Warm hugs from the south…

2018 1

(Our car park tonight is just around the corner from this beach)

We’ve moved again further into Portugal… just a little bit. To a town called Viana do Castelo, less than 100km north of Porto. There was a temptation to just keep going to that beautiful city but I’m glad we didn’t, we have yet again found a magical spot. The weather is definitely onside too as it’s 18℃ with a cooling breeze. Before you get too envious, rain and thunder storms are forecast all over Portugal for the next ten days…probably no snow though – sorry about that.

2018 2

(And there’s the boardwalk)

Portugal is different. We never get used to that. Each time we get here we are struck by the differences. Yesterday I mentioned the hospitality and convenience of eating establishments. So I’ve made a list of some differences we’ve experienced in the last two days…

2018 3

(And sunset tonight)

The biggest difference is the people, they are friendly and interested and want to help us. They help us pay for goods with our coins… for some reason they prefer coins to notes so even if we think we don’t have enough to pay they help us count up all our small coins and usually it is enough! They speak English, happily. Or French, happily. They provide beautiful places for us to stay, free of charge. They like selling coffee, there’s so many cafes and the coffee is so good and so cheap you’ll wonder how they could all make a living. And we’ve learned not to judge a book by the exterior of the cafe… it doesn’t matter what the outside looks like the coffee and natas (pastry filled with custard and then caramelised) inside will be heavenly.

Keep warm, everybody, Mairead.

We have a lighthouse!

2018 3

(Ortiguera. To the right… a little cove…)

I hope my photographs can do some justice to the beauty of the place we have found ourselves in today because I am struggling to find words to describe it… Oh and the rain has stopped.

2018 6

(…to the left… a village)

We passed this way two years ago when we first travelled in the camper van to Portugal. We stayed very near here in a supermarket car park, our first. It was grand, great for getting groceries but their 3am delivery truck was very noisy. We had no idea, just 30 minutes down the road there was somewhere as beautiful as this spot.

2018 9

(Steps to bring you down into the cove)

I suppose we could have done some research. We could have joined some internet forums. We could have at least bought a guide-book. We didn’t. So we missed it. But we got to experience it this time.

2018 8

(And behind us… a church. Does something about this remind you of old westerns on the telly?)

Mind you, getting here was a little fraught…. there was fog…

2018 1

(That’s a 130km/h motorway with a very steep drop over those guard rails…)

And a humpbacked bridge with trolls…. (can’t be completely sure about the trolls).

2018 2

(There was literally inches on either side of the van…)

Experience is funny, you never know what it’s going to teach you. We are travelling a little differently this year, we have had different experiences since the last time we were on this road and they taught us things we never knew we didn’t know.

2018 10

(View from the dining room…(!))

Like slowing down sometimes gets you there faster… when there is somewhere like here, Mairead.

Free Parking with the Elephants

2018 1

(Our view from the kitchen)

We crossed the border into Spain this morning. It rained the entire time and the spray from the other traffic was a bit miserable. We had forgotten that this part of the journey past San Sebastian and Bilbao is always a little messy as city by-passes can be confusing and chaotic and it was all that this morning.

2018 3

(Nearby village)

As some of you will know I’m a very helpful passenger. Some people say too helpful… My self-appointed duties include continuously reminding the driver of the speed limits, especially when they are lower in the rain. Suggesting the optimum wiper speeds as windshield conditions change. Making squealing noises when (in my opinion) other vehicles approach too close to the van. Insisting that the driver must never check a beautiful view. Making wavy movements with my hands when our vehicle is proceeding too close to the vehicle in front.

2018 6

(Gondola at the safari park)

My assistance is not always appreciated though… so lately I have been considering a kind of toning down of my helpful tendencies. This proves to be easier said than done as it has turned out my main motivation for helping is self-preservation… it turns out I am attempting to prevent a terrible accident where I go up in a ball of flames and career down a 100 meter ravine. The constant vigil is exhausting as I am on high alert and I don’t even have a brake pedal. I did suggest to Denis that we could invest in an extra pedal but he wasn’t keen so I had to come up with another option.

2018 4

(Fence around the elephant enclosure)

It turns out when I’m a passenger I run the ball-of-flames-and-100-meter-ravine accident on a kind of continuous YouTube loop in my mind. I do that so that I don’t lose focus of my main concern: self-preservation. My new plan is to preserve my sanity and turn off the video loop. Every time it starts into it’s ball of flames, I stop it and have a look at the nice view. Then it starts again and I stop it and take a nice deep breath. Every time it starts I stop it again. It definitely makes the driving (or is it passenger-ing?) more enjoyable. I had been doing grand until this morning with the trucks and the rain but never mind I am a work in progress.

2018 5

(Our elephants)

So tonight we are at a safari park… with free parking. We took a walk earlier, to see the elephants…. yes now we have elephants! We got drenched on our walk but it’s so lovely to be surrounded by nature that we didn’t mind and now we’re snug in the van looking out on a lake with some ducks.

It’s a long way from the motorway. Mairead.

Once upon a time we had no water…

Lots of people ask me how Denis and I can live together, in such a small space, without killing each other. I’m not sure I have ever given an adequate answer, mainly because I don’t know. So I thought it might be interesting to notice on this trip what we do. Today I got some useful information… it’s a long story, bear with me.

