March 31, 2009
With every home exchange that I have had the opportunity to do, I always come home both sad and happy. Sad that it has to come to an end and happy that I was able to have the chance to visit such an amazing place.
Home exchanging has given me the ability to travel to Australia, Mexico, England, Denmark, France, Washington and twice to Florida. All in just less than 3 years!
So you're asking, "How in the world do you afford to go to all these places"? Here's the glory of this, when you do a home exchange, your only expense is your airfare in most cases. Let me give you an example of what I'm talking about by sharing with you what I spent to be on vacation in Ponte Vedra Beach Florida for 3 weeks.
I'll start with the airfare. I paid $10 for my round trip airfare from Las Vegas to Jacksonville. In addition to that I had to pay $15 for my checked bag each way. Total: $40.00! This isn't always the case, I just so happened to have had enough frequent flyer miles with Delta. But you can get airfare for around $250 if you watch for specials. Next, how much did I pay for accommodations for 3 weeks? That would be a big fat ZERO! Because we exchanged homes there are no costs for hotels. Which by the way can average about $100 or more per day. Now how did I get around for 3 weeks? Did I rent a car? That would be NO! When you do a home exchange you can also exchange vehicles if both parties are in agreement. So that would be another big fat ZERO for a rental car. Okay have you added that up? Shouldn't be too hard since all I've paid for is getting here. That's right, $40.00.
Now what did I spend on entertainment and food? Well if you have been following this blog you have a pretty good idea already. So I'm going to do something kind of fun here and I will do this from now on at the end of all my stories about my home exchanges.
Rental Car................$ 0
Fuel for Car..............$125.00
I am home now, but not for to long. I'm headed "Down Under". I will be flying out on April 23 to the Gold Coast of Australia for 3 weeks on another home exchange. I'm sure I will have some great stories for you!
Remember, you can see all of pictures at "Where's Debbie"
March 29, 2009
Whew! Got that out of my system. So now I head on over to the "Fountain of Youth" in hopes that a drink of the water will give me eternal youth! May I have seconds, please? I pay my $8.00 and join in on the tour which starts on the original site of the "spring". After sampling the water and listening to the tour guide give details of the history of the discovery of Florida by Ponce de Leon and the "Fountain of Youth" we then head over to another building where a short movie is shown repeating pretty much what the tour guide had already shared with us. Good for me, because I do need to hear things a couple of times to sink in. Then yet onto one more building, the planetarium. The purpose of this was to educate you on how people such as Christopher Columbus and Ponce de Leon used the stars as a navigational system while sailing uncharted seas to discover the New World. I then walked the grounds for a little while and then headed on back to Ponte Vedra Beach.
This has been another day filled with excitement and history.
If you would like to see more pictures of my day just go to "Where's Debbie" and click on the album "Back to St Augustine".
I just couldn't stop people watching and taking pictures. And everyone was really friendly and ready for a group photo.
By the time I make it to the Riverfront the parade has ended and the thousands of people I just passed are also headed here.I really enjoyed walking along the river on the cobblestone and seeing the old cotton warehouses that had been converted into cute shops and boutiques, and restaurants and pubs over looking the river. There was plenty of music with a live band and a little further down a DJ playing some favorite dance tunes.
I thought about going into one of those great Irish Pubs and getting myself a green beer but the lines to get into any bar were entirely way to long...........
.......so I opted for some ice cream at this great little shop where you could also watch Pralines being made and have someone throw some taffy at you that had just been freshly twisted and wrapped.
Well it's time to start thinking about heading back to Ponte Vedra Beach. But there is a Lighthouse nearby on Tybee Island and I must go take pictures.
My day is complete now.
Before driving back to Ponte Vedra Beach I stop in at a little road side ice cream stand and order me up a large black cherry waffle cone! The perfect way to end a perfect day!
There are a whole lot more pictures of my day in Savannah at "Where's Debbie". To see them just click on the album "St. Paddy's Day".
March 28, 2009
This was just so exciting to me, to be able to actually witness such a spectacular event!
If you would like to see more pictures just go to "Where's Debbie" and click on the album "Shuttle Launch"
March 27, 2009
March 24, 2009
Neither Stijn or I have experienced Greyhound racing before, so we thought it would be something fun to see and do a little betting while we're at it. Neither one of us had a clue how to place a bet but the staff there was exceptionally helpful and friendly.
So now we have a race book and the 4th race of the day is about to start. We looked over the eight dogs we had to choose from and made our selections for the bets. Sad to say neither one of us won on this race. But it seemed as the day went on we were becoming a little more savvy, or maybe lucky, on picking our dogs. The 6th race I made a Show, Place, Win bet on "Where's Flythang" for $6.00 and ended up winning $15.00!
This is my winning dog.
