Calm Down

Map 2.1 France and the villages

On Tuesday we left La Flèche on the long drive to the department of Normandy and Saint Mère Èglise. The long drive was made longer by traffic diversions due to a new road or a bridge or something. Suffice to say our sat nav was at a loss to take us anywhere except narrow roads.

There’s a stop sign up ahead

Very lovely narrow roads with lots of wheat and barley growing in the fields either side. With tractors working in those fields. And sometimes a line of grass growing in the middle of the narrow road.

This road seems tilted to me

A road with grass growing down the middle is my definition of a road that is too narrow for Ruby but it is also a road that doesn’t get much traffic. Just as well because by the time we realised we were on said grassy road there were no options for turning back.

Pretty but we are taking up most of it…

We were very lucky, it was lunchtime and as we have found out the French are very strict regarding the time of meals and we met no one. Did not prevent my nervous system going on full alert as we approached every corner.

Waaaay too narrow

I do wonder if I’ll ever completely get rid of the anxiety. But do I want to get rid of it? In the moment it seems the most sane thing to be anxious about moving faster than walking speed down a – lets call it what it is – a farmers laneway when at any moment another vehicle could be travelling as fast or faster towards us. Surely, anxiety is the sanest response? Right?

Still too narrow but look at the three trees…

And yet, when I apply logic to my challenge, I do realise the danger from my habit of repeated self-dosing with adrenaline is probably more dangerous to me than the possibility of meeting a car on a country lane.

Much better…

And now here I am packing a bag for our night on the ferry. The road to the ferry is wide. What could I possibility be anxious about? The forecast. The forecast says there will be wind, in fact it’s already been blowing all day yesterday and again today.

Perfectly straight road off into the distance…

This would be a good time for me to download a book that cures anxiety automatically and without having to read it as I won’t be able to read if the ship is pitching…

Thunderstorm at Monpazier

I don’t often go out this late to take pictures, it was lovely to get a picture of a red sky at night after the storm

Another day, another beautiful French village…Monpazier, in the department of Dordogne and the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region. This might be the most lovely village we’ve seen this far but I don’t want to make the others jealous. So let’s just say, I love all the beautiful villages equally (but I love this one a bit more equally…)

One of the town gates, there are many

This village is laid out on a grid as if it had been planned during medieval times and I assume it was. I didn’t visit the museum where I might have been able to ask but it was closed. To be honest it was just lovely to walk around and take photos and smell the roses (literally) and just put one foot in front of the other.

The church and the roses

What started out as a very hot day turned into a thunderstorm by the late afternoon and we were confined to the motorhome until 9pm. During our confinement we realised water was getting into one of the cupboards! The one with the Switch! The Switch is the gaming system that the Zelda runs on – see Zelda and the Viaductos.

Pretty shopfront

Don’t worry, Zelda is fine, just a bit damp. The motorhome is fine too and the damp is gone because the red sky brought sunshine this morning. Turns out, if our motorhome is parked in a particular position facing the wind and completely level – rain water will pool on the roof and seep inside. Not ideal but at least it doesn’t happen often. The Switch and Zelda have been moved to a safe space in case it happens again.

Bike for rent?

Something we notice more when we travel is that we regularly get challenges. Like the rain coming in. Like the bugs biting me. Like supermarkets closed on Sundays in France. Like the sat nav sending us down roads that are too narrow. Like finding it difficult to find a place to stay at night. Like not having enough gas to cook dinner. In the moment these feel very big – I know that’s hard to believe but I promise you that they do. Somehow we take steps to solve each challenge that arrives and then they’re gone.

Laneways and streets run parallel and perpendicular to each other so it’s impossible to get lost but also nearly impossible to pass the same place twice!

And we forget them and soon the next challenge turns up. Of course this happens at home too. Maybe that’s all life is, a series of interesting challenges that we overcome until we die. So now I’m imagining myself welcoming the next challenge with some joy because I must be still alive!

Morning coffee in beautiful Monpazier, all is well

Esposende, you make me feel good

Almost last Portuguese coffee

After Vila Chã we drove up the coast of Portugal. We were on our way to the last Portuguese town on our journey. Soon we would be crossing the border into Spain. But first, we visited a different town on the coast called, Esposende. We were stopping for a break and a coffee, I was not expecting to feel anything for this town and I definitely didn’t expect to be writing about it but here we are.

