Home exchange stories, Intervac, Travel

Disneyland Paris

As parents of two little princesses, we had been dreaming of going to Disneyland for some time.

As we live in Europe, Disneyland Paris, formerly known as Eurodisney, was our choice.Sleeping beauty castle in Disneyland Paris

The problem was the budget for it: Disney tickets alone are not cheap, looking for a Disneyland hotel or even a Paris hotel booking is a nightmare and then there were also the plane tickets.

We live on an island (Madeira Island, Portugal), so avoiding airfare costs was not an option. Fortunately, we found reasonable prices with the low-cost airline Transavia that flies directly to Paris from Madeira, but also from around 40 other locations in Europe.

Disneyland Accommodation

The accommodation problem was the easiest for us to solve. I think most people start planning their Disneyland trip by analyzing Disneyland Paris packages. But not us 🙂 Were we going to look for Disneyland hotel deals? No! We had been Intervac members for many years and knew home exchange was the way to go. We just had to decide exactly where we wanted to exchange to and start sending out offers.

The decision was eventually for the area around Place de la Nation. This was the best for us because using the RER-A train we could get to Disneyland Resort Paris in about 30 minutes.

We could use the same train line or the subway to get to the tourist attractions of Paris, such as the Eiffel Tower, or the Arc de Triomphe in 15 to 30 minutes.

RER-A train map - how to get to Disneyland Paris

So that was the area we did a home exchange too. And that came with the added benefit of being in a residential area. We had several small supermarkets, bakeries and restaurants around our exchange apartment and even a very nice playground right out our door.

Doing a home exchange was a brilliant solution: it allowed us to stay in Paris for 2 full weeks and to go to Disneyland for 6 days. On the other days we explored Paris at the leisurely pace you take when you are on holidays with kids.

Disneyland Tickets and Passes

But let me get back to the Disneyland Paris tickets. If you are considering going to Disneyland Paris for 3 days or more, I highly recommend that you buy their Annual Pass (Passeport Annuel). It might seem an overkill to buy an annual pass to visit for 3, 4, 5 or 6 days, but it actually pays up if you do the math. Check out all the information on the official site Disneyland Paris http://www.disneylandparis.co.uk/annual-passports/ and please note that the names and conditions for the passes changed on March 29, 2017.

Our Annual Passports were our Disneyland Paris cheap ticketsThese passes all need to be bought inside Disneyland itself. You can get a 10% discount if you have a sponsor (an Annual Passport holder). You can get all the information on this on the DLP Guide website http://www.dlpguide.com/planning/booking/annual-passports/ We also used their forum MagicForum to find a sponsor http://www.magicforum.eu/

After getting to Disneyland here is how we got our passes: we bought 1-day tickets at the gate, went to the Bureau Passeport Annuel, met our sponsors there and got our Annual Passes with the discount. The price for the 1-day tickets was fully refunded. The full process took us about 1 hour, but it was totally worth it: we went back in the Summer 2017 and used the same passes again 🙂

After getting in, we got our Disney Paris map (which includes the two parks: Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios) and the programme for the shows and parades. They are both essential but the programme is the only one you can check online in PDF format (it changes weekly) http://download.disneylandparis.com/Disneyland-Paris_Shows-and-Parades.pdf.

The map can only be checked online in an interactive version (you won’t be able to print the Disneyland map if that is what you had in mind…).

A great addition to the map is the mobile app. Of course, you will need to have a tablet or smartphone with you (and Internet connection). Disneyland Paris mapWe used the app a lot to check the wait time for attractions and decide where to go next http://www.disneylandparis.co.uk/mobile-app/

The wait time shown at the entrance of the attractions and on the app seemed to be accurate and that was quite useful.

I have some more tips if you are visiting Disneyland Paris with kids.

