Saturday, February 20, 2010

Home Exchange Benefits

One of the great benefits of a home exchange is the inter-action between the people involved in it.  We were present when our couple from Istanbul arrived, enabling us to give them an introduction to our neighbours and community.  Conversely, when we arrived in Istantbul, our exchange couple had made arrangements for their extended families to welcome us and host us for dinner at their favourite restaurants.  This is the beauty of home exchange which no cruise ship tour or guided tour can replace.

Family entertaining us at their home.....

and serving a meal of meze (appetizers) fit for a queen

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Keeping Travel Affordable

When doing a house swap in a foreign country, make sure you have adequate travel health insurance!   Above all, make sure that when applying for insurance you clearly indicate any pre-conditions you have had and medicine regime prescribed by your doctor.  This will affect the cost of your insurance but leaves no room for the insurance company to deny coverage should you need medical care in a foreign country. 

While hiking in the hills of the French Basque country,  I had an unexpected heart attack.  Lucky me that it happened in France which has the most advanced medical system in the world.  It took the ambulance a mere 20 minutes to arrive from Bayonne, a distance which under normal circumstances would take at least 45 minutes.  One thing I did not expect is the fact that in France all ambulances come staffed with  a qualified physician.  After treatment at one of the best cardiac centers in Bayonne, I was released 4 days later having had 3 cardiologists at my disposal.  

The total cost of treatment (angioplasty, tests and medications, service of 3 cardiologists, ambulance) came to a mere $15,000   -  I am sure this cost would have been higher in Canada and in the US I probably would have had to remortgage my home.   The insurance company insisted that we extend our stay in France by a week, to which we happily complied!  We were  able to use our Visa card to pay the medical bill.  (more aeroplan miles for the next trip!)  A few weeks later, after having returned to Canada,  the insurance company reimbursed us the full amount minus a $200 deductible. 


Friday, February 12, 2010

Affordable Travel by Car

If you plan to travel in Europe for more than 17 days, there is a wonderful way to solve the transportation challenge:  buy a car and then sell it back to the company.  That's right!  Both Peugeot and Renault have a program that allows the tourist to select a new vehicle from their fleet and then sell it back to the company when leaving.  On one occasion, we picked up our car at Schiphol in Amsterdam, toured Europe for 6 weeks and returned the car in Amsterdam upon our departure.  Recently we picked up our car in Biarritz, France, stayed for a month and returned the car at Biarritz.  The cost for a small car, a Renault Megane, came to about $60 a day and that included insurance.  Not only is this competitive with rental rates, it also allows someone who is older than 70 to obtain a vehicle because most rental companies have an age ceiling of 65.  In Biarritz we were met at the airport upon arrival and returned to the airport upon departure.  Everything was arranged in advance from within Canada before our leaving.  Renault has an office in Montreal (Renault Eurodrive) and I believe Peugeot also has an office in Canada.  We have nothing but good things  to say about this excellent program. 


Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Basque Region of France

When we were asked to cat-sit in the Basque Region of France, we had no idea what would be in store for us.  We had been in France on several occasions, but this area of France was unknown to us.  Only through Home Exchange could we have the opportunity to "live" and experience life the way it is lived and experienced by the local people.

Bayonne is the administrative center of the Basque region

The architecture with it half-timber construction is reminiscent to the Alsace area


But the language and culture of the Basques is unique




The scenery is mostly rural and breathtaking


Biarritz is the tourist center and well worth a visit