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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Lost and Found in Mérida

Sunset in the industrial estate

It’s funny what you need on the road and what you (of course, I mean we) will put up with to get it. We stayed the last two nights parked in a noisy industrial estate just outside the city of Mérida. The location is in a yard surrounded by fencing and there’s a big locked gate. No one would say this was a pretty spot. Or a quiet and peaceful spot. But it has quite a few other things going for it.

The neighbours

We left the old part of Mérida early in the morning and between the parking app and google we were directed to the industrial estate. If you live near Dublin, think Ballymount industrial estate. One of the interesting things about this one in Mérida was most of the roads were one-way which adds an extra level of confusion when you’re lost… and we were lost. Google maps was saying, you have reached your destination but there was nothing but warehouses and weeds. We had driven around the same petrol station three times when we finally decided to drop in for diesel and find a different parking spot.

Museum in old Mérida

You’ll remember the whole issue with the gas shortage – that wasn’t? Well, I had also read about the very high diesel prices and we were checking prices every time we passed a petrol station (which is funny as my Dad used to do the same thing during my whole childhood) and this one had good prices. Anyway, Denis was outside about to take off the petrol cap when a young guy jumps out of his car and runs over to him and says something in Spanish followed by the word parking. Unlike me Denis isn’t learning Spanish but somehow he is surprisingly good at communicating regardless of language. Humph. He holds up the van keys and says, I’m just getting diesel. And the guy says, in English, parking and Denis replies, no I’m not parking here I’m just getting diesel. A couple more attempts and the young guy realises that in spite of his confidence Denis hasn’t a word of Spanish and he takes out his phone, speaks to it in Spanish and then holds it up. And the phone speaks… I’m from the parking place that you keep driving past, I can show you how to get there. Wasn’t that lovely? He saw we were confused and lost and he hopped in his car and caught up with us! We were smiling and laughing when the phone spoke again, You can’t get diesel at these pumps they are just for trucks, go around the corner.

Sunlight through Roman ruins

We did go around the corner, got the diesel, got an extra discount off the pump price (my Dad would have loved that!) and then followed the young guy to the parking spot where he gave us a tour of all the services a motorhome needs, like water and water disposal and toilet disposal. There was also a toilet and shower and washing machine and just next door was their motorhome shop where you can get things fixed or changed or purchase stuff motorhomes need. The whole place is like a toy shop for motorhome owners. (By the way, we didn’t know any of this before we got here.)

Close to the past

It got me thinking – what do I really want and what am I prepared to put up with to get it?

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Bits of the old Roman road

It’s not all fun and games here. I brought along my Bookkeeping for Dummies book and I’m getting a handle on bookkeeping. Bookkeeping has always been like that big dark tunnel in Béjar – terror inducing. But last year I asked for help before I stepped inside and although it’s work it’s working out ok.

Inside the amphitheater

Today we are in the old Roman (in Spain) town of Mérida. It was originally called Emerita Augusta (Mérida for short) and was founded by the Emperor Caesar Augustus in 25 BC. It’s full of the ruins of 2000 year old buildings, medieval buildings and museum buildings. We got up early to keep cool and were first in the gate at 9 am to visit some of the oldest buildings. By 11.30am it was hot and we’d only seen three, you would seriously need a week to visit everything. We’ll just have to come back.

The stage of the theatre

We saw the Anfiteatro (Amphitheater) where the games took place, gladiators fighting each other and animals. The Teatro (Theatre) where plays were staged and civic ceremonies held. And the Casa del Anfiteatro (houses beside the Amphitheater) where you could see detailed mosaic tiles, some interior room decorations, a bath house, original water pipes and a kitchen stove. Everything in this area had been buried in the early 1900’s and when the unburying of the amphitheatre and the theatre started they cleared the debris off to the side not realising they were burying these houses deeper. It was only decades later when one of the mosaic floors was discovered that they realised what was underneath. Everywhere you walk in Mérida there are pieces of history, right beside the motorhome park there’s a field full of house shaped brick walls and in one of the pedestrian shopping streets there’s a preserved roman street made of large flag stones.

