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House swapping, transatlantic visitors and a political tour of Belfast

We love to house swap (you may have noticed!) and have swapped 4 times in the last two years.

One of the disadvantages of house swapping though, is you don’t often get to meet the other swapping family, despite having lots of long chatty emails asking and answering queries. When you see their photos of them on YOUR favourite beach you wish you had been there with them, but obviously you can’t be as you are in fact sitting in their favourite restaurant near THEIR home!

With our last swap to France we swapped cars too, and managed to book flights for the same day, so as we landed in Paris, we could see a family waving at us as they waited at the boarding gate. On the way home, we were actually walking down a glass corrider to board the plane, and the french family were walking in the opposite direction on the other side of the glass. We stopped and waved and tried to have a brief conversation with them, which all seemed quite weird. That morning we had been having breakfast at their house, and they had been packing up at our house!

However, last summer, when we went to Cape Cod and Concord, Massachusets, the swap was not simulataneous, and we got to meet our lovely host Jen (she met us at the airport with home baked cookies and the key to her holiday home!) and her daughters – we were able to take Jen out for a meal and both families went out for icecream.  We had not yet had the opportunity to return her hospitality until last weekend, when their family arrived in Ireland.

The plan was that they would stay in Dublin for a few days, visit a family from Portadown (who they had also lent their home to), come up to our main home and stay a few days with us, head on up to our cottage on the North Antrim coast, then head to Donegal to use the Portadown family’s cottage there, before returning home! (did you follow all that?!)

Northern Ireland being the small place that it is, when the Portadown family drove up to our house with Jen following in her hire car, my husband realised he knew the mum of the Portadown family  – she had attended the same medical conference in England as my husband earlier this year! So both families had spent vacations in the same house in Massachusets out of the many thousands of house swap homes available to choose from.

Northern Ireland is indeed a small place!

Anyhow …. back to our american guests visiting this weekend.

The two American teen girls got on really well with my  daughters, and they were soon off to the local shop to introduce their favourite sweets/candy to our visitors. Their girls enjoyed learning the different vocabularily we use for things.

On Sunday afternoon, we had booked a private tour of Belfast in the infamous black taxis. There were 7 of us and we had hoped to all be in one taxi but at the last minute we had to take two. The 4 girls went in one, and Jen, my son and I went in the other.

I tend to stay away from the more political aspects of Northern Ireland on this blog, but thought
you might be interested in seeing what we saw on the tour. Having grown up since the Peace Agreement, most of it was new to my own kids who fortunately have not witnessed “the troubles” for themselves.

We heard a bit about the political situation during “the troubles” and an update on things now.

We saw murals on the Shankill

We signed the “peace” wall. The kids weren’t so impressed that it had been signed by the Dali Lama and Bill Clinton, but were more interested that Lady GaGa and Beyonce had signed it recently!

We saw the other side of the peace wall, and the Belfast “conservatories” (Northern Ireland dry humour at it’s best/worst)

When we stopped at the Bobby Sands mural, it reminded me of when he died back in 1981 (on hunger strike) and some french friends of ours phoned my parents at about 6am to see if we were safe and did we want to come to France! (We were all sound asleep and had no idea what had happened, as we lived in a quiet market town well away from Belfast).

On to see more murals on the Internation Wall on the Falls Road

Finally over to the docks area of Belfast to see the new Titanic Quarter, and the huge dry dock where the Titanic and many other ships had been built. Next year will be 100 years since the sinking of the Titanic and the whole area is being developed to include a new museum, restoration of the amazing Drawing Offices etc.

After the tour we stopped off at Victoria Square, and went up to the viewing platform before doing a wee bit of shopping. White Stuff and Primark were two of the shops which were new to our American friends.

At tea/dinner/supper (take your pick!) that night we let them sample some of our wheaten bread, soda bread (which was whiter than they expected) and potato bread (which was their favourite).

We were sorry when it came time for our guests to head north on Monday morning (although their hire-car satnav did not recognise Bushmills!) and my daughters declared that all house swaps should be non-simultaneous so we would get to meet the other families.

Have you hosted some guests from overseas, and if so, what was it they found most fascinating/unusual? Would you ever consider house swapping?

Please share in the comments, you know I love your comments!

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  1. I thinkbhouse swapping is great
    You seem to have met some lovely families
    Although I’ve never done it
    I do love learning the little words other cultures use for everyday items
    That are so different from ours
    How did you like the Belfast titanic experience?
    Is it worth visiting?

  2. I think it sounds fascinating and if I had a holiday home I would certainly consider it. I have friends who have second homes. One of them has hers rented for her by the managing residents of the resort….
    Mama Bear

  3. I would love to do a house swap. I just always assumed as we don’t live somewhere that is at all touristy, people wouldn’t swap. But as you have shown people might want to visit friends or tour around. Do you use an agency?

  4. I think house swapping is a great idea. I have never done it or hosted anyone from overseas, but I think it would be a great way to learn about other cultures. I am so glad that you have had great experiences with it. Carla

  5. Stopping over from SITS! Love your blog, especially the house swapping adventures. My husband and I LOVE the idea. For now, I can live vicariously… 🙂

  6. I’m visiting from SITS (See you in Atlanta!). I love the house swap idea. How do you make sure people won’t steal your stuff though? That would scare me. Sounds interesting though!

  7. How I wish we had a house to swap, but I still know we will get to visit one another in our future, I’m confident.

    I think learning the culture and history of the places you visit allows you to see with different eyes. I think its history coming to life, for the children too.

    I always love to come here for a coffee, hehe, it will suffice until the one day we have a real one together. Or would you prefer tea, my friend?

    Counting down to Atlanta, I’ll bet.

    ♥ Barb

  8. Fascinating!!! And so cool you are able to do this!

    I think, in your own small way, you’re contributing to world peace, and international relations!

    Atlanta is coming up fast….


  9. This sounds so wonderful! I love the idea of houseswapping, but we have never tried it. But this makes me think we should!

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