Swapping Homes Anybody?



Monday, September 1, 2014

Another Gem on the Lake

After a fricking cold weekend (52 F) the sun tried very hard to get through the clouds and we went on another little trip- but with a brollie! The traffic around the lake is heavy most of the time and today was no different. So instead of going to Bregenz in Austria we stopped in Langenargen; a gem we had overlooked so far. It's located between Friedrichshafen and Lindau, two major bustling towns  which we had visited on a previous trip.
It has the typical picturesque old part of town, a museum, plus a little yacht harbor and  a castle of course.
The first mention of Langenargen in a document was in 970. In Roman times there were two watch towers on a little island in the lake just off the mainland. Overall, it is typical for many towns around Lake Constance but not as busy and smaller. Or it had to do with the fact that in most parts of Germany the summer holidays are over now and there are less tourists around.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

A perfect Day on Mainau

We picked the only day of the week where it was not supposed to rain to go to Mainau, the so-called "Island of Flowers" in Lake Constance.The main picture here at the top of the page gives you an aerial view and now I'll give you more impressions of this beautiful piece of the world.You walk over to it from the mainland via  a bridge.
An endless sea of flowers, rare trees like Sequoias, a real farm where children can pet goats etc, a conservatory with rare plants like orchids, an Italian style formal garden, over 100 varieties of roses, a castle with a restaurant and church where a wedding had just taken place, cacti, modern sculptures among woodlands and lots of entertainment for children.
The Bodensee reminds me of some of the Italian lakes like Maggiore or Como which we love as well.
You can buy tickets online and after 5 p.m. they are half price: EUR 9 only instead of EUR 18 which leaves you enough money for refreshments.
The island is owned by the family Bernadotte who are avid environmentalists. Their endeavors even go beyond  government regulations. Yes and sheep mow the lawns here.
Overall, Mainau is right at the top of public gardens for me.I prefer it to Kew Gardens; even Butchert Gardens in Canada doesn't come close.
And I even got my ice-cream! A Tiramisu- Cup!

For more pictures of Konstanz, the city that is connected to Mainau via a bridge, go to  https://www.facebook.com/SiggyBuckley

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Built on Pillars like Venice- but 6,000 years ago

An impressive construction site right on the lake: pile dwellings in Uhldingen.  The first go  back to almost almost 4,000BC. What you see here now is a collection and reconstruction of numerous pile dwellings that were found around the lake in several places at the turn of the last century.

In 2011 , the UNESCO declared it a World Heritage site and it is truly humbling and impressing.
It's museum explains how they were built and actually demonstrate the process.
When we returned to the entrance, a Zeppelin went overhead. The contrast was surreal. The Zeppelin Museum is only 20 ml away, but what are the chances to take a picture of both?

Built from wood and reeds, the houses then were clad with clay to give them shelter from the elements. Some houses were equipped with what the archaeologists think people had in those days:  a weavers cottage, a tinker's, a fisherman's. All had the same fireplace in common. It was marvelous to see how clear the lake was. In places it was so shallow you could see the ground among he reeds, elsewhere they were put into deeper water.
You'll find more information here in this video.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Winefest at Schloss Salem

Last weekend, Schloss Salem (4km form our house and about 12km from the Lake) held its annual wine fest.The grounds and buildings alone are worth a visit and if you can taste wine, have a Bratwurst, flat-bread or ice-cream, and listen to Bavarian brass music- you got it all in one. No beer for thirsty throats, however!

Salem also is the home to Germany's prestigious (and expensive) boarding school. The students, of course, were on holidays. After a hearty meal we wandered the grounds and visited its many craft-shops: a glass blower, gifts made out of wood, a shoemaker and jeweler.

The Schloss is surrounded by beautiful rolling fields and right on cue a Zeppelin went over our head.The Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen is only another 30 km away.We visited it the last time we were here. Highly recommended! At the time the price was to high for us but if you know what a helicopter ride on Maui costs, it might just be worth it too!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Our new "Home"

After Heidelberg, we headed straight to the Bodensee, Lake Constance, the place this year's second home swap.  Here's a rough map where you can see how it is nestled between Switzerland, Austria and Germany.
And this gives you an impression of the elevations around it.
For a glimpse of its real beauty just scroll up to the masthead.. That's the island of Mainau in the lake. More about our trip there later.
Lake Constance is one of the most frequented places as far as tourism in Germany goes and in the summer you walk should to shoulder at times. We were here before, stayed in a converted, refurnished castle and were rightly ripped off although the flat didn't even have curtains;neither in the bedroom nor the bathroom. Highway robbery! This experience gave me the idea of looking into home swapping and we haven't regretted it.

In fact, we are on our 8th swap now and this could easily one of the nicest we have had. The home is very cosy, practical, close to the sites we want to see and has a gorgeous garden. Alas, the weather gods are not with us. While our home swappers are sweating it out bravely in Florida, we light the open fire in the evenings. And this village has several stork nests.When did you last see storks? I was a child when...they all but disappeared.
Tomorrow, we're going to meet our exchange partners of last year. We're all very excited.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Practical tip : your Money

When traveling to Europe you want to make sure you have the right cards on you. (and tell your bank where you're going to avoid fraud alert calls!).
We always take bank cards as well as credit cards. This year we found out that European issued cards all have a chip, Americans mostly don't. At least ours haven't. Don't be surprised if they are rejected then.
ATM machines will give you money at an exorbitant fee- up to $12 per transaction. In order to avoid these fees, you may want to find out the corresponding European bank of your US bank.
Some restaurants and most supermarkets -at least in Holland and Germany- also refuse your cards when they are chip less.
Be advised that American Express while highly popular in the US and widely accepted here,  is not loved very much in Europe. Only German hotels and gas stations take them as I found out the hard way (because of the exorbitant merchant's fees). You're better off to have a Visa or MasterCard on hand.

There are other security measures in play in Europe if you want to transfer money, as I recently found out. In order to move money from one account to another or just pay a bill online, you need a so-called TAN- generator, an ID card that has a chip in it. While filling in online the addressee's name and account number, this gadget generates a TAN that also has to be included in your transaction. Not that you will have much to do with this.Just a thought why security is of such a high standard here and not in the US?
 Europeans, especially Germans are almost paranoid about their privacy. No online information about you if you don't want it.No Google street photos if a neighborhood objects.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Dutch Feats of Engineering

As our last outing in Holland we wanted to go for a drive up north and see two dams over the sea.
These Dutch feats of engineering were finished in 1932.
The outer dam is called Houtribdijk Dam that separates the Inner Markermeer from the outer Ijsselmeer. (A7).The outer dam is called Afsluit Dijk and goes south from Lelystad back to Amsterdam.
Did you  know that the thermometer was invented in Amsterdam in 1714?

Our house in Amsterdam had an interesting, stylish hydrometer. It bore the name of its maker, Jan van Agteren. He lives in Lelystad, at the tip of the second dam on our way back to Amsterdam. So our round trip would come full circle.

Why not look him up and visit his workshop.He is on Facebook. Unfortunately, he didn't get my message and was totally surprised seeing these two strangers outside his door. He had to give up making thermometers because some countries, including the Netherlands, outlawed the use of mercury. Now he is only allowed to repair them.