The next race I won $4.60. I then used these winnings for my next bet (and Stijn's) and ended up winning another $13.60! Okay, I'm loving greyhound racing! The eighth race found both of us picking the wrong dogs, but the ninth race we picked up the winnings again with Stijn winning $4.00 and me winning $3.00. We decided that the tenth race would be our last wager of the day.
Well now I have a theory that I am going to use regarding my betting. There is a dog listed named "Wheres Santiago". This is a sign ! Why? Well remember that I won a race with "Where's Flythang" and if you have been following this blog you know that you can see all my pictures at "Wheres Debbie". You got it! So I bet $6.00 on "Where's Santiago" for Show, Place, Win........and he comes in 1st Place!!!! I won $39.60!!!!
Dinner was great tonight at the Aqua Grill compliments of "Where's Santiago"! This was a great restaurant located in the Sawgrass Village located just across the street from our home exchange location. We sat outside on the deck overlooking the water while we enjoyed our dinner. We started out with some Fried Green Tomatoes along with a glass of wine for me and a beer for Stijn. For the main course Stijn ordered Seafood Jambalaya with rice. This was an amazing rendition of jambalaya with little neck clams still in the shell, fresh fish, chicken and andouille sausage all simmered in a spicy New Orleans red sauce. I had the basil seared Salmon and egg fettuccine tossed with jumbo shrimp, peas and sun dried tomatoes in a pink vodka sauce.
A great way to end a day at the track!
If you would like to see more pictures of the races just go to Wheres Debbie then click on the album "A Day at the Races"
Yes, this is a picture of the front of our canoe with an alligator just ahead of us. "Keep paddling" Stijn says with an anxious yet firm tone.
Now we head into an area that is going to take us through a loop and here we see more alligators, turtles and birds. We pass a house boat and wave to the people on board. They inform us that there are a couple of manatees in the area and that we should keep an eye out and maybe we would see one. They also pointed out that there is a "Huge" alligator just ahead of us crossing the water. Cool! After paddling a little further down we can hear the people on the house boat telling us that there is a manatee about 40 yards behind our canoe and he is coming straight towards us. We turn to take a look and we could see the wake of the manatee coming straight in our direction. As he approached our canoe he circled around us and we could see him just below the surface of the water. Magnificent! Then he stopped just behind Stijn, lifted his head out of the water, took a look at us and then re-submerged and swam away. This was the most amazing thing I have ever seen!
Satisfied with all we were able to see, we decide it's time to head back and turn in our canoe. Afterwards we take a little walk over to see the Thursby house which was built in 1872 by Louis Thursby and is a nice little museum that is free with some history on the area along with some artifacts.
This has been an amazing day and I will never forget the experience and the feelings I felt when I saw my first manatee.
If you would like to see more pictures of our day please go to Where's Debbie and click on the album "Blue Spring State Park"
March 23, 2009
Afterwards we had some lunch at the Seaporch at the Cabana Club sitting at a table on the deck looking out over the ocean. I am in Heaven!
Once again I am on a home exchange that is perfectly located for exploring. I am on the Northeast coast of Florida along the Atlantic shore with a 120 mile string of beaches and resorts, interrupted by dunes and marshland. And right in the middle lies historic St. Augustine. Resorts run up and down this coast line from Daytona Beach to Fernandina Beach which is where we are headed today. There are a couple of ways to get to Fernandina Beach, take the inland route of I95 and see nothing or take the 1A1 up the coast and drive through some great beach towns. Hmmm, this is a no brainer for me! So up the coast we drive and once we get to Mayport we must now take about a 5-10 minute ferry ride for only $5.00 across the St. Johns River to Ft. George Island to pick up US1 and continue to our destination. We decide to stop at Little Talbot Island State Park and spend some time on the beach. To visit Little Talbot island is only a $4.00 entrance fee and well worth it! This is a beautiful undeveloped and natural haven for wildlife. We must have spent at least an hour here just walking along the beach and enjoying the ocean.
As we make our way into Fernandina Beach I spot a Lighthouse and I must have a closer look. As I drive through streets winding me past private homes I find my Lighthouse. However, there is a "No Trespassing" sign posted......so I walk up as close as I can get and snap a couple of pictures of the Ameila Island Lighthouse.
The town of Fernandina Beach is better known today as a charming Victorian resort, however everywhere you look you can see evidence of Fernandina Beach once being renowned as a pirates' den until the early 1800's.
You can explore Fernandina with a guided walking tour or even by a horse drawn carraige. We decide to enjoy walking around on our own through the 55-block historic district popping in and out of quaint shops selling everything from Christmas decorations to fine art.
I picked Dan and Nancy up from the airport on March 2 and brought them to my home and helped them get settled in before I left the following day to their home. Dan was a sweetie and took me to the airport in the morning and braved his way back to my house through the morning Las Vegas traffic. I sure know how to break them in don't I?
