What if life was just about being?

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(On the road to Nantes)

Today, Thursday, we are in Nantes, France with just three days left of this journey. We have been travelling back since Sunday morning from Lagos in the Algarve, Portugal. We spent Sunday night in a lovely car park in Estremoz, Portugal, near the Spanish border. Monday night we were in the beautiful city of Burgos, Spain (thank you to Angela for this suggestion, two years ago!) Tuesday night we were next to a huge lake near the town of Mimizan south of Bordeaux, France. Wednesday night we stayed in the town of Surgeres, France. For both Friday and Saturday night we will be at Mont St. Michel and on Sunday night we will be sailing home to arrive in Greystones on Monday. At this moment I am very, very tired and very, very grateful.

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(Like two old friends by the lake)

I often think about the messages life brings us… not necessarily the hard messages, the illnesses or the problems. But the small warm and gentle encouraging messages. Messages that in a normal day, we can miss. When we started this journey I didn’t think I would be blogging but it turned out I couldn’t stop myself. I missed the extra something writing brought to the experience of travel. Now, I think I know what the extra something is… writing makes those messages visible. When I started with the first blog it had a step, Step 1. Write. I didn’t expect there would be more steps but a step turned up each day when I sat down to blog. Now that I see them all together I can see the gentle encouraging message life has been sending me.

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  • Step 1. Write.
  • Step 2. Stop Talking to Fear.
  • Step 3. Repeat Step 2.
  • Step 4. Take it easy and find a way to enjoy the journey, whatever it brings.
  • Step 5. Take more tram rides.
  • Step 6. Do the work.
  • Step 7. Stay awake to the beauty.
  • Step 8. Acceptance, it’s not always possible to fit in.
  • Step 9. Gratitude… for the old, slow computer that is working.
  • Step 10. Live in the present.
  • Step 11. Make time for rest.
  • Step 12. Believe it, you are so, so beautiful.
  • Step 13. Always wait until Monday.
  • Step 14. Say thank you to your washing machine.
  • Step 15. Less junk, less storage.
  • Step 16. Listen, you are alive, isn’t that amazing?
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(Beautiful Burgos)

I am human so I like to think that I’m not wasting my time flitting around in a camper van. I’d like to think I was accomplishing something… or at least bringing something useful into being… Now I think that the only thing I can be bringing into being is myself. Wouldn’t it be great if that was enough? Yes. Maybe it is.

Step 17. Be, Mairead.

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The Complain App

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(The end of a journey)

This week we are as far south as we’re going. That is, on the Algarve coast between the town of Lagos and the beach at Luz. Soon we will be turning around and heading home. I always find this bit difficult, like re-crossing a threshold when you’d really like to stay in the room. This time is slightly worse, when I thought it would be slightly better but there it goes… I’m grumpy and grouchy and frustrated and irritated and it’s like I have an app running, the Complain app…. and then I’m reminded of the washing machine.

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(Time to leave)

Say thank you to your washing machine, Mairead. Gratitude, do I appreciate what I have? Nope. I am sitting looking out at the sun, the temperature is increasing and it will be a hot day but unless I stay super aware all day I will forget that this is amazing, that there is hot sun and I am bathed in it. I will become busy searching for what is missing or using what is found or filling what is empty or emptying what is full. At some point I will sense a niggling discomfort but I will not realise it is coming from a place deep inside and it is whispering, Listen, you are alive, isn’t that amazing?  Instead of listening to the discomfort I will launch the Complain app and I will point an accusing finger at the discomfort and I will never know that the discomfort is me, wishing I would listen. You are alive, isn’t that amazing?

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(New life)

When it is gone, when the blue sky turns to grey cloud and the increasing temperatures turn to decreasing temperatures… I will remember what I had. And will I be grateful? Nope… I won’t, unfortunately, I won’t be grateful. I will launch the Complain app again and this time I will point an accusing finger at the grey clouds and I will long for the sun and the heat and the blue sky. I will feel the discomfort but I won’t hear it’s message… and I will never know that even in the grey cloud place, I am alive and that is amazing.

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(A new journey)

Unless… Ok I’m going to delete the Complain app! Then I’ll download the Gratitude app in it’s place. Every time I am tempted to complain I will become super aware.. like a prowling tiger. I will listen to the discomfort. I will hear it’s message. I will start to realise that no matter where I am and no matter what is happening and no matter how much rain is falling (or how many jobs I have to do or how miserable I feel) I am alive right now and that’s pretty amazing!

Step 16. Listen, you are alive, isn’t that amazing, Mairead?

P.S. Thank you to my two friends who reminded me about my washing machine. I am grateful.

Posted in Blogroll, Travel

The castle at Alcácer do Sal

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(I took the scenic (i.e. scary) route to the castle)

We’re still at the campsite with the great washing machine and I finally went to see the castle. It’s not really a castle, just the ruins of the walls of a castle with little chapels and a former convent which is now a Pousada (fancy hotel) inside the walls. When they were turning the ruins of the convent into the hotel they excavated the area and now there’s a museum under the hotel.

