Home from home
GO STOCKHOLM: DEIRDRE VELDONand family swapped Dublin for Stockholm on a home exchange holiday
'I VANT TO BE ALONE, I vant to be alone,” chirps the seven-year-old daughter as she skips down the avenue. She and her sisters are on the hunt for Greta Garbo’s grave in Stockholm’s woodland cemetery, Skogskyrkogården. Amid tens of thousands of pert headstones, at last they find it and do a little dance of jubilation right there on poor Garbo’s earthly remains.
Garbo’s resting spot unearthed, as it were, we cross off another cultural goal on our very first family house swap.
The trip is the upshot of blowing the entire annual holiday fund on a desperate sun-seeking trip to Portugal earlier in the year and nights upon nights spent fiddling about on a home exchange website. Failure to follow through can be a problem with house swaps, but nothing paints up a proposition and focuses the mind like a tiny budget.
We plump for Sweden because it’s cheap to get to and it seems a wallet-friendly way to see a country with a high cost of living. Crucially, we have found a Swedish family who seem half interested in the package we’re offering.
We know little about house swapping and less about our co-swapees, except that there are two daughters and the father is a policeman, while the mother works in a legal job, possibly in a prison. Let’s hope nothing goes wrong then.
On disembarking at Skavsta airport we funnel through the glassed in walkway and spy intending passengers for the return flight to Dublin on the concourse below. We haven’t a clue what our swap family look like, but try to spot them anyway. We alight on one family group with frantic waves. Slowly, their faces clear in recognition and no little relief that they have exchanged their precious home with real people, not hoodlums intent on emptying it. There’s a lot of thumbs-upping. Short of holding up flash cards asking “So, how does the washing machine work?”, there’s not much more to be said, so we move on.
“Ours” is a typical Swedish suburban cul de sac, with modest, pretty clapboard houses at close quarters. This little enclave is teeming with well-behaved, white-haired children. Our new neighbours are friendly and helpful.
The gentle air of communal living has us come over all warm and fuzzy. One resident family has put up a trampoline on a patch of ground beside their house and declared it for general use by locals. That’s us, now. When one of our girls gets a scrape bouncing, the trampoline guardians are ready with a pink plaster. We are flummoxed.
It is scarily easy to slip into someone else’s life. And they yours, I guess. We arrange ourselves in their living spaces, around their kitchen table, in their sauna. For once, we fret about the weather at home. It matters that our swap family are enjoying themselves.