Valerie & John's recollections

Home Away from Home in Royal Deeside
Recollections of 30 years of exchanging homes with HomeLink

The Big

It had 14 bedrooms, servants quarters, a ballroom, stuffed birds including the local Capercaillie and  a bar and was set in 200 acres of woodlands with 2 trout ponds and 2 crofters cottages. It had been purchased by a wealthy retired couple who enjoyed our much more modest home in rural Manukau.

Before the days of Mobile phones & Google maps, this property was big enough to feature in the pages of UK Road Maps.

The Victorian mansion which was to be our exchange home for the next three weeks was eerily quiet as we explored. A bedroom was prepared for our use, a welcome meal in the fridge and a bottle of wine, as is customary in all exchanges was there.  It was really all we needed as we prepared to enjoy being the sole occupants of this unique property. By prior agreement we fed the trout daily!

The river Dee  and  Balmoral Castle were just a short drive down the road.


The Small

It was the holiday home of an English couple in the hills just east of Rome.  It was 400 hundred years old and tiny.  It had been beautifully restored but was with an original spiral staircase going from the basement and up  4 Stories in all.  The tiniest bit was the kitchen which had all  mod cons but you almost needed to exit the kitchen to turn around.  We arrived on the celebration of Corpus Christi and the main street was covered in flowers.  Our Exchange host told us it was difficult to communicate with the locals as they didn’t speak Italian, only a local dialect.   It was the perfect venue for 2 weeks exploration of Rome and L’Aquila .

The Curious

“Would you like to go to Tucson Arizona and look after a dog” my husband called out.  “Not sure” I replied.  We had no plans for the year so decided to give it a go.  It turned out to be one of the most interesting holidays we have had.  It was a substantial modern home set in 10 acres of desert  and we were there for the flowering of the cactus.  This area was full of interest. It had a small lake close to the house and  we sat  in the evenings by  the living room window and watched the desert animals evening ritual of coming to drink.  Animals we had only seen in Westerns, coyotes, road runners, big horn sheep.  There was a notice by the back door “If you see a diamond backed rattlesnake or Tarantula’ please ring this number and they will take them out to the wild desert for release.”  We did.  We saw  rattlesnake through the screen door and duly had it caught and delivered,  but that’s too a long story !  We loved the amazing hummingbirds which spent a lot of time on the jasmine by the back door

 The Friendship

St Carne is a  small town in Brittany.  We had an instant rapport with Giselle who was a retired teacher of English.  We loved the Dinan area so much that we returned and had a enjoyable reunion with our friend Giselle.  She invited her sister & her granddaughter for lunch and we learnt how to make Galettes.

Our exchange home on this second visit  was in Le Mesurier, a village so small that there was a main street and nothing much else.  It was another  one of the ancient villages that encircle the small town of Dinan.  Our exchange house had over the door  :”L’ancienne Epicerie”,  the old grocers shop.  It was built in the 1700’s.    It was owned by a Brit who bought it from a French interior designer who renovated it in the French Provincial style but leaving the amazing tiled floors and  the original tortuous spiral staircase intact.

This exchange changed my life and I have learnt how to renovate our furniture  in the traditional French style with wax and chalk paint.

The Biggest  Bonus

You pay nothing for your HomeLink holiday.

Every holiday saves you a great deal of money  but the biggest bonus by far for us was a whole month in a four bedroom house in a posh suburb of Paris on the metro line where we must have saved many thousands of dollars.  We enjoyed some serious Paris study.  The home  was owned by  a Parisian Doctor of Medicine  who liked unusual travel experiences.  He and his wife spent a week in Iceland touring on recumbent tricycles  on their  way to NZ.

The Extras

We are now in our 80’s.  Still dreaming of more travels but Local of course at present.  Had a message from a Member who wants a dog looked after for 3 weeks.  A seaside holiday in the  Bay of Plenty  sound good so off we go next month.   The dog will be looked after as will the home and we will have another lovely holiday.

Please read all about HomeLink  New Zealand and enjoy the endless possibilities

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