The Statistics

The Route: Outward – Black Return – Dark Blue

Thought it might be interesting to gather some data about the journey. As I write we are waiting in Cherbourg to board the ferry home. It’s all over!

Beautiful wall in Sézanne

How many miles? 3648 (5870km)

Restaurant in Saint Mère Èglise

How many countries? 5 Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal and Disneyland (😉)

The market in Louhans

How much diesel? 673 litres

Diesel somewhere in France

How many days? 84

Old wash house in Chaource

How many blogs? 41

French postbox

How much solar electricity did we generate? 58kw hours (I don’t know what this means either)

Canal Pont du midi

How many crossants/pastries? Don’t know but probably 1 a day! Which is…84😱

How many campsites? 20 (approximately)

How many free parkups? 40 (approximately)

How many paid parkups? 20 (approximately)

Pont du Gard

Highest Temperature?
37 degrees C (Poix en Picardy France, Saturday 17th June)

Frost on the windscreen Saint-Brice-en-Coglès

Lowest Temperature?
-2 degrees C (Saint-Brice-en-Coglès, Friday 1st April)

Sunset near Villablanca, Spain

Thank you for reading, you make writing this extra fun! xxx Mairéad

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Our last week…

The cathedral in Bayeux

So here we are – our last week of the journey and I’ve been thinking.

We spent three days in Bayeux just relaxing, taking photos, having coffee in the mornings and dinner in the evenings and generally enjoying the last of France.

Breakfast in Bayeux

The weather has been very kind to us this last week, overcast with rain and the odd blue sky. And that has inspired an idea for a tourist campaign for Ireland with its perfect weather… The grey clouds you used to think were depressing are actually a huge fluffy blanket of protection from harsh sun. The rain that you used to think was annoying is actually cooling and nourishing. And the cold breeze…. we’ll yes that’s still a problem but two out of three, etc. Would you be attracted by my campaign?

Look at that beautiful overcast sky!

Maybe you need to be escaping the red hot sun zone to have any interest in cool breezes, rain or grey clouds. But will we all, soon enough, be in this position?

Oldest house in Bayeux

I have been infected by the, but what can one person do? bug in relation to global warming. And this trip has been a kind of education. I feel so grateful that we’ve had the opportunity to make this journey. For two years we decided we couldn’t or shouldn’t and this year we decided we would. The week before we left I wondered again if it was the right time. While we have been away we have seen the return to pre-pandemic normal in the countries we visited to the point that we see very few people wearing masks. It’s more unusual that usual to see a person in a supermarket wearing a mask.

There Bayeux!

Before 2020 I thought pandemic was just a movie. Just before we left we watched a different movie called Finch. It was about a world where the consequences of global warming were very real and any amount of sunlight was toxic.

Was captured by an imaginary story of two people smiling from their balcony in Bayeux. A happy ever after movie waiting to be written…?

On our journey I realised I cannot get overwhelmed by the scale of the problem because that frightens me into looking the other way. What can I do? I can stay awake and take intentional steps. What does this mean for future trips in a motorhome? I don’t know… yet.

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Under the tree in Beauvais

View of the city of Beauvais

We’re on the way home now. Right after our Disney experience we went to Beauvais (you might know it because Ryanair flies into Beauvais airport.) The weather was still hot but we managed to park under a tree at the camping car aire and I put my towel on the ground and read my book.

That white dot is Beauvais. But look at beautiful cool Ireland!

A car arrived as I sat there and the man inside started talking to me in French. I must have looked confused and he realised I wasn’t French (my sitting under the tree makes me look more French than I am…) But he needed to know some things so he was willing to try his English. We had a stop and start conversation. He said a word in English and I replied with a French word. He wanted to know if there was a charge for staying in the aire. There wasn’t. He wanted to know if there was water? Yes there was. He wanted to know where it was.

Steps down from the parking into the city

I got up from my tree and took him to the water machine. He wanted to know where to empty the toilet. I showed him. He wanted to know how to use it. I showed him. He had some more questions about the details of the toilet empty but neither of us had the words so we left that topic and walked back towards the tree.

The footpath on this bridge was the scariest! The planks lift as you walk!

On the way back he started to ask a question but he couldn’t find any English words but I guessed he was trying to find the words for where were we from and he was! We both laughed. It seemed that I was reading his mind. And of course, I wasn’t. Everyone wants to know where you’re from, I wanted to know where he was from too but I didn’t have the French words and I probably wouldn’t have recognised his home location anyway. I can guess he is about to buy or rent a motorhome and he was getting prepared to use it. He drove off still smiling, I was smiling too.

From halfway up the steps – I had to stop a few times…

Communication and clarity of communication is something I’ve been thinking about for a while now. Words are not the only way we communicate. When we speak our native language we depend on the words to get the meaning across so we can happily ignore the non-words – the facial expressions, the hand gestures, the tone of voice, the eyes. But all of those non-words are felt internally by us but ignored… until the middle of the night when we can’t sleep because of something he/she might have been saying.

For some reason I took a picture of the sign describing the church but not the church…

Communication is tricky when you don’t speak the language and it’s very tricky when you do.

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Disney – the parenting trap

Disneyland Paris in front of the entrance

We went to Disney! We met the daughter and her best friend, and it was lovely. And it was exhausting (37km over the three days!) And it was hot (nearly 30℃ each day!)

Denis and Ciara

And it was a great place to meet your daughter after a long time. Because we queued together, we walked together, we frightened ourselves together, we ate together, we hugged. A lot. And then it was all over and that last hug was very hard.

Main Street from the not scary train

It’s strange being a parent because it comes with two slightly opposing job functions. One is to cut a chunk of your heart out and shove it dripping with blood into your child’s rucksack. Then while they cope with whatever the world throws at them, you listen inside the rucksack unable to help. And your other function is to tell them everything you think they need to know to cope with said world. One is hard, the other is impossible.

Scary train (no I didn’t)

The telling them part is impossible because you (the parent) hasn’t the first clue what they need to cope. You tell them things you were told that didn’t help you in the least but it’s all you’ve got. Then they grow enough to resist your teaching and you get upset because how will you teach them these important (aka useless) rules if they won’t pay attention?

Extremely scary ride (what do you think?)

And you say things, things that you hope will help but they turn out to be mean things. And then you say nice things but they also turn out to be no help. It’s about this time that you start drinking regularly. (Oh, you didn’t? No, me neither…)

Non scary boat ride (yes I loved it)

And then you meet them years later and you can’t get over how beautiful they are. And joy of joys they have coped with the world and all it threw at them. And your chunk of heart in their rucksack wags it’s tail at you and says, it’s all good, you did your best. And you cry for days.

Can you see Denis with his mate Buzz?

Yep we went to Disney and I’m crying since but in a good way.

The parent trap….🥹
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Picnic on the Town Walls

Path of the town walls

I went on that picnic on Saturday! Sézanne is a really lovely town. They have a walk around the town walls (called ramparts) that’s a bit different – there’s no walls. Back in the day when it looked like all the fighting had stopped and everyone was getting on together they decided to disassemble the walls and use the stone to build nice houses. Aren’t the French very civilized? This was before World War 1 but walls wouldn’t have helped by then anyway.

Shady along the route of the town walls

So instead of a wall it’s a wide path with gorgeous houses set back behind their own walls on one side and a grass bank down to the new town on the other. And on both sides of this path there are trees providing shade from the heat. And there are benches, of course there are. This is where I had my picnic. I had accidentally picked up great picnic ingredients – a cheese pie, a fruit juice and a bag of cherries from the market. When I noticed the perfect bench in the shade it all came together. I lay down my scarf on the bench and my market bounty on top.

