Home Swaps: Visiting Scotland Without the Expense
We have just returned from two amazing weeks spent in Barcelona, Spain. We enjoyed the comfort of a family home during our stay and on our return were welcomed back to our home with a bottle of wine and a box of chocolates, our house all neat and tidy (not like we normally leave it before we go on holiday). And the best thing of all? all in the holiday probably cost us around £300 for a family of four!
So let me set the scene; many months ago my wife Amanda was on Facebook and noticed a post by a friend of hers which asked if anyone knew someone who had a house in Edinburgh they would like to swap for a couple of weeks during the Edinburgh festival. An actress who was appearing on the Fringe was looking for accommodation for herself, her husband and her child. In return she was offering her apartment in the fashionable Gracia district of Barcelona. Just a few blocks north of the famous Sagrada Familia church.
Amanda jumped on the idea right away and soon a dialogue began with our ‘swap family’. Amanda and Julie (the actress) ‘friended’ each other on Facebook and began to exchange messages. With the open nature of Facebook both could get a feel for the person who would be living in their home and so a level of trust could be built up. For my part a 12 week intense cycle of DIY activity ensued, fixing all those little things that you never seem to get round to but with a new motivation the jobs were one by one chalked off.
Soon the day came to meet and Julie and her son Charlie came down to our house. We were able to exchange keys, and also to exchange tips and other information on the area both our homes were in; our house is in the Leith part of Edinburgh. Once quite separate it has its own unique identity and culture. With accommodation sorted all we really needed to organise were the flights which we were able to get through one of the bargain airlines.
And then we were off! leaving the grey skies of Scotland behind we landed on a hot and humid evening and after a blurry taxi ride from the airport we were in our new home (for the next two weeks). Finding a cold beer in the fridge for the adults and a room full of toys to keep our children amused it immediately felt like home (except our home doesnt’ have parrots nesting in a palm tree outside the window) Julie had given us a while load of useful information; good places to visit, where the metro and bus stops were, where the best beaches were and even where the nearest supermarket was etc. By lunchtime the next day we were just like locals! While hotels are of course great, they are expensive and in some ways create a ‘bubble’ that keeps you slightly separate from the culture. With no such luxury we were having to find the local markets, engage our very rough Spanish in order to find food and finding the local restaurants.
What made the visit even more special was that Gracia, the district we were living in was a sort of artists quarter and they were having their annual festival at the same time; amazing decorated streets, fireworks and live music on every corner!
Meanwhile in Edinburgh Julie’s family were enjoying the Edinburgh Festival. One of the largest arts festivals in the world, the population of Edinburgh nearly doubles during August and the cost of renting an apartment or a hotel room can run up to over £1,000 just for a week. They had the run of our home, use of our garden (on the few sunny days) and even use of our bikes to explore the city. Our neighbours had been briefed so were there should they need any help so they could just relax and enjoy exploring our amazing historical city.
One other thing that made the timing of the exchange special for us was that our son Harvey celebrated his seventh birthday while we were away. His granny and auntie had given him some Euros for his trip. On his birthday we had a special family day and in the evening he told us it had been the ‘best day he had ever had’ we were both nearly in tears!
When the time finally came to leave we didn’t have the normal ‘out by 10am’ rush and could take our time clearing up and then heading off to the airport. We had a late flight home and so it was close to midnight when we landed home but what a difference arriving to made up beds, milk in the fridge and a box of chocolates on the table!
So after the experience of our first home swap we are already looking at maps and wondering where would be nice for Christmas! For anyone thinking of paying a visit to Scotland a home swap would be a fantastic idea (of course it helps if you live somewhere interesting too) There are lots of internet sites that arrange swaps or like us you could try Facebook; you may not have many Scottish friends there but you never know about friends of friends and beyond, just a few steps out through the wider social network could open up a whole world of possibilities.
While were here does anyone have any friends in Rome, or Paris, or……
We have added a Flickr gallery of images from our trip. you can see them at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/31711899@N08/sets/72157631382795604/Tagged