If your idea of a perfect vacation includes cozying up to a whale or hand-feeding an elk, skip the zoo and head to one of our picks for the top ten places to spot amazing animals in the wild.
Katmai National Park and Preserve
Flickr: PamLink / Creative Commons
Katmai National Park is a challenge to get to; because there are no roads leaden to the park headquarters, visitors must access it by air. However, the protected population of over 2,200 grizzly bears (the largest in the world) makes the journey well worth the effort.
Flickr: haroldlo / Creative Commons
From wallabies and echidnas to sea lions and, of course, kangaroos, this island off the coast of South Australia is the place to go to spot classic Australian mammal life. A quarter of the island is protected by conservation areas, national parks, and wildlife reserves, so there’s no shortage of land to explore.
Flickr: sabel / Creative Commons
Located just 50 miles from Ottawa and 82 miles from Montreal, Parc Omega is a great day trip from either destination. On the safari driving path, you’ll see elk, bears, deer, wolves, and bison, which you can learn more about by tuning in to the park’s radio station. You can also purchase bags of carrots at the gift shop to feed to the friendly elk and deer that will approach your car looking for treats!
Kruger National Park
Flickr: Erik Heidstra / Creative Commons
Kruger National Park is one of Africa’s largest game reserve areas, covering an area of over 7,500 square miles. The park is home to 517 species of birds, 114 species of reptiles, and more mammals than any other African game reserve. Pro tip: visit during the South African winter months of May through September when the grass is low for the best wildlife viewing conditions.
Flickr: Travel Manitoba / Creative Commons
Churchill bills itself as the polar bear capital of the world, and it’s easy to understand why…it might be the best (and most easily accessible) place in the world to see the spectacular predators. October and November are “polar bear season,” when the giants return from their summer habitats to await the annual freeze.
Tortuguero National Park
Flickr: The Expert Vagabond / Creative Commons
Tortuguero National Park might only be accessible by air or water, but that doesn’t stop it from being one of Costa Rica’s most popular wildlife areas. Its 11 distinct ecological habitats makes it an ideal place for a diverse animal population, and the 20-mile-long coastal zone is one of the world’s most important nesting sites for the endangered Green sea turtle.
Chubut Province, Argentina
Flickr: rddyms / Creative Commons
Every year, during the latter half of September, more than 1.5 million Magellanic penguins arrive at Punta Tombo to nest, breed, and raise their chicks. Visitors can walk among the birds, but a strict “no touching” rule is in place to protect both the penguins and humans. Visit in November, after the chicks have hatched, to witness some truly remarkable family life!
Bella Coola Valley
Flickr: Christopher.Michel / Creative Commons
Grizzlies may be Bella Coola’s main attraction but the valley also has an incredible history. The region’s First Nation population dates back 10,000 years, and visitors can take a guided hike to the amazing ancient petroglyphs.
Laguna San Ignacio
Flickr: Leach84 / Creative Commons
Whale watching in Baja California has been described by many as an “emotional experience.” Every year from January to April, gray whales migrate to the warm waters of the San Ignacio Lagoon for the winter. The gentle giants frequently approach boats, even allowing people to pet them. Although the nearest airport is four hours away, San Ignacio is Baja’s best spot for getting up close and personal with these amazing animals.
Northern New Hampshire, USA
Flickr: northeast naturalist / Creative Commons
New Hampshire is home to over 6,000 moose, and driving on Route 3, aka Moose Alley, it might seem like the majority of them live right on the roadway. Starting in the small hamlet of Pittsburg and north to the Canadian border, you’ll pass through the idyllic Great North Woods; it’s an area so remote, you’re likely to see more moose than people.
Have you ever dreamed about traveling around the world in eighty days like the infamous Phileas Fogg? With a little more time but the same amount of wanderlust, HomeExchange.com members Monique and Marcello have decided to go ’round the world in 80 home exchanges…and they are on their 58th so far!
