“Look, another phone booth!” shouted Amanda.
“Let’s go!” cried Bethany .
Our two daughters ran to the bright-red phone booth, with their younger brother bringing up the rear.
We had come all the way to England to experience cultural history, but the hands-down favourite for the kids? The red phone booths!
We were on a home exchange, which meant we had actually traded places with another family for two weeks. In return for each other’s homes and cars, we were getting the chance to experience life as Britons, headquartering ourselves in the market town of Bicester in Oxfordshire, central England, while our counterparts used our home in Oakville, Ont., as a base from which to explore Niagara Falls, the lakes of Muskoka and such Toronto favourites as the CN Tower and Ontario Place.
Our only cost was airfare and a $100 fee to register with HomeLink (www.homelink.ca), an online service we used to set up the exchange.
While we took in all the usual attractions—the Tower of London , Buckingham Palace and Stonehenge —our lasting memories were created by the 500-year-old manor house we lived in. From the moment we arrived to find a hot chicken dinner in the oven, we felt like guests, not tourists. The heavy wooden door was never locked, and every morning, creamy milk in glass bottles was left at the front doorstep.
From the front of the house, we could see into the fields beyond, where a couple of dozen cows stood grazing. Our son, intrigued, took my husband’s hand and went to inspect the cows close up.
Typically, we ate breakfast at home each day, packed picnics for lunch and enjoyed dinners at pubs. With the high cost of restaurants, and two small picky eaters, being able to prepare two meals a day was a big plus. We spent our last day at Warwick Castle , a medieval fortress with dungeons, towers and knights on horses. Our kids listened intently to the guide’s description of life in the 15th century, fascinated by the sights and sounds of this ancient monument. Phone booths were replaced with myths and Arthurian legends.
If you’re looking for an overseas cultural experience at low cost, I heartily recommend a home exchange.