I really REALLY need your help!

2018 5

(My first White Button)

Ok tiny band of people who read this, I need your help to spread a message:

Sew on a White Button!

It’s a long story which I will write soon but I want to get to the point quickly today. There was a reception yesterday in the President of Ireland’s house for more than 220 of the women who worked in the Magdalene Laundries (over 11,000 women worked in the laundries… against their will). You can read his speech here but here’s the line that breaks my heart,

Ireland failed you.

After the meeting with the president six busses and multiple taxis arrived for a reception at the Mansion House in Dublin. I was lucky enough to be standing on the footpath outside the Mansion House as the women and their families arrived. It was the most emotional gathering I have ever attended. The gardai stopped the traffic when the first woman arrived and there was a stillness. Then the clapping began. The clapping continued for an hour until every woman was inside. Then we walked home. I can’t forget these woman. And I don’t want to.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men (or women) do nothing. Edmund Burke.

2018 1

(Everyone has a white button lurking in a drawer, right?)

I woke up this morning with a fire in my belly – I don’t want these women forgotten! This is where I need your help. I want you to share the be-japers out of this idea. There is so little we can do but we can do this. Honour these women by remembering them.

Sew a white button for the Magdalenes, any white button, many white buttons, on to your clothes. Anywhere it will be seen. The Bigger the better. To remember, to honour, to start conversations, to share what you remember about that old kind of Ireland (the one before this generation voted for a new kind of Ireland.) Wear it to tell these woman they don’t need to feel shame, they don’t need to hide, they don’t need to stay quiet. Wear it to tell them you will listen and you will remember.

Thank you, Mairead.

PS Why white? A symbol of their beautiful essence untouched by the shaming.

PPS: There’s a website now… whitebutton.ie

Posted in Blogroll, Magdalenes | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Gentle Guide to taking a Journey: Mont Saint Michel

2018 14

(Sunset near Mont Saint Michel)

I love Mont Saint Michel, I think you would too. Yes, it’s touristy. Yes, it’s a religious monument. Yes, coffee and a croissant costs more here. But there’s something… something deeply attractive about this place, something worth going out of your way to visit in a gentle way. I once heard a tour guide say the rock part had been there for thousands of years, maybe even a hundred thousand years. That’s an old rock.

2018 1 1

(Mont Saint Michel from 3km away on the bike path near Beauvoir)

We had a long drive from Saint Palais sur Mer on Tuesday morning and we weren’t entirely sure we’d get all the way to Mont Saint Michel. It was hot and we hadn’t started very early and there were road works. But in spite of all that Denis knew I really, really wanted to see it so we kept going. We arrived about five and although we were only 3km away I took off my shoes pulled out a deck chair and had cool drink. Denis stayed in the van and to work. Three hours later we went to get some food, forgetting we were in France. We eventually found a place open and willing to feed us. On the way back we saw the sun set and got a distant glimpse of the Mont.

2018 2 1

(View from the free bus stop at the end of the cycle path)

I thought that was going to be it, we were leaving early next morning and there wouldn’t be time to visit. Next morning came and it turned out we didn’t need to leave early, we really didn’t. We could just about do the drive to Cherbourg, get the work that needed to be done, done and fit everything else in before we sat in a queue for the ferry… if we left at midday. So I set off at nine to walk the 3km. From the moment I saw the little speck of it in the distance I felt it’s draw. There was a mist and I was a long way off but it was unmistakable and I didn’t want to stop until I got there.

2018 3 1

(View on getting off the bus)

Where the land meets the sea, they have built a road and free busses drive along this road all day (and all night if you contact them.) I wanted to try the bus, so I stopped and waited. I had to wait for three busses to pass, they were all full. Each time I wondered if it might be better to walk that last bit but I didn’t, I held out and finally a bus with just enough space stopped and I crushed in with some Canadians.

2018 14 1

(View from just outside the walls)

I was first off and so perfectly placed to take pictures without other people in my shot – the bonus of squashing into a bus. Then I walked through the gates and up the path passed the shops and restaurants. I retraced my steps as I knew I had less than an hour and choose three things to do. I would have loved to write for hours looking out towards the sea or in towards the monuments. I would have loved to sit with a coffee and a croissant feeling the sea breezes.