“Our adventure started in 2002, when we promised our nieces and nephews to take them to the States as gift for their 18th birthday. Our first exchange was in summer, in Naples, Florida, with a niece and twin nephews. We preferred to stay in a house in order to know our nieces and nephews a bit better and enjoy our holiday together.”
If you do the math, 58 exchanges in twelve years means 4-5 exchanges per year. And it would be even more if it wasn’t for Marcello’s work; he teaches at Politecnico University in Milan, which limits their available travel time. However, their second home makes non-simultaneous swaps possible.
Among their exciting exchange experiences, they especially remember those in India, Turks and Caicos, Japan, Martha’s Vineyard, New York, Sicily, Berlin, Paris, Morocco, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, China, Zanzibar, Thailand, Australia, and Tasmania. Their list of anecdotes is nearly endless! Thanks to their exchange partners in New York, they got to attend the semi-finals of the US Open in Flushing Meadows featuring Federer vs. Djokovic. In India, their host invited them to the wedding of his son in a traditional Brahmin style wedding. Now, he has become one of their closest friends.
“We toured for 2 weeks around Tasmania in a motorhome as part of our home exchange. We were fascinated by the incredible unspoiled nature.”
What Monique and Marcello like the most about home exchange is meeting new people. They often travel with a couple of friends from California who they met during a home swap in Bangaluru, India.
“We believe that often after a home exchange experience, a strong bond is built between both parties. We have exchanged with New York 5 times. When we travel there, we invite all the home exchange partners from our previous swaps for an Italian dinner. They don’t know each other but the common denominator is that they all lived in our house in Italy for a while and they have plenty of anecdotes to tell about their time in our home.”
Their first exchange was in Florida; their most recent one in Ko Samui, Thailand. So what’s next? Monique says that their choice of destination is dictated by curiosity, quality of living, and atmosphere rather than status (although they’re happy to return to New York and Paris whenever possible!) The intrepid pair already have quite a few plans for 2014: New York in Easter (they have one more niece to introduce to the Big Apple), Ile de Ré in France in June, and Barcelona and Menorca island in late August. That will be four more exchanges soon to be added to the challenge list!
Would you like to be part of Monique and Marcello’s 80 exchange adventure? Follow their home exchange experiences on their blog or send them your inquiry through HomeExchange.com – check out their listing in Lake Como.
The 2014 Winter Olympics have come to a close, and we’re bidding them farewell with a recap of Sochi…by the numbers!
33 Russian medals
Flickr: U.S. Army IMCOM / Creative Commons
28 American medals
Flickr: U.S. Army IMCOM / Creative Commons
26 Norwegian medals
Flickr: Andy Miah / Creative Commons
25 Canadian medals
Flickr: Andy Miah / Creative Commons
12 New competitions held, including team figure skating, women’s ski jumping, and snowboard slopestyle.
Flickr: DennyMont / Creative Commons
88 Nations participated
Flickr: Atos International / Creative Commons
40,000 Spectators at the opening ceremony
Flickr: KOREA.NET – Official page of the Republic of Korea / Creative Commons
14,000 Torch carriers in the relay
Flickr: ricky.montalvo / Creative Commons
3,000 Performers in the opening ceremony
Flickr: U.S. Army IMCOM / Creative Commons
892…891…890… Days until the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio!
Flickr: rafaelsoares / Creative Commons
February 20th is Love Your Pet Day! While we happen to think that every day is worth giving your best furry friend an extra squeeze, we’re taking the opportunity to share some of our Dos and Don’ts of home exchange with your pet. Did you know that there are nearly 17,000 pet-friendly listings on HomeExchange.com? Pack your (pet’s) favorite chew toy and read on!
If you’re bringing your pet with you to your exchange home…
DO bring your own pet food and treats; switching suddenly to a different food can be rough on your pet’s tummy.
DO make sure you know where the cleaning supplies are. Accidents happen!
DO ask what the local leash laws are. You certainly don’t want to be fined while you’re on vacation!
DO find out if your exchange partners prefer your pet not jump on certain furniture or enter certain rooms.
DO bring a copy of your pet’s vaccination records.
