Vacation rentals in Italy (villas, farms, estates, agriturismo, apartments)
Review 1941: Roman Reference, Vicolo del Bologna (#267)
2bed/1bath apartment in Trastevere, Rome
May 2005, One week
Our family spent a week in Rome in May 2005 as part of a 14-month trip to Europe. This was our first time in Rome. We rented 20 apartments and houses during this trip.
My interactions with the agency (Roman Reference) both before and after our rental were positive. The agency’s representative was prompt and helpful in responding to my questions and corresponded in very good English. It was easy to pay the deposit by credit card. (We paid 30% deposit by credit card and then the balance — in cash — to the owner when we checked in.) Although there weren’t any Slow Travel reviews of this apartment, there were a couple positive reports about the agency.
I had read about the "neighborhood" feel of Trastevere, and thought it would be a good place for our family to base in Rome. I chose this particular apartment because it had two bedrooms for a reasonable price (which meant that our daughter could have her own room instead of sleeping on a fold-out couch). I was attracted to the bright yellow and blue colors, the bookcases filled with books, and the artwork on the walls. It looked like a sunny, pleasant and interesting place to base for our week in Rome.
The agency website noted that this apartment is a "subrental," which means it is someone’s personal apartment, not an apartment that is only rented out to vacationers. I had e-mailed the agency before making a decision to try to understand what exactly this meant. They responded that the owner lived mainly in the countryside and that there would potentially be a locked closet with the owners’ clothes and personal belongings.
The owner met us at the apartment when we arrived. Our time with the owner — perhaps thirty minutes — was quite frantic and somewhat confusing, though she definitely tried to be helpful. She gave us a tour of the apartment and told us what we needed to know about various appliances. She gave us a map of Rome and made several suggestions of where to go, what to do and how to get there. She answered our practical questions about grocery stores and internet cafes, what to do with the trash, what to do when we left the next Saturday.
Once she was gone — almost in a whirlwind — the three of us just stood and looked at each other in disbelief. The apartment — our home for the next seven days — was a tremendous shock to all of us, an enormous contrast to the refined and elegant environment of the Palazzetto da Schio where we had just stayed in Venice.
We found ourselves in a very much lived-in apartment — a first floor apartment in an 18th century building. The owner’s personal possessions were very much in evidence absolutely everywhere in the apartment.
I did like the living room — three very comfortable couches covered with pretty blue and white throws and bright sofa pillows and a square blue dining table with chairs. What was supposed to be a "tiny balcony," was just an outdoor area — maybe nine square feet — holding the electrical box, a bucket and mop, a bunch of scraggly plants, and the large head of a statue. The "balcony" did provide some natural light into the living room.
There must have been a thousand books — not just in the living room but crammed into floor to ceiling bookcases on both sides of the narrow entrance hallway. Most of the books related to particular academic interests of the owner — not general books for the use of guests. The apartment also had lots of "stuff" on the walls and shelves — personal photos, mementoes, and lots of Islamic and Asian prints and objects.
There were two dresser drawers and a small closet for our use. Every other bit of space was filled with the owner’s stuff. The website said there was DSL internet and a computer in the living room. Her computer was on a long desk in the larger bedroom, but she told us not to use it. The desk was cluttered with stacks of papers. Only the refrigerator was totally empty — and absolutely spotless — when we arrived.
Part of the appeal of the apartment was the second bedroom for our daughter, but even that didn’t work out. The two bedrooms were off of the book-lined hallway, both bedrooms with windows out to the narrow street. Neither of the rooms had a proper door — just curtains separating them from the hallway. One room had a queen-sized bed and the other room had a very small double bed. There was barely any place to put our suitcases. I did put my things in the closet and the two drawers, but Charley and Kelly didn’t even want to unpack their clothes.
The kitchen and bathroom were next to each other on the other side of the living room. Both were very small and I could see Charley checking out the cleanliness. Charley asked me not to use any of the dishes or kitchen items until he had thoroughly washed them. Part of the cleanliness issue is simply the amount of "stuff" that the owner had in the apartment. There was just no way to easily clean around it.
We somehow made it through the week, and in some strange way, the apartment even began to seem like home. We liked the location and the environment of Trastevere. We easily reached everywhere in Rome we wanted to go, mostly on foot. There are many restaurants in Trastevere; we especially liked Da Otello, just a block or two away. At night the streets of Trastevere are very busy — with people out on the streets until very late — but we were fortunate that this apartment was on a relatively-quiet side street.
At the end of our week in Rome (while we were in another part of Italy) I sent an e-mail to the agency about our issues with the apartment. They responded promptly and thanked me for my input. The representative even said he had gotten another recent complaint about the same apartment from someone who had posted comments on Slow Travel.
In a subsequent message Roman Reference told me that I should have called immediately about the apartment and that they would have moved us to a better apartment. The agency representative said that they have no way of knowing there is a problem with an apartment unless the clients let them know.
The more I thought about it, I decided I wasn’t comfortable with the Roman Reference method of quality control: "we don’t know if there’s a problem with a property unless a client tells us." I don’t think the clients should perform quality control — that means someone had a bad vacation experience! Roman Reference should have some process to visit properties on a regular basis to ensure that each place still meets their standards.
In addition to warning people about this particular apartment (though not necessarily this agency), I have a couple other "lessons learned" to share:
1. Don’t just take the word of a website or agency. Photos can be several years old. Ask questions, ask for references you can contact, ask for more photos. Better yet — there’s much less risk by renting someplace that has one or more positive reviews.
2. Beware of "sub-rentals." I believe that in some large cities, people vacate their apartments on a temporary basis to make some good money. You could find someone's shampoo in the shower, their clothes in the closet, and personal photos next to the bed. Renting someone's holiday place is one thing — moving into their home is something totally different. In a big city, look for a place that's a real rental unit.
3. If you’re working through an agency, you're paying them some premium for service. If you're not happy with an apartment — especially if you feel it's been misrepresented — call immediately and ask for help or demand some action. It's your vacation. Ask to be moved - demand to be moved, if that doesn’t work. It’s OKAY to complain, even in another country.
This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.
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