THANK YOU FOR DROPPING IN….

We hope you enjoyed a restful Christmas and New Year.

We had a restorative few days doing very little and spending time with our family.

The Village to Villa website is having a re-vamp!  We’ve been thinking carefully about how we can help YOU fulfill your travel goals and the joys of living like locals.

Alex is at the keyboards creating beautiful stories to share with you from our pet and housesitting adventures in Europe AND in Tasmania.

SEE YOU AGAIN SOON

Gai & Neil

Bonjour Paris – The Adventure Begins

Neil on the most famous street in Europe

The day finally arrived.  We were going to Paris. 

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.

Bonjour Paris from Neil the tourist!

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.

Paris book-sellers on the river Seine

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.

 

Ann Jeanne & Gai

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.

Fascinating back streets of Paris

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.

 

A trip to FRANCE with us!

Arc du Carrousel Paris

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.

We can now take you on the journey that we loved so much – on our year of pet and house sitting around the globe.

BONJOUR PARIS, THE ADVENTURE BEGINS.  

 

Neil on arrival in Paris

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!

Enter the most famous art gallery in the world, through a glass pyramid.

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.

 

A restorative coffee

Take some time out to sit back in a cafe and watch the parade of life in this proud, elegant city.

Chez Julien in the Marais section of Paris.

It’s often the smaller back streets that have more stories to tell a traveler.

Paris side streets have their own story

It’s nourishing to go where the locals go – see how they spend their weekends to enjoy their famous city and replenish themselves.

The Pont Neuf, where the locals like to relax.

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.

BONJOUR PARIS, THE ADVENTURE BEGINS.  

A YEAR OF TRAVEL

CLICK THIS LINK

“Village to Villa” on YouTube!  

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.

Livvy, Gai & Montalbano, Italy

Spending time in someone else’s home also gives you the opportunity to explore new territory – and ways of living.

The possibilities are enormous!

Enter – Chateau du Mauran

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.

Van Gogh irises

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.

Monsieur Gaston

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.

Our country home in Alfington.

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!

The house at Alfington

Hampshire in England – showed us the perfect balance of city and country living.

Neil, Bishops Waltham, Hampshire
The city of Winchester.

In Bishops Waltham – the customs of the classic village lifestyle seemed comfortably familiar!

Bishops Waltham dogs

Portsmouth, teeming with tales of the history sea-faring travel.

Nelson’s last ship, HMS Victory.
below deck on HMS Warrior

Living high in the mountains of Umbria – was breathtaking!

mountains of Umbria

La Fontanella, Italy

The isolated property is a haven for two energetic dogs and two elusive cats.

Neil with dogs from La Fontanella, Umbria.

We went hunting for truffles….then ate it on fresh pasta!

Finding a wild, white truffle!
A delicious meal with Daniella & Savario  –    @yourholidaysinumbria

We were welcomed into the homes of the warm and generous people of central Italy.

Italian Mammas.

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.

Autumn in Bellac, France

CLICK THIS LINK….

“VILLAGE TO VILLA YOU TUBE” – a new story every Tuesday.

We want to inspire YOU to create your own memories of travelling to a new and exhilarating location – and living like a local.

 A NEW STORY EVERY TUESDAY starting on 21st August 2018.

 

And they said it couldn’t be done….

Craufurdland Castle, Kilmarnock

When we left Australia for France in March 2016 – we had no clue that it would be June 2018 before we could share our extraordinary trip with the world!

But remember the old saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Or “Good things come to those who wait.” The waiting is over!

VILLAGE TO VILLA is now ready for download on AMAZON PRIME.

We’ve had fabulous feedback from those who have been quick to take advantage of the 30 day FREE TRIAL.

We’ve had excited phone calls from the UK –  the USA and from all over Australia.

Here’s what Michael said after his binge viewing….

“I loved this video from start to finish. Gai and Neil are amazing!!! What they do on a day to day, take care of the animals like they were their own !!! Truly amazing I  loved….