Disneyland Shows and Parades Tips

  • Do all the shows in the Walt Disney Studio parkMickey and the Magician in the  Animagique Theater was our favourite, but the Moteurs… Action! car stunt show was also great. Disney Junior Live on Stage is geared towards young kids but it was a bit more challenging because our kids don’t speak English or French. Art of Disney Animation, in turn, was geared towards the adults and we loved it!
  • Disney Stars on Parade in the main park is the new parade that started in March 2017. It is a must see and happens only once throughout the day, so ensure you take note of the time. Great views are available anywhere along the parade route, and additionally from the Main Street USA railroad station. In both cases, you should steak out your spot about 15 minutes prior to the start of the parade for unobstructed views, but any more than this is usually unnecessary.
  • Disney Illuminations is a multimedia nighttime show, featuring fireworks, water effects music and video. Great for both the kids and the adults! It uses Sleeping Beauty’s castle as its projection screen, so is best viewed as straight on as possible. To claim a perfect spot for this, you will need to try at least one hour in advance of the show during high-season. Please note that anywhere on Main Street will provide a good view. Simply check if you can see the whole castle.   

General Disneyland Tips

  • Meeting Snow White at the Princess Pavillion in Disneyland ParisKids dressing up seem to get lots more attention from Disney characters. Also if your girl is dressed up as Snow White your party won’t have to queue for the Snow White ride, the group can get in through the exit (or sometimes through the Fast Pass entry). Just speak to the Cast members at the exit and they will promptly let you know how to get in. The same goes for Peter Pan, Tinkerbell and other characters. Another advantage of having your kids dressed up is that they have a good excuse not to buy them the overpriced (but beautiful!) costumes at the Disney stores throughout the park.
  • Queues for the Disneyland Railroad are significantly longer at the entry gates (Main Street USA) than at other stations. If you just want to ride it for the grand tour of the park get on at the Frontierland or Fantasyland stations which even include seating areas (although limited).
  • Use the FastPass for the attractions that allow it and have longer queues like Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast and Ratatouille: The Adventure. You can only have one FASTPASS® ticket at a time per person. Another ticket can only be obtained once the previous one has been used or 2 hours after the previous one.
  • When visiting with small children, always take advantage of the Baby Swap service on rides for which children are too small. This will allow one of the adults to queue, while the other adult waits with the child, and can then enter through the exit or Fastpass queue as soon as the first rider leaves.
  • It is often quicker to meet Mickey Mouse at the Toon Studio (in the Studio Park Backlot) than at his home in the main park. Queues for other characters near Mickey at the Toon Studio are often even shorter. Also, if you are not up to queuing you always take a picture from a distance in no time!
  • Contrary to popular belief, you are welcome to take outside food or drink into the park, and eat there.
    Gazebo at the entrance of Disneyland ParisThe security check will not confiscate outside food and drink. Simply make sure you don’t take alcohol, or drinks in glass bottles. Sandwiches, snacks, drinks can be brought into the park and eaten. Restrictions would only apply to anyone taking up a lot of space in the park for an extended period of time. Our favourites were the pre-prepared salads from the supermarket: there is quite a variety and having the salads at hand meant no queuing for lunch.
    Our favourite area for eating was right at the entrance, both to the left and right you have a green area with several seats with shade and some even with a beautiful gazebo.

What to do while waiting in line in Disneyland?

And trust me, there will be waiting in line… Here are some ideas:

–          Decide where to go next using the app or the map

–          Talk: discuss how things were made or planned, ask the kids trivia questions about the Disney movies or shows they have watched

–           Look: notice things around you together; the details, colours, look for hidden Mickeys

–           Take pictures

–           Games

  1.        I Spy, with my little eye
  2.        Simon says – clap your hands, touch your nose, count to 10, stick out your tongue, stand on your tippy toes
  3.        Animal Charades
  4.        The Alphabet Game – find objects around you (eg clothing and signs) from A-Z.
  5.        Character Alphabet  – list characters from A-Z (villains, princesses, cartoons, etc.)
  6.        Botticelli – take on the persona of a well-known person, give other players the initials. Players ask yes/no questions.
  7.        Sweet and sour – wave at a stranger and see who waves back
  8.        Peruse the Shoes – Count all the shoes they see while waiting in line. How many people have on black shoes, open-toed shoes, gym shoes? Without socks? How many have laces? How many have velcro ties?
  9.        Walk the Line – You need a floor with either lines or stripes. Players have to keep both feet either on or off the lines.  3 chances to misstep before eliminating contestants. Winner gets to be line leader the next time.

Disneyland Attractions Tips

Finally here are some specific attraction tips:

Armageddon: Les Effets Speciaux

Our girls found it a bit frightening due to the loud noise and effects.

