Not only to this grand city but we’ll travel all over France for the next three to four months! Was it a dream that we would soon wake up from?
Twenty-eight hours later reality set in as we climbed out of the taxi outside the intriguing turquoise door tucked away on the stylish Rue de Rivoli in Paris.
It really was bonjour Paris! The adventure really does begin here! I wanted to run down the street right away! Gai lovingly held me for a reality check about maybe going to the hotel first and unloading our suitcases?
After quickly checking into the cute little family hotel, we immediately went exploring, despite the rigours of the punishingly long journey we had just been through.
Each of us had travelled extensively and been to many exciting places but there was definitely something extra special about Paris. It was Gai’s fifth time in this amazing city and she wanted me to experience ‘everything’.
A great idea is to do your homework prior to arriving and work up a list of the key things and places you want to check out. France is the most visited country on the planet with around eighty million tourists per year. That’s more than the total population of the entire country. (65 million)
Our first day was spent simply walking around. Everywhere you walk in Paris there is something to catch your eye. I wanted to take pics and videos of literally everything.
Normally, our first move in a new city is to find the hop on, hop off bus. Seeing the main sights all in one session tends to help you get a grip on the layout of a place and get to know it quickly. We did this on the second day in Paris…however there is so much to see, explore and taste, you could hang on the open-top buses for days and not see it all.
It’s busy. It’s frenetic. It’s exotic. It’s mesmerizing, intoxicating and nourishing all at the same time.
Our final full day in the city was a Sunday…one of the busiest of the week. It’s when Parisiennes go walking. Months prior to our trip, Gai had developed an on-line friendship with a local who conducts walking tours of the city. Ann Jeanne was delightful, helpful and friendly as well as highly knowledgeable about her home city.
We spent half a day with her exploring intriguing back streets, funny little shops we would not have found without her, and a plethora of classic cafes and riverside walks. To have a live commentary and conversational explanation of what we were seeing and experiencing was incredibly insightful.
One of the first impressions that struck me was how fashionable everyone was. The men dress impeccably. Most women look so stylish they could have just come directly from a fashion shoot.
The French café society is at its strongest in this city. Establishments in the main streets usually have more outdoor seats and tables than they do inside. This is specifically for the combination of people watching and ‘being seen’. It is a national pastime.
Ann Jeanne imparted many insider secrets.
As a tourist who wants to ‘fit in like local’, one of the most important things you need to do is to say Bonjour as you enter a shop or café. Without this singing-type greeting, you will be considered rude. It’s also fun to exchange friendly greetings. It gets things off on the right footing. Taking the time to learn a few basic French phrases will help you tremendously. The majority of Parisiennes speak some English. A good phrase for you is ‘Bonjour, je m’appelle Neil, je suis Austsralien en vacances.
“Hello my name is Neil …an Australian on holidays”. If you do not identify yourself this way…many will assume you are English…not the Frenchy’s favourite people. They love Aussies through.
Our three days in the city was almost a blur it went so quickly. You could spend days, weeks or even months exploring and getting to know the real Paris.
How lucky we were to have the courage to venture to France this way.
Then it was time to face another big challenge. Picking up the hire car from Orly Airport and driving south to our first house and pet sitting assignment. Yikes!
We were excited about meeting our home-owners, their dogs and the 300-year old cottage near the small rural French town of Coussac-Bonneval, our home for the next two weeks.
Having seen how ‘mad’ the drivers are in Paris, the three-hour drive south to the Limousin district in the centre of the country was going to be a big adventure. Going with a left-hand-drive manual car on the right- hand side of the road was always going to add an unforgettable layer! The adventure begins.
Every week, we’ll post a new story about our adventures in France. If you subscribe to Village to Villa – you won’t miss a thing!
But wait …. THERE’S MORE!! Everything comes alive on our video!
The full length episodes from the broadcast series “Village to Villa” is available on AMAZON PRIME.
Over the coming months, Neil gives his personal account of how our 300 days in 4 countries unfolded. From the amazing to the sometimes scary – we show you what unfolded beautifully and spontaneously – as well as what went incredibly askew!
First stop – Paris!
When in Paris, do as the Parisians do.
Paris is one of the most delectably intriguing cities of Europe, created from centuries of living, destroying and restoring. When you go to Paris there will be an overwhelming choice of things to see and do, places to explore and people to watch.
Take some time out to sit back in a cafe and watch the parade of life in this proud, elegant city.
It’s often the smaller back streets that have more stories to tell a traveler.
It’s nourishing to go where the locals go – see how they spend their weekends to enjoy their famous city and replenish themselves.
We were lucky – we had Ann Jeanne, a born and bred Parissiene who takes private walking tours around Paris. Ann showed us where the locals go.
