Paris, France - Four months into my European adventure, I find myself floundering in Paris, unsure about a destination, needing to save money.
A friend suggests I check out WWOOF (World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, www.wwoof.org), and after signing up, I correspond with a few farms chosen out of the nearly 300 listed, settling on what sounds like the idyllic Château de Sacy.
Over an hour from Paris by train and then bus, Sacy-le-Petit, a village of 400, contains only a butcher shop and a community centre.
The château, whose rustic, dilapidated look was not obvious in the Photoshopped pictures on the WWOOF website, sits behind high walls and an iron gate.
Hermine, through whose family the château has passed since the 19th century, waits at the gate looking like Patti Smith.
As much as the WWOOF experience is about the room and board, it's more about the people - and what an assemblage the château turns out to be.
Already staying here is Cris, a Mexican who wouldn't have been able to travel in Europe without WWOOFing. When his English fails he communicates with his hands, sounds and a smile.
Janine, a 50-something Aussie from the Outback, is the gossip of the dinner table.
She's meeting up with a French letter-carrier she's been conversing with online.
Hermine requires only four hours a day of us, which is "nothing," says Cris, telling me about the eight-hour days he worked on a bee farm in the south of France. The routine is to wake for breakfast at 7:30 am, work till lunch, then nap before another hour of work.
Our tasks involve tending the English garden, my speciality being the box hedges. I take meticulous pride in their straight angles. We paint the shutters and mow the grass. Each day someone has to fetch milk, still warm from the cow, from a neighbouring farm.
Hermine teaches us how to make yogurt and shows us a simple method with a chair and cloth to make jam from fresh red currants.
Chloe, an artist from London, arrives for the château's residency but retreats to do her art. Still, we manage to chat, and toward the end of my stay she shows me what she's been working on. Scattered around an amazing loft above the barn are paintings, sketches, ripped sheets, rope - an imagination in search of inspiration.
Another artist - a poet - comes from London; Hugo is actually Hermine's husband.
He knows how to manage conversation, regaling us at table with a story about the Queen -"She's a very funny lady in private" - presenting him a poetry award. During the day he blasts the Strokes in his room.
Verity and Kirsty, sisters from Cornwall, arrive with wheels, which allows us to visit the nearby mini-Versailles Château of Chantilly, a filming location for Marie Antoinette.
The World Cup is on, and France advances through the playoffs, each goal echoing through the streets, each win bringing out a lone scooter honking through the town.
For the final, we pile into the community centre to watch the game with the locals and experience the French curses at missed goals, the collective shock of Zidane's head-butt and the silence of defeat.
In the evenings, I lounge in the garden reading and writing, share some beers with the others, take a bike ride through the countryside, play billiards or help cook.
On my last day, on the eve of Bastille Day, a group of us go into Paris, where we sit and drink and sing with the other revellers on the steps of Sacré-Coeur overlooking the City of Light.
At sunrise, we stumble through the gates of the Jardin du Luxembourg and find a piece of grass to sleep on.
The others return to finish their stint at the château while I remain in Paris, energized after two weeks in the country, my bank account happy, a few more friends dotted around the globe and an experience not to be found on the typical backpacking jaunt.