I have a great idea! No, hang on, it’s a terrible idea!

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(I went for a walk to find the chiming church)

There’s a church in the town and every hour it chimes, quite a long tune, from a loudspeaker. I noticed it every hour yesterday… I’ve only just this moment noticed it today. That means I missed at least six chimes. (I’m not sure if it chimes on the half or quarter-hour as well.) Anyway, just another example of how one’s brain ignores the familiar…

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(Interesting animals)

This campsite is interesting, I think I said that yesterday and one of the things that make it interesting is the Tubes… The Tubes are cement cylinders. You may have seen ones like them when passing motorway road works. I think they are used to redirect rainwater or maybe they hold electrical wires? Not sure.

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(Three Tubes together)

But here at the campsite they are used for accommodation. They have a bed with thick mattress, an electric light and curtains and windows! They are tiny apartments for people who would like to experience camping without the tent! I am very attracted to them. I am starting to have an idea about buying a field and putting Tubes in it… and you can come visit me or just visit the field if I’m travelling! I haven’t completely (or even slightly) thought it through. I’m in the very-excited phase of this idea. Many of my ideas don’t get past the very-excited phase. It’s my favourite phase but it’s not very productive. It’s where I think This is a great idea and I can’t wait to bring this to the world and this will definitely be workable and I love it and I will work on it every day and in no time at all it will be completed and I will enjoy it for the rest of my life. In mindfulness circles this is living in the future… I am particularly fond of my imagined future.

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(Two Tubes side by side)

Any idea that gets through the very-excited phase moves into the very-scary phase. Very, very few ideas survive the very-scary phase, it’s my least favourite phase and it’s also not productive.This is where I think this is a terrible idea, how did I ever like this idea? I could never share this with the world, this is like that time that people thought my idea was terrible and told me… This is the worst idea I ever had. Here we have living in the past, a particularly scary tiny bit of the past. No fun. It is truly remarkable that any idea would get past this phase, but some do! Anyway, I’m in a very-scary phase of an idea at the moment, I’m encouraging it into a productive phase but it keeps slipping back.

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(Breaking news: The church chimes every half hour, just heard it. Can you see the loudspeaker?)

Step 10. Live in the present, Mairead.

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Hello, is that Monica?

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(The neighbours walking their dog last night)

We’ve moved again and now we’re about 30 minutes inland, in a campsite near the town of Lourical. The sun is shining and we are parked between two orange trees. I can hear hens and I believe there’s a pig somewhere around. This is a very interesting site. We found it by accident but it seems like a place we would pick to stay if we’d known!

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(Sunset over the Atlantic later last night)

Anyways it’s run by a Dutch couple and they have young helpers. During busy season there’s a very pretty restaurant (with good reviews) but it looks like we are the only ones here so we may be unlucky with that. One thing we are very lucky with is the train station. There’s one in a nearby town and we will be able to park in the supermarket and take the train to Porto (Yay Porto) when Denis gets word from Monica.

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(The restaurant at our new campsite)

Still no word from Monica… 😦

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(They have a (tiny) farmers market in the garden)

Real time drama: Denis maybe you need to ring Monica? Denis considers his options and rings Monica. I can’t hear the other side of the conversation but Denis doesn’t look happy, overjoyed or ready to dash off to Porto. He looks… confused. I think there might be a problem with the fixing…. Ok, Denis has just got off the phone with Monica. Monica was just about to ring Denis. There is a problem. The part cannot be shipped and there is an email on it’s way from the manufacturer to explain. I suppose we won’t be rushing back to Porto (missing Porto already) …and that grand idea with the supermarket car park and the train… poof!

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(A hen jumped out of this hay stack – she was hiding her eggs. Hens not in full agreement with the farmers market?)

So here we are in a beautiful tree, animal, egg filled garden campsite enjoying the sun. Now what?

Step 9. Gratitude… for the old, slow computer that is working.

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I can almost see the sea from my bed…

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(There’s a breakwater from the beach out into the sea)

We’ve moved on from our campsite beside the boardwalk in Vila Chã. We spent two nights in a car park in the town of Estarreja, about ninety minutes south of Porto. Now today we are in another car park in Lavos Praia, an hour further south. And the sun is coming out! Oh and Denis’ computer is still not fixed! That’s why we are not travelling too far from Porto. It turns out the replacement part didn’t arrive from Ireland yet but when it does we will be well placed to rush back and collect it.

