I’d rather not tell you…

(I’ll be making cards this time. I’ve been practising)

I’ve checked the calendar and there are just three weeks left until we board the ferry at Cherbourg to come home…and the weekend after that, 17th November,  I’m going to be running a Mindful Crafting Workshop with my friend Linda. (Details at Mindcraft.ie) So I need to start telling you about it. There’s just one small problem, I’d rather not tell you…


I realised something about myself earlier this year – I have a habit of giving up on things that I really want to finish. Mainly it’s due to fear. I have a natural pattern even when I’m not afraid to wander onto a new thing before the one I’m on has finished. I get distracted easily and there’s so much beautiful stuff in the world I want to experience it all. But, I also want to experience that delicious feeling of finishing. For example, I love ironing – not enough to do it regularly – but, when I do iron I leave the ironed bundles of clothes and sheets sitting around for days. I do this because I feel great when I finish and want to remind myself that I did it!

(Even more…)

Writing the blog is perfect for me because it gives me the two things I love most –  a place to wander off to and a place to finish up. When I get up in the morning I have a blank slate, yesterday’s blog post is gone, I have to start again, start something new. I’m positively encouraged to wander off. When I finish writing today’s post I’ll send it off and I’m finished. Pressing send used to hold loads of fear for me. For years Denis had to read every blog post before I sent it. To be sure, to be sure of… of what I don’t know but fear can be like that, unspecific. Now, Denis reads the posts the same as everyone else when they get into his email and I have no fear of sending a finished blog post… mostly. There are some blog posts, I am afraid of sending…

(Ok sorry about bringing Christmas up before Halloween…)

I’m afraid of sending the ones that I think might make people reject me. I’m afraid of rejection. Hilarious really… (not actual hilarity, more demented hilarity) as those blog posts are the ones with my most precious message. The positively mind scrambling part of all this is that my most precious message, the one I keep hidden in a safe part of my heart, in case of rejection, is mainly about letting go of rejection! My message to me and to you is that if we pay attention to our thoughts and fears about rejection they will hurt us more than any outside force. Paying attention to my thoughts and fears about rejection, immobilises me. I’ll say that again, it’s the thoughts and fears that immobilise me, not the rejection. Funny thing (again not actual funny): I never get rejected. Do you know why? It’s because I rarely do anything that might get me rejected – I’m too afraid! I will only be able to share my message about rejection when I stop believing in my thoughts and fears about being rejected. I can still have those thoughts and fears I just can’t be paying attention to them. That’s where mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness teaches us how to notice our scary thoughts but not believe them.

Are you still there? Do you have any scary thoughts and fears you might want to stop believing?

(Peace and joy all year long… not just for Christmas…)

This has turned into a blog post Denis will have to read a few times. And he hates these ones. He much prefers the funny ones. Or the stories about the people I meet. Or the pictures, he laughed out loud looking at me in the hairdressers. I love when he laughs. I love when you laugh… if I make you laugh you won’t notice my fears.  …and Linda is going to kill me (again, not literally) this blog post is probably going to frighten off anyone who was thinking it was just a bit of fun… sorry, Linda. The MindCraft Workshop is a place where we can share our message through the medium of crafting. One of the places we learned to think about rejection as a child was at the art table, when our creativity wasn’t good enough, pretty enough, attractive enough, up to standard, as good as your sister’s art/ brother’s work/cousin’s grade…. With the help of mindfulness it’s also one of the places we can learn to stop believing those scary thoughts and fears…

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Ok. So, if I didn’t believe my scary thoughts and fears, this is what I’d say:

I would love you to join us on the 17th of November at the Old Stable Studio, Killruddery House, Bray, Co. Wicklow where we will have fun (it’s definitely fun!) be mindful and stop believing our scary thoughts and fears. All the details are at Mindcraft.ie.

What would you do if you didn’t believe your scary thoughts and fears? Mairead.

PS Really, tell me, what would you do?

