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sprin2 Dec 20th, 2008 01:45 PM

Holiday Home Exchange in Utrecht
We arrived in the Netherlands yesterday and will be here for 2.5 weeks exchanging homes -- ours outside DC for one in Utrecht.

We have exchanged homes several times, both in Europe and the US, and really love living in a neighborhood and exploring an area. Plus you can't beat the convenience of an exchange and the space you get with a whole home to enjoy.

We have two boys -- 11 and 9 who enjoy traveling and my mom and sister will join us for part of the trip. And we've always had great home exchange experiences.

hetismij Dec 21st, 2008 12:00 AM

Glad you made it OK sprin2. I hope the house is a nice one!
The railway museum I mentioned in my earlier post has gone all festive this week, with lots of extras, including an ice rink. It is even open on 25th and 26th December.

Enjoy your stay, and Fijne Kerstdagen ;)

sprin2 Dec 21st, 2008 12:50 PM

Our home is right in Utrecht, just outside the canal / town wall. It is an older home with high elaborate ceilings.

We spent our first afternoon in Utrecht at the grocer, butcher, baker and cheese shops near our home stocking up on items for the first few days. We were also spotting and trying items that we might want to purchase for our Christmas feast, as it'll be. There are numerous stands selling olliebollen, and at the baker a girl frying them gave the boys one. They are wonderful round fried dough -- sort of like a doughnut -- with lots of fruits. Excellent.

After our shopping trip we visited the VVV near the dom tower to get a good map of town and a cycling map. Then we had "tea" at Oudaen, a brewpub in an 13th-century fortified manor house on the old canal. We got a great table and had a couple of games of hearts and crazy eights before heading home for dinner.

Oh, and we've advanced from gameboys to DSes and ipods -- so we purchased a DS charger at a toy store too.

hetismij Dec 21st, 2008 12:55 PM

The doughnuts are oliebollen, traditionally eaten on new years eve, but consumed enthusiastically before then too. If they are good they are great, if they are no good they lie like lead in your stomach.
Your house sounds to be in a great place too.
Have fun, but don't leave your stocking up for Christmas too long - shops shut earlier on Christmas Eve and the queues could be horrendous.

sprin2 Dec 22nd, 2008 10:21 AM

The house is in a great location.

Thanks hetismij -- we checked on the times for the Spoorwegmuseum next week -- they are open on holidays -- but we were warned to go early as the skating fills up.

Wandered around town and filled up on more treats -- fries with mayo, stroopwafels, more oliebollen (or some variety thereof...) it is clear the boys are determined to eat their way through this holiday.

We also happened to learn about an English church and it is near our house. We went last night to hear the 9 lessons and carols. A glorious choir and we sang some carols to get us into the spirit. They have another choral service on Christmas morning.

And in between our outings we're enjoying the luxury of having a house for spreading out.

dutyfree Dec 22nd, 2008 08:18 PM

Sprin2-just got back tonight from a visit to Utrecht to check out the university for my daughter for graduate school. This was my second trip in the past couple months and I love the city. The canals with all of the interesting restaurants and shops along with the local markets on the weekend provide a wonderful atmosphere to explore.Hope that you have a great holiday in this enchanting city!

sprin2 Dec 22nd, 2008 11:00 PM

dutyfree - I read your posts while planning our trip and yes, you are right, Utrecht is a wonderful city.

We were here in 2007 and spent a day. That wasn't long enough to fully appreciate the city -- how much there is to do. At that time we rented paddle boats and explored from the water. It's fun to see those same canals in the winter.

Yesterday we purchased bikes for the boys. We have bikes in our house, but their children are much younger than our two -- so it was more economical to purchase used bikes for the holidays rather than rent at 7 euros / day. We made it successfully home from the rental place.

Ida101 Dec 22nd, 2008 11:06 PM

Looks like you might be able to skate by the weekend.It will get much colder the next few days.
So maybe you also have to buy skates and skate some frozen small canals.
Enjoy your stay!

tod Dec 23rd, 2008 05:13 AM

sprin2 & Hetismij;
I translate 'Spoorwegmuseum' as Railway Museum. Whats this about the skating filling up quickly?

tod Dec 23rd, 2008 05:15 AM

Oh Oh! Just read your reply Hetismij - got it!

hetismij Dec 23rd, 2008 06:45 AM

Tod, as Ida says with a bit of luck we'll all be out skating on natural ice around new year. I hope so! Much nicer than the Christmas rinks everywhere.:)

Maybe it will be too cold for the kids over the road to stand outside all day letting of firecrackers. Fat chance.

