Swapping Homes Anybody?


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Houeseboat with a Barn

Amsterdam is such a lively, bustling city. Are people getting younger everywhere or is this a typical Dutch phenomenon? And most of them swish by on bikes.  Except for the tourists who are on foot or on sightseeing trips around the Grachten (canals), fiets  (bicycles) are everywhere. Welcome to the Netherlands! (Bikes with a motor btw are called brummfiets. Brumm equals vroom!).

Although the houseboat we’re staying on is a mere 9km from the city center (the distance I drive to our next Publix!), it’s just as busy where the house boat is in a maze of little canals, rivulets and lakes. The occasional bridge or lock connects everything. Houseboats are both, a lifestyle apparently, and a necessity that a shortage of building spaces brings with it.

If you are a boating person, this may be definitely for you: Tight quarters and practical solutions to dealing with little space! Our boat has a huge living room/kitchen/dining area, but the “masterbed” is about the size of two coffins placed next to each other. Call it cozy, call it crammed. It is certainly very hot in this one in spite of the window now that the weather has turned muggy.

On the other hand, it also has big walk-in closet/ dressing room. Winding, narrow staircases make for adventurous trips down to the washer and dryer which are both housed in closets. A distinct whiff of musty probably has to be expected on a boat. We never lived on one. But ferries and cruise ships have it.

We learned a new meaning to the word “floater”. It’s a plastic device that you attach to your keys, because they are easily lost when stepping over the gap from the plank way to the boat. For the worst case scenario that you actually drop your keys, there is a big magnet in the barn that can be used to retrieve them. Except we couldn’t find the barn. We walked alone the two sides of the houseboat where the entrance is and on the deck in front, but no barn. The Farmers’ Ex wife in me expected a shed, it turned out to be one of the rooms under deck that the owners uses as a work shop.

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 The variety of bikes here is amazing, as a means of transport essential to daily life. Some are adorned.
A lot are in dubious shape, deliberately so- we're told-  for usage in the city. "Otherwise they only get stolen."

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Time to Move the Show down the Road

We were in transit for 2 days, not that far a journey really, but just packing and loading our four  Big Bertha's or--as my French friend Annie calls them enormes valises--into the car. Of course, we just got lucky while parking briefly in front of the house, that we got a ticket for not displaying our permit to park there...and against the flow of the traffic on top of that your man from the friendly traffic police explained. Once the car registration is entered into the system, there is nothing he  can do. My charming days must be over because I have run out into the street in alarm but not fully clad. It didn't sway him.
Next step: Take our exchanged car back to Duesseldorf airport so that they find it upon their arrival.Get rental car to drive to Amsterdam, ca. 2-3 hours.No problem.Except we always need BIG Cars and in this case we had to haul everything from one to the other in an airport car park.
We ended up getting a Spanish car SEAT 'Alhambra" from Sixt that had a French registration plate in Germany to drive to Holland, we that is my American hubby and I, the German gone Irish0-American.
One piece of advice:Whenever you pick up a rental, make sure they show you the car and point out possible pre-existing scratches. I went around it by myself and had a good look, but saw no danmages. Next to us a young guy took pictures of his new  pick-up and we commented that we had nothing to photograph.
We were in for a surprise when we returned it. The Amsterdam airport Sixt employee found the minutest flaw and filed a complaint which we now have to contest.
After our arrival here, a flurry of sms messages wnet across th eAtlantic. Our swappers notified us with the location where they had parked our car and I copied it and sent it onto the Dutch exchnagers who would arrive any minute and start looking for our car in order to go to our house. Everthing went smoothly.
We all had a roof over our heads at the end of the day:We in Amsterdam, the Dutch in our house and the Bad Honnefers on a plane back to Germany.
 The only windmill we saw so far!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Bonn - Beethoven's Birthplace

Former capital of Germany, Bonn, is famous for the birthplace of Beethoven.  Situated on the Rhine, Bonn has a mild climate and a beautiful surrounding hilly area to offer with lots of bike trails and hiking possibilities. A boat trip is a treat especially on a sunny day like this. Its castle Poppelsdorfer Schloss has a famous botanic garden. Some of the former castle buildings house the city's university and one big archway is the only building I know with traffic running right through it.

