Where are we, now?

We’re in Beaujolais! Another day, another wine-producing region! But before I get into that I want to show you where we’ve been – Burgundy, on our map of France…

(This is a rough estimate of the location. You can see it is very close to Switzerland.)

There’s only so much information you can take in when you visit a country but if you keep returning you take in new things each time and you understand old things you heard previously. Now I know where Burgundy is… I think. You see, next time I visit, or maybe later today when I get into conversation with a French native, I might realise what I thought I knew was not in fact true at all! It happens to me a lot. Until I drew the circle on the map above I thought we were close to the south of France, when in fact we are closer to the north of France.

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(Higgledy-Piggledy in Auxerre)

I’m reading a book at the moment about a fictional private detective in Berlin before the second world war. It’s written in English by an English writer (do you know, I could be wrong about that too, he might be Scottish?) and the detective gets beaten up a lot so I’m not sure I’d recommend it. Actually, I’m not sure why I keep reading it because the fictional detective is also annoyingly sexist but for all his/it’s faults I’m hooked. Anyway, at some point in the narrative the detective is remembering his time as a soldier in the first world war and in particular being in the trenches in Ypres.

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(Swans landing on the river in Auxerre)

Well, we were at a really good war museum in Ypres last summer. The kind that has you fighting with your companion afterwards for no good reason other that you are so upset by what you have seen. (Yes, no, that doesn’t really seem good I’ll grant you.) Anyway, as I’m reading my fiction book I’m thinking, oh yes I know what that’s like, I saw the stuff in the museum. And then I remember…

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(This lovely man, in Saint-Gengoux-le-National, had time to say Bonjour to each person who passed, including me, while repainting every crossing in the town)

All the stuff in the museum was from the perspective of the allies. From that perspective the baddies were the Germans. We all know the baddies were the Germans… weren’t they? But this detective (yes, fictional) in my book was German, he is the baddie, but wait, no, he was having a very hard time in the trenches, he was fighting for his life, surely that’s what I’d do… It’s only a fictional book and I’m not even sure I like it but just that one line about being in the trenches scrambled my mind. Things aren’t always as straightforward as they seem.

I think I’m right about that, Mairead.

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Au Revoir Voie Verte!

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(Look a little flower on the Voie Verte)

We seem to have finally left the Voie Vert, the greenway on the old railway tracks. I am missing it. We are in a small village surrounded by vineyards now so we haven’t left the countryside but the pleasure of walking and cycling in amongst the trees, vines and vegetables is gone.

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(Saw this funny tractor pruning the vines yesterday morning)

I hadn’t noticed until I travelled on the greenway that my feet wander towards where my eyes are looking. Well that explains why I am such a nervous cyclist in traffic. It’s because I have a knowing about my wandering and I’m concerned the motorist in the fast cars do not. There were no nerves on the greenway. A few cyclists had to ring their bells at me but they’re just not fast enough to kill me and I was out of the way in no time.

(Look! A bench under a tree!)

It’s possible I’m boring you with all this talk about this area and the greenway but I want to be sure you know how lovely it is. It is very lovely. Like, can you imagine, getting a flight to wherever the planes come to in Burgundy? Hang on I’ll google it….Ok there’s a flight on  Saturday 20th October at 1.10pm with Aer Lingus British Airways non stop return Dublin to Lyon, coming back on Wednesday 24th October for €159. Just the one carry on bag in that price so pack light – there was a great laundrette in the Super U in Prisse. Then there’s a train from the airport to Lyon and another from Lyon to Mâcon, takes 1 hour 43 minutes and costs €36. Then you’re on the Voie Verte! Oh hang on they’re still constructing the bit at Mâcon… hmmm, might have to wait until next year for that.

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(Somewhere to stay!)

Ok are you still imagining? The thing is there are loads of these walks, like the one by the Canal du Nivernais, you remember where we met Valerie and Stewart and Laura and Ronan? And there’s one along the Loire, another along the Saône, there are two other canals, there’s one through vineyards and even one for thrill seeking cyclists (I’l be keeping away from that) called GTM. The map says there’s 1,000 Km of cycle routes (cycle means walking is ok too) in Burgundy. There’s a website and I think it’s in English (yes it is) called http://www.burgundy-by-bike.com. Even the pictures are lovely. You’ll have to imagine places to stay too. I’m imagining it for you and it’s really lovely.

