Swapping Homes Anybody?


Monday, October 3, 2016

The Ultimate Guide to Home Swapping

Season 6 is now out and available summing up all our experience gathered over the years.
Where this blog ends, my new eBook starts giving your the real countdown for a successful home exchange:

Available for only $0.99 on Amazon. Treat yourself to an exciting trip to Europe from your armchair and pick up all the tips you need for a successful home swap. Happy travels!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Good Advice for Home Swaps

Glad to be at home after almost three months although we only had outstanding exchanges!
How otherwise would you be able to afford such an extended trip to Europe?

The house is still standing and in very good condition. One one occasion we had to sweep the garage first from sand, find pots and pans that had been rearranged in the kitchen. This year, we had nothing of that sort and are still in touch with our exchange partners; even met up with the ones we exchanged with 3 years ago. Elisabeth, that was her name, even started a blog about her experience. So if you want to hear a second opinion, go to her website on Facebook.

Every year you learn something new or you take away an idea from one of the houses that you are staying in. We were so impressed by the garden decorations in Luxembourg that we're already looking to implement such a mirror here as well.

From the start, I advised to have an owner's closet where you can put away precious heirlooms etc. Since we downsized to this smaller home we have to lock away these items elsewhere. Note to self: As you are getting older, my dear, do write down where you hid what! It seems such a trivial piece of advice but I'm still looking for my favorite little ornaments, a set of 5 sheep that I hid last year...

We learned this summer that it is wonderful to meet up with the prospective exchange partners. We do not necessarily want to stay in the same house with them, however. We prefer to meet them and then are prepared to spend the night in a hotel. When the Buckleys arrive with all their luggage for 3 months, it always feels like we're moving in and crowding in on the others. And in spite of their house description, there may not be sufficient beds for everybody when couples are used to sleep in separate beds. Sounds like a very intimate detail, but better be practical about it. 

I also took away from this trip that I really want a cleaner abroad. Otherwise I just end up doing chores like at home. And also find a different cleaner here who is willing to do our house on a Saturday. The femme de menage in Luxembourg even came in on a Sunday morning to do the necessary after we left.
What was important to us and proved invaluable again is having our mail sent to a private company in TX by the US postal office instead of it just being held there. We could screen the mail that had arrived there, either have it scanned in or sent to us in Europe. The convenience of the whole process  is worth considering the fees.

A nice thank you card and letters by all of them made our day on our return. They all really enjoyed our house and Florida in the summer.
We are ready to plan for next year. We've already had enquiries for 2017. Why not plan a long weekend in the meantime here in the States? We are going to renew our membership. I just found out that we'll get that reduced rate of $89 again...

Friday, August 26, 2016

Vianden/ Luxembourg - a real fortified castle

An absolute must see in Luxembourg are the various castles. Go and see the Grand Dukes Palace in the city center. The Royal family lives there most of the year and only opens up their home, the first two floors that is, during the summer months.
I'd like to highlight the one in Vianden which is situated in the north-east of the state of Luxembourg; about an hour's drive away from the capital. Do take the country roads Breezing along on a beautiful day in our convertible was such fun!
A cute little town with less than 2,000  people, it has a magnificent "working" castle; not just a ruin.
Set on a rock promontory, its history dates back to the 10th century combining several architectural styles: Romanesque and Gothic. The history of it is too complex to be described here. If interested, look it up on Wikipedia.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vianden_Castle. In short, it was damaged over the centuries and almost destroyed in the Second World War only to be restored in the seventies.

It is a fun place to visit, especially for children. By working castle I mean not only can it be toured but you can also see actors in historical gear parading the grounds and enacting "battles". It sits on top of a hill and then it is still a steep climb up to the castle itself.
The town itself was very sleepy when we were there. Most restaurants closed between 3-6pm for one restaurant located at the bridge from where we had a smashing view f the river , castle and hills.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Home, Sweet Home!

After almost three months we were ready to go home. Too much of a good thing...or so as the old saying goes. The trip back from Luxembourg  was pretty uneventful, only extremely tiring; but you Atlantic hoppers know that. One experience, however, was new to me and that was being able to use the internet while in the air and post on Facebook. The pics were too good to go unposted.
Clouds are just clouds, but impressive every time to see them from above.

