Into the Ibis

(Our new home…)

We are in our room at the Ibis hotel in Niort. The room is bigger than Ruby and the toilet doesn’t need to be emptied. There is hot water, a shower and the high point: a bath! I am cleaner than I’ve been for 72 days. This is the life. Although we do miss a kitchen.

(Not McDonald’s breakfast…)

We’ve had breakfast and lunch in McDonalds and we went to a restaurant in the French chain, Au Coutelle for a snack. Which turned out to be a bit more complicated than we imagined. We spotted a lovely sounding platter of meats and patês.

(These wildflowers are everywhere)

They take the drinks orders first and Denis ordered a glass of wine while I had a mint juice drink. Then the very young food waiter arrived and we told him we would just have the platter, between us. He was a little taken back and asked hadn’t Denis ordered a drink? We agreed yes he indeed had.

(Can’t get enough of the blue)

Fortunately he spoke the next bit in English because it was getting a little complicated. “Oh you must have a main course meal if you have alcohol” Denis looked at me and I looked back, well that’s interesting, we were saying, in silence. More food? Less alcohol? Denis picked the second. I said, Stop the alcohol order and he (literally) ran to the kitchen.

(Old mile marker)

Very soon he arrived back and said he had talked to his supervisor and it was ok but… (looking at Denis and holding up one finger) you can only have one! Denis promised he would only have one. One small glass of wine was produced. The platter was indeed very good.

(There was a bread machine in Benet too)

It’s funny what you miss when you’re just visiting… there may be a particular alcohol license that requires a full meal? Or this chain is concerned about food intake versus alcohol intake? Orwell, I don’t know what else…

Learning the customs, Mairead.

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The Lessons of Benet

(1. Watch out for the signs…)

We are still in the town of Benet but… today the part arrived! We are over the moon. Could it be that difficulties arise in order that we can have an opportunity to be over the moon? About a piece of engineered metal getting transported to a small town in France to a man with mechanical skills who is available to do something very specific with it?

(2. Notice the beauty…)

I am also over the moon about all the hours Denis spent with Duolingo in bed each morning practicing French (it’s a free language learning app…) because when we stood in front of the French receptionist there was communication and understanding.

(3. Grow where you land…)

I am also over the moon that we have a place to stay tonight while Ruby overnights in the garage. There will be a bed, a shower, a desk and WiFi and there’s a restaurant and it’s not expensive. There’s even a Lidl supermarket next door.

(4. You might have to go round and round…)

When everything goes well it’s natural to expect everything will continue to go well. When things stop going well, it’s natural to expect things will continue to stop going well. But at precisely this moment we had a choice…

(5. Don’t be dramatic!)

It was easy for us to become disillusioned and only see things going badly now. Today it seems we have an opportunity to be over the moon, notice and be grateful for ever little teeny tiny thing that goes right.

(6. You don’t have to be perfect to be useful…)

In that way we are neither expecting everything to go well or expecting everything to go badly. We have suspended our expectations in order to look at what comes to us in the moment and be grateful for it. If it is something we like we will be over the moon, if it is something that makes us uncomfortable we will deal with it.

(7. Take the next step… open the door)

After sitting for days with the discomfort of a not knowing what will happen next we know the next step… we are off to a hotel to spend the night while Ruby is in the garage.

Missing her already, Mairead.

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On a Time Out

(Want to buy a shop?)

We are stuck in a very lovely small French town called Benet. I say stuck but that’s just me being dramatic. We are kinda stuck yes but we could be in worse places. The part for Ruby is due tomorrow and we’ve only been here for three days… Plus, most things we need are here.

(I love the font)

There’s a supermarket (closes for two hours at lunchtime) a cafe (closed today) another cafe (open today) a library (but is it really a library? I don’t know the answer to that) a magazine shop, a post office, an old church, a rustic toilet and three flower shops (all open today and smelling beautiful) and washing machines (open 24 hours.)

(The wool shop)

There’s also a wool shop but I just looked in the window. I’m not going in because the window looks too good and there’s no more room in my craft cupboard… anyways, it’s closed today.

