Tag: Family Travel

Another type of unconventional accommodation option that we fell in love with is Hospitality Exchange. Where there are plenty of sites to go to for home exchange, hospitality exchange is rather new. Often these types of options have come to us from other travels we’ve done and people we meet. When you open yourself up and talk to locals and find people of like mind, they will invite you to be their guests. 

We had friends invite us to stay with them in their Villa in Sorrento, Italy. This is the view from the roof…. simply heaven. As this is being written I can almost feel the relaxed atmosphere mixed with the aroma of Italian cooking coming from all corners of this beautiful little courtyard. This simply took my breath away!

We have also invited and hosted kids from all over the world to stay with us for the summer to have a cultural exchange and often those have naturally evolved in replicating offers from their family to come stay with them. One summer traveling through France and Germany we were able to stay with 5 families all for free and our experience was out of this world.


Here we eating with our friends, the Kluths on an excursion to the Black Forest in Germany. They hosted us at their home with a few excursions along the way. Not only to the Black Forest but to the fresh crisp air of the Swiss Alps. 


Here is Brianne helping to fix dinner during our hospitality exchange.

You will never experience different cultures and traditions of countries in the world better than by living with people of that country. We have made lifelong friends around the world through hospitality exchange. The idea here is that you open your home up to singles, couples and families if you have the room for a few days or for however long you want. You become their host. You don’t have to feed them, be their constant guide or stray from your daily routine – if you don’t want to. All they are usually looking for is a comfortable place to sleep and call a base camp. Now, it has been our experience that if you do this right, they will become like family. You will share meals, stories, laugh and show them what your region of the world is all about. 

Remember this is all called “exchange” and if you just do your own thing you really aren’t exchanging much. Once in Germany we stayed with this incredible family, the Kluths, who opened their home up to us. When we arrived, they showed us to our room, the house was small and so to accommodate our family of 6 was quite the juggling act. We soon learned that the room they put us in was their master bedroom. They made the camper their room while we were there. We insisted that we take the camper but they argued that we were the guests and insisted we allow them to do this for us. Such was the graciousness of our host.


The Kluth family not only had little German Chocolates… Yummyness, on our pillows when we arrived but they cooked some of the most amazing meals, including this beautiful cake above.


Marissa is just hanging out with Milena’s Brother at their home in Germany.


We visited Switzerland with the Kluths and here we are contemplating our jump off the bridge for a little swim!

This type of exchange can often be easy to arrange and fit within your normal travel schedule. You don’t need to be as flexible, just make sure you are understanding to the needs of your host and always bring a gift of thanks, usually something unique from your country or region. I’m sure if you give this a try you will fall in love with it as much as we have. Keep your options open and you will be surprised at what comes your way. On the trip through France and Germany, one of our French families who invited us to stay with them gave us the most incredible surprise when we pulled up to their address. As we drove into their drive, right in front of us was their summer home.


To the right of us was a 14th century full blown French castle with a proper mote, we might add. When we had finished the most incredible dinner they prepared for us, they asked, “Do you want to sleep in the farmhouse with us or would you prefer to sleep in the castle?” They didn’t have to ask twice, how many times do you get the chance to sleep in a castle?

If you are going to look for sites for hospitality exchange here are a few to start with, www.couchsurfing.com is the one that most people think of but keep in mind they are more geared to the single or couple travelers. Others are www.staydu.com. www.warmshowers.com, www.hospitalityclub.org, www.globalfreeloaders.com and for those who are Latter-day Saints there is a sight that caters to you, www.mormonexplorer.com

After visiting the lush blue/turquoise paradise of The Great Barrier Reef we were now headed to a starkly different place with beauty all it’s own. Cambodia was never really on our must see places until our daughter and son-in-law visited a few years earlier, they had so many good things to say about it … the food, Angkor Wat, Phnom Penh, prices of hotels, the people, etc. we decided to find out for ourselves what experiences we could have exploring such a place.

