A Guide to Self-Catering Apartments Do without desk clerks, porters, concierges, and pricey hotel restaurants and live like a local Budget Travel Wednesday, Oct 1, 2003, 12:00 AM Budget Travel LLC, 2016


A Guide to Self-Catering Apartments

Do without desk clerks, porters, concierges, and pricey hotel restaurants and live like a local

The tour bus pulled alongside a dozen more like it at Notre Dame cathedral. Though it was only May, the sun beat down fiercely on Parisians and tourists alike. Disembarking from the bus, American tourists groped toward the church entrance like sleepwalkers. A hot and thirsty-looking lot, they stopped on the corner where I was waiting to cross. They perused a map as their leader exhorted them, "Please, please, people! You must be on time. The bus will leave here exactly at 2 p.m. You must be aboard. We will go next to the Eiffel Tower where you will have 45 minutes. We will then depart for our swing around the Arc de Triomphe and Montmartre. Don't forget, dinner is served promptly at 8 p.m. at your hotel. Have all luggage in the lobby for our departure for Amsterdam at 6:30 a.m. Have a great day in Paris!"

I ambled over to assist these forlorn-looking folks who were having no luck with the map. Thrilled to find an American to help them, one woman asked, "Where's the best place around here to eat lunch?" "That would be my apartment, though I doubt you would all fit in," I replied. "You live here in Paris?" she queried. "No," I said, "I'm just a tourist like you. My apartment is in that building there the one on the island, Ile St. Louis, just near that bridge you see." I left them there to puzzle it out and went happily home to my delicious luncheon bought at the market that morning. I ate it sitting in my window overlooking the Seine, watching the boats go by and feeling somewhat smug and sorry for anyone who was not enjoying Paris as much as I.

What is a self-catering apartment? It is a flat in which you tend to your own needs in your own way. Though many feature maid service one or more times per week, you are essentially on your own. Kitchens or kitchenettes provide you with the leisure to cook or prepare snacks at any time. Private phone, TV, and all the amenities of home come with most apartments or can be paid for as additions to your bill. You have a landlord to contact if something goes wrong or breaks, or if you have locked yourself out again!

It is like any apartment in the United States, only better! You are living in a neighborhood in a foreign country as a part of the local life, not as a mere visitor. Your groceries, your time, your recreation, sightseeing, and laundry are up to you, just like at home, only better. You aren't just making an eight-hour stopover on your way to 14 cities in nine days-you are living there! You are experiencing the life, culture, and economy of the country and people. You are taking care of yourself, you lucky self-catering traveler, you.

The advantages of self-catering apartments versus hotel stays For me, there is nothing like waking in the morning at my leisure, making my own coffee, and lounging around with my maps and guidebooks to decide where I'd like to go today. Will I visit a museum, take a train or bus to an exciting castle, or just hang out at the local flea market and get lunch at a charming cafe? Many of the most memorable travel experiences I have had came out of this secret tourist science, which I can sum up as "exploring by getting lost and wandering around."

How about a jog through the Parc Monceau in Paris, followed by an afternoon nap? If I opt for the late show at the flamenco bar in Madrid, tomorrow I can sleep as late as I wish. In my own apartment in Dublin, I can be a neat-freak or a total slob. I will probably not encounter another American on most days. I will, however, visit with the ladies who run the bakery down the street, the guy who works at the post office, the vendors at the fish market, and the police officer who patrols my neighborhood.

No matter what I do, I will do it on my schedule. No one will tell me to hurry. I will not move my luggage. I will use my apartment as a base camp for my travels and explorations in the areas I fancy. I will pick and choose the activities and sights that interest me. I will eat and sleep, and I'll drink the local wine when I wish. I will make lifelong friends and pen-pals. I will learn about the economy, how much it costs to live and feed oneself in another country. I will develop a new appreciation for all I have in America, and I will watch it amount to awe. But I will also fall a little bit in love with the place in which I am living and with the new people around me.

What's the downside? The downside is um well, for me, there honestly is no downside. I know from some excruciating past experiences with arranged tours that lots of people want to be "guided." This seems particularly true of Americans, many of whom do not speak a foreign language and thus believe they would become irretrievably lost if they were on their own in a foreign country. In truth, most people outside of North America are used to dealing with strangers who speak a different language than they do. Here in the U.S., we thrive on airconditioning, cable TV, room service, and other amenities provided by hotels. Many people like to have their schedule, tickets, and itinerary planned for them so they don't have to think about making these arrangements. So I guess the downside of staying in self-catering apartments is that you have to be your own travel guide, concierge, ticket agent, and cook. That's more than fine with me, but it might not be for everyone. Also, depending on the type of facility you book, you might find that the heating system only works on "tepid," the shower won't flow if you flush the toilet, and the towels provided are the size of Kleenex. No matter how meticulously you research your accommodation, there will probably be some surprises. Not everybody likes surprises. Self-catering apartments are perhaps only suitable for the very adaptable traveler, and for those with a sense of humor.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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