I’m very cross with croissants!

Sorry , we’re closed


Don’t tell anyone but I’m tired of visiting the beautiful villages of France. I can’t believe I feel this way. I’m probably coming down with something. Anyway, it looks like we won’t be visiting all 170 this month. (Just to warn you there are a few more villages in my photos (possibly even my favourite, favourite one) so I will share those before I stop completely but today I’m not writing another thing about beautiful villages.)

Cross looking statue in Monpazier

Do you know when you’re hungry and you eat your favourite dinner and it tastes amazing? Well, when we were on the food tour in Porto I was hungry (yes I know I did have a coffee and a pastry just before it but that was two hours before and I hadn’t had breakfast) and Clara handed us a plate with three different cheeses on it. By the way, I don’t eat cheese…

In France some restaurants are open and look closed. Others are closed and look open. This restaurant seems open but the sign may only mean we are open for business but only at dinner time…

But of course, to be polite, I tried one of the cheeses. And it was amazing. Seriously, amazing. The second one was even better and the third one, I bought from the vendor. I was cured of my cheese-hate.

Pain au raisin (danish pastry)

Time passed, we were in Spain, I decided I’d try my lovely cheese after my lunch one day. I was really looking forward to it. Hating cheese always seemed like a childish thing plus I was missing out on the calcium. But no more, I had found my cheese and now I was a cheese lover.

Very smart bird feeder near the university, Santander… the big birds and the squirrels can’t get in (may be an experiment?)

No I wasn’t, It was terrible, truly. And smelly. My cheese-hate was back. In case you think I had bought bad cheese, I didn’t. There was nothing wrong with the cheese… I just wasn’t hungry. Something (almost) similar is happening with croissants…

No idea who this guy is, also in Santander

But first a confession, I haven’t been totally honest with you. I’ve been leaving some things out of the photos. I’m coming clean now. Here it is -: since we arrived in France I have had a croissant with coffee every morning. Every single morning without fail. The boulangeries of France make the best croissants, of course they do, they invented them. And they are so buttery, so satisfying. But now… I am no longer satisfied with one. One doesn’t taste lovely, it tastes like, I’m starving, I’ll have another one, please. And it’s very annoying. I’m very cross with the croissants. But not cross enough to say no thank you.

More, more, more please

My boycott today of the beautiful French villages makes me wonder… have croissants and villages pushed me over the edge of satisfied? I didn’t even know there was an edge to satisfied. Is hunger – not just for food – a good thing? Where we are not stuffed to capacity? What about hunger for information? Where we are ok with not knowing? What about hunger for Instagram, Facebook, Twitter? Where we are ok with boredom? What about hunger for company? Where we are content with the memory of our beautiful friend sitting with us for an hour long ago?

No idea what this is but it makes me smile every time I see it. From the museum in Pontevedra, Spain

What about hunger for beauty? Where we look in the mirror and see our own beauty looking back?

Thunderstorm at Monpazier

I don’t often go out this late to take pictures, it was lovely to get a picture of a red sky at night after the storm

Another day, another beautiful French village…Monpazier, in the department of Dordogne and the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region. This might be the most lovely village we’ve seen this far but I don’t want to make the others jealous. So let’s just say, I love all the beautiful villages equally (but I love this one a bit more equally…)

One of the town gates, there are many

This village is laid out on a grid as if it had been planned during medieval times and I assume it was. I didn’t visit the museum where I might have been able to ask but it was closed. To be honest it was just lovely to walk around and take photos and smell the roses (literally) and just put one foot in front of the other.

The church and the roses

What started out as a very hot day turned into a thunderstorm by the late afternoon and we were confined to the motorhome until 9pm. During our confinement we realised water was getting into one of the cupboards! The one with the Switch! The Switch is the gaming system that the Zelda runs on – see Zelda and the Viaductos.

Pretty shopfront

Don’t worry, Zelda is fine, just a bit damp. The motorhome is fine too and the damp is gone because the red sky brought sunshine this morning. Turns out, if our motorhome is parked in a particular position facing the wind and completely level – rain water will pool on the roof and seep inside. Not ideal but at least it doesn’t happen often. The Switch and Zelda have been moved to a safe space in case it happens again.