I landed in Jacksonville about 6:30pm, took the shuttle to the parking lot to pick up their car and then drove to my new "home" for the next 3 weeks.
I've settled in with a glass (or two) of some red wine they had left for me and enjoyed my first night in Ponte Vedra Beach.
But tomorrow is what I am really excited about!! Stijn arrives from Brussels at JAX about 5:30pm! He had told me in Brussels when I was at the airport getting ready to fly back to Las Vegas "Only 5 weeks". Well I can't believe that it is 5 weeks later and he will be here with me until March 15th.
We have some great adventures planned so keep checking back here to see what we did and what we saw while here in Florida on my 8th home exchange.
Seeing how much I enjoyed the Italian markets, Stijn thought that I would certainly love to experience a market in Belgium. So we take the metro to a huge market that is held on the grounds of Cureghem Cellars every Sunday. Now this was an amazing market, not only could you buy fresh fruits and vegetables,
or fresh fish and meat, but if you needed a new appliance, or some clothing you could get that here too. But lets say you need a couple of live geese or chickens..........
Next we headed to the Grand Place for one last chance to get some pictures of this magnificent square. Every time I go here I take a ton of pictures because I am in such awe of all the fabulous architecture that surrounds it, but beside that the skies are clear in Brussels today!
Stijn has decided that he is going to cook dinner for me tonight, so after stopping in La Grand Cafe for one last Irish Coffee before I go home, we go to the grocery store to pick up some mussels. What is a trip to Brussels without having some mussels?
Don't you just love a man in the kitchen?
Dinner is wonderful! And who could ask for more than spending time with the one you love, sharing not only a glass of wine and a pot of mussels, but all of the unforgettable memories that you just made together over the last 30 days.
I Love You Stijn!
To see more pictures of my last day in Europe just go to Where's Debbie and click on the album "Brussels".
March 22, 2009
We head in the direction of two very tall towers, which happen to be referred to as "Two Towers". So we make our way to Porta Ravegnana Square and there they are, one taller than the other and one leaning.....a lot!
The Asinelli Tower, the taller of the two was built in 1109 and is 319 feet tall with an inner staircase of 498 steps completed in 1684. The Garisenda tower built around the same time is much smaller (154 feet).
It's now about 1pm and after passing so many little cafe's with tables lined up outside on the cobblestone streets we decide it's time to have some lunch. We end up in Piazza Minghetti and find Ristorante "da Ercole". Here we eat outside in a tented terrace with heat! The prices were mid to high range, averaging between 8 and 12 euros. We start with a bottle of Sangiovese wine from the Romagna region and a platter of assorted cheeses and bread.
Before the main course I must also have some authentic Gnocchi and Stijn has Tortellini in Brodo, a pasta stuffed with mincemeat, salami and herbs in a broth. Then our plates come, Stijn has Straccetti di Manzo con Rucole which is thin slices of beef with rocket lettuce and a garlic & rosemary sauce. I decide to have the Polenta con Funghi Porcini which is polenta with porcini mushrooms and gorgonzola, because I have never had polenta before, and now I can say "okay, had that, don't need to have it again". Pretty flavorless except for the porcini mushrooms.
Stuffed and happy with our choice for this late lunch we waddle back onto the streets of Bologna for some more sightseeing. Nothing better than a good walk after a huge lunch, and what better place to take a walk then through the streets of Bologna.
As we walk under more of those wonderful porticoes we see some more incredible architecture. But equally incredible to me are the butcher shops and their amazing display of meats and poultry. Let the pictures speak for themselves.
"Honey, can you pick me up a whole chicken and some lamb at the market" has a whole different meaning here in Italy.
Well it's getting dark now so we decide to head back in the direction of our room. But we are stopped dead in our tracks by one more unexpected surprise. Another outdoor market! This one on the little square just before our hotel. There are only about 4 rows of vendors, but these vendors are selling meats, cheeses, breads, olive oils, wines, chocolates, pastries! God love Italy! We make our first pass through to see everything and then Stijn has an incredible idea. "How about we just pick us up some meat and cheese along with some bread and a bottle of wine and take it to our room"? he says to me in complete genius theory. "We could have a picnic on the bed", I replied. He just got a big smile on his face. So we go to one of the meat vendors and they slice us off some parma ham right from the leg of the pig.
And then we go to a cheese vendor and decide from the tower of cheeses which one to have sliced for us.
We pick out a round of bread and a bottle of wine and away we go to enjoy our picnic in our room on the bed.
While we are curled up on the bed sipping wine and nibbling on meat and cheese with some bread we make a toast to another magnificent day together and reminisce about our day in Bologna and all the great expected and unexpected things we were able to see and do today.
All good things must come to an end and we must head back to Brussels this morning. And then to make this trip to Bologna even more magical, it begins to snow.
What a great surprise!
If you would like to see more pictures of what we saw and what we did go to Where's Debbie and click on the album "Bologna"