It’s over… for now

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(A wedding in Surgeres… Thinking of you, Linda and Paul!)

We’re sitting on the ferry hearing Irish voices for the first time in a long time. Mostly they sound kinda nice, friendly, sing-songy, ordinary, gentle too. I was getting used to missing eavesdropping. Now that’s back I’m overwhelmed by the input. I had forgotten there was so much more information than just the words. Consider the eyebrow movement your mother used when she said, “How much?” If she added a certain head tilt you knew you were in big trouble. (Did you hear the tone when you read that two-word question?)

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(Narrow street in Nantes)

Every day we make additions to the meaning of the words we hear depending on tone and body language. The people talking to us make additions to the words they hear us say. If we’re really lucky we make the right additions and they make the right additions and we understand each other. Communication is something we take for granted and we usually think the words we say are clear and that of course the person we’re talking to will understand exactly what we mean… but what if they don’t? If they don’t it gets a bit messy.


(Passageway in Chateau Comtel, Carcassonne)

Spending time in a country where I assume I will not understand the people has made me more aware of the possibility that I don’t understand the people in my own country, speaking the language I’m fluent in…. One day last week in Nantes Denis needed to visit the mobile phone shop, Orange. If you’ve ever had to go into a mobile phone shop in any country you’ll have had a similar experience. It’s very slow, there’s lots of queuing. The handshake when the assistant brings you to his workstation is particularly French (and lovely) but the rest is very similar.

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(My favourite dishwasher!)

Anyway, I was sitting on an orange (kid you not!) sofa in the Orange shop waiting for him when an older, very well dressed lady sat down beside me. We did the bonjour/bonjour and she said a few more words and I… smiled and nodded (probably appropriate?) but then she said something else and I just knew it was a question. She was looking at me and waiting. For a very short moment I considered more smiling and more nodding but for the first time in France (with a French person) I recognised connection. You know the moment when you trust that the person (whom you don’t know) in front of you is safe? Is worth taking the time to communicate with. Not a huge communication, not deep and meaningful words… yet you somehow connect.

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(Sunset in Asserac)

So, I didn’t just smile and nod, Instead I searched deep into my faulty French and said I’m sorry, I don’t understand, I speak only a little French. Her eyes lit up, she laughed, she took my hand, she gently patted my arm and she said something. I have no idea what she said, yet I know exactly what she said…. she told me it was ok, she told me I was ok, she told me everything was fine. Then she asked me what language I spoke and she told me she didn’t know any of that either. All the time she held my hand and patted my arm and we both smiled. Then the assistant called her name and she left to get her phone fixed.

Maybe we say too many words when all we really need to do is connect, Mairead.

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Feeling some madness…

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(Can you see this kite surfing guy’s feet and surfboard are out of the water?)

It rained a lot last night. Lots of rain, lots of wind. Teeny tiny bit of sleep. Not feeling too bubbly today. So I’m reminded of something Eckhart Tolle wrote “When you complain you make yourself a victim. Leave the situation, change the situation or accept it. All else is madness.” It’s kinda nice to find patterns in the things you see and experience and relate them to the way you feel inside, isn’t it? I think so. I think it helps to understand the feelings inside.

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(This boat was just sitting on the beach this morning… could someone look up French salvage laws, please – we might own a boat)

So, here’s us having a nice old-time wandering around France, minding our own business. Loving the sun and the pleasant temperatures at this time of year. Then, the storms arrive. From nowhere they come…. And one might be tempted to whine and grumble. At home we might say “desperate weather, isn’t it?” to the postman or the assistant in the bank or the next door neighbour.

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(More doodling today)

In France I haven’t a clue how to say anything about the weather and when I consider looking it up (or asking Thierry) there’s no incentive to do so. There’s no good that can come out of telling the French people in the camper van next door that it’s raining… They already know. Sometimes it rains. Get over it. There’s at least four guys out on the water doing their kite surfing thing. They’re already wet so a bit of rain doesn’t bug them and the wind is very useful when you have a big huge kite.

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So how’s this relate to feelings? Sometimes we feel down, maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s an insensitive friend, maybe it’s a disappointment – life can be very disappointing. So we talk to ourselves or others with words something like “desperate feeling, I’m having”. Maybe we whine a bit, grumble a bit and complain some. What if we had to translate our complaints into French (or Swahili if you’re fluent in French) would we bother? Like the rain, the feelings will be gone soon and like the wind for the kite surfers, they are useful – they remind us we’re alive!