You might be able to spot the painted wall decoration and to the rear of that are water pipes

I don’t blame them for losing the houses, it’s hard to see what’s right under your feet sometimes. We have passed through Spain so many times and missed amazingly interesting places every time. We met a Swiss couple yesterday who were on their first motorhome journey to Spain and they had planned everything. Then in their first week they binned their plans when they met a Spanish man at a park up who filled in their map with every beautiful place he could think of in his country. Mérida was one of those places. The Swiss man handed me his phone to look at his pictures of two others, Córoba and Toledo, just a bit too far from where we though we were going but very tempting.

A section of the mosaics

For the rest of this week I’m going back into the bookkeeping tunnel I hope to uncover some hidden mosaics myself… I’ll let you know how it goes. Wish me luck.

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Balancing Act

Adiós Béjar

You know when a small/annoying/disturbing/upsetting thing happens at the beginning of the day and the rest of your day is off? Like, it’s not balanced, it’s just a bit off? Ok maybe it doesn’t happen to you. It happened to me yesterday. Now just so you know, it’s wasn’t a big thing but I’m telling you about it so that I remember. I want to remember this is something my mind can do. I want to notice the off-balance that sometimes happens and just notice it. No need to do anything about it, no need to beat myself up. Nothing. Just notice that I may not be able to recognise the whole truth in this moment as I’m unbalanced. So here’s the story…

Our hero!

Wait, first here’s the end of the story… Our gas (LPG) gauge was in the red and that’s a problem because we need the gas for cooking and heating water and running the fridge. We have an app that tells us where the nearest gas supplier is located and we arrived to see red covers on the pump handles, indicating that they had run out of gas too. And only yesterday I had read something about gas shortages in the UK. Is there a gas shortage here in Spain too? My mind was getting ready to imagine the worst, when what should arrive but a gas tanker. No kidding! And no shortage. Ten minutes later we filled up with enough gas for two weeks. Is it possible that everything works out? Sometimes it takes ten minutes, sometimes longer? And the unbalance? It doesn’t last long either.

City walls in Plasencia

Ok back to the start of the story… We left beautiful Béjar the morning after my tunnel walk full of optimism and drove to the city of Plasencia, less than an hour south. There was a free car park near the centre where motorhomes were welcome. The sun shone and the temperatures were rising. We had hardly turned off the engine when a dishevelled looking guy came banging on the window. Even though we didn’t understand his words it was clear he was looking for money. Denis said no and shook his head and he left. He returned half an hour later and we realised he was going to every arriving vehicle.

Can you see the swallows? They move too fast for me but I’ve circled them above. Have the swallows arrived in Ireland yet? These ones seem to be getting ready for their journey north…

My mind asked, “is this a dangerous city?” and tipped off balance. Everything else that happened that day was slightly off. It was too hot to go for a walk, there were too many cars, too many bugs, I was hungry, no, I was thirsty, I was fed up. On and on until… We were eating a dinner of cold pie and salad (remember the gas was running out) when a knock came to the door. We both looked at each other… but it was only the owner of the camper next door who had parked so close to us that we couldn’t open the side door. As I’m the one learning Spanish… Denis indicated I should go out the other door to discover what he wanted. I began with “I don’t speak Spanish” in Spanish… turns out that’s not as useful as you might think. If you’re speaking Spanish – badly – the exact meaning is lost on the native speaker but well, you’re speaking Spanish, so they presume you probably understand it, right? I understood nothing and that resulted in the man speaking faster.

Here’s the gap after we moved…

Fortunately, he had a wife who spoke face-language – she saw my face and knew I didn’t know what he was saying. Between the three of us (and Denis looking from the gap in the door) we worked out he was suggesting that if we reversed a bit our door would be parallel with the end of their van and we’d be able to open it. And he was right and it was perfect and as we stood outside smiling and saying Gracias to each other Denis and I noticed we were now surrounded by motorhomes. Literally, surrounded. (Ok no, there was a gap in front of us but there were vans at each side of us and at the back, mostly parking illegally!) And they were still arriving. Smiling, chatting, gesticulating, happy people, parking wherever they could find a gap.