I want to come back here… Mairead.

PS Two things: No, I’m not working for the Burgundy tourist board… and Booking.com have been sending me emails about Mâcon since I googled your imaginary flights… how do they know what we’re imagining?

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Nice Little Things

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(The market in Saint-Gengoux-le-National)

I love this Voie Verte greenway. Everyone who travels on it seems very happy. All the bonjours are lovely. We have moved on again but we are still on the greenway. About an hour by road south to a little town of Prisse. First things first, I did go to the market this morning. It wasn’t very big but it was big enough to get a tablecloth and some blue cheese for Denis and a picture of the man with a big knife who cut the blue cheese.

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(Here’s the cheese man)

We arrived in this town, Prisse (funny name) just before lunch. The aire itself is on a wine farm at the edge of town and the greenway runs beside the vines! Actually on our way here we saw the TGV (very fast French train) speeding along beside the motorway. Made me think of fast tracks and slow tracks and how we seemed to have found the slow tracks.

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(All the tablecloths)

After lunch I went to visit the town of Prisse (still funny). It was very small and very quiet but I followed a signpost to the post office and there was a bend in the road just ahead. I wondered if there might be something interesting beyond it. There was. A huge new supermarket!

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(The old railway station road… the old railway is the greenway now)

Maybe that doesn’t seem interesting to you but supermarkets can provide a lot of useful things for the traveller. Yes groceries but this one also had diesel and toilets (I’ll say no more) and a surprise… a laundrette. I didn’t have any washing with me but on our way to the next town we’ll be stopping here. They also had great French craft magazines (can’t read them but can follow the pictures…) Then I noticed the greenway ran just around the back of the supermarket, so I returned to the grape farm aire via a new route. I love when that happens – finding a new way.

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(A pink rose on the greenway)

It’s the little things, always the little things. Actually, just yesterday I realised that I love the nice little things but the opposite is true of the little things that are not so nice. I hate them as much as I love the others, if you see what I mean… Like biting insects. Or a stone in my shoe. Such tiny, tiny things but they tend to focus my mind and I somehow forget about the wonderful day I was having. For now though I’m focussed on the nice little things and going for another walk on the greenway tomorrow.

Prisse, Prisse, Prisse, Mairead.

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Peaceful Day on the Greenway

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(A grey day in the town at the top of the hill)

We’re still here beside the Voie Verte (Greenway) and it’s so peaceful. Just a few cyclist, some walkers and two other motorhomes here today. Monday is always a quiet day in France. I went for a walk up to the town this morning. Fortunately it was overcast and a little chilly so climbing (walking, really) the big hill was very pleasant. Not too many people around there either but tomorrow will be different… there’s a market!

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(Strange wooden bridge joining the clock tower and bell tower)

Already there are signs around the center telling motorists not to park from 6am on Tuesday. I don’t think I’ll be there that early. At this time of year the market takes place only on the first Tuesday of the month so I suppose it’s a big deal for the town. I’m imagining crowds of people and lots of nice things for sale… but it might be just groceries. I suppose groceries can be nice.

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(Can you imagine the train going under that bridge?)

Yesterday afternoon when it got a bit cooler we took the bikes down and went for a cycle along the path. For some reason we have been very active on the bikes this trip – go us! It’s very flat along the greenway because the train tracks needed to be on the flat or at the most only a slight incline or decline. Trains don’t like steep hills. I have a lot in common with the trains…

(View from the bench)

Just outside the station the vista opened up onto a huge plain with vineyards, wheat fields forests and hills. We stopped at a bench, there’s always a bench near where you want to sit everywhere in France. There was an oak tree nearby and all we were missing was a picnic and a tablecloth. We have noticed the French people always have tablecloths when they sit outside to eat. It’s such a lovely idea and it looks adorable. I think I’ll look out for one in the market tomorrow.

Sending peace, Mairead.

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This is Burgundy…

(Tourist map of Burgundy – Bourgogne in French)

My trip on Valerie and Stewart’s boat has definitely affected our travel distances over the past week. (By the way, the boat is for sale!) It’s possible to fit our last seven days of travel onto a tourist map (see picture above) of Burgundy.