Along the Rhine, many a little cafe or beer garden offers refreshments.Some are even on Facebook...:)
Bonn is still the seat of the government's  Ministry of Justice and the Interior as well the seat of the German commission of UNESCO.
Not a bad place to live!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Internet still new territory to Merkel

“ Facebook makes it to Bad Honnef “ was yesterday's  headline of the local rag!
Then:  “The internet is still a challenge for most of us, “Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor is quoted to have said on Obama's recent visit. I wonder what must have gone through Obama's mind?
This town where we are staying has about 25,000 inhabitants, 5000 of which are FB users. The journalist suspects, however, that these are students of the town’s new virtual college campus and remain in their virtual world, as usual.
It is true that fewer Germans than Americans. have taken  to FB and are more worried about their privacy to the point of paranoia. As a rule, they don’t want to display their personal affairs on the Internet. “If I want to undress, I do that at home”. Translations lose some of their wit…..sorry.
Or another German is quoted: “I still have a family and a job”. Last year I found about the disproportionate number of available eBooks and readers here. Whereas the Americans had taken to eReaders like ducks to water, German ebook sales are still sluggish.
Bad Honnef recently discovered FB’s marketing possibilities; restaurants and hotels in particular advertise here and look for fans. I found a nice site in this newspaper article that describes the area along the Rhine here from Bonn to Koblenz as The Rhinish Riviera. Clearly in its infancy, it would be a nice showcase for an area that is already very touristy. If only more Germans fell in love with FB.

Today, it's the weekend, no work for hubby! Off to explore the Rhinish Riviera!
(And next door's workmen are at it already.In a hotel, I could claim compensation for loss or R & R at least!)

Friday, July 19, 2013

An adventure and a challenge

Our garden here

This morning we woke up to a head splitting noise at 8o’clock sharp. Next door they are renovating their house and the workmen chose to start their day with a drilling machine or maybe even a jackhammer. Just like in real life, I mean that could happen both at home, or even in a hotel with a construction site nearby. Our exchange partners had mentioned the fact of some renovations but that it was quiet at present. Well, until now. The company at work is a central heating, bathroom installation outfit; so the fun might go on for a while. We should be up and about at this time of day in this gorgeous weather anyway, but since hubby works late –due to the time zone differences between USA and Europe—this doesn’t seem to be doable.
Swapping homes, living, cooking, and washing in other people’s houses is an adventure, sometimes even a challenge. But hubby said it broadens your horizon and keeps you young. I can’t argue with that.

Every house is different and has its own idiosyncrasies. Here for example I hang my wash in the basement while the sun is shining like never before. There is a gadget in the basement to hang the laundry out outside but we’re too lazy to install it. Until we arrived the weather had been bad and the owners never bothered either. Who hangs out their wash in the rain? Well, I did many a time on the farm in Ireland. An experience that isn’t worth repeating.
On the other hand, I need to mention that it annoys me that we’re not allowed to dry laundry outside in FL.  As far as I know from American TV most other places don't tolerate it either. People are vehemently against having their knickers on the line for everybody to see and vice versa. All of that while FL is basking in too much sun most of the time. Being an avid environmentalist –hence our emigration to Ireland years ago- it troubles my conscience. For years I've been meaning  to write an article about this issue. A neighbor’s argument that laundry outside gathers too many pollen and triggers off allergies never convinced me in the light of wasted energy and global warming. So while I step down into the darkish basement, our Germany exchange partners will most likely be irritated by using the drier in almost 40 degrees Celsius and have that as a conversation piece on their return. We do dry our beach towels on the porch, however, and so will they, I’m sure!Mum's the word!
Our porch in FL.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Our first swap in Bad Honnef

Now about the house ! To sum it up we’re very happy about the choice; a very comfortable home on three floors plus the basement with a well landscaped, medium sized garden.The main bedroom has a waterbed. Interesting; I had never slept on one. This will prepare me/us for our next stopover, the houseboat in Amsterdam!