And an even smaller gap behind us…

And it was so odd it unbalanced me right back to balance. They do things differently here. They eat dinner late at 9.30pm or 10pm. They park in the tiniest of spots. They talk loud and fast. And it’s ok. I slept really well that night, all the windows were open and the sounds of fast talking Spanish drifted in. Yes my mind did throw up some safety issues but I took note of the location of our fire extinguisher and I was reassured. And the next morning we had landed in a new world. Everything was good. There was space again in the car park and the temperatures were more pleasant. We found a small bakery beside the city walls and watched the swallows swooping and soaring. And then as you know, just when we needed it the gas tanker arrived.

Coffee time

I remember as a child when we would go to the city with my Dad to some football pitch or greyhound track and if there was a big crowd there were men who used to help you park and then take care of your car. Everyone gave them a few coins but I always worried that there were so many cars they would forget which one was ours and it would be gone when we got back. It was never gone. My Dad called them the Lock Hards because they used to repeat “lock hard, lock hard” while helping you parallel park into a tight space. The Spanish motorhome drivers are experts at parking in a tight spot. Had a 50 year old memory unbalanced my mind? Was I just recycling one familiar situation and glueing it to this city with my childhood feeling of worry? I don’t know.

Noticing seems like doing nothing but it’s not and there’s nothing better to do when you’ve tipped off balance.

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The Tunnel of (Self) Love Part 2

The entrance and…

I did it! I walked through the tunnel. I wasn’t sure I would. Denis was with me and I said we needed to stop just inside so I could get a feel of the problem and then we would take the outdoor route. But within moments the problem was gone. The terror was gone out of my body. We walked another bit. For some reason I was holding my fists in front of my heart as I walked, I suppose it was comforting. I noticed the moving forward was getting easier. And sooner than I expected there was a small sliver of light coming from around the next corner. I didn’t want to hope it was the exit in case it wasn’t but it grew and grew and with my excitement grew and grew and then there it was – daylight streaming in through the way out.

…the exit!

We walked out and up a really steep hill to the town. We were actually very far from the old town and the town walls. The tunnel was never the best way to get to the old town. But we found the new town and had lunch outside and listened to the Spanish language all around us. I’m learning Spanish again but not in the way I usually do. I usually learn it to be able to speak it perfectly – god love me. Not this time. I’ve been reading a great book about how you can help yourself to be healthy for your whole life. And it turns out learning is a great way to encourage a healthy brain into old age. This time I’m learning just for learning. And I’m very surprised at the difference that makes to my experience.

Béjar and the mountains beyond

It is so much easier to communicate when your Spanish doesn’t have to be perfect. And it’s so much easier to meet difficult situations when there is acceptance of our own reactions and we can ask for help.

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The Tunnel of (Self) Love

Cobblestones beside one of the old railway buildings

Yesterday we arrived in the town of Béjar, about 200km west of Madrid. We have never been here before and that’s always exciting. We had set off early, too early for breakfast so I cooked my favourite – porridge, while Denis went for a walk. We always use other people’s reviews to choose a park-up and the reviews for Béjar were very good. One of them mentioned the greenway, called the Camino Natural Béjar that runs alongside. It used to be a railway line which makes it flat and great for walking. But like all railways lines running through the mountains it has a tunnel. One reviewer suggested that although it was long it was well worth the effort to go through it to see the old town. Oh, not sure about that.

Can you see the tunnel?

We have been travelling for 13 days now and because we’ve started to slow down it feels like the perfect time to soak up the inspiration that comes from visiting these new, strange, unknown places. A train tunnel could be exactly the strange place I need, if… I wasn’t the most careful, risk-adverse person I know. Hmmm. Or maybe it’s just perfect? Anyways, by the time Denis came back I was actually looking forward to going through the tunnel. And he was able to report that it was grand, it was lighted and he had gone all the way through and back and was happy to go with me if I was concerned about going on my own. But I wasn’t, how hard could it be?

Well at least there are lights…

It was awful! You can’t see the end from the beginning, it’s very long. Oh (expletive, expletive, expletive) it was bad.

No, now that I’m writing about it I realise the tunnel was just a tunnel, it was not awful, it was just a tunnel. The thing that was awful was how I felt. I felt very awful. I am searching for better words to describe the feeling. I have a thesaurus on my computer but its not helping translate a feeling into a word. Very unpleasant isn’t bad enough but disgusting is completely wrong. I went about five steps into the tunnel and could go no further. I had to get out.

