Four nights in Florence were the only accommodations I had to arrange for my entire 13-day summer Eurotrip, and yet I still put it off like math homework. I’d planned a trip with my sister Morgan that started in Holland, stopped in Florence, and ended at our family friends’ villa in Umbria. Florence was in between.
I had Morgan take a look at every Florentine airbnb I was considering because I have a miserable track record when it comes to selecting places to sleep. My past offenses include bad locations that are a bus ride away from the beach (Miami) or are in questionable areas (Toronto). There may have been a comforter with holes in it. These days I’m not as cheap as I used to be; or if anything, I realize that saving $50 a night isn’t worth losing a friendship. This time, I resolved not to mess up a trip for a lack of research or funds.
I logged onto airbnb.com and clicked on an apartment in Florence with host David (2,900+ reviews) for its proximity to the train station and its check-in policy that allowed us to arrive at midnight. I cliced on David’s profile:
A great traveler, a lover of art in general (music, cooking , painting, sculpture … ). I am a chef graduated from the Cordon Bleu in Paris. I traveled a lot in recent years: one year St. Croix (USVI), 3 years Los Roqus (Venezuela), one year Mallorca, 7 years Paris, where I was the owner of the “Bobolie Coffee” renowned sea restaurant, 4 years Valencia where I created a restaurant at the port and worked for the 32 America ‘s Cup. I have three children and a beautiful German wife, who is a painter whose works adorn most of our house. We live in Chianti, near Florence.
Clearly, David is living his best life. I had nothing to lose.There were a few pictures of David and said German spouse. David described the space like this:
NEW!!! Renovated apartment (January 2017) a short walk from Santa Maria Novella station and all the major monuments. In typical 1800’s building, on the second floor without lift, it consists of: living room with dining table and sofa-bed, full equipped kitchen, bedroom with king size bed, bathroom with hydromassage shower and radio. Air conditioning and the latest generation of heating, free wifi high speed. In a very quiet street a few steps from all the main monuments.
As far as I could tell, the pictures on the site seemed to confirm this description. One of the reviews I read was from Leandro, a self-described enthusiast of travel, photography and sports from Porto Allegre, Brazil.
David was a very good host! He received us on schedule and even had a reservation for us to lunch at a very good restaurant. He created a little map of Florence with all the main tourist attractions, which was very good for us to get to know the city. One little suggestion I would make would be to take a look at the shower (or boiler) because the water is coming in too hot, but I’m sure that is easy to solve.
Other reviews were positive and many remarked on the bottle of wine he left on the table for his guests. Morgan checked it out and gave me the okay and I booked it a few days later.
I’m taking you through all these reviews because I did my research. I went the extra mile and I was prepared for a weird shower temperature.
And yet, in spite of the precautions I took, a standard European Airbnb with 2,000 positive reviews still managed to turn into a story.
I was excited to visit Florence for the first time and even more thrilled that our honorary Dutch sister/bestie/ultimate host Lotte was coming along with us to Italy for a few days. The only catch is that Holland is always hard to top. I thought about this a lot. The last time I was in Holland three years ago, I deliberately ended my three-country trip in Holland because I knew it would be the ideal grand finale.
Lotte and her boyfriend Martin along with the rest of her family and friends roll out the red carpet for me and whoever I decide to bring along each time I visit. Besides letting me stay in their house, they let me sleep in as long as we want, make breakfast every day and have a kitchen stockpiled with Dutch cookies and Heineken. It’s the same feeling you felt as a kid when you went to your grandparents’ house. No rules! Do whatever you want! It’s almost the the point of embarrassing (but not quite): could book The Four Seasons and fly a private jet to Florence, and it still wouldn’t match the level of luxury that one is spoiled with in Holland.
Martin took Morgan, Lotte and I to Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport around 8:00 pm. Once we were on the plane, I confirmed with David via the messenger app on Airbnb our flight was scheduled to land at 11:20p. His reply:
Our takeoff was slightly delayed but we made up the time in the air. I had planned on sleeping on this flight, but the three basic American study abroad betches in the row across from us were too good for me to go to sleep. I’m just going to list some of the snippets I enjoyed for two hours and twenty minutes:
“Guys, I’m pretty sure we just had, like, the best weekend in Amsterdam. Like, I don’t know what any one else in our program did this weekend, but there’s literally just no way anyone had a better time than we did this weekend.”
“You’re sooo right. It was uh-MAY-zing. I’m so glad we didn’t go with the guys to London.”