Sure isn’t it great to be alive? Mairead.

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When the Rains Came Back…

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(A kite surfer on his way home on Saturday evening. By the way that red sky at night didn’t bring a shepherd’s delight…)

It’s been raining continuously here since early Sunday morning and the two of us are getting plenty of practice at being together in a confined space… We’ve had rain before on this trip but we knew we could move along if it persisted and although sometimes we waited a couple of days to be sure it was persisting we knew we could get away from it if we really wanted to. We can’t get away anymore. The forecast is rain for the next two days, then on the third day we will be going home.

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(Could be a sea urchin?)

We’ve had rain before at home too, but sitting here, I can’t remember what I did on a rainy Sunday… What did I do? Probably watched television. We don’t have a television. We do have internet and we could watch YouTube videos, but it’s very slow. Fortunately, I brought a crate-full of crafty things so I have plenty to do. I spent most of yesterday doodling.

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(Can you see his eyes?)

It’s not cold but when we go visiting the photogenic toilets (thank you Thierry for the translation: Vos chiotes sont tres photogeniques!) we get a little damp and then it’s lovely to turn on the heating! Yes we have heating! The gas that powers the hob, the oven and the fridge also blows warm air through our little home when necessary. Because it’s a small space it doesn’t take much to heat it, in fact when Denis cooks the dinner (yes, he’s still cooking) it’s also toasty in here.

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(Lots of shells on the beach plus a little bit of seaweed)

Anyway, the rain stopped at about midday and I rambled out to the beach to take some more pictures… but the smell. As I may have said before I grew up in Cashel, Co. Tipperary. One of county Tipperary’s claims to fame is that it’s Ireland’s largest inland county. Which is a great honour… but it means that there’s no sea. As a child a trip to the seaside involved days of travelling. Well, it seemed like days… but it was probably only a couple of hours. About a mile away from our destination, my Dad driving, my Mam in the front, my brother and me in the back (our sister not yet born) the windows were rolled down and we caught our first smell of… seaweed. Even today the smell of seaweed makes me happy! Ah seaweed.

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(Look! Not a butterfly but a mussel pretending to be a butterfly. Saw this and thought of you, Cathy!)

I read somewhere that we are wired for pleasure, simple pleasure. Pleasure receptors are located very close to where we receive information from our senses. From the smells or tastes or touch or sights or sounds around us we have the ability to derive pleasure. From the dictionery pleasure is a feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment. How incredibly simple and free and even freeing.

Don’t wait, be happy now, Mairead.

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Here’s all the news….

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(An old pathway leading to the château beside the campsite near Bordeaux)

Well it’s been too long….. I’m starting to get phone calls and texts asking where we are and when are we coming home so it time for a check-in. Last time we chatted (well I chatted, you guys have been very quiet!) we were just outside Carcassonne. Then we moved to Bordeaux, which I loved, lots of vineyards and a beautiful campsite beside a château with loads of birds and loads of birdsong. We also visited a wine cooperative there (hello Dave, we have your wine!) Well… don’t tell Dave but I think it might have just been a one man small business vineyard. He was a lovely man though and his wine was lovely too. The entire transaction was conducted in French. And not just, “I’ll have some of your wine for Dave“, “here you are, hope he likes it” No, we were in his house, shaking hands, patting the dogs, tasting two reds, two whites and a rosé, hearing about their merits, calculating costs, visiting the storeroom and shaking hands goodbye. And he had great hands, working hands. We were delighted with ourselves and with Dave for sending us on a quest…. to a wine cooperative… Mum’s the word, though.

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(A very old church in Surgeres)

Then we went to Surgeres which is near La Rochelle. We saw the Blood Red Moon there and coincidentally we heard and felt some Blood-sucking mosquitos. I always react badly to bites so I was feeling a little poorly (Hello Helen! you taught me that word and it exactly describes how I was!) and bad-tempered and grumpy and not a happy blogger… sad face :( I’m all better now though!

