Creating Postcards

Creative morning! Woke up with the idea to must do a new postcard for our guests this sumeer. Since we are going to have the new vacation rentals in a different house in Pizzo's centro storico, we need neutral cards. 

 
Palazzo Pizzo's new guest postcard  

Palazzo Pizzo's new guest postcard  

 

I used different tools. On my smart phone I used the app 'Pic Collage' but then turned to my computer where I have better resolution photos and used 'Publisher'. Funnily, I then emailed the result in JPEG format to myself, opened it on my phone and edited (exposure, contrast, and crop to a postcard format). For my previous postcards I have used also the free software 'PicMonkey' at PicMonkey.com.  

 
Playing with style and layout ... 

Playing with style and layout ... 

 
 
maybe we need business cards as well

maybe we need business cards as well

 

I don't think our guests will use these postcards, write on the back and mail them. But maybe someone use one as a bookmark or just take one or two home as a souvenir. Maybe they stick them in their photo album, or share it with their friends. Then my mission would be accomplished :-)

BTW, my new postcard is based on my oil painting which is based on a photograph of a beach, most likely between Pizzo and Tropea. 

Update: Photos from our project

The new year has just started and it's already February! While Angelo works on our project in Pizzo - the wooden and tile flooring now is all done - I am sitting at my desk in Bangkok searching online for some decent outdoor furniture. Calabria has not yet been discovered by IKEA & co and so it is not easy to find cool stuff. Beside having done some shopping in Northern Italy lately, ordering online seems a good solution to save time, but not being able to see and touch what you get and shipping cost to the most distant region of the Italian mainland are the downside. And while we are working on getting the apartments furnished before early summer, I get already many booking enquiries. I am really delighted to see that we get credits for our 5 star rated hospitality. But of course, our potential guests want to see photos! - Photos? But it's not furnished! - However, Angelo sends us on our what's app group (yes, that's how we manage another long distance project) almost daily updates. Although these are not for advertisement, I am posting them today as an update from the project side. And I promise the furnishing will be as nice as in our residence: a mix of old and new decorated with local art. Expect nice shots mid April. For now, please accept that we are at this state:

Dependance: entrance area from the street with view into second bedroom

Dependance: entrance area from the street with view into second bedroom

Dependance: The second bedroom with small balcony facing the sea and restored stone wall 

Dependance: The second bedroom with small balcony facing the sea and restored stone wall 

Dependance: living room with passage to the kitchen and restored original stone wall

Dependance: living room with passage to the kitchen and restored original stone wall

Dependance: living room and restored original stone wall - I am curious myself how the staircase leading to the attic will look like ...

Dependance: living room and restored original stone wall - I am curious myself how the staircase leading to the attic will look like ...

Dependance: restored wooden ceiling

Dependance: restored wooden ceiling

Dependance: roof terrace detail (wrought iron railing still coming)

Dependance: roof terrace detail (wrought iron railing still coming)

Dependance: roof terrace stone bench (wrought iron railing still coming)

Dependance: roof terrace stone bench (wrought iron railing still coming)

Dependance: kitchen not yet delivered but floor tiles look great!

Dependance: kitchen not yet delivered but floor tiles look great!

Dependance: open window in the kitchen with a view

Dependance: open window in the kitchen with a view

Dependance: kitchen will be on the left, passage to living room, kitchen balcony

Dependance: kitchen will be on the left, passage to living room, kitchen balcony

Dependance: master bedroom with original stone wall and small balcony 

Dependance: master bedroom with original stone wall and small balcony 

The house: Studio Bellavista entrance below left, Dependance entrance upstairs  

The house: Studio Bellavista entrance below left, Dependance entrance upstairs

 

Studio: entrance and kitchen area

Studio: entrance and kitchen area

Studio Bellavista: The bedroom with a small balcony facing the sea

Studio Bellavista: The bedroom with a small balcony facing the sea

Studio Bellavista: living room with 2 windows facing the sea

Studio Bellavista: living room with 2 windows facing the sea

Studio: balcony of bedroom facing the sea 

Studio: balcony of bedroom facing the sea 

All photos by Angelo, shot with his phone and sent via what's app group. Please expect big progress in April and more photos on the way. 

