End of the road

(Here’s our entire route from the Rego app…)

Thank you for being with us on the journey, now we’re all back where we started. We’ve been back a week and have managed to do some travelling in Ireland in that time. It’s just as beautiful here as it is in France and Spain and Portugal, by the way. The weather? Not as different as we used to think.

(Listening to a busker at the Rock of Cashel)

Ruby has been emptied, the washing machine has been filled and emptied many times and we are getting used to having extra space, extra power sockets, unlimited electricity, unlimited data and a wild garden. We’ve noticed having a car makes us walk less as does having a washing machine. During our forced stay in Benet I hit my step count just by going over and back to the laundry machines.

(Noticing sunset near Cloyne)

I am, as I decided when we reached the journey ending, at a beginning. It’s up to me to decide what this is, what I want to be telling myself and you for the next few months. Do you think it’s possible to live intentionally with a story you tell yourself? I think we live in stories we tell ourselves all the time, just accidentally. Telling an intentional story would mean choosing what you really want to be, do, feel, think.

(Smiling at the cute postbox in Dungarvan)

Our attitude to the weather is an accidental story we tell ourselves. In Ireland we believe the weather is supposed to be good, we are disappointed when it’s not. We complain about it all the time. What if we believed the weather was supposed to be terrible? On a wet and miserable day we would nod our heads and carry on. But on a day when the sun rose to a cloudless sky (like today) we would be astonished, in awe. We’d still just carry on but we’d notice the beauty… and we’d feel it.

(Remembering Lisbon scooter rental at the bike rental in Dublin)

I am quite nervous about sharing my plans for this beginning because I’m not at all confident that I can successfully complete them, so maybe I shouldn’t even start them. Weirdly, that’s a helpful realization and leads me to the first intention: to notice myself thinking, you never finish anything, you won’t be able to do this and carry on doing what I’m doing anyway.

(Listening to the son making music…)

So here’s my intentional story for the next few months… I will compile the blog posts over these last eighty-something days into an ebook and put it up for sale on Amazon. You never finish anything, you won’t be able to do this. When that’s done I will create a short and simple video course about how to compile your writing into an ebook and sell the course. You never finish anything, you won’t be able to do this. I will get up every day at 6am to get this work done. You never finish anything, you won’t be able to do this. I will incorporate healthy habits, like walking, eating well, practicing mindfulness and noticing beauty. You never finish anything, you won’t be able to do this.

I’m just getting started, Mairead.

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Last day in France

(Cherbourg marina)

This morning we drove from Bayeux to Cherbourg. We will park all day in the car park near the Maritime Museum, Denis will work and at 6pm we will go to the port and queue for the 9pm ferry to Ireland.

(This is the theater)

Although we have been in Cherbourg numerous times arriving and leaving by ferry we have never walked around the town. Today is different. I set off to find the tourist office. Cherbourg is huge but the old part of the town is right next to the port and not a long walk.

(The pilot’s building)

The tourist office is located overlooking the water near a yacht marina and close to shops, restaurants and cafes. The streets behind it are car free and nice for a ramble. But I didn’t ramble for long. I found a fabric shop and lost track of time dreaming of all the things I could make if I only had a scissors.

(The journey leads us home)

It is hard to believe the journey is nearly over. I don’t like endings, I much prefer beginnings. In the beginning it felt like this trip would go on forever. Nothing goes on forever. In the beginning it felt like this day was very far away but that’s just a memory and waiting to leave is the only real thing. Here and now. And it’s always here and now. Even with such a long trip stretching out in front of me I was always just here and now. This makes me feel a bit better.

(Goodbye road)

If I’m always here and now and I like the beginning so much maybe it would be helpful to think of this here and now as a beginning. The beginning of the Ireland trip. The one where we stay in a house that’s way too big for us but it does have a shower and toilets and a washing machine and surprise – there’s a bath. The trip to hug family and friends and talk about Ruby, her breakdown and her recovery. The trip where we find a way to keep what we loved about being away. (Except for the croissants, we really have to break up with the croissants.) The trip where we intentionally spend time with each other.

From here and now and a new beginning, Mairead.

(Cherbourg: free parking near the ferry port all the motorhome facilities, shops and cafes nearby.)

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Bayeux is Beautiful

(Bayeux Cathedral)

This is our last full day in France and we are spending it in the town of Bayeux. I think I read somewhere that this was the only town in Normandy that survived the Second World War. Imagine, it’s 1944 and the war has been going on for five years everyone is fed up but the allies have a plan. They will land on the beaches of Normandy with loads of troops and tanks and trucks and weapons. Then they will make their way across France neutralizing, killing or capturing the enemy.