“Ann Jeanne in Paris” – Ann takes private walking tours through the city of Paris. afriendinparis.com
Place du Vert Galant
The full length, 13 episode broadcast series of “Village to Villa – living like locals” is available in selected markets on AMAZON Prime.
For our French and Italian friends and supporters not in the broadcast area, we’ve created a YouTube version so you can see it around the globe.
Every week we’ll release a new travel video from our pet and house-sitting adventures in 4 countries.
Pet and house sitting is sweeping the world as a unique and convenient way to travel for long periods of time, rent free!
In return, you care for the owners’ precious pets.
Spending time in someone else’s home also gives you the opportunity to explore new territory – and ways of living.
The possibilities are enormous!
The 200-year-old Chateau du Mauran – near the Garonne River in South West France, is the second home of a Dutch couple. They kindly showed us how to live like locals in South West France.
We lived a life of privilege for one magnificent month during spring time. We didn’t want to leave!
This was our cozy farmhouse in Normandy.
We easily settled into live the life of a French farmer. We tended to the needs of two heavily pregnant ewes named Anjou and Alsace.
There was a big chance that WE would we have to deliver their lambs!
The Mamans of Normandy
The house in the village of Alfington was full of history.
In the county of South Devon, we stepped back into the traditional country lifestyle. Living in this sprawling home must have been heavenly for the children who once lived here. So many secret spaces to discover!
Hampshire in England – showed us the perfect balance of city and country living.
In Bishops Waltham – the customs of the classic village lifestyle seemed comfortably familiar!
Portsmouth, teeming with tales of the history sea-faring travel.
Living high in the mountains of Umbria – was breathtaking!
mountains of Umbria
The isolated property is a haven for two energetic dogs and two elusive cats.
We went hunting for truffles….then ate it on fresh pasta!
We were welcomed into the homes of the warm and generous people of central Italy.
Pet and house sitting – can show you an authentic way to experience travel and lifestyle from a very fresh perspective.
The highlight of our extraordinary year of travel?
Being able to share OUR privileged travel experiences – with as many people as possible. So we’re launching our Village to Villa YouTube channel.
Having visited this enchanting city four times before – I felt that we could easily spend a few days – almost living like locals in Paris.
ENJOY OUR VIDEO OF NEIL’S FIRST DAY IN PARIS
It’s a long way to Europe from the east coast of Australia! When we fly half way around the world to get to our destination – we like to make the 27 hour trip worth the discomfort.
It’s no secret that France is my favourite destination – so far. Early in the planning stages of our “Village to Villa” epic house sit in 4 countries – we locked it in as our first European destination.
In my quest for authentic travel experiences, I try to be as Parisienne as possible. To get into that feeling, I visit places that have become familiar. This trip, I will be showing Neil, why I adore this city.
One of my favourite parts of Paris is known as the Marais, sometimes called “the 4th” – which refers to the arrondissement number. The city of Paris is divided into 20 arrondissement.
The Marais is one of the oldest and most authentic parts of Paris. The small back streets of this area are full of life. It’s a mixture of residential and retail with a generous amount of museums and many of the most important historic buildings. There is something of interest in every direction.
One of the prettiest and most visited, is the Hotel de Ville – the city hall. At least once a week, a market springs up in one of the public spaces.
From here, I like to catch the metro and get off at the “Palais Royal Musee du Louvre”. This stop puts you in the perfect position to see the stunning, glass pyramid entrance to the Louvre.
If you walk west on the rue de Rivoli, you will pass the golden statue of Joan of Arc and many other landmarks.
Eventually you will reach the most famous street in Paris. The Champs Elysees. and the busiest round about, the Arc de Triomphe.
Neil’s first day in Paris!This is just a sliver of our treasured few days in Paris. From here, we collected a car and headed south.
Neil and I wanted to see Scotland on our “Village to Villa” tour of the UK.
We were knocked out by the stunning location of our house and pet sit.
Before meeting Becky, the senior resident cat – I was ambivalent about actually owning a moggie. This sweet, loving cat changed my mind. I fell a little bit in love with Becky!
Glenfarg is a village in the county of Perth, central Scotland. Mostly it’s a cluster of farmhouses and a pub.
Glenfarg is a 20 to 30 minute drive to the city of Perth – depending on how many times you stop to take photos!
Both of us have Scottish heritage and we wanted to see if we felt any connection. Neil had done a whirlwind trip a few years previously and this time, he wanted to experience real life as a Scotsman rather than a tourist.
One of Scotland’s most famous cities is Edinburgh. It’s a down with two sides and manages to blend the past with the present – architecturally and culturally.
The old medieval part of the city is bursting with entertainment.
We couldn’t resist looking up our family tartans. Even though other countries have produced a similar look – the plaid has become a symbol of Scottish heritage, along with the kilt. You can’t really have a kilt that’s NOT tartan – it just wouldn’t be right!
In my book, the Scottish really ARE brave. First of all, their men not only wear a skirt, but it’s made of a plaid fabric we know as TARTAN.