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(Place Royale in Nantes and possibly St. Nicholas church in background)

Then we went to Nantes, a lovely city with a great, easy-to-use tram system. The campsite was very well landscaped and the trees through the bedroom window were absolutely perfect. I used to lie down and look at them when the itching got too bad and they were very soothing. Even more soothing was the French anti-histamine.

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(There’s a bunch of people kite surfing on the beach in front of our campsite. I just took this picture of one guy setting up. Once the kite is up he then has to walk all the way out to the water with his surfboard under his arm. Although it’s not clear from this picture the tide is out about 1km from the shore)

So, you’re all up to date, today we’re in a place called Asserac in Pays de la Loire. It’s north of Saint Nazaire and on the coast. In fact our campsite is right on the beach. And the weather isn’t too bad… 16ºC bright with the odd burst of sunshine. We thought the Nantes campsite had the best toilets of our trip (yes we’re back to toilets…) but this site in Asserac beats all the rest. Maybe I’ll get some pictures later…. what’s the French for “your toilets are very photogenic”? In case I don’t, think very nice hotel lobby and then add some toilets and some trees! And automatic sliding doors (not the toilet doors.) And self-flushing toilets! There’s even brightly coloured hand-washing sinks for children, in three different heights! Don’t get me started on the dish washing sinks…  you know those professional hose things that people washing dishes in a restaurant kitchen use (you might have seen them on the telly?) well they’re here! And they have plugs for the sinks! I used to think a plug for the sink was no big deal… It is a big deal.

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(Hello Laura! The beach here is beautiful and reminds me of your beach at Ballytrent!)

So that’s it, we’re on our way home from here. The big ship will be leaving Cherbourg on Wednesday evening and arriving in Rosslare on Thursday afternoon and we’ll be on it.

See you soon, Ireland! Mairead.

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Gratitude… for some simple things

IMG_9772(No life threatening stunts were necessary for this photo)

We’ve moved a few miles further from Carcassonne. In the countryside but near a small town with all the necessities – bakery and grocery shop. There’s also a butchers but we haven’t had to resort to meat yet… yet. Lucky, there’s also a cemetery right next door so very quiet at night. We’re staying here for a few days so Denis can catch up with work.

IMG_0012(Wash Day)

Funny thing happened to me when I realised we would be making a base for a while – I started looking forward to housework! Granted there’s not a lot of housework here but still it was a surprise to me. So I did some clothes washing and because it was such a warm day yesterday everything was dry very fast. Although we did seen to be letting the neighbourhood down with all our string lines.


(Wash Day continues)

It seems we have sorted out our initial problems with fridge stocking too because now we eat all the time in the camper. When we travelled on the motorbike (or in the car) we usually stopped on route for a break and then of course we had a coffee and probably something to eat. Now when we stop we have something from our supplies, much like we do at home. It saves a lot of money and in the long run will allow us to go for longer each time we travel. We do love French coffee so we have that out but we think of it as a treat and we appreciate it much more because it’s rare. Denis has been doing most of the cooking. (I would say ALL of the cooking but I did cook two of the nights!) He seems to enjoy cooking. I definitely enjoy his enjoyment. I do all the dishes thought… it’s hard but I feel I should help out ;-) (Bairbre, if you’re still reading skip the next photo!)

IMG_0023(Look… a new friend)

We’ve met some nice people on our travels. I think we were at our third campsite when we met a couple from Yorkshire. (Hello the Brophy-Laws – the relations in Yorkshire) They gave us the best tip so far… wash the dishes in the campsite sinks (saves water and bottled gas and you meet people) and use the campsite bathrooms (it’s time to describe the toilet facilities…) If you’re of a delicate disposition you might want to skip the next paragraph. Don’t worry there will be NO pictures.


(Ok, when I said NO pictures, I meant no terrible pictures. That little rectangular door in the picture is the door you unlock… full details below)

So… there’s a bathroom (toilet and shower room really) in the camper. The produce of a trip to the bathroom (toilet) goes into the cassette (that’s what they call it!) Every three days the cassette must be emptied. To empty the cassette you unlock (like anyone might steal it) a door near the back of the camper on the passenger side and pull out a box. The box has wheels and a pull out handle (much like a suitcase you might have as carry-on) and you take the walk of shame (the wheels are very loud on the gravel paths and everyone at the campsite knows where you’re going…) to the WC chimique (chemical toilet disposal) where you open the lid and empty your cassette. The WC chimique provides direct access to the sewage system and there’s always a hose nearby to tidy-up. Makes me totally grateful for my bathroom at home.

