Discomfort Zone

2018 2

(Freezing grass)

It was absolutely freezing when we got up this morning. It was also literally freezing… outside the van. Luckily it was over the 4℃ necessary inside to keep the drinking water inside the tank. We decided in spite of the lovely electricity, Ourol probably wasn’t the place to be, altitude wise. So we headed south down the mountain and closer to Portugal. The weather didn’t initially get better, it got worse hitting -3.7℃! …and then the fog came back.

2018 3

(Sitting outside in the sun!)

Now we’re in the Spanish city of Pontevedra. The old part of the city is very attractive and the weather is very attractive too, 15℃ (am I very Irish, talking about the weather all the time?) we were even able to sit outside and top up our vitamin D. We found another lovely free aire close to the river and the old town with cafes and shops. As it’s Saturday most of the shops are closed – Saturday afternoon closing. They will probably be closed tomorrow too. The restaurants close in the afternoon and open from about 9pm to 11.30pm – the Spanish eat very late.

2018 4

(Convento de San Francisco de Pontevedra)

I mentioned in an earlier post that there was one week in March when we need to be in Lisbon and that’s because I am attending a workshop. I was very excited about attending until the pre-workshop homework arrived. Nah, I’m only joking, I’m still very excited! But there is one assignment that has me concerned. I have to take a picture of a person. A real live person. I only take pictures of streets and buildings and trees and flowers, I don’t take pictures of people. They don’t like me taking pictures of them. I really don’t want to upset them…

2018 8

(Huge cross…)

So I need to ask their permission. Of course I could cheat and take a picture of Denis, but something about connecting with a stranger, another unknown human takes me so far from my comfortable picture-taking that I think it might actually be a good idea to try. As we walked the old streets of Pontevedra today I began to look for people I could possibly, maybe ask. The first person was an older man wearing a knitted hat, he was walking towards me down some stone steps. Just as I reached him he sat down on the steps, I think he was tired. I kept walking. I can still see his face and that hat… Then I saw a young man wearing a tan apron, walking purposefully while smoking a cigarette, for some reason he made me think of a shoemaker. I didn’t go up to him. Then I passed a woman in a pale pink fake fur coat, I was so close to asking her but I kept walking when I realised she was sitting in a wheelchair. I thought I might offend her. I can still see her too and the thing is, her wheelchair was a beautiful blue. It’s a really good picture… in my head.

2018 9

(Nature in the city)

I think I’m (definitely probably) going to start asking people, I just hope it’s soon. Because now I’ve put myself into a discomfort zone… And the discomfort is growing. There’s the discomfort of asking someone can I take their picture and now there’s the discomfort of not asking them.

Do I have to wait for the discomfort of not asking them to exceed the discomfort of asking them? Mairead.

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We have electricity!

2018 5

(Just as the sun was rising at Ortiguera. Can you see the fishing boat coming home?)

We have moved from our lighthouse location overlooking the Bay of Biscay, but before we left I took some pictures as the sun was rising. Now we’re at a new location on the edge of a small town called Ourol, it’s further west and inland a little, there’s a map below. The lovely people of the town provide free electricity, free wifi and free water!

2018 7

(The little beach this morning)

This is our first time this trip availing of free electricity and it means we could stay here a second night. Normally we generate our own electricity, by driving. It’s not enough to run a heater or the blender or the coffee machine but it’s plenty to charge our laptops and phones for the day. Depending on how far we have driven the previous day we could possibly get a second day’s worth of charging. We’ve been travelling short amounts so we keep moving to keep generating.

2018 1

(Huge tourist map)

Free wifi on the other hand is unheard of, except for that time last year in France when there was an aire beside a McDonalds and we were able to reach their wifi. Of course the smell of the frites was too great a temptation. Because we have wifi here there’s a project I would like to do.

Map 23rd Feb

(The red marker shows where we are now, the black circle where we were last night. Map from Google Maps)

We have a camera on the dashboard all the time as we drive and I thought it might be interesting to put a few clips of the roads we travel each day so you can see how beautiful (and sometimes scary) it is. The wifi means I will have enough “power” to upload the video. (I will put a link here where you can watch it.)

Now I’m really looking forward to coffee for breakfast, Mairead.

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We have a lighthouse!

2018 3

(Ortiguera. To the right… a little cove…)

I hope my photographs can do some justice to the beauty of the place we have found ourselves in today because I am struggling to find words to describe it… Oh and the rain has stopped.

