Four Degrees!

(Sunny evening in Coubon on the Loire)

We stayed in a town called Coubon last night. It was 4 degrees Celsius this morning when I got up. Four…. It was 12 degrees at home in Greystones! I got dressed in no time and went outside. We were surrounded by fog.

(Four degrees and fog)

When Denis got up he went to the boulangerie so we have bread – we won’t starve. Is bread enough? I was thinking about the places people choose to live. On the banks of the Loire in a cute town with a cafe, a bar, a restaurant and a boulangerie seems lovely and it is lovely but it means for this town, as they are situated in a valley, they probably get a lot of foggy days. On a sunny day they possibly get less sun than their neighbours up on the hill.

(Can you make out the top of the cloud?)

I was still thinking about this when we drove off. We were leaving anyway but the fog made it easier. Our drive was taking us uphill and in no time we we’re above the clouds and it was glorious. It was hard to believe that ten minutes away everything was so different. There was nowhere to stop on the narrow roads so I took pictures through the window as we continued up and up. Then we turned away from the river and we could no longer see the valley.

(We seem to be we going down again…)

I couldn’t stop thinking about the people in the town, still stuck in the fog. Do they go up the hill on days like today? Do they forget that the sun is up top shining to its heart’s content? Do they just put up with the fog and get on with their day?

(That little line of white behind the tree line is the fog)

And then we turned a corner. We could see the valley again, stretching for miles and miles. There was a blanket of fog laid out all along the river’s course but it was a blanket with holes, where the hills peeped through.

(It’s good to be alive)

We spotted a patch of grass just big enough to stop. I set off down the road and into a field to get photos. I was about to take the first one… and the battery died in my camera. When you find a little hill peeping through a hole in the fog you can put up with almost anything.

My feet were wet, I was freezing cold but I was on top of the world, Mairead.

Ps I had a spare battery in the van.

(There’s Coubon)

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Brives Charensac

(Cheerful flowers)

We were passing through a lovely little town, with a long name, this morning and we stopped to have a look around. No big deal, you think… but it kinda is. You see, we’re normally too big to fit in the car parks in the lovely little towns unless they have assigned camping car parking or big supermarket parking – with no height barrier.

(Can you see the old bridge?)

In France there’s so much assigned camper car parking that we don’t mind when we can’t stop everywhere. But I saw a knitting shop and two seconds later a car park with a wide entrance – it was a sign. Stop here.

(Reflecting on the Loire… see what I did there?)

We got a grand spot too, it might have been for a bus so we fitted in just fine. Then we went off for a wander. This town is also on the Loire, so we’re definitely getting better acquainted with the longest river in France, and it was looking beautiful today.

(There’s the old bridge from the new bridge)

We stopped for a quick cafe long (might be spelled allonge) it’s the French version of an americano and then a little look at the wool shop. I’ve been thinking of knitting a cushion with huge needles in very chunky wool. Every time I think of it I get a warm feeling in my stomach or could be my gut, somewhere in the middle anyway. I know exactly what I want. I didn’t find it… yet.

I’ll keep looking, Mairead.

(There’s Brives Charensac!)

Here’s the link: Amazon.co.uk where you can go to get yourself, or a friend, a copy of Everyday Fearless… I’m off to my next project but before I go I have two favours to ask. 1. If you have a friend who likes reading please let them know about the book, I have such a small community and I’d love to share my work with more people. 2. Please leave a rating or review on Amazon, it really helps people find the book. Thank you so much! xxx

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Everyday Fearless

(The Book!)

I did it! I finished writing my book about our journey earlier this year to Portugal and I’m really excited. (I’m sick with anxiety too but as that feels very like excitement I’m grand.) Do you remember I was telling you about the book I was going to write and publish on Kindle in a post in June? At the time I was not feeling very confident that I would finish it. I had a story running – on repeat – through my head. The, You never finish anything, story. Well… that story is gone now and I’m really excited!

Actually, my excitement is a bit boundless at the moment so bear with me I’ll make sense in a minute. Maybe if I make a list? Yes, I like lists. Here goes…

(love this bell!)

Things that are making me feel excited

  1. Finishing. I am completely amazed at what a difference it makes to finish a project but I nearly missed this step – the one where I notice I’m finished.
  2. Getting rid of the, You never finish anything, story. Stories are great because they have a message. When we tell stories to children we are telling them a useful message. For example, The Boy Who Cried Wolf – don’t tell lies. Le Loup qui changer de couleur – accept yourself. But sometimes we hang on to a story with a message that is no longer useful. You never finish anything– don’t try something new you’ll be disappointed.
  3. Telling you! You have no idea how lovely it is to have you on this journey with us and in particular on this journey with me. I love writing and it’s way more pleasing to write to someone. Thank you for being that someone.
  4. The name of the book, Everyday Fearless, came to me after a conversation in Dijon with a friend. Sometimes it takes courage to do ordinary everyday stuff. Like ask for help. Or speak in French. Or find your way in a strange town. Or take a picture. Or start a conversation. Or say, I’m sorry. Or make a phone call. Or run screaming, into the sea at Magheramore Beach. Or do anything that would make me look silly or stupid or flawed. Like telling you before I’m ready that I was going to write a book.
  5. Being alive.
  6. Letting go of waiting to be perfect me, I’m ok with just being me. A few years ago during autumn I went for a walk along the driveway to Powerscourt House in Enniskerry, looking for leaves. I wanted the perfect leaves, the ones that looked symmetrical with no spots or cuts. I couldn’t find one. I searched for a long time. None of the leaves were perfect. Maybe perfect is unnatural?
  7. Imagining myself in twenty years time… at 78. I’m in my art studio. It’s an old run down former car mechanic’s garage with old grease stains on the floor and oil blackened benches but very well insulated so it’s warm and cozy. I make art, I practice Everyday Fearless, I share how to be everyday fearless, I write books (my 16th book was a bestseller) There is laughter all around and I am beyond happy.
  8. Everything starts now….

(Magheramore Beach in Co. Wicklow)

So off you go, click or tap anywhere here and have a look at the book that made me realize that feeling sick with anxiety is just another kind of excited! Mairead.

Ps. If that link doesn’t work for you, go to Amazon and search for Everyday Fearless Mairead Hennessy. Thank you!

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Gorgeous Gorge

(Gorges de la Loire, from the village on the hill)

We stayed a second night looking down on the Loire and it was just as quiet as the first. We didn’t get to use the jetons though as we were too far away from the electricity connection. We managed fine.

(Here’s a picture for my brother-in-law. There’s a lot of varieties of fish here, Micheal!)

We did also have to dig into the emergency rations. I knew those celery sticks I packed would could in handy. They were lovely with some just out of date hummus.