This is Cape Cod hubby suggested.
We had good seats in Delta's new comfort area. Since hubby retired, business class is out of reach.so instead of the famous Fillet Mignon Delta usually offers up front, we had this. Edibly. I thought food in Delta's cabin class was improving. With my own monitor I was able to watch three films in a row that interested me. Between those and Facebooking, nine hours weren't too bad.

I will continue you to post a little about our remaining adventures in Luxembourg from home. As usual, towards the end there will be some tips for successful home-swapping.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Beim Siggy

Count Siegfried, the first Count from Trier who built his castle here on one of the many promontories on the Luxembourg plateaus, was mentioned before.
What a surprise to see a restaurant by that name. "Beim" simply means "chez"; alors, we had to make a pilgrimage there. Actually, we found it by chance driving by. It's situated just past the casemates, still on the Bock.
Siggy is an abbreviation even nowadays for male or female names alike which are difficult yp ponounce for non-German speaker" Sieglinde, Sigurd, Sigismund, Sigrid and Sigrun.If you have read my Irish farm book, you know what I'm going to mention now: That my housekeeper asked me whether all Germans were called Siggy because there were several in and around the town of Killlaoe where we lived.
Food always features highly on our trips as well as views from restaurants; hence the emphasis I put on Burg/castle restaurants so far. The prices at Siggy's are reasonable. A yardstick for prices is always the steak for hubby. A superb fillet mignon was well-priced at EUR 27. I had a huge salad with baked brie and a big portion of charturie of antipasti at EUR 18. The view on a sunny day from their terrace: priceless!
To our surprise, our home exchange partners had never been there. Maybe know that they know a Siggy who gave it  a personal recommendation.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

What are Casemates?

A UNESCO World Heritage site! The Bock casemates are is famous historical site and part of the fortifications in Luxembourg city, the city itself is also called the Gibraltar of the north. It was here that Count Siegfried from Trier (now Germany) built his castle first in 963.
Full of mystery, if only they could talk-- they would reveal gloomy stories of long ago when Luxembourg was the most envied fortification in Europe.
The word is derived from the Greek "chasma(ta" meaning chasm. It is a "bomb-proof" vaulted room situated in the actual body of the works leading to one or more embrasures or intended to accommodate  troops and equipment.

The interior had a spiral staircase with worn stairs hewn out of rock that reminded me of the narrow spiral staircases at Bunratty Castle in Ireland; hard enough to climb, tricky to navigate when you encounter traffic coming down.
Another set of casemates, even a hundred years older, The Petrusse Casemates, were currently closed for renovation.
Several legends tell the story of Siegfried's wife, Melusine. Allegedly, she was locked up in the Bock, knitting to pass the time and only doing one stitch a year. Another legend claims she was a mermaid and when Siegfried found out one day, she disappeared into the Petrusse only to come back every seven years and taking several people with her.
Here's a glimpse down her well, 47 m deep!

Nice and cool on a hot day, it's hard to imagine how people lived here during times of sieges. Visiting is a pure delight for children: knights, dungeons, canons...

Monday, August 15, 2016

Visitors Allowed

We had a long weekend here in Luxembourg, today being the Day of the Assumption of the Holy Mary. Luxembourg is a predominantly Catholic country. It became Catholic by a fluke of nature. The protestant Grand Duke William IV married a Portuguese woman, the Infanta Anne Maria, who was Catholic. He promised her that all their sons would be Protestant and all their daughters Catholic. Then they had six children- all girls. As a result the succession to the throne had to be changed so that girls could become the ruler (1907). Since then Luxembourg has remained Catholic.

My best friend and her husband came to visit from Germany, only a little of three hours up the road. That is one of the benefits of home swapping: you can agree with your exchange partners to have visitors. Their names and duration of the stay will be entered in the exchange agreement beforehand so that nobody runs a surprise B& B in your house. Our first swap partners this year, the people from Berlin, had their daughter who lives in New York visit them for two weeks in our abode.
This clause makes home swapping even more attractive and is one of the reasons we choose to go to Germany or a neighboring country so that family of friends can easily visit us.

