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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Just hanging around…

(Reflecting)

We stayed a second night by the canal. Just being. Walking along the paths. Taking pictures. Getting by without butter, we do have the five litres of olive oil after all…

(The neighbours)

It’s so peaceful here. I might have mentioned that yesterday. Just us and the French fishermen. They are a persistent lot, I haven’t seen one fish taken from the canal. Maybe fishing isn’t about catching fish. Maybe it’s about waiting for fish to bite?

(Sunset over the canal)

Maybe it’s about being in the right place at the right time. Maybe it’s about being prepared to be surprised. Being ready for the result. Being alert to the fish signs.

(The path less travelled)

I don’t know the fish signs but funny enough we will be meeting the fisherman brother and his fishing family, accidentally, coincidentally on our way home, maybe I will ask him.

(The cycle path)

This has certainly been a trip with surprise meetings, with friends and now with family. With being in the right place at the right time. With being prepared to be surprised by the extraordinary ordinary things.

With hanging around and letting go. Mairead.

(Caumont-sur-Garonne: free parking, motorhome facilities, toilet, water €2, four hours of electricity €2, tokens from Mairie or post office.)

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Oh Happy Day!

(Can you see us on the left with the canal in front of us?)

Yesterday’s mood has lifted and the sun is out and we are in another amazingly beautiful place. Still no cafe or Boulanger but there’s a French bread vending machine outside the post office (closed today, it’s not Sunday or Monday…) I’m very hopeful it will have bread in it by tomorrow morning.

(Here’s France being very French)

We are beside a canal, a most beautiful canal – the Garonne. The village nearby is called Camout sur Garonne. All day long there’s activity going on, in or around the canal. There’s cyclists, fancy row boats (of singles, pairs, teams) there’s fishermen, runners, walkers, picnicking people and us sitting here watching the world go by.

(Peaceful, shady walks)

We passed a lidl on our way here and got the toilet paper but now we’ve no butter, Mairead.

ps the vending machine had bread this morning… who needs butter? Me, I’d love some butter, Denis.

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Wet, Wet, Wet

(Way, way, way in the distance behind the clouds are the Pyrenees)

Orion is a constellation but it’s also a commune in France. A commune in France is like a district or a parish. (I’m getting all my information from Wikipedia.) We stayed in a commune near Orion called Orriule. On a clear day you can see the Pyrenees from Orriule. It was not a clear day.

(On top of the world)

We have been spoilt with the weather lately so the arrival of torrential rain has been a shock. Also, there are only 137 people in Orriule and none of them runs a cafe or Boulangerie, our step count is abysmal due to the weather and lack of motivational pastries and we are snapping at each other.

(Can you see the little cows?)

These are the sort of days I make my crafts. You may remember the cupboard filled with my craft supplies? So I got busy and made loads of beautiful things. I am so pleased with myself. Pictures? No, I forgot to take pictures… no couldn’t possibly take pictures now. No, of course I’m not lying about the crafts.

(Blue sky and fog in the valley as we leave Orriule)

I’m lying about the crafts. I didn’t do any. Someone might need to remember the storks… Maybe I’ll make a stork out of my supplies?

We’ve run out of toilet paper, Mairead.

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Border Magic

(Saw this in the Spanish town, Irun on the border. Can you see the contraption over the bus? It extends down and connects with the roof of the electric bus. Could it be swapping out its used battery for a fully charged one while it picks up passengers at the bus stop?)

We spent a very quiet night in the car park at Irun, Spain. Next morning I noticed a river just behind us. While I was taking a picture I noticed something else… it was France over there. On the other side of the river there were signs, in French. I could see them… from Spain. Heady stuff. If only there was a time zone change. Oh well.

(I am standing in Spain taking a picture of France… that’s border magic)

On closer inspection I could see a bridge… to France. Maybe we could take the bridge? Maybe we would not have to pay the toll, again. Sorry, Estelle! Maybe things would go better today in France.We took the bridge, so far so good.

(The most beautiful villages in France)

Within an hour we had arrived at Labastide, a member of Les Plus Beaux Village de France. (The most beautiful villages in France.) It definitely deserves to be a member. I spoke to the nice young man in the tourist office and he said their village was the nicest. I am motivated to find out if he’s telling the truth. I wonder if there’s a The most beautiful villages in France guide book?

(Main street)

He also told me this was the Basque region of France and like it’s neighbour the Basque region in Spain it has two official languages. The people of both regions speak the same (small differences) language. I was intrigued by that.

(Modern water feature)

The town is adorable, old timber and stone houses with red roof tiles line the main street. There’s a church at one end and a port at the other. We were staying at the port. Well, it used to be a port, a river port but no longer in use. There were two restaurants (closed for dinner, Monday is often a closed day in France) the tourist office and lots of artist studios (most also closed.) The bakery was closed too. There was a shop selling macaroons. It was open. It would have been rude not to purchase, it was her granny’s recipe.