My lone picnic

It was a marvelous thing! It is no exaggeration to say that every French person that passed said Bonjour and at least three stopped to say Bon appetite! They encourage picnic-lovers here because they are picnic-lovers themselves. There was one couple who tried really hard to avert their eyes from the woman eating alone on a park bench (me) but they weren’t French. They probably thought I would be embarrassed if they had a look to see what I was eating. But I didn’t feel a bit self conscious because so many French people demonstrated their acceptance of my behaviour.

Old Sézanne with the town walls path in green

It was a really lovely experience to be accepted while doing something that back home might be considered odd. I wonder do I have the courage to lay out my scarf and picnic alone on a park bench in Greystones? Probably not.

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Only two more sleeps!

No parking on Saturday from 5am

We are nearing the end of our journey but first we have a big meet up before we catch our ferry home. Right now we are in another lovely old town about two hours from Paris called Sézanne. We couldn’t park in the town square on Friday when we arrived because of the Saturday market. They start getting ready for the market at 5am and anyone parked in the square gets woken up and moved on! We didn’t fancy that so we went to stay in the campsite just outside town.

That’s the flower van in our spot!

I was very happy to be going to a campsite for an opportunity to use their washing machine. We are running out of clean clothes and as we’ll soon be hugging people again…let just say it’s crucial that we get a washing machine. But their washing machine was broken. No clothes washing but thankfully lots of hot showers.

Market Day with St. Denis’ church in background (yes Denis is a saint here!)

It’s Saturday now and I’m back in the square to visit the market. The van is parked out on the edge of town at the supermarket and later today I will be washing all our clothes in their washing machine. But first, the market… I’m here on my own taking photos, watching people and later I’m hoping to have a picnic. Denis is doing what he loves, finishing work on his latest app project back in the van. This app is lovely, by the way, it’s a creative way to be mindful. Denis and his friend Kyle, who is an artist, are working on it together. It’ll be in the App Store soon. It’s called Lines of Zen.

Fruit and fruit juice stall

Anyways, I’m here sitting on a bench in the shade because I forgot about the rules for a hot day. The supermarket on the edge of town is a lot further away than I thought it was and the sun is hotter than it has been and I brought no water – I need a rest. Also, I forgot my sun hat and sun cream. Basically I’m out of my physical comfort zone. But at least I smell grand.

Cheese pie stall

The next phase of our trip involves travelling about an hour west to Disneyland Paris. We are meeting our daughter, Ciara and her friend, Flipp. We haven’t seen either of them since 2019. We have been looking forward to this since we left Portugal a month ago and now there’s only two more sleeps!

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Just noticing…

Shutter pattern

One of the things I have been attempting to do on this trip is spend more time doing nothing, just noticing. Yes I know you already think I’m doing nothing. This type of doing nothing is sitting still, not reading, not writing, not thinking of things to do. Instead… noticing. There’s a lot to notice while we do nothing. This has been the procedure… first notice the things that move into the space in my mind while I do nothing and second let them be and definitely don’t engage with them. Do you follow me?

Church pattern

For example, here we go, a thought just popped in:
No one wants to read this.
Right, I notice what’s arrived in my space. Second part, let it be and don’t engage. Ohh, easier said than done but here goes…
Oh here’s another one, I’m hungry. Let it be… don’t engage.
And another, Did you reply to the text? Oh holy divine, this one is very hard not to engage with…
Another, What if you forget it? Noooooo… DON’T ENGAGE!
Another, Now you’re angry, that’s not helpful is it? Hello emotion that I’m now engaged to…

Brick pattern

Dong this nothing isn’t easy, it’s work to notice the thoughts and let them be. It’s a lot of work to not engage. And then when the emotions turn up and they get mixed up with the thoughts and, and, and..

Wood pattern

I was thinking about this during our week of thunder storms. About how the blue sky is up there all the time during the storm. About how it is unaffected by the thunder or lightening or rain or any kind of cloud. It’s just there, sort of watching and waiting until everything calms down again. It’s doing nothing. My emotions are thunder and lightening and my thoughts are the rain and they are all connected and they all feed off each other. And they are very loud and they crave my attention. I don’t have to give them my attention.

Stone pattern

I am not the thunder. I am not the lightening. I am not the rain. I am the blue sky, they cannot hurt me…

Sky with a dusting of clouds
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The Weather Show

Here comes the Weather Show!

And then the rains came. Storms all over central France. Bringing a weather show like we haven’t seen in Ireland.

Raindrops and green leaves

The stage opens with the temperature rising, humid damp heat follows your every move. Don’t move! Except to open every window and door. The skies slowly fill in with white clouds turning to grey clouds. Then something shifts.

The navy blue sky

The sky grows darker, darker again, almost navy blue. And here comes the music – booming thunder. And the light show – streaks of lightening. And the finale – beating rhythm of torrential rain while we race to secure the roof windows. And all for free.

Raindrops and River

And then it’s all calm again with a cooling breeze, sunshine and fluffy white clouds.

Fluffy clouds return

The heatwave in Spain has made us very grateful for weather, any weather. (Well, any weather except weather with temperatures that start with a 3 and are two digits long.)

Another show tomorrow

By the time we return home at the end of this month we will have forgotten the heatwave and be wishing for a few extra degrees, in the meantime we are enjoying the rain.

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Lovely Louhans

Monday is market day in Louhans

And then on Monday we arrived in the very beautiful town of Louhans and it was a market day. What could be better? Old cobblestoned streets full of market stalls… hats, dresses, aprons, cheese and rabbits, among other things. Well yes, that’s even better.

Cute rabbits for pets… I hope

On Tuesday morning we went looking for coffee and with all the market stalls gone we found the arcades – there’s 157 of them! They are covered walkways along each side of the main shopping street and they allow you to walk shaded from the sun or sheltered from the rain. There’s a lot of road works, bridge works and rebuilding going on in the town but no matter its beauty is still visible.

Cobblestone and Arcades

The official motorhome parking spot is about five minutes from the shops and cafes, beside one of the two rivers running around the town. For €4 a night plus tax motorhomes have a river view surrounded by trees with walking access to cafes and restaurants – very lovely.

Picnic Perfect

There and then we invented the habit of going for coffee each morning. It’s such a simple thing, we sit outside in the fresh air sipping coffee and watching the French people getting on with their day.

On the way back to the river we’d collect our baguette from the Boulangaire and notice how lucky we were to be here. By Friday the waitress was asking, deux café allongé? (Two Americano’s?)


It’s very nice to be remembered.

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The Picnic Food Shop

Pont du Gard, pink arrow, Vion, purple arrow

After our trip to the Pont du Gard we drove to a small family run campsite near the town of Vion, beside the Rhône. On route we stopped off for lunch and were intrigued (again) with the love of picnics by the French. We want to try it too, we always do and it wouldn’t be so difficult, but it does require some prior organisation. We felt jealous walking past as we headed for the motorway services cafe.

Our view at the campsite near Vion

We are guessing their picnics are more special than traditional Irish picnics. I see no tin foil. I smell no egg sandwiches. No Fanta bottle with gone off milk in it (for the lukewarm tea.) What are they feasting on? And they don’t need picnic tables, they eat standing at their car boots. They don’t even need children, we’ve seen grown adults meeting at the car boot for lunch. Some have cool boxes, others have baskets! Willow baskets! We have tried to linger longer beside them and have a good look but the baskets… they are so distracting we don’t see the food. Oh and the neatness of the boot? Very neat.

Old path to vineyards at the campsite

Today we think we might have cracked it…. the charcuterie (you might know it as a delicatessen?) We haven’t been inside one yet because it’s a little overwhelming not knowing what everything is but the whole picnic mystery is making us brave enough to give it a try.