Don’t you just love rust?

What’s funny (not funny) is I didn’t understand the problem until I was standing about three feet inside the tunnel. Beforehand, in the van I had thought I would be worried about being attacked by another human. So I had a little talk with myself, “you’d be very, very unlucky to get attacked today, first day in a tunnel, first day in Béjar, you’ll be grand, you can do this.” Of course I know what you’re thinking – this could be untrue, but it was enough to convince me I’d be grand and probably not get attacked. So that when I got to the tunnel I was not afraid of being attacked. The fear of being attacked is my mind-fear, my mind-fear had been reassured, however foolishly. No, the big problem standing inside the tunnel was no longer my mind-fear, the problem was my body-fear, the fear that took over my body. There should be a big word for that. Terror? Yes. Terror is a good word.

Can you see the old town walls?

Generally speaking my mind-fear keeps me very safe. If my mind-fear rises I don’t reassure it enough to go towards the fearful thing… why would I? But here on this journey I make myself go towards the fearful thing because of Reverence on Deck 9. Do you remember? That’s where I made a decision to learn from everything, and that includes this tunnel. I promised to meet every difficult moment with self compassion and silence. So I turned around and left the tunnel. Were you expecting that? Do you think I should have kept going?

There’s the van from up on the town walls across the valley

And then something I had missed rushing towards the difficult thing was a signpost pointing up. And there it was, a steep but gloriously outdoor path to Béjar. I took the path most travelled. Yes, I was not a brave tunnel traveller but I was something else. I was compassionate to myself. This is what self compassion does – it accepts what is true for you now and it doesn’t attack your truth no matter how stupid or childish it seems. I’m going to the mouth of the tunnel again today (even writing that makes my stomach clench) but what’s different is Denis is coming too and I’ll take his help and maybe today is the day. And maybe it’s not…

Collage of building materials and a smiling statue

The town was scrumptious, by the way. Ok again, not the right word but I need a word that invokes consuming… but with the eyes. What is that word?

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The rain in Spain…

Red Route – coastal. Green Route – diagonal.

We’re well into our second week of travelling and it’s time to catch you up on where we are. We spent two nights (Wednesday and Thursday) in Vitoria Gasteiz. The city is a very handy stop for campers as there are two supermarkets nearby, water and waste disposal and plenty of walking available among the tree lined streets. Both of us started daily walking during the first lockdown and we have kept it going so we are always on the look out for walking routes. One thing we’ve noticed here in Spain is the level of mask wearing is much higher than we noticed in France. Most people wear masks inside here but at least 50% also wear them outside. Not sure why but it’s very reassuring.

Sweet graffiti in Palencia

This route we are taking through Vitoria Gasteiz was the one I was hoping we would take. On our way to Portugal we generally take the northern coastal route and leave this diagonal route until we are coming home in May or June. That is because there can be snow at this time of year. But as luck would have it while we were in Bordeaux we noticed the temperature was forecast to rise later in the week so we stayed an extra night. And it worked, there has been no snow and the temperatures have been rising steadily.

Palencia park up. That’s the motorhome washing in the distance. Very excited!

After Vitoria Gasteiz we moved onto Palentia and as the van badly needed a wash we were very excited to see they had added a motorhome wash right in the parking area. This park-up also has toilets and showers and a restaurant nearby. I went for a walk to the town and took some photos of the huge cathedral and it’s ginormous door. It was the day before Palm Sunday and I passed a gateway nearby where there was a statue of Christ carrying his cross on a wooden plinth preparing to be carried by 6 men. All around was the smell of burning incense while the men chatted and smiled (behind their masks) and encouraged each other. It seemed to me I was witnessing a moment of sincere bonding and it was too private to photograph.

Ginormous cathedral door in Palencia and me for perspective

On Saturday morning we woke to heavy fog. Great day for doing the bookkeeping we’d been postponing followed by the van washing. A few hours later the sun was shining and we were on the road again, this time to the city of Valladolid. We parked at motorhome parking near supermarkets, cafes and restaurants and took a walk to get lunch supplies. We must have passed at least 30 benches in the shade. I was very tempted to sit and watch people go by but I was hungry.