After landing at the airport in the Capital of Phnom Penh, we started talking with another passenger from our flight who was from from Australia. She was there to help an orphanage in Siem Reap, of course this peaked our curiosity and we asked for her contact information. Our hope was to try and visit this orphanage during our 1 1/2 day stay in Siem Reap. We knew the time would be tight, but this was a wonderful and unique opportunity and one well worth the effort. 
As we starting leaving the airport and while looking for a taxis to take us to the hotel, we had many drivers trying to entice us to use their services, ranging from cars, to taxis to tuk tuks.  As with many with our travels we always say… “When in Rome or in this case, when in Cambodia”. Why take a cab when you can take a form of transportation like a tuk tuk. If there was an ox and cart we probably would have taken it. You can take a cab just about anywhere and we absolutely love experiences rather then the ordinary…. The big question in this case, would all our luggage and the three of us fit? We usually pack fairly light, but since we were coming home after living in Australia for three months, we had more than usual. 

Like a Tetris master our driver enlisted the help of other drivers to strategically fit not only us but ALL of our luggage. It was quite comical to sit back and watch these guys arrange and then rearrange the small space to fit everything and everyone. Soon we were on our way through the streets of Phnom Penh.

Prior to our trip, one of the books in our bookclub happened to be, “The Rent Collector”, a true story woven with a fictional addition about a young family that lived on a garbage dump in Phnom Penh. This book of redeeming love, forgiveness, strength, and gratitude even during hardships was now having a whole new effect on us (we listened to the book again while we were in Australia and we highly recommend reading it before a trip to this amazing place). Phnom Penh is the capital city, and we were wondering why our driver was taking the backroads, unpaved and unkept only to find out that these were the main streets. 


Often the smell of both the open sewer ditches next to the road, mixed with the piles of burning garbage, from the makeshift homes built along the the banks of the sewage canals, were a bit unbearable. This along with the oxen pulling carts, what seemed like thousands of scooters and the occasional person just walking down the middle of the road made for an exciting and eventful ride to our hotel. The crowds of people along the road, lean-to huts put anywhere they could get them to stand made us much more aware of this amazing place and what people do to just survive. This was their reality and very often you would see, set amongst the ruins of a house or business a gorgeous mansion just slid right in between. This was very common as it seems they put houses wherever they can find a spot which makes for quite the dichotomy of a growing yet struggling city. 


We finally pulled up to our hotel and after talking with our driver, Mr. Mada, we decided to hire him to take us out the next few days to see the sites rather then take a taxis. This means having your vehicle open to the elements that were rather hot, about 100 degrees F with 100% humility, with no air conditioning. At time we wondered but we wanted to really embrace and experience Cambodia and this seemed the best way to do so.

Cambodia continues on in the next few posts. Find out where our adventures take us…
We had a wonderful invite for a scrumptious dinner with the Cross family and a few neighbors. Great conversation, fantastic food, and new friends…. these are the ‘sweet things’ in life!
Our last day here we took a break from packing and decided to do a little paddle boarding with Surf Connect on Sandgate Beach. Why not? This was so much fun we wondered why we had waited so long! It would be great as a daily arm work out and with my ‘over 40 arms’ that could really be good.


Marissa is loving it!
The Cross’s cute little dog ‘Patch’ always greeted us with some sort of ball or toy in his mouth, hoping we would play for a bit. Marissa couldn’t handle how sad he looked after playing … almost as if he was saying, “One more time … Please!” 


Our farewell sunset.




We had to get one game in with Finn and Taj before leaving… guess who won????
The Beach House we rented in Brighton, QLD came with   incredibly wonderful and entertaining neighbors (at NO extra charge). Even the dog came to say Good-Bye.
We have met so many wonderful people along our travels in Australia, in some ways it is hard to say to leave but we feel blessed that we shared a moment in our lives together that we will never forget. And we hope that many friends will come and visit or that we can see them again on our travels back ‘Down Under’. Thank you to all those that made our experience magical by sharing your lives with us!