(Everywhere you turn there’s another path to follow)

It turns out our view is created by the dam (called barrage here) that was built up river. This is for the creation of electricity and for tourism in the form of fishing and a sailing school.

(Can you see the sail boats in a row? That’s the sailing school taking some school children out for a lesson)

We left this morning just as the sun was coming over the hill thinking about how lucky we are to have the opportunity to stay in places like this.

(The sun rising over the hill behind us)

Practicing gratitude, Mairead.

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The Loire

(We got a good parking spot)

We drove about an hour south from Lyon and now we’re in a most beautiful place called, Saint-Victor-sur-Loire. The Loire. I was surprised by the name but the Loire has to come from somewhere… it’s doesn’t just arrive between Orleans and Nantes.

(View from the bed)

I’ve looked it up and the Loire is the longest river in France and rises 100km south of where we’re parked in a place called Mount Gerbier de Jonc.

(There was a little path through some woods. That might be a church on the other side)

It’s so peaceful here and quiet even though there a sailing school and a ferry boat close by. We went for a walk up a very steep road to get the jeton (token) for electricity this morning. It’s overcast and we aren’t making much from solar.

(The view from between the houses at the top of the hill)

At the top there was an adorable little town with a castle which we didn’t go see as it would have meant bearing slightly off course but downhill and that just wasn’t happening. There was also an old church which was closed. We were still panting when we arrived at the Mairie (the mayor’s office, where you get jetons) so I sat outside and Denis went in.

(The view of the river from outside the Mairie’s)

While I was out there I could see in the distance hundreds of feet below the path of the river meandering in gentle curves. This is a magical place, no coffee, no bread, but the natural beauty is stunning. (Be nice to look at it through a cafe window, sigh.)

(The old church)

As I was waiting a man passed me, he was very well dressed and quite good looking in a distinguished way. We exchanged bonjours. About half an hour later Denis arrived out. He’d been in a queue behind someone with queries about land.

(Look at this beauty… what is it?)

Well to be honest we have no idea what the queries were about but he did have a map out on the desk… So anyway Denis was still waiting when the mayor, or the Maire, came in and shook hands with everyone, including Denis.

(Can you see there’s a beach too?)

Turns out it was my distinguished man! If only I’d know I would have asked him about opening a cafe…

From the banks of the Loire, Mairead.

(Here we are beside the meandering Loire)

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Walking Lyon

(Cathedral Saint-Jean-Baptiste)

We walked Lyon yesterday and clocked up 11 kilometers. It’d be nice to think we are very fit now, but no, we both fell asleep when we got back to Ruby. I was even too tired to write. Probably the smart way to get fit is to start small but repeat. Every day. Yes, that’s probably it.

(Well that’s very familiar)

Anyways, Lyon is big, much bigger than Dijon. We’ve never been before and we didn’t have any idea what to go see. Denis was interested in the food as Lyon is called the belly of France, in a good way. There’s an area called Vieux Lyon, old Lyon, that seemed to be a good place to start.

(Less familiar, a bouchon restaurant, traditional Lyon)

After a stressful (for me) drive through the city on Friday afternoon we arrived at the International Camping campsite. We picked it because it had good public transport links to the city. If I had known we had to drive through Lyon to get to the good transport links I might have suggested giving Lyon a miss. I’m glad I didn’t though, it was worth the temporary increase in stress.

(Thats the front of the train – there’s no driver on the metro…)

Saturday morning at 8.30am, we headed for the bus (just outside the gates) to the metro station and into Vieux Lyon. Half an hour later we were walking out on to the streets of Vieux Lyon not knowing which direction to turn. Left seemed as good a choice as any. Very soon I was experiencing déjà vu. What does this remind me of? Over there was a cathedral, down that alley the river, there’s an Irish pub and another one here and oh, there’s another one… Probably just homesickness but this was looking a lot like Temple Bar on the morning after a few stag parties. I couldn’t shake the feeling we were in the wrong place. We kept going regardless, maybe Christchurch would be just around the corner.

(Footbridge crossing the river Saône – it was a little wobbly)

Everything was better when we crossed the river, well one of the rivers. Lyon is built across two rivers that meet in the city, the Rhône and the Saône. We crossed the Saône and wandered for a while until we found ourselves in a beautiful square, Place de Terreaux. Well, it would be a beautiful square again, at the moment it is in the middle of a facelift.

(Place de Terreaux getting its facelift. Also can you see the graffiti? On the chimneys? Artists without fear)

Then somehow we were led into the garden of the Musée Des Beaux-Arts de Lyon. Possibly because of my earlier wobble of stress, this garden had the most powerful effect on my mood and just standing in it, I felt completely at peace with the world again.

(Here’s my peaceful garden at the Musée Des Beaux-Arts de Lyon)

Then it seemed like the right thing to do, was to go and visit the museum and we did. It’s a lovely space, the layout and art works are very attractive. We spent two hours wandering and looking and pointing and taking pictures and although we were ready to leave after the two hours we didn’t feel exhausted.

(I rarely love sculptures but I loved so many here. These two are my favourites. The first one is called The Mountain, by Aristide Maillol and the second is called The Mad Virgin by Rik Wouters – is it strange that I find her inspiring? She looks so happy!)

I think our lack of exhaustion could be down to the building itself and its high ceilings and the fact that we just wandered. So often I get the audio guide to make sure I don’t miss anything. I listen to the guide tell me a lot of information while at the same time I’m taking in a lot of visual inputs. It does take a toll on your energy. Whatever the reason, the Musée Des Beaux-Arts de Lyon was a beautiful experience.

(I also loved this one, it’s supposed to be Mary when the angel says she’s pregnant. She seems to be saying, Will ya get away outta that!)

We had a lovely lunch and afternoon hot chocolate to give us energy and then we made our way back to the campsite. We will have to return to Lyon, we’ll do a walking tour some day, that worked very well in Porto. Whatever happens I’m definitely coming back to that Museum.

From now on I only want to be referred to as The Mad Virgin, The Mad Virgin.

(There’s Lyon)

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Afternoon from Switzerland…

(Sunny day at CERN)

We visited Switzerland yesterday afternoon, as you do. We were there for the science. You may have heard of Conseil Europeén pour la Recherche de Nucléaire?(Me neither.) CERN, for short was set up after the Second World War to create a place in Europe where scientists could be scientists and share their work with this new postwar world. During the war a lot of scientists left Europe to work in the United States. People like Robert Oppenheimer, who invented the atomic bomb. Albert Einstein moved before the war and became an American citizen in 1940.