Walking by the water

We followed the app’s directions to a parking spot and then got out to walk back to the centre of the town. Where Vila Chã was narrow streets, Esposende is wide open. Yes we saw narrow streets near the church but beside the water it was wide open. I don’t know if that was what made this place feel so good but I wanted to spend time taking pictures and walking along the water here. So I did.

Waiting for the tide…

I’ve been thinking about Future Me lately, that’s me in 10 or 20 years time. Specifically thinking about what she’d want me to be doing now so that she is healthy and content, way out there in the future. Walking along the water seems like one thing she’d want. Taking time to smell the seaweed might be another. Cutting down on the Portuguese nata’s is probably another…

Not easy to get the long named towns into the frame…

Changing habits is not easy, especially the habits of a lifetime but spending a little time in this town made me realise that the less tangible things that make me feel good (like walking, smelling seaweed/flowers/fresh air, meditating, taking photos, writing) are actually magic things that can help me let go of things I think make me feel better. Things like pastries! Things like worry or guilt. (I do seem to think if I worry I can solve the problem I’m worrying about! I do, also, seem to think guilt is good for me and will make me stop procrastinating!)

The old lifeboat station

Future me will one day look back at this post and I want her to be smiling to herself for the habit changes I made for her today.

The Cork Tree Forest

There was a huge cork tree forest beside the campsite. We have never been this close to a cork tree

On Monday night we stayed out in the countryside at a small campsite near the town of Evoramonte. We stayed there again on Tuesday night as the heatwave had arrived and zapped our adventuring spirit. A rest was needed. Showers were also badly needed!

And we had never see the leaves of the Cork tree this clearly

The campsite is owned by a Dutch couple who were very laid back. When we arrived it was the day before Freedom Day a public holiday in Portugal and the husband told us they were very busy so he wasn’t sure if there was anything left and wherever we could find a spot would be grand.

There was a path from the campsite through the fields to a nearby road

This way of doing things can lead to uncomfortable results… sometimes people leave their pitch for the day and expect it will be there when they return because they have mentioned it to the owner. We have been there and have become very sensitive to the signs of a pitch already taken. But there were no signs at one very pretty pitch.

This strange looking bug was on the path. Can you see the red stripes? I realise it would have been helpful to add a coin or my hand for size but he was afraid of me and I of him

In the evening we watched a couple pack up their camp when the original camper arrived back irate and questioned whether they had checked with the owner. Well… we knew it wouldn’t have helped if they had.

Cork trees have to be 25 years old before the first harvest. And 9 years between each subsequent harvest

We might have been in their shoes if the spot had been a little bigger and the trees hadn’t been overhanging. It was a particularly nice spot with shade (from the overhanging trees) a pretty view of the castle in the distance and a cooling breeze coming across the valley.

I can’t believe this is the only picture I took of the view of the castle… this is from our pitch, did I mention we didn’t get the best view. Grand picture of a lamp post though…

If I was making up the story of an irate man and wanted to give him a happier life, I’d have him suddenly come to his senses. He might say… I don’t worry if I have a pretty space, I enjoy it and if it’s gone when I get back I enjoy where I find myself.

Can you see the number 2 on that tree? That lets the farmer know when this tree is ready for harvest

We had our own shade – not overhanging. It was from a row of Leylandii trees. Yes, the ones no one likes in their gardens anymore but when the sun passed it’s highest point they provided the deepest shade. The irate man might have said, trees are very generous with their shade.

The cool of the evening is best time for a walk

Unfortunately, it wasn’t until the next day that I realised that besides shade the Leylandii tree also provided mosquitos… The irate man would have said, ah mosquitoes, another reason to love Ireland.

I have antihistamine tablets and I’m taking them.

Everything is okay

There’s a park beside the river Tagus with a canal for the ducks

We found a beautiful place to stay on Sunday night last. It was a big surprise to realise we had been here before. If you’ve been reading for years you may remember the last time we stayed the police came to tell us the river was running high and there was a possibility it would break its banks and we should move from our river view.

The ducks

We did move but I have often thought about that time… in hindsight we didn’t move far enough away. Of course nothing bad happened it didn’t burst it’s banks and we didn’t get submerged. But it’s one of the biggest rivers in Portugal, the Tagus! It flows into Lisbon! I bet it would be a big flood!

I wish you could smell this field. And we had the quietest night’s sleep

One of the best things about this parking space on Sunday, was that it was in the overflow field. Not overflow for the river but overflow parking when the regular parking spaces are filled. And the best thing about the field… it had been a corn field and now it was cut… and the smell was absolutely magnificent. It reminded me of childhood summers in permanent sunshine.

There was a bus on the next street that served food!