Temperatures were in the low eighties.Together we walked the now familiar streets, saw the fortifications and also did a road trip in the convertible to nearby Echternach, the oldest town in Luxembourg. Its history goes back for more than 1,000 years. The remains of a Roman villa proved to be very interesting as well as the basilica that was visited by John Paul II in 1985. The Basilica St. Willibrord, the patron Saint of Luxembourg, houses his remains in the crypt in a white sarcophagus.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

We Have Arrived!

 Well, at least in Luxembourg at our third and last destination of this summer's trip. Riding around in a beetle convertible -- an experience I haven't had in ten years since I sold my Mustang. It was just too hot in Florida to drive around with the sunny scorching down on you most of the time. And too small a car for my 6'6'' tall son who only sling himself in diagonally with the top down. Let's see what the Lux weather has to offer. And it is blue-- my color!
 Our home away from home is a turn of the century (Art Deco style) villa on 3 levels, with eight foot high ceilings and many stairs to climb in between. Well, that will be our keep fit every day. The morning room as they call it in England., the wintergarden in Germany where we have our meals.
 The stylish fireplace won't be used in the summer but makes for a cozy corner.
And here is the rest of the living room, not showing the big TV as it is on the right hand sight.
The walled in  or secret garden reminds me of the one I had in Dublin. Somebody here loves gardening, has the ideas for it, and also the green thumbs apparently. We don't mind mowing the beach towel size lawn once or twice.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Little Switzerland

Our third and last destination for this summer is the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. It is one of the smallest sovereign states in Europe bordering on Belgium, France and Germany. The size of Rhode Island, it has a total population of just over half a million people. Half of them are foreigners who work and live here. The country is nicknamed "Little Switzerland"; rocky gorges in the northeastern Mullerthal region, the dense forests of the Ardennes and its beautiful Moselle river make for a very picturesque landscape. Its capital is Luxembourg City. 
Luxembourg was a founding member of the European Union, OECD, NATO, and the United Nations. Children in primary school learn French and German and the real natives speak the original Luxembourgish, a Frankonian dialect of the Moselle region. Not everybody speaks English, however, in contrast to many other European countries, but often another additional language,e.g., Portuguese, depending on a person's migrational background.
Luxembourg is the site of the European Court of Justice, the European Court of Auditors, the Statistical Office of the European Communities ("Eurostat") and other vital EU organs. The Secretariat of the European Parliament is located in Luxembourg, but the Parliament usually meets in Brussels and sometimes in Strasbourg.
Luxembourg's history is impressive. Going back over a 1,000 years, many countries tried to conquer this tiny place. At some stage it belonged to Holland, Spain, Burgundy and Prussia. An independent state since the London Treaty in 1839, after the Napoleonic wars, its royal family is part of the house of Nassau. Given its rich history, there is so much to see to keep you interested for a while.
If we run out of sightseeing or archaeological spots, as a home swapper you can just enjoying living like the locals.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Lucerne - a gem on Lake Vierwaldstaettersee

An hour's drive south on the motorway from Basel you will reach the beautiful city of Lucerne. The same distance would have taken us to Zurich, also situated on a big lake or to the capital of Switzerland, Bern. And it's an easy drive, the speed limit never higher than 90 km/h. I had seen Lucerne last about 20 years ago when I had fallen in love with it. You often see snow capped mountains around it and it's a good starting point for a trip into the ski resorts.

The outskirts looked a little neglected, but the historic city center didn't fail to impress us.
Located on the scenic Lake "Vierwaltstaettersee", surrounded by mountains, it's a true historic gem.
Best known of all the popular sites in its colorful Old Town is the iconic covered bridge, Kapellbruecke, a wooden footbridge built in 1333 with famous 17th century paintings. It spans the Reuss River and is 204 m long.  It is the world's oldest surviving truss bridge as well as the symbol of Lucerne.

 The paintings illustrate local and historic Swiss life as well as the biographies of the city's patron saints, St. Leodegar and St. Maurice.