(We booked spaces on the free tour)

More recently you may have heard of CERN because of the Large Hadron Collider? No? Okay… if you had I could just bypass an explanation of it… are you sure you haven’t heard of it? If you’re sure I’ll give it a go but don’t ask any questions, I don’t know the answers. The Large Hadron Collider, LHC for short, is a device thought up by some people from CERN to work out what happened at the beginnings of the world. So far so good. Everything started off 13.8 billion years ago with the Big Bang. That’s the theory and scientists love theories but the theories bring up lots of questions and the only way to answer those questions is to create experiments. CERN is a place where scientists can perform experiments.

(Here’s our tour guide in front of lots of information)

Scientists have to be incredibly patient people because experiments take a long time, they often don’t work and then they have to keep tweaking things and re-experimenting. What’s more, they have to create devices or machines for their experiments. The people at CERN have been creating theses machines since 1949. We saw one that was created in the 1950’s called the Synchro-Cyclotron, the main part of it was bigger than Ruby and was housed in a three story building.

(Inside the tube of the LHC)

Two of the scientists involved with the first Synchro-Cyclotron experiments are still working at CERN, Maria and Giuseppe Fidecaro. Not because they have to, they really, really like being around science and scientists.

(There’s a lovely article about them at https://www.symmetrymagazine.org/article/february-2014/couples-history-intertwined-with-60-years-of-cern)

(All the information from experiments since 1949 is stored on tape. They are starting to move it on the cloud)

And that was just the beginning. The scientists kept designing bigger “machines ” as the experiments got more complicated or as they say, interesting. Which leads us to the LHC (remember, the Large Hedron Collider?). Now, if you thought the Synchro-Cyclotron was big, wait until you hear this… The LHC comprises a 27km long circular tunnel built underground with 4 experiment buildings attached. What’s more, it’s located just across the border in France! (Side note: there’s an open border between Switzerland and France at CERN… something similar could be useful to us if the exit goes ahead.)

(The location is surrounded by corn fields and snow capped mountains)

What does the Large Hedron Collider do? It makes teeny tiny particles move very, very fast and then bump into each other. And then it measures what happens next. We didn’t get to see the LHC – it’s closed down for an upgrade which will take two years! Can I refer you back to scientists having a lot of patience. But we did get kinda close… our tour guide, who was from South Africa, is a Phd student proving her own experiments at the LHC. I did not understand her experiments and you’ll just have to trust me they sounded impressive.

But… there is one thing that was invented at CERN, that you use every day. It was invented by Tim Berners-Lee, a computer scientist. He invented The World Wide Web here. What we all call (imprecisely as it happens, scientists are very precise…) the Internet! Without CERN you wouldn’t be able to read this… well yes, of course you could be spending your time more wisely practicing French or going for a long walk.

Thanks a lot, CERN, Mairead.

(By the way, just to let you know in case you were worried (I was..) I checked and even though nuclear is in their name, it’s not like nuclear power or war or weapons… it’s just to do with the nucleus of atoms.)

(There’s CERN)

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We only have a certain amount of energy

(The front of the Monastère Royal De Brou)

We ran out of electric power last night. The clouds were grey and the sun didn’t come out and during the day our solar panels didn’t generate much electricity. By 3pm we were using more energy than they were generating.

(Exhibition of old techniques for painting)

We use up energy when we turn on the lights, so we turned them off. We use energy when we charge our laptops, so we took turns charging. First one of us charged until their laptop was over 50% then plugged out and the other one could plug in.

(Reproduction of roof tiles)

We use energy when we charge our phones but we had an extra battery for that so we took turns charging our phones. We use energy when we turn on the heating – just to turn it on, gas heats the water. Fortunately, it wasn’t cold. We use energy when we shower – again only to turn it on. Fortunately, we don’t get too close to people who might notice. Dogs do seem friendlier, though, which might be a sign.

(Stairs to Apartments of Princess Margaret) We make energy when we drive and we have been driving for 90 minutes today. We also make energy when the sun shines and although it is much colder today (7 degrees Celsius this morning) the dark clouds are gone and the sun is shining on our solar panels.

(Ceiling over her tomb)

Each time we run low on one of our resources I am reminded of my resources. My energy. We tend to be careful of our water usage in the van because we have a finite amount. Of course we can get more. We also keep gas usage to a minimum by putting the water heater on for only ten minutes at a time. Of course we can also get more gas.

(Her motto… Both fortune and misfortune make a woman stronger)

I have a finite amount energy. Every day I generate more, through the food I eat, the exercise or rest I take and the mental health I nurture. Some days I waste some of my finite energy on worry or drama. Some days I restrict the amount of energy I can generate by eating zero energy generating foods, like processed sugar or by my sleeping habits.

Human energy conservation. Mairead.

(There we are between Dijon and Lyon in Bourg-en-Bresse)

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You think you have problems…

(Princess Margaret of Austria)

We are in the town of Bourg-en-Bresse. We arrived at lunchtime in front of a huge abbey, called The Royal Monastery of Brou. It was commissioned by Princess Margaret of Austria who was from the Netherlands (or at least ruled the Netherlands for a time) in 1506.

(I love the cloisters)

She had a tough life. When she was little her mother died. Then her father promised her to a future king and she had to go live in Amboise to become trained for her new role. She was only 8. She was great friends with her fiancé until they were both 17 and he broke it off with her to marry a different princess. She was very hurt. But her father found her another king (can’t remember where he was from) and they got married. Unfortunately, he died.

(Can you see the fancy tile mosaic on the roof of the church?)

Margaret didn’t throw in the towel yet, no she found, or maybe it was her father who found, another suitor. Philibert the Handsome. He was very handsome. They were both very much in love. She was 24 when he died… can it get any worse?

(It started raining while I was inside)

She decided not to get married again. Then her brother died. She was given the job of ruling the Netherlands which she did very well. She was very rich and she decided to become a patron of the arts and started work on the Monastery. She had a plan for spending the rest of her life here with the tomb of her Philibert.

(Tomb of Philibert the Handsome…)

She hired master builder, Louis van Boghem from Brussels who in turn hired Flemish skilled stone masons and wood carvers. It was nearly finished when she died. Yes Princess Margaret died before she even set foot in her creation. She was fifty years of age.

(…and just a few feet away, the tomb of Princess Margaret of Austria)

She’s here now, though, in a tomb in the church with her husband (the handsome one) and her mother-in-law (who gave her the idea for building.)

Things could be worse, Mairead.

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Wash Day at the Supermarket

(46 minutes at 60 degrees)

And the high point for today – washing our clothes. We’re parked at a supermarket in Prissé, which is a small town outside Mâcon. There’s a fine launderette with parking in one corner of the shopping center and I’m waiting here for the dryer to finish.

(There they go…)

The sun is shining and it would be so nice to hang the clothes out instead of putting them in a dryer. Can you imagine arriving at the supermarket at home and noticing clothes lines strung between the trees? Covered in pegged-up clothes? Actually, maybe that would be lovely! As an art project, I mean! No one wants to see our underwear strung around Tesco…

(You can tell a lot about a place by what they put in their supermarket foyer…. Charolais cattle originate in the Charolais area which is near here!)

