Thursday, July 15, 2010

One Down...Many More To Go!

What a fabulous first home exchange experience I had!  My exchange partners, Di and Bry, were wonderful and have such a lovely home.

I've had so many folks asking about having strangers in my home and living in a stranger's home.  Honestly, by the time we did our exchange, I felt like I was visiting friends' home and them mine...just that neither of us would be home during the visit.  We started emailing and Skyping almost nine months before the exchange, we were sending birthday and Christmas cards to each other and chatting about our daily lives...we beame friends and not just exchange partners.

For those considering a home exchange, I highly recommend it!  I went through Home Exchange as I found them to be the best fit for me.  They have great resources to help you through the process as well as providing a Lloyd's of London policy and trip cancellation insurance.  I recommend taking the approach Di, Bry and I did and that was emailing for a while to make sure we felt like it was a good match.  Skype video calls are a great way to get more comfortable with each other and you can see first hand the home available for exchange.

As it got closer to our exchange, I began getting my home ready for my guests.  I emptied one chest of drawers and made room in my closet for them...can't feel like a local if you're living out of a suitcase, right?  Both Di and I put together a book on our homes and some of the little quirks each has...this is especially helpful if you're doing an exchange in a different country.  We also collected brochures for area attractions and provided each other with a list of important/emergency phone my case, I also provide information regarding hurricane prepareness as we were exchanging during hurricane season.

A home exchange doesn't just have to be an extended stay in another country like mine.  You can also do a long weekend or extended stay right here in the States.  A more local exchange might be a good way to get your feet wet if you're considering home exchange.  I've received a few exchange requests from folks in the mountains looking to come to the coast for a long weekend.

I've been asked if I would do another exchange and my answer is "oh most definitely"!  Ireland, Australia and Italy are just a few of the places on my list...who knows where I'll end up.  The world is your oyster...just get out there and explore!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Old Stomping Grounds

In the Fall of 1987, I spent 3 months in London with 39 other Connies at The Montague Hotel while studying English lit, art, history and life in general.  While doing a search of hotels for a client, I discovered our old home underwent a major renovation and was now a MUCH nicer hotel now so of course I had to stop by and see the joint (and it was a joint at the time).

They still have the same tiny lift!

Swedenborg Hall
(our classroom)

English Road Signs

Just a few random signs we saw along the way.
Not a sign that inspires a great deal of confidence!


London - one last look

Our last full day in London was an action packed day.  After breakfast at a little cafe, we headed over to Buckingham Palace to see the Changing of the Guard...just us and a few thousand others.

The New Guard

The Old Guard


The rumors about the financials woes of the Royals are apparently true as it seems even the Queen is trying to save money on the electric bill and turned off the a/c...notice the open windows on the palace.  Maybe that's why they charge almost £30 to tour the palace!

After a morning at Buckingham Palace (no Queen as the Union Jack not her standard was flying), we headed through Green Park to the Wellington Arch en route to Hyde Park.

We made our way through Hyde Park to Speakers Corner...Sunday is the day to head down there.  But first, we grabbed a sandwich and found a seat at Marble Arch to do some people watching as we were starving by this point...and there was lots of great people watching!  After lunch, we headed over to Speakers Corner and the cuckoos were out in full force just ranting and raving about everything and nothing at all.

Next stop was the hotel so Daddy could rest and Moma and I could make a final run on Boots (like CVS)...finally after searching all over the States, we found some Dr. Scholl's for Moma's poor little feet in England!  We had a final tea (but this time with chocolate cake) and a little more walking (because gosh knows we didn't walk enough the past 3 weeks!) around before heading back to get Daddy.

We wanted to visit St. Paul's Cathedral but the thought of paying £12 to visit a church seemed a bit much.  I was thrilled to find out that while the church was closed for sightseeing on Sundays, it was open to those that wanted to worship...for free.  So off to evening services we went...a very nice service and we were able to walk around the church after the service...bonus!  Moma said the cathedral was definitely one of the trip highlights for her.

After walking for what seemed like to France in the underground between 2 stops, we finally arrived at Tower Hill.  Before the Ceremony of the Keys, we had dinner at Bodean's...had to see how the English do pulled pork...must say,they do a pretty good job!  We popped into a pub and had a Pimm's while watching a little of the World Cup...boy the Brits do love their football!!

The Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London was fabulous!!  Unfortunately due to security reasons, they don't allow any photographs.  I did manage to sneak a picture of Alan our Yeoman before he opened the gates.  It was pretty cool to be inside the Tower after it was locked up for the night...we had to leave through 2 small doors at the end of the ceremony. 

The Ceremony of the Keys has taken place every night without fail since the late 1200's...even took place during the Blitz of World War II.  The whole ceremony takes about 45 minutes and definitely something I recommend.  Tickets are free but they only permit about 30 people and you have to apply for tickets in advance.  Click here for the link to learn more about the ceremony and requesting tickets.