The doors

(This door in Couhé)

I love old doors in France, especially when they are framed by stone or wood or greenery. This town was mentioned in the old sign yesterday and now here we are rambling along its streets. It’s full of lovely doors…

(Multiple doors and a gate, yummy)

It was a grey day and we were tired. I think the dark mornings and the short days are telling us something… hibernate? Whatever, we found the cure is going for short walks multiple times in the day. It works and it means we don’t get caught in the rain anymore… that’s said with more hope than confidence. As soon as a rain shower stops we jump up and grab a ten minute walk. So far so good.

(Love)

We were looking at the map today and I noticed Chartres. Do you remember when it was so hot I wouldn’t walk 30 minutes to go see Chartres cathedral? I’d have loved rain that day. Or would I? So quickly I seem to forget that every weather has a downside and an upside.

(There was a tiny door round the back!)

That night in Couhé at ten pm there was a group of people playing loud music in the square. Not a lot you can do about that when you don’t speak the language and you’re just visiting. So it was lovely when the rain started and they went home.

Every cloud, Mairead.

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A sign of the times…

(This barn wall looks like a piece of mosaic art)

Sometimes when I can’t think of what to tell you at the end of a day I look at the pictures I’ve taken. I’m often surprised at what I see. In the moment when I take a picture it’s because something feels right. Plus, I always take more than one. To have six pictures on a blog I have to take at least three times that amount. Then I have a choice. Maybe not a choice of subject but a choice of angle or light or detail.

(The river)

I’m just using my phone so it’s not complicated, the most important part of the process is – take a picture. I know if I don’t have a picture on a particular day I can always use one of the spares from a previous day but it feels like a mistake. I imagine you will understand better what I’m saying if there’s a picture of the thing I’m talking about. I wonder if the blog is about pictures more than anything else.

(Can you see the two Christmas trees?)

Anyway, just now I was looking at a picture of an old signpost attached to a building in the town of Chaunay, where we stayed on Monday night. It turns out the picture tells a short story of our journey this season. Here’s the signpost:

(Signpost in Chaunay)

I took the picture because I love… old signs, the colour blue and the feeling I got when I saw it. There was a scaffolding around the building and the sign was up on the second floor but I didn’t climb the scaffolding… I stretched a bit instead. Then I walked on. Now as I’m looking at the picture I notice what it says…

(Still autumn, barely)

At the top it says, Vienne, the department. Next line says it’s the R10 road from Paris to Bayonne. Next line is the name of the town, Chaunay. Then there’s an arrow showing the direction and distance to the town of Chez-Fouché, 5.2 kilometers and the town of Couhé, 10.6 kilometers.

(Night sky in Chaunay)

As a signpost for modern travel it’s not much use, it’s too small, the font is minuscule, there’s too much information on it, it only gives the closest towns not the biggest towns, its flat on a wall so you’d have to stop to read it.

As a signpost for going slow and stopping to look at the little things, it’s perfect, Mairead.

(There’s Chaunay on the N10)

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I’m not looking forward to Christmas…

(More pictures from Aubeterre, here’s the square with all the restaurants)

I’m not sure if I told you that Linda and I are running a workshop on Saturday 9th of November, about two weeks time. It’s our tried and trusted crafting and mindfulness workshop with the added sparkle of Christmas. I know it’s way way too early for actual Christmas… but it’s perfect time for playful Christmas. What’s playful Christmas, I hear you ask?

(Exceptionally Closed!)

As a child you might remember looking forward to Christmas? Maybe you still do! I did when I was much younger. Back then it was magical. My mother started telling Christmas bedtime stories at the beginning of December. I planned my gift list. No, not the gift list for others… the list for me. I looked forward to Christmas movies, Christmas food, Christmas chocolate, Christmas cake, Christmas… well, you get the idea.

(Cute alleyways)

Then I grew up and it was a shock to realise I was in charge of arranging all those Christmas things. The elves were missing and someone had to cook seventeen things and the seventeen things had to finish cooking at the same time on the same day. And the gift list? All the things on the list had to be wrapped. You know the saying that it’s the thought that counts? My thoughts were not entirely loving.

(Cute windows)

It took years of getting it wrong and being a right pain but eventually I came up with a system. It worked, the food got on the table the presents were wrapped but my back ached and my spirit was less than merry. I really needed a playful Christmas.

