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'Surfing has allowed me to show off my city'

"You always hear stories of the old days, when people visited people's houses and told stories and sang songs. You don't have that any more. couch surfing is a way of reintroducing that, except in a much more international way", says Dublin couch surfing host Ciara O'Hare.

On Ciara's couchsurfing.org profile, Alice Regnier's reference simply says "Ciara is the BEST!".

"I've met a friend for life," is Ciara's response.

In March 2011, Alice Regnier and her friend, Melanie Thomassin, stayed with Ciara in her previous apartment in Rialto, Dublin 8, which Ciara shared with two musicians.

The two French students were visiting Ireland for a week and used couchsurfing.org to request a stay with Ciara for a few days. Ciara readily accepted.

Couchsurfing is a social networking website, where people offer their "couches" to those travelling in their city or region.



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Those who are travelling are known as "surfers", and those who offer to share their private accommodation for a period of time, "hosts".

The sleeping quarters offered aren't confined to the couch in the living room. Many hosts offer anything from an inflatable mattress to a spare room. The host details the sleeping arrangements on their profile.

Ciara has hosted couch surfers 20 times since joining the social networking site two years ago and is yet to have a bad experience.

"I've had some really amazing times. When you are hosting someone, you really want to show off your city and, in some ways, you feel you have an obligation to make sure they have as good a time as possible. It brings out a positive side in you that you don't use everyday."

On couchsurfing.org, people are invited to document their interests, so if you wish to surf or host someone, you can first check their interests to see if you're likely to be compatible.

"When I first started hosting, I was a tiny bit nervous about how long it would take to click with the person, but I've found people on couchsurfing.org are very open-minded and friendly," says Ciara.



VISITING

Alice found her experience of Dublin was enhanced by staying with a local, rather than in a hostel or a hotel.

"You see the real place you're visiting and not only the touristy sides of it. And [local] people, contrary to tourist guides, know the best places to go out."

Alice and Ciara have remained friends, and Ciara has made a return trip surfing with Alice in her hometown of Dijon, France.

"I've met so many really great friends through couch surfing and I've so many places to visit", adds Ciara.


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