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Loop Le Doubs


(Can you see me on the boat, on the river Doubs, that loops around Besançon)

Yesterday after finding the tourist office and using their very good wifi, I went for a boat trip. But first… I got my hair cut, in French! This is the first time I’ve had my hair cut in France and through French. You might remember I have been working up to doing this. Part of my preparation was looking in hairdressers’ windows. I was checking for two things, opening times and pictures of hairstyles I liked. I felt that they wouldn’t put a picture in the window unless it was a style they could cut. So if I liked it and they could cut it we were a match made in heaven. A couple of times I liked the pictures but the opening times didn’t line up with when we were parked nearby, until yesterday… when a third thing lined up.

(That’s my hairdresser – the light blue shopfront)

I has passed the salon a number of times before yesterday morning. We were on our way to coffee and although the opening times suggested it should be open, it was closed. We have come across this more than a few times, when a shop or restaurant will have an Ouvert (Open) sign outside but the doors are firmly Fermee (Closed.) Oh well, no hair cutting here. Anyway, I thought no more about it, have my coffee with Denis and went off in search of the tourist office.

(Markers on the ground for one of the walking tours of Besançon)

On my way back I just happen to look into the salon and the door is definitely Ouvert! I walk straight in before I forget this is a good idea. The hairdresser and I say Bonjour and my with very next sentence I check if she can speak English. From her reply I ascertain she has about as much English as my French. Ok… well that’s probably enough. So I take out my halting French, remembering that hair in French is very like horse and I don’t want her to cut my horse and I slowly tell her I would like my hair, em… but I cannot for the life of me remember what the French for cut is. No problem, she is fluent in hand signals and as I am cutting the air with my pretend scissors-fingers she says, coupe (cut). Yes! We are doing this. Then I point to the picture in the window and say, like that…

(The beautiful river Doubs from the bank)

In case you don’t know it and this is of course a generalisation again but here goes: the French are very straight talking, they don’t tell a lie to spare your feelings and although my hairdresser was not talking, her look was very truthful. I could almost hear her thinking I hope she doenn’t think she will look like the twenty-something year-old in the window display. No problem, I understood her concern and used the international hand signal for give it your best shot. And we were off. We tried a little chit chat in our mix of French/English and all in all the experience was most enjoyable.

(Can you see the flag? Did I tell you I walked up there?)

But the time I was paying we both had become very confident in finding ways to understand and be understood, but it took me three goes to understand what she said next. Eventually, she made me understand that we had met earlier. No, I don’t think so. But yes, we had.

(Hair is very important here, even the statues have good hair)

One of the things I love about walking into shops and restaurants in France is that the owner/waitress/server will always, always greet you with a Bonjour! or a Bonsoir! and maybe a little wave. I feel like they are glad to have me as a customer. Sometimes the other customers will also say hello. Just lovely. It usually takes me a few days to stop saying hello as I walk through the door of Costa in Greystones. Anyway, do you remember before I went to find the tourist office I went for a coffee with Denis? We walked in and the owner said Bonjour and the customer enjoying her coffee also said hello…and both of us said hello to each of them. Well, the customer was my hairdresser!

(Here we are enjoying a selfie moment!)

It made me realise something – I don’t really look at the people I meet in cafes or shops…  I would have recognised her if I did. I meet a lot of people when we travel so I have a bit of an excuse, but maybe I could do better. After all I like being greeted so much maybe I would enjoy taking a little more time to pay attention to the greeter.

Boat trip story tomorrow, Mairead.

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(This way to the tourist office..)

This is a really interesting town! So this morning after coffee at a place just 2 minutes from our aire I went off in search of the tourist office. I couldn’t find it on my phone (in google maps) so I had to go back to the old way – following signs.

(And here are the opening hours of the tourist office)

The sign pointed along by the river so I walked that way. Then it pointed over the bridge so I walked that way, then there were no other signs. None. I was now in what seemed to be a business area. The next sign I saw pointed to the citadel, oh no…. what if the only tourist office was the one at the citadel… at the top of the hill? Why didn’t I ask when I was there yesterday?

(There’s a fountain on the river called Minotaur)

Well, I don’t know about you but this kind of talk is very familiar to me and not at all helpful… it starts with a doubt and then a bit of blame and criticism of something that happened yesterday! Too late, internal voice!