View of the river Rhône from the vineyard at the top of the hill along the old path

Plus, this could be the solution to eating/not eating the pictures of food on the ferry… do you remember? If we can locate a charcuterie near Cherbourg, we will not be tempted by the pictures of pancakes, white sliced pan toast and lumpy porridge. It will be worth the effort. It’s a bank holiday in France today as I write and the local charcuterie is closed but maybe tomorrow…

These little guys could be in your Côtes du Rhône 2022
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Our Daily Baguette

Bread and coffee

On our way to the Pont du Gard on Saturday we called in to a boulangarie we had seen on our first day here, Marie Blachère Boulangeire. It’s a chain of bakeries, there’s many of them around but we packed this one because of the parking – plenty of room for us to fit in without bumping anyone. Yaa.

Our local…

By Saturday we had been there three times and the lady was beginning to recognise us. She didn’t quite understand my version of French so she always helped out by speaking a little English. I wanted an Americano but with extra hot water – no one in France wants this so it’s always more difficult to explain. Added to that the queue in every (yes, every!) boulangeire is long but moves surprisingly fast because the servers zip through the orders. Zipping through the orders does not allow for hard to understand Irish tourists. But this lady slowed down and got what I was trying to say and I got my hot water every morning.

Thank you, lovely lady and your colleague❤️

On Saturday, maybe because I was so excited about going to the Pont I forgot to buy our daily baguette but she realised I had forgotten and brought it over to me when there was a break in the queue. Then she said, that’s for you and wouldn’t take payment! Are you feeling the love? I certainly felt it.

We were here ⬆️

And at the same time I was conflicted. It’s hard to accept a gift, isn’t it? I find it hard. I wondered what should I do for her. But what can I do… just accept her kindness and feel grateful? It is something I have been thinking about during the pandemic times. I received such generosity at times when I could do nothing to repay it and I was uncomfortable. But when I got the opportunity to be generous, giving felt so good that I realised accepting is necessary. For giving to happen, accepting the gift is part of the contract. Accepting is part of human connection. It’s Give and Receive, not Give and Give.

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Photos from Le Pont du Gard

Approaching Le Pont du Gard from the Rive Gauche (Left Bank)

We went back to the Post du Gard last Saturday and I got loads of pictures. It really is a beautiful peaceful place, in spite of all the people visiting. We arrived a little before opening time – 9.30am. The sun was shining but it wasn’t too hot. We have become experts at working out the best time of the day to do things in order to remain cool.

Pont du Gard with humans for scale

Early morning – 8am – for walking outside, but you have to get back inside before 11.30am. Mid morning for walking or sitting inside – if it’s air-conditioned or there’s a little breeze through the window. Mid-day for driving with the windows down.

Looking up at the second row arches

Mid afternoon – find shade or keep driving with the windows even further down. Late afternoon – poor you, just suck it up. Late evening for walking, in general you’ll feel better if you get a walk in now, I promise. Night time for sleeping as best you can with the windows open near a source of breeze, sea breeze is the best.

Looking down at the river Gardon from the Pont du Gard

Anyways we were there at the perfect time of the morning in this beautiful place. First stop, we went to see the museum and the best video presentation I’ve ever seen at a tourist site. Seriously. Just enough information, given in a way I could understand. Plus the photography was superb.

View from the very top and more tiny humans

I always find it very difficult to grasp big numbers when I hear them. For example, the Post du Gard is 50 meters high but really, how high is that? Well in the video they had different items pictured beside the Pont like 16 elephants standing on top of each other to help show how tall that really is. Good, right?

This door is at the very top of the Pont and leads to the water channel but it is only accessible on a special guided tour

And they had cartoon planes standing one behind the other on the top level of the Pont. I love how creatively helpful that is.

Apprentice stone masons used to chisel their names on the stones. Can you see 1905?
Doesn’t this look like a pint of Guinness? It’s a picture of a picture of the inside of the water channel. The bulges on either side are limestone deposits left by the running water. The aqueduct was in use for 600 years.

You’ll have to go there and visit the cinema in the museum to see all the other creative things they did to help explain this amazing monument. I just love it.

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Asking for Help

Narrow streets in Remoulins

We were still in the town of Remoullins when we realised we needed water. There is water available at this parking but it’s a bit too close to the toilet cassette empty station… if you know what I mean? I mean the tap may have been contaminated… But we had a plan, we know a place nearby with a grand tap. The place where it rained!

That’s the bridge that sings!

So we packed up and drove the 4 minute route to water. While I emptied the grey water (dirty water from washing dishes and showers) into the drain, Denis got the hose to fill up with clean water. But… there was no hose, the hose was missing. We looked everywhere, there’s not a lot of places and we always put it in the same place… but you know what it’s like when you can’t stop checking just one more place. It wasn’t anywhere.

Old church in the town

Questions:Where did we get water last? Did we leave it there? Did it fall out when I was taking out the table and chairs?
Answers: Don’t know. Don’t know. Don’t know.

This is a street… for driving!

Not very useful answers. We have no idea where the hose and the many connection attachments (needed for different countries/areas) have gone. We felt the disappointment of loss… small enough loss for me but a little more upsetting for Denis. He had spent years of happy searching for those connections. He had his favourites – the metal ones. His least favourite but good in a pinch – the plastic ones. In a situation like this there is an opportunity to search for blame. As in, finding the specific person (out of two…) who might have forgotten to put the hose back after using it. It must have been our lucky day – we did not take the blame opportunity. We took the ask for help opportunity.

Le Félibre Gratien Charvet lived here…

There was a French man standing outside his motorhome at the parking and Denis went over and with his best French asked for a loan of a water hose, which was given freely. Five minutes later we had water and I had assembled a Merci pour le tuyau d’eau card. I just hope it says thank you for the water hose and I just hope it means the same thing… We will need to buy a new water hose and start rebuilding our supply of connections.

My shady spot in Remoulins

Loss can create opportunity and you can choose the opportunity you want.

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Glorious Rain

Can you see the rain dripping from the open window?

We reluctantly left Béziers after two days and travelled north again for an hour past Montpellier and to motorhome parking outside the town of Remoulins. It turned out to be waaaay outside the town and there were no path and fast cars on the roads making walking perilous.

River Gardon Remoulins

We struggled to go for a walk but there was something even more beautiful, something we had missed. Something we have not been about to get a hold of since Zafra in on the west side of Spain, 32 days ago… Rain. It rained! Not for long and not very heavy but enough to remind me that rain is a good thing and I’m sorry for not appreciating it.

Cute square in Remoulins

And then it stopped and the sun came out and it’s even cooler. All is well in the world.

Next morning we moved. There was parking closer to the town with walking and cycle paths nearby. The town is very old in the old part and very busy in the new part. And there’s what I have started to call the singing bridge between our parking and the town. We went for a walk to get groceries in the morning and although the bridge has a very lovely singing voice, I do not feel at ease crossing it by foot so I went in the opposite direction for my afternoon walk.

The church seems to have a birdcage on top…

As I have repeated to you often (sorry) the afternoon is the hottest time of the day but… this is France and hundreds of years ago someone had the great idea to plant trees along the road and today I benefitted from their foresight. And the shade they provide. I know I’ve also mentioned shade a lot on this journey but I have to mention it again – shade is a precious, precious thing and trees give it unselfishly. Thank you to the trees and thank you to the planter of the trees.

The shady walk to Pont du Gard

It was 2km down that shaded road that I found a huge surprise – an aqueduct. Yes! Another one! This one was built by the Romans in the 1st century AD. I think it is magnificient. It’s called Pont du Gard, Bridge over the river Gardon. Its purpose was to bring water to the town of Nîmes, 50Km away! Those Romans were something else. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site and it’s just down the road. This France… is also something else.

