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.

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: 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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Video: Curious Cats

Cats are curious and can be incredibly funny.

During our year of travel in 4 countries, we had the privilege of taking care of 16 cats!

Neil, a comfortable couch!

We’d like to introduce you to some of the fantastic felines we met during the Village to Villa tour – so stay with us for the video at the end of this story.

It’s about one of the curious cats that shared their lifestyle with us while their human family took a holiday.

Marmaduke from the Cotswolds

 

A Guildford Girl

 

A cat who reads? Novel!

 

How is that dinner going?

 

It’s OK. I can reach it!

Only Becky from Scotland – was the solo occupant of her castle…

Becky from Scotland

Some had flatmates…

Cotswolds Cats

Some even shared with dogs!!!!!

Livvy loves her cats!

 

Pippa & one of the Spice Girls

 

Glamorous Gaston without Hector?!

 

Treacle loves to walk with Bingo and Hobey

AND HERE IS THEIR STORY….

If these fantastic felines gave you something to smile about… you will be filled with joy when you meet RUBY, the Moodle Queen of Queensland!

 

 

VIDEO: Village to Villa French Animals

From Spritely Spaniels to Newborn Lambs

Do French animals respond to spoken French?

Traveling around and living like locals in other countries, we discovered this –  the universal language between humans and animals – no matter where you are – is kindness.

Our treasured time in France was filled with the company of dogs of all sizes… a Movie Star Cat called Monsieur Gaston!!  Some we were pet sitting, others  belonged to neighbours.

These are just a few of  Village to Villa’s amazing animals – met during our house sitting in FRANCE.

You might like to meet more AMAZING ANIMALS

VIDEO: Village to Villa’s Amazing Animals

From an African Pygmy Hedgehog to a pure white horse!

That is the range of Village to Villa’s Amazing Animals – encountered during our year of travel in 4 countries.  For us, one of the attractions of house and pet sitting – is the animals.

During our Village to Villa year long adventure in 4 countries, we came across a collection of animals that gave joy to us as well as to their owners. It was  amazing how quickly they become attached to us, as we settled into their homes and routines.  With their owners away, they needed us to give them more than meals.  They also needed the love, affection and security that they are used to having.  And the more we gave, the more they gave back.

Here are some of  Village to Villa’s amazing animals – met during our house sitting in AUSTRALIA.

Would you like to meet an inspirational English Setter that is actually SCOTTISH? 

 

VIDEO: Extremely Cute Moodle!

If you cross breed a Maltese and a Poodle – you get an Extremely Cute Moodle!

A day with RUBY – the real star of “Village to Villa” episode one.

When goes out, her cuteness overload touches the heart of everyone she meets.

Since Ruby is part poodle, we think she deserves a little Haute Cuisine occasionally.

See what she does when Neil serves her dinner.

  “A Day in the Life of RUBY”

Ruby is the real star of Episode 1 “Village to Villa” – our TV series – now in edit.  This little dog belongs to the Sully family and she’s our very first pet sit dog.  We hope you enjoyed meeting her.

While shooting our 13 part series w in 4 countries, we clocked up the following animal sits….

16 DOGS

15 CATS

18 CHICKENS

3 SHEEP including 2 newborn lambs

3 GEESE

1 SWAN

1 HEDGEHOG

A Scottish Red Squirrel and Pheasant plus a plethora of wild birds.

MORE CUTENESS – if you can take it!

TOP TIPS FOR HOUSE SITTING

Everything you need to know to have a fabulously authentic travel experience HOUSE SITTING & PET SITTING

Winchendon in Buckinghamshire UK

We would like to share some valuable information and TOP TIPS about having an unforgettable time when you go house and pet sitting. We gathered this knowledge from our experiences and some of it we learned the hard way!
In late 2015 we set off on a year-long, four-country journey. We started at home in Australia, then packed up everything and took a flight to Paris! We spent most of 2016 in France, UK and Italy. We traveled 30,000km by air and 36,000km by car. Along the way we picked up a lot of helpful tips for a smooth journey. If you’re new to house sitting or if you’ve tried it already, we hope you can take away some tips that will enhance your time at each of your many destinations.

