As I write this I am travelling down the south-west of France from Bordeaux to Bayonne on a train with my beloved, Eoin. We left the Dordogne this morning where we were house-sitting in a beautiful restored 18th century farmhouse surrounded by sunflower fields and vineyards. We are now off to visit my sister who live in the foothills of the Pyrenees and we will be staying there for a few days before flying back to Northern Ireland. Once home we have 4 weeks to pack up our lives, say our goodbyes and leave in our new motor-home in search of our new life in the Dordogne. As I type those words I am filled with a mixture of huge excitement and a tinge of overwhelm because there is a LOT to do in the next few weeks.
However, we have spent much of the last fortnight house-hunting, getting to know the Dordogne better and making some lovely new friends so any doubt or fear which I had about making this massive move has disappeared altogether. What I am left with now is a deep certainty in my soul that the next phase of my life is to be spent in France. I feel so at home here. I love the language, I love the land, I love the people, I love the lifestyle, I love the weather, I love the food and, whilst I am not a fan of bureaucracy, I am willing to put up with it in order to integrate into this beautiful country.
Although I have a sense that I may have lived several previous lives in France, my love affair with the country in this lifetime started when I was 5 years old at the time that this photo was taken. My parents loved to travel and my mum had spent quite a bit of time in France as a young woman. So, in 1973, they put me, my 14 year old sister and my 16 old brother in the back of Dad’s car and we drove around France staying in campsites. I have snapshot memories of that holiday in my mind but I recently came across this photo of us all there and it brought back all sorts of remembered feelings. Having been born in Belfast the year the ‘Troubles’ started, the change in energy that I experienced in France at that time had a profound impact on me. I was allowed to run free and a little wild around the campsites. I could swim outdoors in the sea and pools. After dinners in open air restaurants I could leave the table and dance to whatever music was playing or simply explore the square we were sitting in. I was encouraged to order ice-creams for myself in French and the French adults all thought I was “adorable”. When we arrived in Paris I skipped ahead of the family through the metro stations and I vividly remember eating steak-frites for the first time…..manna from heaven to me then! Even at such a young age, I felt at home and as if I belonged.
Fast forward another 5 years and my big sister, Deirdre, also fell in love with France (and a boy there!) and left Belfast to embark on her new life in Paris. This had a profound effect on me and really inspired me to (a) believe that I too could one day escape the constricts of life in Northern Ireland and (b) learn to speak French. Luckily I went to a progressive school where my love of French was nurtured and by the time I was changing schools at 13 I was ready to sit my French ‘O’ level.
And then, after another 5 years, I was allowed to go and visit my big sister in Paris without my parents and what a life-changing experience that was. She let me hang out with her sophisticated French friends and I remember feeling so cool as I danced the night away in a nightclub there and chatted away to everyone in French.
After that I was hooked and returned to the country as often as possible under the guise of “practising my French for school”. Actually, it was great for my French but that was a small part of the reason why I wanted to be there. It was really all to do with freedom and the freedom to express myself without the restrictions which were placed on me at home and in my birth country where fear and suspicion were so rife.
A stay with a French family in Provence, a ski season in the Alps, several holidays on the Cote d’Azur, a few romances and regular trips to Paris to visit Deirdre all cemented my love of the country and then when my daughter Georgia was young I made the effort to take her there as often as possible. And then, when I turned 40, it stopped because Deirdre and I bought an olive farm in Andalucia (as you do!). For the next few years all my holidays were spent down there and I sort of forgot about my passion for France.
Then in October 2017, Eoin and I were offered our first assignment as house-sitters with www.trustedhousesitters.com and it happened to be in the Dordogne. I got off the plane and went to organise the car-hire and was totally surprised to hear French coming out of my mouth. It was almost as if I had forgotten that I could speak it and, actually, speak it quite well. I felt my body immediately relax and a wave of ease and familiarity washed over me. It was a very strange but pleasant feeling. Almost like coming home.
And then, a few days later, we found ourselves on a Saturday morning in last October walking through the stunning market in Sarlat-la-Caneda and I felt tears running down my face. I turned to Eoin who told me that he felt like his heart was bursting wide open too. The sun was shining, we were chatting to the people who had grown the food we were buying, people were open and smiling, the babble of French was all around us, the medieval buildings were spectacular and I felt like I had been there before. More than that. I felt an ache in my soul to live in a similar environment. It was a deep knowing and something which made no logical sense. After all, between us we owned 3 businesses, 2 houses and 2 dogs on the island of Ireland. We have family there. We have friends there. We are happy there.
Tentatively, we started to explore the idea of a new life in France and we were lucky enough to spend another 5 weeks there over the winter as house-sitters. At the start of March we finally decided that we didn’t want to live in a post-Brexit Northern Ireland but Eoin couldn’t full envisage himself living in France because he doesn’t have the language and his income is all based in Ireland. So, we put our beautiful home on the market thinking it would take ages to sell. Within 5 weeks it was agreed for sale and contracts were signed at the start of July. Looks like we are going!!
When I first floated the idea of me moving to France past my daughter Georgia, she said that she couldn’t understand why it had taken me so long! “You always wanted to live there when I was young. I don’t know why it has taken you so long to move!” It is so strange how life can just take over and distract us from our dreams and our passions, isn’t it? It is so easy to forget the truth of who we really are in our core, our souls.
This blog is dedicated to my love of France and I will be using it to share the joys and the challenges that this new life brings. I will also be writing about the things which I love and how my new life unfolds as I focus on following my bliss and living from my heart.
I hope that you will enjoy it and that it might inspire you to “follow your bliss” too. And don’t forget that you can follow our adventures on our YouTube Channel too by clicking here and subscribing.