(The beautiful city of Auxerre. Lots of old buildings, churches and half-timbered houses. Can you see the boats moored on the right? The motorhome parking is to the right of the boats)

Ok, last Sunday we were in Cravant where we had coffee on the houseboat. On the Monday the boat left for Auxerre with me on board. I got off after four kilometers and cycled back to Cravant. The following day Denis and I drove to Auxerre, even though it was in the wrong direction – northwards – because Valerie and Laura made it sound so beautiful. It was very beautiful. And honest… that’s where Denis lost and found his phone.

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(Entrance to one of the cathedrals in Auxerre)

Next day we moved to Arnay-Le-Duc where we met Marc whose battery was on the blink and where we got a great lunch. After that, Autun, a very old and very pretty large town where we parked between a huge graveyard, a Roman Amphitheatre and a lake. We did get bitten by bugs but the neighbours were very quiet.

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(Covered walkway between the old part of town and the very old part of town in Autun)

On Saturday morning we drove to the small town of Givry where they are especially proud of the fact that Henry the fourth’s favourite wine was Givry. He’s dead now but they still produce the wine. We saw a bottle in the supermarket and it must be good because it costs the same as a bottle of wine in Ireland.

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(That’s the paved greenway path along the disused railway line. Can you see the giant water tap? For steam trains?)

That’s where we found the Voie Verte, the Greenway. Like the ones we have in Ireland, where the old disused railway line is converted into a cycle and walking path. Here in France they also provide aires for motorhomes to park at the old disused stations. We had breakfast at a lovely shaded one in the town of Buxy – unfortunately shade isn’t our friend when we are generating solar energy, so we moved on.

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(Just as I was reading that the greenway was for biking, walking and rollerblading along comes someone on roller blades! It look like fun!)

Now we are beside one in a town called Saint-Gengoux-le-National. We haven’t visited the town yet but the brochure I found at the station here looks very interesting. It’s a 25 minute walk uphill and 26 degrees so maybe I’ll go for a walk when it’s cooler, in the morning.

Maybe I should get some rollerblades? Mairead.

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Paying it Backwards…

(Look! It’s Camille’s house!)

About 28 years ago we visited France with our two-year old daughter. We took the ferry from Cork to Roscoff and drove our car due south. We stayed in small hotels all along the Loire and loved every minute of it. One afternoon as we were driving in the middle of the countryside steam started coming out from under the bonnet. We were overheating. Fortunately, we had about half a dozen small bottles of water with us, we emptied them into the radiator and carried on down the road. Within a few miles we were steaming again. This time we came to a stop right beside a farmhouse. The farmer saw our problem, brought us into his house and explained to his wife. She cooked us a meal and because the garage was closed until the next morning, she moved her children out of their bedroom and made up their beds for us! Next morning she gave us breakfast, the farmer contacted the garage, she gave us lunch and when the car was fixed all the children lined up for kisses and we kissed everyone and drove off.

(Old tower in the pretty town)

Yesterday we had an opportunity to return some kindness but we only remembered afterwards. We had arrived in a very pretty town with a lovely modern aire complete with payment collection by machine and a personal code for the electricity. As usual now we don’t need the electricity so we just paid for the parking, €7. We went off for a walk at lunchtime and had a very nice “plât du jour” sitting outside on a flower-filled terrace. When we returned to the aire, Denis went to work and I started writing. It’s very unusual for anyone to approach the van so when a man approached we assumed he was another motorhome person. He wasn’t. He had broken down on the edge of town and he wondered if we could help him to charge his battery by plugging in his charger. Of course we said yes so off he went to collect his car. By the way he had great English, he’d been to Ireland and he was often mistaken for Irish because of his hair – he has red hair.

(Church in the pretty town)

He arrived back in 30 minutes with the car and proceeded to take the battery out. He explained to Denis that he was coming from a funeral in Paris (300 Km away) and his battery had died on the way and the garage he found didn’t have a replacement battery but sold him a battery charger and charged his battery. That was an hour ago, he still had another 300km to travel and the car had started spluttering just outside this pretty town. On his way into town he had noticed the aire and thought that’s a good place to plug-in the battery charger. That’s why he was approaching us.