I can see it now, colourful baby clothes, pretty children’s ballet dresses, worn dungarees, sparkly teenage dresses, white shirts, T-shirt’s with band logos, dark trousers, frilly bed-shawls. All the items grouped by age, like a life timeline. It could be called Life Line. Who’ll ring Tesco head office for me? Maybe Fairy Non-bio would sponsor us?

(This old wooden wine press was also in the foyer – wine production is big here too)

This is what happens when you don’t do ten other things while the clothes are being washed by the machine. If I was at home I’d be cutting something, making something, cleaning something or meeting someone while the clothes washed. Here I’m not a bit concerned with multi-tasking. The dishes are done, the floor is grand, there’s nothing I need to cut down or to make up and there’s no one to meet. I have an opportunity to let my imagination run wild, just for the fun of it.

Seriously, does anyone know the CEO of Tesco Ireland? Mairead.

(There we are in Prissé)

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The town of Buxy

(An old tin sign on the former train station wall)

We arrived in Buxy this morning and went for a walk to the town to get our bearings. We’d stopped off here briefly last year but never got as far as the town. It’s very pretty and very old.

(This tower reminded me of Reginald’s tower in Waterford)

Delivery trucks were competing with buses and pedestrians on the narrow streets and the locals were buying their baguettes by the armful.

(That’s the post office clinging to the edge of the hill and that second tower belongs to the church)

We spotted the butcher delivering meat so you might need to avert your eyes for the next photo… That’s the butcher and the baker covered, I’m on the lookout for a candlestick maker. It was uphill all the way to town which meant it was a grand downhill walk back. We are parked near the old station on the Voie Verte and when we got back I headed out for a walk. The weather was cool with some sunshine, with plenty of shade on the path – optimum.

(Just in case you were wondering where meat comes from…)

I’ve been reading a book on Audible (well, listening to the author read his book on the Audible app, might be more accurate) called Effortless Success by Michael Neill, did I already tell you? Maybe I did. Anyway, he’s lovely and he tells nice little stories to make you feel like you could really do things. He’s all about flowing, not pushing. There’s a bit in the book I was thinking about this morning, on my walk along the greenway: Where there’s a way, there’s a will.

(The long road)

We all know the other version, where there’s a will there’s a way but he says that’s a bit pushy and often invokes resistance. The other one is more flowy. I got an example of it this morning, as I rounded a bend and could see a long straight path ahead of me. The thought came to me, gosh that’s long. A moment later, I shouldn’t go too far. Then, I wonder how long I’ve been walking? I checked my phone… ten minutes. No way! I thought I’d been walking for at least 35 minutes, maybe even 45… but no.

(There would have been a barrier across the road here, when the greenway was a train track)

And didn’t my friend, Michael (you know, the guy from the book? He does feel like my friend) pop into my head and his idea about where’s there a way, there’s a will. I really had no idea where I was going and that was making it feel longer. How could I make it feel doable.

(Noticed this hanging on a tree on my way back. You are the master of your life and whatever the prison you have the keys. The Dalai Lama)

I had noticed there were benches every 500 meters or so. I could use them as a way to keep myself going. I’d just go to the next bench. So I went to the next bench and the next bench. I walked for an hour and it was so much easier and the return journey felt like ten minutes!

Even more interesting, this works with projects, Mairead.

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The Baker, Le Boulanger

(La boulangerie)

I slept really well last night after our long walk yesterday. Now we’re on the road again heading for the Voie Verte – the greenway that used to be a train line. It’s a path for walkers and cyclists, we found it last year. First though, we needed to stop off at the bakery, la boulangerie.

(Not Brennan’s but sure we’ll be grand…)

Our Brennan’s Wholemeal Chia, Pumpkin and Poppyseed bread has run out so from now on we will be eating French bread. I think we’ll manage. We spotted the bakery as we were leaving Dijon. It was open, not a given as today is Sunday and opening times are very restricted. Not this bakery, they open from early until late.

(Can you make out their opening times? 6.30am to 7.30pm every day, exceptions: closed all day Tuesday and closed thirty minutes early on Sunday)

We decided to have a coffee since we were here and that’s when I spotted the baker preparing his bread. He had a huge rectangular fabric mat, the size of a narrow single bed. It was laid out on top of a trolley and on top of the mat there was the uncooked dough. When we first walked in he was busy snipping the baguettes with a scissors. Then he rolled the trolley to one of eight ovens and raised the trolley bed (like you see paramedics do when they take a stretcher out of an ambulance?) making it level with one of the upper ovens. Then he opened the oven door and slid the fabric mat and the baguette dough into the oven. And then he went on to the next batch and I saw the way he transferred the soft baguette dough onto the fabric mat with a wooden paddle.

(Can you see the way the trolley might elevate to the height of the upper oven? And that he’s holding the wooden paddle? And that there are 8 ovens!)

I wanted to take a photo to show you but it seemed rude. I should ask, right? So I did, I went up to the lady on the counter and stumbled through the French for, can I take a picture? She understood and gave a wicked grin saying, you want a picture of the baker? Of course! The next customer joined in with something that made her laugh out loud. Probably rude…

I don’t care I got my picture. Mairead

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Ten thousand meters to Dijon

(Place Notre Dame, Dijon. Even in this small section can you see two church towers?)

We walked to Dijon today, a ten kilometer round trip. The weather was perfect – overcast with one heavy rain shower but otherwise dry and cool. We remembered the umbrella.

(This was the huge door to the art gallery)

Our plan was to wander into the center of the city, check out a church (there were at least six to choose from) visit a museum and an art gallery, have lunch and fit in a coffee break. We didn’t go to a museum but we did visit the art gallery, a tea shop and a very pretty little park.

(These three were portraits of the artist’s mother, they are huge, he must use scaffolding)

There was a temporary exhibit at the gallery that I really liked. I think it’s because I prefer more modern art. Normally, at this point, I’d tell you who the artist was… but I asked Denis to carry the brochures and he seems to have mislaid them. I will google the gallery and it’s temporary exhibit in a minute but it just won’t be the same. So disappointing.

(The tea shop had cake…)

Ok I googled. His name was Yan Pei-Ming and he was born in Shanghai in 1960 (a contemporary of myself, as it happens…) He came to Dijon to study art in 1981 and this exhibition is called The Man Who Cried. He’d definitely understand my disappointment.

