260. Airbnb Disaster

When searching for hostel accommodation in Amsterdam I was pretty shocked to find some rooms were going for $50 a night! It was just ridiculously expensive, but I guess Amsterdam is pretty popular in July. We had a look around at some hotels, but it was for this stay we thought we would check out Airbnb.com, which is a site where people can rent out spare rooms/entire homes while they are away, and they can be booked as though they are a hotel. It’s like couchsurfing for people who want a real bed, or who think there is no such thing as a free lunch, or think they are less likely to get murdered that way.

After a bit of careful research we found a room rented out by a fellow called Dan Miller, advertising a “Centrally Located, Great Room.” It was one of the more detailed listings, and it appeared we had our own lockable rooms, it promised a large kitchen and laundry (having been backpacking for a while the laundry was a particular selling point) and most importantly it was in the centre of town. From reading the listing, and the back and forth emails, it seemed like one guy lived there and rented his spare rooms to travellers throughout summer to make a bit of cash. We quite liked the idea of staying in an actual apartment as a break from hostels and thought we would go for it.

Of course in a situation like this there are always alarm bells in the back of your head, but the comforting factor was that even though you book online with a credit card, the site holds your payment for 24hours so if it isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, or you arrive and find you are at Charles Manson’s house, you can get your money back and get out of there.

Well, we arrived at the specified address, in the centre of town. The directions ended with:

“Spuistraat 56 , when you reach there just push on the top buzzer , or ask the bike shop right next door 🙂 ! My phone number is: +31645312665

As it turned out, that address belongs to someone completely different, so naturally when no one answered we asked at the bike shop next door. At this stage we were met with a barely coherent man, absolutely baked out of his tree, and took a wee while to ascertain what was going on. Once we had established who we were, that we had booked a room online and did they know where we could find Dan Miller, the story all came out. Dan Miller, is in fact a fake name, and the owner of the bike shop has rented out a bunch of flats around town, which he (most probably illegally) sublets to travellers via airbnb.com. A number of the travellers live in the flats more permanently, and work for him running pub crawls and bachelor parties and things. Luckily for us, one such traveller, a really nice Swedish girl, was there and was actually coherent. She was living in the apartment we had booked a room in and took us there. Although it wasn’t what we expected, we though there’s no harm in checking it out, and if it was awful we could use the wifi there to book in to a hostel.

It was a 30 minute walk from the centre of town, not 5 minutes and was not the “large, spacious apartment” advertised either. Infact, it was three very small rooms, one of which was stacked full of bunks and had 5 people sleeping in it. The couch also had a couple sleeping on it, which made for a very awkward moment at one stage where they decided to forget the lounge was a public place.

Worst still, there wasn’t even a kitchen, just a bar fridge with some plates on top. Our promised laundry facilities weren’t there either, which we learned as we sat there for one and a half hours waiting for them to take our sheets to the laundromat.

In defence of the place, we had two bedrooms all to ourselves, with lockable doors, and the people staying there were actually really lovely. So while it was pretty much the exact opposite in every way of what was advertised, we decided to stay, as it was four walls and a roof, and still cheaper than a hostel. The others staying there were all young travellers who had decided to stay in Amsterdam and work/party. They’d found the perfect job for it, by running pub crawls through town. After a day or two of staying there, reading between the lines of conversations and from certain things we didn’t have much of a choice but to overhear, it seemed like they too were getting a little screwed by this “Dan Miller” fellow – they get paid on commission for the amount of people they get along to the pub crawl, and I think they also had a discount for staying there, but I definitely got the feeling they weren’t too happy with their living arrangements (not too sure who would be, crammed in to a tiny room with bunks, travellers coming and going all the time and no kitchen) but the pay wasn’t really enough to get themselves out of the situation.

All in all we had a perfectly fine time there, and were safe, but the whole situation was definitely a scam, and has put me well off ever using Airbnb. If the ad had described exactly what the place was, we probably still would have stayed there, particularly with accommodation being so expensive in Amsterdam, but being so vastly different from what was advertised we felt pretty duped.