2018 6

(…to the left… a village)

We passed this way two years ago when we first travelled in the camper van to Portugal. We stayed very near here in a supermarket car park, our first. It was grand, great for getting groceries but their 3am delivery truck was very noisy. We had no idea, just 30 minutes down the road there was somewhere as beautiful as this spot.

2018 9

(Steps to bring you down into the cove)

I suppose we could have done some research. We could have joined some internet forums. We could have at least bought a guide-book. We didn’t. So we missed it. But we got to experience it this time.

2018 8

(And behind us… a church. Does something about this remind you of old westerns on the telly?)

Mind you, getting here was a little fraught…. there was fog…

2018 1

(That’s a 130km/h motorway with a very steep drop over those guard rails…)

And a humpbacked bridge with trolls…. (can’t be completely sure about the trolls).

2018 2

(There was literally inches on either side of the van…)

Experience is funny, you never know what it’s going to teach you. We are travelling a little differently this year, we have had different experiences since the last time we were on this road and they taught us things we never knew we didn’t know.

2018 10

(View from the dining room…(!))

Like slowing down sometimes gets you there faster… when there is somewhere like here, Mairead.

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Can I check your oil and water?

2018 2

(That’s a ginormous sign)

We now have a petrol station to add to our locations. I think this is the first time we’ve ever stayed the night at a petrol station, but I know petrol stations… My Dad ran a petrol station in Cashel for over thirty years and as young children it was one of the favourite places to visit for my brother and I. The other favourite place was the Rock of Cashel. (In case you didn’t know that’s a famous and beautiful historic site.) When we got a bit older and started working in the business it wasn’t as much fun but we did enjoy meeting people and earning money. The smell of petrol still brings back memories so I feel quite at home here. If not for the lack of language skills I could probably offer my oil checking skills.

2018 3

(Our view today)

We hadn’t intended staying here tonight. I had picked a different stop just half an hour to the east. It looked like a lovely town and we found the aire without too much trouble but we needed water again and their black water drains were blocked, so we didn’t want to chance their water. We searched the Parkings app and headed here instead. On the way we passed a supermarket with petrol station and I had a bit of a realisation…

2018 4

(Cute Spanish church in the distance)

When my siblings and I were younger and going for a drive with our Dad, he constantly had to drop into the petrol stations we passed. Either to chat with the owners or to slowly drive past the pumps and check the prices. He got great craic out of comparing their prices to his own. A favourable comparison meant his business would do better but I don’t know if favourable meant a higher price at his competitors or a lower price.

2018 5

(There’s a grove of trees beside us)

Well anyway the supermarket with petrol station (that we were passing only because the previous aire drains were blocked (I know, it’s a confusing story)) had the lowest diesel prices of the whole time we’ve been on the road! How do I know? Well, Denis has been constantly checking the prices. On Monday the fuel low alarm bell came on and do you know what he said? He said, “don’t worry I’ve been keeping an eye on that for a while, the prices are too high around here we’ll wait until we’re nearly empty.” And he drove on… So when he saw the lowest prices, he was thrilled and couldn’t pass it up, despite our half full tank. My realisation? Denis might be channelling my Dad…

From a Repsol petrol station on the north coast of Spain, Mairead.

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Free Parking with the Elephants

2018 1

(Our view from the kitchen)

We crossed the border into Spain this morning. It rained the entire time and the spray from the other traffic was a bit miserable. We had forgotten that this part of the journey past San Sebastian and Bilbao is always a little messy as city by-passes can be confusing and chaotic and it was all that this morning.

2018 3

(Nearby village)

As some of you will know I’m a very helpful passenger. Some people say too helpful… My self-appointed duties include continuously reminding the driver of the speed limits, especially when they are lower in the rain. Suggesting the optimum wiper speeds as windshield conditions change. Making squealing noises when (in my opinion) other vehicles approach too close to the van. Insisting that the driver must never check a beautiful view. Making wavy movements with my hands when our vehicle is proceeding too close to the vehicle in front.

2018 6

(Gondola at the safari park)

My assistance is not always appreciated though… so lately I have been considering a kind of toning down of my helpful tendencies. This proves to be easier said than done as it has turned out my main motivation for helping is self-preservation… it turns out I am attempting to prevent a terrible accident where I go up in a ball of flames and career down a 100 meter ravine. The constant vigil is exhausting as I am on high alert and I don’t even have a brake pedal. I did suggest to Denis that we could invest in an extra pedal but he wasn’t keen so I had to come up with another option.

