Grey Day by the Seaside

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(Misty rain between here and the chalk cliff)

It’s kinda grey here in Normandy today. We’ve moved along and are by the sea at a place called Veulettes Sur Mer and it started raining. It didn’t stop me from making my way across the road to the beach to get some pictures but even they are a bit grey. It’s a day for taking out the crafts and turning on the heater.

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(Here’s the sea front and on the right across the road you can see the parking area for camper vans. the red brick building on the extreme right is the toilet block)

Also took a picture of our aire for today, it isn’t as pretty as the last one but it does have toilets. No freebies though because of the location (see photo) the cost is €7 per night and on a sunny day it would be ideal. The rain is due to stop in the afternoon so maybe ideal is on the way.

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(That’s the town under the cliff)

To be fair the weather has been mainly warm and completely dry, I just checked in my pockets and found a receipt from Juno Beach so that’s the last time I wore heavy jeans – six days ago. I will stop noticing the grey and begin noticing the historic value of jeans pockets.

Oh brilliant I found a euro! Mairead.

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Practising the local customs…

(We’re just outside the town of St. Romain de Colbosc)

It’s about a kilometre to the nearest town and after breakfast off I went. We had cycled here yesterday but took a left turn and went to the big supermarket and in doing so missed a vibrant town. Full of shops. And people! Not always a given in French towns. But this place is different, it’s a bit of a Tardis. It seems small but one left turn and you are in a completely different space.

(The flower shop and just past it, my cafe)

This morning I was open to experiencing a different space and I found it. The main square. There was a bar/cafe so of course I ordered a cafe and on enquiring about a croissant was sent across the road to the Boulanger. When I got back my coffee was ready. Of course I sat outside and watched the world go by and there was plenty of the world going by here.

(My boulanger)

Sitting outside is lovely at the moment as the temperature is just right (about 20 degrees) to do so without shivering. While drinking and munching I checked out the other clientele and the vast array of shops. Here’s what I spotted: eight hairdressers, two Boulanger’s, two pharmacies, an estate agent, a shoe shop, a newsagent, at least three bars, the post office, the police station, at least 10 ATMs, a clothes shop and a wool/sewing/underwear shop! There’s also two big supermarkets on the outskirts of town and yet all this commerce continues to survive within the town. How do they do that?

(Small supermarket and organic shop)

While I have been sitting here I have been lucky enough to spot some French kissing – the polite kind. Some of you will know our friend Thierry from Greystones (and France) who makes great pâté (La Paysan, found in all good SuperValu stores!!!) anyway, I practice French kissing him whenever I can (again, the polite kind…) but sitting here I realize it’s way more complicated that I realised.

(There’s a barometer up high on the Ville de Reunion)

So, there’s a couple of women sitting out here having a coffee and a chat and beside them at a different table is a young man enjoying a coffee, with his baby in a buggy beside him. Then along comes a different woman who spots the sitting-down-having-a-coffee lady and without a word heads straight for her and in a very graceful silent move leans right in to kiss her cheek and follows up with her other cheek. In another swift graceful movement she bypasses the sitting lady’s companion and heads straight in to kiss the young man on both cheeks. My question: how does she choose who to kiss? And who to ignore? A how does she not frighten the life out of people with this sudden kissing?

I obviously need more practice, Mairead.

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The Secret to Life…

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(Here’s our spot today, can you see the orange cable running to a box on the left? That’s the free electricity)

Good Morning! Good Morning! Ok, so I asked about sharing the details from our new friend from Ireland…you’ll have to wait for the book, his book, I mean. That could take a while though because he’s going slowly. Denis shared with him the Andy Weir (writer of The Martian) story of getting writing done – send chapters out to readers weekly/monthly/at regular intervals, it puts a bit of pressure on you because you can’t let your readers down! In the meantime I want to share our new friend’s secret to life… enjoy every minute. Every tree, every place to park or sit or stand, every beautiful building, every nice person you meet, enjoy it all. You’ll understand when you read his book why this man might be worth listening to. For now, trust me, he knows what he’s talking about.

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(Here’s the rules and regulations. One I didn’t mention… we can stay three days maximum)

We’ve moved on today, just a few kilometres north of Honfleur. We’re at a very pretty aire with free water and electricity. It’s a popular place but our timing was just right and we got the last spot, campers keep coming in and have to reverse back out again. We feel a little sad for them but also happy for us. I’ve explained aires before but I think there’s no harm in repeating and I’ll take some pictures today to make it clearer.

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(Here’s where you empty the toilet cassette – on the left and on the right the drinking water. Not sure if you can make out the writing on the right panel in white? People sometimes get mixed up and use the drinking water to clean out the toilet cassette – yuck! Here someone has written instructions to make it clearer. We like it best when the drinking water tap is far, far, far away from the toilet cassette disposal!)

