Swapping Homes Anybody?



Sunday, July 6, 2014

Still Nervous about Home Swapping?

Several comments reached me admiring how brave we are to do home swaps. Yes it is a great and cheap way of traveling, but...
Let me alleviate your concerns. You mustn't forget that you are in your exchange partners house while they are in yours! They might be equally nervous about their precious possessions. (if they are really valuable- just lock them away) . Apply the Golden Rule: Treat others like you want to be treated yourself!
In addition these swaps are facilitated through an American agency. You sign a contract that you will pay for possible damages you incur. And so do they. Also, we have had many conversations with them via email, and even Skype. So you get to know them a little. We already consider them as friends. It has been working for us.
In 2 weeks we will be arriving in Duesseldorf. From there we'll start out round trip and visit my family on the way.
Maybe you think I'm foolish to post this fact. Our house will be occupied by our swapping partners. Never empty. Doesn't that give you extra peace of mind?
Still lots to do. For example put a hold on your mail. In our case we have it forwarded to our respective destination through a Texas based company. That costs a bout $100.
Starting to think about what clothes I need in Europe. At the moment, it's fierce hot in Germany, but that may not last. So naturally we need more when we're over there for 7 weeks. Coming here to sweltering holiday for a beach holiday, all you need is a shorts, a bikini and flip-flops. That's why we always travel wit several "enormes valises" as my dear French called them in surprise when she saw them.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Home Swaps without surprises

Still thinking about doing a home swap or not? Once you get used to the idea of strangers sleeping in your bed, you will actually have a good time seeing the world or your preferred country for next to nothing.I have a few tips for you how to plan your trip and what to watch out for when you're embarking on your first home exchange.
Sign up with a well- renowned agency. That will set you back approx. $120. For that you get access to their database and can choose from thousands of members in over 100 countries.Maybe you just want to do one trip this year or next summer and test it.Maybe you want to make the flight overseas worth your while and add on another exchange in a different location?
For me the biggest joy comes with the planning, i.e. perusing different countries, looking at houses, seeing their gardens and interiors.It is not unlike signing up on a dating site and looking for a partner- if for a different purpose. I'm keeping my old professional etiquette as the owner of a dating agency and won't divulge which agency we signed up with.. (They are USA based).
There are also sites for seniors only, but they have smaller houses or condos only. If you have a family, you may want more space!

More tips the next time! We painted our porch since my last post. More to do...! Less than 3 weeks to go...Amsterdam is our first exchange destination.http://www.habitatapartments.com/resources/sections/amsterdam_canals.jpg

Friday, June 27, 2014

4 Weeks and counting....

Time tends to fly too fast every year when we prepare for our trips although we should know the routine by now. After all, it's our 4th year of swapping homes. It's useful to keep a check-list and start early enough...but what is early enough, I wonder and haven't found the answer.
We spruce up the house, spring clean and also store items of value or personal nature away into our owner's closet--only to take them back out on our return.We thought we were doing good until a minor storm blew over a tree in our backyard last weekend.Two days of chopping wood and hauling branches to the curb later, the mess is over.
It seems to be the year when everything wants to self-destruct and cause us additional chores.Within the last week the dryer went, we installed a new microwave, repaired a rusty stove door, the TV needed a serious repair and today I noticed that the toaster is on its last leg - or only burning on 2 cylinders.
Whether you decide to touch up paint or freshly paint in and around your house when you embark on a home swap is obviously up to you. Not everybody does that. We are happy campers when our swapping partners exchange faulty light bulbs, empty trash cans and removed enough stuff from overflowing closets so that we can hang up our clothes or put our own food into the fridge.
The cleaner is booked for our departure day so that I don't have to strip the beds and wash and put fresh sheets on. I also always appreciate not having to make the beds first when we arrive at our final destination after long day of traveling.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Yes, it's the time of the year again. The Intrepid Home Swappers are at it again: we now have a schedule and two partners for about 7 weeks in Europe. How else could you afford it if not by exchanging homes and cars?
I have to admit this planning season was painstakingly slow. Nothing happening for weeks: I wrote to dozens of members on our website, well a site that we use and who gave us a two year membership for free because of the disaster on the houseboat last July. (Scroll down and you can read up on it if you haven't yet!)

The first positive answer came in and made us very happy: my favorite location in the south of Germany, der Bodensee.
To give you an idea if you're not that familiar with German geography:The lake and north of it is in Germany, to the east is Austria and to the south is Switzerland. We'll be near Ueberlingen...if you squint enough , you can just make it out above the word Germany in red. So in Austria and Switzerland, you'll have the famous Alps around it.

You can't tell much from a map, therefore your for enjoyment and interest a real photo of what to expect:
That's more like it, isn't it?
Our exchange partner just wrote me that they are flying to the British Virgin islands today for some sailing. I can't say if it is a home swap, but home exchangers do get around; most of them have the traveling bug!

So we had one exchange and I waited for more for several weeks.Nothing doing. I even signed up with another site to have more places to choose from. They, I have to say, were not very responsive and if there was an answer, it was a NO.
My preference would have been to go to Italy or France for a change. In my experience, however, these folks don't often reply. Neither are they interested in coming to Florida. We were about to give up hope when, out of the blue, an offer came in from Amsterdam.  So we gladly grabbed that, a very nice family btw. We skyped immediately. No dillydallying with them. One more email and they booked their flights and signed the agreement

I often compare home swapping to internet dating. Either there is some connection and interest or there isn't. Sometimes you have to wait, but you must give it a try. Just sitting at home will get you nowhere. So more about Amsterdam at a later stage.
I never finished last year's report. Just back from a trip to Maui and of course I had to write about that: http://www.shewrites.com/profiles/blogs/i-ve-fallen-in-love-with-maui
Hawaii has 46 members on our home swap site as well.I wrote to about two dozens suggesting a trip from one paradise to the next.But no takers so far.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

If you were to go to Germany...would you know?

