Swapping Homes Anybody?


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.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Hortus Botanicus & Elizabeth Gilbert

Hubby and I had just finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert's book : The Signature of all Things from from the # 1 New York Times bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love and Committed.
Not a book I would typically read but he convinced me and I found it unputdownable in its archaic language and old-fashioned ways. The material matter can be a bit lengthy at times, but that serves a purpose and we both found ourselves totally enthralled. The next day, last Sunday in Amsterdam we made our way downtown via several trams in lashing rain to the Hortus Botanicus where the story starts and ends. We even persuaded the lady who sold the tickets who hadn't read it to stick to it and persevere...
The horticultural aspect of the 375 year old institution that once played a major role in the botanical world, competing with Kew Gardens, was underwhelming, to say the least.. Maybe it just wasn't the best time of years for abundant flowers.Lots of beds were overgrown, however, or flattened by the persisting rain of the previous week.
The Orangery or Palm House was a gem of a coffee shop where a jazz band entertained the punters. Another gem we found outside was this lily. Well worth the trip if you bring a brollie and wellies!
And...read the book!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Iceman Cometh...

Spent the last 3 days meandering down to Bodensee (See big picture on top of this page). Meeting friends and having a glimpse at Heidelberg where many a person "lost their heart".

The weather is so unstable, wet & cold and our woollies were hidden deep in one of the 4 suitcases. It's a long drive down south. The thermometer on the car showed the outside temperature between 10-14 degrees Celsius.It feels lore like late fall than summer; forecast not convincing either.
We lit wood burning stove in our "new home", a god-sent.
After this morning's heavy rain had stopped we heard a chime of a van. Neighbors kids told me: The Ice cream man. How appropriate: The Iceman Cometh...!
A neighboring old farmhouse has a stork's nest on its roof.Something I haven't seen since my child hood.
There are two more blogposts about Holland I'd like to post when I get a breather. Our Dutch exchangers posted the most wonderful photos from Florida, pool, sea, sun...generally having a good time.I'm glad they liked it!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

On the Road Again

As our stay in Amsterdam comes to an end, we had to pick up a rental car at Schiphol, Amsterdam Airport.We passed a memorial chapel for victims of light MH17, unexpectedly which send shivers down our spines.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Van Gogh Museum

A must - you would say when in Amsterdam. I'm not the most motivated museum goer and Van Gogh is not my most revered painter. Having said that, we felt it was de rigeuer...
The first hurdle of getting tickets is easily overcome by buying them online. You can even choose a specific hour of the day you'd like to be admitted. How whole families with little children queue outside, rain or shine, beats me if there is an easier way.
Spoiler alert: Most of his hardhitters, the most famous pictures were not there!
Sunflowers yes, Starry nights, THE self-portrait: NO! They are in NY or in another museum in a different part of the world.
Every hour they let in about 100 people who then move slowly past the pictures on 3 floors. The audio guide, however, only comments on about 9 pictures out of the 30 or more on the ground floor. We saw 3 other self-portraits by the master himself which were not honored by any explanation. How many did he draw?
If you're interested more in his artistic development and have techniques explained, then you won't be disappointed.
Friday night, unfortunately, was also the time for musical entertainment for the visitors.The group was substandard- sorry, but loud. So loud in fact, we had to give up on our audio guide system.
I liked the museum shop best. A very tasteful collection of many different touristy, even useful gifts arranged according to the predominant colors Van Gogh used: yellow bags, red purses, blue ipad cased for example.
Another area for improvement is the locker room / hand in your coats etc.. Two lonely if busy bees tried to efficiently handle the crowds. From one line to the next: Security check point afterwards. If some bad guy wanted to do harm, he can easily hand in his bomb with his backpack in the locker room and not try to bring it through the scanners.
As the whole outing cost a bomb, I admit we were disappointed.
This picture was obviously taken on another day as it has practically no visitors and photography is forbidden!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

You've got Mail!