In France an aire is a rest area, you see them on the motorways, at home we might call them lay-bys but here they are much bigger, where cars and trucks can stop for a break. They usually have toilets and picnic tables. There are also aires at the motorway services where you get petrol and diesel (and sometimes cafes and restaurants). All that is similar to what we have in Ireland. Camping Car Aires are something new, they are specifically for motorhomes or camper vans and when I say we are staying in an aire for the night I mean a Camping Car Aire. At their simplest there will be spaces long enough for motorhomes to park in a section of a normal car park. More elaborate ones will have a pedestal thingy where you plug your hose in to get drinking water, empty your toilet cassette and dispose of grey water and get an hour of electricity all for a small charge (€2 to €5 typically.).

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(Forgot to mention, rubbish and recycle bins are always free. Thank you again France! Tip: Yellow lid = plastic and tins. Blue lid = paper and card)

The one we are in today has everything, space to park, space to put out a deck chair, drinking water, toilet cassette empty station, grey water disposal drain, electricity and even little hedges between the motorhomes! Sometimes you will have to pay to stay, sometimes you will have to pay for water and usually you will have to pay for electricity. Today, here, everything is free. Thank you, France.

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(Home for tonight looks nicer than some campsites we’ve been in)

Last month we added a couple of solar panels to the top of the camper. I say we because yes I did get up the ladder and help Denis with the installation. As I am generally very afraid of dangerous things (like falling from the top of a camper van) I surprised myself and a few of the passing neighbours. Having the panels means we can survive longer without having to stay in a campsite where electricity is always available. The cost of a night in a campsite can range from €20 which we would rather spend on delicious French food. Also as we travel in off-season, it’s unlikely the campsite cafe or restaurant or swimming pool will be open plus the locations are often far from villages, towns or cities. So all in all being able to use aires most of the time works very well for us.

Again, thank you, France! Mairead.

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Cycling to Honfleur

(Lots of boats, tall houses and restaurants in Honfleur)

And now we’re in Honfleur, a very pretty big-ish French town with a port. Well to be precise… we are 40 minutes walk from Honfleur, under the motorway that bypasses Honfleur and beside a small French town called La Riviere-Saint-Sauveur. If that’s a mouthful for you, you’ll understand why I fell asleep when we got here. I think I was tired. By 8pm I was drinking tea, reading a book with my favourite quilt around me and I was ready to go back to bed.

(Nice!)

Then Ian from Ireland arrived. He was telling us he’s been here for a few weeks or maybe it was months and then he started to tell us stories about his life. Like, amazing stories, stuff you might make up but you wouldn’t put in the same book because no one would believe it was real. He’s coming to visit us tonight again so I’ll ask him if I can share with you. As it happens he is writing a book and he has a blog. I’ll find out the details tonight for you.

(Love French windows and balconies)

In between the telling of the stories he told us Honfleur was a beautiful place and just a 15 minute cycle. He must have spotted our bikes on the back and not realised they are just for decoration. (No of course they work.) So this morning we took down the bikes and followed his directions to Honfleur and wouldn’t you know we’d hardly gone two minutes and there he was on the other side of the road cycling towards us. We asked where the bicycle lane was (he’d mentioned one last night) and he said, “no you’ll be grand on the dual carriageway the cars in France are used to bikes!” Well it was ego alone that kept me going forward but when he was out of sight I searched and searched for a bicycle path and there was bits and pieces of a quiet road along the route. So I was on and off the bike climbing over fences and losing Denis. He, Denis, by the way has become very good at the  French mannerism of a loud sigh while tilting the head back, lifting the shoulders and turning his palms to the sky. He uses it to complain when I lose him. Luckily he can’t do it while holding the handlebars, so we’re still talking.

(No we didn’t)

Needless to say it took longer than the promised 15 minute cycle but we did eventually arrive in Honfleur and it is very beautiful.  I forgot my camera but I took pictures with my phone until the battery died. The journey back was a lot quicker as I came to realise the French do seem to be used to bikes and gave us a wide berth, especially as I wobble a little.

I’m off for another little lie down to get ready for tonight’s stories, Mairead.

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Juno Beach

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(Nell’s Bread Shop)

We’re still here at the beach just beside the Canadian War Museum. The town has two names, first, it’s called Courseulles Sur Mer. It had that name before D-Day in 1944 but it got a code name when the Canadian army were planning to land here during the war. Its code name was Juno Beach. We went to visit the museum this afternoon and of course I was tearing up again. Especially when I saw the list of names scrolling past on the ceiling:

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(Thirteen and a half hours…)

Canada was sparsely populated in 1939 so that’s a big portion of their young people. Then we saw a movie and it’s just as well it was dark. There was a bit at the end with a present day Canadian family walking along the Juno Beach talking about the soldiers who had died here. As they walked along into the distance they were being followed by ghostly images of soldiers walking in their footsteps. With the title rolling up the screen, They walk behind you… severely tear inducing.