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(Nice view from the top)

First up there was a video presentation (in English) about the area. Just in case I didn’t make it clear we arrived here by accident, someone posted a nice review about the campsite and the washing machine and here we are. But there’s something a bit different about this place and that’s what i learned watching the video… there’s been people living here in this town since 3,000 years BC.

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(It’s a very cute town)

That means the people walking down the street, the people we meet in the supermarket, the people serving our coffee, their families have been living here for the past 5,017 years (approximately.) Ok some of them may have moved here more recently than that (the Romans 2200 years ago, the Moors, 1200 years ago, they built the castle, the christian armies on a crusade 900 years ago) but there’s been people living here in this small town for a long time. I think that makes it very interesting.

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(I love this piece, can you see the skull near the clasp?)

After the video I went into the crypt part of the museum, it’s not very big but it’s really nicely arranged with plenty of exhibits. My favourites were the beads and the sewing tools – scissors and pins. I also liked the jewellery. There were also remnants of walls from the Iron Age, the Roman period and the Islamic period. It made me wonder what would survive from our house, from our stuff in 900, or 2000 year time…. probably the plastic storage boxes!

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Step 15. Less junk, less storage, Mairead.

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Wash Day

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(Another lovely sunset)

Yesterday was wash day. Washing your clothes while travelling in a camper van requires a little extra organisation. [But before we start a health warning… Kate, close the email… there’s a picture of a snake in this post!] When we arrived last week we were at the limit of our clean clothes and we picked this site because it had a washing machine. It turned out to have so much more but that’s another story. So as soon as all our passport details were handed over I asked about tokens for the washing machines. (Would you like to know the cost? €3.73 and the sun dries them for free.)

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(Our washing…)

So we parked and I went straight to the washing machine room. But it was full. The washing machine, I mean. With someone else’s clothes. On other trips I would have happily taken out someone else’s washed and wet clothes and placed them on top of the machine to put mine inside but we’d had bit of an incident back in Vila Chã. There was a great washing machine there too and a dryer. Anyway, the incident… it had been raining for a few days but on the morning of the incident the sun was blazing so I took off to reception to buy a token. When I arrived at the machine with my bag of washing and my token there were three bags of washing beside the machine. There was also a man pulling clothes out of the dryer. I smiled and put my bag down in the queue.

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(Perfect drying weather)

I came back thirty minutes later to the incident…. the cleaning lady gesticulating and talking loudly in Portuguese to the maintenance man. I was considering backing out of the washing machine room when the maintenance man turned to me asking, is that your washing? pointing to the dryer. Sensing, clarity was of the utmost importance I shook my head violently while saying, No, No, No. Communication is great when it works and it worked this time because when I had stopped shaking he was smiling at me and telling me to go ahead and put my washing into the now empty machine… No idea what happened but it makes me think twice before taking someone else’s clothes out of a machine. On this occasion our need to have clean clothes made me brave.

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(This little snake stood between me and my washing…)

And now I’m feeling a ton of gratitude for my washing machine at home. When I’m at home I never notice how easy it is to throw some washing in the washing machine. I just don’t notice. I don’t notice and I take it for granted. But the way to a joy filled life and a happy filled heart is to notice all the simple things around me that bring me joy and allow every simple thing in my life to flow. Gratitude isn’t about being nice to someone, gratitude is about noticing the things and people who make your life lovely….filled with love. Noticing them and thanking them with love.

Step 14. Say thank you to your washing machine, Mairead.

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Might be driving illegally…?

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(New shoots)

I hope you had a lovely St.Patrick’s Weekend! I made a green shamrock to celebrate but it looks more like a green ace of clubs… and I had a very trying experience purchasing an electronic toll card online. It’s a long and winding story… Like at home there are toll booths and there are free-flowing electronic tolls that read your licence number here in Portugal. When we arrived in February at the town of Chaves we stopped at their electronic toll setup machine for foreigners. There we connected our credit card to our camper van number plate and off we went with our legal receipt. Simple. Easy.

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(New family)

Then on Saturday morning something woke me up early and made me look at the receipt. It was about to expire. It has expired today. No problem, there was a phone number at the bottom of the receipt, I’d ring and extend the validity date. I could handle this. I rang the number and the man who answered spoke perfect English. Perfect enough to make it clear that I could not extend the validity date. But… I could purchase a toll card at the post office on Monday or online anytime.

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(Old day)

Rather than wait until Monday (mistake number one) I went online to purchase the card (mistake number two). There was a very helpful site with Frequently Asked Questions and both the questions and the answers were very helpfully in English. Unfortunately, when I clicked on BUY the card I was linked to the Portuguese Post Office website. I love the Portuguese Post Office. They have patiently sold me stamps and envelopes and delivered (in super quick time) my letters and cards. Nevertheless, I do not like their website. It’s in Portuguese (naturally) and no matter how much I want to believe I could possibly recognise some words I cannot actually recognise any words…

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(Old door)

But you will remember Google Translate? The app on my phone that will translate typed words into English? I was working on this problem for an hour by now and although I was losing the will to live I kept going and eventually I bought the card! Yay! And I successfully connected the card to our licence plate! Yay! Then I proceeded to connect the card to my phone so that I could check the balance and keep it topped up and completely legal while we drove in Portugal.