2018 8 1

(The narrow street)

I would have loved to take pictures from every step and every wall and of every front door. I would have loved to have sent postcards to everyone I know telling them to come visit the Mont Saint Michel. I would have loved to have taken a video of the narrow paths and lanes. I would have loved to have asked the Canadians why they choose to come here. I was free I had one hour and I could do anything but I couldn’t do everything. I choose three things: Coffee. Croissant. Postcard.

2018 7 1

(My view)

First I purchased the postcard. I had stamps from last year. Then I found a cafe that would sell me coffee and croissant. It took three attempts. One was finished breakfast, one had no croissants, one would be open at noon. The fourth had an upstairs with a view out to the sea but there were no seats so I went up to the next floor. My view was of the stone buildings a very long arm’s length away and little birds flying in and out of the window. (With a sign saying: don’t feed the birds, it’s not hygienic.) I wrote some postcards and ate my croissant and drank my coffee.

2018 10 1

(View from inside the walls)

Then it was 11am, time to leave. I walked quickly back down the stairs, along the narrow streets, past the post office, posted the cards, through the gates, along the path to the bus. I was first on the bus this time. I got off at the bike path and turned around to take one final look at the Mont. It was hazy again and small. Then I walked back to the motorhome aire.

2018 4 1

(There’s an angel on top of the cathedral spire)

I would love to tell you: Go visit Mont Saint Michel! If you have a motorhome it’s easy, stay at the motorhome aire in Beauvoir for €12.50 a night. If you don’t… maybe it’s possible to get a cheap Ryanair flight to Beauvais, not take the bus to Paris, but find a bus or train to take you here instead? Maybe you could stay somewhere close by so you can walk each day along by the river to the free bus?

Mont png

(Goodbye Mont Saint Michel)

Unfortunately, not everyone can go so instead maybe you would permit me to tell you: Go visit some place lovely! Your favourite forest, cafe, river, park? Walk there or park at the furthest spot and walk from there. Consider what you would love to do. Choose what you could do with the time and resources you have. Then… Do it. Stay in that lovely place until you have to come home… but before you leave take a little look back.

Thank you for joining me on the daily blog, it’s been lovely writing to you xxx Mairead.

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Back to normal…

2018 1

(French aire)

We crossed the border into France on Saturday and stayed at a French vineyard that night. We thought it might be nice to do a wine tasting and then stay the night but wine tasting happens on Monday to Wednesday and this was Saturday… We had forgotten the France way of life. Everything has a time, if you want lunch at three… you will be hungry. This is good, we will get back to normal quicker now. We stayed the night anyway and availed of their lovely shower and fine electricity, all for €6.

2018 6

(Probably not a great parking space)

Next morning we were on our way to Saint Palais sur Mer to visit our friends. The previous day had been spent on motorways and we were determined to see some green French countryside. And we did, in fact it felt like we had moved location to the 1960’s. It was a beautiful sunny Sunday as we passed through crumbly stone villages and agricultural country – mostly vines but also grain crops, like oats and barley. We drove through a small town called Cadillac and there was an old car rally with ancient Peugeots and Renaults and Citroens. Their drivers dressed up and smiling broadly as the wind whipped what hair they had, in all directions.

2018 9

(Fishing (sorry can’t remember what they are called) at Saint Palais sur Mer and in the background the lighthouse)

We arrived at A&J’s house at 3.05pm only five minutes late. Great, almost normal. We unloaded ourselves and our washing and proceeded to wash everything. Aren’t friend’s washing machines great? We went out to dinner that evening by bicycle. There’s a great bicycle path all the way to a great restaurant forty minutes away and I got to use one of their electric bikes. It was fun. Denis had to ride his bike… it was a little rusty from sitting on the back of Ruby in the rain. The brakes were making a strange noise which was very effective in keeping the pedestrians off the cycle path. It was very funny… well, three of us thought it was very funny.