Fijne Kerstdagen Allemaal!

sprin2 Dec 23rd, 2008 07:23 AM

We've also heard it is getting much colder which is fine with us and makes the youngest sprin2 very excited. Besides being a hockey player in the States, he's a natural heater, so he's game for some cold weather!

We got our money out of the two "new" bikes -- we biked to Austerlitz to see the pyramid -- thanks again for the tip, hetismij. We purchased a bike map a few days ago. This morning we set out after breakfast.

We had second breakfast in the village of Bunnik and lunch in Austerlitz proper at a cozy bar / restaurant. The pyramid was fenced off and the facilities were all closed. It was still neat to see a Napoleon-era pyramid in the woods.

The boys did a great job biking and it is amazing to experience the network of bike paths throughout the countryside. We cycled through some beautiful woods and by some large farms -- not as elaborate as those we've seen in Friesland, but pretty cool.

We got back to our house and the boys were exhausted but excited to play the video games --

sprin2 Dec 23rd, 2008 07:30 AM

Tod -- you've got the translation right -- it is the railway museum. I think the skating fills up on holidays because it is one of the few open things in town, perhaps? I'll let you know.

jello1369 Dec 23rd, 2008 07:53 AM

How do you find out more about home exchange. It sounds like you have quit a bit experience with it. Is there one site/service that you prefer? Please share.

sprin2 Dec 23rd, 2008 11:53 AM

jello1369 - there are many websites about home exchanging, we use There are also many fodor's post about exchanging -- search home exchange.

We've done several now, including one to this same area of the Netherlands in August 2007.

The websites have many homes advertised. You make a deal directly with another person / family and agree to swap homes during vacation. Sometimes you might also swap a car, pet care duties -- each exchange is different.

Exchanges can be as short or as long as agreed upon. We've exchanged for a weekend with other East coast US families and for 3 weeks in Europe. This exchange is for 2.5 weeks and we are exchanging cars. They are also caring for our cats.

We've had great luck exchanging and really like the leisure of having an entire home to enjoy. Living like this allows you to really experience a destination and see how other people live. It is generally not for those who seek to spend a each night in a different location.

It works well for our family!

enchantedacres Dec 23rd, 2008 04:47 PM

Utrecht and NL sounds so exciting- I can't wait to go there myself! Are you eating out or cooking in, or a combination?

annetti Dec 23rd, 2008 06:23 PM

I remember your posting from your home exchange in Sweden (was it Sweden?) a couple years back and enjoyed following it as your home exchange trip unfolded. We are avid home exchangers, too. We recently rejected an offer from Maastricht, maybe we made a mistake!! We are thinking Germany this year. However, we did exchange several years back near Grongingen for 5 weeks and had great fun exploring the small towns and villages.The Dutch are very hospitable and I love the french fries. They are the best anywhere. You are right, home exchange is not for the person who wants to be in a different location each night, but it sure is a pleasure to return to the comforts of a home each night and not a small hotel room. Enjoy your trip and I will enjoy following along once again on your vacation here on Fodor's.

sprin2 Dec 23rd, 2008 10:10 PM

annetti -- I've read your posts as well, particularly enjoyed your Vancouver exchange. We feel like exchange veterans compared to that Stockholm adventure. Plus we've spent a fair amount of time in the Netherlands over the years.

This is the link to our first home exchange outside Stockholm.

This is the link to our previous home exchange in the Netherlands. It includes a week+ in Friesland where we rented a canal boat (not exchanged).

sprin2 Dec 23rd, 2008 10:43 PM

We usually do a combination of cooking and eating out. Breakfasts are almost always in -- it is so much easier and the boys can stay in their pjs and play.

Lunch is almost always out. We're usually doing something and it's pretty easy, especially in the Netherlands to navigate the lunch menu, no matter how tired or discombobulated we are.

I like to eat dinner out (it is a vacation, after all) but frankly, the boys like dinner cooked sometimes. So far on this trip we've eaten out only 2 times and in 2 times -- not counting the day we arrived and stayed near the airport in a hotel.

hetismij Dec 24th, 2008 04:53 AM

Annetti, if you get another offer from Maastricht take it! It is very different to the rest of the Netherlands, it has hills for a start, and a very different, more laid back, view on life. Plus you can make day trips into Belgium and Germany from there with no problems.

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