(There are 4,000 soldiers buried in Bayeux in a beautifully maintained cemetery)

The day came, D-Day and they landed on the beaches less than 10 km from Bayeux. There was very little resistance to begin with and they were able to make this town a base for the troops and the war machinery. Very soon they realised they had to build a bypass, the first in France, to protect the old town from the war traffic as they made their way south and east to finish the war. Finishing the war took a lot longer than they planned. There were a lot more deaths and there was a lot more destruction. In the end it was the allies who were responsible for the destruction of the other towns in Normandy. War is a messy thing.

(River Aure running through Bayeux)

We arrived at the motorhome parking beside the Museum of the Battle of Normandy in the morning and I went wandering. There was a walking tour brochure in the tourist office called Vieux Bayeux (Ancient Bayeux) with a map and lots of information plaques dotted around the town. I spent a couple of very enjoyable hours following the little discs on the ground and reading the information on the plaques.

(Vieux Bayeux walking tour map)

Bayeux is most well know for the Bayeux Tapestry, a huge panel (over 200 feet long) of embroidery work that’s nearly a thousand years old. It tells the story of an earlier war. War is very popular in art.

(Old ceramic road sign)

Bayeux is a very busy town with lots of tourists and lots to see and lots of souvenirs to buy. English is spoken everywhere and there are English signs in every shop window. It could be because this is the 75th anniversary of D-Day and this is a nice place to come to remember those who have died. Walking through the war cemetery in the afternoon was a sobering experience. The most common age on the gravestones is 22. War is extremely sad.

(Pretty little water wheel near the tapestry)

There’s a huge supermarket near the cemetery and in the late afternoon I dropped in to stock up on supplies for our last day. I didn’t realise I had forgotten my purse until I was in the queue for the checkout. I experienced some panic wondering what to do. I had enough change for the bottle of water but the rest I would have to leave. The queue moved slowly forward as I practiced what I would say in French about forgetting my purse, being very sorry but I would have to leave these items but take the water…

(Beautiful shopfront near the cathedral)

Do you speak English? No… I muddled through but it’s ironic that I’m panicking about such a small thing so close to the war cemetery. If I stop panicking about the small things will I have to start panicking about the big things?

(Artist studio)

There’s an organization called The Commonwealth War Graves Commission set up in 1917. They look after the graves of the 1.7 million people buried in France after the wars of 1914-1918 and 1939-1945. There was a plaque outside their cemetery in Bayeux that made me cry. It said their “founding principal is to honour each person equally regardless of rank, race or religion and to do so forever.” Forever. We don’t do this for the living.

If we did, there would be no war. Mairead.

(Bayeux: Overnight parking €4 with rubbish and recycle bins. Very nice public toilet near the museum. Supermarket past the war memorial graveyard.)

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And then there were two…

(View from the castle ruins… very familiar)

Two more sleeps until we leave France. I found another lovely place to spend the night. Actually we arrived around 10am so we spent the day here too. I didn’t realize it at the time I was choosing it but this town reminds me of Cashel in Tipperary, where I grew up.

(On top of the rock)

Domfront is a Cité Medieval and is built on a huge rock outcrop on an otherwise flat landscape. And so is Cashel. It was only when I was standing looking over the walls of the old town that I made the connection. The scene in front of me was not unlike the view I knew so well as a child looking over the wall at the Rock of Cashel into the town. There’s a long street in the distance called Friars Street, it runs at a slight incline. It has shops and the church and here was something very similar in Domfront, France.

(Ruins of the castle at Domfront, also familiar)

When I started reading the tourist information stands dotted around the town I realised Domfront is probably as much English as French. Some memory of history class reminded me the kings of England were also kings of northern France. Think of the region of Brittany. Domfront is in Normandy (to the east of Brittany) and the Normans although originally from Scandinavia, invaded England from Normandy. So this place has seen a lot of battles and a lot of blending and mixing of nations. As has Ireland.

(Gateway to the town)

Maybe that’s why this place feels so peaceful. It really does. We both felt very calm as we walked around the old town towards the runs of the castle. But maybe it’s just familiarity. The castle walls are made of grey stone, probably granite, very different from the finish of a Château or the red stone of the walls in Portuguese Silvas. But very like home. The roofs of the houses in the town are topped with slate, most French roofs have red tiles.

(Grey stone, this could be any town in Ireland)

Intentionally choosing this town even without knowing its history or its story reminds me of the time Denis choose to drive to Beja when we needed a garage. Or the time we drove into the motorhome dealer in Benet when we really, really needed a garage. Our brains take in far more information than we are aware of and then they offer it back to us when we seem to need it.

(Higgle-de-Piggledy houses)

It’s not always a given that I listen to the quiet internal voice because it’s hard to believe what’s not in front of my eyes. But the alternative is to work everything out and try to control the results. I would prefer to listen more to that quiet voice because it was right to bring me here. To a familiar place for the first time in a long time.