Pont du Gard

P.S. We’re going to visit the Pont du Gard museum on Saturday, it’s on the other bank of the river and closer. Hopefully I’ll get better pictures.

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Magic in the Water

Could be the Pyrenees? Near Cantallops

And just like that we are in France! It is many days since Alicante and it is cloudy and a little cooler. I promise not to talk abut the heat again… unless it is absolutely necessary.

Looks like this tree is rooted in the rocks

Here’s the catch up: We left Alicante and drove for the whole of last Saturday until we reached the border town of La Jonquera, north of Barcelona. 671km. Not exactly the way we planned to travel but it was grand. We found a little restaurant up the mountains near a village called Cantallops and had a lovely meal to spend the night in their car park. It’s not recommended to park overnight on the border so this was a better choice. Sorry no pictures, we were not firing on all cylinders at that point.

Somewhere in the journey…

Denis had steak with blue cheese sauce. Cannot think of anything worse but he loved it. And I had a duck and mushroom stew from Granny’s menu (I think it means like Granny would make if she was a good cook) with bread for dipping – absolutely delicious. We also had desert, coffee ice cream for me – yum and Irish coffee for Denis (is that desert?) which he said tasted exactly like the best Irish coffee he’s ever had.

Map of the town at the motorhome park in Béziers

Next day we drove to Béziers in France. For years I have wanting to visit something that I had seen in photos but didn’t know its location. It turns out it’s here…

Paddle boarding under the canal…

We stayed in a motorhome parking site and there was a map of the town and the things to see and one of the things to see was the Pont Canal de LOrb, the Orb river canal bridge. Not a name that describes the spectacle of the Pont Canal de l’Orb. Every canal or river has a bridge but this one is a bridge with a canal in it – the Canal du Midi goes over the river on a bridge – like magic! It was opened along time ago in 1858.

Normal lock

Before the boats can go over the bridge they have to be raised up to the level of the bridge and that happens in the locks. Again, that’s normal with a canal but they have a special lock here too. Called the Fonseranes Locks, they are like a staircase for boats. More magic. You’ll have to google the Fonseranes Locks to see picture because not knowing about it before this I didn’t walk to the other side of the bridge, sorry. Anyways I was so taken by the bridge I forgot to wonder how the boats get up on it. On our side there was just one big deep lock.

Captain’s Lock House (person who operates the lock)

The Fonseranes Locks are like a staircase for boats. If you can imagine a narrow three step staircase with deep steps, very deep, the length of a canal barge deep. And high, the height of the hull of a canal boat. The boat enters the Fonseranes Locks at the ground level. The ropes are tied and the gates are closed behind. The gates in front open and the water starts filling – the boat rises… to the height of the first step. The boat then moves forward until it is above the second step and the second gate is closed. The gate in front opens, the water pours in and the boat rises above the third step and moves forward again. The gates close, the gates in front open and the water pours in again, the boat rises. Now it’s at the level of the water on the bridge that will take it over the river.

Canal di Midi at Béziers crossing the river L’Orb

That’s pretty magical, right?

Can you see the boat in the canal going over the river?

Ps I didn’t know until I was researching this to write to you that it’s called an aqueduct in English and there’s one carrying the Royal Canal over the M50 motorway in Dublin and another carrying it over the River Inny in Co. Longford and another in Co. Kildare? Are there more?

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Awning Blowing in the Wind

Motorhome Park, Alicante

I’m writing from a motorhome park near Alicante, on the east coast of Spain. There’s a cool breeze and some shade beside the van, for now. But I did find a public area out near the road which has shade all day long so I will visit there when the van shade disappears. It’s a bit of a palaver following the shade but it keeps me sane – well worth it.

Tramline beside the beach

This area of Spain seems very fancy on the one hand with pretty beach-side promenades and a tram and expensive restaurants and on the other hand huge high rise apartment blocks. It’s also a bit more expensive for groceries. But the people in the campsite, the owners are lovely. They are also remarkable. To hear them speak three languages in a group of people is pretty amazing.

Beach beside the walkway beside the tramline

Yesterday I was outside writing in the sliver of shade and there was the strongest breeze blowing – perfect moment – when I heard a crash and looked up to see a neighbour’s awning blown into a crumpled mess. I’ll tell you our awning story another time but for now you need to know awnings are great and at the same time delicate in certain situations. Situations like wind. They need to be rolled up or tied down when the wind blows.

Drinking on the beach…

Now, the neighbour’s van looked deserted and locked up so I needed to do something. All around were French, Dutch and Germans and not knowing how to explain to them I went in search of the park owner. He was in the reception area and I was scrolling through my translate app for the word for awning but there were a lot of words to figure out so instead I said, I have to tell you something in English! It’s like something I’ve said to a friend when I was breaking bad news, there’s something I need to tell you… Anyway he was working on something under the desk but bright as a button he says, that’s ok I speak English.

Sand and Sea

I explained the problem with the awning and the wind and the missing neighbour, he locked up the office and off we went. The aforementioned French, Dutch and Germans were gathered around the awning by now. One more thing you need to know is there are a lot of different awning manufacturers and they each seem to have invented their own method for rolling up their awning so although each of these people had an awning and a pole for rolling it (or automatic rolling – imagine!) none of them had the right one for this awning. (Ironically, our awning pole would have worked but as our awning story will explain we no longer have an awning or an awning pole…)

The tram

The manager took in the situation straight away and started talking to each of these people (Note: he may not have spoken dutch but as I have mentioned before the dutch nation’s superpower is having the grasp of most languages on earth (slight exaggeration, only slight) so they understood everything.) Anyways, as he spoke to each one he looked at them and knew which language to use and each time someone said something he replied in their language. In this way he found someone with the right awing pole and he started to roll the distressed awning. And then he turned to me and said Thank you and he turned to each of the others and said thank you to them in their own language. If you don’t think that’s amazing, I’m not telling the story right.

And palm trees

Then we returned to our vans feeling like we had done a good job of being a human. And the people who own the van have no idea what happened around their home from home. I can imagine them saying, didn’t we leave the awning open this morning?

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Still talking about the heat here…

Cave homes seem like a great idea (

We arrived in a town called Bullas. We were following the sat nav and didn’t notice it was bringing us the direct route but not the best route. How would it know? It’s not real, it’s just a bit of software. Plus we humans didn’t know. Actually we don’t feel very human at the moment. We might have made a big mistake turning right instead of left leaving Portugal. East instead of West.

Air conditioning and water for lunch

We were learning from the locals to drive in the morning and stop for lunch in the shade or better still in air conditioning and at to only park at a place with a tree or many trees and get out into the shade while the van sizzled in the heat. We had arrived from Antequera to the town of Vélez-Rubio (32℃) and made our way to the free parking on the edge of town under a tree. Perfect. I sat under that tree all afternoon. In the evening we walked to the town like everyone else and when the sun went down it started to get cooler. At 8am next morning it was already 17℃ and we set off down the road to Bullas and a campsite with trees, showers and a washing machine. The sat nav said it would take an hour. Easy.

Nice view from under the tree in Vélez-Rubio

Two hours later we arrived in Bullas. The sat nav took us the direct route through the mountains instead of the easy longer (but faster) route on the motorway. It was beautiful and frightening. Sorry, but there was no way we could stop to take photos, Ruby took up most of the windy narrow road. I will include a map to help you understand. This has happened before. with Our sat nav thinks we want to take short cuts – we don’t want to take short cuts! We know to check this before we set off. We didn’t check. We are off balance.

Straight route not always best route

Right now my mind is doing somersaults with projections for how long more we will be in this heat. I wish I had a balanced mind available to do something useful about it. Should we go back to Portugal? Will it be any cooler there? How will I get the bookkeeping done? I cannot see a solution. It feels like this will continue for days and maybe even into France until we can get home at the end of June to cooler weather.

