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…
After 3 nights of listening to a cacophony of snoring, the answer is easy.
So I booked a quaint hotel in the old town of Pamplona, and after only a short 2 hour walk from the snoring shed, I’ve arrived.
And whilst it’s not the Sheraton or Hilton, the room is mine, all mine. Honestly, I could do one serious Happy Dance.
I’ve been paying $AU20a night to sleep with snorers, I figure $A65 is worth every cent.
As I write this, I’m sitting in the warmly lit hotel restaurant, enjoying a buffet breakfast. Classical Spanish music plays softly and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee fills the air, creating an inviting atmosphere.
Walking the Camino expends serious energy and when coupled with sleep deprivation, the impact that has on physicality is immense.
And besides, I’ve never been one to conform to the norm and just because one’s ‘supposed’ to stay in hostels when walking the Camino, does not mean one has to!
If the truth be known, I rather wish I’d brought a small tent and sleeping mat, as I feel camping would be more conducive to a good nights sleep.
I’ve seen some pilgrims with pop up tents and sleeping mats; they’re definite smart ones.
Anyway, it is what it is.
With the sleeping decision made, I soon have another decision to make: when to leave the Camino.
Due to my return flight departing Paris on June 17, my plan was never to finish the Camino Francis this time.
Depending on when I choose to leave CF, I may have the option to walk part of the Camino Le Puy, which would allow me to walk through a beautiful part of France. That has its advantages because 1. I love France and 2. it’s closer to Paris and my return flight.
But for now, its a rest day in Pamplona and hopefully a much needed good nights sleep.
I love Europe, but I am also Australian, which is somewhat problematic when wanting to indulge that European passion.
On the bright side though, I was also an international flight attendant. For many years I served the masses from overloaded trolleys whilst hurtling across oceans in a sleek, silver tube bound for new adventures.
Needless to say this employment allowed me to partake in a number of my own, off-duty adventures. Not all were in my beloved Europe, nonetheless, they all offered adventure of various description of which I documented in a blog I no longer use.
A few posts in particular captured the adventures of a few wintery weeks driving through regions of France, Austria, Switzerland and Germany. Rather than let those moments that were filled with mayhem and hilarity, yet also quiet contemplation melt into cyberspace, I have re-posted here.
Feel free to read on – maybe grab a wine or coffee as it could take awhile…
I have a house full of Sausages. Not the greasy, squishy, edible variety, but more precisely, the loveable, quirky Dachshund variety.
Having my home filled with four sausages was not something I’d ever planned: it just kind of happened, as most things do in life.
And it all started with Kiri, or Saus as she was affectionately called.
Saus was a beautiful mini-wire haired dachshund who came to live with me by chance 10 years ago.
After having had 3 litters (grrr) and still only 3 years old, she was apparently no longer of any ‘use’, therefore she was in desperate need of a new home. Mum had heard about her from a friend, so Mum called me asking if I’d consider adopting her. On hearing her story, I was more than happy to go and meet her to see if we got along.
The meet and greet did go well and Saus entered my life and touched my heart like no other. Her spirit had been severely broken at some point in her life, however she came to trust me and my love for her, in doing so, we became one.
There are no words to describe the depth of her beauty and my love. She was simply Saus, a beautiful, yet incredibly shy being who gave me permission to be the centre of her universe.
I am, and always will be humbled by her trust.
We shared 5 magical years together, years filled with so much love, so much laughter and so many discoveries of her quirky, sausage ways.
Her passion for cheese. Her need to burrow into her doggy sleeping bag and most of all, her great love of being in the car. She didn’t have to go anywhere, just getting in and being in the car was her pleasure.
It was the getting out and walking bit she didn’t fancy: and her hilarious antics surrounding getting in and being outof the car can be read about here.
But sadly, on one tragic summer morning, I lost my girl unexpectedly from complications of the heart.
I was devastated. And there are truly no words to describe my grief. In losing her, I too was lost.
She had become my world and when she died, part of me died with her. I was inconsolable.
Then the day after my Saus died, I had a call from a rescue organisation asking if I’d be interested in re-homing a male, mini-wire. My response was instant. No, I could not imagine taking on another right now.