I love the unusual but maybe I’m getting ready for the familiar, Mairead.

(Domfront: free parking, motorhome facilities behind office of Mairie. Public parking. Best croissants in France!)

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The End is Nigh…

(Love, love, love doors)

So here we were with three nights and four days left in France, how will we fill them? There were only three more sleeps until we were going home. In an effort to cram every lovely thing into the last few days I found three pretty towns to visit. Anywhere other than France this might have been a difficult challenge. It was easy.

(Can you see the long straight road leading out of the town?)

We were exceedingly pleased with our route from Chambord. The romans visited France and did a great job building roads. The straightest roads you’ll ever see for miles and miles. Normally we would have opted for motorway travelling at this point in our trip as we’d be rushing for the ferry. But we’re not rushing, we have enough time. So we had a chat about time and money and we chose to spend some time instead of money on these last few days. We could call these austerity measures but we’re calling them time-rich measures instead.

(Pretty houses)

The town of Sainte-Suzanne could be used in a movie from the 1800’s and they wouldn’t need to change a thing. Old stone castle? Yes. Old houses? Yes. Narrow lanes? Yes. Cobblestones? Yes. Nature peeping around every corner? Yes. It is also one of Le Plus Beaux Villages de France (like Labastide in the French Basque region we visited.)

(Pretty views)

On top of that even though it was a Sunday every restaurant, cafe and shop was open. (The small supermarket and the Boulanger had closed at 12.30.) So it was a tourist’s haven and the place was hopping with people. Our new time-rich plan provided for one glass of beer or an ice cream and the ice cream was the more expensive option.

(Pretty flowers)

It’s interesting what happened when we started to notice spending… our time spending and our money spending. Ice cream was sweeter, walking was more enjoyable. We noticed what we were receiving, what we were seeing, what we were experiencing. There was an extra element to the time spending also. Although we had plenty of time, it’s not unlimited and noticing that distinction in this last week makes everything different.

(Pretty buildings plus nature)

It’s not something I think about a lot (the unlimited time thing) but maybe here’s an opportunity to do just that. You know, to use this section of limited time to remind myself of the limited time I have… on earth, I mean. So… it’s not too cheery to think about impending death (I do intend to live for at least another 45 years in case you were wondering where this might be heading…!) but it could be a very useful exercise to focus the mind. To be intentional. To taste the sweetness of the ice cream.

How would you like to spend your next three days? Mairead.

(Sainte-Suzanne: we stayed at the free parking with no facilities. Very good public toilets in the town. There is another motorhome parking with all the facilities €12)

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My Summer Residence…

(Driving into Chambord)

We drove for hours after we left the policeman in Fontenay-le-Comte through beautiful countryside. The avoid toll roads was on again but this time everything worked out and we arrived at my Château in Chambord. (Not actually my château but for eleven euro I can pretend.)

(This is how close we are to the Château)

It was after five by the time we arrived so we had a quick cup of tea and some emergency long life Portuguese tuna patê on crackers and then off for a walk around the grounds. It was still sunny but not too hot and the French were doing what they do on a warm Saturday afternoon – walking in a royal garden. This garden is full of wildlife, birds swooped and frogs croaked and there were signs telling us about the wild boar. It seemed like our breakdown experience had reset something. The long drive hadn’t managed to tire us and we walked enough to hit our step goals.

(You can walk, boat, cycle and drive golf carts around the grounds of the Château at Chambord)

Next morning I was on a mission… I had been reading old reviews about the motorhome parking at Chambord Château and one of the reviewers was complaining about the early morning noise from the balloons… the hot air balloons. There were balloons? Wouldn’t that be amazing? Years ago I had seen pictures of colorful balloons flying over the countryside in France and the image had stayed with me. I didn’t want to go up in one but I’d love to see them floating over the Château.

(Sunrise at Chambord)

So I set the alarm (my 6am habit had taken a hit in the past week but here was my opportunity to start again) and hoped the rain would keep off. Next morning was cloudy and grey but I was energised. I had no idea, by the way whether there would be any balloons but even if there wasn’t, sunrise would be more than enough. I was half way across the field between the motorhomes and the gardens when I realised there was a big bird about 100 yards away from me stalking something in the grass. A very stork-like bird. Thanks to all my stork sightings I know it wasn’t a stork but I’ve no idea what it was. I couldn’t move in case it flew off but I needn’t have worried he wasn’t going anywhere he was dead still too. Then suddenly he grabbed at whatever he was stalking and swallowed it! That’s another reason he wasn’t a stork, they don’t grab, they’re very dainty.

(Sunrise on a grey day)

There was no sign of a hot air balloon and I realised I was expecting too much, I hadn’t even googled it to see when or where they go up or even if they go up anymore. I could just make out a break in the clouds where the sun was coming through so I went off to get my sunrise pictures. The hour after sunrise and before sunset are called golden hours and I was definitely getting opportunities on this trip to experience what that meant. It’s supposed to be a good time to take photos.

