The Short Version      

We rented a vacation apartment at the Villa La Paiola for 9 days, and abandoned it after 5; it was the only way to rescue what was left of our vacation. It was horrible. What was wrong? Here's the short list.

  • It was cold, uncomfortable and crowded. Of the 4 rooms (a living room, 2 bedroom and a bathroom), only 2 were heated with old fashioned, crotchety gas heaters. The place was stone cold when we arrived, and warmed up to barely livable after we had closed down all the shutters and run both heaters up high for a full day.
  • The hot water system really didn't work. It was temperamental, varying from brutally cold to tepid. Oddly, the kitchen sink sometime found some hot water, but we suspect that it was hooked up to the neighboring apartment's gas heater. One more cold shower and my wife would have divorced me; a cold shower in a cold bathroom is something to be experienced only once.
  • The furniture was the kind that you have kicking around the house for years - you think that it's too good to throw away but you don't want to sit in it yourself. It was dressed up with throw covers for the photographs, but it was still old and worn out underneath. It was packed in, the armchairs were threadbare and the hat stand fell over if you put a hat on it.
  • The kitchen was tiny and primitive. You could just about make a coffee on the camping style gas rings, but it was useless for anything else.

Dealing with the owners was an experience. They had a talent for listening empathetically and then immediately ignoring everything you said. I learned much from it, the biggest thing being NEVER DEAL IN CASH. You have no negotiating position.

The Long Version      

We rented the Villa La Paiola over the Internet. We wanted a winter break from upstate New York (where it snows a lot), and Rome seemed a lot more glamorous than Phoenix. The pictures on the Internet looked nice so we set about booking it. The owners, Paolo and Elena Adelman didn't deal with credit cards - they wanted cash in their bank account immediately. Well I wasn't that dumb, but as events unfolded it seems that I was pretty close to it. We eventually agreed that I would pay cash up front for the place on arrival. So I, my wife, and my daughter and her husband made our arrangements, and eventually we all landed in Rome.

On our arrival on a Saturday afternoon, Poalo and Elena were very friendly. They showed us the place and introduced us to their caretaker. They would be leaving for their home in Rome on the following day; the caretaker would be there to help if we had problems. My wife disliked the place, but a deal is a deal - I try to stick to commitments. It was a cold winter in Europe that year, and there was snow on the ground. The track down to the house was impassable for cars, so we parked up by the road and slushed our way down.

The initial problem was that the apartment was very cold. If it had been heated at all before we arrived, it wasn't heated much. We settled up with the Adelmans later that afternoon, paying him the rent for 9 days and 100 euros "deposit" for the heating. This was by gas, metered outside. As I learned later, the owners didn't distinguish between "deposit" and "gift".

We had already complained about the cold and the lack of hot water. To address the cold the caretaker brought in a propane gas heater and fired it up. We were offered the first bottle for free; all the rest would be an "extra". Pretty much everything seemed to be an "extra". When we returned the following day, we found a notice stuck to this heater, amounting to "it's dangerous to use this heater". We could either freeze or suffocate - it was out choice. To address the cold water problem, the caretaker tinkered about with the gas "instant water heater" and declared it working just fine. We mentioned several times later that week that it wasn't but it didn't do us much good.

By Wednesday, everyone was frayed and tense. We were crowded, uncomfortable, cold, and beginning to smell badly. the kids were scheduled to go home that day, so we arranged with the caretaker the previous day that we would move into a smaller, 1 bedroom apartment. We hoped that it would be warmer. It had a nice fireplace that would burn wood (which would be provided as an "extra") and the standard old fashioned gas heater in the bedroom. We packed up all our cases and left them for the caretaker to move while we went to drop off the kids and have a carefree time as tourists in Rome. Well, we returned fairly late that evening and nothing had changed. The bags were where we had left them, but someone had turned the heat back on. The caretaker was nowhere to be found, and we never saw him again. There were some old tracks in the snow around the house; I estimated that he had left before lunch time. I tried to call the owners, but the only pay phone for miles around, 5 kilometers away in Roncigleone, was broken.

We made it through that night, but after another cold shower in the morning my wife snapped. We were moving out. She would get the next flight back to NY or we would find somewhere else, but she was NOT staying in this nightmare any longer. We packed up and I called Elena from the first working payphone that we could find. I wanted to wrap up the deal in Rome where they lived; Paolo disagreed, and insisted on terminating the arrangement at the house so that he could "prove to me that the hot water worked". We arranged to meet at the house at 5:00pm that night, but it was changed later to 7:00pm when I called them to confirm the meeting. We wasted a precious day of our vacation in driving through downtown Rome to an agency that my wife had used before. Fortunately they did have an apartment in the city available and after checking that the heat and water really worked we took it for the remaining time. By the time we had moved in it was 5:00pm and raining cats and dogs. A wiser man would have abandoned dealing with the owners, but I was still in the "a deal is a deal" mind set and trying to deal honestly. Almost by accident I found my way out of Rome at the height of the rush hour and through driving rain, and made it to the house exactly at 7:00pm.

The rain in Rome was snow on the higher ground at the house, and there were 3 inches of wet slush on the ground. I parked at the top of the track, on the main road and walked down. There were no car tracks and no footprints so I figured that I was the first one to arrive. At 7:30pm I was still alone so I slogged back through the wet snow to the car, drove to Roncigleone and checked out the pay phone. It was still broken, so I went back to the house and waited another half an hour. At that point I accepted that I had been stood up and I left. I decided to take the car back to the rental company at the airport; there was nowhere to leave it in Rome, and I didn't need it any more. I called the owners 4 times from payphones on the 90 minute drive south and every time their line was busy. I called one last time after checking the car in, at about 11:00pm, and Paolo actually answered. He claimed he was there waiting at 6:30pm. Odd. He managed to do it leaving no car tracks and no footprints. It was amazing. We arranged to meet the following day in Rome.

That meeting was a bust. Both Paolo and Elena showed up (to my surprise). They bought me a coffee and a bun and made small talk. When it came to money, they refused to return any rent and refused to acknowledge the awfulness of their rented house. Paolo wanted to drive me up the following day, yet again to "prove that the hot water worked". I'd had enough of these games by now and I wasn't going to waste any more of my vacation time on these people. A deal is a deal, and they can have the rent. What about the "security deposit"? Well, it seems I couldn't have any of that back either. According to Paolo and the gas meter, I had used 90 euros worth of gas and I owed him for a bottle of propane. Can it really cost over 100 euros ($140) to barely heat a small apartment for 5 days? According to Paolo, it did. I stopped wasting time. My vacation was passing and I didn't want to spend what was left in trying to rectify this bit of banditry. He had the cash; I had no negotiating position at all. All I could do was walk away and enjoy the rest of my time tin Rome, which is what I did.

So the Villa la Paiola wrecked the larger portion of my vacation in one of the world's most beautiful cities.The place was misrepresented in words and in images. The only overt fraud was the heating (the "security deposit") but the whole deal stank. Furthermore, the owners destroyed the day of my vacation that it took to find somewhere else to thaw out, wasted a long evening of my time in demanding a meeting in a distant place that they didn't show up for, and made the visit much more expensive than it should have been because I ended up paying again for accommodation that I had supposed was already paid for. The misery and tension caused amount to "pain and suffering" - a complaint that is worth money only in the USA.

The only good news is that the apartment we moved in to was lovely. It was comfortable, well heated, there was endless hot water, and my wife consented to stay married to me. The part of the vacation at Villa la Paiola is something I'll learn from but remember only with disappointment.