So from the previous post hopefully you’ll understand why, for a trip like our two weeks in Italy, I wasn’t really a fan of “oh, we’ll just show up and find somewhere to stay”.
That’s a bit personal
When it comes to “What are you looking for in your accommodation?” everyone is different! So this post is very much written from my perspective and what works for me and my family. As usual, if you’ve got views, there’s a Comments section below so do wade in! Anyway…
Accommodation Booking Websites
I’ve tried a few accommodation booking websites but I keep coming back to Booking.com. We used Air BnB very successfully in Paris. But other times I’ve found places on Air BnB that look like they really, really are available, even some so-called “Instant Book” ones, but then you get an email back saying, “Oh sorry, it’s not available that day.” And unfortunately Booking.com has set my expectations that I should be able to browse, pick something and book it right then and there, job done.
Self-catering, parking and WiFi, please
A great thing about Booking.com is you can put in everything you’re looking for in your choice of accommodation, so those are the main three things I’m after:
WiFi – save your phone’s data; double-check opening hours for museums, etc; do a bit of reading up on Stuff We Saw Today, eg what exactly is Trajan’s column?
Parking – because we show up some of Europe’s biggest cities with our car, and if you have to pay to put your vehicle in a carpark, you need to factor that into the price of a room that otherwise looks cheap. For example, in Rome we found rooms for €80 a night, but then parking might be €30 a day. So… that’s really a €110 a night room! And yes, we managed to find a place in Rome that had free parking. I will write a separate blog post about our accommodation in Rome because I think it was possibly (for us) the most perfect accommodation experience I have ever had.
Self-catering – the cheapest rooms you can get are usually in some sort of hotel chain like Ibis, on the outskirts of town. We stayed in one of these for one night in Metz and it was fine. As well as WiFi and parking, in your room you get a bed, a TV, maybe tea and coffee making, a shower and a toilet.
Finding somewhere with a small kitchenette costs more than these type of places BUT let me paint you a picture: you and your spouse, and your two teen/tween children, in the same small room, for two weeks. You can make a cup of tea, but there’s no bowls or spoons if you just want cereal for breakfast. For dinner, you don’t choose to eat out, you have to eat out, even if you feel like just throwing on a packet of pasta and heating up a ready-made sauce*.
For me it really boils down to being able to just cook or eat like I’m at home – not all the time, but when I want to, that makes me try and look for self-catering accommodation. I love going out for breakfast, but I actually don’t want to eat croissant every day for two weeks. OK, rephrase: I would love to be able to eat croissant every day of my life without any impact on my waistline, but … So there you go.
Self catering = bigger room = no-one gets killed
If you are looking for somewhere that is self-catering, that also sets the bar in terms of the size of the room. At a minimum, it’s likely to have a separate bedroom. This means you and your spouse can physically separate yourselves from the children and whatever crap they’re watching on TV and close the door. By all means have a smutty giggle here, but after a day trudging around museums and historical sights, when everyone is just a teensy bit tired, a separate room can help you survive the trip with your mental health intact, and help your children survive the trip with … well, help them survive the trip. A separate room also means you don’t have to turn your lights out at 9pm or whatever your family watershed is.
Minimum two nights
You usually can’t check into your accommodation until 2pm. But the day we go from Town A to Town B, we’re driving (obviously), stopping along the drive, getting lunch somewhere different, so we aren’t likely to arrive at our accommodation until more like 5pm or 6pm.
If you’re only staying one night, you’ve got to be out of there by 10am the next day: bags packed, room cleaned, goodbye. That’s why a one-night stand at a hotel is only good if you didn’t want to be in that town in the first place – if it’s just a way of breaking up a 10 hour drive to Town C, which is where you really want to be. And if that’s the case, forget self-catering and just go with the outskirts of town, Ibis-chain type option.
This is exactly what we did when we drove from here to Paris not on the motorways (8 hours), and we stopped one night in Metz which was exactly half-way. The hotel was on the outskirts but luckily near a main bus station. That night we took the bus into town, had dinner and a walk around Metz. In the morning we packed our bags but we went back into town to look around the food market before heading off to Paris around midday.
If you read the previous two paragraphs together, it won’t take you long to wonder, “So, you really didn’t want to go to Metz, did you?” Correct. And I felt bad about that! Poor Metz! A lovely historic city in Lorraine**, and I’m just having a one-night stand? Using it like a hotel? That’s why we made the effort to go into town, eat out, wander around, and go back in again in the morning. Now I can say that I’ve seen a bit of Metz and yes, it’s pretty cool.
Why don’t we finish off with a photo from Metz, then? This is not a great photo, and I had taken some pretty good photos of the old town, but unfortunately Metz is also the place where my phone got stolen just before we left for Paris, so this is all I’ve got, sorry. Place St Louis in Metz by night:
* If you know me, you’ll know it wasn’t a ready-made sauce but I wanted it to sound easy and inviting…
** Yep, I bought a quiche from a bakery in the market. YUM.