(Wild boar this way…)

There was no one around, I was completely alone taking pictures and wandering around, like I was a… I don’t know, a princess maybe? It does seem to be a theme… just saying. Next thing I hear something, not bird song, more a heavy breathing or wild boar snorting. I looked up, it was coming from above me (probably not wild boar then…?) And there it was… floating way, way up in the sky.

(Can you see the hot air balloon?)

A balloon! Yep, one solitary balloon way, way, way up high. Every now and again I could see the flame igniting to lift it higher, that was the wild boar snorting sound I thought I heard earlier. (Well, it might have been.)

(This was the closest I got to it)

I was so excited. The whole experience lasted only 15 minutes. I’m not sure hot air balloons have much control over their direction but on that morning some gust of wind brought this one in my direction.

And then it floated away, Mairead.

(Château Chambord: €11 parking for 24 hours, Princess experience included but no motorhome facilities except bins.)

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Where’s the Ticket?

(Wooden door)

We arrived in Fontenay-le-Comte in the evening but left after a visit from the policeman. I’ll start at the beginning… Everything went to plan at the garage and we were able to collect Ruby at 6pm. We said our thank yous, merci beacoups, goodbyes, au revoirs and sat in. It was great to be home.

(Fire hydrant)

Then we drove off to Fontenay-le-Comte where we could park for the night and fill up the water. All along the 20 km journey one or other of us would say, she’s going great isn’t she? Or, can’t hear the clunking, can you? And then we’d smile, Ruby was reliable again. That’s nice.

(Red berries)

It was dinner time when we were filling the water and paying the parking meter and we were starving. With all the excitement of going to get Ruby back we had missed the narrow French lunch window and had not eaten since McDonalds breakfast… and yet we were unusually chirpy. We had decided eating out one last time would be ok and give us an opportunity to chat about the whole experience. We’d looked up restaurants and found a little tapas place so when we had finished filling, we parked up, pulled the blinds down and set off.

(This sign was in the tapas restaurant)

The tapas place was open, the nice man even had a sign up to say we speak English. Unfortunately, they were only open for drinks, they serve food at lunchtime, inside my lunch tummy was crying. But he could recommend the restaurant across the road. My dinner tummy was thrilled. Unfortunately, they didn’t open for another half hour. My dinner tummy started growling.

(The view out the window of the tapas bar)

We had a drink and the nice man gave us a large bowl of peanuts, we ate every one of those peanuts before it was time to go across the road. There was one other couple at a table in the middle of the restaurant when we arrived. We said our bonjour to the owner (should have been bon soir, oh well) and indicated we would like a table for two. Did we have a reservation? Nooooo! Both my lunch tummy and dinner tummy were on the verge of tantrums. I was resigning myself to another bowl of peanuts in the tapas bar. After a nerve wracking few moments of checking the reservation book, they found a spot! Yippee! Here is your table… right beside the one other couple.

(Save the snails)

And God love them if they thought they were going to have a nice private conversation… turned out they were Irish. The first we’d seen in two months and we could understand every word they were saying. They were very quiet but Denis jumped in with, is that an Irish accent we hear?

(Love daises!)

Now to be precise we were actually overhearing… aren’t you supposed to pretend you don’t hear what you’re overhearing? They didn’t seem offended by our bad manners, yes we’re Irish. On their way to the Dordogne, they always stop here, stay the night and have a meal, great food. Yes, they did have a reservation.

(Might be a carnation?)

We all stopped talking when the food arrived and it was truly delicious. We were only having a main course so we were first to leave and you know how the conversation gets better as you’re leaving? It’s like everyone sees an end in sight and we’re all more relaxed. That happened and it was a lovely thing and then we were on our way back to Ruby. We never did get to chat about everything at dinner so we chatted on the five minute walk. Who needs longer?

(Foxglove?)

In the morning we slept late and were very cozy under the covers when a knock came to the door. It was 8am. Yes, remember the policeman? Well in all our excitement the previous evening we forgot to put our parking ticket in the window. We both jumped out of bed to greet him in our pajamas. He was undaunted. Le ticket?

(Here’s the ticket!)

We searched every one of my pockets, my purse, my coat… no ticket, he went off to check on the other campers and would be back. I searched again, upending my handbag, the glove compartment, the door, nothing. Eventually Denis checked his jeans pocket… there it was.

(These smell great)

The policeman came back and saw the ticket and told us where the market was and the bins, all in French. It was a lovely experience.

I’m kinda glad we forgot to put the ticket up, Mairead.

(Fontenay-le-Comte, parking €8, water €2. Restaurants nearby. Policeman visits in the morning.)

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