DON’T leave your pet alone in a new home too quickly; make sure they’re comfortable in the new environment before making any day trips.
If your exchange partner will be caring for your pet (or vice versa)…
DO leave detailed information such as feeding schedule, vet phone number and address, and list of any allergies or medical conditions.
DO adhere to your exchange partner’s dog-walking or litter box-cleaning schedule.
DO treat your exchange partner’s pet with as much love and affection as you would give your own.
DO leave a well-worn sweatshirt or blanket behind for your pet to snuggle in. They’ll find the smell comforting while you’re away.
DON’T feed your exchange partner’s pet anything that isn’t specified, like table scraps. Be strong and resist the puppy eyes!
DON’T let your exchange partner’s dog off-leash unless you’re in an enclosed area or dog park (and always check with your exchange partner before introducing their pet to other animals). Similarly, don’t let your exchange partner’s cat outside unless you’ve been told it’s okay.
DON’T agree to care for your exchange partner’s pet if you might be taking overnight trips away from your exchange home (unless they say it’s okay to leave their pet for the day).
DON’T worry too much! Your furry (or feathered or scaly) friends will be much happier in their own home with their new friends than they would be staying at a kennel. And they’ll be oh-so-happy to see you when you return home.
Do you have any tips for exchanging with your pet? Let us know in the comments!
If you are hooked on running, keep on reading! After reading about Rafa’s experience, you will want to sign up for “funning” instead and travel to every marathon in the world. Meet Rafa, a journalist, marathon runner, and HomeExchange.com member.
Rafa’s first trip to New York in 2007 coincided with the NYC Marathon and he says, “it was love at first sight. It amazed me how many stories I saw concentrated in that race.” Rafa had never run a race before, but that day he decided to join the sport and hasn’t stopped running since. The following year, there he was in the starting line, and he didn’t stop after just one… in fact, he’s participated in a total of six marathons in New York, Berlin, and Boston.
To Rafa, home exchange is a great option for runners “not just economically, but also because you can exchange a house with other people who share the same interests and like to run. Plus, your exchange partners can recommend you running routes to get to know the city better. It’s a great thing for those of us who like running.”
Tip: Make sure to include your running recommendations in your city guide for the your next exchange partners! Check out how many Home Exchange members have indicated in their profiles that they are fans of running or that their neighborhood is an ideal place to do it.
When we asked Rafa for some advice for new runners, he told us you should always enjoy what you are doing, have fun, and try “funning” instead, a term he has coined in order to emphasize the enjoyment of sports, rather than competition. “Going outside with your sneakers is, and will always be, a leisure activity, therefore it should be always something fun. Let’s have fun!”
Besides being a runner and a journalist, Rafa is a born fighter. Last year, he published his book Efecto Maratón (Marathon Effect), a book for runners and non-runners alike, full of positivity and motivation to overcome obstacles and reach your goal, whether it’s acing a test, nailing a job interview, or finishing a marathon.
Rafa’s goal for this year is to return to and complete the Boston Marathon (last year’s attack occurred when he was just 600 meters from the finish line). No doubt it will be a very special challenge. Regarding his “home exchange challenges” for this year, he would like to swap to the United States or Australia. You can check out his listing in the heart of Seville.
Running a marathon? Visiting a new city? What’s your goal for 2014?
Mirey is our representative in Turkey. She lives in the magical city of Istanbul and has done 20 exchanges so far since joining the HomeExchange community in 2007. Usually, she travels with one or two friends…and so she did last month, when she exchanged her home to go on a 2-week adventure to Kenya. Read all about her trip, then take a look at her can’t-miss tips for visiting her home city of Istanbul.
A home exchange adventure in Africa
Mirey went to Tanzania last year and she loved it so much that she quickly arranged a new home exchange in Lamu Island, Kenya. “Every day I spent in Africa was like a scene from the movie Out of Africa. The scenery is really captivating, especially in the safari camps, the trees are so amazing, big, strong and high. The sky is also very impressive…so blue with very white clouds like a painting. The people, even though they are impoverished, are so worthy, helpful, and always smiling.”
