“We have done two home exchanges… we really can’t pick a favourite! They were very different experiences: one an apartment in New York City and the other a house in Berkeley, California. When we travel, we seek out restaurants that are similar to our own because we like to know what comparable restaurants are doing for comparable prices; it’s hard to turn off the inner restaurateur! We always come back from travel with new ideas of things to cook and inspired by food and service we had. The local farmers market recommended by our exchange family in Berkeley gave us our best meal in San Francisco, and our kids fell in love with chocolate babka in New York. If exchangers come during our spring break, the entire street is a canopy of cherry blossoms from the 40-year-old trees that line our boulevard. It’s beautiful!
We started doing home exchanges to make family travel affordable, but have been pleasantly surprised to find so much more than that; home exchanges are the best of the best if you like to travel off the beaten path and see how the locals live.”
Pumpkin Harvest Cake with Bourbon Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
Yield: One 3-layer cake
For the cake:
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin
- 1/4 cup olive oil (not extra virgin)
- 1 cup milk
For the frosting:
- 12 oz. (1 1/2 packages) cream cheese, softened
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 3 tablespoons Bourbon
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 6 cups sugar
- Preheat oven to 300°F. Grease 3, 8-inch round cake pans. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl mix flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
- In a large bowl/stand mixer cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in vanilla, pumpkin and olive oil. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the milk.
- Divide batter evenly into prepared pans. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Remove pans from oven and immediately place in freezer for 45 minutes. This keeps the cake moist by immediately stopping the baking when you remove it from the oven.
- For the frosting: In a large bowl, cream butter and cream cheese until smooth. Beat in bourbon,vanilla and cinnamon. Add powdered sugar and beat on low speed until combined, then on high until the frosting is smooth.
- Assemble the 3 layers with a thick layer of frosting between each layer. Then apply a thin crumb coat on the top and sides. Pop back into the freezer to harden the crumb coat for about 10 minutes. Finish icing and chill.
Photo courtesy of Acme Cafe
Want to plan an around-the-world trip but feel intimidated by the actual planning part? Matteo Pennacchi and his company, Around the World Tours, are here to help! The company was founded to help travelers make their dreams of going global come true, and even offer a tour using HomeExchange.com and other Sharing Economy companies.
HomeExchange.com: A round-the-world tour using the sharing economy… how does it work?
Matteo Pennacchi: First, we define the flight itinerary. Then, we put the traveler in contact with the communities he’s interested in, depending on their presence in the selected countries.
How did you come up with this idea?
We organized the first Travel Massive event in here in Rome, and we understood that the sharing economy is a growing trend in the travel segment. We then simply adapted it, in an open way, to our RTW Tours.
What do you think are the advantages of using the sharing economy while travelling?
You get to know other travellers, you interact with local people, and you spend less money than traveling with a Tour Operator or in conventional accommodations.
How much money do travellers typically save on the lodging by using sharing economy companies such as HomeExchange.com during a round the world trip?
From a generic calculation, if you travel in the northern hemisphere, you can save between 40% to 70% on accommodation, transportation, and food.
Why would you recommend people to go on a round-the-world trip instead of doing a one month vacation in one destination?
Travelling to a destination and circumnavigating the planet are two different things. The first can be done every year, the second is a once in a lifetime experience which can be done – today – in a very easy and economic way. The tours are especially popular with students doing a gap year, honeymooners, and retirees.
Tell us your three favorite best-kept secrets in the world.
1. Circumnavigating the planet going east makes you save a day of life – like Mr. Fogg in Around the World in 80 days.
2. The Ark of the Covenant is in northern Ethiopia
3. My second round-the-world tour was with no money and no luggage, for the Guinness Book of World Records. Through this challenge, I realized that people in the world are much better than what the media leads us to believe.
Q: Do I have to swap my home with another of the same size/shape/type?
A: Only if you want to!
