A few years back on my old blog I wrote a little post about home exchange. It was an idea made more mainstream by the movie The Holiday with Cameron Diaz-
Last time I was living in Europe and enjoying my stunning views, central location and comfy modern flat, I began to think about how to stretch my vacation budget to enjoy seeing more of the world. I also wanted to share all the goodness I was experiencing and didn’t have much company come from the states, so I signed up for a home exchange website offering to swap homes or host people in exchange for the same benefit in their location. We had a great experience- and then our stint in Europe was over and we were living back in the states, having babies, building houses, too busy for long vacations. I just never really pursued it anymore.
But now that we are back in Europe I signed up as soon as we bought a sofa. We didn’t have any luck finding an exchange last summer in the South of France. I think most Europeans seem to plan their holidays a year in advance?! However in mid December some last minute Italians contacted me from Milan and proposed a swap. Spartacus was off work at New Years and perhaps the post-Christmas sales in Milan would be worth a drive? I grew up knowing very little about European history. This is a disadvantage when touring Europe. I believe it’s true for most Americans*** (history majors, international studies majors aside), we are lucky to get the highlights in a western civilization class. Usually that includes a little something about the Italians (Roman Empire ring any bells?). We grow up admiring (sort of worshiping) Italian culture, the beautiful people, the food, pictures of the countryside, their effortless style, those accents- mama mia! So basically anytime I get a chance to go to Italy the answer is yes! We agreed and began exchanging emails about things to do in our prospective areas. The swap went fine and we arrived in Milan to a clean comfortable flat near the center of the city.
Milan is a juxtaposition of modern and ancient at every-turn- maybe this is true for all of Europe. Here you see the “time-square-esque screen hanging off the Duomo cathedral scaffolding. Our guide said she has never seen the Cathedral free of scaffolding as they are constantly cleaning or making repairs.
Last week Milan was wet and cold, we made the best of it everyday and walked through the bad weather like soldiers. On our first day we hit the shops and realized that the big sales started on the day we were scheduled to leave. I exchanged emails with our host family and proposed and extension- they countered with a better idea: we stay and they come home as scheduled and have dinner with us, spending the night in the apartment above us which belonged to The mother-in-law.What an exciting opportunity! Sales and a culinary class on Italian artichokes in one day!?! Can I tell you that this was the absolute best part of the trip!
Duomo, Scalla ticket (unfortunately we did not go to the opera- just toured the famous theater), part of the covered street known as the “gallery- worlds oldest shopping mall”- isn’t the glass ceiling beautiful?!
We got some good deals on cute fall clothes for next year, that will likely get used all year, since the weather in Switzerland accommodates for long sleeves and jeans most of the time. We enjoyed learning about the history, seeing the local landmarks, and taste-testing our way through the pastry shops. The kids liked the Metro and The Science and Technology Museum (more on that later). But the best part was the last evening when we all cooked and ate and chatted and shared our culture and history and friendship. Its an amazing, magical and strange kinda thing to meet someone and hours later feel as though you’ve know each other for much longer- it’s only happened to me a few times in my life and I suspect many people are lucky to ever feel those kind of connections.
All week I have been talking about our exchange and the good fortune of meeting are new friends. Most people seem fascinated at the idea but of the opinion that it’s not for them? I guess I understand their reluctance- their are risk involved. For us though it is worth it, especially because I just experienced something sooo good! I mean the swap itself is a great way to save money and stay somewhere really comfortable, but to meet new friends is such a bonus and to share local tips enhances and simplifies the the travel experience. A real Italian family shared vacation tips to “little known” Italian islands and quite sea-side villages, they shared artichoke preparation and recipes that have been cooked in the family for generations. Where else are you going to get this kind of authentic, and genuine experience? Silvia is a gallery owner and mom to their sweet little boy. Claudio is an architect/artist– a very good one. We watched him with complete awe instantly sketch perfect drawings with the kids and diagrams and maps for us.
I am really happy we met their family. They are so open and willing to embrace friendship and opportunity instantly. Life can be such a pleasure!!!
When we arrived back at are sparkly clean flat, we discovered a welcome 3 foot tall puss-in-boots welcome home sign on the wipe-off-board, and this waiting to be devoured!
Would you do a holiday swap? Where would you want to go? If not, what about the process is a turn-off? I would love your opinions- dying to hear why most people don’t do it?!
*** DISCLAIMER- I know mass generalizations have been applied, I am aware that the American school system churns our many great minds every year. After all, It has provided me a whole brain full of genius-ness. I know there are even smarter people than myself who have enjoyed the luxury of travel and have studied the worlds cultures at a young age; I am sure they know all about the bust in the lobby of the Scalla Theater or the multicultural rulers of the Milan Dukedom for centuries… but I didn’t and most people who read this blog don’t either.