Porto, Porto, Porto, sigh

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(Lots of coffee)

As I was saying yesterday, we went to Porto on Tuesday to get Denis’ computer fixed. When booking into this campsite in Vila Chã I had seen instructions (kindly translated into three different languages) explaining how to buy tickets for the metro to Porto. Up until that moment I didn’t know about a metro or that it was nearby. If you are a regular reader you might remember our attempt (failed attempt) to visit Porto in order to buy a wi-fi sim for Portugal last January. We were challenged by the roads, the sat nav and the lack of data sims (!) and so in spite of the valiant efforts and friendliness of the people we bumped into (not literally) we saw nothing of Porto except the hospital (the outside of the hospital where we got a taxi) and didn’t get wifi until we arrived in Lisbon. Anyways that was last year.

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(The instructions for taking the metro from Vila Chã)

So there I was on Sunday morning sitting in reception thinking if only we were staying more than one night…. and – huge gratitude to a broken computer – we were! So, Tuesday morning I took a photo of the instructions and asked reception to call a taxi and off we set. The instructions are long and detailed but eventually we worked them out and got valid tickets. The train arrived, very modern and clean… and very popular so we had to stand for the half hour journey. But nothing could dampen my spirits, my friend Linda had told me about her trip to Porto, the Port vine growing area and the Douro River boat trip so I couldn’t wait.

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(Higgledy Piggledy houses)

First stop, the computer repair shop. We had worked out it was near the metro stop, Casa da Música and there it was but we were five minutes early so we went back to the station and had a very nice coffee and (to celebrate finding the repair shop) a pastry (the pastries in Portugal are many, varied and very good and as far as I can ascertain not one of them is low carbohydrate but I will continue to check for you…)

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(Spring in Porto)

Then we went back to the shop and met a lovely lady called Monica (who spoke perfect English), by the time we left, Monica had taken the computer and promised to love it until it was returned to Denis and she also pointed out some interesting places on our tourist map. I wrote last year about how friendly and helpful the Portuguese people are but it bears repeating… Every single person we meet is happy to help, to speak English, to direct, to suggest, to chat. They seem to like Ireland and feel a certain affinity to the Irish. They too are interested in the stranger, the music and the gentle art of enjoying a pint. They just seem to like people and they are curious about the story.

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(Not all the trams say Jameson Irish Whiskey, but the one I was on did!)

Leaving the computer in capable hands we got back on the train, 90 minutes hadn’t passed so our tickets were still valid (by the way the cost of the 30 minute return metro trip and use of the ticket for 90 minutes? €2.75! You have to love Portugal) and we set off for the center of Porto. We got off at the Trindade station and easily found the tourist office where we met another really friendly Portuguese lady. We set off again with instructions on how to get to… the most beautiful bookshop in the world, a Meo (mobile phone – the wi-fi again) shop and the old tram tour.

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(Livraria Lello… possibly inspired JK Rowling?)

The most beautiful bookshop in the world is called Livraria Lello (Lello’s book shop) The photos I took don’t do it justice, so you’ll just have to trust me it is adorable. There’s a story that JK Rowling was inspired by this shop and the black capes of the students at the nearby University (she taught English here) when she wrote Harry Potter. I’d believe it. If you like Harry Potter you would love this shop. No one is buying books, they are taking pictures. Of the bookshelves, the staircase, the roof light window, the facade. So it’s probably just as well that they charge a €4 entry (that can be exchanged for part payment of any book.)

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(I liked the tram… it was Fear-less!)

We have to go back to Porto to collect the computer from Monica next Friday and that’s just as well because a day wasn’t long enough for this city. We had great food and coffee and I went on the old tram but we haven’t seen any port cellars or gone on the boat trip.

Step 5. Take more tram rides, Mairead.

