Jan 21st
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Our First Home Exchange

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Our First Exchange
Twenty-four swaps later...

    The first time we heard Manfred Mullner’s voice on the phone it was austere:
“You vill arrive in Klagenfurt at 2.30 on ze 27th July 1986 after having traveled through many countries and our friends vill make you velcome in our home.”
        This was our first attempt at a home swap. We wondered if we had been wise to exchange with this Austrian family, but we had sent letters and photographs and maps of our location and the attractions in our area. We had offered our home in the north of England for four weeks and it was a bit late to pull out!  
    Preparing for guests offered a good reason to clear out old stuff.  Mary and I along with our sons James (10) and Tom (9) worked a couple months to get our home clean and tidy.
    We cleaned the windows, sorted and tidied the boys bedrooms, and painted the dining room. We wallpapered and rearranged the study, we found things that had been lost and, we threw out loads of old toys and paperbacks. We packed clothing in plastic bags and moved them to the attic to free the wardrobes and drawers for our visitors’ clothes.  We renovated our bicycles and repaired the tires.
    Valuables were hidden and locked away. We prepared a loose leaf handbook of hints about the house and its equipment and included information and maps to the area’s attractions. By July 24th the house was clean, the garden weeded, and we were exhausted!
    We set out for Austria in our ancient Volvo along with a tent, a map of Europe, and our suitcases. The Mullner’s apartment was located in the Mozartstrasse in Klagenfurt, Austria, 1,078 miles from our home in northern England.  We travelled by ferry to Dover, then camped through France, Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany and finally we arrived in Austria.
    We were feeling apprehensive to say the least, especially be-cause we spoke English rather than German. We hoped the people we met could understand English! We hoped the house would work for our family of four.
    But our fears were unfounded –when we opened the Mullner’s door we found everything we could have hoped for. We had an amazing time. The Mullner’s next door neighbours, who struggled with English as we did with German, took us swimming in the Wortersee, and encouraged us to climb the mountains and visit Italy and Lipitzana in Yugoslavia. We also cycled around Klagenfurt. We had
meals with the Mullner’s friends and their parents and we enjoyed getting acquainted with them.  We had fun seeing the sights of Karinthia.
    Although we didn’t meet Manfred and Margot Mullner and their sons Mattias and Jakob on that first trip to Austria, we have met them 6 times since then. We exchange Christmas cards and frequent letters. James has been to visit them. Their sons are now at University in England and speak fluent English. Every New Year’s Day during the live televised performance of the concert from Vienna we telephone
New Year wishes to the Mullners.
     Since that first home exchange we have exchanged with 4 families in Britain, 5 families in France and 2 families in the USA. With some we have exchanged more than once and at the last count we have made over 25 exchanges in all. We frequently visit former exchanges on the way and have many times had former exchange families stay with us in England on holiday.
    Over the years we learned that it is rare for Europeans who live south of us to want to come north to England, unless their children come to school here. You tend to make friends with the friends of the family with whom you exchange. If you meet the family with whom you exchange homes, there is a
welcoming warmth and rapport which seems to stem from the sharing of one another’s home and one another’s family and friends.
    But sometimes there isn’t the opportunity to meet the family with whom you exchange. We have swapped 4 times with a family from Falmouth and have never met them, and yet we regard them as close friends. We lived for a total of 8 weeks in their house, talked with them by telephone, and also exchanged emails, Christmas cards and letters.
    When we return to our ownhome after a home exchange, we often find our house in better condition than when we left.
    I can report that we have never had an unsuccessful exchange –some have been more enjoyable than others, but we would not have missed any of them.
    There is something special about taking the place of a “native” family in a different culture. You are immediately living an ordinary and normal life, not being an exploited tourist. You are given insider’s information such as: “Don’t go to the market on a Thursday, go about 1:00 p.m. on a Friday when they have all the bargains,” “the best and cheapest restaurant is…,” “If you want to see our country at its best then go to…,” or... “My friend will take you to…,” “If you need any more information then ring my friends–and they will come round,” “My neighbours will give you a typical meal from the region and take you to see the best view in our area.”
    We meet so many friendly and helpful local people who give us more insights into the language, the food, the culture, the shopping, and the sights!
    Our family has grown in many ways. We are much more multi-cultural in our outlook on life and travel.
    All of us have begun to realize that language is not just a test for schoolchildren, but a useful tool to acquire in order to understand others and enjoy their wit and conversation and character.                     
    Thomas intends to live in France, James will tour the world.  Mary and I will continue to exchange our home because it has brought us so much pleasure and insight and deep friendships.

Many folk like Ray and Mary are swapping their homes to see the world.  If you’re interested, check out the many home exchange websites like
digs·ville (digs'vil) n:  
1. online destination to find a great place to stay in the real world.
2. a place to meet people from every corner of the earth to swap a home, a lifestyle, and share a dream.
3. where cooperative travel planning is easy and fun.

--Ray Baxter, North Yorkshire, UK



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