HomeExchange.com welcomes homes of all sizes and kinds, from studio apartments to sprawling villas, RVs, houseboats… if you can live in it, it’s probably a listing on our site! Our members swap lofts for estates, pied-à-terres for beach houses, and every other combination imaginable. Of course, who you swap with is entirely up to you. Although we encourage you to swap with all different kinds of homes, if you’re only comfortable in a house of equal size to yours, that’s just fine too – just keep in mind that the more selective you are, the longer it might take you to find your perfect exchange.
You should also remember that different locations have different kinds of homes; while you might find traditional houses in Southern California, you’ll be swapping for a flat in Paris. But these experiences are what make HomeExchange.com special. You aren’t just traveling, you’re truly living like a local.
You can read more about narrowing your search criteria here, and our awesome LiveChat team is always available to help!
Do you have a question about home exchanging? Ask us in the comments and we might feature it in our next FAQ post!
photo credit: conejoazul via photopin cc
Of course you could travel to Paris, Barcelona, or Rome, but tucked away beyond the big cities are some truly beautiful destinations. To get you started, here are some of our favorite hidden villages in Europe.
photo credit: Steenbergs via photopin cc
The island of Bornholm might not be a secret for Danes, but it’s new to many foreigners. It’s a popular summer getaway spot for locals, with a fantastic coastline, great opportunities for outdoor activities, and a rich history. You can also visit the tiny nearby isle of Christiansø, which served as a fortress during World War II. The island is home to just a few houses, but you’ll find an inn that our local representative says serves the very best smoked herring!
photo credit: Jasper180969 via photopin cc
Gruyères is nestled in the foothills of the Alps, providing some truly lovely scenery. You’ve probably heard of its namesake cheese, but the village of Gruyères is also home to 800 years of history, a castle, and several museums – including the newer Tibet Museum, which houses over 300 works of sculpture, art, and artifacts from the Himalayas. And yes, you can learn all about the town’s traditional cheese-making heritage!
photo credit: Wild About Travel via photopin cc
It seems like there’s no end to the beautiful little towns you can stumble upon in Italy, but Castell, with its perfectly preserved medieval architecture, stunning valley views, and traditional food will transport you back in time like no other. Be sure to visit the Praetorian Palace (now used as the town hall), built in 1293 and the church on the piazza, a striking example of Romanesque construction built in 1122.
The small village of Giethoorn was settled in the early 1200s, and its old fashioned spirit remains intact to this day. What makes Giethoorn especially unique is the lack of roads! Locals travel by foot or by boat, which gives this town the nickname “the Venice of the north.” If you don’t mind a little paddling, a visit to this unique village is the perfect way to slow down.
photo credit: paula soler-moya via photopin cc
After the Mongol invasion of the 13th century, Hollókő castle was built to protect the area from future attacks. Control of the area was disputed for more than 150 years, and it wasn’t until 1683 that the village was abandoned and present-day Hollókő was built. Today, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to just 387 residents, but you can visit the castle, church, and museums and take part in the town’s annual Easter celebration.
The village of Saint-Suliac sits on the Rance Estuary. It’s a humble fishing port, but widely regarded as one of the most beautiful towns in all of France. You can take guided walking, bicycle, or kayak tours of the area, passing by wildflowers, granite cottages decorated with fishing nets, and the 12th century church.
photo credit: David G Mills via photopin cc
Located in southern Spain’s Andalusia region, this beautiful village is perfect photography destination; its buildings are all white. While this isn’t uncommon in Andalusia, many of the other “pueblos blancos” tend to cater more to tourists than locals. Casares has a relaxed, authentic atmosphere. Follow any of its narrow streets uphill and you’ll find breathtaking views.
photo credit: Randy Durrum via photopin cc
This tiny, hilltop village in Istria County is home to only 500 residents. Located away from the vibrant beach towns, Motovun is situated in the peaceful countryside. For a little more excitement, visit during the Motovun Film Festival, held annually in late July or early August. And don’t forget to try the truffles; these Istrian delicacies are coveted the world over.
