It was already in the early 1990’s that I learned, through a magazine, that a group of French
and Dutch teachers (it seems that they were actually Swiss) had created an organization to
allow the exchange of houses. I, who was already passionate with travels, found the idea
extraordinary, once, besides allowing to save on stays and meals, gave us above all the
opportunity to know the country, the city or the region like a local inhabitant. So I joined
quickly. At the time, new entries were published in booklets and we received them with
updates twice a year. The booklet contained an identifying photo and a short description. The
real proposals arrived by regular mail, inside an envelope, with detailed and appealing
descriptions and more photos of the house and region. Sometimes the interested partner
called to shorten the process.
I made my first exchange in 1991 with a family from Saint-Ismier, a French village just outside
Grenoble for Geneve, Switzerland. From the balcony, where we sometimes ate, we could see
the snowy peaks of Mont Blanc on the horizon. I went with my wife and a couple of friends,
whom we travelled on other trips, and we visited several interesting cities in ancient Savoy,
Geneve and of course the Alps, especially Mont Blanc.
My daughter was two years old and we thought it was too early to travel with us, at the time a car trip. She stayed with grandparents and almost every day we called her and sometimes she couldn’t stop sobbing and cried with longing.
I promised myself that she would go on the next trips. So it was, when two years later we made another exchange to the south of England, in Rye, near Hastings. With this family we established a special friendship and we visited them when two years later we made another exchange to the city of London and several years later, on a visit to Portugal, they called me, we met and they slept one night in my house.
On the trip to London we also take my son, who was 3 or 4 years old at the time. When I got divorced years later, my children became my favourite companions on the trips I made through Intervac exchanges, but sometimes friends or family travelled with me too. Of course I looked for specific attractions for them, such as Disneyland, PortAventura and others, but I also tried to teach them the local culture and what motivated me to travel. That’s why they fell in love with Florence or Rome like I did.
It was asuffocating heat in Rome in August when we went for the first time, but there are sources of
fresh water everywhere. But my children, still kids in 2001, preferred ice cream, so we became
customers of an ice cream shop on the corner of Piazza Navona. That’s why every day, on our
daily trips, we had to go through Piazza Navona. When the employees saw us arriving, they
said: “arrivanno i portoghesi!” Five years later, on an exchange to Florence, we went to Rome
and at the ice cream shop they still remembered us.
I usually say that I’m not a tourist, I’m a traveller. That’s why Intervac met my preferences, because I like to choose the attractions I want to see, how long and how often I want to see them. This makes me to prepare the trip very well and while I am preparing it, I am already enjoying it, even before it begins. And in order to get to know a city or region we need to know
a little about its history, its culture, habits and a little bit of its language. So besides the languages I speak, I always learn the basic sentences of the language of the country to where I travel.
Gastronomy is part of the culture. We can also try local products at our Intervac partner’s house, but a typical restaurant is always advisable. In Iceland, Lára (read Laura) left us a decent amount of fish, especially fresh cod, all very tasty.
We tried other local specialties at restaurants, but I just didn’t have the courage to try the most famous one – Hákarl. They are cubes of shark meat that are buried for 2 to 4 months to “ferment” (understand: rot) and those cubes have a very strong smell and taste. In a restaurant near the port of Reykjavik, the delicacy was advertised and added: “eat first and ask later”. But I already knew and I didn’t need to ask.
My Intervac partners always leave tourist information, more or less detailed, and a list with practical information about the house and the area. I also leave detailed information, but I have always enjoyed meeting them whenever possible. That’s why, even in the simultaneous exchanges, I try to delay our journey in order to receive the Intervac partners, show them the
house and the area and often take a short tour of the most important spots of Porto (the city and the surroundings where I live) and we ended up having lunch.
This gives them important help and establishes bonds of friendship and trust. We have already found partners that when they receive us, also did the same. Once in a while I even took a full day trip to show them the wonders of the Douro landscape and the best places to admire it.
After a new affective relationship, in which we both live in our own house, it’s easy to delay the date of our departure. But before, I tried to sleep at a relative’s house and I even went to sleep in a hotel twice. I strongly advise you to do this, because it strengthens the bonds of friendship and trust with those with whom we are exchanging.
I don’t have pets and I rarely find exchange partners with animals. But the ones we found with animals (usually cats) were very independent and lived outside the house. I remember an exchange we made to a mountain village of Brengenz (near Lake Constance). They had a cat that lived outside the house, but every morning he came to show what he had hunted – a
mouse or a sparrow.
I am pleased with Intervac. I even joined two other services of the same kind. In one of them I
still made two or three exchanges, but I just gave up, because it’s at Intervac I find almost
everything I want.