2018 4

(Fence around the elephant enclosure)

It turns out when I’m a passenger I run the ball-of-flames-and-100-meter-ravine accident on a kind of continuous YouTube loop in my mind. I do that so that I don’t lose focus of my main concern: self-preservation. My new plan is to preserve my sanity and turn off the video loop. Every time it starts into it’s ball of flames, I stop it and have a look at the nice view. Then it starts again and I stop it and take a nice deep breath. Every time it starts I stop it again. It definitely makes the driving (or is it passenger-ing?) more enjoyable. I had been doing grand until this morning with the trucks and the rain but never mind I am a work in progress.

2018 5

(Our elephants)

So tonight we are at a safari park… with free parking. We took a walk earlier, to see the elephants…. yes now we have elephants! We got drenched on our walk but it’s so lovely to be surrounded by nature that we didn’t mind and now we’re snug in the van looking out on a lake with some ducks.

It’s a long way from the motorway. Mairead.

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Beware of the… stationery

IMG 3044

(Seen at roundabout near Saint Lô. I think it means being here changes your point of view)

We have a bit of a routine going and while the weather is encouraging us to move along, that is what we are doing. We set our alarms for 7am this morning and by eight we were first in the door of our supermarket (it’s ours now). Bonjour! (from the lady on the checkout) Bonjour! (from us). It is absolutely lovely the way French shopkeepers say hello as you walk in the door. I had forgotten all about this ritual. It makes me feel very welcome and I like that.

IMG 3046

(French coffee…)

Back on the road within 20 minutes. Then we spotted a Boulangerie with parking spaces big enough for Ruby… Bonjour! Bonjour! We sat down to our first French cafe au lait for me and espresso with chausson au pomme for Denis (thanks to two friends, the one who knows food intake and the one who knows hypnosis I am a complete star at the moment regarding my intake of pastry products!) and pondered the fact that these independent bakers get up each morning to make exquisite (tasting and looking) pastries, cakes and breads while cheaper supermarket products are available all around them. (This particular one also made great coffee.) It has to be down to the French people supporting them, I suppose. No wonder they greet us so warmly, they probably appreciate us. You’re welcome.

IMG 3047


We’re at another supermarket car park tonight, very close to the border with Spain. When we arrived Denis had a client call and then we had lunch and visited our new supermarket (this one’s ours now too). In fact having lunch before entering a supermarket here is a top tip for protecting oneself from the pastry dangers and the even more dangerous large-bag-of-Magdalenes dangers. We survived.

IMG 3048

(Absolutely. No. Lines.)

I do probably need some protection from the stationery dangers though because I don’t know how it happened but I arrived out with a lovely sketching notebook (no lines, sigh) a tube of clear glue (no solvent…?) and a pack of blank cards and envelopes! That makes three blank sketching pads, six different glues and about fifty card blanks in my travel kit… don’t anyone tell Denis. I do intend to do some craft making while we are away so none of that glue or paper or card will go to waste…

Hmm, maybe I have a problem… Mairead.

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It’s raining today

2018 3 2

(Not actually a casino…)

It’s raining today and has been since the middle of the night. We are near Bordeaux, in a supermarket car park. We drove for a couple of hours in foggy misty rain to get here and I went for a nap as soon as we had settled. It’s still raining now and because it’s a Sunday the supermarket has been closed since before lunch so not a lot happening around us. We do seem to be near an airport because I can hear low flying airplane noise. I’ll go out when it eases and take some photos of the empty car park and see if I can make it look interesting!

2018 6


That’s the thing I like most about going somewhere I’ve never been before, noticing ordinary things…

2018 1 3

(The trolleys are green)

For instance here it’s the colour of the trolleys, I hadn’t really noticed that trolleys are different colours in different supermarkets. The trees, there are trees. And the absence of people. It would be unusual to find a supermarket car park in Ireland this deserted on a Sunday afternoon. When we moved to Greystones first the big supermarkets didn’t open on a Sunday at all, the car park was where learner drivers went to practice and the odd car boot sale was held.

2018 5

(A tree)

I back in and I’ve done my best with the photos! Just checked my weather app – it looks like it will be raining until nightfall. Then i noticed it’s exactly the same temperature here (11℃) as Greystones, Wicklow, Dublin, Cashel, Cloyne and Celbridge and it’s raining in all those places too except for Cashel. Breaking News: The weather is better in Cashel, Co. Tipperary than the south of France! Maybe I should do a weather report once a week comparing weather in those places in Ireland with wherever we are at the time. Could it be the best weather is always some place in Ireland? Could be…

From a rainy Casino supermarket car park, Mairead.

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