(And another church)

The art gallery stretches over three storeys and around three sides of a courtyard and after an hour I started to wane and began searching for the exit. I have a habit of ignoring signs that I can’t understand and found myself at a locked exit with a security guard asking me what I wanted. Exit, please, didn’t make sense to her. Meanwhile Denis who had not ignored the sign was mouthing Sortie at me from behind the barrier while trying to keep a straight face. The guard escorted both of us to a different door and let us out with her secret code. I said, Merci! and gave her a big smile. She didn’t smile. Denis couldn’t stop smiling.

(Don’t go in when it’s windy…)

On the way home we passed a very unusual park called Jardin de L’Arquebuse. Flowers (including wild flowers) and plants were laid out in rows and signs pointed out what soil they were growing in. If only our French was better we would have learned a lot about what plants need for healthy growth. Nonetheless it was very pleasant.

(This bee may have come from the hives they had in the park)

We are staying in the municipal campsite tonight and when we arrived back tired and footsore from the city we were thrilled to see a pizza van beside reception. Yes we had pizza, it was very nice.

I’m over my disappointment now, Mairead.

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In the poet’s footsteps…

(The alleyway to a side entrance. Can you see the little door cut into the big door on the left?)

We are on our way to Dijon (thanks to a recommendation from Cormac) but I went to visit one of the cathedrals in Auxerre before we left, Saint-Etienne Cathedrale. Turns out there’s a slight Irish connection. I bought the little guide leaflet to get the details, short as they are.

(Yes, you, come on it!)

The cathedral nestles among houses and gardens built around it. It was definitely here first – the guide says there was a cathedral here in 400AD. Then you might expect a respectable building distance to be observed all around but maybe this is more healthy, everyone snuggled in together. As I rounded the last corner I could see I had come to a dead end but there was a door. I wasn’t sure if I should go on until I noticed a small sign.. Entree, Entrance. Come on in!

(The back of the door)

The surprise after that little door is the internal space is very impressive. It’s still in use on Sundays for mass but today there were groups of French tourists having a guided tour.

(Makes you look up)

There was a railing running around the back of the altar with posters commemorating a famous French poet who lived in Auxerre. Her name was Marie Noël (1883-1967). There was a lovely picture of her walking up the narrow alleyway outside the cathedral towards the little door. She looks like any little old lady you’d see walking up to mass but now here she was up on a poster inside the cathedral. Very surreal. I bought a booklet about her in the tiny book shop there. Google translate and I are working our way through it.

(That’s one of the Marie Noël posters in the cathedral)

It’s hard going so maybe I’ll just enjoy the pictures of her. I nearly forgot about the connection with Ireland – it’s St. Patrick! It seems he was here and was trained by Saint Germain who was bishop in Auxerre in 418 AD. Hang on, why didn’t St. Patrick bring French to Ireland?

We’d all be fluent, Mairead.

(There we are on our way to Dijon)

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Gentle Sewing Warrior

(Here’s the craft shop again)

I went back to visit the craft shop yesterday and was really glad I did! I met Julie (pronounced differently, a bit like Shew-lee.) She and two other artist friends opened the shop just three months ago. They make and sell their work and each month they feature a different artist from the area. Julie gives sewing classes on Thursday evenings, hand sewing, machine sewing and pattern making. She also teaches knitting.

(And again)

We chatted for ages, her English is very good, thankfully, because we were covering more than just small talk. Julie talked about the protests last November in France and that although she agrees changes need to be made she has found a different way to protest. A quiet and gentle way.

(Hello, Julie!)

She teaches using her passion for fabric and stitch and her belief that we don’t need to have lots of clothes, just one or two good pieces. If you know how to make changes to the clothes you have then you don’t need to buy more. In that way we cut down on the damage we are doing to the earth and we save money.

(Here’s the shop opening times in case you are in Auxerre)

Things are quiet on the streets of Auxerre. Julie says they may only be able to stay open until Christmas, it is expensive to rent a premises in the city. In my ideal world Julie’s shop would be thriving, people would be queuing out the door to learn these skills. Studies show that making things, crafting, sewing, whatever it is, lowers your cortisol. Stress raises cortisol levels in your body and too much cortisol is bad for you. Julie is like medicine, I felt great in her company.

Loving Auxerre, Mairead.

Ps She’s on Facebook and Instagram. Maybe you could give her a follow?

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The ten year old book

(The boats and one of the cathedrals at Auxerre)

We’re in the town (could be a city) of Auxerre, it’s really lovely. The camper parking is just basic but the location is brilliant! Out the front window at the moment I can see narrowboats on the river. If I step outside I can hear horse chestnuts falling from the trees. Then there’s the cathedrals – four I can see across the river and they’re not small, they look to me like they could rival Notre Dame in Paris. This town must have been very important, maybe it still is.

(Still some left on the tree)

We got here around 10am, we had been on our way to a small village but I had a document to sign and post to the accountant. When I took down the printer I realised someone (that would be me…) hadn’t brought the power lead.. Big town might have a print shop or a library and that’s why we’re here.

(Love this house)

Off I went to the tourist off to inquire, it’s just across the river. There was a very helpful sign in the window saying it was closed, permanently. Right. There was an address for the new location, though. I set off for that.

(The games shop)

I was busy taking pictures of the beautiful old half-timbered buildings when I noticed a board game shop. I think to myself, Denis will be delighted! But even more amazing right beside it a craft shop with crafting sessions! It was closed… don’t worry it’ll be open later, I’ll be back.

(Very fancy clock tower)

More pictures and I’m now standing outside a book shop. Normally I’d be straight in as I love book shops but as I have the reading ability of a disinterested 4 year old (in French I mean) I resist. But there’s an adorable window display for a children’s book. It’s celebrating the fact that the book is 10 years old. Interesting.

(That’s the craft shop)

Very interesting. Children’s books are very interesting. To me, anyway. There are children’s books that never seem to go out of fashion. I’m thinking of the Hungry Caterpillar written and illustrated by Eric Carle, first published in 1969 and still selling all over the world. And there’s the French Little Prince written and illustrated by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, first published in 1943. There’s something about those books in their simplicity that makes them popular.

(That’s the book shop, the golden boot must mean something?)

I have to go in. Here’s a chance to see what a child of France in the 21st century cherishes, I feel like David Attenborough. There were a few customers in the shop, mostly under 5, so I fit right in. I spot our section, down low near the window. It takes me a while to locate the correct shelf because now I’m on all fours. Although there a big splash in the window, inside the shop the book is very discreet. And complicated…. there’s other books. It seems the author and the illustrator have published many, many other books about the same character in the ten years since they started but I feel I need to get to the source. To the one that started everything.

(Strange carving)

There’s no escape I have to find some French words to ask the lady behind the counter what was the first book but even in English that might be hard to explain. I give it a try. At first she seems confused but like all book shopkeepers she can read minds (try asking one for the new book they talked about on the radio about coffee and money – I bet they’ll know) and she searches for the colour change book. Just when it seems she can’t find it and I’ll never know, she takes apart the front window and gives me the shop’s only copy. All book shopkeepers are heroes!