The washing machine at the campsite was excellent 👌

Oh that was good. Good to get those scary thoughts on the outside where they can float off. Right so… here’s the situation. It’s hot at the moment. The forecast says it will continue to be hot. So that’s given – a situation that’s true. But just because the forecast says there will be hot weather doesn’t mean there will be. But there might be. So deal with it when it comes. Already we have learned some things: 1. It’s cooler in the morning – go out in the morning. It’s cooler in the shade – find shade and sit in it. Dehydration pushes me off balance – drink liquids. My mid drives me crazy – practice meditation.

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A Tunnel of Heat

A bridge near Seville

We have always loved the spontaneous nature of travelling in a motorhome. The making it up as you go along planning. The ease of changing your mind at the last minute. Yes, so wonderful… hmmm. So we looked at the weather forecasting app and it showed us two cool zones – one to the west via Lisbon and Porto and on towards northern Spain. One to the east along the Mediterranean Coast towards Malaga and the mountains to Granada and then towards Madrid and the cool north. But… the weather forecasting app was incorrect. There was no cool in the mountains or anywhere else, sadly.

Last Pastel de Nata

We left Portugal on Saturday morning having our last nata at a motorway services. Which in hindsight was probably a bad omen. It was the least lovely nata of the trip. Then we drove across the border into Spain and along the motorway to Seville. Here we stopped on the outskirts for fast food and groceries. It was 30℃ in the shade. And there wasn’t a lot of shade. We kept going. By 5.30pm it was 36 in the van and we had arrived at a town called Antequera to spend the night parked outside the sports ground. We had travelled nearly 400km. We did our best to cool ourselves and the van down and then I lay on the bed quietly contemplating the situation. Denis meanwhile googled air conditioners. His contemplation has always been more action based while mine is just quiet desperation. I was remembering the tunnel under the town of Béjar. Do you remember? I would gladly sit in that scary tunnel now… Cave dwelling? Yes. Yes, that too. Underground? Yes, please! Wet, windy, cold Ireland? I am so sorry I misunderstood you!

Red means 🥵 hot

A couple of hours of that and we were both ready to venture outside where it was cooing down. We found a park with benches and sat watching a couple throw a ball to their dog, children playing tag and a lady sitting under a tree. It always puzzled me to see the Spanish students in Greystones sitting together on the damp grass in the middle of winter chatting. I understand now. It’s what works here. It’s what you need to do and the Spanish system plans for it. They put park benches everywhere and in the cool of the evening people sit and meet their friends. We were recovering, so we went to the cafe for a drink. Denis had a cold beer. I wanted a hot tea, an Avoca pear and almond scone and a little light rain so I had an iced tea. I can’t for the life of me remember what was so bad about a rainy day in Ireland…

Can you see Ruby? And the moon?

Next morning I went for a walk early while it was still cool. The town was buzzing. Everyone was out walking or visiting the bar, there were groups of men drinking beer at 8am. At least I think they were drinking beer I was trying not to stare. This town has a lot of interesting attractions but it was already too hot to walk around by 9am.

Roundabout art in Antequera

Spain, you are absolutely magnificent but I feel we’re going about you the wrong way. Is there a manual, a user guide for those of us unaccustomed to your heat?

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West or East?

One last look at Praia de Falésia

It’s 6.45pm and I’m staring out the window a the flags in the breeze. It’s funny how the heat changes your day. Normally I am starving for my dinner by this time but here I can’t think of eating or cooking. (Full disclaimer I had an ice cream at 4.30) It does leave a big gap in the day where I can get things done, like writing or waiting for the goats. That was my job today to wait for the goats to turn up and get photos for the blog. They never turned up. And you can’t really miss them, their bells announce their arrival. I’ve been doing bookkeeping while I wait. The breeze is amazing by the way, exactly what we need as there’s only a sliver of shade.

Love this beautiful old door in Silves

I saw a graph recently of the times the different nations of Europe eat dinner and I could not understand why the Spanish and Portuguese eat so late (the graph said 9.30 to 10pm.) I understand now. We had been eating at 6 or 7pm but now we are embracing the late dinner. We are also embracing the little siesta. We have not yet embraced the rising with the sun but I am still hopeful.

Penthouse accommodation for storks, Silves

Soon we turn for home. I mean we start the journey back to Ireland. But which route? West along the Atlantic coast of Portugal? Or east to the Mediterranean coast of Spain? Both have their advantages and disadvantages. One is known and the other is unknown… to us. One is probably cooler (in degrees) than the other but who knows? One has plenty of motorhome stops and the other… might have also.

Left or right? West or East?

We are taking the unknown route. Of course we are. We want to see something new, we want to stay open to the possibilities. We are taking a chance and hoping it’ll be alright.

Instructions for Life

Like the day we drove in to meet our friends in Albufeira and we couldn’t find a parking spot and the stress was high. But of course we did find a parking spot and the stress went away when we sat drinking coffee and reminiscing.

The sun will rise tomorrow

And that lady on the zebra crossing probably didn’t even notice the noise of every dish in the cupboards sliding towards their end when we braked suddenly. Of course she thought it was me because I was sitting on the driver’s side. Maybe one of us should be looking at the road while the other is looking for parking?

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You’re beautiful…

Shady Trindade

We had our day trip to Lagos and stayed in a very, very old campsite. It’s age means it’s located close to the town and the sea. Plus, it has old, old trees, with loads of branches and leaves and leaves and trees give you shade and shade is very, very important here. To me anyway.

Can you read the notice? And see the tanker?

Oh, nearly forgot, we ran out of gas again… and so had the garage in Lagos! But the tanker was there! I’m not making this up, seriously, the tanker was filling up their gas tank when we drove in! Unfortunately, for some reason, they couldn’t sell us the gas until the next day. They said we could go on to Portimão where there might be gas.

Pastries at Chez Hands Helen

But we couldn’t go on to Portimão, we were staying the night here to visit Helen (and Carmel and Abigail) in the morning. No gas for cooking meant we would have to go out to eat… oh well. And no gas for the fridge meant we would need electricity but the campsite was not too old for electricity – so all good.

Praia da Batata, Lagos

Lagos is a beautiful old town on the south coast of Portugal, with numerous picturesque beaches. The streets are narrow with plenty of shade for wandering around (not at the beach, no shade at the beach – was tempted to bring our umbrella… the rain one.)

The Garden

We found a cute restaurant in a garden, called, The Garden. It was nestling amongst old apartment buildings. The entrance is via the back gate on a narrow street. There were mismatched tables and chairs and the ceiling was a weave of branches and trailing plants, keeping everything cool. The main food attraction was barbecue meat and the smoke from the fire did a great job of keeping the mosquitos away. Thank you, smoke. Way up above us I could see a woman hanging out her washing. I wonder did it smell of smoke when she was taking it in? Smoke’s not all good.

The washing’s out

Next morning I woke early and took advantage of the temperature to go find the beach (5 minute walk) and take some pictures for you. I’m so glad I did. Portugal again teaches me that it’s all about the natural beauty… never about the age.

Early morning at Praia do Pinhão

(Yes I’m talking about myself… and some other people I met in Lagos… and You❤️)

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Under the Fig Tree

The castle walls in Silves

We left the beach after three days and are staying in the town of Silves. Still in the Algarve but inland from the beach. The herd of goats live next door to the motorhome park here and there are stork nests all around us.

Through the narrow window of the walls

There’s a supermarket just up the road and a beautiful red stone walled enclosure of the previous castle (now gone) up the hill. We’ll stay here a week and take a one-day trip to Lagos to visit my sister in law, Helen, at the weekend.