This church was hiding in a shopping center in Valladolid!

Next morning was cold but sunny and we got up early to walk to the city and get a coffee. Valladolid is famous for its Holy Week and Easter Processions and we saw lots of extended family groups making their way towards the centre. The children were carrying what looked like sheafs of corn. Later that morning we moved to a campsite outside Salamanca. It was so warm we were able to sit outside (in the shade) for the afternoon.

I could see the statue up there from a distance and assumed it was on top of a church. Nope, it’s an lingerie shop

Next morning almost all of the campers had gone, probably on their way to Portugal like us. We spoke to a couple from the UK who told us rain was due and they had decided to change direction and move an hour back northwards towards France to escape it and make full use of the mobile nature of their motorhome. We didn’t follow, Denis’ new coat is rainproof and since we started the daily walking habit the quote from Alfred Wainwright, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” makes perfect sense.

Our grey Monday

As I write we are parked at a petrol station, the wind is blowing fiercely, rain is pelting the roof windows, the sky is dark grey and we haven’t had a walk… maybe we will head north after all.

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Too much coffee, too few photos

Luxury in Bordeaux – running water and flowing electricity just outside

Did I mention we are in Spain? We left the campsite in Bordeaux on Wednesday (the campsite we found for laundry, water and wifi, terrible wifi.) and spent a long time in slow road works traffic. The journey that should have take 2.5 hours took 4 hours. We finally got to a parking spot at a supermarket near the Spanish border before lunch and Denis got to work. I fell asleep… and I blame the coffee.


I have a tricky relationship with coffee… I love it but it only loves me if the cups are small and the gaps of abstinence are long. If I have coffee once a week it rewards me with a fire of inspiring ideas and loads of energy. That, I love. But more than twice a week and my reward is tiny palpations and tiredness. Don’t love that. I had already had three cups and then I accidentally had a double espresso! I suppose it wasn’t really accidental, more it’s my terrible grasp of the French language. What I wanted was an Americano. So I asked for a large coffee but then he said cafe au lait? and I hate milk so that was a no. then I tried saying “large” again and he asked “doublo?” Which meant a double espresso (or two weeks of coffee in one cup!) and foolishly I said yes! And then, to top it all, I drank it. Maybe I can’t blame the coffee.

Canoeing along the border between France and Spain

When I woke up Denis was finished his work and we drove over the border to an overnight car park but there was a lot of police activity. The type of activity that includes road blocks and automatic rifles! There were no other motorhomes in the car park so we made a decision to eat dinner and move on.

A different tunnel on a different road at a different time… sorry 😞

One of the things we rarely do is drive at night. There was only 90 minutes left before sunset so we drove those available 90 minutes to a different car park in a different town called Vitoria-Gasteiz. It was a beautiful evening and the lighting was perfect as we drove along this mountainous route. The long tunnels and scary high bridges added to the enjoyment… not. We have a dashboard camera on the front of the van and I took loads of beautiful pictures but you’ll have to imagine them as this was before I realised the dash cam only holds 100 pictures and it was already full… with pictures from 2018. Oh well.

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Preserve everything except the bread

Pretty park in Loulay

We arrived in a small French town called Loulay on Saturday afternoon. Something about a French town inspires me. Not sure if it’s the houses made of stone or the walls made of stone or maybe it’s just the stone.

Half of a school building – the girls half – it was too big to fit the boys half into the picture!

Or maybe it’s that everything seems to be old and falling apart but in a beautiful way. They don’t get rid of something just because it’s a bit dilapidated looking, they mend it and staple it back together.

Look at the colours on this old rusty door

Like the reuse, recycle, sustainability concept but in practice.

There’s us parked in a frosty field

To remind us we are part of something bigger, something older, something long gone but still alive here in the French village…

The Boulangerie. Notice the opening times.

Like the bread… it’s available fresh every single day at the Boulangerie. If the baker wants to go on holidays, he must organise a way to get bread to his customers. We were directed to get our baguette from a bar once in a small village when the baker was on holidays. And that bread is protected by law. From preservatives. There can be no preservatives involved in the baking of the bread. That’s why you need to eat it fresh (although it tastes good toasted next day.) But could it also be better for you? Please say yes!