(Lovely reflections from the river)

So I stopped walking. Turned around and walked back to the last sign, the one before the citadel one. On the way I saw another sign, I’d missed before. This one was pointing back over to the other side of the river. But how can that be right? I was on that side when I followed the sign to this side.

(Oh… on the way back from the tourist office I noticed the sign I had mis-read earlier… the top part says there are no pedestrian crossings on the road ahead. The second sign says to take this little path under the bridge to the tourist office. I thought it meant turn right over the bridge. Mystery solved!)

Ok this is also familiar… questioning why I got it wrong…. Later I did find out that I am only learning to read French signs and sometimes I mis-read them… But in the moment I don’t need to question why I got it wrong, the best thing I can do is, follow the sign and carry on. Oh and Be Quiet internal critic voice!

(Very nice view from inside the tourist office)

And that’s how I found the tourist office. And they were great, free WiFi, loads of information, brochures and a recommendation to go on a boat trip!

(Cute chess set in the tourist office based on the citadel)

So I went on another boat trip! And there were locks! Two of them. One manual and one automatic! And a tunnel! …under the citadel! Yes, I went under the citadel in a boat. I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow!

From the sunny, not stormy, east of France, Mairead.

Posted in Uncategorized

The Mountain Goat of Besançon

(The fog at Arc et Senans this morning)

We’ve had a couple of grey chilly days but the forecast for today was sunny. Then I opened the blinds and we were surrounded by fog – very beautiful but not sunny. So I dressed in layers again. We were heading for the city of Bresançon (just east of Dijon) and in particular the citadel, another Unesco Heritage Site. We arrived at the aire at about 9.30am, parked up and headed off for a coffee. The aire is in a great central location right beside the river Doubs and the tram line. I don’t know where the tram goes but I am looking forward to finding out.

(Here’s the river Doubs and you might be able to spot the tram lines on the left)

There were plenty of little coffee shops dotted along the old streets, we picked one and afterwards I went off in search of the citadel. the fog had lifted and it was getting a bit warmer, I was starting to regret my layers and long trousers as I followed the signs up a very steep hill. Fortunately, I always bring a rucksack so I stuffed my furry fleece inside and pretended I was enjoying the view until I got my breath back. Of course as soon as I got my breath back I was enjoying the view.

(I walked under this gate, erected in 175 AD (that makes it 1,843 years old!) to honour Emperor Marcus Aurelius. It’s still used, the bus to the citadel goes through here. There was a bus?!)

The citadel used to be a military academy but now it has museums and exhibits and even a zoo. The bit I was most interested in was the walk around the walls. You might remember from our trip earlier this year in Portugal that we kept finding old walled cities and I was learning to enjoy walking fearlessly on high walls. Well, would you believe I’m like some class of a mountain goat now thanks to all that practice in Portugal. Plus the walls here are very safe – they have two railing one on each side.

(Some of the many steps)

It was definitely worth the climb. The views of the river were amazing and I hope you will be very impressed with the altitude and the fact that I was able to take pictures when I got up there… If I could have taken off a few more layers I would have because by then the sun was the hottest it’s been for days and there’s no shade on a citadel wall. I just had to perspire gracefully.

(There’s a little park inside the first gates and I took this picture to remind myself. It smelled so much like autumn at home, kind of damp and kind of fresh. That’s a good smell!)

Coming back down to the town was so much easier and it was lunch time so I rang Denis and we met at a little restaurant, I’d spotted on the way and ordered the dish of the day. While we waited I drank a pint of water while fanning my very red face with the guide-book. It’s a generalisation but I’ll say it anyway – the French smell great. They really do. We, on the other hand, don’t alway smell great. Me in particular, today – definitely not smelling my best. It might have been kinder to go back to the van and have a quick shower. Unfortunately, the French are also sticklers for time and it was now 1.15pm and lunch would be completely over at 2pm. So no shower.

(Look how high up I am! I walked all the way up from that river. Definitely hit my steps goal today )

It was a small restaurant, very cosily decorated with lots of crafty things hanging around. There was just one person serving. She didn’t seem to notice the malodour (I looked that up and it applies…) and was in fact very helpful in explaining the dish in halting English. It was the kind of place where you could believe her mother was inside in the kitchen cooking. And if she was then her mother is a very good chef, the meal was superb (that’s actually the word the French say whoever I say, trés, trés bon so I think I’ll start using it to improve my French.)