The house in Kenya that Mirey and her friends stayed at belongs to a French-Swedish couple who lives in Nairobi. Lamu, their second home, is a beautiful 4 story stone house with local decor. On their first day, they met Harrisson, the family’s caretaker, who was always there to help and he even offered to prepare their meals! Who needs room service when you can live like a local and still have breakfast waiting in the morning?
“There are no cars in Shela. Either you walk or you take a boat and also there were lot of donkeys, used as transportation by the locals.” When we asked Mirey what was a normal day like on Lamu Island, she told us they would go to the beach, explore the city’s culture, do some local shopping, and still have some time to do some jogging in the evening before gathering to go to the most popular restaurant in town, Peponi. Sounds like a plan!
There was time for a little adventure, too. They went to a safari in Shaba Reserve in Joy’s Camp. Sunsets, candlelight dinners, boat trips, and a peaceful atmosphere made it just the perfect nature escape.
Her favorite memory from the trip was when she met the local children who used to play around the house. “We took some candies, notebooks and coloured pencils with us from Turkey and each morning we were distributing it to the children around the house. The happiness in their eyes made us cry!”
And now, back to Istanbul…
A language I adore: French, because I was brought up in Paris.
Something I always carry in my baggage: My camera and a notebook.
The first thing I do when I arrive at a new exchange home: Visit the house and the neighbourhood. Then I find a market and do the food shopping so that I feel at home.
And the first thing I do when I return from the exchange: Think of my next exchange…
If I could exchange to any place in the world for a whole year, I would definitely go to: Any new place that I haven’t been yet. The sky is my limit!
The most amazing city I have visited so far: Buenos Aires is a beautiful city with lot of huge parks, lots of districts to visit, and the people are so friendly and helpful. I loved every day I spent there! I visited every bit of it and every part was different. The city is very colourful with plenty of large avenues and every neighbourhood has its own character. And of course, I have fallen in love with Africa!
Something you can’t miss if you visit Istanbul: a boat trip on the Bosphorus, to see the “yalı” along the coast and have a glass of “rakı”, the local liquor. The Bosphorus sea divides the city into Europe and Asia.
A neighborhood I would recommend staying in during a home exchange in Istanbul: Taksim (Beyoğlu, Cihangir) and Beşiktaş (Ortaköy, Maçka, Teşvikiye) where you can find all kinds of transportation.
The best day trip excursion from Istanbul: İf it is in summer you must definitely do a “blue trip” on the Mediterranean Sea. This trip is idyllic. You navigate on wooden boats to virgin creeks with no one around just you the sea the sun and the moon…Cappadocia and Ephesus for their archeological sites are also a must.
Three local cafes or restaurants I love: Karaköy Lokantası. They serve typical Turkish mezzes (cold or hot dishes that are served with Rakı). The decoration is very simple but nice, the service is perfect, the food very tasty and the price is affordable. For fish I would highly recommend Vira Vira on the Bosphorus. And for a typical Turkish meat restaurant, go to Beyti or Günaydın.
A local dish I love: As a vegetarian, all the mezze (vegetables cooked with olive oil), and fish (as we have three different seas, the Black Sea, Aegean Sea and Mediterranean Sea, we have a large variety of fishes).
Thank heavens, I thought as I watched the raindrops crashing into my windowpane and gale-force winds turning umbrellas inside out. Thank heavens that February is the month of Saint Valentine.
Suddenly love is the air, despite the snow and ice and temperatures that would freeze the nose off a brass monkey in the Northern hemisphere and bring the blood to boiling point down under.
So instead of sitting in your armchair wondering in a disconsolate sort of way where you can go to avoid the extremes, let your imagination go into overdrive and remember the place that first grabbed your heart. Mine was Venice.
I went for Carnevale which, appropriately enough, was now. During the first two weeks of February revelers from all over the world flow into Venice, ready to don their masks and their capes and dance to the city’s music, and I was one of them.