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Journey as Destination

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(Big wide motorway near Leon)

Ok, to bring you up to date… Home last Thursday was Entrago in the Picos, Spain. Friday we stayed in the car park of a shopping center by the river bank in the city of Leon, north-western Spain. Saturday we travelled along big wide motorway roads through mountains to cross the border into Portugal. We stayed Saturday night in a campsite in a town called Chaves, very near the border with Spain. On Sunday we drove to a little town called Vila Chã north of the city of Porto. We had planned to stay here one night and then travel further south but we’re still here…

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(Old bridge at Chaves with fishermen in the distance)

When we were talking about this journey before we left, we both had differing views about the length of time it would/should take to get to the (warm) south of Portugal. I was pushing for let’s get there quick… Whereas Denis was happy to take it easy and enjoy the journey. That’s how we ended up in the Picos (so it was his fault!) and maybe it’s the perfect way to go about a journey. Maybe it’s the perfect way to go about a life.

The truth is that with each step we take we arrive. – Paul Coelho.

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(The (particular shade of) yellow arrow pointing north on the Camino de Santiago from Vila Chã)

So, here we are in Vila Chã, staying at a campsite. There’s everything we need close by including a boardwalk along the sea. In fact it’s because of the boardwalk that we’re here. My friend Julie went walking on the Portuguese Camino from the city of Porto a couple of years ago and her descriptions of the route (including boardwalks by the sea) were mesmerising. So when I was sitting in cold and rainy Chaves wondering where to go next I saw there was a boardwalk close to this campsite…  so here we are. The sun has been shining ever since (not always a given in the north of Portugal in February.)

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(The boardwalk beside the sea)

I woke up the first morning and went for a walk on the promised boardwalk and it was as beautiful as Julie had described. Then I arrived back to find Denis a little frazzled… his work computer had stopped working! And… he had committed the most sinful of sins for a software programmer…. he had not done a backup since leaving Ireland! So his work for the previous week was gone.. all gone… kaput… (He’s doing hourly backups now!)

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(Sunset on the boardwalk by the sea)

Long story short, Denis eventually shook off the frazzle, found a way to get his computer fixed and began redoing his work…! Then on Tuesday we brought the computer to a repair shop in Porto on the metro (yes there is a metro from Porto running just a short taxi ride away from us here beside the boardwalk, beside the sea!) and it will take nearly two weeks to fix. Oh and the delay is caused by a wait for a replacement part… can you guess where the replacement part is coming from? No? Ok I’ll tell you – Ireland!

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(This is the harbour at Vila Chã)

We’re stuck here and I am beside myself with joy! I’ll tell you about our day in beautiful Porto tomorrow, in the meantime I’m walking the boardwalk by the sea every day.

Step 4. Take it easy and find a way to enjoy the journey, whatever it brings, Mairead.

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Hello again, Fear!

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(The Portuguese town of Chaves)

We have arrived in Portugal! It only took seven days! Yep, I know a lot, right? Last time we talked I’d stopped talking to Fear. Remember? Well it only lasted 24 hours. Here’s what happened…

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(The walk by the river. Can you see the path ahead tunnels through the rock?)

It was a beautiful evening in Entrago so I went for a walk on a pretty path beside the river, the birds were singing, the water was gushing and the sun was shining. I took some pictures for you and then went back to the car park for a dinner of cold pizza and salad. Yum (not really.)

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(The gushing river)

It was very cold next morning when we left, about 2ºC there was even hard frost on the bicycle seats. I was a little concerned that we might have to travel back the road we drove in but no… no, we took a different, far more scary road. Something I hadn’t considered when I thought it might be nice to have a look at the Picos – their altitude! To get a good look you really have to go up and into them… and then some day soon you have to come back up out of them again…

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(That’s us in the car park in Entrago with the snow covered mountains in the background)

Remember last post when I said we could see hundreds of mountains from the car park and some far away mountains had snow on them? Well, it turned out they were not far enough away. We drove to, over and beyond the mountains with the snow on them. Oh yes and I was back talking to Fear.

