Niko’s instructions for us sounded like they came straight from an old odyssean-like novel. It began with instructions of this road and that, then he said “Once you get down to the beach at Porto Vromi, look for a woman named Aphrodite. Like the Goddess. She will have a boat for you.”
The first half of his instructions took us a solid two hours to complete until we were at last at the beach where we realized the surprising simplicity of the next task at hand. Find Aphrodite. Firstly, what an awesome name. Secondly, how many Aphrodites can there possibly be on a small beach with just two ticket booths. The first person we asked said “no one is here by that name.” What did he think we were trying to find her for? The next person we asked revealed that Aphrodite was in fact the woman sitting right beside the original man we had asked.
Thanks to our connection with Niko, Aphrodite gave us 20% off of her regular rate for a boat tour and off we went, zipping along the massive cliffs that form Zakynthos’ coast.
Smuggler’s Cove or “the hidden beach” as I had been calling it is an incredibly beautiful place that, (like so many beautiful places in this world) is crowded to the max with tourists. Niko had warned us that unless we arrive before 1 (and it was now 2pm) it was going to be crowded. He was right. The powdery blue water looked like a game of bob for apples with people bobbing around in clusters. They swam aside as our boat came up to the beach to park.
Drew and I have been without a car for about two years now, so it is a luxury we don’t miss when we travel. Yes there are some places for which a car rental seems fairly necessary for enjoying your destination. Easter Island for instance requires either a whole lot of time bicycling…or a car rental. Shorter trips too sometimes make a car rental seem necessary like our week-long visit to Puerto Rico.
For everything else, there are scooter rentals. Ok, not everywhere offers scooter rentals, but most of the places where a scooter makes sense, a scooter can be found. And most places just require that you have a valid driver’s license.
Zakynthos by scooter is dusty and thrilling. Our host Niko connected us with a scooter for a great price (roughly $16 a day) and that little thing took us everywhere. Granted sometimes it protested, giving us feeble energy on some of the steeper hills but overall it was the perfect way to see the sites of Zakynthos.
When we told the taxi driver to take us to Malanos Restaurant where our couchsurfing host would be waiting for us, he knew exactly where we meant. “Ah yes that’s a well-respected restaurant here. One of the oldest in Zante town and one of the few on the island that stays open for locals all winter.” He handed us a card for the restaurant and there on the front our host’s name was printed. Nikolaus.
Niko showed his gregariousness immediately with a generous welcome and an invitation to take a seat in his down-to-earth restaurant as he rushed back into the kitchen to finish up his midday work. The place seemed quaint and un-bothered by the fuss of over-contrived atmosphere. The buzz of the cicadas and the breeze moving through the cedars was all the atmosphere Milano’s needed. Quaint indeed but we did not know the bustle of energy we’d soon see as locals came from all over for their late evening meals, chatting in the orange light of the restaurant until well past midnight.
If you’re not familiar, couchsurfing.org is a site that allows travelers to offer their hospitality to one another. It’s sort of like an organized version of the “pay it forward” concept. When I host someone, they can rate their experience for everyone to see on my profile (kind of like a review on ebay). The idea is then, that if I’m an awesome host or rather if couchsurfing reviews prove me to be a likable and trustworthy person, someone else out there may feel comfortable hosting me when I need to be hosted. Of course, I will in return check out that person’s profile just as they will check out mine. It’s like MySpace with a function. You can check it out for yourself here.
Updated on March 26, 2014
Our flight to Zakynthos was a seemingly round-about one with a layover in Dusseldorf stuck in the middle. Made for a very long few days, let me tell you. As we were approaching this layover, we weren’t sure where we were going to stay as there just didn’t seem to be any good (cheap/free) options so we turned to one of our favorite tricks. A BRG.
In this post I’ll give you a brief run-down of how we got a free night at the InterContinental Dusseldorf (with club lounge access) by discussing the following things:
The booking: A simple revenue reservation for a cancelable room
The tools: Kayak.com, essentially
What will you learn: How to find a better rate on an outside site and how to submit a BRG claim with that rate.
So here’s what we did and ultimately, what you can do too. Heck you can probably even replicate the same stay as sometimes hotels are slow in updating their prices once you point out a disparity on a third party site for them.
Like I said, as we were approaching our overnight layover in Dusseldorf, we still had no reservations made. So in that sort of scenario, here is our plan of action.
1.) First, we scour the web looking for two things: a cancelable rate at a hotel that offers a Best Rate Guarantee and a matching room on a third party site that offers a cheaper rate. Back and forth back and forth we constantly compare the cancelable rooms on their own cite with the matching rooms on a third party site.
This essentially means lots of time spent on Kayak.com as it lends itself well to this kind of search thanks to an ability to search for hotels very specifically. In our case, we wanted to compare an InterContinental club room so we simply searched for the InterContinental in Dusseldorf.
2.) Hurrah! *Drew does victory dance* Drew found a cheaper rate on Kayak for an EXACT match on InterContinental’s website. The “exact” part is pretty important. The more holes there are in the match, the more ability the hotel has to disqualify the claim on the basis that it’s a different room. Make sure the beds are the same, the amenities are the same (ex: breakfast or no breakfast), the “view” is the same if that applies, etc. It’s probably not going to be a word-for-word exact, but you’ll know if it’s describing the same room or not and know that sometimes hotels have goofy things to differentiate their rooms. Like adding a desk instead of a coffee table and calling it a “business room.”
Lucky for us the exact match was with a club room meaning we’d get club access!
3.) Now that the room is found and the victory dance is done, book the cancelable rate on InterContinental’s (or whoever’s) website. We like to open up another browser window for this so that we can have both the IHG rate and the Kayak rate readily viewable.
4.) When the booking is made, you can submit your claim. The hotels that offer BRG’s will have a page where you can read the rules of a BRG claim, and make a submission. You can follow the link I’ve provided here to get to InterContinental’s online submission form.
Otherwise, look at the bottom of IHG’s homepage for the “Best Price Guarantee” icon.
From that page, clicking either of the indicated links as shown below will take you to a page from which you can finally access the form.
Finally when you see this string of options, click the one saying “Best Price Guarantee.”
Thorough enough? I hope so.
The online form offers prompts that will cover all the information needed for your claim. Within 24 hours you should be hearing from the hotel about your claim.
IHG’s BRG (or Best Price Guarantee) offers your first night free for any accepted claim. This works out particularly well for stays of one night. 🙂
Our free night at the InterContinental Dusseldorf
Thanks to an unpredicted glitch of some kind, the free night was given to us in a backwards sort of way that ended up serving towards our benefit. Instead of charging us 0$ as is the norm for a 1 night BRG stay at IHG, the hotel charged us the ordinary price of $300+ dollars, then refunded us the money a week or so later. Why is this a good thing? Well this somehow counts as a paid stay and therefore earns us points! 14,000 to be exact. Not bad for a free stay.