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Stop! Look Left!

First stop 15km from Fougères

It takes a while to transition to this different way of living. To any different way of living. We’ve all had that experience over the past two years. It’s a bit different if it’s forced on you, through ill health, pandemic, war. We choose this different way of living and we packed for it and we looked forward to it and still we were dazed and stunned by it in the first few days. Then we did something we’ve never done before… we stopped, we rearranged, we walked and talked, we drank a little coffee and then we made a tiny little plan.

Yum! The bakery opens at 6.30am every day (except Lundi!)

We had landed in France at 4pm on Friday and started driving south/west towards Portugal. We were on our way to a town called Saint-Brice-en-Cogles which is north of the city of Rennes. It’s a Village Étape. These are villages near the motorways that are nice places to stop for a break, a meal, to shop or to stay over. You can see signs for them on the motorway showing the junction nearest to them. We have always liked them as unlike a lot of French towns and villages the village étape will always have a cafe/restaurant serving food and there will be plenty of parking nearby. We found the restaurant and got a delicious chicken, mushroom and wholegrain mustard pizza to takeaway. And went to bed.

Ice on the windscreen

Next morning we woke to sunshine and freezing temperatures. There was ice on the windscreen. And Denis had forgotten to bring his coat. I had brought so many books they were spilling out on the floor every time we rounded a corner. The water tank had leaked all our water overnight due to a safety “feature” (does frozen water in the pipes really need to be avoided? Yes, seemingly.) Our carbon monoxide alarm had disappeared. We also needed to buy supplies for dinner. Plus the quality of our internet connection, so far, was intermittent which was a worry as Denis need to connect with work. It was a lot for a first day.

When we started travelling one of the things that worried me most was crossing the road. How could that worry me, I learned to cross the road as a child, I’m good at it, I know how to do it right. Right? No, not in France. It’s all to do with thinking I’m right. Crossing the road is a skill we learned as children. Just look both ways and cross when the road is clear or when there’s enough distance between you and the car to walk to safety. Right?


Wait! There’s a small important first step that we miss if we’re crossing the road in France and every other country where they drive on the right. Look Left! The cars will be coming from the left. Sure, I know this is simple. Sure, I know that you will look left…eventually. But, we believe the cars and trucks nearest to us will be coming from the right so we automatically begin walking BEFORE we get around to looking left (and spotted the car zooming towards us.) Trust me this is a worry! And it’s nothing to do with crossing the road.

I know it’s not the biggest worry, it’s small but it always reminds me that I am missing lots of other things when I think I’m right. When I believe what I learned a long time ago (or even just last week) is still true. Things change fast but we can cope if we stop and just notice… and then move on.

They sell carbon monoxide alarms here!

Our tiny plan was to search on google maps for a Decathlon – for Denis’ coat, a supermarket – for dinner, a petrol station – for diesel, a hardware shop – for the carbon monoxide alarm, a campsite – for water, laundry and a place to empty the toilet and wifi. Doing all these things is easy when you know where they are and how to get there. But what is true right now is that everything takes longer and some supermarkets have barriers that we can’t fit under and some automatic petrol stations won’t accept our credit cards and some campsites have terrible wifi.

When we just notice what is true now and work with that, rather than assuming we are doing something wrong, most things become less stressful.

…what is true right now?

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Reverence on Deck 9

Calm seas and selfies

I am sitting on the bed in our cabin on deck 9, the sea is incredible calm. There are no windows but from the slight movements, rattles and shakes in here I sense the calm sea. It was definitely calm when we were eating breakfast. Every time we travel on the ferry we remind ourselves that there’s no need to eat breakfast and then each time we see the beautiful photography for the breakfast we forget. The actual food does not look like the pictures and it does not taste the way the pictures make me think it will taste. I have been wondering about this for years. I think I’ve eaten my last breakfast on the ferry… maybe.