(The 10 year old book!)

The book is called Le Loup qui changer de couleur by Orianne Lallemande and Éléanore Thuillier and it’s about a wolf who didn’t like his colour so he changed it, lots of times but in the end… I don’t want to spoil it for you so I’ll say no more. All I will say is the future of France is in good hands, the children are reading a beautiful book.

From Auxerre, Mairead.

(There’s Auxerre!)

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The end is in sight…

(You might be able to make out the motorhomes in the distance?)

We have found a lovely spot beside the river Yonne and after all my talk yesterday about the magic of constantly moving on we’ve decided to stay a second night. Yesterday was very hot and today is wet and cool. Perfect day for short walks and long sessions working on the book. I’ve just finished the first draft of an introduction and I feel the end is in sight.

(Can you see that house has a boat tied to the garden gate?)

One of my draft readers (you know who you are!) suggested I add a bit of background, like our ages, how we met, etc. So I’ve been wandering around down memory lane uncovering how we met and why we travel together all these years later.

(Our view… sigh)

I’m having a little less success with the blurb about the book section but I’m tired writing now so I’ve stopped for the day. Just noticing that reminds me of all the times I kept going when I was tired and ended up with a head full of mean thoughts about myself. Rest is an underrated medicine. You know those new signs on the motorways that say Tiredness Kills? Well it’s not just for driving, tiredness also kills your spirit and shuts up the tiny, still voice inside you that wants to mind you. Rest.

Mind yourself, Mairead.

(That’s us in Gurgy!)

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Back to Work!

(Beautiful strange sky last night in Gron)

I stopped doing nothing today and started working on the book correcting all my typos and writing an intro and a blurb for the amazon page. I’ve had a lot of help from my review team, for which I am very grateful. Thank you lovely people! There’s a possibility my grammar will improve, because if their help. If nothing else, I’m increasing my usage of commas. See if you notice a difference.

(Half timbered houses and old wood decorations in Saint-Julian-du-Sault)

We moved on from Gron this morning just 30 minutes down the road to a town called Saint-Julian-du-Sault. But first, I nearly forgot to mention the ham and cheese pie from the lady with the dictionary in Gron was absolutely divine! Go to her shop if you can!

(Pretty old sign post)

They have a lovely free parking spot with all the facilities at Saint-Julian-du-Sault. We arrived there around 9am and worked until noon. Then we spotted a map showing a walking route into the center of town. Always hoping to increase our step count we followed the map. There were loads of photo opportunities and a coffee opportunity.

(Three little ducks in front of the washing house)

Then we moved on. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to be able to move on at a moments notice. There’s something magical about it. It’s highly addictive and we might be addicts. We rarely stay in a place longer than two nights but we also rarely move on after only a couple of hours. This trip we have started doing just that.

(Look at the details!)

We’ll probably slow down eventually but in the meantime, we might get as far as Switzerland because Denis has spotted a Swiss science tour, that he wants to visit.

From the banks of the Yonne River, which is as good a place as any to tell Yvonne that I sent her mail… Mairead.

(Here’s Saint-Julian-du-Sault and you might be able to see Gron to the north?)

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Lazy Sunday

(There was a bug hotel next door to the car park)

It’s Sunday… and we finally have nothing to do! But first let me bring you up to date. We travelled yesterday for most of the day to the banks of the Canal D’Orleans via the city of Chartres. It was hot. Over thirty degrees by the afternoon.

(You might be just able to make out Chartres Cathedral in the distance?)

We left our overnight spot at the town of Cambremer in the morning and headed for Chartres, famous for it’s cathedral. Also famous for it’s blue glass and a crypt and a steeple (two actually) with steps up to the top! We had our lunch in the car park just thirty minutes walk from the cathedral and changed into hot weather clothes. I got out the sun cream and the water bottles and… and we decided to get back on the road.

This is one of the reasons why I love Ireland, more than I used to, just because we travel. If someone had paid me a thousand euros yesterday I could not have walked for 30 minutes in that heat. Even though I really, really wanted to see the ancient glass – no one has been able to make the same colour glass despite modern technology. I really wanted to visit the crypt – probably nice and cool down there. And I really wanted to climb the tower – maybe not the climb bit but definitely the looking around at the top bit. It’s never too hot in Ireland to walk for thirty minutes. We turned up the air conditioning and drove on.

(Nightfall in Vitry-au-Loges)

Vitry-au-Loges is a small but perfectly delicious town on the banks of the Canal d’Orleans. We arrived at about four in the afternoon and closed all the shutters to keep our little home cool. It did not work. I went out to the bench beside the canal to find somewhere cooler to write to you. It was not. Then I completely forgot to take any pictures. The heat makes me forget stuff. Sorry… there’s one in the darkness but it’s just not the same.

Denis cooked dinner, my mother-in-law rang and I hadn’t the heart to tell her I’d like some of the “terrible weather” she was experiencing in Cork. We went for a walk and I accidentally took the only picture of that lovely town. By morning it was overcast (thank you clouds) and cooler. We emptied the cassette (not the musical kind) filled and emptied the water tanks and set off for the day.

(The church in Gron)

Then we had nothing to do! For some reason long forgotten we had picked our next parking spot just 90 minutes down the road. And here we are in Gron. We parked and went for a walk and happened upon the combined butcher/delicatessen/mini-market. We like to give business to the small shops in the towns we visit especially when we get to stay for free, so we decided to buy their dish of the day. A very appetising sounding lamb stew.

(Walking path to the town)

The butcher welcomed us and called out to his wife (I’m assuming it was his wife but I really have no idea) who came out to serve us. By now the smell of the stew was mouthwatering. She soon realised we were not in fact native speakers and went back inside… to get her dictionary! This is the very first time we have ever had this experience in France. This is a great day. I will remember this day. This day could mean I no longer have to butcher (pun intended) the French language. This lovely lady could be the new wave of French people being happy to butcher English. We could all communicate in a version of English French English. It could work. We might lose our fear of getting the grammar or pronunciation wrong and just connect. Our gestures and eyes and mixed up words could do all the work. I am very excited.

(Our dinner!)

When she had finished looking up the dictionary she was able to explain that the lamb stew was over. Over? Gone. Finished. The lovely smell was their dinner. If only the whole new wave of communication had started last year they might have realised we were falling in love with their dinner and invited us to share it but no. Maybe next year. We bought a ham, cheese, egg and cream tart instead though so now we have our own dinner.