(Here’s the view from the wall towards the city)

There were calamari rings, a huge artichoke (I tried to eat all the artichoke – it was my first artichoke, now I know) amazing garlic potato slices, cooked red peppers, green salade (that’s the French way to say salad) with a dressing I would like to have again and fluff eggs (never heard of before, but that’s what the lady called them.) I love French food and because of the amount of garlic on the potatoes the whole embarrassment about smelling a little off, is gone…

We both reek of garlic, Mairead.

Posted in Travel

The Salt Factory


(Entrance to La Saline Royale at Arc-et-Senans)

Today we are at a salt factory – not like any factory I’ve ever seen and nowhere near the sea in a place called Arc-et-Senans in the Franche-Comté region. (Just to the right of Burgundy and famous for that comté cheese you love, Ashleigh!) The factory is not in production any more so in order to explain it we’ll have to go back to the 1700’s when salt was like gold. It was used to preserve food before refrigeration and it was heavily taxed to bring in revenue. In fact, it could be one of the things that led to the French Revolution… could be.


(There was a map…)

So imagine this, we are back in the time of royal France. The king is Louis the fifteenth. He has great power and he happens to have a mistress, Mrs Barry (I don’t want to start any rumours but that’s a very Irish name…) who will come into this story later. At the time there’s a salt factory right beside a lake full of saltwater (ok I’d have to understand a lot more than nothing about geology to explain this but… I have accepted and would suggest you do the same that some earth movements pushed a bit of land, formerly in the sea, now dry with salt stuck to it into the middle of Franche-Comté) in a place called Salins-les-Bains and they wanted to extend production but couldn’t due to it’s location in a valley. Along comes Claude-Nicolas Ledoux.


(The factory director’s house)

Claude is going to be the hero of this story. Claude came from a middle class family but had aspirations to be an architect. His mother encouraged his drawings as a child and he got money from some monks to go to college. He was very enthusiastic and eventually his enthusiasm paid off and he came to the attention of Mrs Barry (remember? the King’s “friend) who told the king about him. He designed a very fancy music studio for her in her huge garden (not entirely sure how but she seemed to have plenty of money.) Anyway, one day the King visited her music studio and was very impressed. Between the gigs and the reels Claude ended up getting a job as Commissioner of the Saltworks (all of them) in this part of France (I now realise there must have been many salt factories… probably to do with geology again…) Now, I’m not sure how this job related to being an architect but Claude made it work and learned loads about saltworks factories.


(Worker’s apartment buildings on left and right. In the middle, the main gate which also contained the bakery… remember we are in France)

Then with all this information he came up with a way to improve things at the hemmed-in factory in the valley – he would move it! Creating salt from salt water requires lots of heat and the way they generated heat was by burning wood but they had pretty much used up all the wood around the valley factory and were dragging wood from all over the region to supply the fires. So, Claude figured it would be cheaper to move the water than the wood and he proposed building a new factory in a forest. He was really pleased with himself and while he was proposing that he went ahead and designed some lovely factory buildings. He had to scrap the first set because the older architects on the job thought they were a bit too fancy and they were also a bit too expensive. Claude was not disheartened, he pared down his initial idea and his proposals were accepted… well mostly.


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(There was a lovely exhibition in one of the buildings and I particularly liked this one exhibit about a tree)

I nearly forgot to say, they moved the salt water to the new factory location via wooden pipes! Over distance of… 16Km! Isn’t that amazing? Probably isn’t very amazing really, because they were moving water all over the place at that time in canals and so they had a lot of expertise in this area but still, I’m impressed. Anyway, back to Claude…

(The semi-circle layout of Claude’s factory here at Arc-et-Senans)

Claude was well before his time in his appreciation of living conditions and as well as beautiful buildings for the factory he included apartments in beautiful buildings for the factory workers and their families. He also included gardens for them to get back to nature after a hard day at work. He wanted to build a town around the factory too. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. There was no town and the workers were working such long hours that they never got to enjoy the gardens. His own life took a bit of a downturn too because along came the French Revolution and anyone with connections to royalty was in big trouble. I think he might have spent time in prison and some of his buildings were destroyed, but in spite of all that he continued to design and in the museum here there are models of lots of buildings he designed that never got built.