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(This was the view from the bed before the camper parked right next door – gentle rain and roaring seas)

We can see the sea from this car park and if there wasn’t a camper from France parked right beside us we could see the sea from the bed… but there is and we can’t! There’s a boardwalk here too but it’s only a little one and the waves have not been kind to it. This morning before I had my shoes on there was a lot of noise outside. I popped into my slippers to have a look. There was a crowd gathered around a small white van in front of our camper.

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(This Atlantic Ocean is very powerful)

I was a little embarrassed by my slippers but I needn’t have been as there was another lady in the crowd in her slippers and she was even wearing her dressing gown! Everyone was speaking French. Bonjour! Bonjour! It was the local bread man! He comes each morning to sell pastries and bread and he speaks French.

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(The beach, Lavos Praia)

As you may know I have been learning French for many years (…with minor success… I can say hello how are you but if you tell me how you are I cannot understand you…) so I joined the queue and asked for four bread rolls…. turns out my French isn’t up to Portuguese standards. But pointing works, I got my bread. We are staying here again tonight so I need to practice my French for the morning. If only I had a dressing gown.

Step 8. Acceptance, it’s not always possible to fit in, Mairead.

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Wake up it’s beautiful!

Well, it’s been a wet few days since last Sunday and that’s made it easier to be working away inside the camper on the MindCraft website, which is now up and running – here’s the link. Today is overcast but dry so I’ve had my walk on the boardwalk and I’ve also spotted my first Camino walkers.

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(Not a great photo but that white blob on the guy’s rucksack is a Camino Shell)

One of the things I noticed on the little bit of the Camino I walked (near Lisbon last year) was the amount of cafes/bars/restaurants out in the middle of nowhere that are open and will make you something to eat at any time of the day. The same is true in this area. On my walk today I passed ten little places open for business. I was walking to turn around and walk back so I didn’t stop but I’m dreaming up a plan to go for a walk and stop at as many little cafes as possible along the way. Of course as they sell beer and wine too I’ll be either wired due to the caffeine, sleepy due to the food or singing due to the alcohol.

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(Isn’t that just beautiful?)

We got the go ahead from Monica in Porto, today too, to say that Denis’ computer will be ready tomorrow afternoon. So we’ll be off to Porto in the morning via the taxi and the train. We now know our way around the ticket machine, the train and the map of the city so that’s great right?

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(Perfect little beach on my walk today)

Well, it’s not really, because that’s when I stop noticing things. You know how it is when you go somewhere new and you notice everything. The colours of the houses, the odd tradition of putting tiles outside on the walls, the orange colour of the roofs, the different cars, the funny shaped busses, the new trains, the old trams, the eucalyptus trees, the friendly smiling people, the strange language, the incomprehensible billboard messages, the street signs, the sounds, the smells…

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(How could I ever be blind to this?)

But then as soon as you start to get comfortable and things are a little familiar you stop seeing them. Oh look at that statue, what statue? Of course it’s normal, there are millions and millions of pieces of information bombarding our senses in every moment and our poor brain can only handle a certain amount. So it prioritizes.

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(That bridge (does it remind you of the Eiffel tower?) is the one I am standing on in the photo above)

It prioritizes on the unfamiliar stuff and of course the life-threatening stuff (that tram heading straight for you!) When the unfamiliar stuff becomes familiar our brain says, great one less thing to notice, now I can go back to looking for scary stuff. Thereby missing the beautiful, stuff, sniff, sniff.

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(I love everything in this picture!)

It’s one of the things I love about travelling – I see the beautiful stuff! At home it’s harder to see beautiful stuff because my brain is only looking for life-threatening, beauty just isn’t life-threatening enough to be noticed. It’s part of the backdrop, it’s familiar so it disappears. Porto is beginning to feel like home… so I’m beginning to go blind to the beauty all around me. 

Step 7. Stay awake to the beauty, Mairead.

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Sometimes it rains in Portugal…

It’s raining! I know you will be disappointed for me but I’m ok, I have some work to do so it’s probably just as well I won’t be able to sit outside sunning myself… I hear it’s sunny in Ireland!

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(Rocky and a bit cloudy in the distance on Saturday)

My friend Linda (of the tours around Porto) and I ran a workshop called MindCraft at the beginning of February and we’ll be running another one in May and again in June. This week I’m working on explaining what it’s all about for our website. I’ll send you a link as soon as it’s up and running but I thought I could start explaining now to get my thought processes working.

