“Are you crazy or are they?” was the response I received whenever I mentioned my travel plans. I was traversing the globe to house sit for random strangers.
The idea first sprouted during a treatment session with a client who had enough—an ugly divorce followed by putting down her beloved cat—decided to pack everything up in Calgary and leave for a one year position overseeing a small winery in France. I was instantly jealous, and even though one year was out of the question, began to research the possibilities. I was turning 50 in 2018 and the only thing on my birthday wish list was a unique experience. I had traveled to France many times, but always wanted to live there, even if only for a short time.
I began by signing up for Nomador, an online community for housesitting created by the founders of a professional house sitting company in Europe. Houses all over the world are listed, but I set an alert to be notified when a match to my parameters came up. It did not matter where, it just had to be in France, the right style of house and during my birthday time frame. I quickly ran out of my three free applications and upgraded to the premium level, increasing my platform trust profile and allowing me unlimited ability to contact homeowners. The results were mixed with some outright bad fits—too many pet care responsibilities, extremely remote location or just too much of a language barrier, as my French language skills are moderate but not fluent. Eventually I started a genuine dialogue with Didier in Nantes, using Google translate as needed, and countless messages later decided to commit. We continued to firm up our individual travel plans, bought plane tickets and there was no changing our minds.
The seeds of doubt planted by the naysayers grew as the date of departure arrived. My nerves were on edge as we rode the high speed train toward Nantes, but disappeared the moment we saw the familiar faces from the internet pictures calling my name as we deboarded. Didier and Beatrice met us with a proper French greeting and we knew immediately it was going to be OK.
A short drive away, the gate opened and we entered our temporary home—a beautifully renovated 2500 square foot farmhouse on over an acre of land at the edge of the city of Nantes, including two dogs, one cat and two hens. After orientation, we settled in while our hosts puttered away in the kitchen, preparing aperitifs and dinner, over which we became friends—sharing our life stories, showing pictures and communicating just fine with our spotty dialects. A few bottles of wine later, we went off to sleep for the night and begin our own adventures the next morning.
Life in France developed into a comfortable routine. The dog whimpers began at 6:15, reaching a crescendo as I made my way down the stairs to let them outside to empty their bladders. Elmer and Zaza were 9-year-old black Lab siblings. I grew up with dogs, but my adult life never contained canines. I grew to adore them quickly, as their care was very simple: pee, eat, medication, back to sleep at our feet while we enjoyed coffee and pastry (I had a daily requirement for chausson au pomme). After we ran at the break of dawn, the dogs would be ready for a walk and together we explored the parks and the streets, meeting the neighbours and stopping to make small talk while the dogs got their fill of head scratches.
The rest of the days were filled with visiting the local markets to pick up the daily meal ingredients, riding our bicycles (our hosts were kind enough to allow use of both their two wheel and four wheel transportation), exploring the city and nearby villages and stopping for picnics along the way. The weather was unseasonably warm and we hurried back home to enjoy the last of the days heat in lounge chairs in our yard, sipping rosé and nibbling on cheese and pâté. Cleo the cat would meander home from wherever she had spent the day roaming, curling up at the foot of my chair or on my lap, waiting for crumbs.
Daylight was ushered out at 7 pm by riotous ringing of church bells, the signal it was time to clean up and start dinner preparation. All of the food at the market was enticing, but seafood was in abundance: oysters, Coquilles Saint-Jacques, skatewing, monkfish and tuna. Cooking delicious meals was simple with fabulous fresh ingredients that spoke for themselves. Local wine may have been Muscadet but varietals from the entire Loire region were at our fingertips. This was the life!
It was not all fun and play as we had a few responsibilities—water and harvest the garden, collect the daily egg from Milane and Clara, pick the quince as it ripened—but nothing ever felt like a chore. The ten days until Didier and Beatrice returned home flew by. As we sat around the table, this time over a meal we prepared for them in “our” house, sharing stories of our adventures, we knew it was just the beginning of a wonderful relationship. We would miss our French life with its daily routine and animal friends, but without doubt will take a chance and sign up to housesit again.