For quite some time I’d entertained the idea of buying a house in or around the Dordogne region of France.
I’d spent countless hours scouring the pages of Rightmove bookmarking properties, yet when I finally arrived, it simply didn’t feel ‘right’,
The town of Brive la Galliarde was exceptionally beautiful, as was the apartment I rented. It’s circular staircase snaked upward through the centre of the building, stone steps worn from the imprint of many footsteps that tread upon them over many years, or possibly centuries.
A Juliet balcony overhung the cobblestone street that carved its way through buildings dating back to the 17th century. It was historically mesmerizing: but again, I didn’t feel it.
However rather than wallow in the disappointment, I embraced the fact that I was meant to come here and make the realization that this is simply not my place.
And that’s okay.
Yet still my love affair with France continues: it’s language, it’s people and it’s culture pull me into its melodic web.
And that sentiment shone brightly yesterday when I arrived in Lyon and stopped at a street cafe for a beer after a long walk to the hostel.
Just as I took my first sip, a group of people approached my table and asked me something in french. Obviously not understanding their quickly spoken words, yet as I’d perfected my short, french spiel, l happily blurted: ‘… ah je suis australien, et je ne parle en petit peu Français, parlez plus lentiment, s’il vous plait.
Basically saying, but probably butchering their beautiful language: ‘I’m sorry I only speak a little french, could you please speak slowly’.
There were no raised eyebrows or sly sniggers, quite the contrary. They graciously responded by speaking perfect English with oh so sexy accents.
Funnily enough, after exchanging stories bestowing them with more of my childlike french, they said when I spoke french, for them, I sounded sexy!!! Too many Pernods perhaps?
What I found most humbling during my time with these lovely people was their kindness and willingness to help me with my french. I was also extremely touched by their praise for my apparent bravery at travelling solo, however I never feel my solo travels are brave.
It’s interesting to see yourself through someone else’s eyes as I have never labelled myself as being brave.
So as dusk begins to ascend upon my travels and my time in Europe draws to a close, I’m humbled as to where I’ve left my footprint.
I’m grateful for where I’ve been, who I’ve met and what I’ve achieved.
So for now, I’ll spend my last few days in France enjoying the company of an old friend.
Walking along paths framed by wheat fields, climbing across majestic mountains and traversing through forests whilst being stalked by horses was an experience I’ll never forget.
And already, I deeply miss walking the Camino.
I miss the feeling of knowing the morning heralded another day of simply being in the present. Another day of simply placing one foot in front of another, hour after hour. It was so humbling and and so rewarding.
I truly wish I’d had more time to finish the entire Camino: unfortunately I did not.
But like others before me, I will return.
Instead, I’m continuing my love affair with France, a country I adore. The language, the landscape and the friendliness of the people.
Some may ‘tut tut’ at that last sentence, but I’ve always found French people to be warm and friendly.
This visit is no different.
My chance encounter with a French couple who’d just completed the entire Camino [Le Puy en Valay to Finisterre, approx 1600kms]. They happily shared very useful advice on walking Le Puy.
Bruno, my Airbnb host who warmly accepted my very last minute booking ( 1 hour), and who then praised my poor French language skills.
The wonderful people who invited me into the masses to enjoy and support Gay Pride.
And today: the wait staff at a restaurant where I stopped for lunch. They chatted animatedly with me before inviting me to join them later for drinks and dinner. I declined as I needed to get back to my Airbnb, however I was humbled by their kindness.
Tomorrow I head further north for a few days of walking through old villages, before heading to Lyon to spend time with an old, dear friend who I’ve not seen in quite a few years.
And just as my love affair with France continues, so does my love of travelling solo.
I’m never lonely, never frightened and despite missing my precious sons, special friends and of course my beloved sausages, life is sweet.
To those who fear solo travel, fear not, for it truly is an amazing experience that heightens the senses and soothes the soul…
A friend said to me recently: ‘think about where you want to be in 5 years, then figure out how best to get there…’. On hearing his words, I did not need to think about where I wanted to be, for I already knew.
In 5 years I shall be sitting in a cafe in Paris, sipping a good Pinot whilst watching Parisian life stroll by.
On finishing my wine, I return to my apartment and take a moment to gaze upon the array of red chimney tops that adorn the abundant rooftops. Atop the small table that occupies the space beneath the open window, pots of brightly coloured flowers sit alongside fresh herbs of which I use to excite my cooking. In the small yet quaint living room, an overstuffed sofa bed bought from a second hand store, waits for my two grown sons who are soon to arrive. I am excited at the prospect of time soon to be spent with my beautiful children, who are, and always will be my greatest achievement.
My French is now reasonable and in the last years I have trekked the Annapurna Circuit, floated in the Dead Sea and gazed in wonder at the natural beauty of the Northern Lights. I have spent time teaching in foreign lands and broadened my knowledge in photography.
I ponder where I have left footprints and find I have no regrets, for I have lived and am now living, life…
Having made positive changes in my life, I am now a silent and content witness to watching life unfold, through routines that are complete and solid in nature.
Free to now shape my own routine, I fall easily in step with the established routine of others.
He walks with bowed legs, a crooked stick aiding crooked legs. His smile is wide, shining its light upon those who share his morning. His frayed cap is tipped ever so slightly, a silent acknowledgment of my presence with his.
He runs. Panting, sensing and sniffing his well-travelled path. A worn, tattered rope connecting her to him, keeps him close and without flight. She too smiles and bids me good morning.
They are there with me, sharing routines.
As I walk, Regret does not walk alongside me. There is simply happiness and fulfilment for having chosen a routine that is reflective of who I am, and who I have always needed to be.