What do you get when you crisscross a plethora of Natural Geysers, Haka Dancers, blueberries, and a live Kiwis? This probably describes many places in the area of Rotorua but we chose Te Puia Cultural Center because you could find all the above in one place.

Because it was their National Anzac Day (similar to the U.S. Veterans Day), we found that NOTHING would be open until 1 pm. This made us quite happy and allowed us to take a relaxing morning in getting out the door, until we realized that we weren’t going to be able to find anything to eat. We took our sweet time on the way, stopping at a blueberry farm which toted succulent and healthy blueberry dishes (this made me happy) but even after 1 pm she said she wouldn’t have time to fix us anything for quite a while…. we were confused as the sign said ‘OPEN’. We didn’t let that stop our hunt for a good place to eat and do a little shopping before we headed to the Cultural Center.

Rotorua is the cultural mecca of the indigenous Maori people. The town is set in the North Island of New Zealand. There are many geysers and thermal mud pools that are fueled by the area’s geothermal activity. The mud from the pools are known to be good for the skin (Hummmmm).

Dale was really excited to see a live Kiwi but sadly they were sleeping. Such a disappointment, even though he knew they were Nocturnal, he had hoped to find at least an eye open. It was not to be. We did however enjoy a crazy Haka performance, which Dale was asked to participate in…. his claim to fame perhaps? You decide after watching the video!

Dale and Marissa tried to see how the Maori houses (found in one of the villages) could work for them. Marissa was thrilled to know that the houses were toooo short for her, since she doesn’t see that very often! Apparently it will not be called her permanent home.
This beautiful town on the Amalfi coast can only be seen like this from sea


Just before our little cruise…. feeling good!
Day 16 found us relaxing poolside at the Villa where we are staying and doing a little shopping in the cooler evening air of Sorrento. This little city comes to life after sunset and there are a myriad of shops tucked away in the back streets just waiting to be explored. Gelato was of course the main event of the evening. There is nothing better than enjoying the cool and delicious flavors of this creamy delight as you walk slowly and without direction through the crowds of any Italian town. But this night with our dear friends, it was even more enjoyable.
Day 17 proved to be one of the most breathtaking of all our days in Italy. We have said over and over again how hard it is to decide which of the many activities to do. This coupled with our time quickly coming to an end in Sorrento caused us to look for ways to combine as many of the activities together as possible. We still wanted to go to Capri, Positano and Amalfi and capture the spender and awe of this beautiful coastline. We also knew we didn’t have enough time to do them all by car and Capri was only accessible by boat.
On the cruise….. Not feeling so good.

We searched online and found the perfect solution. For 39 Euros you can catch a sightseeing boat at the docks or port of Sorrento. It is called the Blue Mini Cruise and combined all of our dreams into one perfect package. One thing we failed to gather from our online research was exactly when the boat departed. From what we could surmise is that it was around or just after 8am and it returned around 5:30pm.  We inquired about the cruise and the gentleman gave us literature on a similar cruise going to the exact same places but was only 24 Euros per person. After checking out the boat, making sure we weren’t going to be on a world war two tugboat, we purchased the tickets and with a few extra dollars and time to spare before departure we explored the local venders selling their goods to the tourists. We picked up some water and other needed supplies and then headed for our boat.