Splendid December Greetings from Pizzo

Where in Europe do we find the month of December so sunny and beautiful? In Calabria, in the South of Italy. Calabria is a very green region which usually means rain in December and January. But not so much this year. Pizzitani are lucky with a splendid December. I wish I could enjoy Natale and le Buone Feste in Pizzo.  

December 7, 2015 (photo credit: Alfonso Salutato) 

December 7, 2015 (photo credit: Alfonso Salutato) 

The sea so beautiful and calm that one would like to take out the boat and go fishing or sunbath at the beach. 

View from our new roof top terrace (photo credit: Alfonso Salutato) 

View from our new roof top terrace (photo credit: Alfonso Salutato) 

But it wouldn't be Christmas without the festive Christmas lighting in the Piazza Della Repubblica!

La Piazza di Pizzo, Natale 2015 (photo credit: Il blog di Gianluca Callipo)

La Piazza di Pizzo, Natale 2015 (photo credit: Il blog di Gianluca Callipo)

And since temperatures are still reaching almost 20 degrees Celsius during the day all bars in the piazza are well frequented.

Talking bars - which means always gelateria too - the Gelateria & Bar Ercole will celebrate its 50th anniversary on December 22nd! Auguri!

The piazza in December 2015 (photo credit: Giuseppe Pagnotta) 

The piazza in December 2015 (photo credit: Giuseppe Pagnotta) 

What I like about Pizzo and other Calabrian villages are the many religious processions that are celebrate within the village community. The nocturnal processions are especially festive. On December 8, there is the procession of the Madonna Immaculata.

Questo video mostra la uscita serale della Madonna Immacolata per le vie del centro storico di Pizzo - this video shows the exit of the Madonna from the church in the evening and the beginning of the procession through the alleys of the centro storico of Pizzo. (There are more videos on YouTube).

With these impressions from a festive Pizzo, I wish my readers a Merry Christmas and all the best for a wonderful New Year.

Our new project illuminated from the inside in December 2015 (photo credit: Angelo)

Our new project illuminated from the inside in December 2015 (photo credit: Angelo)

Buon Natale & Buone Feste!  

10 and more Things a Host can learn from being a Guest

Or what a guest knows from being a host - An Airbnb Experience

Recently we traveled to Japan during a school break. I had planned four nights in Tokyo and three nights in Kyoto and was excitedly looking with Airbnb for some awesome places to rent. I was overwhelmed about how many people are renting out private rooms, apartments, penthouses, entire houses or traditional ryokans in both cities. It almost looked like there is an airbnb around every corner. 

To reduce the sheer amount of options it did not help much entering the number of guests, playing with the price range and the amount of bedrooms. Even when narrowing the location to a certain district it seemed more airbnbs popped up. So the question was:

How does a guest select a rental?

I decided I need to use the filter that is offered to guests on the airbnb platform. It allows to search for more than just location, date, amount of guest, price and bedrooms. I selected we want:

- WIFI - a must, for soccer game results of the Italian league for my husband and occasionally business emails, as well as for my gaming teenager, and of course for me as a traveler to consult about opening times of museums and restaurant phone numbers.

- English speaking host - wheather the host is on site or not, I wanted to be able to communicate with my host before and during our stay, especially in Japan where all might be a bit more confusing when you are staying at someone's apartment in a residential area and not at a well-known hotel with a concierge that can help answer your questions and that can be found by a taxi driver.

- Super Host Status - yeah, I tried that, because being a superhost myself I thought that - beside a 5 star rating - it is a sign of quality and reliability (no surprise cancellation). Our first airbnb experience should be a great one.