I’ll save the details about the water tanks for another time, Mairead.

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(I risked life and limb to get you this photo…)

We’ve arrived in Carcassonne. The old city is a château surrounded by shops and cafés and restaurants and ice cream places surrounded by a huge wall with turrets and barbicans, a moat and then another wall outside all that with more turrets and barbicans.There’s also a couple of hotels in there surrounded by the walls. It’s a little bit Disney and touristy but in a French way so not too perfect. It was saved from destruction in the 1800’s and renovated and now it’ll probably never fall down.

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(Narrow streets)

My favourite bit (not counting the ice cream) was the channels running down the middle of some of the streets. I like to imagine them channelling unwanted liquids down the hill and out through the walls. Fortunately they don’t use them anymore so the odours are very pleasant – mainly crêpes and coffee I think.

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(The channel)

When I arrived at the walls I spotted a little train tour and having fond memories of previous train tours I hopped on board. It runs around the outside of the outer wall on cobblestone paths that are very bumpy (not great for photography) and very narrow (not great for the nerves.) But I did my best to take some photos and stay the nerves… I seem to have completely missed the audio with the effort though… did she say 38 turrets?

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(Cute cafe within the ruins and garden of an old building)

My pictures don’t do it justice because the best views are from the air but Denis won’t hire a plane. When we were driving along the motorway towards Carcassonne we suddenly got an amazing view of the site. We were very excited. I scampered back and grabbed the camera and Denis opened the window. Now I need to stop here and give you another camper van tip – when the camper is moving do not open the window unless the person about to sit beside the window knows you are opening it… they are in danger of toppling out the said window because of the nearness of their posterior to the base of the open window…. and the photos suffer. Fortunately I did not topple out.

Ryanair flies very low over the old city of Carcassonne, that may well be the safest way to get great photos. Mairead.

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The Many Homes of Rain

IMG 9176(When the rains came we took comfort in liquid brewed by ancient Belgian monks…)

Right so… it’s been a while… there was a storm, with rain and dark clouds, grey skies, the air got colder, it was a bit like winter… so we moved. That’s one of the great things about the camper van – if you don’t like where you are you can move somewhere else! Although sometimes the weather moves with you! Last time I wrote we were in Souillac which is on the Dordogne river. When the rain had fallen for three days in a row we decided to move. We moved west to Limeuil which is at the meeting of Dordogne and the Vézère rivers. It was a beautiful location and a very pretty site. We stayed two days, it rained for two days, we moved…

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(Stony beach at campsite in Limeuil)

Yesterday we arrived in Montricoux, it’s further south in the Tarn and Garonne department (according to Wikipedia.) We drove about three hours (slowly on narrower roads than I’m happy to think about) to get here and along the way it was interesting to see the landscape change. Setting out we travelled along dark green tree and hedge lined winding roads – could have been in county Wicklow. Both of us clad in jeans and fleeces after an hour and a half we noticed a warmth and the fleeces were off. Half an hour further down the road the air-conditioning went on. That’s when we noticed the outside scenery had changed. It was flat, or at most gently rising and falling, roads went straight on for miles. Vegetation was sparse of light green or yellow colour. As there were no hedges to block the view we could see flat countryside for miles around. It seemed like this place didn’t get much rain. We were sure we had out-run the weather.

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(A bird…)

We found a small campsite and parked in a grove of trees near reception, unpacked the chairs, the table, the clothes line. The washing that had been damp for three days was hung up and off we went for an ice pop. I started cutting and pasting. But by evening I was noticing a familiar scent in the air… rain? Couldn’t be, too warm but just in case I took the washing back in. I did leave my glued paper out… I think it was 3am when I woke to the familiar pitter patter, there was a thunderstorm outside. So, they do get rain here after all.

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(I really liked those stones in Limeuil)

When real morning arrived (at 9am) it was dark inside the camper (did I mention I love the blackout blinds?) and I thought, we’ll have to move again… but no, outside it was blue skies and a few little white clouds. The washing is drying, the glue is setting, it’s too hot to go for a walk… maybe an ice pop?

Weather is everywhere… just not rain today. Mairead.

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