Q: I would like to participate in a house swap with an Irish family this summer. Do you know of an agency I can contact?
A: The two most active house exchange agencies in Ireland report that that they do business with two groups in the United States, one in California and one in Florida. They also say Americans should have no problem finding a swap in Ireland because so many of their clients want to vacation in the United States.
Intervac, based in San Francisco, was founded in 1951 and is therefore the oldest of the swap groups in the United States. It has 9,400 subscribers.
For a $65 fee, members receive three catalogs a year, published Dec. 1, March 1 and May 1. Another catalog is issued in June and costs an extra $19. There is an $11 charge for including a photo of any property you want to advertise. Houses in 36 countries are listed, including the British Isles, North and Central America, Western Europe, and Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
More information: Intervac, Box 590504, San Francisco, Calif. 94159; (415) 435-3497 or (800) 756-4663.
The Vacation Exchange Club, which began in 1960, published its 394-page January 1995 book in December. Four others will be published this year.
Karl Costabel, the club's owner, said there were 7,000 entries in the January book, half with pictures. Two-thirds are in Europe, including Ireland; the rest are in North America, Mexico and Hawaii. A listing, plus the five books for 1995, costs $65. The charge for a horizontal photo is $15; a vertical photo is $20.
More information: Vacation Exchange Club, Box 650, Key West, Fla. 33041; (800) 638-3841.
Q: Can you give me any information on a travel group known as the Friendship Force?
A: The Friendship Force, based in Atlanta, was founded as a private nonprofit organization in 1977 as a way of "building bridges of friendship across cultural and national boundaries."
Under its programs, groups of 20 to 80 people from the United States visit other countries and stay in the homes of local families for a week or two, sharing their everyday lives. Members also act as hosts to groups from abroad.
Since 1977, more than 110,000 people from 50 countries have traveled as Friendship Force Ambassadors, each of whom pays a program fee that covers the entire exchange, including international transportation. Hosts receive no money from the group but are asked to open their homes to visitors.
The group was founded by the Rev. Waynes Smith of Decatur, Ga., under the aegis of President Jimmy Carter. Rosalynn Carter is still its honorary chairwoman, and the former president remains a supporter and participant, the group says.
Membership, which costs $18 a year, is through local chapters set up across the country. There are 125 chapters in the United States and 205 others around the world.
For more information write to the Friendship Force at 57 Forsyth St. N.W., Suite 900, Atlanta, Ga. 30303; (800) 688-6777.
Q: In 1985 my wife and I spent some time in Chur, Switzerland, and visited Bad Ragaz. I would like to go there again, but no one seems able to give me any information about it. Can you help?
A: Bad Ragaz, famous for its thermal springs since the Middle Ages, is a year-round resort with everything from luxury hotels to family-run inns, a tennis center, ski slopes and horse racing in October. It is situated on the Rhine River, some 50 miles southeast of Zurich, with indoor and outdoor thermal pools and a casino.
A 48-page booklet in English and German called "Bad Ragaz," listing hotels and excursions, is available free from the Swiss National Tourist Office, 608 Fifth Ave., New York, N.Y. 10020; (212) 757-5944. The office also publishes a 74-page spa guide with a section on Bad Ragaz.