shops today. In researching the history of Hasting during the war I found a blog in which one woman, Victoria Seymour, details the filming of Foyle’s War and the war years in Hastings. On her blog Mrs. Seymour has posted this graphic which shows the places that were bombed in Hastings during WW2. Each black dot represents a bombing.


courtesy of Victoria Seymour

Here are a few pictures I’ve taken that may look familiar to fans of Foyle.


This is Foyle’s house, which is on Croft Street in the heart of the Old Town, near the old church.


The door to the house which is seen in many episodes when “Sam” (Foyle’s young female driver) calls for him in a circa-1940 automobile.


This is the parish church that survived bombs falling all around it for five years. It’s at the other end of the block from Foyle’s house.


Today the church graveyard is filled with English blue bells in bloom.


Croft Street is lined with medieval houses although “his house” is probably turn-of-the-20th century.


The streets with the oldest homes in Hastings have elevated sidewalks on one side of the street, presumably because the streets were leveled at some point to accommodate their hillside location.


This street called Swan Terrace which runs up the side of the church shows how hit-or-miss the bomb damage was.


This is Swan Terrace again. Notice the empty lot at the bottom of the street. This was the scene of the Swan Inn, built in 1523. On Sunday, May 23, 1943, at lunch time, a bomb was dropped on the inn killing 16 people and injuring many more. The inn was not rebuilt and the location, today a small park, serves as a memorial to all who lost their lives in Hastings during World War Two.