(The charging arrangement)

While the aire had electricity, the only way to avail of the electricity is with a motorhome. He could plug-in his charger to our sockets inside the van but… we only had solar power and it was not up to the power requirement of his battery charger. On top of that because we hadn’t chosen electricity at the modern pay by credit card entrance there was no way for us to get the high power electricity now. Not a problem… he would temporarily become a motorhome and pay the parking and electricity at the entrance, then plug-in the electricity he had paid for into our van and then plug-in his charger to our socket in the van. Are you keeping up? No problems so far… until Denis explained what a trickle charger was… it’s a cute name for slow charger. It’s very slow. We had run out of conversation within an hour and the meter barely registered a charge. When three hours had passed it was dark and no one was talking. I made a cup of tea. That’s when we realised his English wasn’t as good as we had thought. Or maybe we don’t understand English as well as we had thought…

(A terrace built around the tree, Auxere)

It would take at least four more hours to charge the battery, he was staying… overnight. Oh. Ok. Long story short, he slept in his car we slept beside him in our motorhome with the door locked and the electrical cord of the charger squeezed underneath and in the morning the battery was charged. He was a lovely man and very grateful to us. There was no kissing, though. When he was gone we both remembered the farmer and his family in the Loire. How amazing were they to take us into their home and share everything with us, even their kisses.

You just have to love the French! Mairead.

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I can’t wait for it to be… right now

(Smelling the flowers)

I’ve been thinking again… not always to be recommended, about how I help myself feel better when I feel down. I’ve read a lot of books about this and talked to a lot of wise friends and I am now convinced that we have a choice of ways to help ourselves but we tend to go for the same things every time. Even when those things don’t work. So, for example, I head to the kitchen. A biscuit or a two or maybe a packet. Something sweet always makes me feel better… while I’m eating it. But then I feel bad again and in fact worse because now I feel guilty about those carbs. A glass of wine has less carbs but I have to wait until the afternoon and one glass isn’t working as well as it used to…

(Appreciating the lichen)

Then there’s planning. Planning is another of my choices. I love planning. I plan a new trip or a new pair of shoes or a new project. The problem with the planning is as soon as I’ve planned something the down feeling returns, because I have to wait until I get what I was planning. Shoes are a great plan because as long as the money is available they can arrive straight away. Great, I feel better. Until I feel guilty about buying the shoes and how could I think shoes would make me feel better? And now I feel bad about the money and the cause of my feeling down is getting more complicated. A trip, planning a trip is much better… go away, forget everything. I can’t wait. But I have to wait. I can’t wait to feel better, only four weeks to go and I’ll feel better. Yaa! I can’t wait. Pity I have to wait so long to feel better. I feel down. Life is hard.

(Can’t have too many flowers!)

A big project, a big project is probably my favourite choice to feel better. It’s grand. It promises wealth, purpose, meaning. Yes a project always makes me feel better. I’ll plan a project. I’ll write another book and it’ll be great, it’ll say exactly what I want to say and it’ll be really easy to understand. I can’t wait until it’s written and published and bought and… oh, it’ll be great when I feel good about having accomplished that. I’ll have plenty of money and I’ll be able to buy those shoes I was thinking about… oh, I can go on a permanent holiday so I’ll never have to wait to go away. I can’t wait… to feel good about writing a book… It’s a pity I have to wait so long and what if it doesn’t sell or what if no one understands it? Oh, I feel a bit poorly and purposeless and meaningless and down. Life is very hard. I’ll have biscuit. What time is it?

Boy, this is complicated.

(Or too much lichen!)

I mentioned earlier about the books and the friends and the more choices for me which all led me to finding a new and very simple way of feeling better. I just have to choose it. Why wouldn’t I choose it? It’s simple! It works! Well, although the old ways don’t work they are very familiar and they’ve become a bit of a habit. Not to mention biscuits taste so good, wine is so much fun, shoes are so pretty and having purpose is so attractive… But they’re complications plastered on to cover up a feeling. Biscuits don’t change the feeling. Wine doesn’t change the feeling, it even makes it worse. Shoes don’t change the feeling. Concocting a purpose doesn’t change the feeling. The simple solution to feeling better… is to feel. Just feel. It won’t last long, about 90 seconds. Then I’ll go back to doing what I do, writing or making. The feeling will come back, so there’ll be plenty of opportunity to turn this new simple choice into a habit. But I won’t have complicated it, I won’t have plastered stuff onto it, I won’t have forgotten that it’s just a feeling and feelings pass.

Feeling the feeling, Mairead.

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