Originally from Kansas, Julie and her family ended up settling in the French countryside, where she began leading tours. Rick Steves found her when she was guiding tours of Guédélon — one of our favorite castles in Burgundy that's being built today using only 13-century materials, tools, and techniques.
How does a girl from Kansas end up living in rural France?
Love...what else makes a girl stray so far from home? Actually, my experience with foreign languages and cultures began when I was fortunate enough to participate in a foreign-exchange program at my high school. I studied Spanish throughout high school and college. After graduating from Kansas State, I worked for a French company in California, where I met my future husband, who had been raised in rural France (I switched cultures, so to speak). Seventeen years later, after extensive travel and adventures, we decided to leave our chocolate factory in Colorado and move to the French countryside with our two small children. My husband was convinced that health care and schooling were better in France (not to mention the five weeks' vacation); I just came because the countryside reminded me of summers spent at my grandmother's farm in Kansas.
Tell us about your experience with the project at Guédélon.
Arriving in the magical middle of nowhere in France, I wondered what I could do for work. Luckily enough, there was a project nearby, where people were building a medieval castle by hand. They anticipated needing English-speaking guides, so I was hired. Problem was, they had no English-speaking visitors yet! Within two weeks I was giving tours in French, even though I didn't speak French. It was a thrill to participate in one of the most extraordinary endeavors the modern world has seen, and to experience how this girl from Kansas could become so passionate about medieval history and architecture.
You lead four different Rick Steves France itineraries. Tell us about Paris & the Heart of France and Best of Eastern France tours. How are they different?
The Paris & the Heart of France tour is a classic "must see" itinerary. It's about what makes France...France! We cover the best of Paris but with time to do it your own way. There is nothing like the majestic Loire Valley castles or spending the night on Mont St-Michel (an experience that few travelers ever have). And the emotion of setting foot on Omaha Beach is unforgettable! It is an irreplaceable French experience.
The Best of Eastern France tour is something completely different. You feel like you've visited Germany, Switzerland, and Italy without ever leaving France! Every destination is different, and I find myself saying at every stop, "this is one of my favorite places!" The tour feels like a real vacation. It is culturally on the lighter side, but without skimping on the French experience (especially gastronomically speaking)! First-timers love this tour as much as seasoned France travelers.
Do you have any advice for an Americans moving to France?
If I had worked more at studying and understanding French culture and language before coming here to live, it might have saved me from many a faux pas. An open mind, tough skin, and a sense of humor goes a long way. The French love Americans, and find a Kansas accent more charming than we do. But stay on your toes, Dorothy — we ain't in Kansas anymore.