(There are flowers in the car park…)

Yesterday I couldn’t see all the nice things in this town. I was grumpy and had fallen out of love with France. But today it is raining and I realise that love is not always happy… I am weirdly thrilled by today’s rain. (Yes, weird.) Yesterday it was sunny and I was grumpy and uncomfortable. Hot weather is not always wonderful. Life is not always comfortable.

(…and washing machines)

France is France. This is a great place to be if you are irritated by little things because she says, this is how we rock, take us or leave us we will still be here when you come back and you will be glad we have not changed. If you don’t want to come back to us that’s ok we will be just fine without you. With love and beauty from your pal, France.

(The old church, Benet)

Today I can love that France. She is who she is, she is not trying to woo me. She will not be concerned if I do not woo her. She will still take two hours off for lunch and close on Sundays and every Monday and the one Wednesday I’m in town.

(Love the shutters and the lacy railings)

Because, when I go home she will still have to live here and mind her children and water her garden and buy flowers for her Mum. She will still have to get up at 4am four days a week to bake the baguette and croissants and if she knows how to take a break then maybe I should be thrilled because it’s possible that taking breaks makes her croissants taste so good.

My relationship with France just got more complicated, Mairead.

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We’re Broke…

(Beautiful fishing huts in this area)

Well Ruby is broke, sniff, sniff. You may remember when we were travelling from Castro Marim in the Algarve region of Portugal and the shaking and clunking started? Then we got the wheels balanced and it seemed to go away.

(Love French windows)

It came back. We left our friends on Monday morning and extra noises had been added to Ruby’s repertoire of clunks and clanks. Could we possibly get home before we’d need to address this?

(And French houses)

We were on our way to motorhome parking in a small town and the noises were getting more worrying. Then the sat nav stopped working. We had to abandon the small town and go to a larger one but on our way we passed a motorhome shop… and it was open. As you know, open shops are not always a given in France. It was too much of a sign to ignore.

(And old French trees)

We drove in and explained the noises to the man at the desk who brought us around the back where there was a full garage with people who looked like mechanics.

(And French paddling)

Denis explained again to the receptionist who explained to the mechanic manager. We handed over the keys and waited. It took three hours but they finally came back with the results… the word dangerous was mentioned. It seems we would not be getting home before we addressed this. Then they gave us the quote… it’s all a bit upsetting.

Sniff, sniff, Mairead.

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The Brocante Game

(Dinner with friends)

This is the third year we have stopped at our friend’s summer home and they always pull out all the stops but this year they added extra entertainment. The Brocante Game.

(Everything necessary to clean your rifle…)

If you don’t know, Denis loves board games but this isn’t a board game. It’s like a treasure hunt game. Here’s how it works… Our friends drove us to a Brocante in the neighbouring town of St. George de Didon. What is a Brocante? I asked too. It’s a car boot sale. It was huge.

(Gourd ladle from Mali… very useful for ladling gourds)

We arrived around noon on Sunday morning and it was buzzing. All the French families who were selling their goods had set up their wares on long tables and behind that, they had their gazebo (you know those temporary open sided tents?) and were seated under it having their Sunday lunch. Mother, Father, grandparents and children all having substantial French lunch. When someone wanted to know a price or haggle a price the family would stop for a moment to deal with the sale and then go back to lunch. Very civilized.

(Very old jug for… ass’s milk, prehistoric it seems…)

We were here to play the game… We had €10 to spend on anything we could buy from these people. Anything. Then when we got home we would make a quick video of our purchases without reference to the purchaser.

(Coke can twirling thingy..)

The video was then sent to the judges (long suffering friends and family of the Brocante Game…) For the rest of Sunday and until we left on Monday we were entertained by the responses of the judges who didn’t know who had bought what. The results are still coming in.

Which one would you vote for? Mairead.

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Sleeping with the Sailors

(View from the door)

We had another little mishap with the sat-nav before we finally arrived at Mortagne-sur-Gironde in the afternoon. It’s such a beautiful place and the sun was shining madly to make it even more beautiful. Of course I was searching for shade…

(Nice shade)

This is a marina (or port) for luxury yachts on one side of the huge estuary that leads to Bordeaux. As well as space for yachts they also have room for motorhomes. What we didn’t know at the time was this was a bank holiday weekend for the French. Unlike the Irish bank holidays which are usually on a Monday (except Christmas and St.Patrick’s Day and Good Friday, hmm didn’t know we had so many exceptions) this French bank holiday started on Thursday and ran until Sunday.