The question that is most asked about this ensemble – is “what DO Scotsmen really wear under their kilt” and the answer we found was “NOTHING!”
Neil: We’ve been friends since 1982 when we both worked in regional TV in New South Wales. I worked in news and production…Gai in graphics. She was newly married. Years later we met up in Brisbane. By then I was married with a young family. Gai was divorced and had taken a new direction, working in production. We crossed paths every few years at TV stations or on Outside Broadcasts.
…. then fate intervened!
Gai: In 2013 after 18 years as a network producer, I returned to my home town in NSW, in search of a new sense of belonging. In the same year, Neil had been lured back to regional news in NSW. Fate intervened and we were re-acquainted! This time we were both free to pursue more than a friendship! We ended up on the Gold Coast in search of a new project, and the next chapter of our life. Together!
Our love of animals
Neil: Ever since I was a little kid, I have loved animals. From my first dogs, a gorgeous golden retriever and a black and white border collie, through to the delightful German Shepherd cross who was with me all through my teens and my best friend. Swimming with dolphins was a life highlight.
Later there were two moodles who I loved so much it hurt! Raised from tiny puppies, this pair of fluffy balls of energy were constant companions.
Over the last five years, there have been many dogs, cats, birds, chickens, rabbits, horses and various other four-legged friends. The year long pet and house sitting adventure, Village to Villa saw a swag of new friends appear.
Why am I so drawn to animals? Animals are totally honest.
Animals love unconditionally. Pets bring so much joy.
From guinea pigs to orphaned lambs.
Gai: When I was growing up in a small country down, we had a string of pets from cats, dogs and guinea pigs – to lambs, calves, chickens, ducks and bossy geese on my grandmother’s farm.
When I finished college I got my very own dog. Basil was a sweet Australian Terrier. He’s been gone for many years now but he’s still “my dog”.
My love of animals went hand in hand with my job. For 18 years I worked as a writer and producer on long running TV program “Totally Wild”. The focus was on all creatures great and small. I experienced many privileges and joyful animal encounters.
On a stretch of the Queensland coastline, I watched as hatchling sea turtles emerged from their nest on the beach and ran for their lives into the surf.
At “Dreamworld” I walked with a majestic white Bengal Tiger, then bottle fed a tiger cub.
My sister and I strolled with fully-grown cougar and Andy, her handler.
I met Steve Irwin and with my 2, now grown up nieces, sat on the grass at “Australia Zoo” with Harriet, his 170 year old Galapagos Tortoise.
Possibly the most joyous moment was sitting in the Meerkat enclosure at “Werribee Zoo”, as the inquisitive young ones climbed all over me!
These are the highlights that sustained my yearning for another pet. When Neil and I came together, that longing began to grow again, in both of us. And it was a big part of our decision to travel by via house and pet sitting.
What could be more soothing after a day of sightseeing – than smooching with an affectionate dog or cat.
The word on the street is that donkeys are stubborn! But after a recent day in the company of donkeys – we can tell you that it’s just NOT true! Like other animals, they can fill your heart with joy.
We were living like locals in England – when we learnt about these fascinating animals. They were a short drive to the east from where we were house sitting.
Donkeys are surprisingly affectionate – as Neil found out when Bonnie was very attracted to this handsome Aussie!
If you find yourself anywhere near Sidmouth in the English county of Devon, put a few hours aside to meet some donkeys. You to might be lucky enough to get a very personal encounter.
The Donkey Sanctuary was one of the most fascinating places we visited on “Village to Villa” – 1 year of pet and house sitting.
It all began in 1969 when Elisabeth Svendsen did something amazing. She founded a charity after seeing 7 small donkeys housed in appalling conditions.
Today it’s Britain’s richest charity with an annual turnover of 22 million pounds!
Their mission is to free donkeys from suffering and improve the quality of life for donkeys worldwide – mostly through promoting an understanding and support. They have made a profound difference to the lives of donkeys, here in England and in other countries.
The Sanctuary provides Donkeys for assisted therapy for children.
Anyone can “Adopt a Donkey” to guarantee its future well-being.
We love meeting friends, family and neighbours of our house sitting hosts. They always have colourful stories to tell about the property, the town, the region, even the country where we are staying.
While we were on our first French pet and house sit in Normandy, we met Geri, an entertaining and joyful American with a love for France.
We loved her dogs, and we enjoyed her company. Geri agreed to share her story of moving to France. She’s taken on a huge task – renovating an enormous old stone house near the small village of Crasville.
One winter’s morning in Normandy – we met Geri at one of her favourite locations. The vide greniere at a neighbouring village called Yvestot Bocage (eve-stow bow-carzgh). In French, vide greniere (veed gron-yay) literally means empty the attic.
See what she comes home with, for her house! This is Geri’s story.