Bike for rent?

Something we notice more when we travel is that we regularly get challenges. Like the rain coming in. Like the bugs biting me. Like supermarkets closed on Sundays in France. Like the sat nav sending us down roads that are too narrow. Like finding it difficult to find a place to stay at night. Like not having enough gas to cook dinner. In the moment these feel very big – I know that’s hard to believe but I promise you that they do. Somehow we take steps to solve each challenge that arrives and then they’re gone.

Laneways and streets run parallel and perpendicular to each other so it’s impossible to get lost but also nearly impossible to pass the same place twice!

And we forget them and soon the next challenge turns up. Of course this happens at home too. Maybe that’s all life is, a series of interesting challenges that we overcome until we die. So now I’m imagining myself welcoming the next challenge with some joy because I must be still alive!

Morning coffee in beautiful Monpazier, all is well

Romieu Village

Porte de Rocamadour (Rocamadour gate)

On Sunday we arrived at our next beautiful village, Romieu. The name is a combination of pilgrim and Rome. The story goes that two monks returning from a pilgrimage to Rome in 1062 (they went via Santiago de Compostela) decided to start a monastery here in southern France. The town grew and the walls went up and the gates were built in the wall and the results was a very beautiful village. With monastery and church.

Cloisters of the monastery

There’s a legend that during a very severe famine the people of the town had to do the unthinkable. They had to eat their pets… specifically their cats. But one young girl who was willing to starve rather than do that, hid her two cats and kept them safe. When the famine had passed and there was a successful harvest the girl and her cats and their kittens and grand-kittens saved the day. By protecting the town from the rats who were eating the harvest.

There are statues of cats all around the village. Can you see one?

On Sunday there was a market on the streets of the village. Mainly flowering plants but also baskets, hats, jewellery and food. The place was hopping so much so the camping car parking was full of cars. It’s a surprising thing, coming from Ireland, that the French reserve parking places for camping cars just like they keep parking spots for disabled drivers. We can’t really blame them if they park in our spot on a busy market day.

Shopping bags at the market

We were just driving away when we saw a space outside a business on the edge of town. Well this is perfect because in France most businesses take Sunday off so we would not be in the way. And we headed back to this beautiful village, once more feeling very grateful to the French for the choices they make that end up taking care of us. Merci, France.

Spiral staircase to the top of the church tower

Ghost in the wall

The approach to Navarrenx

We visited to our first Les Plus Beaux Villages de France! It’s called Navarrenx. And if we’re reading the paper map correctly it’s located in the Pyrénées Atlantiques department in New Aquitaine region. France is divided into regions, regions are divided into departments and departments are divided into communes. (To make it easier (for me) I think of it like Ireland has provinces which contain counties, which contain towns.)

Tea shop

Navarrenx is a fortified town and deserves its place on the beautiful villages list. We approached the old walls via a bridge over the river Gave d’Oloron and it was at that point that I made my first mistake. The view of the ramparts as you approach is very impressive. So impressive that I forgot to take a picture, even through the windscreen. So when you look at the pictures please imagine the streets and houses perched high inside sturdy stone walls.

Narrow street and pretty houses

Then more impressive, you drive through a gap in the walls and enter the towns narrow streets, passing cafes and churches and shops and lots of tourists. Looks like we’re not the only ones to follow the beautiful villages. We find a place to park inside the walls and start to investigate the place. Denis soon finds tunnels under the wall. I’m not very enthusiastic. But he has a plan.

Very thick walls

I thought he’d put the underneath the walls project out of his mind until I saw him with the torch. He’d gone back to the van and now surely I’d go exploring with him…

You can walk on top of the wall too

What he didn’t know was while he was gone I could hear running coming from the tunnel. I shouted a hello and there was a return hello. I asked if it was scary down there, the voice said no, it’s not and it doesn’t feel small, there’s plenty of room. You just need a torch, he said as he ran out of the entrance and disappeared. The ghost of a soldier patrolling down there?

