Swapping Homes Anybody?


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

“When somebody makes a journey, he has a story to tell”

The German poet Matthias Claudius in Urian’s Journey around the World coined what became a famous phrase in the German language. Oh, so true, as most will admit. I’ll spare you the details of an otherwise uneven full trans-Atlantic flight (thank God), except that I didn’t sleep one wink and everybody else was snoring. The guy in front of me couldn’t be shaken awake shortly before arrival. The flight attendant had to put his seat back in the upright position. That straightened him out.
"Could I have some of what he was having...?"
The scene upon arrival in a new unfinished Terminal in Dusseldorf practically took our breath away. The narrow unventilated hallways leading to passport control were mobbed by ca. 600-800 people. Four other planes had arrived at the same time. There was NO GETTING in LINE. Just a sea of heads and throngs of sweating, irritated bodies shoving along inch by inch encountering the oncoming work crew.  For hundreds of yards of corridors, down steps, more hallways and more steps to be greeted by 8 German officials who remained totally unfazed. Inconceivable at US Immigration where crowd control is managed with serpentine liens --like at Disney--and by some fierce immigration officers hollering at you: "Keep moving, Sir! Stay in line, Mam!"
The site resembled an evacuation scenario in a crisis area somewhere in the world, not my good old Germany.  This leg of the trip -plane to passport control took over an hour. Hope this picture tells the story. Some wondered about German efficiency. 
Seven hours later we arrived in a hotel at our destination and met up with our lovely exchange partners. We were zombies. They still had to face the flight to the US next morning.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Welcome on Board

“Are you moving house?” The Delta associate at the check –in counter looked amused. “Eh, something like that…”  Our 6 bags of roughly 60 pounds each were kind of embarrassing, however. “But we’re staying a couple of months”.
Dragging them into the airport building from the Florida open air steam room, we were ready for a shower. Truck stops provide this useful amenity. No such luck, but at least we were down to just manageable carry-ons. The next challenge brought on another moment of perspiration: the dreaded security procedure. Standing barefoot, filling the bins with everything they want to scrutinize while the next person behind us in line is breathing down your neck,  sighing impatiently, while we take out computers, Ziploc bags with non-descript liquids etc, I broke out into another sweat. A taste of German check-out lines in supermarkets − in case you haven’t had that experience. There are no baggers to help you.  Instead the next customer nudges his cart stealthily into your heels if you’re too slow.
Next I’m escorted to the full body scanner while my husband is being whizzed past. Let them say what they want about the privacy of your private parts or lack thereof about these machines; you don’t see it yourself. Low and behold I had a forgotten key in my pocket which triggered of an extra pat-down. More sweating. Sorry, a lady perspires. After that we both needed a drink if only in lieu of a shower. Finally we board and are on our way.
In the meantime, we’ve arrived at our destination and are online again.  But first things first…

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Up, up , and away!

Tomorrow is the big day! Bags should be packed by then and our houses in some sort of order because we expect to find the same. Thank goodness, a cleaning crew will make the beds and clean kitchen and bathrooms after our departure. My mind is never on these trivial matters when I go transatlantic. Rather: are the bags too heavy or can I squeeze in another pair of shoes? Will the plane be on time or will it have a puncture again so that they need to fly in a tire from Atlanta to fix the plane which once made us miss our connecting flight to Europe.

Our first stop for 4 weeks will be near Frankfurt in Germany. It's a little historic town 20km to the northeast that nobody has ever heard of. It has several bedrooms, a little garden , a gym and a sauna.Well, we have an outdoor sauna here in Florida too! And the village has a Gelateria, bakeries for yummy breads and Broetchen, cheeses, meats and a fresh market. If I'm in luck, I can still purchase some of this year's WHITE asparagus. No, green doesn't come anywhere near it in this case. And the mushroom season isn't too far off, and raspberries and strawberries and... above all: Rumkugeln are widely available. I once made them myself. But they didn't beat the ones I love and buy for 0.99 EUR. Ah yes, and beer gardens! Wine gardens! It's near a wine growing area and Heidelberg and the Rhine....oh, I forgot how I missed it! Poor hubby has to work but he also will enjoy the produce, goodies, and outdoor refreshments....