Autopia- Disneyland ParisAutopia

The official minimum height to drive is 1.32 m, but smaller kids can control the wheel, as long as an adult controls the speed pedal. Long queues, but our girls loved it!

Big Thunder Mountain

Our girls loved this roller coaster and wanted to ride again! The adults also enjoyed it.

Crush’s Coaster

The vehicles spin during the main roller coaster section and it is lots of fun for kids and adults. Even our 4-year old loved it. The wait was quite big, but there is a specific app you can use on the waiting line(wi-fi and instructions available on-site).

Orbitron – Machines Volantes

Not that much fun… a basic ride and quite a long wait.

Plage des Pirates

There is a maximum height to play of 1.40 m, but that is not strictly enforced. Our girls both had fun here while the parents had a bit of a rest (the oldest one was a bit over 1,40m).         

Pirates of the CaribbeanPlage des Pirates at Disneyland Paris

Visitors may get slightly splashed from two small flumes… loads of fun in spite of the “scary” theme with lots of skeletons. We all loved this one!

Princess Pavillion

This always had the longest waits (usually 90 to 120 minutes). We eventually got in when the line was “only” 45 minutes long. The queue is all inside the pavilion, so no rain or too much sun issues. The thing is that in the end, you basically take a picture with one of 2 princesses (you have information on which ones at the entrance). The princess does talk to you a bit, but when you don’t speak English or French that is not of much use. Still, our girls loved meeting Snow White and finding out she has a very high pitched voice! However, we had a much smaller queue to take pictures outside with Jasmine & Aladdin and with Aurora (from Sleeping Beauty).Meeting Princess Aurora at Disneyland Paris

Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith

This features an intense launch and three inversions. Even so, our 8-year old girl liked it because of the music and decorations.

Space Mountain: Mission 2 / Hyperspace Mountain

This features a very intense launch and many inversions. Our 8-year old girl hated it, she found it really scary. This one is definitely geared at those looking for a thrill.

Star Tours at Disneyland ParisStar Tours

Very good motion-simulated flight guided by C3PO. A must if you are a Star Wars fan… but very worthwhile even if you are not. And you get to wear 3D glasses while waiting at your boarding gate 🙂

Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop

Our girls loved this drop attraction. A bit of wait, but having a Toy Story related theme helped.

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Our girls hated this drop attraction. It was definitely too scary for them. The toy soldiers one is more kid-friendly.




Reasons to visit: Athens

Athens - Modern Mythos

Photo Credit: deepstereo – Untitled street art (2013) • photo

Art – And By That I Mean Street Art

I know, me too. When I think of Athens I think of ancient art; statues of old faces without noses, scantily clad women with wings and dogs. Clichés, I know, but there they are. Clever travelers know the truth about clichés – they are only a starting point; a reason to get out of the house.

Athens street art scene started in the 90s but since the financial crisis it’s taken off. The creativity hums in the streets and the art that is being made while we sit here, reading and writing, is exciting, thought-provoking, social, political, authentic and life-affirming.

Street art in Athens

photo credit: (left) the euskadi 11 – cc – cropped • (right): Dimitris Kamaras – cc

Street art puts a new face on “old rocks”. Oh, it leaves the rocks stacked by the ancients and mythological rocks pretty much alone, but the buildings on the street, those are taking on a modern patina.

“Graffiti ultimately wins out over proper art because it becomes part of your city, it’s a tool; “I’ll meet you in that pub, you know, the one opposite that wall with a picture of a monkey holding a chainsaw”. I mean, how much more useful can a painting be than that?” ― Banksy, Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall

Street art in Athens

photo credit: the euskadi 11 – cc

Is street art Greek to you? Ever wonder why in the world…, and who would want to…? Don’t quite know how to appreciate an art form about which that most iconic of street artists once said:

“People look at an oil painting and admire the use of brushstrokes to convey meaning. People look at a graffiti painting and admire the use of a drainpipe to gain access.” ― Banksy, Wall and Piece.

Street art in Athens

photo credit: Bryce Edwards • cc

Curious For More?