2018 2

(Breakfast… before the food arrived)

Next morning we had coffee and a Jaffa cake in bed! It’s what happens in their house and that’s before breakfast. While we were waking slowly and acclimatising, J cycled to the town to queue at the boulangerie! Breakfast was a feast of strawberries and cherries, porridge and muesli, croissants with two different kinds of bread, juice, coffee and tea (mint with milk, strangely.) I did get a picture of the table laid but I couldn’t manage to stop myself eating long enough to get a picture of it filled with food.

2018 3

(Secret garden at the arty town)

After breakfast we went to visit a very pretty town (they all seem to be very pretty) Mornac near the marches. Even the car park (grass underneath and trees overhead) was pretty. There were loads of arty shops and galleries and nice things to photograph. That night we walked along by the sea to a different restaurant where we ate mussels and watched the waves.

2018 12

(Our mussels restaurant. We had seats at the railing near the corner on the left)

We had a long drive next morning to Mont Saint Michel so we set off early. Nah, we didn’t… we had our coffee and Jaffa cake in bed and J cycled back to the town and we had the big breakfast again… then we set off. It was a lovely re-introduction to normal life. Well, it was if I can get Denis to cycle to Tesco for the fruit and croissants and nice bread and the Jaffa cakes… I suppose we’ll have to make up our own normal.

Thank you A&J for letting us play in your normal xxx Mairead.

Ps Quick guide to going on a journey to Mont Saint Michel, tomorrow.

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Just leaving France now…

2018 14

(Tourist Office in Palencia)

We’re still on our journey home but only just. As I write we’re sitting in a supermarket car park in Cherbourg, less than twenty minutes from the ferry and almost the last bit of the journey home. We’ll soon be moving over there to get into the queue. Lots of things, nice things have been happening since I last wrote to you. We stayed an extra day in Palencia, which was lovely, but it meant we had to drive longer between sleepovers. I suppose that’s another difference between the outward journey and the return… the consequences.

2018 1

(Old stationery shop)

So I got another chance to walk the streets of the old town and I even visited a very old original looking stationery shop. The owner was a young man, maybe it had been his grandfather’s shop. He was chatting to a friend when I came in looking for blank cards (you remember I ran out of them in Portugal?) Neither of them spoke English but they did everything they could to understand me. The friend guided me to a computer behind the counter and brought up Google Translate for me. I typed, I want to make greeting cards, do you have any blank cards? (Maybe I could have been more eloquent or possibly clearer?) Or maybe no one in Spain makes cards or “blank card” means something completely different. Google couldn’t help. The friend was explaining he would go and get someone who speaks English when I decided maybe this is how my stationery addiction ends. I thanked him multiple times and left empty-handed but kinda joyful.

2018 8

(Where are we?)

Next day we drove to another city we hadn’t been in previously, Vitoria Gasteiz. The brochure from the tourist office says it holds the sustainable tourism certification Biosphere… and it has 42 square meters of green space per person who lives here! We were only here for one night but I would love to visit again and see some of the seven parks dotted around the city.

2018 7

(The tram runs on grass)

They also have a free motorhome parking and it’s very near their tram system, making the journey into the old part of the city easy peasy. The tram line is set in grass which is surprisingly nostalgic. I think there’s something similar in Krakow. Can’t help saying, Aww isn’t that lovely, even to yourself.

2018 9

(Made in Cork!)

I wandered around for hours in the very quiet afternoon and found some Irish pubs. Parts of the city looked like Temple Bar on a sunny Sunday with people sitting outside pubs on the narrow streets. The I found a little cake and coffee shop crying out to me. There were empty tables outside and when I opened the door there was no one inside but the smell was amazing. You remember the smell… you are little, you arrive home from school and there’s a sponge cake baking in the oven?  No? Ok, if your Mammy didn’t bake (my Mammy did – thanks Mammy!) then it’s worth your while finding an easy recipe, bake a sponge cake and give yourself the treat of the smell. You don’t even have to eat it!