We had to go down the steps and around a corner and the turn out the torch… but then this is what we saw. Those shafts of light continue along the tunnel. Lighting the way…

So when Denis returned with the torch I said I’d have look, after all the ghost was friendly and no longer down there. To be honest it was very interesting.

There’s Navarrenx. We’re slowly making our way north

Bonjour La France

Life at the supermarket

And then we were in France. First stop the big supermarket in St Jean de Luz. There’s a supermarket, cafe, restaurant, clothes shop and we only realised today – a beach! We didn’t go to the beach but we saw it because we took a different route out of the supermarket and passed it and the pretty town. Well, France does keep surprising us.

For our lunch we had a sandwich. But next door our French neighbours fired up the bbq and set the table (and yes, they had a real table cloth) in the supermarket car park. I love France

Also at the supermarket is a book shop. Is it necessary to say that neither of us could read a French book? No, ok I won’t say it. It’s so disappointing though when you see great books… in French. Denis saw a cookbook series called Simplissime with pictures of the ingredients but just enough French words to defeat him.

Our new guide book

I was luckier, I found a simple drawing book that I believe I can use without reading the words. I also bought a map… Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (The Most Beautiful Villages of France!) A map does not rely on words to get its meaning across but fortunately there is some English. The bit in English is about how Charles Ceyrac who was mayor of a village called Collonges-la-Rouge (south east of Limoges) was reading a readers digest book and saw a list of the most beautiful villages in France. His own village was included in the list and it got him thinking…

I asked for Tapenade in the supermarket, in French! And Denis made Motorway Salad for dinner

He started an association in 1982 for these beautiful villages, to preserve them, to support the rural population and to share the beauty. In the beginning there were 67 villages, now there are 170. And new ones come on board each year. So now we have a new mission bringing us from one beautiful village to the next for 170 villages… we may not be coming home after all.

New to my (not to scale or accurate) map series – France!

Chao españa!

The marina at Bermeo

We finally left Bermeo yesterday but not without having another coffee at the park. For some reason there weren’t as many people around and our cafe was closed but the one next door was open. I wonder do the cafe owners get together to decide what days they’ll have off?

All the buildings are so different

We’ve almost come to the end of our time in Spain and we’ll be returning home via France. Each time we go visit Spain we see things we didn’t see the last time, like the fishing villages on the northern coast. We have passed them by on the motorways and we could see them from the viaductos. We’re so glad we got to visit. I’m itching to learn more. Do you have a recommendation for a good guide book for the lesser known towns of Spain? Oh, and in English?

The port near the park, Bermeo

Last night we stayed in Gernika again, we were here on the 17th April. Only a month has passed but we feel different. We are very comfortable finding our way around, we’ve got the hang of ordering food and “cooking” our salad, markets are no problem and although we still haven’t barbecued any fish, I’m confident we will… all we need is a fish,

A statue of a fisherman’s wife delivering fish, Bermeo. In the past the men went fishing and the women took care of the business, selling, delivering, canning

We’ll be in France by the time you read this, buying French tapenade for our salad and considering some fish. We’ll be missing the cost of living in Spain and Portugal, especially the price of diesel.

There’s also a square in the middle of the narrow streets, with a church, a bandstand and town hall

And of course we’ll be practicing our French. We have almost no Portuguese and a very small amount of Spanish but we have enough French to ask questions in the supermarket and read most simple signs. Do you know why we have more French? It’s because the Portuguese and the Spanish speak English to us. The French do not and it’s the motivation we need to give the language a go. It’s the only way I’ll be able to find my tapenade in a French supermarket.

People watching in Bermeo

Evening at the marina in Bermeo, Spain

We had a great couple of night sleep beside a graveyard overlooking the sea. Bermeo is surrounded by steep hills and blue sea and we had to drive over the hills and down to the sea to get to it but it was well worth it. This beautiful town is full of character with tall colourful, narrow buildings, very narrow streets and a marina filled with boats.