Our swap partners prepared a really nice manual telling us lots of facts around the area and tips what to visit. Although we always prepare a manual for our house about how to use certain appliances our favorite restaurants etc, this one was packed with suggestions where to eat and suggestions for day trips, even to France and to Switzerland- a mere 2 hours drive.
If you were to visit Germany, would you know that shops are closed on Sundays? Except for gas stations and bakeries until lunch.
Another surprise may be to find out that most shops don’t take a credit card. Especially grocery stores want cash. The one that is least popular is American Express. I was in one city center store of one of the bigger chains in Stuttgart that advertised a new service on their loudspeaker: Pay with your banking card and get cash back. A welcome novelty indeed.
I’m starting to hate shopping for groceries. While I still get my favorite foods which are not available in the US, I don’t like the shopping atmosphere. Everybody is in a hurry when they reach the check out and is pushing, impatient. If you don’t pack and pay fast enough, you get nasty looks from other customers and the cashier; even remarks. I have been kicked with their cart in my heels when I wasn’t fast enough. Forget about having your groceries packed or even helped out to your car. Publix, I miss you!
Germany’s recycling system is starting to drive me mad. It was introduced in about 1990. People have several garbage cans outside, but the system varies from town to town. We learned the terms Rest Muell  (trash)but Round Muell is still a mystery to us. Round?
As an avid environmentalist and former organic farmer’s wife, I ‘m used to separating my trash but I’m getting fed up with it because it seems so complicated even to me. Having to learn the lay of trash in each different town is a nuisance. The locals who are used to one system won’t feel it that much. But we Intrepid Homeswappers get around …and observe.
If you’re used to a garbage disposal, the system seems to be outright annoying. What do you do with left-overs, especially when they contain some liquid? Flush them down the toilet. The recycling industry overall  will be as profitable as Germany's flagship, the motor industry already is by 2016- according to the mayor of Stuttgart. He is a member of the Geen Party and rules the home of car producers like Mercedes and Porsche with an environmental agenda. How do Germans combine their green conscience with their love of glossy, high powered cars? By reducing their fuel consumption and lowering their carbon footprint whenever possible. Thee modern German cars switch of the engine automatically when you sit at a red traffic light.
In Germany you recycle plastic and beer bottles  and get a small sum of money back (Pfand/pledge). – never wine bottles for some unknown reason, however.  In the Netherlands they don’t. have this system.  Having dragged all the bottles back to the store, there was no way to dispose of them but schlep them back home to the houseboat. In Amsterdam, they had 2 types of containers in the boardwalk right outside every other house for glass and paper.
Did you know:
-that the highest tax bracket for top earners is 42%.  The upcoming election on 22 September would let Angela Merkel stay in power for another 4 years. Her opponent, a Social Democrat Peer Steinbrueck, intends to increase this tax bracket to 49%. Angela Merkel is considered to be the most powerful woman in the world at the moment and has a high likability rating of over 60%.
Although the election had entered its hot phase 3 weeks ago, there had been no commercials for parties on TV. Posters were only allowed to go up 6 weeks prior to election date. Last night was the first and only televised debate.
Unemployment in Germany is low at 6.8%. (That doesn’t sound that low to me…).
133,000 immigrants became Germans last year and got a passport. A third of which were Turkish nationals, probably already born in this country.5% were other European Union citizens. No explanation as to the rest.

Another statistic FYI: Germans are becoming lazier. They have 4 hours leisure time on average. Their favorite hobby is couching in front of the TV. Among their other hobbies the first sport takes position 17, (going to the gym). The first outdoor activity takes position 24.
My homeland has duly changed since I left it around the time of Reunification. Or is it a matter of watching the past with pink glasses; that everything was better in the olden days…?

Friday, August 30, 2013

A Celtic Find

Our exchange partners prepared a comprehensive information folder with things to do in that area. One spot caught our interest straight away: close to our house is an ancient Celtic burial site, actually around 500 B.C.  It’s called the Hochdorf Chieftain’s Grave. In the late 1970s, this grass mound among agricultural fields was excavated and revealed a most astonishing find.

The original pieces and remains are housed in a museum in Stuttgart but what they have in place here is pretty impressive and well worth a visit.

“A man, roughly 40 years of age and 6 ft 2 in (187 cm) tall, was laid out on an exceptionally richly decorated 9 ft (275 cm) bronze couch on wheels inside the burial chamber. Judging by other objects found there, this man probably had been a Celtic chieftain: He had been buried with a gold-plated torc on his neck, a bracelet on his right arm, a hat made of birch bark, a gold-plated dagger made of bronze and iron, rich clothing, amber jewelry, a razor knife, a nail clipper, a comb, fishing hooks, arrows, and most notably, thin embossed gold plaques were on his now-disintegrated shoes.
At the foot of the couch was a large cauldron decorated with three lions around the brim. This cauldron was originally filled with about 100 gallons (400 l) of mead. The east side of the tomb contained an iron-plated wooden four-wheeled wagon holding a set of bronze dishes—along with the drinking horns found on the walls enough to serve nine people.”
The art work on his shoes and the drinking horns in bronze and gold was exquisite.
Given my Irish farming background, the reconstructed mound reminds me of a bunker silo. In case you don’t know what they look like, take a peek. This is how they are made:

How did they do it all that time ago without machinery?