Storks nesting at the supermarket sign

I mentioned I sit under the fig tree here thinking but I also sit under the fig tree crafting or as I call it playing. I play with a watercolour paint called Brusho. One of my favourite things to do is find a new process to repeat something I’ve made accidentally. At the moment I am searching for a process to recreate something my friend’s daughter, Megan, made accidentally – paint drips.

That’s me playing under the fig tree…

When she made them – could be 10 years ago now – she didn’t think much of them but I loved them and asked her if I could use them in a mixed media piece. She said yes. I was sure I’d be able to recreate more drips whenever I needed them. I thought it would be so easy. It’s just gravity, paint and some water after all… But I was never able to reproduce Megan’s drips.

My experiment drips

Megan went on to other things, in fact this week she finished her third level exams and will be starting work in the autumn. Go Megan! She probably can’t even remember playing with paint drips.

Can you see Megan’s paint drips?

All these years later your paint drips keep me experimenting under the fig tree, Megan❤️

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The Goat Listener

The neighboring goats

I’ve been having a chat with myself again… Remember that thought which sometimes turns into a feeling? The I’m not doing enough thought? Or I’m not being a good enough person thought? Or I’m not looking good enough? Sometimes that thought turns into a feeling. Or it’s a feeling that turns into a thought. Or at super-confusing times it stays just a feeling, an uneasiness in the background. Stop now and take a moment. Just because a thought comes into your head (or a feeling comes into your body) does not make it truth. It popped in from thin air. You can play with it. Put your attention on it and imagine you are stuffing it into a see-through glass container. Now put the lid on and look in at that thing that thinks you’re not good enough. It’s a fake! Now imagine you have laser eyes – yes, you have laser eyes. And focus your laser eyes on that fake thought/feeling until it dissolves to dust.

Happy goat

I’m sitting here in the shade of a fig tree in Silves wondering if I’m posting enough to Instagram 😳 it’s ironic as I am here in an Instagram-perfect setting with the fake thought in my head that is suggesting this moment isn’t perfect enough – that somehow it needs Instagram! Or that it needs more, more something, more doing? More social media? That it needs me to curate it rather than sit in it?

Possibly a turkey?

And then the goats turned up… doing their thing which is eating and peeing and ringing their goat-bells. They don’t seem to have a care in the world because they haven’t. What are they telling me? Why did they turn up just now? Are they here to tell me I could do better? I could raise my own goat herd? Sell the milk? Make goats cheese? (I don’t like cheese!) Are they saying I could be a goat shepherd? A goat whisperer? Give guided goat tours to stressed humans?

They just turned up!

Nope, they’re just eating. And peeing. And ringing their goat bells. This is their second tour of the field next door to our parking spot. It’s not a small field. That have to do a lot of chewing to do to get around it. They seem very focused, they know what they want and they know how to get it. They want food. The food’s in the field. They move around the field eating the food. Happy Life.

Silves Castle

If I was a Goat Listener I’d take my cue from them. I want peace and calm in my life while also doing the things I’ve promised myself I would do. The peace and calm are right here with me wherever I am in every moment. The things I promised myself I would do are things I love doing, like writing and having a creative practice and connecting deeply with other humans. I can eat up the peace and calm that is here in abundance and ring the bells with what I love. Or I can listen to the fake thoughts. You know which one I want. Happy Life.

And a stork in flight!

Pick the Goats!

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Off to the Beach

Looking up at the dangerous cliffs from the boardwalk

And then we went off to the beach called Paria de Falésia. Dangerous hight orange red cliffs, sand and sea. The hotels around here are expensive but the motorhome park isn’t. The Portuguese owner tells me the longer we stay the cheaper it gets and we’ll want to stay. We’re staying three days but we met a guy from northern Ireland who’s been here for two years!

Looking down towards the sea

We were here in 2019 and I used to get up at dawn to walk down to the beach. It was so quiet and peaceful and cool. I might be allergic to the heat. We had rain yesterday and I was so excited I got ready to go for a walk but it had stopped…

And there’s the beach and the Atlantic Ocean and Africa

One thing we’ve both noticed is how much closer everything is than we remembered. Last time it seemed a very long distance to the beach or the shop or the restaurant or the ice cream place. We feel like it’s shorter but nothing has moved… except us. We walk every day at home since 2020 and that small habit makes a huge difference.

And there are sun loungers

My friend, Aileen, when she was encouraging me to walk back then used to tell me it was free energy. She said, if you feel tired during the day just go for a walk and you’ll get free energy. (She knew Denis loves a bargain.) Of course I didn’t believe her but she was right.

Can you see the person leaning over the edge up there! Dangerous ⚠️

Now it seems like regular walking also fills up an energy tank that you can dip into when you have to walk farther than usual to get your ice cream. Might have accidentally started another habit.

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Cracking the “Getting into Faro on a Bus” Code

Step 1: find the bus stop

It’s Saturday. We’re parked up on the edge of the city of Faro. We are waiting at a bus stop about to do another thing we haven’t done for two years – get on a bus. In fact I can’t remember the last time I got on a bus, it could be three years, four years, more? Isn’t it funny how we usually don’t know when this time will be the last time? Maybe this is the last time we’ll be in Faro waiting for a bus. Or maybe this is the last time we are able to travel so freely… We’re early for the bus so I have time to think.

Step 2: keep alert for the arrival of the bus (can you see it?)

It’s a big a deal getting a bus in a new city, especially when you are not a native speaker. What number bus do we need? Which direction is the city? Which side of the road do we stand on. Do we need exact change? How much does it cost? Which door do we use? How will we know when we’ve arrived in the city? Where exactly is the city? How do we pronounce the campsite name to get back? Should we stand or sit on the bus? Do we need to wear masks on the bus?

Step 3: get on the bus

I remember as a child going on a day trip to Dublin with my parents. When we would have to get a bus my parents would ask the nearest passerby which bus goes to wherever and they would know! They always knew! Everyone on the streets of Dublin knew every bus! And they could point us to the bus stop. Years later when I lived in Dublin I found myself directing tourists to their bus and I don’t know how I was able to do that.

Step 4: celebrate your good fortune

Here at the bus stop in Faro I am on alert. We asked the receptionist all the bus type questions and remember most of her answers by the time we got to this stop – one of three (oh no, which one?) bus stops nearby. We are alone for the first fifteen minutes but then other equally alert people arrive. We, alert ones, visibly relax when a few locals saunter along just in time for the arrival of the bus. I put my hand out and my mask on and Denis offers the driver the almost exact change, she opens a drawer under the dashboard and gives him change. (Exact change not necessary – ok got it.) We move along to let the others in and find seats together near the back. The bus sets off and we are on board and also over the moon delighted with ourselves. You’d think we’d discovered gold. And we kinda did – we cracked the getting into Faro on a bus code. This is a great day!

Step 5: make sure it’s Faro

When we notice everybody (except the other camper couple) getting off the bus we realise we have arrived at the terminus and we get off too. Where do we go now… is there an old town? A castle? A church? Our maps app isn’t much help so we walk on and within 5 minutes we are at a marine. There are restaurants and shops and boats and stalls and it’s lunchtime. We wander for a little but backtrack to the marina to eat with a view. We can stop being on alert now, we have arrived. It’s later, we are home safely. We found the right bus at the terminus and although we almost went to the airport the driver remembered us and stopped the bus in time.

Step 6: take a picture of your fish bones and the strange sitting at the next table

Does everything new start like this? Questions with incomplete answers. Senses on high alert. Requests for help. Pushing over the edge of the comfort blanket. Again and again and again. Feeling overwhelmed with delight when you have survived/arrived/found your way home.

Step 7: get inspiration

Reminder to self: It’s okay to start something new and not know everything, in fact it’s a requirement.