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Like Dating it's not free

These home swapping sites aren't free. Their services cost about $100 plus. We decided for the one that seemed to have the most exchange homes in the areas/ country we wanted to visit. Some are clearly structured so that you can find immediately how well your desired area is represented. Others put more emphasis on the pictures and lure you in with fabulous descriptions. Every home owner, of course, writes up his own description. The agency we signed up with have a great number of home owners all over the States. They also seem to have a good support system and relationship with their clients. They answered our questions immediately. And we had many regarding contracts etc.
So if you feel like going to Colorado skiing or for a vacation in Hawaii, it's possible. As I said for us the target has been Europe.
Having published the article where I compare home swapping to dating, another agency approached me and offered me a free membership for a year worth $159. Thanks very much. Lots of beautiful looking villas, especially in South Africa and Australia if that's where your traveling bug is luring you. Here is their link Luxe Home Swaps  and see for yourselves. Doesn't that make you feel like packing bags straight away? What am I doing here. We're leaving in two days. I should be washing, ironing, backing, picking up the house etc. Thank God, a cleaner is coming before our exchange partner arrive next week!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Homeswapping is like Dating

Being an old hand on dating sites, my experience with a home swapping site took me right back.
As new hopefuls on a home exchange website, my hubby and I enthusiastically put up photos of our house, plus a catchy description together with details about us. We felt like kids in the candy-store: all these great places and houses all around the world up for grabs at the click of a mouse.
We approached desirable potential partners, sometimes we got replies, and sometimes not: “sorry but...or you're too late”. Then we thought we had found the right fit and we started to communicate by email with the prospective swappers.  At the same time we asked a couple of questions about what they were offering on their part. After a bit of research, at last we were ready to commit: “Let’s do it” only to get blown off: We've found somebody else.
It reminds me of Internet dating. After crafting a compelling personal profile, you click though gazillions of pictures and prospects; you wait for responses or actively approach potential partners. You communicate, sometimes slowly; sometimes unexpectedly excited, making quick progress in getting to know the other side. Then boom—you’re blown off and don’t know what hits you. They disappear from the radar or have the courtesy of informing you that they have met somebody else while you were getting your hopes up. Happens all the time. It’s called double timing.
We lost out while trying to cover our backs and avoid being disappointed if things turned out to be different to what they were portrayed to be. 
We are still "virgins" on the home swapping front so to speak, but we learned our lesson: Apparently one has to jump "into bed" here even more quickly than on dating sites.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Ever swapped Homes?

With more dash than cash it's hard to fulfill your traveling needs...Thinking of the top '100 places you should see before you die' always makes my tummy churn and my face green with envy.
After a wonderful vacation in the Fatherland which cost a bomb, I had a brainwave. Somewhere and somehow I had heard about swapping homes. Well, on TV families are known to even swap spouses.With a little bit of investigation (thank you Mr. Google!),  I found an app for that.or rather several websites. Looking  at all the beautiful homes worldwide nurtured my travel bug that bit me years ago. He started to grow and make himself heard: If you swap houses with some of these people, you can stay longer. Hey, there is a way to swap cars too. That takes a big load of your pocket book. The bug could no longer be ignored.
Cheap package tours are an option, at least occasionally, but not in our circumstances. Especially if you live in "Paradise" anyway..We want to travel to Europe as much as possible because of family reasons. And hubby loves France and Italy. And his employer is too stubborn to let us relocate and pay for regular trips.
I was all for it immediately.
But:I hear you ask a).do you want strangers in your house? b) even sleep in your bed? Guess, how many different people share a hotel bed over time? c) What about valuables and personal stuff? Well, lock it away! And if a glass or a vase breaks, or a book gets mislaid...so be it. In any case, people have insurance.
Well, we women can be very persuasive with the right arguments and the right open-minded partner who wants to please his wife who is a long way from home...
That's how it all started. Hey, Europe here we come: The Intrepid home swappers! The world is your oyster- if you like oysters. Who knows where we'll go next if this works out?