2018 10

(One of the squares in Vitoria Gasteiz)

There was a cake baking. Eventually a young man in an apron came out of the kitchen, he and his girlfriend love to bake and decorate cakes and they run the shop together and bake. Yes the cake and coffee shop was indeed open. I had green tea and lemon drizzle cake (the sponge was still in the oven.)

2018 11

(One of the pieces in the Artium, Vitoria Gasteiz)

I wandered some more and found the Modern Art Museum, Artium. Very interesting with a bonus …the names and description of the art was only in Spanish and Basque. This is a bonus because then you can only enjoy the pieces you like and ignore the pieces you don’t with no need to understand someone else’s interpretation. I’ll tell you about our journey through France tomorrow. In the meantime…

…see you in 17 hours, Ireland! Mairead.

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Dog Necklace and Free Wifi

2018 5

(Tierra de Campos from a moving motorhome)

Yesterday we travelled through a vast flat landscape, with gently undulating bits for added variety, called Tierra de Campos. The name means Land of Fields and that describes it well. The road we drove on was very good but no places to stop for photographs. I took some from the van but wished I’d washed the windscreen first…

2018 3

(See, no space to stop)

After two hours we arrived at the Spanish town of Palencia. We had never heard of it before but there’s a great motorhome parking spot with electricity and wifi, all free, so here we are. The town which is surprisingly beautiful, is a short walk through a park and over an old bridge. I got some pictures there and wrote in my notebook.

2018 10

(Main pedestrian street is called Calle Mayor)

The shopping street is full of beautiful buildings interspersed with very old cathedrals, churches and monasteries. There’s a lot to see in a very small space.

2018 8

(The old Roman bridge between the park and the town)

We’re getting used to being in a different country. There’s been a few changes… The time zone is different. The language is different. The availability of English speakers has reduced dramatically causing us to dig deep into our Spanish language resources. The love of change instead of banknotes is gone. The ease of using a credit card has increased… detrimentally.

2018 9

(Some lovely old shops here)

Another change is the shops close during the middle of the day, they open again around 5pm. So far we haven’t seen a big change in prices, definitely more expensive than Portugal but still way less than Ireland. I don’t know if it’s true of all of Spain but in this town there are a lot of Dad’s taking care of small children. There was an adorably lovely Dad yesterday pushing a small (<12 months) boy in a buggy with another possibly 3 year-old child wandering around him. But what made the Dad adorable was he was holding the little boy’s soother in his mouth. Well, that’s where I used to keep it clean too.

2018 7

(Interesting exhibit in the Archaeological museum… not dog hair)

I went to the Archaeological museum too and it was free on certain days and to certain ages and if you are a member of the EU. I seemed to qualify under one of those, the man in the ticket office didn’t have an English, but he decided it was free to me. Full of interesting exhibits including mosaics. They also had an exhibition of the work of art students in the area. The one I cannot forget is a felted necklace made from the artist’s dog’s hair!

Better that than stuck to the cushions I suppose… Mairead.

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Last day in Portugal, sniff, sniff

2018 2

(There’s a steep walk from the parking)

We found another wall. In the town of Bragança in the north-east corner of Portugal. The town provides free overnight motorhome parking just under the castle walls. Unfortunately, the castle was closed on Monday but I went to see the walls, they’re open all the time.

2018 3

(Can you see the road sign? Cars go through this gate in both directions!)

They can’t close the walls because there are houses in there, people are still living within the walls. It reminded me of Carcassonne in southern France. Except for the crowds. And the number of shops. It’s what I wished for in Carcassonne – peace and quiet.

2018 6

(This is too high! Too high!)

Remember my new rule about climbing city walls? A railing is required. I forgot. Somehow these walls lulled me into a false sense of security and again I found myself very high up without a railing… I started off at a low section with only four steps – no problem. By the time I was looking down over the houses I was thinking of ringing Denis. Instead I turned around very slowly and kept looking up until I was back where I started on the ground in front of the four steps.

