Jonathan had told me about a website called housecarers.com. It’s a global house sitting website, perfect for travelers. So I set up my profile and checked my notifications each week, hoping to find a match. As luck would have it, I received a notification about a short-term assignment near Limoges, France. I immediately contacted the owners and let them know that I would be available for their request. A few exchanges later, we were all set.
When I arrived into the Limoges train station that Wednesday, Ray was already waiting for me. A (very) tall and kind gentleman, my first surprise was that he wasn’t French – he was English! We had a nice chat on the way to their home, and when we got there, I met Casey and Robbie, their two lovable dogs, and Brenda, Ray’s wife. Ray and Brenda were the loveliest couple, and the most gracious of hosts. They immediately made me feel welcome in their home.
I stayed in a room on the top floor, with it’s own bathroom and even a mini living room area just outside the room. It was far more than I could have expected in terms of accommodation. As if that weren’t enough, Brenda took me with her the next day to go grocery shopping, as she wanted to make sure I had everything I needed to eat. Their hospitality was tremendous!
The beauty of this home is staggering. Not only the home – an old-fashioned stone home remodeled by Ray and Brenda themselves – but their gardens, flowers and gorgeous green fields. The village is comprised of maybe fifteen houses, recalling of medieval times. The nearest village was Bourganeuf, about a 15-20 minute drive away.
A full day of shadowing was in store for me the next day. I may have failed to mention but Ray and Brenda have a small farm, complete with chickens, piglets and sheep! The daily jobs included feeding all the animals, gathering the eggs, walking the dogs and just making sure all the animals were ok.
Now, as many of you know, my experience on farms is quite limited. I grew up in New York and South Florida, and my most extensive experience with farm animals was probably an elementary school field trip to a local farm. However, I was completely up for the challenge and was looking forward to learning something new and so different from everything else I had ever known.
The first morning on my own, I clutched tightly to the To-Do list and ran through the tasks like a neurotic robot, making sure I didn’t miss anything. As the time went on, I became more comfortable and the list became much more intuitive. I fell in love with Casey and Robbie; they were the most well-behaved, sweetest dogs.
The three days passed quickly and despite the rain and clouds, I found it quite comforting to go out in the fresh, clean air, carrying buckets of water to the animals and getting dirt all over my clothes. You need to feel that connection with nature every once in a while.
I was sad to leave the tranquility of this beautiful place, but happy to have experienced something so unique. I also left knowing two more remarkable people, whose paths I was lucky enough to have crossed.
On Monday morning, I took the train from La Souterraine into Paris. My good friend Jerome, who I had met at EY Miami about six years before was waiting for me at the station. Now talk about a good friend. Jerome left work early to meet me at the station, knowing I wouldn’t really know my way around and that I would be schlepping my gigantic backpack. What a thoughtful guy.
After we dropped off my bags at his apartment – incidentally, right in the center of the city, a stone’s throw away from the Louvre – we decided to go for a walk to Notre Dame.
It was a beautiful Parisian summer day, which always means just one thing: long lines. It also happened to be Notre Dame’s 850-year anniversary – amazing for visiting! Not so great for the lines. Thankfully, it moved quickly and we were inside in just 10 minutes.
I’d been to Paris a few times, and I don’t think I’ve ever been inside Notre Dame. It was stunning, and I found myself asking the same simple question I ask every time I come across incredible architecture: HOW? How did they build this in the 1100s? My mind was completely blown by the detail in everything.
We walked back to the apartment as Jerome (a big timer) had a cocktail dinner with the US Ambassador, and I had a date with the grocery store.
The next morning, Jerome went to work, and I headed to the Eiffel Tower. I had myself a nice little picnic on the grass with a mozzarella, tomato, rocket lettuce, and pesto baguette (prepared by yours truly). The baguette was perfectly complemented with a bit of red wine in the traditional wine skin I purchased in Valencia. I enjoyed the sunshine for a bit longer, and then headed off for a walk…which ended up being significantly longer than I expected (I got lost). I finally arrived at Champs Elysee, my destination, but by the time I got there, I was so exhausted from the walking, I just went back to the apartment!
After that morning, I must say I wasn’t too taken by the city. I had felt this way during my previous visits to Paris and was hoping my opinion would change. I appreciate all the incredible beauty, architecture and history that Paris has to offer, but I felt it was incredibly overpriced and moderately underwhelming. I also tend to evaluate a place by its locals and I found many to be disengaged and somewhat cold. This is clearly not a judgment against an entire population, but just the ones I came across during my brief stay.
Then, as luck would have it, my pal Jerome comes to the rescue and wipes that impression from my mind. See, I just happened to be in town on the very same day that Jerome was promoted to Executive Director (it’s kind of a big deal). Therefore, we needed to go out and celebrate this promotion. Jerome knew just the place. It was called L’Ivress and it was the perfect place: a small, unassuming wine bar. It was so popular that every single seat was reserved. We were lucky we managed to get a seat at the bar.
The experience was divine. We had a plate of various cheeses, ham, French bread and pate, and we shared a nice bottle of red with a nice oaky finish (insert: my best Chauncy accent here). An excellent way to celebrate a promotion. To further shatter my previous misconception, our waiter was delightful. Despite being under a tremendous amount of stress, he was kind and friendly.
I was glad to have had this positive experience. Perhaps I was too quick to judge. I can’t expect every place to be what I want it to be. I realized last night that going forward I need to keep a more open mind and appreciate places for what they are, and not focus on what they aren’t.
After dinner, Jerome and I got to reminiscing about our old EY days and decided to call a few of our former cohorts. Unfortunately most of them were actually working (what’s that again?), so we called it a night.
In the morning I was up early and at the Louvre by 9:30 am. This time, I pre-purchased tickets and walked right in without having to wait in line. The Louvre is a spectacular place. It’s staggering to think about the priceless artifacts that live in the museum. About 3.5 hours in, I thought my legs were going to give in. It’s just too big! I felt content with the amount of things I’d seen, so I headed home to avoid getting caught in the rain.
Now I am about to leave on a pilgrimage from St. Jean Pied-du-Port, France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain via bicycle with my friend Patty. People ask me why I’m doing it, and the truth is that I’m not doing it for religious reasons or because I’m searching for something. I want to do something challenging. Physically and mentally challenging. How often do we do things that push us to our limits? I’m not a cyclist, I’m not a super-athletic person, but I want to find my boundaries, push them, and see how much farther I can go. It’s also something unique and personal to each individual. Imagine how many people you might meet along the road, how many stories to be told. People have said that the journey can change your life – whether it does or doesn’t, I know the effect won’t be something easily forgotten.
Another Pilgrimage quote as I set off on the third route:
“Christians considered three routes to be sacred. Each of them offered a series of blessings and indulgences to those who traveled its length. The first led to the tomb of Saint Peter in Rome; its travelers, who were called wanderers, took the cross as their symbol. The second led to the Holy Sepulcher of Christ in Jerusalem; those who took this road were called palmists, since they had as their symbol the palm branches with which Jesus was greeted when he entered the city. There was a third road, which led to the mortal remains of the apostle, San Tiago – Saint James in English, Jacques in French, Giacomo in Italian, Jacob in Latin. He was buried at a place on the Iberian Peninsula where, one night, a shepherd had seen a brilliant star above a field. The legend says that not only San Tiago but the Virgin Mary went there shortly after the death of Christ, carrying the word of the Evangelist and exhorting the people to convert. The site came to be known as Compostela – the star field – and there a city had arisen that drew travelers from every part of the Christian world. These travelers were called pilgrims, and their symbol was the scallop shell.”