Awarded #superhost status on #Airbnb – Going the extra mile!

Success story
In 2007 Frank and I tried out our first home-swaps in London, Wales and Budapest. We enjoyed it so much we decided that renting out our apartment in Amsterdam would potentially be fun to do and also, not unimportantly, supply us with a lifestyle business. After the financial crash of 2008 both Frank and I were seriously hit in terms of work assignments coming in. So we decided to take some pictures of our apartment, write a juicy text and place an ad on Homeaway. We have never looked back since then and have seventy positive reviews and many more bookings via Homeaway alone.

In 2012 an American girlfriend told me about Airbnb and I decided to place an ad on their site and soon the enquiries started coming in. Now, as Airbnb pros we heard last week that we had been upgraded to superhosts! The stats:

  • 25 hosted trips
  • 88% 5 star reviews
  • 99% response rate (email enquiries etc)
  • 100% commitment rate (we don’t cancel bookings
  • What you can’t see in these stats is that we greet all our guests personally and try to be flexible regarding checking in and checking out times. We also include bikes in the rental price and my husband, Frank is fantastic at making guests feel welcome and enthusing them about Amsterdam. He loves to give them insider tips about how to make the most of Amsterdam beyond Dam Square, Leidseplein and the other over-visited tourist destinations.

How to Filter Guests?
I’m also highly selective in the guests we take on. I get inquiries every day and probably about 10% result in actual bookings. I rarely take on groups of young people and the tone of the email messages is important too. The English is often bad but that’s not the issue, I always look for empathy of some kind; can the guest see things from my point of view and address some of my concerns? Also the guest’s photo is important and what they have written about themselves on their profile page. No photo and a brief, Hey, I’m Jack, by way of an introduction is very unappealing to a host.

You’d be amazed at the inappropriate photos people post of themselves. I refused someone (who turned out to be very nice so I got it wrong that time) because they were wearing a bear hat with ears in their profile photo. He thought it looked funny but it reminded me of a terrifying scene from The Shining by Stephen King. If you are an Airbnb member, please just post a nice clear photo of yourself looking at the camera and smiling! Not that one when you were totally pissed at a party! Airbnb is not Facebook, folks!

Unfortunately there is a downside to all this and it’s called the Airbnb bandwagon. Amsterdam is a very popular tourist destination and many people have grasped the opportunity to make a quick buck by renting out multiple properties to hordes of noisy travellers who don’t care if they keep the whole street awake at night. Undoubtedly, this is a problem but it’s such a shame that Airbnb in particular is portrayed so negatively in the Dutch media. The Dutch are highly suspicious of the new sharing economy and think it’s something that can be halted. I think you’d have more luck halting a runaway horse and wagon going off the edge of the Grand Canyon…

The Other Side of the Coin
It would be great if the press took one or two positive stories about Airbnb. I’ve lost count of the number of French, Spanish, Italian, Russian and Portuguese families we’ve hosted who otherwise simply could not afford to visit Amsterdam. Not only is the price of hotel rooms for four beyond most working families’ pockets, it’s also impractical with younger children. Sometimes families arrive looking tired and frazzled and it gives Frank and me great satisfaction to see them depart looking relaxed, glowing and happy after a restful stay in this wonderful town. It looks like the sharing economy is here to stay and I for one am very, very, very grateful!


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New Literary Magazine from Ex-pat Writing Group Writers Abroad


I also have poetry and a book review in our free mag! Thanks Vanessa for posting!

Originally posted on Life on La Lune:

Writers Abroad September 2014 magazine

The online writing community for ex-pats that I belong to, Writers Abroad, published the first issue of its new literary magazine on 1st September. It’s packed full of interesting stuff and it’s absolutely free.

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To the Manor Born – The Pony Club and Literary Houses

During a recent visit to England I was invited to a celebration of 70 years of the South Herefordshire & Ross Harriers branch of the Pony Club at a large country estate called The Mynde, in Herefordshire. From the ages of six to around fourteen my sister, Christine Hardinge and I were keen members of the PC, and PC camps were held at The Mynde every summer.

The drive to the Mynde is a mile long and an aristocratic residence has been on the site since the 13th century. It is still owned by a family with royal connections and the Queen helicoptered in for tea on the lawn in 2003! In pony club days the house was derelict, partially razed to the ground by fire. But its grounds are inextricably linked with halcyon days of childhood; swathes of emerald fields, gnarled oaks, swans on mirrored lakes and the sound of ponies hooves mingling with the smells of equine sweat, saddle-soaped leather and Bazooka Joe bubblegum from the tuck shop.

I love a deep-rooted sense of place and preferably a crumbling country mansion at the heart of a novel. When I moved to Holland I was homesick and often dreamed of that sun-dappled drive to The Mynde; a road that led to my ‘land of lost content.’ To assuage those feelings of not belonging I reread novels like Rebecca, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Wideacre (Phillippa Gregory’s trilogy before The Boleyn Girl) and imagined that I was the homecoming heroine in the story. Novels in which the house is almost a character, not just a backdrop have always grabbed me and perhaps this can be traced back to my early experiences of The Mynde. Right now I’m reading Longbourn, by Jo Baker; Pride and Prejudice retold from the point of view of the servants. It introduces another aspect of the country house, the unseen toils of the servants. Downstairs folk paddling away like a swan’s webbed feet, keeping up the calm, serene elegance of upstairs folk.