Here is an opportunity for anyone curious about street art and the people who make it: Discover the Streets with a Street Art Guided Tour from Alternative_Athens. Your guide achilles speaks super English and is a street artist himself. His walking tour lasts 3 hours and you can be very sure that you’ll experience Athens in a way your friends, who spent all their time cruising museums and ruins didn’t. Learn more about contemporary Greek society first hand. Discuss their politics, their worldview, ask questions and get personal answers from the streets.

And when you get back, please write to me and tell me how you liked it, what you learned and what surprised you the most.

Are You Thinking Athens Is Beyond Your Budget?

How about searching Intervac for possible home exchange partners in Athens?

Log in if you would like to contact the owners of these listings. If you’re not already a member – do join Intervac today. We’d love to visit your hometown.

More About Street Art in Athens


Reasons to Visit: Bury St. Edmunds

Photo Credit: karen_roe Greene King Brewery Tour 28-07-2011

You might be curious as to why I would want to introduce you to Bury St. Edmunds? It’s a small town in Suffolk and just because the innimitable Bob Hoskins was born there in 1942, or the world premier of Charlie’s Aunt was staged there in 1892, or even further back, in 1818 John Orridge was asked to advise the Empress of Russia on the subject of the ideal prison, and besides all the fascinating historical bits to be explored; I’ll be honest and tell you it was mostly the happy smile on my face when I read that the sensible voters of this town elected (with a majority vote) the Abolish Bury Town Council Party to the Town Council. Yes, folks, that’s via Wikipedia and it’s an admirable act of political silliness that should not go unrewarded.

So, I started looking for more fun and silliness and was not disappointed.

The Clandestine Cake Club

Holy Torte, Batman, The Clandestine Cake Club is a dream come true, and I’d say the Bury St. Edmunds chapter qualifies as a reason to visit. Be still my growling stomach, it looks like the chapter in Bury St. Edmunds is a public one, so maybe, if you contact the organizer you could bring a cake and attend a meeting. A great way to make some new friends. You know, having your cake and tasting theirs too.

Turns out they have chapters worldwide which is making me hungry just thinking about it. Have a look at their Pinterest Board if you dare and then find (or start) a chapter near you.

The Nutshell

The discussion rages on, but according to The Nutshell it’s official: The Guinness Book of World Records says it is the smallest pub in all of Britain. And who cares that I couldn’t find a source link because what’s a good pub without some good gossip and a little gossipy press? It’s not easy to be the owners of such a small bar. The decisions one must make are gargantuan.

To round things out and prove that small must not be lacking The Nutshell has, as every world-class pub must have, a gossipy rumor that it is haunted by a young boy who died there. It is very bad luck to touch the mummified cat hanging above the bar. Trust me, folks, there are stories, there’s proof. I’m not touching a mummified anything – ewwww.

The Nutshell in Bury St. Edmunds is a No-Miss on any trip to Suffolk.


  • The Christmas Fayre is coming soon : November 27-30, 2014 – Over 300 stalls, world market, stage and street entertainment.
  • Bury St. Edmunds Festival : May 16-19, 2015 (unconfirmed) – 10 days of music, theatere, film and art.
  • And visit-burystedmunds.co.uk has more here…

More About Bury St. Edmunds

Are You Thinking Suffolk Is Beyond Your Budget?

I’m sure home exchange will make it more affordable! Why not give Intervac a try?


Don’t Miss The Flying Scotsman

Photo Credit: Richard Benson The Flying Scotsman – Photo taken at the Doncaster Works Open Day 2003 where this Scotsman was built eighty years prior.

The thing about home exchange is that you get to see and do things that you otherwise don’t have time to see or do. Railway fans how about a trip to England? The Flying Scotsman made the news in 2016 by returning to work transporting travelers from London to Edinburgh after ten years and £4.2m worth of restoration.

A National Treasure

The Scotsman began its story in 1862 as the “Special Scotch Express”. A comfortable service linking the capital cities of England and Scotland. Weekdays at 10:00 a.m. a train departed London King’s Cross and Edinburgh Waverly simultaneously, crossing paths in York with a half an hour stop for lunch the Scotsman ten and a half hours after departure. A day’s trip to be sure, but a thrilling one compared to other ways of travel.

By 1888 the trip time had been reduced to eight hours.