Yet a good friend had other ideas.
Despite my inconsolable grief, my friend talked me into going to meet this little fellow. ‘Jen, you might need him as much as he needs you…’.
As I sat on the grass in a park where his current owners and I had agreed to meet, I watched Stanley (then known as Joey) jump out of the car and cautiously walk toward me. With his little wiry head darting from side to side, his body language seemed to scream fear, clearly he was frightened of what lay ahead.
Standing momentarily beside the man who held his lead, he looked around before tentatively walking toward me, cautiously sniffing the area around where I sat.
I didn’t speak, I simply let him do his thing. Then without warning, he climbed onto my lap and buried his head in my arms. I was completely taken aback, yet held him close, hoping my touch would lessen his fear.
A little while later I placed him gently on the grass, stood up and walked toward the picnic table to retrieve a bottle of water. Stanley followed and would not leave my side. At that moment I realised he had made his decision, I was his person.
So Stanley came to live with me, and just as my friend said, we needed each other. In his company, my grief over losing Saus slowly subsided and I believe his memory of a life less than perfect also faded.
Four years on, his loyalty has never waned.
However in the early days of him being with us, that loyalty also seemed to cause him to suffer from separation anxiety. Family told me that when I left the house without him, he would wait by the window, forever watching for my return.
And it was this anxiousness that led to Oscar’s arrival.
At the time I was also still working for an international airline as cabin crew, which had me jetting off to various destinations for up to 4 days at a time. This was hard for Stanley (and me, I might add), so I decided a companion may help ease his separation anxiety.
Enter Oscar aka Bear.
Oscar came to us as a pup, full of life and love and the perfect companion for Stanley. In an instant Stanley was his protector and the two became firm friends.
Whilst I’m told Stanley still ‘waits’ for me, it is not as prolonged as it was before Oscar’s arrival.
Oscar is a standard wire-haired dachshund, so now as an adult dog, he is quite a bit bigger than Stanley and gloompfs along like a big ole bear. And that’s how he came to acquire his nickname, Bear.
About two years after Oscar’s arrival I had another call from Devoted to Dachshund Rescue (D2DR) asking if I would foster a male black and tan smooth, whose family were going through a divorce and could not keep him. At nine years old Simon had only known one family, however within minutes of him coming to us, it was if we were that family. His owner dropped him off and he didn’t look back. Simon seemed to love being with his new brothers, so the decision to keep him was made and Simon became part of our family.
A year later I had another call. Would I foster again? Yes, of course, however Eddie was different. Whatever had happened to him was beyond tragic. You really have to wonder what possesses someone to subject a defenceless, sentient being to such cruelty.
Eddie, as we chose to later name him had been found in an industrial waste bin wrapped in wire. Extremely emaciated and terrified, he was allegedly taken to a pound where he stayed for 6 weeks before D2DR was called. On getting the call they drove 3 hours to retrieve him, and then called me.
When I first saw him I melted. The fear is his beautiful amber eyes was absolute. Ribs and spine protruded through his rich, copper coloured coat and on closer inspection, he had a severe overbite.
I knew that in time, his physical issues could be mended, yet his emotional trauma was another story and would obviously take time to heal. His fear of people was deep seeded, but interestingly, just as Stanley made me his person, it was my son Max that became Eddie’s.
Two years on, Eddie still has an intense fear of strangers and also being outside of his comfort zone: his home. Going for walks is not his thing, nor is being anywhere that involves mixing with people other than his own. He is content to be at home, with his family.
So now I have a house full of Sausages: and what a house it is…
I love being a silent observer: watching people move through their lives, bearing witness, yet devoid of the need to participate.
And I love having the freedom to move through life without plans or destinations in mind.
But I had a plan: a plan to be in India for 12 months, but for reasons difficult to explain my time in India ended, and despite the trials of getting there, leaving is something I am incredibly thankful for.
Rather than try to understand why it was not be, it can simply be said that I chose to follow my heart and release the weight placed upon me whilst being in India.
My decision to leave was made quite swiftly and within hours of doing so, I was ascending through the clouds on a Thai Smiles aircraft, leaving India and my unsettled feelings far behind.