(That’s the church built into the chalk hill)

Playful Christmas isn’t a perfectionist, he doesn’t need seventeen dishes, he wraps with brown paper and newsprint. He starts planning early but not in a manic way… in a playful way. Playful Christmas reminds you that it’s the loving thought that counts and no one needs your well chosen gift anyway…

(Playful baubles)

So, back to the workshop, if you’d like a taste of playful Christmas, join us in Glendalough on Saturday 9th, November, 2019. You’ll get to make cute gifts, Christmas cards and among other things you’ll learn to wrap with brown paper and orange slices (very in at the moment.) Click the link MindCraft.ie to visit our website and book your place. And if you know anyone who would like a playful Christmas please, please share this email with them.

Happy, happy this moment! Mairead.

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We are lost…

(Cute touches everywhere, like flowers in the stone fonts)

Aubeterre is one of the Beautiful Villages of France. It’s on the official list but even if you didn’t know about the list you’d think it was beautiful. It’s old stone houses are perched on a couple of hills and there’s even a church built into one of them.

(The house of the potter)

We found it by accident yesterday, a wet and dreary Sunday. Everything was dripping rain, the shops and cafes were closed, there was nowhere to buy even a bottle of water but this place warmed our hearts.

(Pretty tiles)

There is seriously no end to the beautiful places you can find in rural France. Sunday’s and Monday’s are still quiet days though, where the baker gets a break from the 4am start. Sometimes even the supermarket has no baguettes on a Monday morning. This can cause serious anxiety.

(Pretty windows)

The days are getting shorter now and the temperatures are decreasing it’s nearly time to go home – only nine more days and it’s probably just as well. They say it takes less than a month to build a habit and I can confirm that because I have built a solid baguette habit in that time. I’m on one half one a day but I feel the pull to go deeper.

(Look, someone lives there and sits outside at a little table)

You may not have read the reports but baguettes are just a gateway confectionary. They lead directly to pastries and this country has more varieties of pastries than we have potatoes. There’s the croissants, innocuous enough on their own but some days there are no croissants left… so, what do you do? Leave empty handed? No. You choose a pain au chocolate (kinda croissant with chocolate chips). That there is the slippery slope.

(Pretty cafe and restaurant and Jesus)

You may not have heard of the Viennese Almonde yet but you soon will. It is quietly taking over the lives of those who take one bite. No one is immune to its power. Just say No! That’s all you have to do, but saying no is what’s difficult.

(Lovely shades of green just don’t drink the water…)

You naively go into the boulangerie thinking, you’ll just get a baguette, a skinny little trifle of baked goodness. What harm could that be? While you wait – because you must wait, there is always a queue. The boulangerie ties with the mobile phone provider for popularity in France. Every boulangerie has an entrance door and an exit door – have you ever wondered why? I have. It’s because they are very busy…

(More pretty flowers)

Anyway, while you wait your eyes stray towards the adorable cylinder-shaped-just-for-one-4-strawberries-suspended-in-jelly-on-a-baked-meringue-base. Just looking at it and your mouth gets to work preparing to bite into it while your head screams, Noooo! That’s when the Viennese Almonde seems like a good idea. It’s almond, so basically healthy, right? It’s bigger. Yes. But. You won’t eat it all, will you?

Save yourselves, we are lost, Mairead.

(That’s where Aubeterre is located)

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We might be in a movie…

(Grand Hotel de Bordeaux)

We left the small town of Créon early on Saturday morning to drive to a lakeside campsite just north of Bordeaux. The journey took about 30 minutes.

(Driving over the Dordogne)

We’ve bypassed it many times but we’ve never been into the city of Bordeaux but on the recommendation of friends – thank you Astrid and John – we decided to have a look. We found the campsite, the information said it was near public transport so we parked up and set off to find the bus stop. It was just outside the gates and the driver was waiting for us. He then drove us to the terminus of the C tramline. It took about 20 minutes to get into the center of Bordeaux.

(Sanna sculpture by Jaume Plensa)

We didn’t have a big itinerary planned, we were just going to soak up the atmosphere. First step: follow the crowd off the tram and into… the longest shopping street in Europe. We can now tick that one off our bucket list. It was very long but it wasn’t very crowded at 10.30am. We walked for a while, me taking pictures, Denis calculating how long before we could have a coffee. Not long, as it happened, we sat down looking out on the world as it shopped. Then we were off walking again.