The trip did not begin well. I arrived in the middle of a storm and as my water-taxi launched itself into the lagoon, bound for the Grand Canal, angry waves, brown with silt, lashed furiously against the side. The iconic silhouette of the city was obliterated by a leaden sky and I was convinced I had made a horrendous mistake. Until the next morning.
The leaden skies had become silver, the lagoon had turned pinky purple; out of the mists a couple appeared like a pair of theatrical ghosts. Their arms and legs were bare except for filmy cloaks made seemingly from cobwebs that wafted ineffectually around them. They were Pierrot and Pierrette. Faces painted white except for the bright pink splodges on their cheeks and a gash of red, where their mouths should be and the two of them, as carefree as if it was high summer were having a wonderful time. It was that moment that Venice grabbed my heart, twisted it out of shape and claimed it as her own for the rest of time.
Yes, I know it is in danger of becoming the Magic Kingdom for adults. Yes, I know it heaves with tourists in the summer and is in danger of sinking in the winter. I also know that people have been complaining about over-crowding in Venice since the beginning of time. Over 500 years ago Canon Pietro Casola wrote, “ The Piazza of St Mark’s seems perpetually filled with Turks, Libyans, Parthians and other monsters of the Sea.” That was in 1494, just two years after Christopher Columbus discovered America!
It’s because of that storm, and many others before or since that Venice is saved from becoming just another beautiful, but soulless tourist attraction. There is a female quality about the city, and like any woman she too can throw a tantrum, cut off her nose to spite her face and behave really badly. Storms, floods, smelly canals are all in her repertoire. She can be daunting one moment and flirtatious the next, capturing hearts and minds with spectacular arrogance. Consequently, I am hardly alone. Venice has millions of lovers. The fact that she is mistress of both sexes and all nationalities is part of her charm.
Remember too, that this is the city of Casanova, the world’s greatest lover, who had the whole of Venice in love with him. Except, of course, the husbands, who had him thrown into prison. Obviously he found a way out, and you can still follow Casanova’s escape route in the attics and secret passages of the Doges Palace.
These dark little secrets are all part of carnevale. One is the laughing mask of gaiety and showing off. The other is the mask of mystery. Which was even more fun in Casanova’s day. Men and women from the finest families could wander around town undetected and enjoy incredible adventures. No wonder the playwright, Carlo Goldoni, called the mask ‘the most advantageous thing in the world.
So where else would you spend St. Valentine’s Day? Where else could you dress up in costume, put on a fantastical mask, hand-painted by an artist whose family dates back to the 18th century? Where else could you stride around a city, anonymous and even gender-free behind your mask and cloak, than in Venice? Where else could you tease your loved one and then kiss them all better than in Venice?
It’s a city of love, but it’s not sentimental. It’s a city of beauty but it has its dark and unscrupulous underbelly. It’s a city for grown-ups. I rest my case.
HOW TO DO IT
The balls and parties in Venice today require a costume, a mask and some insider information. Most good costumiers can provide all three and they make certain that not only their racks of silks, satins and party hose are kept up to standard but also that their contacts are equally reliable. Atelier Flavia will first dress clients in the greatest finery, complete with wig, lace handkerchief and beauty spot. Only then will they reveal the addresses and contacts for the best balls and finest parties.
Even more lavish is Max Art Shop where Antonia Sautter, organizes the most dazzling balls in the equally dazzling Palazzo Pisano Moretta, overlooking the Grand Canal. To attend these balls one must be in costume and, says Antonia darkly, ‘a tuxedo is not a costume’. You’ll see why when you see the costumes on offer.
Every second shop is either a mask shop or a glass shop and if you are looking for originals beware of copies, which can be Made In China. The most famous, which Stanley Kubrick used for the movie, ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ is Mondo Novo. Good masks, but if you’re looking for a warmer welcome try La Bottega dei Sogni (the shop of dreams) in Rialto. Another is La Bottega dell’Arte in Campo San Barnaba in Dorsoduro. Then there is Ca’Macana, also in Dorsoduro and La Venexiana Atelier at Ponte Canonica in Castello and also in the Frezzeria beyond San Marco. El Sole e La Luna is also in the Frezzeria.