The old town gate

The motorhome parking is located at possibly the highest point around, in front of the graveyard and beside the football pitch. The graveyard has a better view of the sea but as it protects the parking from the wind we couldn’t complain. We also couldn’t complain about exercise, the steep terrain did our hearts a power of good.

Narrow street

Yesterday morning I was able to indulge myself in my favourite thing to do when we are away – morning coffee and people watching. We walked to the centre of town via the old stone gate and on down the narrow streets, and out into the open areas near the water.

Morning coffee overlooking the park

You can’t get lost because every cobblestoned road leads to the water. The open area consists of a park with cafes and restaurants on one side, a playground on the other and beyond that the port. We sat outside one of the cafes under an awning in the shade for almost an hour. Denis was reading but I was looking at the people.

Extremely narrow street…

There was a granny with her grandson, a lady throwing a ball for her sweet collie dog, workers putting up market stalls and a couple of police officers patrolling. A group of older woman sat down near us and practically every person who passed waved at them – locals.

It’s not easy to see in this picture but imagine… cars arrive via narrow streets to the top of those steps and then have to turn right between the yellow and orange building on the left… but what if they don’t turn? There’s nothing stopping them from going down the steps…

There was another lady who got herself a coffee and then a newspaper and sat with her back to the first group – a past falling out, do you think? I hoped she wasn’t lonely, she did look a bit grumpy but soon another woman appeared. The new woman was smiling from ear to ear when she saw the paper reading woman. Then they walked off together chatting and smiling – no drama here. All good in Bermeo.

Motorway Salad

Geese in the community

Less than twenty minutes away from the medieval town of Santillana Del Mar we found our home for the night. It was another old town, not quite as big but just as full of stone houses, walls and roads.

Geese on tour

The town of Cartes provides parking for motorhomes beside the park where geese and ducks ramble freely. There’s also a (17km) greenway for walking and cycling that leads to the coast and a playground with zip wire and table tennis table. All for free and quiet at night.

Colourful Cartes

We arrived just time to have a ramble around the old part of town before dinner. Dinner was salad. At one of the motorway services we had a surprisingly tasty salad. I’m not a great salad eater or maker but I did think I could replicate this one.

Nearby greenway

The ingredients had been sitting in the fridge for a day or two… but were still within date so I offered to assemble my version of Motorway Salad. In case you would also like to replicate a motorway salad, here are the ingredients… bag of salad leaves, mozzarella cheese (the one in the bag of water not grated), ripe avocado, sun-dried tomatoes, tapenade, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.

There’s our home for the night

And the method… wash and dry the salad leaves, take the mozzarella cheese out of the bag, drain and lay on a bed of leaves, slice the avocado, dot it and the sun-dried tomatoes around on the leaves, drop dots of tapenade likewise. Sprinkle the olive oil, the balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper over everything. Done and Yum. It also looks great… forgot to take pictures, sorry.

Isn’t this adorable? As well as real geese and ducks they have ornamental chickens

Santillana Del Mar

Nice…

On Sunday searching for a campsite (or even a place to park for the night) we drove to one of the highlighted towns on our tour. It was billed as one of the most beautiful villages in Spain.

Weathered stone wall, probably 800 years old!

Santillana Del Mar is very beautiful. It is situated between Gijón and Bilbao and not on the sea so I don’t know why Mar (the sea) is in its name. I will be adding it to the map… below.

Bit of a slope…

The entire village looks like it’s from a medieval film set. Every building, every wall is made of stone and of course the roads are cobblestoned. Our guide says the entire town is a museum but people live here too.

I love this drinking fountain, making it look like the water tap is fed from the stone urn above

And you can stay in the houses, we saw people arriving with their luggage. There are also a few very attractive (from the outside and barred to non-residents) 5 star hotels.

Touch of colour…

We were tired from the driving and searching so we took it easy, bought ice cream and walked around soaking up the atmosphere of an outdoor museum.

Also stone art… why the long face?

Wandering around did make me wonder how this place was able to stay untouched over the centuries. It could be the saint buried in the church…Santa Juliana is said to have imprisoned the devil.

There it is… on the map