The current Scotsman, the one you can see today was built in 1923, is 21 meters long and nearly 4 meters tall. It’s maximum speed is 100 mph (161 km/h) and was officially named The Flying Scotsman in 1924 after the Times started calling it “The Flying Scotchman” in 1875.

In the 1930’s travel on the Flying Scotsman had taken to the opulence and style of the time. The fine ladies onboard could “retire” to a room away from the gentlemen for quieter pursuits, a hairdressing salon provided haircuts and shaves and a newsstand the latest newspapers. There was a luxurious restaurant car in the style of Louis XVI and in the bar awaited The Flying Scotsman’s very own cocktail.

The Flying Scotsman Cocktail
1 1/2 ounces / 60 ml Scotch whisky
1 1/2 ounces / 60 ml sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1/2 teaspoon superfine sugar
3 or 4 ice cubes
Source: Epicurious.com

The Flying Scotsman – The Film

Icon that it is, the Scotsman is also a film star. Here the film Trailer from the 1929 film starring Moore Marriott who apparently “had no teeth in real life and took four different sets of false teeth with him in order to achieve variety in his characters”, Pauline JohnsonRay Milland – Academy Award winner for his role in The Lost Weekend directed by Billy Wilder, and the otherwise forgotten Alec Hurley,

That really was “back in the day” and the actors and Miss Johnson herself did their own stunts on the moving locomotive. Have a look, that is Pauline Johnson you see walking along the edge of the moving train wearing high heels.

First Film with a Warning Label?

According to the article at gutenberg.us:

Allegedly Sir Nigel Gresley, chief engineer of the LNER, was so concerned at the unsafe practices shown in the film, such as the decoupling of the locomotive from the train while in motion, he insisted that a disclaimer was placed in the opening credits explaining that such things could not happen on the LNER.[7] The notice stated “For the purposes of the film dramatic licence has been taken in regard to the safety equipment used on The Flying Scotsman”.[8] Film historian John Huntley claimed that Gresley subsequently forbade any further filming on the LNER until after his retirement.[9]

Over at The Arts Desk they have a nice clip of the restored version (DVD) of the movie which was shown in Glasgow in 2011. If anyone knows where I could buy a copy, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Off To America!

And so, you’d think that after all that glitz and glamour the Scotsman would settle down to a routine, but you’d be wrong. In 1969, the famous locomotive did what all famous folk do and went to America for a tour. Then to Australia. Then back to America where, this time, sponsorship fell through and the Scotsman was stranded.

I was about eight years old and remember my father, at the breakfast table, reading in the paper about how Alan Pegler, then owner of the locomotive had gone bankrupt and William McAlpine stepped in to save it and ship the Scotsman back to Britain. It was 1973 when the Scotsman made it back home again – and after a little relaxing on Britain’s rails – another overhaul – another trip, this time to Australia, it became clear that owning an iconic locomotive is hard on the wallet. In 2004 came the last in a line of “new owners”. This time British Railways, bought it with money donated by locomotive lovers all over Britain and a little help from Sir Richard Branson put them over the top.

See the Scotsman

After its happy return, the Flying Scotsman will continue to delight railroad locomotive fans as a working museum exhibit and the oldest mainline working locomotive on Britain’s tracks.

Travel with the Scotsman

Today to travel via Flying Scotsman will send you off from Edinburgh at 5:40 am and deliver you precisely four hours later at King’s Cross. You will have stopped just once at Newcastle and enjoyed all the conveniences expected today; Wi-Fi, device charging points and a variety of catering options.

For You Trivia Lovers

The book: Murder on the Flying Scotsman by Carola Dunn takes place on the Scotsman of 1923

Other Famous Flying Scotsmen

Eric Liddell was also known as the Flying Scotsman. His life and story are the basis of the film Chariots of Fire.

And then there’s The Flying Scotsman a 2006 German/British film about the Scotish bicyclist who broke the world’s 1 hour record on a bicycle he designed and made himself out of scrap metal. An old washing machine, I think…

Steam Locomotive Daytrips

Finally, wherever your home exchange in Great Britain takes you this year Steam Dreams can fix you up with the Flying Scotsman or you can take your pick of historic steam locomotives with daytrips and destinations all over Britain. Their new brocheure is due out in April.

Happy Home Exchanging and if you see the Scotsman, leave me a comment. I’d love to hear about your trip!