Have you ever been to one of these hidden villages? Tell us about it in the comments!
HomeExchange.com is thrilled to announce our partnership with EatWith, an amazing company offering the unique experience of dining in a home away from home.
“Until now, there were only two dining options: eat at home or eat at a restaurant,” explains Joel, EatWith’s global community manager. “EatWith has created a third dining category – the home restaurant, which is changing for the better the way people eat, travel, and make connections.”
As a HomeExchange.com member, you already know how to live like a local. EatWith takes that idea and runs with it…all the way to the kitchen.
EatWith’s hosts, who have all been personally vetted by a local EatWith representative, provide a wide variety of meals, from seasonal, farm-to-table fare to traditional meals from their heritage. Joel says his favorite meals always take place away from his home city, sharing delicious food with new friends. EatWith guests always find common ground, and often stay in contact long after events (just like exchange partners); some have even found romance around the dinner table!
We’ll be sharing more soon, but you can visit EatWith.com now and use the code “homeexchange14” for 20% off any EatWith event! It’s easy to find events near you or at your next exchange destination, and there’s no better way to meet locals, enjoy authentic food, and make some incredible memories.
The world is more delicious than you ever imagined!
Images courtesy of EatWith
Speakeasies first appeared during the United States prohibition era of the 1920s and largely faded away not long after, but if you look closely, you can still find hidden bars and restaurants all over the world. Here are five of our favorite secret restaurants – some are tricky to find, but all are totally worth the effort!
L’etage de Pastavino
If you didn’t know better, you wouldn’t look past La Bottega Pastavino, an ordinary Italian deli on a busy street in Paris’s Saint Germain district. But wander past the shelves and you’ll find a winding staircase leading to a cheerful upstairs dining room serving the freshest Italian meats, beautiful cheese, and delicious wine. Reservations recommended.
18 Rue de Buci 75006
Though it bills itself as “London’s worst kept secret,” this hidden speakeasy is still tricky to enter. You’ll find Barts at the far end of a block of vintage apartment buildings in Chelsea. Ring the bell and the barman will open up the peephole and decide if your party is worthy of entrance. If you’re among the chosen ones, you’ll be treated to shots served in teacups and rib-sticking comfort food like mac and cheese in an environment reminiscent of a curiosities shop.
87 Sloane Avenue, SW3 3DW
photo credit: Gandhu & Sarah via photopin cc
The only things you might find suspicious about this Japanese spot’s weathered wooden facade are its stylishly simple building numbers – 77. The restaurant offers an eight-course omkase (chef’s choice) menu alongside an a la carte option in a totally private environment. Your table is hidden behind a bamboo shade, and your waiter will only appear at the push of a button. Reservations are accepted for parties of 6 or more.
77 North 6th Street
Walk past the Westin Hotel and you’ll find a small, dark, dumpster-lined alley. You’ve come to the right place. Keep going, and you’ll discover a small door set into the concrete wall marked with a small sign. The search is more than worth the effort, for inside the dinner-only spot is some of the freshest and most creative vegetarian food you can find (think cheese dumplings, smoked veggies, and baked walnuts). Reservations accepted.
Behrenstrasse, 55 10117
This ultra-secret dining experience prides itself on having no reputation whatsoever. In fact, it’s so elusive that some have speculated that it doesn’t even exist. Allegedly, Zingara operates only in the summer and both the location and menu change weekly. That is, of course, if you can get in. Reservations are by referral only and it can take months, if not years, to make it onto the list. Start planning now!
Have you ever been to a secret restaurant? Tell us your secret in the comments!
featured photo: silverman68 / Creative Commons via Flickr
Looking for free things to do in Venice? We’ll give you ten!
1. Cross the Rialto Bridge
The Rialto Bridge is probably the most famous in Venice. It’s an excellent place for people watching, and you can happily spend a while watching the gondolas beneath you. If you want to avoid the crowds, visit early in the morning or after sunset, when you’ll have a beautiful view of the Grand Canal.