2018 7

(The views were nice though)

Later that evening we went to dinner at a restaurant inside the walls. I booked it after I climbed backwards down the four steps. It got great reviews in the parkings app and as this was our last night in Portugal we were celebrating. Or maybe commiserating. Anyway, we arrived at 7.31pm. one minute after opening. There was a young couple already seated (must have been waiting outside) and we waited while the waiter explained the menu to them. Then he came over and directed us to the table right next to them… There was no one else in the restaurant and the four of us were as close as family. The waiter went back to explaining and Denis and I partook of the up and down eyebrow thing you do in such situations.

2018 8

(This gate is only one way…)

After the waiter left them they were speaking in one of the languages we don’t speak (i.e. any other language that’s not English) so we wouldn’t be able to understand them and they wouldn’t be able to understand us, grand. The waiter arrived with us and explained the menu and as we were deciding I overheard our neighbour say they were on bicycles. In English. Right so they will understand us… more eyebrows. But hang on.

2018 4

(View of new part of town from inside the walls)

I have a secret talent. It turns out that even though I can’t speak another language I am very good at identifying languages. Go me. I identified they were speaking German to each other or it could have been Dutch or maybe Flemish? It didn’t matter this meant they had cycled from Germany (or Holland or Belgium.) I was now more interested in them than I was in Denis so I ignored his eyebrows and the first chance I got I turned my head a little and said, did you say you were travelling by bicycle?

2018 5

(The easy bit that tempted me)

That was it. We talked all night, like family – on a good day. The language was German but they both speak English. They’d been travelling 100km a day, by bicycle! They had travelled all over Portugal and then down to Morocco and this was their last day in Portugal too. They’d been to Lisbon and Serpa as well, remember Serpa? She’s a language teacher. When her secondary school teacher told her French was the hardest language she decided to study that first! I can’t remember how many languages she has but it’s her full-time job, well except when they can negotiate holidays like this six-week trip. She explained why I have such difficulty with languages (I’ll tell you later.) He was born in East Germany and was 11 when the wall came down. The biggest impact for him was his heroes from comics and television disappeared overnight to be replaced by our heroes… that made me sad. He also missed their sweets. They were really inspiring and such a gift for our last night. Before we left we all thanked the waiter for seating us together and he nodded knowingly. He’s French, they know stuff.

Oh and the reason I have difficult with languages? It takes time to learn and I give up too soon. Mairead.

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Scary Story by the Lake

2018 3

(Our spot beside the lake at Macedo de Cavaleiros)

On Sunday we parked beside a lake. People arrived and left all day to go for walks or just to have a look. They brought children, dogs or cameras. Some just got out long enough to smoke a cigarette. Then there was one guy on a bicycle with panniers full of camping gear. He rode around the car park first while taking a video with his phone. Quite impressive, to be able to manage riding the bike and videoing his surroundings. He headed off in the direction of the forest path past the cork trees. I wondered why he was taking a video.

2018 5

(Cork tree near the lake. The number 7 indicates the cork was last harvested in 2007)

The constant flow of people visiting stopped as the sun set and it was just us. So peaceful and quiet… I began to worry. A thought struck me… maybe the guy on the bike was videoing his route in case he disappeared under suspicious circumstances. This was a deserted lake. This is the kind of place scary movies are made. Maybe we should be videoing too? No one knows exactly where we are…

2018 6

(Path is flooded. There was a lot of rain in Portugal this year)

Imagination is a great thing but not that useful to me at a deserted lake. Unless I want to write a scary story… Do I want to write a scary story? Well I do seem to have plenty of material, there’s a deserted lake, a forest, a cyclist, the dark. Just one problem. Unfortunately I take scary stories very personally. I get into the story and the story gets into me and before I know it I think it’s real.

2018 2

(In summer the lake is used for swimming and water sports)

It would be so much fun to imagine a lovely story and think it was real. One where the cyclist is a future famous filmmaker who travels all over the world filming his journey. One night in the future we are watching a documentary called, The camping experience that changed everything and we are astonished to see ourselves peeping out the window of Ruby in the car park at Macedo de Cavaleiros! We contact the cyclist/filmmaker and he tells us the amazing thing that happened that night in the forest by the lake in the dark.

Amazing. Mairead.

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