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Remember Now

Tavira in the sun

This is the first time we’ve ever entered Portugal via the Algarve, the most popular sun holiday area in the country. It’s busy and it’s full of billboards promoting holiday experiences. There are huge shopping centres and factory outlets and it’s a bit more expensive than the north. (Which incidentally seems to be the opposite in Spain.) Now, having said that we spent our first night in Castro Marim in the free motorhome parking with a visit to the Castelo for €1.20 and an inspiring nata and coffee for two, just €4 – the opposite of expensive.

Tavira on the Gilão River

Early Tuesday morning we set off for Tavira, a very pretty town on the coast that benefits greatly from sea breezes – the temperatures have risen to 28℃ and I’m wilting a little. We are staying here for a few nights, it’s got everything we need including a supermarket nearby and the town just a 30 minute walk. The main difference between Spain and Portugal is practically everyone here speaks English which is great – except for my Spanish practice. But I have found a workaround. The Portuguese speak Spanish (and French too!) So I have been continuing to practice, although I usually take pity on them trying to understand me and go back to English.

Tavira on the map

When we got here the temperatures had just started to rise and the entrance was packed with motorhomes arriving and leaving and I was craving space and quiet. I picked the farthest parking spot from everyone else I could find. Within the hour I realised why we were alone. The train line is so close that the glasses rattle whenever it passes. I’m making it sound worse than it is, it’s a short train and very quiet and it runs only during the day and not very often but it speeds by and the glasses do rattle. We got used to it. The only disturbing thing is seeing the locals who use the tracks to take a shortcut home from the shops. Another disaster movie to add to the list – my mind loves to frighten me. I have been trying to take a picture of the train passing but it kinda sneaks up on me and then it’s gone faster than I can pick up my phone and click the camera. (I did get one)

That’s the train speeding past us

A bit like this journey, already Spain has speeded past. We are having so many new experiences and seeing new places we think we will never forget but even newness becomes familiar. If I wasn’t writing it down I would forget so much. Before we went away I bought some books – physical books, I mean. I always have a way to read digital books but I wanted something to hold in my hand this time. It’s not easy to get books in English while on the road. Anyways, two different friends had recommended The Magic by Rhonda Byrne (she wrote the secret.) It’s a book to help you start a gratitude practice. Every morning you write down ten things you are grateful for and every evening you remember one thing you are most grateful for during that day. Each day you read a chapter where she goes into a bit more detail about things you might not have thought about being grateful for.

Tavira cobblestones

I used to think of gratitude as a command, something you should do or else you’re a bad person! But gratitude is more a recommendation than a command. As in… it is recommended if you want to feel better every day notice the things you’re grateful for. Directing our attention towards all we have instead of what we’re missing.

I love old buildings

And today the thing I am most grateful for is you ❤️ You reading is very much connected to me writing. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

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The First Nata

The first bite of the first Nata of 2022

We crossed the border! We are in Castro Marim, Portugal. We were here in 2019, in fact it was the place where we started hearing an ominous knocking sound from Ruby (our motorhome) that led to a big bill in a mechanic’s workshop in France a few weeks later. No knocking this time. To celebrate our arrival we park and go straight to the nearest cafe. Dos cafe y dos natas, por favor. (Two coffees and two natas, please.) We have been dreaming of these natas for a few hundred miles now. Although it’s possible to get natas in Costa in Bray (and probably lots of other places…?) we never do. We haven’t seen them anywhere in Spain so here in a tiny cafe beside the roundabout at the edge of Castro Marim is our first taste.

Have a rest

The nata was created by the monks (or maybe the nuns…) in Lisbon pre 18th century. They used a lot of egg whites starching laundry which led to loads of leftover egg yolks. Not wanting to waste them gave birth to Pastels de Nata. Tasting my first Portuguese nata in almost three years makes me very happy. Wait! This nata seems to have ignited some ancient ritual and I hear a voice telling me a story. Could it possibly be the true story of the very first nata? It’s in old Portuguese, give me a moment to interpret…

Enter at your own risk….

We’re in a huge stone monastery in Lisbon, Portugal. The year is 1687. Sr. Agusta works in the kitchen she’s only 14 and in training to be a nun. So far she’s not doing very well. Her superiors think she spends too much time daydreaming and not enough time scrubbing. But the old nun Sr. Jerome who makes the bread for the monastery really enjoys her company. It is Sr. Jerome who suggested just now to Agusta to start experimenting with the egg yolks. Sr. Jerome has been wondering for a while what to do with the surplus. The entire congregation (nuns and monks) is fed up with her three times a week omelettes and she’s fed up dumping eggs into her bread dough. She has a few ideas for a desert but today she thinks, if Sr. Agusta doesn’t get a win soon she may be moved into the laundry room and the old nun fears for her safety surrounded by vats of boiling water.

What do you love to eat, Agusta? Agusta! Sr. Jermone has to repeat herself a few time to get Aguste’s attention.

I love pastries, sister. That’s lucky the old nun thinks. What kind of pastries do you love?

Cool shade

I love all of them but especially apple pastries, sister.

Unfortunately we have no apples, but we do have lots of egg yolks

Sr. Jerome is tired, she has been baking since 3am, She heads off to her cell for a quick nap leaving Agusta with instructions to warm some milk. What Sr. Jerome doesn’t know is that Agusta invents things all the time in her daydreams. There was once where she got very close to inventing a non stick saucepan. When the old nun is gone Sr. Agusta starts dreaming about egg yolks. In her daydream she is adding the yolks to her non stick saucepan with warm milk. Meanwhile the actual milk in the not non stick saucepan is boiling over and a smell of burning is filling the kitchen. (Can you smell it?) From her cell Sr. Jerome is dozing and you know the way a dream kind of takes on the reality of the situation you’re waking up to? Like a doorbell ringing will be in your dream and you wake and your doorbell is actually ringing? Well in her dream eggs and milk are burning and just like that she thinks of a pastry case filled with egg custard! Up she sits and manoeures herself towards the kitchen, calling, Agusta! Agusta! At the same time Agusta is running out of the kitchen, Sr. Jerome, Sr. Jerome, I have it! Creamy Custard Pastries, burnt on top!! They meet in the long corridor in front of the statue of Mary – you know the one with her smiling? Sr Jerome’s face is a picture of joy as Sr. Agusta dances around her. Mary smiles down on them. This is the best day.

Rocks and red poppies

Unfortunately, this is not the happy ending… the monk in charge of this old monastery has heard the commotion. Long story short, the recipe becomes the intellectual property of the monastery and Sr. Jerome and Sr. Agusta are written out of the history of the nata. Oh well.

Erosion of clay or slices of bread?

At first Sr. Jerome was upset, then angry. But you can’t stay angry for long in Sr. Agusta’s company, she realised there’s something more important than fame and fortune – friendship and daydreams. Sr. Jerome lets her anger go and puts her attention on supporting Sr. Agusta to be the best daydreaming pastry chef she could be. The two nuns spend the rest of Sr. Jerome’s life inventing and perfecting pastries. None were ever as famous as their natas but that didn’t bother them, they had the best life you could have in a convent with no money or power governed by monks. When Sr. Jerome died Agusta left the convent and became a pastry chef in a nearby restaurant. Even though she never got the recognition she deserved for her invention she knew the truth and now you know too.

There you are, you’re the first to know, Sr Jerome and Sr. Agusta invented the Pastel de Nata.

(Disclaimer: This story might not be true.)

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Have a good journey!

Can you make out the terrace bar under shade?