(Old shop fronts)

I went to see the Mairie (the Mayor). I didn’t actually see the mayor, just his office. To stay in the motorhome parking for the night you have to register with the mayor and pay your €5.

Done. Mairead.

(Labastide: Parking, €5 pay at Mariè, includes electricity, toilet.)

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Next Stop Spain, no, France, no, Spain…

(The duck pond near motorhome parking at Vitoria-Gasteiz)

We stayed a second night in Palencia and then moved on to the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz. We were here last year. It’s just a car park with facilities for emptying but there’s a great electric tram line just 5 minutes away that brings you into the old town.

(Even the tram line is green)

We weren’t going into the town but I remembered they are very proud of their green spaces so we went for a walk in the local park. Lots of people were enjoying the space and the ducks.

(Love the colours on this guy)

Next morning we moved to France… for a while. We had stayed in a grand supermarket car park last year just over the border and were looking forward to our first croissants there. Then we remembered it was France and Sunday. Supermarkets only open in the morning on Sundays, some don’t open on Sundays at all. This was a big supermarket more like a mall with lots of small shops too, it would definitely be open.

(Look at the lovely spot they reserved for us… from 9am to 9pm)

It was closed. Not only that but since we’d been here last they’d put up a big welcome sign with a little red addition… motorhomes could only stay until 9pm. Not welcome overnight. But.. but… would they throw us out? We waited all day and even went for a little walk in the area – very pretty. We had dinner, wondered some more.

(Nice stone bench in the neighbourhood near the supermarket)

Then we moved on. The closest place was 6km back over the border. (We’re on first name terms with the toll booth operator – Bonjour Estelle!) We’re back in Spain.

We’ll give France one more chance tomorrow. Mairead.

(Irun, Spanish-French border: Parking, free after 7.30pm and before 9am, shops and restaurants nearby.)

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Spanish Surprises

(Lovely old gate in Palencia)

After lunch we changed plans and decided to move from the beautiful view and my stork and travel a couple of hours here to Palencia. Travelling by motorhome you can do that, travelling by motorhome you sometimes have to do that. Earlier at Bragança the toilet cassette empty station was full to overflowing so we couldn’t empty our cassette. There were no facilities at Puebla de Sanabria so we went on to Palencia.

(Old bridge)

We had a moment of confusing when we were almost there. There was something wrong with the sat-nav. It was 2.55pm and the sat-nav was predicting we would arrive at our destination in five minutes. It also said our time of arrival would be 4pm. But that was an hour and five minutes away. Something was definitely wrong.

(Straight through the park)

It happens every time we cross back over the border into Spain. The time difference. We lost an hour. We will get it back when we land in Ireland. (Must remember to enjoy that.) What do the people who live beside a timezone change do? How do they avoid confusion? Of course it could be really useful when you run out of time to pop across the border and get another hour. Imagine that…

(Cute statue near the cathedral)

Palencia is a very old town with a great free camping place just ten minutes from the sights. There are toilets and showers and something we really need at the moment – a washing machine. I spent the afternoon washing clothes. There’s also a few clothes lines, solar power.

(Old stationery shop)

There’s also a cathedral, churches museums, loads of shops and plenty of restaurants and cafes. We found a lovely tapas bar. Another thing we forget when we cross the border, no one speaks English and there are no English versions of the menu. When I asked the waitress if she spoke English she opened her eyes wide in happy surprise and shook her head to indicate no. French? Same response.

(Post box at the post office)

It was a lovely moment because it was unexpected. She reacted without irritation or apology or sorrow or guilt or disappointment or anything negative. She seemed genuinely happily surprised. Almost like she couldn’t wait to see what might happen next.

(Wine bottle light fittings at the tapas bar)

What happened next was we discovered we know far more Spanish words than we thought. Words like Cerveza (beer) aqua con gaz, (sparkling water) and tapas came tumbling out of our mouths. Now we were smiling with happy surprise too. She pointed us at the tapas section in the menu and then went off to get our drinks. The words in the tapas section were lovely and mostly unfamiliar but they were only €2.50 each so we picked the names we liked.

(Love the coat hooks)

We picked well! They were amazing. The date on top of a rasher (not actual rasher but better if you can even imagine that!) on top of an egg on top of a pepper on top of bread one was the most amazing things I ever tasted. By the time we were leaving we could say multo bene which we hope means very good. It probably does because our waitress was smiling with a different happy surprised look. You know the one parents give to their children when they do something good? Although she was very young. Maybe it’s the look grandchildren give when their grandparents learn to use the remote?

Multo bene, Mairead.

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