“Yeah. I am like excited to get back though.”
“Me too, I’m ex-HAU-sted…”
“No like, I need to lay out like first thing tomorrow morning. My tan basically disappeared.”
I had a book out that I was planning to read, but Morgan and I exchanged judgmental looks with every sentence these girls uttered instead. Once we landed and got our things I texted David to let him know we were on our way. He didn’t respond.
The taxi we took from Amerigo Vespucci Airport (Italy has the best airport names, don’t fight me on this) to the apartment dropped us off outside the apartment five minutes early at 12:05. It was uneventful besides the cab driver chiding me for not being able to pronounce the street name and number in Italian (Oito? Ocho? Via dei Cannachi?).
Nevertheless I was smug with the feat of our early arrival, and I rang the doorbell next to a blue door for the apartment on the second floor. David will be so pleased, I thought to myself. No answer. I took a few steps back from the curb and into the street to look upwards for any sign of lights on through the second floor window. Nothing. Being a perpetually late person myself, I told Lotte and Morgan that I’d wait until like 12:15 to call David.
Five minutes went by. I reluctantly keep my promise and call David. He answered.
“Ciao David! This is Amanda, we are outside the apartment, are you here?”
“Buonasera, Amanda! How are you?” David greeted me as if I was an old friend. He didn’t answer my question.
“Are you inside, David? We are downstairs.”
“Ehh, tell me, Amanda, which apartment is it that are you at?”
“Umm the one I booked … via dei Canacci?” This doesn’t seem to register.
“Yes, But WHICH apartment are you at? I have many, many apartments, you have to tell me which is the one that you are at.” He keeps emphasizing ‘which’, as if I know any other apartment than the one I am at in a city I’ve been in for 20 minutes. I assume there is a language barrier, so go out of my way to be descriptive, dumbing down my speech and emphasizing words I wouldn’t normally. Maybe I wasn’t pronouncing Canacci right.
“Via dei Canacci, numero eight … floor two, I mean, due … You told me about a blue door…?” I continued to spit out details in hope that something would trigger … and then, desperately I said, “Um, we’re in Florence?”
Lotte and Morgan overhear me tell David that we are in Florence, raise their eyebrows and exchange inaudible words of concern. I thought maybe he was like a real estate magnate and had properties all around Europe or something. Or maybe I booked an Airbnb in Florence, South Carolina.
“Okay, I arrive five minutes. Five minutes, it’s okay?” David doesn’t reveal which detail finally made sense to him, but I didn’t care. I hung up and knew I’d have to explain my sketchy phone call to Lotte and Morgan.
“Ok, he’s coming in five minutes.”
Lotte’s traveled with me enough to know when something’s up. “Soooo, why did you have to tell him what city we were in?”
“Um, well, I think there was just a language barrier and just wanted to make sure we were on the same page … or continent … I mean, I don’t know but he sounded like he was definitely coming.”
Whatever that means. I scan via dei Canacci for potentially sketchy people who may want to capitalize on three maybe-lost girls with suitcases on a dark street in Florence after midnight. There were two guys sitting on a street corner drinking outside a convenience store, but they seemed bored and uninterested. The street is otherwise quiet, despite being close to the central area of Florence.
Five minutes go by and there is no sign of David. Five minutes turn into ten, and that’s when I begin to question everything. Had I not read his reviews on Airbnb? Maybe I didn’t scroll back far enough for all the bad stuff? Maybe he pays people minimum wage in Asia to write positive reviews? I couldn’t remember. I was trying to buy David some time, unable to face the possibility of this whole reservation blowing up in my face. “Let’s give him five more minutes, I mean, I don’t want to be that crazy overbearing American, you know?”
It’s no surprise that we had enjoyed five flawless days in Holland, and as soon as the reins get turned over to me, we are outside on a dark street after 12:30a, unaware if we are going to have a place to sleep tonight. With each passing car and motorcycle, my belief that David is actually coming rises and then fades away. We’ve been lurking in the streets of Florence for 30 minutes now.
Finally, I see a man that looks a lot like David’s Airbnb profile pic cruise by us in a moped. We make eye contact.
“That’s definitely him!”
And then he crashed into a concrete facade of a building on the other side of the street.
David is knocked off his moped and falls to the left and on top of him. David tries to lift the moped off him and stand up. He gets off one knee, then the other, but the moped is too heavy; it falls sideways to the left on top of him and David falls back down. The motor is still running.