Lucerne seemed to be very popular with Asian tourists judging form the arriving busloads. The day began dull and I was hoping to get through the city on dry feet, but we had to buy an overpriced umbrella: almost $25. Restaurant prices here were just as high as in Basel; no surprise there. A sirloin steak cost about $39 and a fillet or lamb rack easily $50.
My other destination would have been a funicular ride up to the Mount Pilatus (over 2,000m high), the local mountain and a lake cruise the way I was shown these many years ago b a dear Swiss friend. 
The Pilatus railway is a mountain railway in Switzerland and is the steepest rack railway in the world, with a maximum gradient of 48% and an average gradient of 35%.. But by early afternoon the rain came down so heavily that we were glad to  be back to the car.

As we didn't make it up there, I had to use this stock photo.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Basel Triangle

We just love the location of our second swap in Badenia which we had to vacate after three weeks, close to the so-called triangle of Switzerland, France and Germany. We've visited here now for several years in a  row and can highly recommend it, especially if you are a foodie and love scenic hillsides. It's situated in the south-western corner of Germany, which has the mildest climate, btw.

A short hop to Switzerland was on the cards now as we had already explored the French side of the border last year. Basel is the closest city in Switzerland when you cross the border. No matter whether you go for one day or longer, you have to pay the road tax of 42 Swiss franks for a whole year (Swiss Franks at the moment almost equal the US $). A burger, on average, sets you back by $18 and a pizza also by about $20. No surprise there; I had paid $5.50 for a glass of tea in a touristy spot in Switzerland about 20 years ago.
Honestly, this German speaking part of the country is very similar to Germany-- only prices jump up! For food, clothes and certainly hotels. But hubby wanted to get an impression too and visit some places I had seen and liked before.
So Basel it was. The weather gods were smiling down on us as we strolled along the embankment of the Rhine which has a strong current here so close to its origin. We visited the famous Waterfall of Schaffhausen of Father Rhine two years ago. Definitely worth a trip to see!
We were flabbergasted when we saw girls in their bikinis on the promenade. To our surprise, people went swimming in the river. You really had to be a good swimmer and a diver to be so adventurous. Mostly young swimmers, equipped with a plastic bag that holds their clothes, had the guts to go in.

For us it was excitement enough to cross the river in a small ferryboat and climb several dozens of stairs to the historic upper part of town.
Chris de Burgh's song came to mind: "Don't pay the ferryman...until he gets you to the other side."." We felt brave just doing that.s

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Pics from a lover of German castles

We had really hot weather for most of the time in Baden-Baden. The fan we had purchased online and had shipped to our first exchange home really came in handy. Before I continue with our trip to Luxembourg via Switzerland- yes it's a an odd, circuitry road- I'm sharing a few more pics. Tell me if you like what you have seen so far! The first four pics were taken in Potsdam.a cute little town with lots of history.


And a few more castles . Did I mention that hubby likes archaeological digs, history, castle ruins etc?

Off to Switzerland now.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Hiking through "Hell"

Do you like hiking? Walking- whatever you call it. In Germany you are in the right place for it. I like forests and waterfalls as well as scenic landscapes as you can tell from my photos. As long as it is not too strenuous to get there.
The climb to Gaishoelle took us by surprise. Gais means goat and Hoelle means hell. In the old days, when there was no path cut out, humans had to jump like a goat across the gorges and that meant hell for many. Hence the name.

It didn't look that hard on the map: 800 m aren't that long, The path was well prepared and maintained; 15 bridges and steps helped the hiker to conquer the difference in altitude.

Funnily enough, all the people coming down that we encountered were all smiles or whistling. Locations like this tell immediately how fit you are are or not...

In spite of the early afternoon heat, the forest provided fresh and cool air. The occasional bench helped, too. The path didn't actually take us to the spring of this waterfall. We felt a little cheated, but we were rewarded with magnificent views and an excellent restaurant offering the well-earned refreshments...and Black Forest Gateau. Hotel and restaurant Bischenberg made its own chocolates by hand and had a full menu to choose from over 50 varieties of chocolates. Their flavors read like descriptions of wines, here's my choice for example, Nr. 18: Queen's Magic: Finest white chocolate, infused with aromas of fruity raspberries and rose petals seduce your palate. A touch of summer tenderly caresses your soul; delicious and simply delivering happiness. Full of natural antioxidants and gluten-free. Quite a mouth full.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Thermal baths: hot or nude?