Looking good

We really want that breakfast to be pretty special and very tasty. And those photographs can’t be lying, can they? That’s how the food looked that day. The day long ago when the picture was taken. But today, here and now, the food is not that food. Today’s food is canteen food. The best you could say for it is – it’s not great. Those photos were taken when there was more time to make it look pretty, to add berries, to place the rasher in the most symmetrical spot.

Hello Astrid!

As exciting as you think it will be when I tell you where we are going and how long we will be away, it is often ordinary and boring and difficult and stressful. In fact, it’s just like home – different setting, same reactions, same me, same him. “Wherever you go, there you are” is the title of a book by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I bring the same way of thinking, the same instincts, the same inner demons, the same pain, everywhere I go.

The exciting thing is that at some point I realised this journey deserved reverence and I made a decision to learn from everything. To meet every boring moment with a “well hello, boring!” To meet every stress by noticing the discomfort within my body and allowing it relax. To meet every ordinary with a gold digger’s eye and spot the treasure within. To meet every difficult moment with self compassion and silence. The odd time I succeed.

Peaceful parking spot at the cemetery

Doesn’t our life’s journey deserve reverence?

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Habit Practicing

Every time we go away I promise myself I will pack the van early. I never did. Until now. I’ve been packing warm weather clothes. And towels. And cups and plates. I have a lot of categories half packed. I hope that will be enough for now.

Bring everything!

And of course it is enough for now. Now is fully complete as it is. Next week or next month isn’t complete yet… but when it becomes now – one moment at a time it will be complete too. And it will be done because we will have moved onto the next moment.

It feels like I will never be able to get back into blogging because I have left it so long and why am bothering anyhow? Because I realised something useful this month – writing my mind (thoughts) onto the page changes everything for me. It is like a rumba (I think that’s the name of the robot vacuum cleaner?) cleaning without effort.

Early morning at Eilish’s

Although there is some effort required. I do have to sit at the page and stay there until I am done. I also have to be non-judgmental about what comes out onto the page. At least until it’s out there. After I’ve got it out I can edit it until it’s time to post. And then I have to post. It’s a process I had been following for a few years. And it works. But I stop. And then it’s hard to get back.

Rainbows in the surf

I would really like to prevent myself from stopping. I would really like to keep going, keep cleaning out my mind. But first I have to start. It’s like any habit, it takes practice. And I’m going to practice. Is there a habit you’d like to practice? Let me know and we can be cheerleaders for each other!

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Noticing Every Tiny Thing

We have booked the ferry to France many times over the last couple of years and we cancelled the ferry to France many times… it’s hard to believe we will be actually going this time… I’ll let you know if we do.

Tiny beginnings…

This time it seems different. Like when you don’t eat ice cream during winter and the first one on a grey St. Patrick’s Day tastes better than you remembered. I am being reminded of small towns in France, huge mountains in Spain and tiny cups of coffee in Portugal. It’s like I’m already there, it’s like up until this ferry booking I didn’t allow myself to think of what I was missing and now I can’t stop thinking.

Tiny daffodils…

But I’m also forcing myself to remember the wet days, the grey days, the boring days, the ugly towns, the tiredness, the overwhelm and the underwhelm. Because it’s all part of the journey and if my expectations are just for the beautiful and the sunny then I can add disappointment to the list of expectations!

Tiny bursts of colour…

I love this quote in Solve for Happy by Mo Gawdat.

Happiness is greater or equal to your perception of the events in your life minus your expectations of how life should be.

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Didn’t want you to miss out on a discount!

This feels a bit like confession – it’s been three months since my last blog. And since then I’ve been learning how to make videos in the fridge for my Instagram. Applying to be on the Late Late for Small Business (wasn’t picked😏) Figuring out how to get started on Twitter. Getting (almost) comfortable on Facebook. Risking extreme embarrassment asking local shops if they would stock the cards – without success 😳 while an adorable shop (called Sunfleck) in Dungarvan found me and asked to stock them! So, they’re in a shop! And today I sent my first newsletter.