Isn’t it funny how my mind was still playing with the thought of what might have happened years ago in this place? Nothing happened. But if I had realised we were coming back here I might have said, no I don’t want to go there, the river might flood. And I’d have missed the smell of that field and a return journey to childhood.

Love this quote and the freedom from worry it promises…

Yes, everything is okay.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

Can you see the two cats?

We stopped at the town of Mangualde to have lunch on Sunday. We didn’t know where to park so we parked at the Intermarche and unlike it’s sister supermarkets in France it was open all day!🥳 Opportunity for grocery shopping taken we went for a little walk around the town before lunch in the quiet car park.

This door was behind a locked gate and surrounded by a high stone wall. There’s a story here but I don’t know it…

The buildings are old and lovely and there was plenty of things to photograph even on our 30 minute walk. Including two cats and a door blistering in the heat. The temperatures have started to rise here but we are keeping cool with ice cream… And we’ve bought a weighing scales. Both things not related.

Blisteringly hot!

After Mangualde we drove to see the castle at Penela. At some point Denis noticed something strange in the rear camera. We had bought a new bicycle cover to keep the bike dry and it seemed to have come loose and was flapping wildly behind us. We would need to stop but there were very few places so we kept an eye on it and drove on.

Penela castle from the distance

The flapping was getting worse. Eventually we saw a fuel services and pulled in. Both of us got out to investigate… the cover was intact but there was a tiny leaf stuck to the camera. A tiny leaf flapping around looked enormous on the screen inside the van.

Can you see the tiny leaf stuck to the rear camera?

Sometimes little things seem huge and they’re just not.


We’re using the app CamperContact as guide

The Guiding App
For the first time ever on a trip we purchased a self guide to help us choose where to stop on our travels. Of course it’s also an app! Usually we just pick a parking spot that sounds interesting. And most of the time we find something interesting nearby. This time we are following a map and picking parking spots nearby. It makes for a different type of experience. The tour starts in the town of Gernika (Guernica is the English, I think) and I’m very excited. I can hardly believe we have passed this town many times travelling to Portugal via northern Spain.

Look at the beautiful red Geraniums!

History is more interesting now
Something you may not know about me – my new interest in history. In school I thought history was too complicated, too much to read and too much to study. I wanted to get a good grade in my leaving certificate (end of school exam, Ireland) but the exam preparation was mainly learning things off by heart therefore any subject with high content was a risky choice. History had a lot of content and my decision to drop it was influenced by that. I am sorry now… and all because of a fiction book. Imagine a really easy to read fiction book being a way to learn about history? What a great idea. I found the book (really three books) by accident. It’s called, The Century Trilogy by Ken Follett and tells the story of the 20th Century from the perspective of fictitious families in Russia, Germany, Austria, America, England, Wales and Spain. It’s also interspersed with real characters like presidents and kings, etc. Hopefully Ken Follett does a lot of research, it seems he does. Now, because of him and his book I understand so much more about the conflicts during the 20th century, which includes World War 1 and 2, fascism, Spanish civil war…. The book has been like an intro for me and I’m ready for more so if you have any recommendations for easy to understand history books please let me know.

This is a photo of a copy of Picasso’s Guernica in the peace Museum

Art History, also interesting
The second thing you may not know about me – in 2012 I attended an art course that included art history. It gave me an appreciation for art, including Picasso, who before that was a complete mystery to me. Anyway, one class included his art piece called Guernica. Picasso started painting Guernica the day after he read reports about a Spanish town that was decimated by German bombs. Men women and children were killed, they still don’t know how many, up to 2000. The actual painting is in a museum in Madrid.

Had coffee here near the peace museum

Visiting the Peace Museum, Gernika
Now here I am in Gernika with a basic understanding of the Spanish Civil War and the art piece Guernica… this will be my simplified version of events which I hope will allow me to tell a close enough approximation of the story, simply and clearly. The Spanish Civil War started in July 1936 and lasted until the Second World War began in 1939.

The Background
On one side there was the Republicans who supported the government of Spain and on the other side was the Nationalists who were military men including General Franco. Spain was a young republic at the start of the civil war. The government was inexperienced. There were many economic problems, poverty, unemployment and the general public were unhappy. Something similar to Germany after the First World War which led to the Second World War and there are similarities today…

Both sides had support from outside Spain. The Republicans were supported by Russia and the Nationalists (with General Franco) were supported by the Nazi government in Germany.