I run over to help. We see people on the news do heroic things in traumatic situations, afterward everyone wants to know, “How did you do it? What was going through your mind?” They often report an out-of-body-experience, where they just instinctively know what to do and everything just flows.
I grabbed the right handle bar and start to lift it toward me and off him. There was only one problem: the motorcycle is still on, and the right handle bar is the gas. The motorcycle goes flying forward with David, who is still holding on to a handle bar. Yeah. I gripped it too hard. The moped jets forward, dragging him along, and falls on David a third time, beating him back down into pavement.
“Amanda,” Lotte yells at me from the other side of the street, “you’re pulling the ignition!”
“Oh right,” I retreat and a few steps back and look around to see what I should do next.
So I back off, uncertain that David will be able to lift this still-running motorized vehicle off him. One of the young guys who was sitting around by the convenience store, no older than 23 had seen this all go down and was right behind me to help out. He pulls the motorcycle off David, who stands up, parks it, and turns off the ignition.
We exhale. “You guys okay?” The heroic boy with brown hair and moppy curls asks. I never confirmed this, but immediately label him as an Australian kid on a gap year.
I shrug and make a “Who me?” face and look to David for a response. He isn’t listening; he is instead rummaging through his storage pouch of his bike. I look back at Lotte and Morgan, who are still on the other side of the street and are keeping a cautious distance.
“Here you go, hold this,” David hands the Australian a bottle of unlabeled red wine.
“Oh no, I couldn’t…you should keep this for yourself…” The Aussie is temporarily flattered.
“Oh no, it’s not for you. It’s for them, he nods at me. Besides, I don’t drink.” Then his voice changes to a laughing whisper — “Only cocaine and hash.” He gets close enough to me that I can tell that is a lie because based on his breath, David is definitely wasted.
“Oh-kay?” I recognize the Aussie is trying to figure out my group’s association with this dude is. David continues to rummage through his trunk and now a shoulder bag knapsack.
“Airbnb,” I whisper and pointing at David while he isn’t looking. “I think we’ll be fine?”
“Oh, got it. Well Florence is a really lovely city, you’re really going to enjoy it.”
“Thank you, we really appreciate your help,” as I start to walk to grab my carry-on suitcase on the curb near Lotte and Morgan.
“Ahh no worries,” the Aussie hands me the bottle of wine and disappeared. I assume he walked back to the convenience store he was hanging out at, but never checked.
David walks over to Lotte and Morgan, dusts himself off and acts as if nothing has happened. Then, he broke the awkward silence.
“Welcome to Firenze!” he belts out, both arms outstretched. I fluctuate between relief and feeling more freaked out.
“Uh, thank you,” Lotte said. She darts a wary, what-the-hell-did-you-get-us-into look at me.
I notice David’s knee is bleeding. He doesn’t seem to care. “Let me tell you, this is wonderful apartment, you are going to love it. I have many many apartments and this one is very very –”
“Oh wow, this is the nicest one?” I cut him off, hoping he’ll say yes as I attempt to craft a redemptive narrative to my already-failed booking.
“No, this is not the nicest,” he laughs. “But it’s very good. Very very good. And, just so you know, if you have any problems, here, anything at all, you call me. I am member of mafia.”
“Okay, wow, that’s really good to know.” It’s hard to detect sarcasm in a foreign language, so I speak even more dryly than usual, mostly for my own amusement.
As we get in, he shows us how to turn on the hot water, air conditioning and most importantly – the wifi. As soon as he gives me the password, I connect my phone so that I can look up David’s profile to see if there were any signs that he was a psychopathic killer who was going to stab us to death in his Airbnb. Nothing comes up. I wonder if I’m being pranked. David carries on as if everything is normal.
We put the wine on the table in the compact entryway. David shows us the pullout couch, the tricky water heater, and the in-unit laundry that we’d never use. He reminds us again that he is the head of the mafia in town should we ever need anything.
“Oh, right, the mafia.” Lotte says with a smile.
David’s expression turns from happy-go-lucky drunk to epic staredown. He recognizes we are laughing at him. “Do you not believe me?” For a second I’m freaked out. “Listen, you said to meet at 11:20 and arrive at midnight, so I go to bar for 20 minutes. That’s it! But you were late,” he said pointed at me. His persona switches back to friendly a few seconds later before I can respond and remind him that wasn’t at all the case.
“Ok, now, I show you shower.” He motions for us to follow him through the bedroom and into a small bathroom. The bathroom is so small that only David could fit inside, so we watched his performance from the bedroom. And yes, it was a performance.