Thank you Michael.  We now love YOU too!!

CLICK INTO AMAZON HERE and see what we did with 129 stories shot in 25 locations in 4 countries.

 

Video: LIVING LIKE LOCALS IN PARIS

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.

BHV department store Paris

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.

Paris book sellers on Seine

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.

behind Notre Dame Paris

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.

music shop in Marais

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.

Hotel de Ville Paris 2

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.

metro stop Place Colette

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.

Metro Palais Royale Musee du Louvre

If you walk west on the rue de Rivoli, you will pass the golden statue of Joan of Arc and  many other landmarks.

Joan of Arc on rue de Rivoli

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.

More stories from my previous trips to Paris at www.postcardsfromfrance.com

Scotland the Brave!

Scotland really is the land of the brave!

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!”

Thank you Gordon Nicholson!

It’s Personal

First there was friendship….

Gai & Neil in Umbria

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!

on board the Warrior at Portsmouth UK

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!

Guess where!

Our love of animals

Chooks are fascinating to watch!

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.

snoozing with Ruby

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.

Neil and Millie
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.
In Cannes with Charlie
Why am I so drawn to animals?  Animals are totally honest.
Animals love unconditionally.  Pets bring so much joy.
Alfie & Rosie, France
Neil & Lexie

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.

Lexie, Gai & Monty, Italy

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 dog Basil

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.

Mohan, Dreamworld

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dreamworld tiger cub

My sister and I strolled with fully-grown cougar and Andy, her handler.

Dreamworld Cougar, handler Andy

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.

Harriet, Australia Zoo

Possibly the most joyous moment was sitting in the Meerkat enclosure at “Werribee Zoo”, as the inquisitive young ones climbed all over me!

Meerkats at Werribee Zoo

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.

We all speak the same language.

Livvy, Umbria

And THAT is why we love pet and house sitting.

Lovey Dovey Donkeys

Donkeys are smart!

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, UK

 

The Donkey Sanctuary 2

The Donkey Sanctuary was one of the most fascinating places we visited on “Village to Villa” – 1 year of  pet and house sitting.

The Donkey Sanctuary 4

 

The Donkey Sanctuary 5

It all began in 1969 when Elisabeth Svendsen did something amazing. She founded a charity after seeing  7 small donkeys housed in appalling conditions.

The Donkey Sanctuary 6
Ashley at the Donkey Sanctuary

 

Donkey derriere

 

The Donkey Sanctuary 8

Today it’s Britain’s richest charity with an annual turnover of 22 million pounds!

 

Ashley and Gai
Donkey Sanctuary photo shoot

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.

 

Gai and donkey chat with Ashley

 

Poitou donkey close up
Poitou donkeys at the sanctuary

The Sanctuary provides Donkeys for assisted therapy for children.

Anyone can “Adopt a Donkey” to guarantee its future well-being.

Read up about these guys here:  www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk

If these equines put a smile on your face –  you should take a look at BALDRIC – the awesome eagle.

 

Video: MOVING TO FRANCE

Have  you ever  considered moving to France?

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.

Geri and one of her Pacemakers!

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.

Geri’s interview

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.

Video: Australia’s biggest coal port

Newcastle is Australia’s biggest coal port.

This video shows you just how big the coal ships really are! This one is heading to Japan.  It will take 20 days.

One of the early house and pet sitting assignments we accepted – was in the Port Stephens region of NSW in Australia.  It’s a stunning piece of coastline.

Neil McLean
Gai at Zenith Beach
Zenith Beach
Zenith Beach

The city has regenerated itself over the past decade – changing from a gritty coal city to a cosmopolitan place to live –  while keeping its heritage architecture.

Art Deco hotel in Newcastle
Newcastle city
Newcastle docks area

We soon found the perfect location for a spot of ship spotting!

Frederico coal ship

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