The fires following the bombing were so hot they melted coins

The Day of the Bombing
Monday 26th April, 1937 was market day in Gernika, lots of people and animals on the streets. The planes arrived at 4pm, they dropped bombs and shot civilians until 8pm. The town was completely destroyed. The planes were German. The Nationalists won the civil war and General Franco ruled Spain until his death in November 1975. He was a dictator and until his death there was no investigation of the bombing. When asked, they had to say the planes bombed Gernika… but it was Franco who directed the planes to bomb Gernika.

A page from the information booklet

Hard Peace
The peace museum is an attempt to examine peace, the hard peace. The kind that requires forgiveness. The kind that requires living with neighbours who were on the other side of the civil war. Some people who were Nationalist supporters knew there would be some kind of action in Gernika that day so they left the town. I cannot imagine being able to forgive that and lucky for me I don’t have to. But it inspires me to do my own forgiving, for my own version of civil war. I am inspired to know peace as more than a quiet seat by the river bank, or a meditation alone on a cushion. I am inspired to do my own peace work.

At the Peace Museum in Gernika there’s a informational handout in English. In it there’s a list titled, The Tools Used to Bring Peace. Among the tools are, Honouring Fellow Human Beings, Listening to Different Opinions, Admitting our Mistakes, Looking to the Future.

Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” -Unknown (from the handout)

Long drive, beautiful view

Over the border

First stop in Spain – Getaria on the north coast. If you compare yesterday’s map with today’s above you might notice we travelled a lot. It took us ten hours – not ideal. On top of that the last hour was on winding roads. I don’t think anyone, including the anyone trying to get home but stuck behind an Irish motorhome, was happy with that. And then we arrived in this beautiful place.

Well, isn’t this nice… Getaria, north coast of Spain

It was 8.45pm but still bright and our parking spot had a view of the sea. Plus parking was free after 8pm, so maybe everything that happened on this day was in fact ideal. It took a lot of manoeuvring to get parked but eventually we nestled in beside – but not touching – a tree.

Can you see Ruby? Extreme left under the tree?

For a long time Denis has wanted a way to ensure our communication was effective… not all the time just when we arrive at a parking spot that requires two of the us to park safely. And he purchased a set of walkie-talkies. As a child I dreamed of having a walkie-talkie set but it was never to be. Now I have a half share in a set of blue ones. Be careful what you wish for.

Walkie and Talkie (mine’s Walkie)

Arriving at Getaria would be their inaugural outing. I had received the training in their usage ten hours earlier from Denis and it seemed straightforward. What could possibly go wrong? Ten hours of driving. It can test a person.

Narrow streets but not too narrow for a car!

I was tired and the adrenaline was making me a little shaky since the winding road but apart from my tendency to let go of the talk button when I thought the van was going to hit something (the precise moment you really need to be pressing the talk button and shouting STOP!) they worked grand. I’m wondering if they would be any use during a heated argument? If you have any ideas please let me know.

Love this street!❤️

As soon as the van was tucked in we went for a walk into the town of narrow streets and expensive restaurants. It was too late for us to eat dinner and a little early for the Spanish so for the third night in a row we had what was left in our fridge, yum…

Look there’s Denis!

Next morning we awoke to the sun shining and the waves crashing. What a beautiful view to wake up to! Next stop Gernika-Lumo, you might want to look that up because it’s a difficult one but I really want to write about it because it’s a place where peace gets real…

The Statistics

The Route: Outward – Black Return – Dark Blue

Thought it might be interesting to gather some data about the journey. As I write we are waiting in Cherbourg to board the ferry home. It’s all over!

Beautiful wall in Sézanne

How many miles? 3648 (5870km)

Restaurant in Saint Mère Èglise

How many countries? 5 Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal and Disneyland (😉)

The market in Louhans

How much diesel? 673 litres

Diesel somewhere in France

How many days? 84

Old wash house in Chaource

How many blogs? 41

French postbox

How much solar electricity did we generate? 58kw hours (I don’t know what this means either)

Canal Pont du midi

How many crossants/pastries? Don’t know but probably 1 a day! Which is…84😱

How many campsites? 20 (approximately)

How many free parkups? 40 (approximately)

How many paid parkups? 20 (approximately)

Pont du Gard

Highest Temperature?
37 degrees C (Poix en Picardy France, Saturday 17th June)

Frost on the windscreen Saint-Brice-en-Coglès

Lowest Temperature?
-2 degrees C (Saint-Brice-en-Coglès, Friday 1st April)

Sunset near Villablanca, Spain

Thank you for reading, you make writing this extra fun! xxx Mairéad