It was the peace of the place that caught my attention first. We are getting closer to the Portuguese border, we’ll probably cross in a couple of days… but for now we are on the outskirts of a town called VillaBlanca (Whitetown) and it’s well named as all the houses are painted white. The park up is owned and run by a couple from the Basque Country in norther Spain. They opened five months ago having sold up everything up north. (He used to be in a heavy metal band touring Spain, she played classical guitar.) His mother was also with them for the winter, she’d be returning north next week. They all worked hard to turn these fields into a place where you could get everything you need in your motorhome. There’s water at every parking spot, toilets and showers and a little terrace bar. Everyone who arrives gets offered a welcome drink and that’s how Denis ended up drinking cervesa (beer) at 10 am on Sunday morning…

Here comes the sheep (and goats)

They continue to work hard, while we sit sipping and chatting with other campers, they were cleaning the toilets – every dream includes a dollop of work. This place attracts people who are curious and we’ve heard some interesting life stories.

A bit of a stand off happening

In the late afternoon we investigate the town. It isn’t too hot. We made a mistake and took the main road which didn’t have a path but joy, oh joy we found the back roads for the return journey. There was a shepherd with a small heard of goats and sheep. The animals were confused by our arrival and turned in many directions. I remembered my Spanish for I’m sorry and used it with my “very, very sorry” facial expression and it was like a key. A key to connecting with another human. Some day I will be able to speak Spanish better than the one or two phrases I can manage now but in the few moments with the shepherd we were all speaking human. He could have been a farmer in the west of Ireland who’s accent was just a little too fast for me to understand. Where in spite of that the essence comes through. He might have been saying, There’s no need to be sorry sure they’ll come back when they realise you’re just passing through. Buen Viaje!

Prickly Pear?

We had been invited to another drink around the fire in the evening and so we trotted over to find the owners, some of their friends and a French couple out on the patio (the promised fire not necessary because it’s warm tonight.) One of their friends had brought their dogs and one reminded me of my sister’s daughter’s dog and somehow I located the Spanish for my sister (mi hermana) and daughter (una hija) and dog (un perro) and then I ran out of words but I showed willing. For the rest of the night the lovely woman, who’s dream this place was, translated every word and every joke for us. And one of the things she explained was that in this part of Spain slowing down is part of the culture. We are very grateful to be here.

At the end of the day…

Buen Viaje! Have a good journey!

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Simply Be and Do Gently and Slowly

Adorable statue in the center of Valverde de Camino

It’s Saturday, the rain has stopped but it is still quite a grey day. We travelled up into the hills of Andalusia this morning to a town called Valverde de Camino. It’s on the Camino de Santiago as the name hints. The park up is on the edge of town beside a little vegetable garden. The sun is coming out and the smells of soil and vegetation is just glorious. It is striking the difference between a city park up and a country park in terms of the senses.

Close up of the stitching on the statue

First of all I notice the smells. Then the visuals, here there’s a lot of green growing things and a few red tiled roofs. Then soon after i notice a feeling. Very hard to describe, like a slowness in my belly for the country location and a speediness in my veins for the city.

They are huge palm trees!

We didn’t realise how big this town was until we went walking because we are on the edge and there is nothing but nature all around and the feeling is slow. I love slow feelings.

Location of Valverde de Camino north west of Seville

When we were packing the van to come away I think I mentioned I was less overwhelmed this time than previous times. I think that’s because I had a little chat with myself. I told myself I wanted to be more intentional in how I was preparing this time. It was a long talk but at the end of it my intention was to Simply Be and Do Gently and Slowly. And to a greater or lesser degree that is how I prepared. Now that we are here that is also how I want to be.

The vegetable garden

Here on the edge of Valverde de Camino with the smells of the wet earth and the man in his vegetable garden waving to me I am reminded to simply be.

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Zone of Comfort

Can you see the oranges on the trees? In the rain?

My favourite way to visit a town or city is not in the rain but it’s also not in the blazing sun. One is a little uncomfortable and the other is even more uncomfortable – the hot one! I blame the moderate climate I grew up with and then came to believe was the only weather. Seriously the weather in Ireland is actually great… mainly. Anyways that results in my having a very small zone of comfort with regards to weather.

Rain drops in the fountain

Funnily enough I have also a small zone of comfort in other areas… which leads me to complaining. Recently I heard of a great way to decrease complaining. From a book called A Complaint Free World by Will Bowen. The idea is you stop complaining for 21 days to break the habit. And you use a wrist band or your watch and each time you notice yourself complaining you switch the wrist band or watch to the other wrist. Easy! It increases awareness and hopefully will break the pattern.

I’m still only learning Spanish… but does this mean there’s a pub in the convent?

Anyway, the whole weather thing has been on my mind for a few years now especially the first year we travelled to Portugal and it was January… and it was cold and wet! I thought it was always warm and dry in Portugal and in Spain and in France. It’s not. Then in March 2020 when the world stopped and we stayed home and Eilish came to dig the garden and the sun shone for five months – in Ireland – it became clearer that my thinking had to change around my concept of weather.

My rain gear (there was a mirror in the lift at the museum)

Then for my big birthday last year I asked for a rain coat, rain hat, rain trousers, rain shoes and I promised myself I would no longer be afraid to walk in the rain.

I like this street art

So the city of Zafra was my first real test. The rain wasn’t light, it was torrential! I was preparing myself to go out in it when it eased up. And for a moment I remembered – nothing lasts forever. Not the bad and not the good. And I walked in the not too bad rain and I took pictures of the not too grey sky and I remembered the good blue skies and really we are not here just for the sunshine and heat. We are here now for every little and large experience.

Let it rain.

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Water, Water, Everywhere

Plenty of rain in Zafra

I’m sitting in the van with a quilt on my knees. Outside the rain is lashing down and the forecast says it will continue until tomorrow evening. Meanwhile the sun is shining in Greystones. But we are here now and because we’ve had lots of days of heat we are starting to be grateful for a day of cool rain… that gratitude never happened at home. Maybe you have to travel far from home to appreciate what is right beside you.

The empty riverbed in Villafranca from the bank

We are in the city of Zafra. We arrived this morning from the town of Villafranca de los Torres. We knew the rain was coming and decided it might be better to be in a bigger city. Plus the park up in Villafranca has a lot of sandy areas that could get very muddy in the rain. It also has what looked like a dry river bed or maybe canal. I have searched the internet to discover what its purpose is but have had no success. When we arrived yesterday I could see a team of workers clearing some dust and leaves down there. I mimed asking if it was okay for me to be walking in the river/canal and they mimed back, yes, no problem.

Standing in the river…

I walked down into it. It’s a strange experience, not unlike my experience in the tunnel. Except the fear here is based on death by torrent of water whereas the tunnel was more like death by collapse of roof. It seems like the plot of an action movie. I am not a big action movie lover but must have accidentally seen a few collapsing building or dam exploding ones because my mind is very specific. Yesterday it showed me a huge wave of water coming around the bend in the distance. I didn’t stay long.

Loved all the towers in this Villafranca building which is a library I think

The other unusual thing in Villafranca de los Torres is the weigh bridge. It was in the car park right in front of the motorhome parking area. All day long trucks arrived and weighed their load. I was really interested in finding out our weight. So I convinced Denis to drive up. It costs just €1 to discover we were under our limit of 3,500kg. Phew! We had full water and a full tank of diesel making this the heaviest we would ever be and therefore not a problem but it got me wondering what we might be able to get rid of to lessen the load. Water is the obvious answer, we have a water tank that holds 100 litres and the same size grey water tank. I looked it up and that’s 75kg capacity for each tank. We tend to fill the water tank up to the top when we take in water just in case we run out before we locate the next water source. But if we trust that water will be available when we need it and only fill it three quarters up and if we empty the grey waste water at every opportunity… that will keep our weight down. There’s very little else we can do as we don’t have unnecessary stuff. And then it hit me, there were a few kilos we could get rid of – from ourselves.

Back to the rain in Zafra

Oh. Maybe we’ll only half fill the water tank, then?

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