(My snood-in-progress)

Sunday afternoon, day 3 in France, it’s raining outside (oh happy day!) and we finally have nothing to do. And we do what we remember our families did on a Sunday afternoon in Ireland in the 60’s… We turned on the radio (kinda, it’s Seth Godin reading his book Tribes on the Audible app) while Dad read the newspaper (sort of, Denis is playing Zelda on his Nintendo switch) and Mammy knits a jumper (almost, I’m crocheting a snood – it’s like a scarf.)

Wouldn’t it be interesting to think that in fifty years from now people will still choose to sit together listening or making or playing games on Sunday afternoons when they have nothing to do?

From gloriously rainy France, Mairead.

(That’s Gron in the blue circle)

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On being in France with nothing to do…

(That’s where we got the fresh water)

We’re here! We docked on Friday at 4pm (thats 3pm Irish time). As I mentioned a couple of days ago I’m going to document what it’s like to arrive in France and have nothing to do but I’m not sure this is it… Maybe I’ll try again on Sunday.

This has been a lovely exercise (thank you Aileen!) and I’m thinking I’d like more mental exercise… so I’m going to turn on the comments and see if I can persuade you to help me explain what travelling by motorhome is really like. I know it’s probably a pain for you to ask a question in the comments or maybe it’s scary (like taking all your clothes off and running down the street?) but it’s just you, me and a few people who’ve been with us since the Garda check in Rosslare. What could go wrong?

(The garages with gas app…)

Back in Greystones I had a great idea (does it ever get old?) to sterilize our water tank. We have a 120 litre tank for water. Drinking water, showering water, dish washing water and flushing the toilet cassette water. I am a little concerned about drinking the water from it so I buy bottles of water at the supermarket and drink them, boil them for tea, cooking etc. Then I started to wonder about drinking so much bottled water…

(One can buy washing machines in French supermarkets… we can’t )

Anyway I thought I would take a step in the right direction and get the tank nice and clean. I looked up the internet and found motorhome people were using vinegar to clean their water tanks. I’ve been using vinegar for cleaning at home for months and for weed maintenance in the garden (it works great on brambles, powerful stuff) so I stopped searching for other solutions and bought a few litres. The process involved pouring the vinegar into a three quarters full tank of water, going for a long drive, emptying the vinegar water and refilling with clean water. On Thursday morning I filled the water and the vinegar and we drove to Rosslare. The water sloshed around doing it’s cleaning as we drove and then again while we sailed to Cherbourg.

(Or coffee machines… we use manual)

On arrival we had to find a place to empty the vinegar water and take in clean water. So we drove around the corner to the motorhome Aire at Cherbourg port. That’s when we realised all the water was still in the fresh water tank, it needed to be in the grey water tank to empty it. It took us an hour to empty from one to the other and out to the town drain and then refill but while we were waiting we met a lovely couple from New Zealand and as always happens we shared tips.

(Or amazing cakes… we didn’t)

Then we needed something for dinner – as we have to turn off the gas while parked on the ship, the fridge warms up overnight, so to guard against salmonella we stock up when we arrive. We plotted a route to a supermarket in Bayeux, about 60 minutes from Cherbourg. On the way we remembered we were low on gas. We use gas for cooking, heating the cabin and the water and for powering the fridge when we’re not plugged into land power. Last year we had a refillable bottle installed which means we don’t have to bring enough gas bottles for the whole trip – gas bottles have different connections here so we can’t swap a bottle when we buy a refill. Of course when you don’t have to bring the gas – it’s available at certain garages – you forget about it. We forgot. No problem, we have an app, found a garage, plotted a new route. Groceries and gas on board it was now 7pm. We were hoping to be further south beside a forest eating bbq steak, by now. Never mind, we’d drive for an hour and find a nice enough place and maybe cook the steak inside.

(The crêperie was in the middle of a huge garden, reminded me of Mount Usher in Ashford)

It was twilight by the time we reached the town of Cambremer. All thoughts of cooking inside or out had evaporated but we’d seen a sign for a crêperie and it was open for another hour. We parked, walked and ate the most amazing crêpes outside as night fell.

(We left early this morning after a walk through the town)

This is what it’s like when you have nothing to do, you do whatever really needs to be done in that moment, you muddle through, you make decisions in the moment and you realise there’s nothing to stress about, only decisions to make and then move on. We’ve been doing this motorhome thing for four years now and it’s still a thrill when we arrive in France and we remember there’s nothing to do… except take the next step. What if we didn’t have to wait until we arrived in France?

Sitting by the Canal d’Orleans thinking of you, Mairead.

Ps. I keep forgetting to show you the map…

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Ideas and Projects

(That’s the English Channel out there)

Day 2 here and we are on the high seas (not high at all, in fact very flat thank you, sea) and I want to tell you about the ideas I had when we got home in June. First one had its birth in the Donnybrook Fair cafe just three months earlier. To go off on a tangent again for a moment… somewhere years ago I remember hearing about cafe society in Paris in the late 1800’s. My impression was that the intellectuals and artists came together informally over an espresso and possibly a croissant and had ideas and made plans. Well, as a big fan of the coffee and croissants I was very attracted. Not just for the croissants but the ideas and plans sounded so exciting especially the particular idea of a community of like minded people supporting each other. It was all a little bit intoxicating. So… subliminally at least since about 2012 I must have been attempting to rejuvenate cafe society. Up until the birth of this particular idea in March the only thing I was birthing was more kilos on the hips and by then I was addicted to the croissants.

Anyways, to get back to the cafe and the birth of… let’s call it, selling-my-art. To be honest this idea had birthed many, many times and had died many many times, also. For so many reasons, mainly shame though. For those unaccustomed to attempting to sell their art I need to tell you it’s a lot like taking all your clothes off and running up your town’s busiest street shouting, Look at me! Look at me! Oh and in this scenario you don’t look so good, you haven’t been working out and you forgot to shave. Maybe you’ve experienced something similar in a nightmare? If you have you are familiar with the shame.

(First sighting of France)

I put my clothes back on many times and gave up this idea but it just kept coming back. On that faithful day in Donnybrook Fair back in March a community of two of us decided we’d take off our clothes and run through the streets… together. I can tell you it’s less shameful when you’re running naked through the streets with another human. (Note: no clothes were actually taken off and we didn’t run either.)

By the middle of July I had sold something! To a stranger! The following week my mother bought a print over the Internet. Not my print – I didn’t have any prints and I definitely had no way of selling them over the internet… but it gave me a little nudge.

(There’s a tiny shop on the ship)

You learn a lot taking off your clothes and running around naked and one of the things we learned was that there was a lot more to learn, a lot more to do and unless we took the very first plunge we wouldn’t even have something to sell. So Idea1 back in June was our first plunge – to find a way to produce prints and sell them. The funny thing is that mostly everyone who hears about this wants to help. I have an idea (another one! Told you it was a superpower) that this community will keep developing and grow into… who knows what?!

