Guest post by Catherine Monroy
As the saying goes, “Italians are happy French.” This summer, after a hard year, I longed for happiness and and I thought I could kill two birds with one stone as my son is learning Italian and needed to improve his skills.
It all started with a wonderful home exchange with an Italian family in Alberobello, a city in Puglia listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its archaic houses called trulli. Just the beauty of these unique homes, where it is never hot in the summer nor cold in the winter, is a trip in itself. The inner yard was so beautiful; its lemon tree, the giant gardenia giving a captivating perfume, my favourite! And the grapes on the vine that, incredibly, tasted like wild strawberry. And this feeling of absolute serenity. Inside the trullo, all had been thought of with great care and great taste by my hosts. Michele and Loredana had restored the old furnace and the inner shutters. The Italian style pervaded every detail.
After this great week, I needed to organise another one further south. I tried to book an exchange on the Ionian coast because my dear friend Giulio Pianese, from Milano, boasted about the incredible crystal waters. I contacted Cristina in Maruggio and she was sorry to tell us the house was not available because her son and daughter-in-law were to be here. She suggested I contact a friend of hers named Giulia, near Ostuni, who owned a very nice trullo. Giulia told me that there was only one possible non-simultaneous exchange in June. She sent me two pictures that looked enticing. I said yes, of course! But to tell you the truth, I was afraid to be disappointed after Alberobello.
And there we arrived in this olive plantation in the middle of nowhere, with just an amazing view from the beautiful swimming pool overlooking the countryside. The house was very stylish. Giulia, very gently, suggested we come to her husband’s son’s 25th birthday party where Cristina, the friend who introduced us, would be present too. It was a magic evening.
Italians have this incredible gift of making you feel part of their family. We learnt how to make our own pizza and prepare the oven, and everybody shared its creation. Mine was not excellent, I am afraid! Laura, Cristina’s daughter-in-law, fascinated my children by teaching them about Garibaldi and their favorite pizza, the margherita made for queen Marguerite. Laura’s husband, a geologist specialising in plate tectonic motions, fascinated them too.
At the end of the party, we were no longer tourists but friends, and Christina invited us to pass by their house in Maruggio although it would be a bit of camping in the studio for the three of us. But we could not miss the village feast where they celebrate the flavors of Italy. In this little town, everybody had a speciality and you had to queue to be able to taste them. And we all gathered on the deck on the top of the house overlooking the church to eat. We had political talks about divorce in Italy, the participative democracy, and I learnt about the wonderful city of Trento that started to live again, reborn from the ashes…
And then on the advice of our hosts, we left for the Sassi of Matera, an incredible troglodyte city (also a UNESCO world Heritage site). If I ever get married again (but not to an Italian, advised the a shopkeeper where I bought a swimming costume), that is the place.
This trip in Italy was a moveable feast. We captured not only beautiful images, but also the spirit of Italy.
About the author
Catherine Monroy, 51, lives in Paris, with her 14 year old twins, Alice and Benjamin and their beloved cat, Melchior. She started her career as a journalist, and was a correspondent for French dailies, Le Figaro, in Budapest and Le Monde in Prague. She is now a writer and a TV script writer. Recently she published « Anglais, nos ennemis de toujours » (The English our enemies forever) relating to the sweet and sour relationship between the French and the British since the battle of Hastings, 1066. She keeps a blog in English about all you wanted to know about the French without daring to ask: Catherine’s diary, thoughts of a true Parisian.
Being a HomeExchange.com member is valuable in many ways. Of course there are the obvious benefits of saving money on travel and having a larger living space, a kitchen, a washing machine…everything you’d expect in a home! But swapping homes is also a learning experience, and the unique lessons it teaches shouldn’t be overlooked.
1. People are trustworthy.
In this day and age, it’s easy to become jaded about the other humans with whom we share the planet. However, home exchangers tend to have a different outlook. Because we stay in each other’s homes, there is a mutual trust that occurs. I trust that you will take care of my home, because I know that I will take care of yours. Sure, exchanging can be a leap of faith, but you learn to put that faith into your exchange partner.
2. Children are incredibly adaptable.
We hear stories all the time about how children are reluctant at first to have another kid stay in their room, but quickly learn that sharing with a new friend is an amazing opportunity (different toys and games certainly sweeten the deal!) Home exchanging is also a great way to teach a child about being respectful of someone else’s property.