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(Old cobblestones)

That’s when the post office website changed the language to Spanish… Google translate was giving me some odd translations about monsters and caves. That was my first hint something bad was happening (I thought I was just losing my mind.) And yet I kept going turning the language back to Portuguese while wishing their English language button would suddenly come to life (but no…)

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(Old sign)

I never did get to connect the online card to my phone.. we might possibly be driving around illegally. On top of that there was a message – in English –  on the card: PLACE IT VISIBLY ON (VEHICLE’S) DASHBOARD….  We may have to put the laptop in the windscreen for the rest of our stay in Portugal… somebody forgot to bring the power cord for the printer so we can’t print the card.

Step 13. Always wait until Monday, Mairead.

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Broken Shells Calling

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(Friday evening in Furadouro)

I mentioned yesterday that I loved the town of Furadouro and one of the reasons was the beach. Not the sand but the shells. Not the perfectly pretty and complete shells. The broken ones. I had started noticing broken shells on the beach at Vila Chã, I thought they were interesting but not as interesting as the terracotta coloured stones. Then at Lavos Praia there were no terracotta stones but loads and loads of little broken shells.

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(A mix of broken shells and pebbles)

They weren’t everywhere, they seemed to be washed up in a line parallel to the tide line… a broken shell line, but there were so many I couldn’t but notice them. I started picking them up and once I started it was hard to stop, it was like they were calling me. Why would they be calling me?

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(Some of the bigger shells I saved!)

The ones in Furadouro were bigger, the chipping away had only begun, but in time (unless I saved them?) they would be tiny little broken bits. I wonder if shells start off perfectly pretty and complete somewhere up north and they get little pieces chipped off as they travel south, until they are so small they look like sand. I saved a bag full from Furadouro. I think I know why they were calling me…

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(and more…)

When I picked up the first broken shell I was surprised it was so smooth at the broken edge. It was like it had been sanded with sandpaper. Of course it had been sanded with the original sandpaper… sand. That’s why I kept picking them up. They were lovely to hold and to run my finger along the smooth edge. And they reminded me of buttons. I love buttons. But it wasn’t just their button-like feel, I also recognised a human-like feel.

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We start off perfectly pretty and complete and then bits get chipped off and we’re broken. We feel broken. We chip off others. We break others. Everyone we know is broken in some way. But these shells were asking me… Can’t you see how different we are? How very interesting we are? How we are so, so beautiful in our brokenness? I’m bringing a bag of broken beautiful shells home, please let me know if you’d like one to remind you that you are beautiful.

Step 12. Believe it, you are so, so beautiful, Mairead.

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Go, go, go. Stop.

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(The Atlantic Ocean at Furadouro)

When I was last talking to you we were in the campsite with the Tubes… and the computer could not be fixed… Well, Monica rang on Friday and said it was ready… she didn’t elaborate so we weren’t sure if it was actually working. But Denis was not deterred, he was ready to take it back no matter what condition… I think this could possibly be a form of unconditional love…? for an inanimate object?

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(Furadouro again)

So off we dashed to Porto. We had planned on parking outside the city at a camper parking place (and getting a bus into the Porto.) When we arrived the camper park was full so we had to drive all the way to the computer repair shop in the middle of the city. The biggest problem about driving in any city is finding a spot big enough to park. The next biggest problem is – driving in a city. Fortunately, it is only a problem for me and as I am not actually driving I kept my eyes mostly closed.

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(Cute houses in Furadouro)

And would you believe when we arrived there was a line of huge parking spaces right outside! We realised they were short-term parking and very expensive (so no one wanted to use them – which was very lucky for us) when we were leaving which was much too late to pay… luck upon luck.

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(The convent/monastery at Tomar)

The computer was fixed! Monica was thrilled to see us go, she had begun to recognise Denis’ phone number when he rang and  even at a distance I could hear the dread in her voice when she picked up the phone and said, “Hello Denis”. So we could finally leave the area of Porto and we had no idea where to go, Monica suggested south along the coast so as it was sunny that’s what we did. We arrived at the seaside town of Furadouro. I loved this place, for some reason it reminded me of a film set or a Disney park…

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(Frescos in the monastery at Tomar)

On Saturday morning we moved further south to a small town with a camper car park beside roundabout. On Sunday morning we moved on to the town of Tomar, I had been there and loved it when I was on my camino walk. Up on the hill above the town are the ruins of an old monastery and convent that were in some way connected with the Templar knights. We spent a few hours here and moved on to the town of Fatima and then onto another small town to stay at the Fire Station where there was a small camper car park.

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(Huge outdoor area in front of the church at Fatima)

We are now in a very nice municipal campsite beside the town of Alcacér do Sal. There’s a lot of birdsong and a supermarket just up the road. There’s a castle in the town so I’m happy to settle down here for a few days and wander towards the castle tomorrow.

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(Our view today… those white blotches are birds who fly into that field and for some reason remain close to the sheep)

Step 11. Make time for rest, Mairead.

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