(The French Camino goes through Bordeaux)

I love the idea that the French have their dinner at lunch time so that was one thing I definitely wanted to do while we were in the city. As déjeuner (midday meal) starts at noon… before long it was time. This turned out to be the high point of our day but not for reasons you’d imagine.

(This was my view)

We sat at a table outside a lovely looking restaurant facing each other. Does this happen to you? One person gets the best view and the other hears a commentary of the scene? Denis had the best view and was keeping me up to date with the traffic and the scooters for rent. Like the ones we rented in Lisbon. Then he started doing a survey on the number of cyclists wearing helmets. It’s not compulsory to wear helmets in France when you ride a bike. Two out of 25 cyclists surveyed were wearing helmets.

(My duck salad)

It was about this time I noticed the group of five men about 200 meters away running down the street in our direction, probably for a bus. Up until then nothing was happening in my view. So I put down my fork in anticipation of starting a commentary but I continued chewing (an amazing duck salad, by the way). Then the guy in front stopped and turned to the second guy and punched him full on in the face. They weren’t running for a bus. The second guy went down. The first guy turned and ran… straight into a scaffolding, fell, got up… and started running towards us.

(Nice buildings in Bordeaux)

I was trying to tell Denis that there was something happening but my words got stuck and anyway he was devising a new survey about takeaway food delivery logistics and didn’t notice I was mumbling. The guy in front (you know, the one who had hit the second guy?) approached our table. I was trying not to look but at the same time to look because I had a sudden thought that I should be a good witness. But I had to let that dream go my eyes were in touch with fear and he said, Don’t Look! I did see he had a shoulder bag that looked like it was a woman’s Burberry. I was well into a story about how he stole it and the gang of guys behind were trying to get it back for the owner when he ran into our restaurant.

(Old shopping arcade)

I could hear shouting, our waitress was backing away from the restaurant door. I couldn’t see into the restaurant because the windows were mirrored on our side. I was not getting anywhere explaining to Denis. Then the army arrived. I. Kid. You. Not. Six soldiers in full khaki with guns walk from a side street to another side street not 6 meters from me.

(Longest shopping street in Europe)

I’m gesticulating discreetly to Denis, he sees nothing. Six more soldiers pass. I can take no more I catch the waitress’ eye and point to the soldiers. (Did I mention the guns were big? They could definitely be useful with the Burberry guy.) She moved from her spot staring into the restaurant and walked over to me, saying, “Ah, no, madam c’est normale.” (This is normal.) We went home after lunch and fell asleep until it was time to go to bed.

Maybe we stumbled onto a movie set? Mairead

Ps. I hope this doesn’t put you off Bordeaux, it’s a really beautiful place.

(There’s Bordeaux!)

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Funny name, adorable place

(There’s Denis racing over to the coffee)

We drove to the town of Le Bugue on Tuesday morning with a bag of dripping clothes and my nerves on edge. We had checked in the Campercontact app and were heading for camping car parking very near the center of town.

(The market was here earlier)

On the way there we passed the most amazing chalk cliffs. Each one more jaw dropping than the next. You could see people walking on ledges or standing at balconies cut into the cliff face. One cliff had a couple of two story houses built into it. This is the busiest tourist area we have seen on this trip, the traffic was mad and the roads were narrow and there were few places to stop. We kept going, promising to return.

(That’s someone’s front garden!)

Then the first thing we see getting into La Bugue is a market! I don’t know if I mentioned previously but we rarely land in a town on the right day for the market and this was the second time it happened this week. We were over the moon. Well to be honest we should have been over the moon but I was still a little moody after the lightening episode, coffee was all I wanted.

(So old)

Our parking was indeed close to the town – about 3 minutes walk over the Dordogne. It also was a little soggy because it seems the whole world had torrential rain on Monday night. We parked up and headed off to find a cafe.

(Reflecting on the Dordogne)

The town was full of people, chatting and buying and selling and generally having the craic. We found a spot for coffee. I started reading the Lascaux book and Denis was reading his phone. We hadn’t two words for each other.