3. Authenticity is important.
The experiences you’ll have when staying at a hotel vs. swapping homes are inherently different. While more traditional accommodations tend to send you down a more touristy path, home exchanging comes along with the added bonus of your own personal, local tour guide. Home exchangers are always thrilled to share their recommendations and local secrets – most of which you would never have learned from a guide book.
4. Experiences are better than things.
Exchanging homes means living like a local. And when you have that mindset, you realize that postcards, keychains, and t-shirts aren’t nearly as important as the memories you make and the experiences you share. Of course, it’s always nice to return home with a souvenir, but you may find that your photos and travel diary are the only souvenirs you need.
5. Sharing is the future.
People have been sharing as far back as history has been recorded, but it’s only now that the Sharing Economy is truly taking off. The internet has made it easier than ever before to participate in Collaborative Consumption, and once you participate in a shared workspace, home swap, farm share, or clothing trade, you’ll understand why sharing is better, and more sustainable, than traditional commerce. After all: why buy when you can share?
What has swapping homes taught you? Tell us in the comments!
A version of this post originally appeared on the Near Me blog.
Tanya, our representative for Norway, shares the inside scoop on the country she calls home.
How to say hello:
How to say goodbye:
Ha det bra
How to say thank you:
Norwegian crowns (kroner) or NOK
Favorite national foods:
Voted #1 in the nation is Fårikål (lamb and cabbage, with peppercorn seasoning). I prefer Norwegian seafood, which is the best in the world!
Best month(s) to visit:
July and August are best as the days are long and warm with the midnight sun.
Best way to get around:
Nationally: train and Hurtigrute, which is a coastal cruise ship. In cities: bicycle, bus, tram, and subway.
Friends koser each other: press right cheeks together in an embrace. Some kiss each other’s cheeks. When meeting new people we often shake hands, but usually avoid other bodily contact like hugs. Older Norwegians are fairly reserved.
A novel to read, film to watch, or song to listen to learn more about Norway:
For kids, watching the Disney movie “Frozen” or hilarious “Trollhunter” and reading any Grimm fairy tales will give them a good introduction.
For adults: “Blind,” “Kautokeino Rebellion” or “Troubled Water” are good movies. The modern books “Shame” by Bergljot Hobæk Haff and any books by Jo Nesbø about the detective Harry Hole are recommended, or read classics by Sigrid Undset, Camilla Collett, Henrik Ibsen, and Knut Hamsun.
Music: Classical compositions by Grieg or rock by Big Bang (there are many good Norwegian bands but most don’t sing in English. For laughs check out anything by Ylvis on YouTube (especially “The Cabin” which describes Norwegian cabin culture perfectly).
Local websites for discounts:
The best kept secret about Norway:
There are thousands of kilometers of completely free, prepared, well-lit cross-country tracks around the country, with warming huts supplying food, drink and saunas!
The most unique thing about Norway:
The nature, especially fjords where the mountains meet the ocean.
Common misconceptions about Norway:
Foreigners think Norwegians are cold and distant, but the key is to smile and say “Hi” even if some people just look at you and don’t answer. Some are friendlier than others. There is an outdated unspoken rule that you don’t greet people you don’t know, but Norwegians like to help tourists! Norway has a reputation for having bad, expensive food but this has changed and good food is everywhere now.
The best free activities:
In Oslo: free movies and concerts outdoors in the summertime and at the rock club Rockefeller. Everywhere: Fishing in the sea (lake and river fishing requires a paid permit), and free entrance to many museums. Check out the websites visitnorway.com and visitoslo.com!
Odds and ends:
Alcohol and tobacco (in all forms) are regulated and taxed and are very expensive. Buying a bottle in the tax-free and leaving it for your host will ensure you great popularity, but don’t ever drink and drive!
There are countless classes, books, articles, and people that will claim they can teach you how to assimilate into a culture. However, I’ve found that the best way to learn is to just go and experience it first hand. These are my top 5 tips for adapting to and learning a new culture once you’re there!
1. Be Neutral. In order to truly learn a culture, you have to shed any prior bias or judgments you might be bringing to the table. This can be one of the hardest things to do, since often we are unaware of our perceptions and tendencies. The best thing to do is not judge. Anytime you catch yourself thinking negatively about the way people act, the things they eat, their values, etc. just take a step back and consider how differently everyone sees the world. There is no right or wrong, just different ways of living life.