(Our view this morning beside the salt factory)

So here we are back in the 21st century and the factory is a museum, a Unesco World Heritage Site and a hotel. Just over the wall there’s a camping car aire where we are parked. Claude is long gone but definitely not forgotten. In fact, you can almost hear him… listen…. My passion for drawing, lead me to Mrs Barry, the king of France and even a prison cell but I’m not sorry, Claude.

Go Claude! Mairead.

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Quiet town in France has deadly secret…


(Quiet little town… or is it?)

We stayed in a noisy place last night so I’m tired today. We often see comments on the app about aires where noisy youths having late night parties in the car park keep the motorhome people awake. We usually give these aires a miss and go somewhere quiet. Yesterday’s aire in a small town seemed very quiet during the day. In fact everything was closed and the path I hoped might lead me on a journey around the town and into the countryside stopped around the back of the church. Nothing much going on here. Or is there?


(There was a château, but it was closed)

Anyway, there we were, settling down to sleep when it started. Well I supposed it had been going on all day but you just don’t notice it when you’re awake or when you’re happy to be awake. As soon as you want to be asleep all the noises seems much louder. Surely it would stop soon? And it did but it started up again an hour later… and every hour until 7am. We were gone by eight.


(The culprit… and that’s us parked behind the hedge on the right)

Have you guessed? Our noisy youths weren’t young at all, they were the church bells… I suppose parking so close to the potential risk of a huge church bell ringing all night is on us. So, today I will be extra nice to myself. I will hydrate and rest. I will ignore any comments from Denis that seem negative, because maybe I’m just a little extra sensitive. I will make myself a nice cup of tea and sit outside (with a few additional layers, it’s cold today) on the bench generously erected by the local community. And I will never, ever pick an aire beside a church again.

Zzzzzz, Mairead.

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Rust and Decay


(Welcome. Settle yourself. We are in the vines… can’t you just imagine?)

Yesterday we were in Beaujolais and I am completely sure of that because we stayed at a wine farm and the wine they produce is Beaujolais! We had a lovely conversation with the farmer’s wife (in french! Denis’ french comprehension is coming along in leaps and bounds.) Her husband’s father bought the farm in 1959 and now there are three generations of the family involved in the business. They are not connected to a cooperative so they grow, press, bottle and sell everything themselves. They are very busy.


(A Renault truck, just one tyre remains…)

I didn’t get around to asking but I think the grandfather must like old machinery because the farmyard and camping field had lots of old tractors and farm machinery. Laid out really neatly, by the way. Well, they are French. They also had modern machines, one very like the funny tractor I saw trimming the vines in Prisse. Old machinery always reminds me of my childhood because from time to time my Dad would bring home old cars or motorbikes. I think they may have been in lieu of payment for services rendered at his service station.

(The man-made colours of autumn. Can you see there’s still a little piece of glass in the headlight on the right? and the one remaining tyre? and the number plate?)

One motorbike in particular was a favourite of mine and my brother’s because of it’s position between a wall and a shed we were able to climb on without fear of falling over. It provided no end of imaginary play. This french farmer’s collection reminds me I love the colours of rust and decay and the feelings they invoke.

(Can you see the opening to a tank, just above the Renault badge? Is it for petrol or water?)

As well as machinery there were hens! And a cockerel… who wakes at 7am. I was making Christmas cards (I’ll tell you next week…) in the afternoon when I first saw the farmer and his wife in the hen enclosure. He had a bucket and was on a ladder against one of the trees picking fruit. His wife was holding the ladder. The hens live in an orchard!

(Here’s Henny and Penny just being chickens)

There are also nut trees in the farmyard and thanks to Stewart (from the houseboat) who taught me, I was able to identify walnuts. Whoever discovered them first was very persistent because it takes a lot to get to the tasty bit of a walnut. It’s very well hidden.

(This is what a walnut looks like when it falls from the walnut tree. Peel off the outer layer and you’ll find the shell. Crack the shell and you have a walnut!)

From Beaujolais (or nearby) Mairead.

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