I contacted their customer service representative to let them know they had some false advertising on their site, and their response was that they would “follow up” and to offer us some credit to use the site again. Later on I responded once again, informed them that I would be writing about what had happened and would like to include a resolution of how they dealt with the situation to maintain the integrity of their site.

Their response was this:

“Hello Harriet,

Thank you for your followup. To ensure user privacy we cannot disclose the activity of another user’s account. However, please know our diverse team is actively working towards educating hosts and incorporating tools to better ensure future reservations go as smoothly as possible.

We appreciate your outreach and feel free to contact us again if you have any questions or concerns.

Warm regards,

Daniel G
www.airbnb.com/help

Translation: ‘we sent them a courtesy email by aren’t actually going to do anything.’ “Dan Miller” is still advertising rooms on Airbnb, and when I clicked on the link from my original reservation, there a photos from another place, and although it now says that guests will be staying on a couch (thank god we weren’t) it still advertises the following:

“The flat is shared with one other tenant (and a very cute cat) and is located in the very center of Amsterdam, just a 5 minute walk to Central Station, and just 10 minutes to the Red Light District.

The apartment is shared with a newly renovated kitchen and a large bathroom with both a bath and shower.

The apartment is equipped with free wifi and a washing machine for all your laundry needs. Very clean fully refurbished apartment located right in the center of Amsterdam. Less than a 5 minute walk to Dam square and Red Light District, it doesn’t get more central than this!
Amsterdam central station is just a 5 minute walk away.”

Luckily we had approached the whole situation with a degree of scepticism anyway, but my advice for anyone in future, if you want cheap accommodation in Amsterdam and don’t care what it is, definitely contact “Dan Miller,” but just as hostels can turn out to be completely horrible, you run a much higher risk of that with a site like Airbnb, as hostels have thousands of people staying at them and providing reviews, where airbnb only has a few. It is definitely worth a look on booking.com for hotel deals, they can often be cheaper than hostels, and work out especially well if there are two of you who have no problem sharing a bed. Airport hotels can also be really cheap and some offer free transport to town. And finally, safety always trumps money! Always a better choice to get outta there and pay a bit extra for a night of accomodation somewhere else rather than regret being stingy while Mick Taylor chops your limbs off.

205. Das Boot

For anyone that has seen the movie beerfest, there is a quite hilarious scene where the lead characters are challenged to drink a beer out of a glass in the shape of a boot as fast as possible without it splashing in their faces. Our hostel, Grand Hostel Berlin, happened to have a wee deal on beer served in such a vessel. The incredibly enthusiastic bartender explained to us it was actually a drinking game, where a group each drinks as much as they can out of the boot, and if it splashes you in the face or you are the last to finish, you lose and have to buy the next one. We thought to ourselves, when in Rome, do as the Romans do, so naturally we gave it a go. I found it was actually quite easy to drink it neatly if you just turned it on the side…

70. Sleep in a Burial Chamber

Interhostel Stockholm sure was an interesting experience. It had pretty mixed reviews on Trip Advisor, one of which was “The room was like a burial chamber.” It was also the cheapest in a very expensive city, and in a pretty good location. We decided to chance it.

Aside from the room with no windows or ventilation, the French couple that kept leaving the door unlocked, the incompetent front desk staff, the used condom under my bed and the near communal showers it really wasn’t too bad.

37. The best worst walking tour of Copenhagen

Turns out this wasn’t the tour

On our first morning in Copenhagen, an Australian, three Canadians and I thought we might partake in the free walking tour of the city we had seen advertised in our hostel reception.*

The tour was set to depart at 11am. Of the seven of us staying in the room, and the other exchange students in Copenhagen that weekend, it seemed only five of us were up and ready to go at 11am. Must have been something to do with the time spent the night before at ‘La Tequila Bar.’