(Hello I’m France, nice to meet you…)

I cannot give you any historical information about La Bugue but I bet it’s absolutely steeped in history like all the towns we are landing in lately. Yet here we were, oblivious. Can you see us? Are you shouting at me? Wake up and look at where you are!

Some days I’m just not at my best, Mairead.

(There’s La Bugue)

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The Writing on the Wall

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(Here’s a river that was probably around since the beginning of our story… it’s the Corréze river which flows through the ancient town of Corréze. This river is a tributary of the river Vézère which runs through Montignac (the town near the cave) because I have no pictures from Lascaux but loads around Corréze…)

We were in the town of Montignac on the night of the thunder storm. I had a plan to go to the most famous cave in the world next morning and tell you all about it. It was going to be very interesting. You would have loved it. I would have loved it. But it was still raining the next morning, it rained all night, I didn’t sleep well, our clothes were wet. That’s why I didn’t go to see the Lascaux cave, just ten minutes drive from our camping car spot.

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(The town was definitely around when the cave was found)

To make up for it I bought you a book called See you in Lascaux, by Brigitte and Giles Delluc, who are experts in the Lascaux paintings. Fortunately, for all of us, Angela CaldwellI translated it into English. I’ve been skimming it so I’m ready to tell you a story about the caves. Then when you’re here in the dry season you can go yourself and hear the real story. Ok?

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(Here’s the old river Corréze, possibly looking like it would 17,000 years ago, possibly)

First thing you need to know is that nobody actually visits the cave. Humans are a toxic cauldron of fumes and chemicals that are bad for the real cave and ever since 1963 it has been closed. The historians, or as they are more accurately called, the prehistorians, found a way to share this amazing place with the world and created a copy of the cave. We went on a tour years ago and the copy cave is very realistic and also the tour was really very good.

P1080552(Very old Michelin signpost in Corréze, may have been up on this wall when they found the cave in 1940)

Long, long ago in the Magdalenian Era which was 17,000 years ago (I read that in the book) some people began drawing on the walls of the cave in Lascaux. They drew goats, bison, oxen, horses and stags. They used various natural occurring dyes to colour their drawings. They were telling stories about what was important to them. And then they left. Not sure why. Could be a previous global warming. Could be the cave flooded. Anyways, they left and the cave was forgotten. No one knew the cave even existed until one day Marcel Ravidat was walking his dog, Robot. (No his dog wasn’t a robot, that was just the dog’s name. Yes, I agree, a little confusing.)

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(Very old buildings in Corréze)

Marcel was an apprentice car mechanic and only eighteen years old. It was a Sunday in September, 1940. A few months earlier Germany had invaded France. Probably not the happiest of times. Anyway, Marcel and his dog, Robot, were out for a walk and Robot starts barking in the general direction of a hole in the ground. Marcel, who in the book is described as obstinate and adventurous, was all for going down into the hole.

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(From 1940? Maybe?)

I would just like to stop here and say there is no way that I would ever climb down into a hole in the ground. Which leads me to wonder if there are any treasures I have overlooked and although it must have been difficult for his mother aren’t we all glad Marcel was obstinate and adventurous?

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(Old stone bridge in Corréze definitely around in 1940)

Unfortunately Marcel was a little too big to fit in the potentially dangerous hole in the ground. So he came back on Thursday with his friends Georges, Simon and Jacques and they forced their way into the hole. They were all stunned by what they saw and went off to tell local teacher, Léon Lavel. News spread very quickly and the place was overrun with visitors. It still is. Marcel and his friend Jacques were unofficial gatekeepers of the cave while the experts figured out what to do.

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(I just love these little doorbells… also in Corréze)

Time passed and Marcel joined the French Resistance – of course he did and he also went to fight in Germany – his poor mother. But he survived and came back home to Montignac where he was a guide for years at the cave. In spite of the fact that there were experts from all over the world studying the cave it was Marcel who noticed the fungus spreading and damaging the walls in the 1960s.

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(More beautiful ancient buildings in Corréze)

The book doesn’t say what happened to Marcel, what he did when the cave was closed and he was no longer involved in guiding people. I suspect he found other adventures and if he married I bet his wife had stories about his obstinacy. Maybe he’s still alive. Oh, I googled him and he died in 1995, he was 72. I’m surprised at how sad that makes me feel.

Be as adventurous as you dare and as obstinate as that requires, Mairead.

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