Scotland, UK

TIP 1 – SELECTING THE REGION

As basic as it sounds, paying close attention to the locations you choose is critical. Also, the time of the year when you visit can make a big difference to your experience. A great question to ask yourself is – What will the weather be like when we go there?

We knew England would be cold for us, especially Scotland, so we applied only for sits during their summer. If you are used to cold climates, you may want to go to a warmer region and vice versa. Many sits may be booked months before the actual scheduled time, so do your homework on this one.
Another things to pay attention to is the time of the tourist season and as we discovered in Bordeaux – will there be any major events taking place nearby? We had to move our car by several blocks for the weekend.

Flint loves to fetch!

Know the address of the property.

While this might sound like a no-brainer, we came extremely close to becoming seriously lost, not once, but twice!
Get very clear about where you are. Establish landmarks and have a back-up plan. Take a photo on your phone.

To read ALL 14 TIPS… . PLEASE CLICK ON THE LINK BELOW

Village to Villa House Sitting Tips

walking the dogs at Chateau Chaufeille

Neil & Gai have put together “Village to Villa House Sitting Tips” to help guide you find unforgettable house sits and pet sits.

CLICK THE LINK –    Village to Villa House Sitting Tips

This is detailed and valuable guidance from a couple who travelled in 4 countries for 1 year – primarily house sitting and pet sitting.

As if that wasn’t enough – they also shot and are now writing “Village to Villa”  LIVING LIKE LOCALS – a 13 episode TV series – NOW IN EDIT.

Just scroll down to the black strip and you will see how to become a FOLLOWER.

We’ll help you to create a killer profile and nail the perfect sit for you.  THANK YOU we are grateful for your interest and support.  Please feel free to share with others who might enjoy our adventure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shoot a TV series without a crew!

Can 2 producers really shoot video for a 13 part TV series without a crew?

Neil McLean and Gai Reid are the only members of the camera crew for their 13 episode TV series “Village to Villa”. We developed our “TV production in a back pack” so we could travel for one year and shoot a TV series without a camera crew!

Having covered 4 countries – living like locals – we have now begun the huge editing phase.  Luckily we have 2 awesome editors.  Meet our crew.

First edit session

Gai & Neil have worked in television production for most of our working lives. That’s a scary number of years!

Gai experienced a little bit of everything during her time spent working in regional television in NSW and Tasmania. Mostly she has worked in Brisbane networks as a writer and producer in factual programming.

Harriet, Australia Zoo

 

Dreamworld tiger cubs

Neil has worked mostly in news in regional  and the networks of NSW and Victoria– as a reporter, reader and news director.  We both know what it’s like to spend a week or longer on the road.

Neil in his TV news reporting days

click here to meet THE CREW 

What is a TV Production in a Back Pack?

Normally when a TV crew travels to shoot a program – 4 people would check in 12 to 18 pieces of luggage, including cameras, tripod, lights, sound gear as well as crew suitcases.  NOT for TV Production in a back pack.

Because of the nature of our project – we couldn’t take a traditional camera crew.  So WE became the crew!

That meant we had to figure out another way to bring you what we knew would be engaging and inspirational stories.

Maggie the Umbrian truffle hunter!

 

Donkey cuddles for Gai

We came up with PRODUCTION BACK PACK!

We streamlined down to the absolute minimum gear – we had to carry it where ever we went. It really was a production in a backpack.  AND it enabled us to shoot a TV series without a crew.

Most importantly – we wanted to record authentic  travel experiences that filled us with joy!

We wanted to be able to talk to strangers without intimidating them with a large camera on a tripod.  They needed to feel comfortable in order to open up and tell us their stories.  We wanted to make story gathering a pleasurable experience for everyone involved.

German bunker at Fort du Cap Levi, Normandy

So when we set out on one of our many trips –  we had a suit case each and ONE backpack of camera gear!

"Production in a Backpack"

We used a Nikon digital SLR with external Rode mic; a Samsung Galaxy-K phone with external Rodes mic; occasionally a basic Samsung phone; a Sony Action Can and a seriess of mounts.  Sometime we shot an interview with 2 different angles. We found a fantastic tripod that folds down to about the size of 2 fold up umbrellas.  THAT’S IT!  This is how we were able to shoot a TV series without a crew.