Taking a dip in the cool clean waters by Capri…. we jumped off the side of the boat
The pristine clear blue waters by Capri
Our first stop was to the isle of Capri. We swear that no mater the depth, you can always see to the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea and it is the most beautiful blue. However is was a bit choppy and both  Marissa and I felt every wave and despite our preplanning for sea sickness we both felt the effects before we arrived at Capri. 
Capri is really two giant rocks jetting straight way out of the sea and is spectacular upon approach. The plan here wasn’t to dock and explore but to merely enjoy the cool waters near the white cave or Grotto. Of course Capri is most famous for its Blue Grotto and we had thought long and hard about visiting this marvel but opted to skip it this time after hearing from others that it is beautiful, but you are so rushed in and out it is hardly worth the cost. So from the coast the boatload jumped in the water for a much welcomed cool dip amongst the cliffs and caves of this island paradise. 
After our swim we had our choice to debark in Positano for two and a half hours and explore or continue on to the port of Amalfi. We had our sights set on Amalfi, but Marissa and I, Dale’s two sea weary companions needed dry land so we gathered our items to get ready to explore but failed to do so quick enough. Note for next time… Be ready to hop off as soon as the ship docks. The time allowed seems more like seconds than minutes. Either way, we weren’t ready and Dale got his wish as we sailed on to Amalfi.
Beautiful Amalfi Coast


We would have to say that approaching both Positano and Amalfi from the water as was done in years gone by when this was the only way to visit these ancient maritime Republics is, in our opinion, the only way to really capture their grandeur. We did our best to try and capture the magnificence in pictures but it truly has to be seen in person to get the full effect. 
Both ports are breathtaking and the buildings, something out of an enchanted fairy book story. As we walked the streets of Amalfi we imagined the painstaking task of building these towns on shear rock, which explodes out of the sea straight up to the sky.
More of the Amalfi Coast……..ummmm!
After a little more than an hour, admiring the shops and finding a few bargains and again seeing if the gelato is any better here, we headed back to the ship for our ride back to Sorrento. The sun was a bit lower and was perfectly set on the side of the mountains which popped the colors of the building like never before. A quick stop to pick up those who stayed in Positano provided yet another chance to capture the city at a different angel and better lighting.
IMG_4239IMG_4236Arriving home the day was long but well worth the money and time spent. By the way, lunch on the boat was not only extremely affordable but very good as well, with several choices of sandwiches, salads or pasta all around 4 Euro each. A quick swim in the pool at the Villa to cool down was the perfect ending to a perfect day.
The intricate beautiful Caserta Palace, Italy


We find it fascinating how connected the royal and ruling families of Europe were. At Schonbrunn we were reminded that Marie Antoinette’s mother was Empress Maria Theresia of Austria and today at the Caserta Palace we see how each ruler tried to outdo each other in their palaces.
We came with friends who trekked the expansive gardens with us
The Caserta Palace was created by the Bourbon king Charles III in the mid-18th century. His goal was to rival the Palace at Versailles and the Royal Palace in Madrid. As for the inside of the palace we believe he succeeded. This is a magnificent very stately palace and is very tastefully built with 1200 rooms (think of the parties you could host!).
Marissa and McKenna racing up the steps

We think the most impressive part of the palace is the entryway of 116 steps all carved from one giant block of stone.  The gardens however, though immense are not as beautiful as Versailles but are still magnificent with a huge waterfall about 2 miles from the main palace feeding into a fountain of Diana and Acteaon. It then flows into the dolphin fountain, down through the “fish pond”, which is where mock sea battles were performed for the royal court. The Bosco Vecchio is where it all ends up and was built as the “little castle” and a playhouse for the Bourbon princes.

We made it!  We walked the entire way…. it took us well over an hour. Here are Rick enjoying a moment with McKenna, Abby, and Marissa.
We drove to Caserta although you could take a 45-minute train ride from Naples central station. It is mostly visited by Italian tourists and isn’t on most Americans list, but it is a must see if you are in the Naples area. Make sure you visit however during the week, as the weekend gets very busy. They offer special pricing for students who are from the European Union countries only but when asked -they gave us the discount as well. Make sure you have your walking shoes on if you are going to walk the gardens, but for those of you who are unable to travel the distance by foot they have shuttle busses that only cost 1 Euro per person. We recommend walking up and riding back as you will gain a greater appreciation of how expansive these gardens are.



Underneath the Princes had a secret play area

*Originally posted 6/2011