2. Visit the Piazza San Marco
St. Mark’s Square is a common tourist destination, but a must-see when you’re in Venice. You’ll be able to take in the Basilica, the Campanile, and the Torre dell’Orologio and take a stroll under the arches of the Procuratie. There’s also a good chance you’ll make a pigeon friend or two, so don’t wear your favorite shirt!
3. Marvel at the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute
When the plague hit Venice in 1630, this church was built as an offering to St. Mary in exchange for deliverance from illness. It was designed by Venetian architect Baldassare Longhena, and its dome has become an emblem of the city.
4. Take in some art
Among the numerous museums in Venice are a wide selection of privately owned art galleries. These collections are free to enter, and you’ll find works from both Italian and international artists. Try Artigianato d’Arte di Vianello Mauro, Chiostro dei Santi Cosma e Damiano, or Traghetto for starters.
5. Get lost
Wandering the streets of Venice is like hopping in a time machine. Many of the structures in the city have remained virtually unchanged since the 15th century and it’s easy to lose your way, but ask anyone to point you back towards the Piazza San Marco and you’ll be just fine. We dare you to leave your map at home!
6. Go park-hopping
Though largely known for its stone facades, there are six public gardens spread throughout the city of Venice: the Giardini Napoleonici, the Giardini Papadopoli, the Giardini Savorgnan, the Giardini Reali, Giardini Groggia, and the Pineta di S. Elena. Each is a little different: you might find romantic romantic walkways in one and historic statues in the next.
7. Visit the glass island
The island of Murano has a storied and prestigious history, and you can witness its artistry first hand. Many of the higher-end factories are closed to the public, but you can find numerous demonstrations on the island. You might find that you’re offered a free boat ride to Murano. You can accept, but be prepared for a pushy sales pitch when you arrive. It’s best to stick with the inexpensive public ferry.
8. Browse the markets
The Rialto Food Markets are an authentically Venetian experience; locals and restaurant owners come here to shop for the freshest ingredients. Visit the Erberia for fresh fruit and vegetables or check out the amazing array of seafood at the Pescheria next door.
9. Visit the Museo della Musica
Venice’s Museum of Music is dedicated largely to the life and work of famed Venetian composer Antonio Vivaldi, but also has an excellent collection of antique instruments alongside an exhibit on the art of violin making.
10. Keep the music going
While not widely publicized, there are often wonderful free concerts to attend in Venice. Keep an eye out for posters and flyers, and visit Music in Venice for tickets, schedules, and information.
Much of the beautiful country of Croatia seems to be frozen in time. To get to know it a little better, we asked our Croatian representative, Rujana, to give us the inside scoop on her home country. This is Croatia: Unlocked!
How to say hello:
How to say goodbye:
How to say thank you:
Croatian Kuna (HRK)
Favorite national foods:
Štrukli is a traditional Croatian dish served in most households across Hrvatsko Zagorje and Zagreb and is very popular. They’re little squares layered with dough and cheese. Although the most authentic way to make them is to boil them and top them with buttered bread crumbs, baked štrukliseem to be preferred by the younger generations.
Paški sir is a fantastic cheese from Pag Island and it’s made entirely from milk produced by sheep grazing freely local sparse grass, various herbs, and aromatic plants.
Pršut is a dry-cured ham, an essential part of every type of celebration in Croatia and every restaurant menu. The most renowned is pršut from Dalmatia, especially from a little town called Drniš, situated in close vicinity of Šibenik.
Pašticada is a traditional meat dish from Dalmatia. Beef is the main ingredient and, before the actual cooking (which lasts a few hours) takes place, it’s marinated for 24 hours in red wine, garlic, and various herbs such as rosemary and sage
Best month(s) to visit:
Croatia has all four seasons and it is always great to explore it. Every season has its own charm and beauty, but the best time to visit Croatia is during the months of May to July and September to October. Sunny days are ideal for swimming and relaxing on the beach. The peak season of July and August means a lot of tourists around with high temperatures but with lots of open-air cultural events, festivals and nightlife.