These past five months since I launched Permission Cards have been a blast and in case you don’t know, you have played a huge part in that. I didn’t know it when I started but a big part of selling online involves writing. Writing posts to different social media platforms, different accounts, groups, writing copy for the website, writing and answering comments, writing thank you notes to customers, writing emails, writing a newsletter. So all the times I was writing to you from our travels in the camper van or on the motorbike I’ve been in training for this season of my life. If you hadn’t been reading I wouldn’t have been writing to you. Go raibh maith agat! Look at what you did – you have been supporting my small business! Thank you! May we continue to walk each other home for years to come.

And finally, just in case you don’t follow me on social media I wanted to tell you about the discount I’m sharing at the moment. It’s 15% discount off Permission Cards until Sunday 28th November. Go to and use the code THANKYOU at the checkout.

No pressure, I just wanted you to know too.

Big Hugs, Mairéad

Social Media Links

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I’m not a complete idiot…probably

Saw this in Portumna, Co. Galway. For some reason it makes me think of social media…

Well I’ve never been more grateful that I write a blog… well I haven’t actually written a blog post since March but I’m still grateful I wrote a post in March. Let me explain… it’s been 5 months since I wrote to you and a lot has happened.

Wild flower. Not weed!

The website ( has changed utterly. The cards are different. And I think it’s possible I’m different too…for one thing I’m making videos. Yes, I don’t know what inner voices I shut down to do that but I shut them down. And now I’m talking to camera like it’s ok, like I’m not a complete idiot, like I’m even comfortable exposing myself (fully clothed at all times.) And I am comfortable. Mainly.

Got a new coffee jug

I’m comfortable until I wake up with a thought in my head that I’m a fraud or too old or ugly or a failure. Those days are hard because it’s kinda natural to want to hide away on Bad Thoughts Days. And sometimes I do hide. Do you have this experience where you start the day with those thoughts and you go into social media and every post you see confirms your thoughts? I have. So on the really bad bad thoughts days I can’t go into social media and I can’t post anything. And posting on social media is kinda my whole marketing strategy (that’s a blog all to itself!)

Muddy track near Shannonbridge Co. Offaly

Funnily enough though, this routine of posting to social media makes me notice those bad thought days in a way I never noticed before. In the midst of a Bad Thoughts Day I think every day is a Bad Thoughts Day. I completely forget that yesterday wasn’t. I think “this is going to go on forever” and sometimes I believe that thought longer than I need to.

Having to post everyday makes me realise Bad Thoughs Days are not everyday. My posts show me that I must have been grand on lots of days because I have lots of posts.

Big sky near Fethard-on-Sea Co. Wexford

And why am I’m grateful I write blog posts (even inconsistently..)? Because when you’re in the middle of change you don’t notice it and you don’t think anything is happening. And maybe it’s time to start having Good Thoughts Days… what do you think? Wishing you good thoughts about yourself ❤️ Mairéad.

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Slow Down Packs

The Slow Down Packs

So… the website Permission.Cards is live. I can tick that off the must do list and move it to the must improve list. I’m not great at focusing on one thing at a time so it might seem logical to believe that I would jump from one thing to the next easily. And I do. And in case you didn’t know, it doesn’t work very well. I get less done. I’ve had to teach myself to focus on one thing until I have gone as far as I can go with it and then move to the next thing and focus only on that until it’s time to stop and move on to the next thing. I’ve been working on this strategy for years but it is only in this last strange year that I have made progress. And again the cards are helping me.

The Permission to slow down one has been huge for me. I’m not sure what the rush was? For example I’ve been doing the bookkeeping for Denis for the last 13 years. For the first 12 years I hated it. Then last year somehow I realised there was no rush. I could slow down and do it right. Seems like common sense. But it was news to me. When there was a mistake in the past I was stressed and panicked! How was I going to solve this and what if I didn’t get everything finished in time?

We saw this on a beach at Skreen, Co. Sligo last August.

When I slowed down I could see there are always mistakes, I’m always making mistakes and so is everyone else (whether they realise it or not) it’s only human. But when I started slowing down I made less mistakes and my understanding of the process improved.

The Slow Down Packs

That’s one of the reasons I wanted to make a Slow Down pack. The other reason is I have a lot of friends and family who are run off their feet busy. I would love to know if intentionally slowing down is possible or even helpful for people who have a lot on their plates and live a very busy life. Or would it just put extra pressure on them?

What’s your thoughts? Mairead


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