Often the crumbling mansion has sinister aspects too. Manderley was so interwoven with Rebecca’s life it had to burn down so that the new Mrs De Winter could reign supreme. Eel Marsh House in The Woman in Black, reveals Alice Drablow’s past and without the house we would know nothing of her tragic life. So maybe there’s a ghost or two rattling about The Mynde and perhaps it’s a little girl wearing elephant-ear Jods, galloping her Welsh Mountain pony towards the furthest edges of the demesne.

Are there any early experiences that have influenced your reading choices? Could you describe a character just by writing about their home? What is your favourite literary house?

For the 1960s riding-wear ad and nostalgic book cover I thank the wonderful author, Jane Badger who blogs about pony books here, Books, Mud and Compost. And Horses

Link to 25 top literary homes at Flavorwire

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Freedom of the Line – Dining Along the River Severn

For Christmas 2013 Frank and I received a wonderful experience gift from my sister and brother-in-law. We were given the freedom of the line on the Severn Valley Railway and a dining voucher for two. I’ve always wanted to travel on the Orient Express but this seemed more within our reach! The Severn Valley Railway is a full-size standard-gauge railway line running regular, mainly steam-hauled, passenger trains between Kidderminster in Worcestershire and Bridgnorth in Shropshire, a distance of about sixteen miles.

The journey is full of interest, as the route follows closely the meandering course of the River Severn for most of the way on its journey between Kidderminster and Bridgnorth. One highlight of the trip is the crossing of the River Severn by means of the Victoria Bridge – a massive 200-foot single span, high above the water which, incidentally, features in the film ‘The Thirty-nine Steps’ with Robert Powell in the leading role. Trains have been a source of inspiration for writers for as long as they exist. The most famous being Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.

There being few roads in the Severn Valley, some of the views are only visible from the Railway. The scenery is varied and largely unspoiled, punctuated by the quaint ‘olde worlde’ charm of country stations, each one giving ready access to local villages and riverside walks.

A remarkable feature of the Railway not readily appreciated by visitors is that it is very largely run by unpaid volunteers, with a paid staff of around 70 people responsible for administration and commercial activities, plus regular track and rolling stock maintenance. Throughout the year, volunteers appear on the Railway to perform many tasks, including repairing and repainting stations, reconstruction of viaducts and bridges, and rebuilding locomotives and rolling stock not to mention the operation of the trains.

On the dining car we enjoyed a Jacques Tati type holiday atmosphere with jovial serving staff and passengers all enjoying a carefree day. The carriage aahhed in unison at the sight of a baby elephant gamboling in the safari park, not something you expect to see in the Worcestershire countryside!

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The Prince Who Kept Mum – Delving into Delft

Willem de Zwijger, (William the Silent) was the founding father of the Dutch monarchy. Zwijgen is a verb that can’t be translated directly into an English verb. We have the expression, keeping mum, which means the speaker knows about something but chooses not to reveal the information.

The Nickname
Legend has it that while William was out hunting with the King of France, the King revealed the Spanish Duke of Alba’s plans to get rid of all the Protestants in the Netherlands. By keeping mum and pretending to know of the plans already, William discovered the Duke’s plan of attack. William was the main leader of the Dutch revolt against the Spanish that set off the Eighty Years’ War, finally resulting in the formal independence of the United Provinces in 1648.

He became Prince of Orange in 1544, founder of the branch, House of Orange-Nassau and the ancestor of the present monarchy of the Netherlands. Dutch royals are buried in de Nieuwe Kerk in Delft. What Westminster Abbey is to the English Royal family, de Nieuwe Kerk is to the Dutch royal family. Old Will was a big cheese, quite good looking in his youth and he has one mighty mausoleum to prove it!

Delft is a very picturesque and compact city, a sort of mini-Bruges, but minus the hordes of tourists. The people are friendly and laid back. You’ll notice that the water level of the canals is much higher than in Amsterdam. This is very pleasing to the eye and visually the water is better integrated into the cityscape.

Its connection with the artist, Vermeer also attracts a lot of visitors. Since the book and the film of ‘The Girl with the Pearl Earring,’ Vermeer’s popularity has grown and Delft is a pilgrimage for art lovers. You can visit The Vermeer Centre and discover how he mastered his unique depiction of light. We didn’t because my husband said he was getting a bit tired of the endless depictions of ‘The Girl With the Pearl Earring,’ and besides it was beer o’ clock…

Great places to eat, drink and lay your head
de Plantaan Hotel. Huge bar where you can sit for ages in a deep armchair and look out onto the beautiful sycamore tree. Themed rooms offer an exotic sleepover for the very tired tourist.