Sandra’s book, ‘Venice Revisited’ can be found on Amazon.
YOUR VENICE HOME FROM HOME
Imagine HomeExchange.com’s most popular listing. What do see? A castle in France? A Tuscan villa? The reality might surprise you. HomeExchange.com’s top ten most viewed listings actually come in every shape and size, and from all corners of the world. The one thing they all have in common? Each has received around 44,000 views. Let’s go!
Dreaming of a tropical escape? Look no further than this 3-bedroom home located in the exclusive Grace Bay Club. Step outside and you’ll find yourself on the world-famous Grace Bay Beach, named the second best beach in the world by TripAdvisor. As a resort property, this stunning home also includes the optional use of two tennis courts, kayaks, wind surfers, bikes, room service, pool-side dining, cleaning service, and a full spa (just to name a few).
Located in the buzzing destination of Helsinki, this charming family home is close to it all while still providing some much-needed peace and quiet. Cozy up to the fireplace or melt away your stress in the newly-built sauna. This house is perfect for a small family, and even comes complete with air mattresses should you find yourself with extra guests.
3. Kea, Greece
The owners of this peaceful, renovated farmhouse describe it best. “We feel like we are visiting grandma at her old farm…but with wifi, a swimming pool, and a jacuzzi.” The home is centrally located to Kea’s two villages, which are filled with restaurants, shops, and nightlife, as well as beaches ideal for swimming, fishing, or simply sunbathing the day away.
4. Lamu, Kenya
Located just 100 meters from the ocean, this spectacular Swahili house is steeped in cultural history. In fact, the town of Lamu was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It also happens to sleep 10 (its five suites each have their own king-sized bed) with plenty of corners for lounging and a roof-top view of the water.
Space is a rare commodity in the Big Apple, but there’s certainly no shortage of it in this 3,400 square foot, two-story loft. Inside, you’ll find three bedrooms (with an additional semi-private sleeping area) and three full bathrooms, one of which comes complete with a Japanese-style soaking tub and steam shower. Step outside, and you’ll find yourself in the middle of the bustling Broadway theater district. If you need a break from the crowds, you can gaze out one of the loft’s 18 windows overlooking the Hudson River.
Whale Beach is to Sydney what The Hamptons are to Manhattan; you can easily access the city, but it feels like a world away. Each room of this lovely home has a beautiful view of the beach, which you can walk to in just five minutes. When you’ve had enough sand and surf, you can lounge in one of the house’s two seating areas or relax in the tropical private garden. You might even find yourself hand-feeding a resident bird or lizard!
Vista Lago, originally a hotel, might just be the most romantic exchange home on this list. With spectacular views from every balcony of this 3-bedroom condominium, there’s a chance you won’t want to venture far from Lake Como. But if you do, you’ll find Milan, Venice, Florence, and the Swiss border an easy drive away.
8. Tokyo, Japan
This ultra-modern Tokyo home also happens to be incredibly kid friendly. Included with the home are two bikes equipped with child seats, two children’s bicycles, kids’ rooms furnished with bunk beds, and an entire toy room downstairs. There’s plenty for the adults as well; fantastic shopping, entertainment, and restaurants are just a quick bike or train ride away.
Bangalore is a city of contrast. While it is widely referred to as India’s Silicon Valley due to its many tech companies, it is also known as the garden city because of its beautiful flowers and trees. This large home was built using local and traditional materials like granite from a local quarry, Indian teak, and Mangalore tiles. It also sits on a former orchard, where you can still find organically grown bananas, papaya, mango, jackfruit, vanilla beans, jasmine, and bougainvillea, along with a vineyard about 5 km down the road.
This modest cabin might not have a television, but why would you want to stare a screen with stunning views of Patagonia right out your window? The three-bedroom home is located on the sunny side of Lake Gutierrez and has private access to the shore. And if you’re looking for seclusion, you’ve come to the right place; this home is surrounded on all sides by nothing but nature.