“Here is how you open up the shower door … water on … water off … hot … cold … and of course! The shower radio!” He hits a button inside the shower and sure enough, some static-y undecipherable music starts to play. He steps out of the shower and does a hokey dance. “You see, you can listen to music in the shower!” He is very proud of this. We smirk and feign a light chuckle. He turns the music off.
“Okay, and here you have toilet. Now, if you run out of toilet paper, do not use your shirt!” David gives Morgan’s shirt a playful tug, which would have felt creepy, except that nothing seemed weird to me at this point. I’m questioning everything I ever know to be true. “Instead, there is more paper right here.” He points to the corner, where there are extra rolls of toilet paper.
Also, in what scenario does one use their shirt when there is no toilet paper? How does one even successfully use their shirt when it’s on them? Ok, that’s enough visualisation for now.
“Why yes, of course.” I nod and smile, and nod and smile again. I recently listened to a podcast about how it’s wrong to affirm people’s weird social behavior. I’m working on it. I look at David’s knee. It’s still bleeding, dripping down his ankle and staining his sock.
After showing us where the towels are in the bedroom armoire, he takes us back into the kitchen to show us the hot water again. At first I thought he just wanted to make sure we understood, because that’s what the airbnb reviews mentioned most. Then after a long paused in which he stared at us silently and pondered us for a few long moments, he made his next move:
“Ok, now I show you shower.” He motions for us to follow.
“You already showed us the shower!’ Lotte says this emphatically. He either he doesn’t hear her or ignores her. I follow him back into the bathroom.
“Here is how you open up the shower door … water on … water off … hot … cold …”
Lotte and Morgan go back to the living room/entryway. They want nothing to do with bathroom description 2.0. Meanwhile, I’m just trying to go with the flow and keep the peace so this dude doesn’t kill us in this teeny bathroom.
“And of course! The shower radio! You see, you can listen to music in the shower!” The static-filled music goes back on. He does the exact same hokey dance and moves his hips left to right. He turns the music off.
“Okay, and here, you have toilet. Now, if you run out of toilet paper, do not use your shirt!” This time David pulls on my shirt. “Instead, there is more paper right here.” Again, he points to the extra rolls of toilet paper on the floor.
While nodding and smiling, I start to ignore David and let my mind wander back to Lotte and Martin saying goodbye to one another. This Florence trip was the longest they’d ever been apart in their relationship (I know, I know), and I couldn’t help but remark on the irony that as soon as I’m put in charge of anyone’s well-being, our safety goes into jeopardy. Did I feel unsafe? Not enough to run. Am I being slightly dramatic? Yes. But I’m also not entirely wrong.
At this point start to think maybe we should check into the hotel we passed on the street. I look at my watch and it’s nearly 1am. How a tour of an apartment not much bigger than a college dorm had take so long is beyond me.
“Okay, so I am sorry but I am very busy, I must go check-in another airbnb apartment after you so I must go soon. And after that, I’m going to the seaside to see my children. Is there anything, anything else that you need?”
“You’re driving to the seaside now? Where are you going?” Morgan asked. David seems to ignore all questions he doesn’t like.
“Maybe just one more thing,” Lotte jumps in. “Could you maybe show us on the map where we are?” She pointed to one of the complimentary maps on the table in the entryway.
“Of course!” David seems happy to be of service. “Ok, so we are here, there is a good restaurant here, another here,” he makes wild markings with a black ink pen on the map. “If you want drinks and chips there is a convenience store here too, open very late.” There’s an awkward pause again.
“Okay, so I am sorry but I am very busy, I must go check-in another airbnb apartment. They were on the same flight as you.” We thank David for all his help and insist that we will be fine. We walk him to the door and shut (and lock it) behind him. The three of us crowd at the window to watch him leave. I was scared he’d look back up at the window and see all of us peering down at him. He mounted on his moped and appeared to leave in one piece. We burst into laughter, unable to speak in complete sentences for a few minutes.
We’re starving so we decide to walk to a convenience store for some juice and chips. Lotte walks back over to the table to look at David’s map to see where we should go.
“You know what?” Lotte asks us, examining the map closely.
“What?” Morgan walks over to the table where Lotte is.
“None of these places he marked on the map are right. He didn’t even mark this apartment on the right street.”
And with that, we grabbed our purses and walk out the door in search of snacks. We bring the map anyway.