2. Roll your Rs. In other words, learn the language. If you are traveling anywhere, chances are that the native language where you’re staying is not going to be English. Take the time to learn the language, and show people you are interested in their culture. Even if you sound completely foolish, if you make a genuine effort to speak their language, people will be happy knowing that you appreciate it. Plus, it can be pretty endearing – like when you’re trying to roll your Rs while speaking Spanish to your new friends in Barcelona.
3. Make Friends. This is without a doubt the best way to learn about a culture. Get to know the people who actually live there, don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone and introduce yourself. When was the last time you ever were annoyed with someone trying to learn more about you or where you came from? People are more than willing to tell you about their lives and teach you about their culture, so just talk to them!
4. Be Uncomfortable. There are going to be things that you are not used to, but instead of avoiding new experiences you should embrace them. It’s okay to be uncomfortable; in fact it is one of the best things that you can ever do. Maybe the thought of eating a worm makes you feel a bit sick to your stomach, but when you’re in Namibia and they offer it to you as a gift because it’s one of their countries dishes – you eat that worm with a smile. When you face uncertainties head on, you learn how well you really can adapt to and learn a new culture.
5. Above all, be curious. You have to want to learn about another culture, or you never will. Watch people, marvel at the simplest things that are new to you. Embrace new lifestyles and culture with wonder and curiosity, and you will find that you are learning things and shifting your perspective without even knowing it.
About the author
Sarah is the owner of The Travel Project, a blog dedicated to providing budget trips and travel tips. Due to her extensive travel experience, Sarah has developed the skills to plan extremely cheap and authentic trips that she is now sharing daily for anyone to take. She hopes to create a more tolerant and positive world by making travel more attainable to others. At only 22, Sarah has already been to over 42 countries and 108 cities. She began her own personal travel journey when she left home at 16 to sail around the world. Her experiences fueled what has become a lifelong commitment to travel.
College towns have the reputation of being full of unruly frat boys and rowdy parties, but with museums, theater, and school spirit, these ten cities are proof that sometimes college towns are actually the best towns to visit.
Charlottesville has something for everyone – just ask famous University of Virginia alumni Tina Fey, Katie Couric, and Tiki Barber. Catch a ballet performance at the Paramount Theater, take a walk downtown, or visit Thomas Jefferson’s former home in historic Monticello.
The city of Oxford simply oozes with history. While the University itself has no official founding year, there is evidence of teaching from as early as 1096 (for perspective, Harvard wouldn’t be established until nearly 600 years later). Tour the centuries-old Bodleian Library, bike down to the Thames, and finish off your day with a pint at one of the many local pubs.
3. Boulder, CO
Boulder’s bike sharing program, B-cycle, is emblematic of the friendly culture and active lifestyle the city is known for. Cruise down Pearl Street, a pedestrian mall specializing in all things local (jewelry, beer, and cheese to name a few), then grab your skis and hit the Rocky Mountain slopes.
4. Lund, Sweden
In Lund, the focus is firmly on the traditional. Stroll down the cobblestone side streets (virtually free of automobile traffic) to the 12th century Lund Cathedral, then visit the world’s second-oldest open air museum. If you’re feeling hungry, head over to Saluhallen food market, for the Lundaknake, a local sausage made only in Lund by Holmgrens & Company.
photo credit: Gray Lensman QX! via photopin cc
While DC is known first and foremost as the country’s capital, it’s also home to nine colleges and universities. There are few cities in the United States more full of history, not to mention the world-class Smithsonian museums. When you’ve had enough monuments for the day, head to trendy Georgetown for shopping, restaurants, and sweets from the famous Georgetown Cupcake.
Heidelberg might be best known for its impressive Castle, but this historic city is full of shops, cafes, beautiful fountains, a renowned outdoor theater festival… and the world’s largest wine barrel. You can find it in the castle’s wine cellar; it’s made from 130 oak trees and holds exactly 221,726 liters.
7. Austin, TX
Austin’s official motto might be “The live music capital of the world” thanks to its extensive, vibrant collection of venues and the notable South by Southwest festival, but its unofficial tagline? “Keep Austin weird.” With events like the annual O. Henry Pun-Off, Eeyore’s Birthday Party, and Spamarama, it doesn’t seem like the city needs to worry about being ordinary anytime soon.