So what is it about taking the waters in a spa resort like Bade-Baden?
A sip from that famous tap was the reason to go to a spa town for hundreds of years. People believed this water, rich in minerals, had healing qualities. This has been debunked, however, and since 2009 the government of the state of Baden gave up getting an official label for its water to have healing qualities.The famous drinking hall is still there. People still pay for a cup to drink it from. The water itself is free and you can take the cup home as a souvenir. These days it is more about enjoying the hot springs which supply two world famous spas, the Caracalla Spa, a modern facility with lots of glass, and the Friedrichsbad with a tradition of providing a bathing tradition that reaches back over 130 years. In fact, the latter now combines its tradition with hot-air Irish applications.(?)

The basic package costs EUR 25 p.p. Different wellness packages cost different prices. If you add on a massage or peeling etc., you can easily spend EUR 200.

A trip to The Friedrichsbad is modeled around 17 stations of well-being. The ideal route is as follows" shower, warm air, hot air, shower, massage, shower, steam, hot steam, full bath, whirlpool bath,exercise  bath, cold bath, towel down, cream application, relaxation and reading. You slip into another world and take a truly relaxing break.
You can visit the  adjacent Roman baths ruins for an extra EUR 2,50.
The temperature in the Caracalla bath ranges from 18-38. It's recommended not to stay longer in the 38 degree bath for longer than 3x10 minutes. How often do we stay longer in our pools in Florida in the summer when they have reached child bath's temperature, i.e. 38? We sit on the steps and have a drink or make phone calls.
Now to the nudity you all have been waiting for...I walked the planet for decades believing that a thermal bath was just that, a thermal= warm bath. Guidelines in Germany say that a "Therme" has to come from a spring that is over 20 degrees warm and that it is often said to have healing qualities, also because of its high mineral content.
I did not expect nudity. Some years ago, I visited a Thermal Bath that belonged to a big hotel and was shocked to see that everybody-except me- was naked. I had been wondering why I got looks in the changing room when I slipped into my swimsuit. A narrow walkway lead through the whole bath area and different pool full if naked people. I felt like I was the naked one and being stared at- not the naked people who were in the water ogling every newcomer. To be honest, the clientele were mostly older men and some dubious looking young women. I walked that path like on ice, embarrassed and hastened back to the changing room. Why did you leave so early? I had not expected nudity. I even complained to the hotel manager who claimed that everybody knew that thermal bath means nudity. Not in my books and from my knowledge of old Greek.

Now, after Baden-Baden, I stand corrected. Looking up the difference between the two spas and pondering which one to go to, hubby found out online, that Caracalla you may visit in a swimsuit whereas Friedrichsbad requires you shedding your clothes. Better to find out online...
Another little tidbit: Germans generally visit the sauna naked, just with a towel to sit on.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Picture Book Village

A little village, just 5 km away, is picturesque Sasbachwalden. Almost every house a B& B or hotel that could be taken straight from a fairy tale story book. Surrounded by vineyards like our own town, Ottersweier, the countryside is ideal for hikers and bikers.
Remember, Hansel and Gretel? Here is the gingerbread house the nasty witch lured them into. Well, almost!

We had dinner there, nice,if a little overpriced. no wonder, prices were high; the village was teaming with tourists, primarily French. As it was very hot, in the high 90s, we didn't linger much longer but proceeded to the public swimming pool or Schwimmbad. The main attraction was a high slide/ Busloads of little French children were roaming around freely and enjoying their vacation and the water.

Some more impressions from Sasbachwalden.

As you can see the blooming of  the hollyhocks was almost over.
Mine at home just didn't want to flower for me. I picked a few ripe seeds. I often do that and smuggle them in my suitcase. A little souvenir from home.
We went back to that village several times; once started a rather strenuous hike there up towards a waterfall. More about next time!
Auf Wiedersehen!