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(Smooth and blue skies on Friday)

MindCraft is a combination of Mindfulness and Crafting in a one day workshop. The Mindfulness part of it is all about staying present with what’s happening around you and within your body instead of the usual things we do. The usual things like  thinking and worrying about the future or thinking and worrying about the past. Or regretting the past or wishing we could repeat it or change it. Or wishing the present could be different. Or wishing we were different. Or wishing other people were different. We sure do a lot of useless thinking when all we really need to do is stay present and aware and deal with what’s right in front of us, right now.

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(There are lots of small gardens like this around here, all dug by hand. In need of rain, I suppose)

Last year when Denis was diagnosed with prostate cancer, everything slowed down to the essential – what do I need to be doing now? I don’t think it’s the big things that cause worry and anxiety… it’s the thinking about what if the big thing happens. In my experience when the big thing does happen you are kinda too busy dealing with it to be thinking about anything.

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(Another one, the small plants look like potatoes, maybe))

Mindfulness is about making us strong enough to deal with whatever life throws at us. So we have a little calm, contentment and the space to think about the important things… love, joy, peace, purpose, relationships, family, connection, community. The crafting is all about creativity and creativity is the route to finding solutions to our challenges. This is important: Thinking and anxiety are not the route to finding solutions to our challenges. Creativity is the route to finding solutions to our challenges, problems, concerns, difficulties, dilemmas, quandaries, troubles, irritants, stumbling blocks, obstacles, the lot! Creative solutions are what it’s all about. Every one of us is creative but not every one of us knows it.  MindCraft wants everyone to know they are creative and that they can come up with their own creative solutions.

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(And another one, I think there’s spring onions there)

So here I sit doing the work I need to do to make the message clear and simple… Mindfulness Strengthens Your Mind, You Are Creative, Creativity Solves Problems!

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(Interesting looking rocks on the beach)

But it’s not enough for me to just make the message clear for myself or others. Writing about mindfulness will not help me to be mindful, thinking about creativity will not help me to come up with creative solutions. So here I sit, also, doing the work of living the message. Everyday I practice mindfulness, I practice noticing what is around me, I practice exchanging worry and anxiety for beauty, I practice exchanging thinking for feeling my feet on the ground, I practice writing and photography and I practice telling myself, this is enough, you are doing enough, you are enough.

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(Behind the harbour buildings there are tables where the women sell the newly caught fish. That’s a cat on the fish scales. Fish weighing scales I mean…)

Step 6. Do the work, Mairead.

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Porto, Porto, Porto, sigh

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(Lots of coffee)

As I was saying yesterday, we went to Porto on Tuesday to get Denis’ computer fixed. When booking into this campsite in Vila Chã I had seen instructions (kindly translated into three different languages) explaining how to buy tickets for the metro to Porto. Up until that moment I didn’t know about a metro or that it was nearby. If you are a regular reader you might remember our attempt (failed attempt) to visit Porto in order to buy a wi-fi sim for Portugal last January. We were challenged by the roads, the sat nav and the lack of data sims (!) and so in spite of the valiant efforts and friendliness of the people we bumped into (not literally) we saw nothing of Porto except the hospital (the outside of the hospital where we got a taxi) and didn’t get wifi until we arrived in Lisbon. Anyways that was last year.

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(The instructions for taking the metro from Vila Chã)

So there I was on Sunday morning sitting in reception thinking if only we were staying more than one night…. and – huge gratitude to a broken computer – we were! So, Tuesday morning I took a photo of the instructions and asked reception to call a taxi and off we set. The instructions are long and detailed but eventually we worked them out and got valid tickets. The train arrived, very modern and clean… and very popular so we had to stand for the half hour journey. But nothing could dampen my spirits, my friend Linda had told me about her trip to Porto, the Port vine growing area and the Douro River boat trip so I couldn’t wait.

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(Higgledy Piggledy houses)

First stop, the computer repair shop. We had worked out it was near the metro stop, Casa da Música and there it was but we were five minutes early so we went back to the station and had a very nice coffee and (to celebrate finding the repair shop) a pastry (the pastries in Portugal are many, varied and very good and as far as I can ascertain not one of them is low carbohydrate but I will continue to check for you…)

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(Spring in Porto)

Then we went back to the shop and met a lovely lady called Monica (who spoke perfect English), by the time we left, Monica had taken the computer and promised to love it until it was returned to Denis and she also pointed out some interesting places on our tourist map. I wrote last year about how friendly and helpful the Portuguese people are but it bears repeating… Every single person we meet is happy to help, to speak English, to direct, to suggest, to chat. They seem to like Ireland and feel a certain affinity to the Irish. They too are interested in the stranger, the music and the gentle art of enjoying a pint. They just seem to like people and they are curious about the story.