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(That’s snow… This is a nice wide road, I couldn’t get my hands to stop shaking long enough to take a picture of the not nice narrow road)

Anyways, he told me to blame Denis… And I did. Up on top of one of those mountains with the snow lined roads I asked (out loud and in a very shrill tone) Who’s idea was it to visit the Picos, anyway? Of course everyone knows that I meant: This is completely your fault, Denis! Everyone… except Denis, it seems. As happy as a pig in muck he says, it was you but now is not a good time to be assigning blame, can you clear the condensation from the window I’m finding it hard to see.

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(We stopped at a layby at the bottom of the mountains… we found frost covered orange peel)

Holy Jeepers, he can’t see! I set to the job of clearing the window with enthusiasm. And then I could see.  I saw this magnificent place and I remembered that Fear makes me mean and shrill and cross and stops me seeing the magnificence all around me. I stopped talking to him. Fear, I mean, I stopped talking to Fear, not Denis. I’m talking to Denis.

Step 3. Repeat Step 2, Mairead.

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Stop Talking to Fear

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(Very nicely located car park at Entrago)

We left Cangas de Onis this morning and set off for our next home. It’s a small village called Entrago, with a car park in the Picos mountain range that allows camper vans to stay overnight. I am sitting outside in the sun as I write which is very pleasant. There is a breeze but as the sun is a little warmer than I’m used to. All is well.

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(A strange convoy of caterpillars… asking a question?)

When we picked this spot I had no idea we would be travelling through the Picos on route. Probably just as well. Before we set off Denis put the gps location into his sat nav and there was a choice of a shorter route or a longer route… Hmm, something shouted in my head “Take the longer route!” and I think it was Fear… I was more than willing to listen to Fear, but Denis wasn’t…. so we took the shorter route…

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(Some of the Picos)

It was narrow and windy and steep (23% gradient) and I fervently promised to spend more time listening to Fear in the future if he would only make this scary bit better, NOW… he didn’t. I hate Fear.

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(Beautiful Picos)

And then there was a break in the trees and we spotted the most amazing sight. Hundreds of mountains stretching off towards the horizon, the furthest covered in snow. There was no place to stop the van, there was no opportunity to take a picture I just had to enjoy the moment before it passed and try to remember how beautiful it was and how amazing it made me feel. And I was able to stop making promises to Fear and start paying attention to what was passing so quickly all around me. Beauty. It generates a very different feeling. Kinda mushy and kinda strong all at the same time.


(More Picos)

I had completely made peace with getting no photographic reminders when just ahead we saw a bus (a bus came up that road?!) parked… in a grand big car park! We would be able to stop after all and we did and I got some pictures for you… and for me and for Beauty and there’s none for Fear.

Step 2. Stop talking to Fear… Mairead.

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The first step…

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(Cangas de Onis. Old Roman Bridge)

Home today (Wednesday) is a car park in Cangas de Onis, a very attractive town on the edge of the Picos mountain range in northern Spain. The sun is shining and it’s warm. On Tuesday home was the car park of a hostel in Bilbao, it was sunny and warm there too. On Monday it was a camper van park beside a lake in the south-west corner of France, it was grey and raining there. The day before, a different camper van park in Fontenay-le-Comte, which is about 50 km north of La Rochelle, it was cold and dark there. On Sunday we were sleeping on the Rosslare to Cherbourg ferry where it was wet, windy and surprisingly pleasant due to an amazing invention – the stabiliser. (From Wikipedia, stabiliser: gyroscopically controlled system used to reduce the rolling of a ship. It works.)

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(View from the bridge)

I decided before leaving not to blog… because I didn’t know how to write about the other kind of journey, the one last year where lots of things happened… but they didn’t happen to me so they weren’t my story to tell.

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(Lac d’Azur south west France)

Now I find myself on this other journey through France and Spain and eventually Portugal and I realise I miss the writing. Without it I feel like I’m ignoring some important extra sense of what’s going on. Of course I could just write in a notebook. Yes, I could just write in a notebook. Why don’t I just write in a notebook?

