I've slept in 5-star hotels, and I've slept in tour vans. Though I don't really care for camping, I'm not very particular when it comes to sleeping conditions, despite my advancing age. Last week I slept on a twin mattress on the floor of someone I met on the internet. That's not meant to freak my mother out, but more to show that there are still a lot of really great people in the world. Couchsurfing proves that every time.
There's only so much you can learn from a guidebook. After a few self-guided days in Rome, David and I were anxious to meet a local. Cue: Couchsurfing. It's a social website, but it's aimed at hooking up travelers with locals. Some locals don't host, but instead offer to meet up with travelers for a drink or a tour. Others offer up their guest rooms, couches, and floor spaces. Antonio is one of those rare birds who offers both a place to sleep and a personalized tour.
The best benefit of staying with a local is knowing exactly which restaurants to patronize. We enjoyed two amazing apertivos, the most delicious pasta I've ever had (Antonio ordered the three best dishes for us, and we all shared), ditto for the gelato, pizza, and chianti. I salivate at the thought.
We also heard a fun local girl-band that played Americana covers but stage bantered in Italian, went to a birthday party for one of Antonio's friends (an architect named -- I kid you not -- Leonardo. Talk about pressure, right?), and had a late-night dance party in his flat. He cooked us omelets the morning we left and even made sure we got on the right train out of town.
There is absolutely nothing like staying with a local. Sometimes my hippie-trust-everyone attitude really pays off.
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