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(From the brick factory)

I thought a walk in the town might cheer me up and it did, but wouldn’t you know it I found another museum. Fortunately, it was all in French so I was spared any sadness. It seems they made bricks here with the name of the town on them. There was more lace and a couple of spinning wheels. Afterwards I visited a very sweet looking cafe nearby where I sampled some coffee and met some Frenchmen. I even asked if I could take their picture:

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(They were chatting away and the man on the left picked up the dog so he could be in the shot too)

There seems to be a theme already on this trip… Museums and Frenchmen. Mairead.

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Night at the Museum

(Glass shelves filled with porcelain from a famous factory in Bayeux, no longer operational)

We have arrived in France! Our ship docked right on time at 4.15pm, at 5pm we were in the supermarket and back on the road by 6pm. We had planned to stay the night at Isigny sur Mer because it was a great place to stay back in February even though we nearly came to blows over the water being turned off… This time the water was turned on but there was no space to spend the night. That was a bit of a shock, it seems this might be the popular time of the year for motorhomes in France…

(Tools used to make the famous Bayeux lace)

Denis was not dismayed (I was a bit) so we decided to follow our previous advice to ourselves – take the opportunities when they arrive – we filled up with water. There was a moment of hilarity (not for me but for the watching Frenchmen) when I pressed the button and only half the water reached the tank, the rest spraying me in the face. Oh how we (read, they) laughed… but we were friends in the end because one man came over with a spanner and a bunch of connectors and made all the water go into the tank. I thanked him profusely with the water dripping down my glasses. Denis was in search of even a tiny spot for us to park and came back to see the Frenchman and me smiling at each other… so he smiled along too. He’s very trusting.

(I love the way the shadow of the lace fell on the wall panels)

It was nearly 7.30pm and I was hungry and tired, not a good combination – for Denis. There was nothing to do but head for another location and hope for the best. And we did really well. Half an hour later we were pulling into the parking area of a museum in Bayeux with plenty of space. The joy of finding a place cleared my hunger and tiredness so we locked up and took a walk into town. We had only reached the cathedral (very lovely looking building) when the hunger and tiredness returned. We raced (as only people of our levels of fitness can) back to Ruby, made dinner, washed dishes and straight to our lovely comfy bed, our first night back in France.

(Isn’t that just adorable? The antique chairs up hight out of harms way)

Then this morning we visited two very good museums. We took an early visit to the  Bataille de Normandie (100 meters from our parking spot) and saw a concise overview movie of the invasion of Normandy. For some reason that whole episode in history makes me tear up. After that I went to see the MAH-B. It’s an old restored town house with the history of the area told through art. So that includes prehistoric pottery, Roman artefacts, paintings,  lace making and modern porcelain. It was unique in the way it was designed, very simple but with style, very French. Very lovely.

(Very lovely French restaurant opposite the cathedral, Bayeux)

We’ve moved on again tonight and are behind the sand dunes of a Normandy beach. We can hear the waves, an insomniac seagull and we are so close to our neighbour’s motorhome we can hear him snoring.

All is well, Mairead.

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Sea Day

(I don’t know where I am…)

We’re on the high seas somewhere between Rosslare in Ireland and Cherbourg in France. Possibly already in the English Channel but can’t be sure. So we’re between places, in transition, not there yet, not started and yet begun.

(Blue is my favorite color, lots on this ship)

It is my joy to know lots of people who are waaay younger than me. I think I like younger people because I never wanted to grow up, to be an adult, to have that haggard oppressed air all adults seemed to have when I was a child. Or it could be that I know how difficult it was for me to make the transition across the space between before-adult and acting-adult, actually I might still be in that space. Or… maybe it’s possibility.

Really young children know possibility. They usually get it knocked out of them when they’ve been in school a couple of years though. But you can re-learn possibility and when you re-learn it you can see it in yourself and in others. It’s a yummy feeling, kinda of sparkly with little pops of joy!

(It’s a bit scary down there…)

I know two waaay younger people who are about to start third level education and I am awash with sparkle and poppy for them! I know their journey might be rocky and messy and scary but it’s also exciting and wonderful and interesting but mainly it’s incredibly beautiful. Because they are incredibly beautiful…

It’s something I learned from standing on the path cheering bus loads of women who had been in Magdalene Laundries… no matter what people say about you, or what you think about yourself, or what you’ve done that seems like a mistake, or what you can’t do that seems like a failure or what you’re afraid you can’t do because you’re not capable, there is at the center of you, an essence, that is pure and white and beautiful and it touches everything you do and all of your journeys.

I wasn’t so sparkly, poppy when it was me… noooo, I was more scared shirtless. I’m sure you’re sick of me telling you I failed third level education, didn’t get the marks, had to leave, no piece of paper, no graduation day. If I had known that failing was just part of my incredibly beautiful journey I might have been kinder, less angry, more patient, less ashamed of myself. It’s very, very difficult to feel sparkly poppy and shame, simultaneously. One kinda pushes the other away and shame is better at pushing.

(The coffee on board may not be great but the cups are an inspiration!)

For today, for me and for you and for those starting new journeys I’m going to give lots of attention to sparkly poppy… because I want it to push stronger.

How about you? Mairead.

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