I chose this location for its proximity to Bonn and was lucky to find this exchange partner. The town is called Bad Honnef. Both are situated on the Rhine and the northernmost outposts of the wine growing region in Germany. Our exchnage partners even left us a bottle of white to sample!
(Not our house!)
Our first Chancellor after the war, Konrad Adenauer, was born here in a part of town called Rhoendorf. Bonn, formerly a sleepy village,  became  the capital of Germany in 1949 after World War II.. After Reunification in 1990,  it was moved to Berlin again.

The owners told us the house was app. 80 years old. They must have renovated it a couple of years ago with great taste. All three floors have enough art work to make a gallery proud. The furniture is a mixture of very modern and antiques. Some gadgets are too high tech even for hubby. It took us about 30 minutes to figure out how the coffee maker worked. The result was less than satisfactory: some lukewarm, tasteless liquid the color of dish water came out of that fancy shmanzy machine. Rumor has it they cost about EUR 2000. Seriously? I love my old-fashioned handbrewed and filtered coffee. We bought the equipment for it the same day.

Old houses like this retain the cool when temperatures soar like at present, ca. 26-30 Celsius. Nights are still cold – ca. 10 degrees- so that we don’t feel the summer heat at night. My type of climate.The house is situated in the old part of town where most houses are small and streets very narrow, parking is at a premium. A spot in a nearby garage comes with it. However, the entrance into it and then the actual parking space is so tight that we both broke out in sweat.  I consider myself an intrepid and consummate driver who adapts to different cars easily, but we were afraid of doing damage to this super duper piece of German engineering which we couldn't afford ourselves. To tell the truth, we couldn’t get into that slot at all – until we noticed a mechanical device that moved the other cars which were densely parked there around on tracks! Duh!

So we are only a 5minute walk away from all the shops, post office and…beer gardens. Not to forget a formidable Gelateria!  That’s the beauty of living in a smaller town, or maybe a German town: You don’t really need a car. Public transport is excellent. For our weekly shopping, however, we trek to a big store by car. We did one excursion down the Rhine by car and yesterday I made it into the big city of Bonn to meet up with my son—18 km away! More about that next...

To be honest, we do miss a few things: an ice-maker, a drier and our garbage disposal. I never knew how dependent you become on these things. Parking close to the house is another one.Especially in winter!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Food, Glorious Food!

Back in my home country, I immediately started indulging myself with the things I missed out on for almost a year: BrÅ‘tchen (bread rolls) 

 Gelateria  had to wait until my stomach was ready for more food. Yoghurt ice cream with fresh fruit is my favorite while hubby always chooses chocolate and nothing but chocolate ice cream preferably with some chocolate sauce on top. Good thing that almost every German town has an Italian ice cream parlor and definitely a good selection of bakeries.
topped with sunflower or pumpkin seeds and loaded them with Parma ham or dry salami. Scrumptious fruit tarts were bought but had to wait for a later consumption. There was room, however, for a few Rumkugeln, (a type of chocolate that is rum flavored). 

This experience on our first day was almost compensation enough already for all the preparations we had to do in weeks coming up to this trip. And a home swap does require a lot of organization and preparation in advance. Having people come to stay in our home, our home owner’s pride takes over and makes us spruce up the house, even clean corners that otherwise stay untouched for months. If you go away for a while, you need to prep your garden or at least organize somebody to do it in your absence.
Since we have multiple swaps back to back there is even more organization involved: have the house cleaned in between visitors and make sure how they get access to your home. On the other side of the pond we needed to arrange for car rentals and hotels to bridge over between the individual swaps.
Sitting outside in a Biergarten (beer garden)
in the evening sun and eating the first Pfifferlinge (Chanterelles)

of the season, makes it all worth its while and quickly forget the stress we had lately when power washing the porch and doing paint touch-up jobs all around the house.
PS. Tomorrow my son is bringing the long awaited Spargel(white asparagus).No, the green one Does Not compare!