The rentals I found were awesome. But "awesome" and "spacious" in Tokyo come with a price tag. And my husband not convinced of trying an airbnb in a city suggested to check hotels if we need to pay these amounts per night. I laughed first, as I knew the price tags for hotels in Tokyo, having worked there a couple of times, would be about two times higher (not talking about the small rooms). Nevertheless, I checked on expedia and - wow - what a surprise, my favorite hotel ranked first with an incredible low rate (they were about to demolish the main building, but I decided, regardless possible renovation side effects, that I wanted to be back staying at this legendary hotel). So Tokyo was booked - not with airbnb. And we appreciated the breakfast, the concierge and that taxi drivers knew the way a lot!

Last chance for my very first airbnb experience during our Japan trip was therefore in Kyoto. 

Using the above filter, and reading carefully all reviews by previous guests and the profile of the host, I booked a place that sounded a lovely mix of traditional Japanese (tatami room) and modern design. I did some small talk with the host to get a feeling for each other, as I used the direct booking function, but that seemed not necessary. Probably because the host did not plan to interact much with guest as he did not live on site (which I only knew from another guest review that I studied). After having booked our train in Tokyo, I did what I expect from my guests: I informed the host right away of our arrival time at the train station. I used the airbnb communication system which worked well for me as guest and I was happy that the host replied always within 1 or 2 hours. Thanks to the profile picture, I recognized him waiting in front of the house and asked our taxi driver to stop. He gave us a brief introduction to his neighborhood from the roof terrace and showed us the apartment. At the end, when we thought all initial questions were answered, he said we could check out ourselves by slipping the key below the door. At first, I was a bit disappointed that we would not see again our friendly host, but totally understood that this was convenient for him since he lived a 20 minutes drive away.  

Then he left and we were alone, on our own. In a not familiar apartment, in a house we did not know, in a neighborhood I had hardly glanced at through the taxi's window. It was a strange feeling. It was really quiet around us. No reception to go to ask for directions or to call a taxi. 

Somehow I pictured the neighborhood between the Kyoto university and the Philosopher Path - there was no picture of it in the listing - and the listing being above an art gallery as lively and full of little restaurants. That was a bit of a wrong assumption. 

When we walked down the street in the direction the host had pointed out a supermarket, I realized we were in a very, very quiet, purely residential area. And that felt fantastic! Adventurous! It was living like a local! That is what airbnb is all about. It's true. It works. 

But the bike shop the host had vaguely indicated on the main street, was nowhere to be found, initially. This was a bit of a disappointment as I had not many questions with my booking some weeks earlier - just to organize a third bicycle for our son and to provide information about two festivals taking place the next day. 

Interestingly when we arrived, the host mentioned to be kind of nervous about hosting another super host! And I, as a guest, was surprisingly much more relaxed than I am as a host myself! It was exciting to see the apartment and discover the area though. However, when it came to check-out, I was very attentively tidying up and cleaning. I was nervous about the guest review by the host!

Overall, we were really lucky with my airbnb choice and our host. Very lucky also as our host was able to allow a (free) late check-out which was extremely helpful for a smooth journey home.

New lessons learned for hosting:

  1. Guest might not read completely the listing, therefore explain important things upon arrival and don't assume guest have or will study your house manual. 
  2. Use a good profile photo that guest can recognize you. Mention if you live on site, and if not, how far away is someone who could assist. Guest will most likely read your profile as well as they read other guest reviews. It is not important if you are a local national or a foreigner living in the country as long as you know your city and what is happening around. 
  3. Airbnb is sending the guest reminders before check-in to contact the host and provide arrival time. Also Airbnb reminds of check-out and review.
  4. If the host answer promptly and professionally your guest will feel taken good care of and looking forward to their stay.
  5. Upload photos from the neighborhood, including nearby restaurants and supermarket, indicating how far they are away when walking to avoid surprises.
  6. Add to your guest folder, or hand to the guest directly a small map of your area and mark the places where you can find food like a bakery, super market, coffee or noodle shop - and other useful things like a bike rental, bus stop etc., especially when you cannot show the guest around or do not live on site.
  7. Take notes of what guests mention in their first inquiries. Provide these information or things (extra bike, extra bed, taxi booking, festival itinerary etc.) upon arrival.
  8. Provide enough mineral water for your guest! They might arrive thirsty after probably many hours of traveling and don't want to go shopping in the first hour. (Remark: beer or wine is fine too, but not everyone drinks beer when thirsty). 
  9. Providing some complimentary local snacks and sweets in an basket is a fun surprise and showing extra attentiveness. We liked that!
  10. If an extra person is booked and has paid extra then provide the extra bed ready made. Don't expect the guest to figure out the technique of your sofa bed.
  11. Don't ask the guest to strip off the bed linen at the end of their stay. If they do, fine. Stripping bed linen off is adding a bit of sadness to the departure... does that sound wired? 
  12. Surprisingly, guests are less nervous than the host when checking in. But nervous when checking out. So keep cool, host.
  13. If you furnish and decorate your vacation rental make sure not to add too much IKEA stuff and add local unique things instead. Travellers want to discover typical local things. 
  14. If guests arrive early or have a late departure flight, try to accommodate them as good as possible to make their journey smooth. Some guests will be really thankful (not all, I know).
  15. Clean the fridge after check-out by taking out expired / soon to expire food, vegetables, fruits etc. Through away or take home open packages of whatever food.
  16. Always put a new sponge to the kitchen sink and make sure basics last for a short stay (dish liquid, toilet paper, soap, shampoo etc.). No guest wants to go shopping for these things when staying only 3 or 4 nights.
  17. Letting the guests check-out themselves can add a bit of flexibility and convenience to both parties.
 
Coming home to our airbnb in kyoto

Coming home to our airbnb in kyoto

 

Although my husband still would have preferred a hotel, where you can have breakfast or a concierge to call a taxi or book a restaurant - I would say it depends. (On what it depends can make another post.) But I liked to be in an airbnb in Kyoto. It is a good alternative to a traditional ryokans (especially when those are already fully booked and sharing a bathroom with strangers is not so much your cup of tea.) 

I enjoyed the entire experience of being with my family on our own, in our own apartment, in a residential area, living like locals and being adventurous at the same time.  And for our own rentals in Italy I will organize a basket with local snacks and implement some other of the above ideas.

I definitely can recommend to stay in a vacation rental, especially with airbnb as there is in general a bit more of interaction between host and guest as it is usually on other platforms and therefore airbnb is probably even more suitable for a short city stay. Actually, this is how the idea was born. The founders of airbnb offered an alternative for accommodation seekers in the city of San Francisco during a busy fair. And finally, I can recommend every host to try the other side of the story. Even if your are an experienced host, maybe even a super host - it is really eye-opening to be a guest - and fun!

 

  

Our new Project: an update on tiles and more

We were so crazy about cement tiles that we almost imported a container from Asia, until I realised the quality is not what we want. Since cement tiles are so en vogue, also Bisazza has some well-known designers creating beautiful cement tile series. But we could not see any samples, only the online catalogue, and they not only seemed pricy but also a bit too opaque. I almost had given up on antique style cement tiles when someone was telling me in Pizzo that they are renovating an old palazzo and the new owner wanted to get rid of the cement tiles. People have different tastes, right? When I wanted to see them, we learnt that workers had just taken them out the fast way. They were all destroyed and already disposed. Then I announced to my FB friends in Pizzo that I am looking for old tiles and the message got shared. A few days later, I was offered to visit a dark and dusty storage room. The tiles looked interesting, not glamorous, but ok. We did not know how many of the same pattern were in that dark earth hole, and how many were still usable. Look at the photo below! This is now what lays in front of our new entrance at the end of the staircase. It is a bit shiny after washing it with water, but doesn't it look nice? The same pattern in a different size and colour (not as nice as this one) was later offered through a different source, for a different price...  I think we got really lucky! 

 
antique cement tiles from Pizzo found a new home in Pizzo!

antique cement tiles from Pizzo found a new home in Pizzo!