What do you do with your mail when you leave the country for a number of weeks? USPS offers a hold your mail service which you can organize online.
But what if you are expecting important communications and would like to get them? USPS will forward it temporarily anywhere on US territory. But what do  you do if you venture further afield?
As we found out, there is a private service which will expedite it to you anywhere in the world--for a fee.
It may be essential if you go away for 2-3 months as we do. That company is reliable if not cheap.
We did have problems, however, with USPS. Our neighbors informed us in previous years that our mail box was overflowing. We had to call the sorting office to remind them of our request which they should have on file. Yes, they were going to remind the mail carrier...
This year, we handed a copy of our request over to thepost lady personally. In spite of this, things have gone terribly wrong for almost 3 weeks.We had fallen victim to a spammer instead of the Texas based company we have been dealing with for a couple for years. As of today, everything looks good!One thing less to worry about....
A local statue. She looks like a farmer's wife, doesn't she? Or just a woman in old-fashioned garb?

Friday, August 8, 2014

Live Like the Locals

Home swappings gives you a taste of what it is really like to live in a country. You can live like the locals, go to their markets, eat the local food, enjoy restaurants your swapping partners recommend, walk in their parks and drive around in their cars. We almost zip around on our bicycles like the Dutch although we don't enjoy it in the rain.
You get the best feel for a country if you travel this way. Here are some pics from our neighborhood which offers a wild life reserve  and several parks.
                                                                         A Dutch duplex!
There are also curios like this.(De gustibus non est disputandum). Probably not politically correct for most people, but tolerated here:
Some community art project came up with this beauty.

And another really nice nature shot that hubby took in one of the parks:

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Old World Charm in Holland--still there!

With the weather being so beautiful we decided to make a trip to the seaside. Last year we had visited Zandfoort several times; now a friend recommended Noordwijk. Once we had found the right one on the car's GPS, we were almost there (40km).

There was a strong cold breeze coming from the sea so that we agreed to skip our beach experience and drove on to Leiden, a mere 10km away.

A city of about 130,000 inhabitants, it houses Holland's oldest university, founded in 1575. I was  hoping to see some of the old buildings, -like when we watch a show about Inspector Morse, playing in Oxford- but all we saw driving  along were modern concrete buildings.

The town center was hard to find due to some missing directions and the navvy (GPS) sent us around the block several times. We parked in a area reserved for residents so that we felt under pressure not too linger to long. A cute little center with all these picturesque "Grachten" like in many other towns and a windmill museum:

 An American Pilgrim's Museum only consists of 2 rooms, but the curator is a very knowledgeable guy who explains everything very well. There is also a hotel "Mayflower" and Museum Boerhaave, the Dutch National Museum for Science and Medicine. If we had had more time we could have gone on a boats tour around the city's Grachten (canals). Maybe we should go back; there is so much to see!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

German Engineering in Holland

When abroad one always needs to learn a few new tricks. Especially appliances need some explanations. So we grateful for the lovely manual our swapping partners prepared for us. We usually do the same.
So what have we got here? A Miele tower. In the middle is our coffeemaker. We even got it to work after reading the manual which is thankfully in English.We even managed the difficult part of decalcifying that gadget which was necessary of course on day 2 or 3.Murphy's Law!

At the bottom is a little oven, similar to our little guy at home. And at the top? A CD Player or an old-fashioned record play? Hardly made by Miele. It's a pressure cooker that I haven't even dared to open yet. Next to it is the fridge. European houses often have a freezer separately. In this house it's next door. In some houses it was 2 levels down in the basement. And most don't have an ice maker. So we travel with our own ice cube maker, prepared! Washer and dryer as well as the hoover are German products, so I have no problems there.
We would have overlooked this if it hadn't been pointed out to us by friends of the home owners who gave us the grand tour. It's a recessed outlet which can do a disappearing act as the touch of a hand.Very practical! Why don't we have that in the US? But why is a garbage disposal absolutely unheard of in Europe? We live in hope!

How does the idea of an extra tap strike you that spouts boiling water in your sink? I make my tea that way instead of using a kettle.Very useful!