“It’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen!” I exclaimed through the phone as I attempted to describe the Dordogne region of southwest France to my mom. Her first response was, “Hannah, that’s what you said about the last place you were at!” I’m finding the more I travel, the more beautiful the world becomes. Although I try my hardest, a picture will never do a justice of the magnificent beauty I’ve found around the globe.
When I agreed to HelpX in Bouillac for three weeks I had no idea what I was in for. I left all expectations at the door and arrived at the train station ready for anything. As with my other two HelpX experiences, I once again landed myself with an amazing host family. The Lea family welcomed me as one of their own and before long I had my own bunk in the horse stables with the rest of the clan. Yes, you read that correctly – I slept in horse stables. During the summer Steve, Becky and Tillie rent out Gites (including their home) to guests and stay in their currently finished, formerly not finished horse stable. Gites (pronounced jeets) are basically small, French cottages in the country. Our job as HelpX’ers was to help clean the Gites at the end of the week and welcome new guests. The rest of the time we had to ourselves to explore, EAT, take in the peaceful surroundings and enjoy getting to know one another.
The Dordogne region of France is a place that I so badly wish I could bring home with me. I have never breathed in air so fresh or seen such untouched, natural beauty. The Leas’ property was filled with wildflowers, open fields, vines, acres of forestry and seven charming cottages. Dogs, chickens and even a peacock roamed freely making friends with us and the guests. Blankets of stars surrounded us each night, completely untouched by light pollution. I decided to take advantage of the serene atmosphere by reading, writing, cycling, working out and relaxing as much as possible outdoors. After a crazy six weeks in Southeast Asia and an activity-packed week in Paris, it only took minutes to fall in love with tranquility I found in the countryside.
A couple of years ago I would have come to a place like this and found myself getting bored. For as long as I can remember I have been a busy body, always needing to be occupied and on the move. A while ago I came across the quote, “Only the boring are bored.” I found this simple passage to be quite profound. What a crazy thought it is that we can actually get “bored.” There is so much to discover, so much learn and to see! Over the past year I have really worked on slowing down and finding ways to enjoy each passing moment, even if that means swinging in a hammock or going for a jog in the woods. Although I didn’t have a busy, action-packed three weeks, I certainly enjoyed my days full of reading, writing, running, yoga and tea-sipping. Rejuvenating to say the least =)
Here are some highlights from my three weeks in Bouillac, France:
Taking in the scenery:
This is one of those places that just have to be seen to be understood. Wandering around the charming villages was like being in a fairytale. The ancient-looking homes, chateaux (castles) and natural surroundings created a dreamlike atmosphere. One day we canoed down the river through the major villages, mountains and castles. It was like traveling through time.
On a typical day I would do some work in the morning, go for a run through the woods and backroads with Ruby (one of the dogs) and then come back for a yoga session out in the field with Grace. Not to sound all philosophical but there is something to be said about spending one-on-one time with nature. Unless you live out in the boondocks, it’s easy to overlook the natural beauty around us. But it is around us and I’m so happy I was able to spend the last three weeks enjoying it as much as possible!
As I’ve said many times, what makes travel amazing is usually the people you meet along the way. In this case, it was the people and the place itself. Steve, Becky and Tillie made me feel like part of family from the second I stepped off the train. After traveling alone for so long it was nice to have someone waiting for me at my destination. I couldn’t have asked for a more friendly, welcoming and entertaining family to have spent my three weeks with.
Spending ample amounts of time with other travelers is also always a treat. Generally speaking, I’ve found that most travelers have a similar mentality and attitude towards living a fulfilling life. Although we may have different personalities, beliefs and morals, we all share the same passion and enthusiasm for exploring the world and with that comes deep conversation and story telling that you just can’t have with someone who hasn’t traveled. This time around I met Grace from England, Lucy from Australia and Yulia from Belarus. I’m so grateful that I crossed paths with these girls. Friendships were created that I know will not end in France.
Lucy and I decided to take a day trip to Arcachon, which is on the west coast of France. We packed a picnic basket full of fresh fruit, cheese, baguettes and croissants from the market and set off in her 4×4. There was no iPod connection in her car so we jammed to disco CDs and French pop hits when we found radio reception. The purpose of going to Arcachon was to explore the Dune du Pilat, which is the largest sand dune in Europe. After hiking to the top and finding our way to the highest point, we took a snooze as we watched the clouds move around us. After descending to the bottom we had our picnic and walked around the quaint town of Arcachon and found a cafe on the beach. A perfect day in my book!
Of course, one of the best parts of France is the food. The wine flowed like water and the baguettes were as cheap as water. The cheese aisle went on for ages and the amount of Patisseries greatly outnumbered any other type of shop in the villages. One of my favorite parts of the Dordogne region is the markets. They have daytime and nighttime markets with fresh food and handicrafts. For the nighttime markets you bring your own plates, cutlery, etc. and buy food and wine from vendors once you’re there. This is all set up around live music and dancing. I tried snails for the first time – what a yummy surprise! Although I probably would have gained my weight in cheese if I had stayed any longer, the food was there to be enjoyed so that is exactly what I did every.single.day =)
I’ve made my way back to one of my favorite places in the world – Ireland! I’ll be spending the next two weeks with my Irish family in Belcarra. It’s so nice to be back “home” with the people that I started my journey with exactly one year ago today. Happy Thursday everyone!