Somehow, a rumour had been spread that the tour guide came past our hostel at 10:30, so rather than make our way to town we could get picked up along the way. I am not too sure of the authenticity of this rumour, as the poster I saw didn’t mention it, but nonetheless we reported to reception at 10:25 and there was a crowd of people waiting there. Unfortunately, here is where things went a bit wrong. Given we had 5 minutes to spare, we decided we would nip in to the 7/11 round the corner and grab some breakfast, as we didn’t know when we might have a chance to get some food on the tour. We returned about 10:32 and saw the crowd heading towards the city, so we scurried along and followed. It turned out that crowd was actually just a group of friends, which we followed most of the way to town!

A quick change in plans and we decided to head to the Town Hall to catch the tour by 11. Unfortunately when we got there, we realised google maps had lead us slightly astray and we were actually at Christainsborg (a political hotspot that houses Parliament, the Prime Minister, Supreme Court and the Royal Family), and we wouldn’t make it to the tour in time. And with that, the worst walking tour became the best one. Between google maps on my phone, Canadian numero uno with a lonely planet guide chock full of information and Canadian numero dos who had a map that included a walking tour, we set off.

I swear we didn’t look this lost the whole time

We walked along the canal down Gammelstrand to the famous Nybrogade, which has the colourful houses you see on just about every Copenhagen tourism site. Halfway along (and about 15 minutes in to our tour), we stopped at a gorgeous little coffee shop for a much-needed caffeine break. Best walking tour ever! Almost an hour later we felt rested enough to carry on walking. We also planned out a bit of a route and learned some of the history of Copenhagen, thanks to Lonely planet. We carried on along the canal (which was all frozen over – an amazing sight), took a left and decided to check the palace out in more detail. Which largely consisted of my Australian friend running around shouting “Where are you Princess Mary? I’ve come to take you back to ‘Straya!”

Christiansborg Palace

After the palace we then discovered the National Museum of Copenhagen, which was definitely the highlight of my day. I honestly could have spent weeks in there, it was great! There were exhibitions from cultures all around the world, a very detailed walk through of Europe’s evolution from cave-men to today, Danish history, and my favourite part – the ‘Europe Meets the World’ exhibit. The museum was a bit of a rabbit warren, but there was so much to discover! From ancient Greek vases, Egyptian sarcophagi and original artworks to tribal artifacts from all over the world (NZ included). The ‘Europe Meets the World’ exhibit was so good it deserves its own post, so I’ll be writing about that one soon. I would definitely consider the National Museum a must for anyone visiting Copenhagen, even if you aren’t the biggest museum fan. It was free too, which was a bonus. Unfortunately I didn’t get all the way through as I learned yet another travel lesson: I’m a museum fiend and should therefore go to them alone!

Inside the National Museum

A few missed calls later and I discovered the rest of the walking tour was hungry, so we went in search of somewhere cheap for a late lunch. We wound up at a terrible Chinese buffet lunch place, with all kinds of bizarre rules. I.e. no taking photos, if you don’t order a drink you get charged an extra 20DKK penalty fee, if you don’t eat everything you serve out you get charged double. I don’t know why this lesson hasn’t sunk in yet, but I really should stop trying to eat Asian food in Europe.

Keeping Princess Mary safe!

Frozen boats!

After lunch the walking tour degenerated in to shopping and I decided that as much as tours are a nice idea and can be educational, if you can find a free map of the city with some highlights it is much more fun to do things at your own pace. It is especially beneficial if you like to take silly photos and have a bit of a laugh – not always appreciated when you are with a group of strangers – or if a few members of the group are feeling delicate from the night before and regular stops for refreshments are in order!

Here’s an album of photos from along the way which even includes a wee map of our route! How fancy. There are a few extra photos from around Copenhagen and some at the end from my Aussie friend’s flash camera (you’ll be able to tell the difference).

I’m Liesl! At Christiansborg Palace

* The hostel we stayed in was the Generator Hostel, which I thoroughly recommend. The facilities and location were great – modern clean, the reception staff really helpful, all in all couldn’t expect much better out of a backpackers. Even better, it was the cheapest option on HostelBookers.com, which is proving to be a really helpful website. The only downside was a lack of kitchen facilities to make your own food, but I hear that is the norm in Europe.