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(Close up to the bridge)

I think I don’t write in a notebook because of a character flaw – I am a procrastinator. I put stuff  off until tomorrow. I put things into the tomorrow tray… and the tomorrow tray is just an imaginary tray where no writing (or anything else) ever gets done. Stuff only gets done in the today tray, if you get my drift? Blogging, for me, has a deadline and although I don’t like deadlines I do respect them and they make me put stuff into the today tray… so blogging gets done. 

Step 1. Write, Mairead.

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Nice name, shame about the….

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(I LOVE bunting. I have even been knitting bunting on this trip and there’s some on it’s way to Canada and Cashel…)

Remember I was saying there were all these wonderful free places to stay? Well, we’ve been mixing the free ones with the paying ones and everything was going well until last night… I will try to describe it, but my mother once told me if you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all. Emm… the name was pretty. The End.

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(I like close-ups, here’s a close up of a monument)

I woke at 4am with the (not very melodious) sound of cows mooing… there were no fields and no cows when we went to bed. So possibly there was a mart, where farmers bring livestock to sell to other farmers. When I woke again at seven there was no mooing and I had a sinking feeling that the mart was not a mart but instead might be another place where cows go…maybe  an abattoir? I fell back to sleep and next time I woke it was time to get moving to someplace nicer, warmer and less attached to dead animals. I jumped out of bed and then jumped right back in again. It was freezing. Denis had installed an outdoor and indoor thermometer on the van when we came back from Portugal so I was inquisitive enough to hop out again and check if it was really as cold as it felt…

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(Nooooooooooo! (File Picture))

I know water freezes at 0ºC so it wasn’t technically freezing… it was 1.5ºC… so very close to freezing! In fact there was ice on the windscreen. Could this place get any worse? I was now suffering from sleep deprivation and hypothermia and I was feeling a little grumpy but the best thing to do was to get out of beg, get on the road and leave so I grabbed the de-icer thingy and opened the van door. Well… if you ever though it was impossible to change a grumpy mood into an excited mood in less time than it takes to say WOW, then I am here to tell you it is possible.

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(Looking up through the cloud at the town with the pretty name)

As I exited the van I happened to look up. At a cloud. Nothing exciting about a cloud, you’d think… but on the other side of this cloud was the town with the pretty name.

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(Our overnight parking is somewhere under that cloud)

All is forgiven, Mairead.

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Feeling the Sky

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(Star rising)

I wish I could show you the sky last night. It was the same as the sky above you but maybe you weren’t outside. Or maybe you were busy and you forgot to look up. Anyway, last night the sun started to set at 7.30pm and by 8.30pm I was sitting outside. I thought of taking a picture but they just don’t look the same and anyway it’s the feeling of being outside combined with the looking up that makes the difference and no one’s invented the camera to reproduce that… yet.


(We are here)

It felt like I was surrounded by a warm blanket, a knitted one that lets the light in, but in small pin holes. The blanket was black and dark black in the places where the trees blocked the sky. Surrounded by the blanket I felt safe and loved. I read somewhere recently the exact amount of time it takes for the light from a star to reach our eyes on earth. I can’t remember the number now but it was big – years and years. I heard that before but a bit like forgetting to look up at the sky I forgot that we live on a small rock in the middle of a huge space…


(Coffee and cards)

I worry about lots of little things. Like being late for something. Like saying something stupid. Like insulting someone unintentionally. Like doing something that makes people think about me. I never consider that people might be thinking something lovely, I worry that they are thinking something unlovely. The thing is, people rarely think either lovely or unlovely things about others, they mainly think about themselves… like I do when I worry. I worry about big things too. Like the rough seas between Ireland and France. Like the health of my family. Like my children. Like the people who are living in war. Like the people who are escaping war to find peace.


(Isn’t the postal system great, though?)

But then sometimes I don’t worry and I am not afraid… and when I am not afraid I am like I was sitting outside last night under the sky with the light of billions of stars reaching me on this small rock in the middle of a huge space and all is well. I am at peace. I am loved.

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(Star setting)

I wished I could show you the sky last night so that you would feel at peace and you would know you are loved, Mairead.

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