(Brave sailor)

So it was busy, very busy. Which is good because then all the services are open. There were little wooden takeaway shops for drinks or chips or crepes or oysters. There were numerous restaurants also. I got the sense this was a taste of what it might be like in the summer but for the rest of the year it’s probably closed. We were very lucky to be here at this time so we celebrated with takeaway chicken and chips!

(A little off center?)

We slept well that night and the following morning we were up early to visit our friends. We needed to empty all the grey water and black water otherwise Ruby would be sitting outside their house in the sun fermenting… better to prevent that. Fortunately there was an area on the far side of the yachts to empty and get everything smelling lovely.

Shipshape, Mairead.

(Mortagne-sur-Gironde €9.50 includes electricity pay at parking meter. All motorhome facilities and possibly restaurants. Can you see the huge estuary leading down to Bordeaux?)

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Storm After the Calm

(Very interesting roundabout’s here)

Denis choose avoid toll roads on the sat-nav this morning. He had this lovely idea that we would ramble to our next spot through the glorious countryside. He imagined we would make stops as the humour took us. First at a cafe and then a supermarket and finally some shaded picnic tables. Lovely.

(Deck chairs and parasols, maybe we should park on a roundabout?)

Unfortunately it didn’t turn out so lovely. Every cafe we passed had no parking or was incredibly difficult to get into. We kept going. We came to a big town and I saw a sign for a supermarket. Go left, go left! says I. He went left. The sign lied. There was no supermarket… or if there was it was far, far away.

(The ducks have priority)

Never mind we’ll carry on, but the sat-nav was feeling a little poorly. She took us down a road so narrow they had put up signs sayings No Motorhomes. We turned around but she returned us again and again to that narrow road. She may have a bug…

(Big sky, quiet road)

Then we worked it out… this was the only road in our chosen direction without tolls to get us across the huge old Dordogne river. In fact we had to cross the river twice because it is so old it meanders around the place. Twice it meandered in our direction. There was only one solution… Denis turned off the avoid toll roads.

(Don’t turn left!)

Very soon we were collecting a toll ticket at the ticket booth. Sometimes you just collect a ticket and later you pay the toll, the amount of which depends on how far you’ve travelled on the tolled road. When it’s time to exit the motorway you stop at the toll booth put in the ticket and pay. This time I put in the ticket and for the first time ever it said: ticket invalid press call button (or something like that in French.)

(Are you sure we can go this way?)

Ok so, please imagine you are at home and something similar happens and you have to press the call button at an unmanned toll booth. (Or better still you are at the train station and there’s an announcement.) Are you imagining? You press the button. Imagine the voice through the muffled speaker. They are saying, Ock do chee saery? What does that mean? You don’t know, do you? But because you are at home you expect they are speaking English and after a few attempts at, could you repeat that, please, you understand.

(Can we just go back to the calm?)

I had no idea what the voice in the call button speaker was saying. I asked, Do you speak English? The one word I could understand was No. She said the first thing again and for some reason Denis understood (he was at the far side of the van in the driver’s seat maybe the acoustics work better over there?) she was asking, in French, where did you pick up the ticket? (By the way, his French is definitely improving.)

(Empty road, my favourite)

Oh that’s easy, we were near Bordeaux (although this whole motorway is near Bordeaux) of course she couldn’t understand my version of call-button-speaker French. We were doomed to remain at her toll booth for ever. The line of cars behind us knew it too, they had started their backing away maneuver.

(Very, very rare toll ticket)

She eventually took pity on us and said something, who knows what but I did catch an revoir and so did Denis. He was thrilled, she didn’t charge us! But the barrier was still down and there was €8 outstanding next to the credit card symbol. I paid the toll, the barrier rose and we drove off. But we still had the ticket. We’ve never been able to keep a toll ticket before.

Any offers on a barely used, very, very rare French toll ticket? Mairead.

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