You might come across some excellent offers on low-cost flights during some months which are not as popular, but you can still live like a local with HomeExchange.com.
The best way to get around:
For a long visit, just rent a car and start exploring from north to south, from east to west. For visiting the islands, there are many boats and ferry lines, and you can find schedules online.
Croatians are open and we are touristic country. Almost everybody speaks English in addition to German or Italian, so for sure you won’t be lost or misunderstood. The first time you meet someone, it is ok to say hello in Croatian, shake their hand, and continue your dialog.
A novel to read or a film to watch or a song to listen to learn more about the country:
Croatia is popular destination and becoming more and more interesting to tourists worldwide.
A few years ago, there was an Emmy Award-winning documentary about Croatia which describes the beauty and history of the country. It’s called WOW Croatia and you can watch it here.
Local websites for discounts:
There is no card that will get you a general discount, so you will need to search a little bit more.
All info for capital city can be found here.
Other useful links:
Towns or villages (other than the capital/big cities) which are worth a visit:
It is difficult to choose just a few of them but my choices are Dubrovnik, Rovinj, Motovun, and Varaždin. Each is unique with different history, sightseeing, and nature.
Island Hvar is a beautiful Croatian island off the Dalmatian Coast, favored for its landscapes of spectacular beaches, lavender, and vineyards. In the capital city there are 13th century walls, marble stone streets, Gothic places, stunning churches, and imposing old fortresses.
For beautiful nature, visit Krka River national park, best known for its numerous gushing waterfalls and natural pools of clear, blue-green waters.
The best kept secret about Croatia:
Did you know that one of the greatest geniuses of the 20th century, Nikola Tesla, was born in modern-day Croatia? He developed the alternating current method of delivering electricity (AC) and power generation systems by which almost all electrical power is still delivered today. Tesla developed the processes that led to the radio as well as other forms of wireless delivery. Neon and fluorescent lighting are all his, as are radar, faxes and countless other ideas far, far, far ahead of his time. Without him, nothing would be the same.
The most unique thing about Croatia:
The smallest town in the world, according to Guinness World records, is Hum in the central part of Istria. It has only 23 inhabitants.
Croatia also invented the necktie! During the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century, the traditional small, knotted neckerchiefs worn by Croatian mercenaries aroused the interest of Parisians who for some reason immediately took to the new fashion accessory. The term for this new trend comes from a commingling of words for Croatians, the French and the Croatian to form the word cravat. Later, French aristocracy took an interest in the tie, which of course meant everyone else did as well.
People from Bednja, a village in North Croatia, cannot understand the fishermen from the farthest populated Croatian island, Lastovo, because they speak using completely different dialects of the Croatian language.
Common misconceptions about Croatia:
There is no war going on! Croatia is safe and there is no reason not to come. War ended 20 years ago. Also, the state of Yugoslavia doesn’t exist any more.
The best free activities:
Rafting on the River Mreznica is a real adventure that all generations can experience.
For a quirky experience, stop by the Museum of Broken Relationships, a touching tribute to love lost.
Also don’t miss a visit to the Sea Organ in Zadar city. This is unique instrument which plays music by way of sea waves and tubes located underneath a set of large marble steps.
If you want a totally unusual place for tasting wine, go to Skyceller in Dubrovnik. Directly under the runway of Dubrovnik’s international airport lies a timeless and otherworldly cave filled with stalactites, stalagmites, and traces of human activity from the Bronze and Iron ages. There you can taste wine.
Odds and ends:
Croatia is rich in history and culture, which is one of the most common reasons that tourists visit. Most visitors are just looking to lay idle on a beach, but there are hundreds of museums, theaters, churches, cinemas, libraries, concerts, and countless local cultural events are frequently visited by those who want to experience more of the country.