When we moved into our flat two years ago, my partner and I opened up our spare bedroom to the Airbnb system. What started as a way to bring in some extra money to smarten up our house, resulted in a fascination with meeting new people and learning about the places they call home. Our first guests were from Italy, our most recent guests were from Dehli and in between we have met people from over twenty countries.
Showing guests around London and giving them some ideas of where they might like to visit is all part of hosting, but I didn't expect to learn so much from virtual strangers. Many people scoff at Airbnb and there are numerous accounts of bad hosts and awful experiences with guests, so this is another missive into the many deliberations on the merits of hosting strangers in your home. Yes it is totally bizarre to start with, but sometimes the bizarre is exactly what you need.
Here's a list of weird and wonderful findings from two years worth of meeting strangers:
1. New Zealand's population is only 5% human, the rest of the country is shared with thousands of animals
2. Catalonia's version of Valentine's Day is called Día de San Jorge and is celebrated on 23rd April each year
On this day special flower and book markets pop up throughout Catalonia and often cause road closures. The reason we found out about this romantic day was due to some very passionate guests and some rather broken bed springs...
3. "Forget Sydney and Melbourne! Adelaide is the place for artists!"
We were told firmly by our Australian guest that artists and writers are attracted by the laid back nature and sophistication of Adelaide. Every year more are welcomed by the city with a festival of arts; theatre, music and dance are all integral to the culture and it should be a mecca for anyone with creative inclinations.
4. The best way to discover Delhi is by bicycle
You must set off early in the morning to avoid the worst of the heat and traffic and watch out for the vehicles and cows on the road. But, we were told, the chaos pays off when you get a moment to step off the bike and take in everything you've seen on the streets.
5. The Palace of Queluz is full of madness
A short train ride away from Lisbon is the Palace of Queluz, one of the last great Rococo buildings in western Europe. One of our guests worked at the palace and explained to us it's significance through the story of Queen Maria I. The palace was a refuge for the Queen in 1786 following the death of her husband, Dom Pedro of Braganza. During this time her mental health deteriorated and she refused all entertainment and visitors. Although she is now a celebrated figure in Portugal and Brazil because of the great changes that happened in her lifetime, the palace continues to feel haunted by the madness she suffered there.
6. Chefs from Calimera are the best in Italy
This was proven by one of our guests who baked for us every day of their stay. They made the most delicious concoctions, including a stunning Torta Della Nonna.
7. East Jesus is an artists commune on the edge of the world
One of our guests spoke of a group of artists who live and work together in southern California. Their main purpose is to sustainably live within an improvised community at 'the edge of the world.' Their artistic projects include building a bottle wall and adding to their expansive and mystifying art garden. You can be visit at anytime of day, everyday of the year.
8. Mikhail Bulgakov first became inspired to write the novel Master and Margarita when he was at the Patriarch Ponds in Moscow
This is one of my partner's favourite books and its inception has always been a fascination of ours. When we hosted two Russian students studying in Moscow, we couldn't help but ask what they knew. There is now only one pond and the area is affluent and residential but the association with Bulgakov's black magic and warnings of strangers remains.
9. The Great Art Yard of Taiwan
After seeing the many art books on our shelves, our two guests from Taiwan told us about a place they go to see new art. It is a collection of studios built into a house from the Japanese colonial era. The floors are inhabited by different artists and shops that you can meander and explore.
10. Amersfoort is better than Amsterdam
One of our guests was from Amersfoort and insistent on its ranking as the best in city in the Netherlands. Amersfoort dates back to the Mesolithic period and the historic centre has been cared for by the locals for centuries. Walking through its town squares and churches feels like journeying back through its past.