 

We even have one more square meter available that we will lay on the floor of a little bathroom. It is not what we had in mind, but I am so glad to have found something antique, something that gives the new apartment a bit of a special touch. When you come to Southern Italy on holiday you don't want to see what you could get at home or at Ikea, right? With these cement tiles we have recycled something original and local. I am sure our visitors will like a unique flooring. I do!

So far these cement tiles cover just 2-3 sqm ... out of hundreds....  there is so much more to decide ... 

Apart from tiles, we like the experience we have with wooden parquet from Berti. So we decided to repeat the oak wood parquet from the residence for the flooring of the living areas and bedrooms. 

However, for the kitchens and entrances we prefer tiles instead of wood. And because we could not get cement tiles, but wanted a Mediterranean touch nevertheless, I said let's get Vietri tiles that are beautiful colourful ceramic tiles from a town called Vietri, near Salerno.

And I still love the floor tiles of our master bathroom: Greca Blu by De Maio. It was an easy decision to use them also for two bathrooms of our new project. Each apartment will get a bathroom with these gorgeous floor tiles: 

 
image.jpg
 

There will be two kitchens with entrances plus one extra side entrance for the dependance. I decided to chose for each area the best matching tile. So three decisions had to be made. Some of my friends got a bit of whatsapp messages with photos during the holidays (no crowd sourcing on the blog this time) and then, two days before my departure, I went with my mother-in-law to the showroom to finalise my choices. In the very last moment we changed the color of one kitchen from red to white in order to match a beautiful modern interpretation of a classic Vietri pattern! Since the kitchen builders were also gone to the beach (August!) it was no problem to change the colour for the kitchen. We had red in mind as we wanted it to resemble the kitchen of the residence. But now, I am looking forward to something fresh and exciting like this:

 
image.jpg
Tile: Benincasa by De Maio, Serie Fiori di Ravello

Tile: Benincasa by De Maio, Serie Fiori di Ravello

For the larger kitchen in the dependance (that would be white too) I have chosen 'Valeria' by De Maio (photo below). The star pattern is matching the cement tile 'star' in the entrance (first photo above), the light blue will match the balcony tiles and the Smeg fridge that will be light blue again like the one in the residence.

 
Valeria by De Maio 20x20

Valeria by De Maio 20x20

 

The most beautiful tile probably is the next one! I am very much looking forward to see that laid in the "side" entrance of the dependance, which is a corridor of 14 m2. The blue will match the Bisazza mosaic in the small bathroom, the blue of the relief of the church opposite in the piazza, the sky and the sea. It will look fabulous!

 
Acciaroli by De Maio 20x20

Acciaroli by De Maio 20x20

Bisazza OPera 15 Agata

Bisazza OPera 15 Agata

 

From the piazza, the facade looks already as we could move in tomorrow. Deja-vu! We had this with our first project too. When my neighbour brought me flowers to welcome us in the alley, because it looked from the outside like we had moved in, it took us another two years or so to finish the inside! This time, I hope we will be faster! Although we are already one year behind schedule due to - I would call it 'the usual Calabrian obstacles'  - we plan to have two apartments ready for rent in May 2016.

 
The project from the outside - with one studio downstairs and the 2 story dependance upstairs.

The project from the outside - with one studio downstairs and the 2 story dependance upstairs.

 

The roof is done, windows and doors are installed. What is still missing are the balustrades for the balconies that we ordered to be crafted according to my design (which is repeating the pattern of the oldest railing of our first project).

Maybe I should have ordered some standard wrought iron pattern. Then you know what you get. Let's see. Can't wait to see the facade completed.

 
playing with designs for the WROUGHT iron balcony railings

playing with designs for the WROUGHT iron balcony railings