The higher we climbed, the more elevated I felt.
I’ve always been one to follow my ‘gut’ and from the moment I stepped on Indian soil I felt an indescribable need to flee. I also felt confusion for I have travelled extensively through 3rd world countries without ever feeling such an intense need to leave.
I had hoped on arrival at the Animal sanctuary where I was to work, those feelings would melt into the love I could share with the animals. And although the love for the many beautiful beings who called the sanctuary home intensified, unfortunately so did my feelings of dread. All I wanted to do was run, I don’t know why and I cannot explain, in the end, I simply followed my instincts.
Trouble is, we broadcast our lives across the pages of social media: I do it, as do many others. It is not for ‘likes’ or acceptance, it has simply become a way of life. More so for me as a writer and photographer, as I find the opportunity to document fulfilling.
However the dark side of social media can often raise its venomous head. The need to portray one’s life as perfect – a life portrayed on the pages can sometimes be quite different from reality. And I probably fell victim to that, for behind the smiles and happy images, in reality I was filled with sadness and dread.
There were a few exceptions, I did absolutely ADORE Buff the water buffalo – he was simply divine! And I also felt peace with the beautiful Indian family who had warmly welcomed me into their home.
Their kindness is something I shall never forget: Sagar & Sahill you are truly gems – you made me laugh so much. A post entirely on your comings & goings and funny ways is sure to be in the making.
But despite my adopted Indian family, as the days lingered, my feelings of dread intensified and I knew in my heart I had to act. But where would I go?
A number of years ago, I was travelling through Europe and one afternoon whilst strolling through Paris without a destination in mind, I decided to follow the ‘little green man’.
To explain, when stopped at an intersection, I would simply walk in the direction of the flashing green man ‘walk’ sign. In doing so, I found myself wandering along side streets devoid of tourists, where Parisians adorned bars and cafes with their usual nonchalance and style.
However not having a little green man to follow in India, I chose the next best thing: Skyscanner’s ‘everywhere’ button. Once having typed a departure city, Skyscanner gives the option of choosing Everywhere, which brings up countless flights from cheapest to most expensive. And that’s how I ended up in Bangkok – it was cheap and easy to get there and having flown there often as airline crew, I knew it was the hub for numerous other destinations. Once there I used Skyscanner’s ‘everywhere’ again and found myself booked on a flight to Bali.
And by simply following my heart again, I stayed at the beautiful and tranquil Sarinbuana Eco Lodge, free of charge. In exchange for an incredible villa and meals I simply shot images for their website and social media pages.
Tomorrow I head to a villa in Canguu where I shall be spending a couple of weeks dog-sitting 3 fur-babes whilst their Mum heads overseas.
How is this is all possible? Through a site called Workaway, I wont go into detail, but click on the link to get more info. In a nutshell, you do a few hours work a day and in return, you are given accomodation and food. For me it is not about travelling on the cheap (although it certainly is that) moreover, it’s about having the opportunity to travel and be immersed with local people.
Unfortunately I will have to leave Bali by 18 Feb as I made a massive faux pas at the airport regarding my visa, but hey, maybe that’s the little green man making my decisions for me.
I’m starting to get a little concerned. Why I hear you ask? Well it’s like this.
I’m not sure if fate is preparing me for dealing with Indian bureaucracy, which according to a BBC report, is the worst in Asia, or my application for an Employment Visa is simply lying in a slush pile at the Indian Embassy silently screaming, ‘pick me, pick me.’
Whatever the answer, with December 27 approaching at speeds likened to a B777 at 37,000ft, I’m a little worried. For without visa in hand, or more importantly my passport, which is of course lying in wait with my visa application, I’m not going anywhere.
Adding to the mix, I fear the delay is also due to the fact the big, fat man in the red suit is on his way. Let’s be honest, the festive season invariably causes life outside of gift shopping to cease and only begins again when the contrails from his speeding sleigh have long since dissolved.
So where does that leave me?
Well that’s easy to answer, unlike my beautiful Oscar in the above image, I’m sending out positive vibes whilst patiently waiting, waiting, waiting.