8. Berkeley, CA
If you looked up “college town” in the dictionary, you might find a picture of Berkeley. The city is jam-packed with art, film, music, shops, and restaurants along with the 8,500-seat Greek Theater, Tilden Regional Park, and of course, a healthy supply of sporting facilities. You can take it all in from the top of the 307-foot tall Sather Tower in the heart of UC Berkeley’s campus.
photo credit: Brian Negin via photopin cc
The medieval town of Cambridge has been heading steadily into the modern age as of late. New restaurants, trendy cocktail bars, and contemporary art galleries exist right alongside the decades-old Fitzwilliam Museum, classic theater performances, and of course, the 800-year-old University.
10. Savannah, GA
Georgia’s oldest town is also one of its most eclectic. Rich history, antebellum architecture, and classic Southern hospitality fuse seamlessly with the modern culture surrounding the Savannah College of Art and Design. When you’re done browsing the museums and shops, treat yourself to the pralines at River Street Sweets and take a quick trip to the beach at Tybee Island to round out your day.
How many of these college towns have you been to? Tell us in the comments!
Certain places on the planet just stand out. They make you walk a little slower, inhale a little deeper, and linger a little longer. Check out our list of destinations you should exchange to at least once in your life, and get ready to live like a local with HomeExchange.com in every single one.
photo credit: Fuad Babayev via photopin cc
It’s nearly impossible not to get swept up in the City of Light’s romantic atmosphere while strolling the cobblestone streets and getting wonderfully lost. As the saying goes, Paris is always a good idea.
photo credit: Aristocrats-hat via photopin cc
Visiting Bali is like stepping into a “wish you were here” postcard. Come for the white sand beaches and stay for the stone temples, mischievous monkeys, and the warm sense of community.
It’s hard to pin down exactly what makes Lisbon so special, but if we had to guess we’d say it’s the mix of old and new; centuries-old buildings paired with a decidedly unfussy, fun, and youthful atmosphere.
4. Cape Town
Wherever you go in Cape Town, you’ll find yourself surrounded by spectacular scenery. Whether it’s the instantly recognizable Table Mountain, the golden beaches, or the sprawling vineyards, you’re never far from a picture-perfect view.
photo credit: Don McCullough via photopin cc
This capital of Catalonia must be one of the world’s most vibrant cities thanks to its roots in art and architecture, its cutting edge culinary scene, and the infectious passion of its citizens.
photo credit: Don McCullough via photopin cc
Even the most jaded, anti-tourist-attraction travelers will be swept away by the views of the Golden Gate Bridge as the early morning fog shifts. San Francisco is one part hippie, one part tech genius, and 100% fabulous.
photo credit: imagina (www.giuseppemoscato.com) via photopin cc
A loaf of bread, a jug of wine…a saucer of olive oil, a breathtaking collection of art. We’re pretty sure Florence is a sort of heaven.
Visiting Marrakech involves a certain amount of voluntary disorientation. You’ll get lost, distracted, and waylaid, but don’t fight it; going with the flow is a much more authentic Marrakchi experience.
Istanbul, as of late, has been referred to as “the world’s hippest city.” A trip there is a whirlwind of magnificent Ottoman mosques, trendy new restaurants, and a mix of Asian and European cultures all existing in harmony.
photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc
Snowcapped mountains, world class restaurants, volcanoes, northern lights, and geothermal baths. Need we say more?
Do you agree with our list? What destinations would you add? Let us know in the comments!
People often think of cities like Los Angeles, New York, London, or Paris when they are asked about film or television show locations. What about all the other beautiful places in the world that serve as backdrops for current and past blockbuster hits? Did you ever want to stand in the very place where some of your favorite characters stood? Well, with HomeExchange.com Members across the world, we can help make it happen.
Films: Argo, Skyfall, Taken 2
Daniel Craig stars as James Bond in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions action adventure SKYFALL.
Action, intrigue, and spies! The city of Istanbul is steeped in history and culture, mixed with a sense of exotic mystery, all of which combine to make the perfect location for action thrillers. Istanbul replaced Iran for the Oscar winning movie Argo, served as the location for Skyfall’s opening scene, and an adrenaline pumping chase sequence with Liam Neeson in Taken 2. Want to walk in the footsteps of James Bond, 007? Pay a visit to Istanbul.