 

interviewing Ann Jeanne, “A Friend in Paris”

 

The Seine River, Paris

We wanted to be one of the early adopters of using a mobile phone camera to shoot a series – to show that it COULD be done.

on Mt Mutali with Florentine – our Italian guide

“Village to Villa” is now well and truly in edit!

There are 13 episodes of 22 minutes duration.

Here’s a preview   

 

recording voice overs with Ruby

 We have an abundance of extra stories and video clips to share with YOU over the coming months.

…but before you go, we are grateful for your support and in return – we’d like to keep you in the loop so you don’t miss a thing.

THANK YOU FOR SUBSCRIBING – it’s at the bottom of this page.

 

House sitting in 4 countries

What’s it really like to live like locals – in another country?

To find out, we took on HOUSE SITTING and PET SITTING in 4 countries.
Neil’s first day in Paris!

 

Pont Vecchio, Florence
One of the best ways to embed yourself into a community…  is to live in someone else’s house.  We discovered an ideal way to do that.

House sitting and pet sitting!

walking the dogs at Chateau Chaufaille
House Sitting is sweeping the world as a unique and convenient way to travel for long periods of time, rent free!

The possibilities are enormous!

Our Scottish Villa
La Fontanella at dusk

For one year – we visited a smorgasbord of locations in 4 countries

– beginning in our own back yard, Australia…then moving on to France…The United Kingdom …and to Italy.
During our year-long “Village to Villa” journey, we savoured …going coastal …going country….going quirky!

To kick off the tour, we show you Australia’s Gold Coast –  where WE live!

The Gold Coast canals
After spending serious time in the wine growing areas of South Australia, we were ready to take on France!

We spent a few days sampling the delights of Paris

Metro stop Paris
–  then we settled into rural life in south west France – to live like locals.
Connecting with neighbours gave us a real sense of the French village lifestyle.

Springtime in France
This 200 year old classic Chateau deep in the south of France –  was our home for one glorious month during spring time.

We gained a real perspective on the luxury of villa living.

Monsieur Gaston
After driving the length of France – we settled into our stylish farm house in Normandy.
From here we explored the famous WW2 landing beaches and historic coastal towns.
We also witnessed the birth of a lamb – which was awesome!
The Girls of Normandy
Hampshire in England – showed us how to achieve the perfect balance of city and country living. New friends introduced us to the joys of English pub culture.

For two weeks, we were the Laird and Lairdy of a modern castle!

Craufurdland Castle, Kilmarnock
We immersed ourselves in the rich and often quirky history and traditions of Scotland.
I hear the bagpipes calling!  Ian Smith, Balatar Bagpipes

 

Neil in a skirt…..kilt by Gordon Nicolson in Edinburgh
There are few places in the world as pretty as the Cotswolds – a cluster of quintessentially English villages straddling 5 counties.

Our Minchinhampton base put us close to these iconic villages.

Neil at the Secret Cottage, in The Cottwolds, UK
Ottery St Mary delivered the peace and tranquility of the East Devon countryside.

The large stately home came with an intriguing combination of pets.

Our love of animals lead us to a Sanctuary of very friendly donkeys…..and an American bald eagle called Baldrick!
Baldrick the Bald Eagle at Hawkridge Birds of Prey, Exmouth UK
We finished our year in a magnificent home high in the mountains of Umbria in central Italy.
La Fontainella in the mist
Being invited into the homes and lives of our warm and generous new friends and neighbours – was a highlight of our year of house sitting – and living like locals.
Italian Mummas in the kitchen

Village to Villa is based in reality – not everything goes to plan!  The animals have their own idea about the rules!

Bekky thinking about dinner

But they will always reward you with a special thank you for being there.

Living like locals in 4 very different countries – has given us an exceptional insight into other ways of life.
Harvesting the last of the olives

 

Maggie the truffle queen!

It’s shown us how to find the SPECIAL in the everyday.

Bellac France, in autumn

 

Chateau du Mauran irises
Village to Villa is a new way to experience travel and lifestyle from a fresh and personal perspective.

WHILE WE WERE TRAVELING – WE WERE SHOOTING AND WRITING A TV SERIES!

Village to Villa – living like locals through house sitting and pet sitting. Series 1 – 13 episodes are now in edit.

walking in Hampshire UK
Fortress St Giuliana, Umbria

Meet the crew.