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(Not all the trams say Jameson Irish Whiskey, but the one I was on did!)

Leaving the computer in capable hands we got back on the train, 90 minutes hadn’t passed so our tickets were still valid (by the way the cost of the 30 minute return metro trip and use of the ticket for 90 minutes? €2.75! You have to love Portugal) and we set off for the center of Porto. We got off at the Trindade station and easily found the tourist office where we met another really friendly Portuguese lady. We set off again with instructions on how to get to… the most beautiful bookshop in the world, a Meo (mobile phone – the wi-fi again) shop and the old tram tour.

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(Livraria Lello… possibly inspired JK Rowling?)

The most beautiful bookshop in the world is called Livraria Lello (Lello’s book shop) The photos I took don’t do it justice, so you’ll just have to trust me it is adorable. There’s a story that JK Rowling was inspired by this shop and the black capes of the students at the nearby University (she taught English here) when she wrote Harry Potter. I’d believe it. If you like Harry Potter you would love this shop. No one is buying books, they are taking pictures. Of the bookshelves, the staircase, the roof light window, the facade. So it’s probably just as well that they charge a €4 entry (that can be exchanged for part payment of any book.)

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(I liked the tram… it was Fear-less!)

We have to go back to Porto to collect the computer from Monica next Friday and that’s just as well because a day wasn’t long enough for this city. We had great food and coffee and I went on the old tram but we haven’t seen any port cellars or gone on the boat trip.

Step 5. Take more tram rides, Mairead.

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Journey as Destination

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(Big wide motorway near Leon)

Ok, to bring you up to date… Home last Thursday was Entrago in the Picos, Spain. Friday we stayed in the car park of a shopping center by the river bank in the city of Leon, north-western Spain. Saturday we travelled along big wide motorway roads through mountains to cross the border into Portugal. We stayed Saturday night in a campsite in a town called Chaves, very near the border with Spain. On Sunday we drove to a little town called Vila Chã north of the city of Porto. We had planned to stay here one night and then travel further south but we’re still here…

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(Old bridge at Chaves with fishermen in the distance)

When we were talking about this journey before we left, we both had differing views about the length of time it would/should take to get to the (warm) south of Portugal. I was pushing for let’s get there quick… Whereas Denis was happy to take it easy and enjoy the journey. That’s how we ended up in the Picos (so it was his fault!) and maybe it’s the perfect way to go about a journey. Maybe it’s the perfect way to go about a life.

The truth is that with each step we take we arrive. – Paul Coelho.

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(The (particular shade of) yellow arrow pointing north on the Camino de Santiago from Vila Chã)

So, here we are in Vila Chã, staying at a campsite. There’s everything we need close by including a boardwalk along the sea. In fact it’s because of the boardwalk that we’re here. My friend Julie went walking on the Portuguese Camino from the city of Porto a couple of years ago and her descriptions of the route (including boardwalks by the sea) were mesmerising. So when I was sitting in cold and rainy Chaves wondering where to go next I saw there was a boardwalk close to this campsite…  so here we are. The sun has been shining ever since (not always a given in the north of Portugal in February.)

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(The boardwalk beside the sea)

I woke up the first morning and went for a walk on the promised boardwalk and it was as beautiful as Julie had described. Then I arrived back to find Denis a little frazzled… his work computer had stopped working! And… he had committed the most sinful of sins for a software programmer…. he had not done a backup since leaving Ireland! So his work for the previous week was gone.. all gone… kaput… (He’s doing hourly backups now!)

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(Sunset on the boardwalk by the sea)

Long story short, Denis eventually shook off the frazzle, found a way to get his computer fixed and began redoing his work…! Then on Tuesday we brought the computer to a repair shop in Porto on the metro (yes there is a metro from Porto running just a short taxi ride away from us here beside the boardwalk, beside the sea!) and it will take nearly two weeks to fix. Oh and the delay is caused by a wait for a replacement part… can you guess where the replacement part is coming from? No? Ok I’ll tell you – Ireland!

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(This is the harbour at Vila Chã)

We’re stuck here and I am beside myself with joy! I’ll tell you about our day in beautiful Porto tomorrow, in the meantime I’m walking the boardwalk by the sea every day.

Step 4. Take it easy and find a way to enjoy the journey, whatever it brings, Mairead.

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