‘t Postkantoor is the former post office building transformed into a retro restaurant with fifties style decor. Outside there’s a lovely terrace, with Far Eastern-inspired patio furniture. Great food in an unusual setting.


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Yes Sir, Yes Sir, Three Bags Full!

Have you heard my latest? I’ve adopted a sheep! And not just any old sheep. Oh no, this one’s a rare breed. Ouessant sheep are named after the island, 18 miles off the west coast of Brittany. They are mainly black, very hardy and purported to be the smallest breed of sheep in the world! Only reachable by ferry or small aircraft, the island covers six square miles. With harsh weather, strong winds and storms the island boasts six lighthouses and is definitely not a place for the faint-hearted.

For many centuries, the island dwellers lived mainly from fishing and kept the sheep for their wool. The black fleece was popular for weaving because the population was often in mourning for fishermen lost at sea. However, with the dawn of the 20th century the dense, black wool of the Ouessant became unpopular because it was so difficult to dye and commercially useless. The islanders imported paler sheep from the mainland and soon the Ouessant was in danger of dying out altogether. However, a few kindly and determined souls decided to rescue and maintain the bloodline of this now rare breed.

‘My’ sheep lives on de buurtboerderij, Ons Genoegen (Our Enjoyment) in the Westerpark. De Buurtboerderij is a former farmhouse, lovingly converted into a vibrant community centre run mainly by volunteers. For just 50 euros you can help the shepherdess Monique maintain the herd of 23 sheep.  The last weekend in June was sheep-shearing day so I donned my Bathsheba Everdene frock and sashayed down to the ol’ farm to pour out some cideeeer and take a few snaps.

A blast from the past – the two black and white photos are of me and my mum with Mum’s prize-winning herd of Clun Forests and ram lamb champion, Rocky in 1966. Clun Forests are also now a rare breed. Bred mainly for wool they originate from Shropshire in England.

Get in touch with the sheep whisperer
Donations can be made here:
IBAN: NL21INGB 0000008081
t.n.v. De Regenboog Groep
KvK: 41198390 te Amsterdam
RSIN: 003790046 – State donation sheep, or adopt a sheep
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Birthday Swag Bag – Blog Hop

Fill a virtual goodie bag! How could I resist? The plan is to put all my favourite or desired items into a swag bag for a significant birthday including: a book, beauty product, snack food, music album and ‘my choice’. By the way, dear readers, my real birthday is approaching soon so sit up and pay attention ;)

I was asked by my Writers Abroad chum, Louise Charles to take part in this blog hop. Louise has just published her novel, The Duke’s Shadow. Set in mid-Victorian times, if you enjoy period dramas such as Upstairs Downstairs or Downton Abbey you will love Louise’s book!


Book: As Virginia Woolf said, every woman needs a room of her own, or better still a shed of her own! Preferably one without hubby’s tools getting in the way! I mean gardening tools of course. What else? Gill Heriz, author of ‘A Woman’s Shed’ has interviewed over 80 different women, and Nicolette Hallett has photographed their sheds creating this unique insight into why women have sheds, and what they do in them. There are sheds for puppet-makers, sculptors, and writers, as well as farmers, furniture-makers, and woodcutters.



Beauty Product: Who could resist a lipstick called Pudgy Peony? Especially when it’s packaged so perfectly like the Clinique Chubby Sticks. I don’t know who they’ve got naming their colours but he or she is a genius; Chunky Cherry, Woppin’ Watermelon, Fuller Fig, Graped up, Voluptuous Violet, Mighty Mimosa, Whole Lotta Honey, ah it’s sheer retail poetry. Bountiful Blush is my favourite shade, so in it goes!



tyrrells2Snack Food: That’s easy peasy. I’m a Herefordshire lass (That’s HerEfordshire, not HerTfordshire!) and I loves me Tyrell’s Crisps. The spuds are grown in the rich red soil of home and they have nostalgic black and white pictures on the packets. So even when you’ve scoffed the lot you can keep the pic! Plus they’re artisan crisps so you don’t have to feel so guilty…




Music: I’ve always loved Middle Eastern music so I’d pop on my favourite Belly Dance Fantasy CD by Veena & Neena just to cheer myself up if I was feeling depressed about getting so old. I listen to Classic FM while driving the car, it keeps me calm.




My Choice: In ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe,’ by C.S. Lewis, the children bump into Father Christmas when they are in Narnia, as you do! He’s the usual jolly, rotund figure and he gives all the children gender appropriate gifts. Some might say he was a bit sexist but hey, it was written a long time ago so get over it. He gives Peter a sword and shield, Susan a bow, a quiver of arrows and a magic horn and he presents Lucy with a bottle of cordial. At first she’s totally underwhelmed but then old Santa explains that a few drops of the magic potion will heal any injury or ailment. Sounds like the best pressie to me, so I’ll have a flagon of Lucy’s Healing Cordial in my virtual swag bag please. Thanks, Santa!


Next week the Swag Bag- Blog Hop passes on to the lovely and talented, Kathy Gamble who blogs about her experiences at home and overseas here Expat Alien

Join in the foray! What would you put in your swag bag?



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