Idea 2 is different, it involved turning our house into an Airbnb destination while we were wandering Europe in the motorhome. Seems like a good idea, right? But just as I was decluttering like a ninja and wallpaper stripping like a professional the government changed the rules and it’s become a bit more complicated to let a whole house. On the bright side the house looks 100% better than it did! And so does the garden. The wallpaper stripping continues, the garden needs more work and we can’t get into the shed yet so we will need a skip when we get back. Even if we’re not ready for business by the next trip we will have a decluttering house and a colourful garden!

(Don’t like the sound of that immersion suit…?)

And then there was the retreat. The Nurture in Nature Retreat was my friend Linda’s idea. She designed it based on what she would want from a weekend nurturing the spirit. Funny enough designing it was like being in another cafe society – a community supporting each other. Planning it was a lot like going on the retreat.

After I set up the web page to attract a tribe of people who wanted to attend what we were designing and planning I began gathering seeds, pressing flowers, making journals (our craft project) and wondering what I would be able to bring to the table.

(It’s a beautiful day in France)

Linda loves Nature. She and her husband, Paul, designed and built their own garden earlier this year. They love good food, Paul catered the entire weekend and I’m not just saying it – the food was amazing. Linda had attended a retreat some years ago that had a profound effect on her life. She wanted to combine her love of nature, her love of healthy foods and her desire to teach skills that relieve stress and anxiety to others. I was at a bit of a loss what my contribution might be. Linda was convinced the retreat had to take place over three days including a dip in the sea at sun rise! This was two days longer than I though possible to be “on duty” and there was definitely no way I was getting into the Irish sea…

(I love the colour and the angles)

The thing about a community that supports ideas or projects though, is that the energy generated by the community is more than the combined energy of each individual. In the end I had no problem being “on duty” because it didn’t feel like duty it felt like being with friends. My biggest worry that I would forget people’s names was unfounded and I even took my clothes off (I did have my swimming togs on!) and ran screaming into the Irish Sea! I loved it! And the thing I brought to the table? Me, just me and it was enough.

(That’s the captain’s spot hanging over the side up there…)

When I wrote at the end of our trip in June about the little voice in my head that was telling me I never finished anything I was hoping that by sharing it I would somehow silence it. Turns out it can’t be silenced but it doesn’t have to be. Just don’t give it attention. Give your attention to the act of continuing and doing the next thing and taking the next plunge and doing the next project and bringing yourself to the table in a community that supports your ideas and your projects.

Within sight of the French coast, Mairead.

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Autumn 2019 To France

(Our picnic spot this afternoon…)

Hello you! We’re off to France and we’re taking you with us. Are you ready? The Garda in Rosslare checked that there were only the two of us in the van so you’re safe to come out now. As it’s France, there’s probably going to be beautiful picture opportunities and the food is definitely going to be amazing. I might need to talk about facilities (I mean toilets) but I’ll keep it brief. Something tells me rubbish bins and recycle bins might be a problem this time, I’ll let you know. One thing for sure Ruby is in tip top condition since her visit to the motorhome mechanic in France in June so we don’t envisage any drama there. We have an idea the route will take us left at Cherbourg and then south east as we search for parking with a view.

It took two hours longer than we planned to leave the house. And in spite of having those two extra hours I still managed to forget something. Nothing important. The list of important things is very small: passports, money, cards, phones and Denis’ computer. Oh and the motorhome. We have remembered all the important things.

The something I forgot was my phone’s tripod. I had this great idea that I was going to YouTube some crafting. I’m great with the ideas. This isn’t me blowing my own trumpet, it’s just true! I have no problem coming up with ideas for new projects. I do, however have a bit of a problem finishing all my projects. Well, let me rephrase that, I used to have a problem finishing all my projects. Things have changed.

(Yes our picnic spot is at a petrol station… 30 minutes from home)

You might remember the book from the last blog? The one I was afraid I wouldn’t complete? Well, I didn’t complete it. Are you shocked? Would you like to hear the whole story? As always I have buckets of time today and tomorrow because today we’re driving to the harbour (Rosslare) and tomorrow the captain of Stena Line is doing the work of sailing the ship across the Irish Sea and then the English Channel to Cherbourg.

Ok back to the whole story… It’s about a woman who was great at thinking up new ideas and she was great at imagining them being very fast to finish. The beginnings were fantastic. Full of the sheer joy of anticipation. Imagining idea after idea finished in no time at all. But the endings, they were terrible, full of angst and recriminations. Every little or big idea took way longer than she imagined. Too long, she thought. This will never be finished, she cried. She became disenchanted, disillusioned, disappointed, disempowered and distinctly sad. I’m not sure if you’ve ever had this experience but being distinctly sad can bugger up an idea and scupper a project. The longer the project took the sadder she got and in the end she nearly always gave up.

(I didn’t sleep well last night with all the excitement and so… I was up for sun rise! Isn’t Ireland only gorgeous?)

You might need to go back a few posts to remind yourself of how worried I was about not getting the book project finished. I was afraid, no, mortified that I might give up. So there I was in June, newly back from my travels ready to finish the book when I got another idea… actually I got a few ideas and a retreat.

(Can you see the boat with the water skier behind? That was 7.08am today (Thursday) in Greystones!)

I’ll tell you about the ideas and the retreat tomorrow but first I want to tell you that I found a way to recognise that having loads of ideas is actually a superpower… as long as you follow the rules: 1. One cannot turn all their ideas into projects and 2. Projects take longer than one initially thinks, a lot longer. I will be finishing the previously mentioned book project on this trip and Denis says there’s probably ten hours left in it… of course we all know he’s a bit too optimistic for my liking. So, there’s probably about thirty hours left in the book project. I’ll be starting it on Monday.

(And here’s sunset, 8.17pm Rosslare)

In the meantime I promised my friend that I would tell her what it’s like to arrive in France and have nothing to do, nothing at all (she had a hard week at work). I’m taking the weekend off all ideas and projects so that I can tell her and I’ll tell you too.

Wish me luck, Mairead.

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Need a Break?

(Preparing for workshop)

There was a slight chill in the air this morning. Does that mean it’s autumn? Then it must be nearly time for us to get back on the road.

But first… my crafty pal, Linda and I are running a weekend workshop in the gorgeous Bobbio center near Magheramore beach, Co.Wicklow on the last weekend in August. There’ll be nature, crafting, swimming (in the sea!) and loads more but mainly it will be about slowing down in natural surroundings. We are calling it a retreat but it’s not a religious retreat, more a retreat from busy and stress, a retreat into nature. A retreat with play. We are really enjoying this planning stage and can’t wait to share it.

(Magheramore Beach)

We would love you to join us. There are some places available and you’ll find all the details on Mindcraft.com (click to have a look!)

Back to painting, Mairead.

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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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