Since making the decision to move to India, the comments and opinions I’ve heard have been polarised. From the negative: “India, are you mad…”, to the positive: “you are an inspiration, I admire your courage…’.
So with the date of my departure now clearly visible on the horizon and the fundamentals of my move sorted (except for my visa but that’s another post), I’ve had time to reflect on this so-called courageous leap off my life’s cliff.
And how do I feel?
I know I’m not scared for I thrive on adventure, and I’m definitely ready to dip my toes into unclear waters, despite not knowing what lurks beneath the surface.
However from an emotional perspective, I know I’m in for a wild ride. My emotions will make me feel like I’m riding the X2 rollercoaster at Magic Mountain: propelling to great heights one day, before plunging to the lowest of lows the next. But I’m expecting that as it’s one of the side effects of travelling and choosing to live outside your comfort zone. I remember clearly experiencing the lows when I lived in Penghu, Taiwan a few years ago. You can read about my little Penghu breakdown here…
Of course it would be ‘safer’ for me to remain where I am doing the same job, seeing the same people on a daily basis, yet lately I have been feeling like an extra in the movie, Groundhog Day. And for me, that’s not living, that’s simply existing.
So despite knowing I’m about to ride an emotional rollercoaster, I’m going to jump, jump off my cliff. I don’t know if I shall soar or crash, but I do know that jumping will allow growth, knowledge and most importantly, living life without regret.
As we travel through life, we find many who walk beside us and share our journey. Some stay a moment, some stay a lifetime. And in that lifetime, there are lessons.
Lessons of love, lessons of laughter and lessons of loyalty.
My journey with Oscar and Stanley is just that: a lesson in love, laughter and above all, loyalty.
When settling into your seat to watch the flight attendant deliver the safety demonstration, have you ever thought about what life is like for that flight attendant?
Maybe you havent. Or maybe you have. And if so you may have thought, hmmm they must travel in one of life’s fast lanes. Paris one week, Rome the week after and possibly London and New York the week after that.
From someone who travelled in that lane for close to 25 years, that’s pretty much it in a nutshell. Well the good bits anyway.
Yep I can tell you, I enjoyed lagers in London, parties in Paris and slings in Singapore. But aside from having a great time, being a flight attendant was also exciting, rewarding and at times, very humbling.
Sipping caprioskas whilst watching a Roman sunset is exciting.
Watching snowflakes search for a place to land amongst the skyscrapers of New York, claiming the soil of Ground Zero as their final resting place as did some 2000 souls on 9/11, is humbling.
And seeing a child totally enthralled by the fact that you, the flight attendant have captured clouds in a teapot, is rewarding. (Dry ice + water = instant clouds).
But being a flight attendant can also be very comical.
For instance, try telling an Indian man that the sanitary napkin you gave to the woman sitting next to him was something he really didn’t need?
My words were to no avail as his reply, with a swift roll of his head went a little like this. ‘No, I’ll be thinking you’ll be not understanding me madam, I’ll be saying that I’ll be wanting what she is having’ as his head again rolled from side to side.
I repeated my words, but they were in vain for he seemed relentless in his pursuit, so in the end I gave up and gave him his much needed package, and as I passed it over I wondered just what he would do with the contents.
On my next walk through the cabin, my question was answered.
There he was, sitting ever so proudly, with a very large,very white, sanitary napkin firmly placed across his eyes!
He had peeled off the adhesive label and quite obviously decided that this strange white object was the latest design in airline eye masks. At that moment, between holding back fits of laughter, I was so thankful that he didn’t discover the little white numbers that were housed in the same package and decide to use them as ‘earplugs’.
Ah yes, flying truly was a beautiful blend of the good, the bad and the downright ridiculous. And for those of you who have aspirations to try life in that fast lane, I strongly encourage it. I lived in that lane for many years, and loved it. Then I began to question which lane was really the more important one to travel in, fast or family?
So now instead of sipping cappuccinos in Rome, seeing rhinos in the wilds of Africa and waking to the sounds of street hawkers in Singapore, I now wake to the sounds of my beautiful children starting the day and my beloved Stanley panting excitedly and the prospect of going for his daily walk.
Yes, I was hostie and I lived in the fast lane, but I chose to put my indicator on and change lanes.