2018 1 1

(Our back garden tonight)

As I was saying we planned to be taking the slow journey through France, as long as the weather was kind… and the weather was grand, but we hadn’t taken into account a particular side effect of weather – water pipe safety. Yesterday we travelled for about an hour from the ferry at Cherbourg and arrived in the town of Isigny sur Mer at dusk. We planned to fill up with water and stay for the night. While in Cork the previous Sunday we had filled our drinking water tank but we forgot that there’s a safety thingy in the van that protects against frozen pipes – by dumping all the drinking water! It only happens if the temperature inside the van goes below 8 degrees. Must have gone below 8 degrees while we were on the ferry because when we got off in Cherbourg the tank was empty. We might have left 100 litres of Cork water in the English channel… sorry.

2018 2 1


Not really a problem, we would get drinking water at the aire in Isigny sur Mer. But we couldn’t! This is a bit of a sweeping statement but it might still be true: in winter the French turn off the drinking water taps at their aires. To be honest we’ve only tried two this morning but two out of two is enough for me to start making sweeping statements. Still, not a huge problem, we do have a couple of two litre bottles of water I bought in Lidl when the whole of Greystones was on a boil water notice. That will keep us going for a bit, but I think we need to reassess, regroup and let go of the original plan.

2018 3 1

(Spotted on our way to the supermarche)

When you decide on a plan and then set it in motion it takes on a life of its own. Every decision that follows fits neatly into the plan and before you know it there’s a machine trundling down the road to get water where none exists. The machine in this case is a camper van plus two humans. When the water at the second tap an hour south of the first tap was also turned off the two humans approached a crossroads (metaphorically). One of them was doing all they could to keep the machine moving with the original plan, i.e. on to a third tap, while the other human was doing all she could to throw out the original plan and come up with a new one.

2018 4

(Here we are)

It turns out we have very different patterns when it comes to finding a solution. Denis focusses on making the present plan work (tenacious). I focus on coming up with a new plan (creative). Even thought this is a metaphorical crossroads it felt exactly like we were pulling in opposite directions and it was very uncomfortable. Discomfort makes me grumpy and blamey (not a real word but I think you know what I mean…?) It wasn’t very peaceful. I’ll spare you the back and forth that went on until silence descended. Not peaceful silence. Then something changed. (Incidentally I would not have understood what changed had I not been writing about it. Thank you, writing, I love you!)

IMG 3003

(We found water!)

But first… Many years ago these two humans were not living peacefully together. They had a lot of hard stuff going on and they were pulling apart at every crossroads. And then they stopped, I actually don’t know why they stopped, probably a combination of things, other people inspiring them, books teaching them, courses educating them. I don’t know, but things changed and they found common ground. One night, I think they were sitting on the sofa watching the telly, they came to an agreement on something… they wanted peace. And they were willing to do hard stuff to have peace.

2018 1 2

(Our first bbq on the road (thank you for teaching us, Moira!) and the orange/metal thing in the park is a game called disc golf – google it)

The thing that changed today was that as soon as we realised we weren’t at peace, we separately (and silently) stopped thinking we were right and the other person was wrong. Then we began to search together (awkwardly) for workable solutions to the problem. Then we drove to a place we knew had water… duh.

We are able to live together, in such a small space, without killing each other because we want peace, Mairead.

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.

IMG 1304

(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.

IMG 1307

(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?

IMG 1319

(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…

IMG 5586

(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.

IMG 5552

(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.

IMG 5620

(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.

Making peace with embarrassment

IMG 1815

(Palm tree trunk)

We’re still in Luz so I’m getting comfortable here, starting to feel right at home… which means some of my old habits are popping up. (By the way, I’m working away happily on my book so that’s probably why I keep thinking of habits and beliefs.)

IMG 1834

(Lagos, old town)

So… one of my habits is, I see something I want to do but just before I do it, I think, “nooo, I would look stupid, much too embarrassing to do that!”  Then afterwards when I don’t do it I feel a bit miserable for not doing it. A bit of a misery cycle. This habit is masking a couple of beliefs. The one that stops me doing the thing I want to do: What other people think of me is important and it needs to be positive. And the one that makes me feel miserable when I don’t do it: Trying new things is really good for my healthA bit of a self-judgemental cycle.

IMG 1849

(Like blue sky)

At the same time I have returned to meditation, fifteen minutes every morning. And there’s something useful in the meditation practice that can help me untangle the misery and self-judgemental cycles. It’s about noticing whatever it is you’re feeling, just noticing, not thinking, just noticing… in your body. Not in your head, in your body. (Over emphasising might be a habit too?)

IMG 1885

(Blue water, blue boat, blue jacket, blue hat)

So… I’m practicing meditation on my embarrassment. Each day (since Monday) I do one thing that I know would cause me to feel embarrassed and I notice what that’s like. In. My. Body. Monday morning I went to the outdoor gym! I had been looking at the equipment since last Wednesday when we arrived, thinking that looks like fun! Then the misery/self-judgemental cycle began, so I didn’t dare. 

IMG 1943

(Boat for sale…)

But on Monday morning I got into my baggy pants and approached the gym area. Slowly. Giving me time to notice the embarrassment and I noticed it… but it was a bit different. Too late to turn back I arrived at the area and there’s another camper doing gym things (and doing them really well) smiling and saying hello. Having a lot of embarrassing thoughts now but remembering just in time to NOTICE IN MY BODY I squeak out, Hi, which one of these is good for a beginner?

IMG 1952


She is really friendly, Dutch or German I think and delighted to point me towards a swing-swong kind of thing and I start swinging and it is fun. So much so that I try a stand-up-rowing machine thing next but that’s a bit harder. Just as I start to feel stupid and think this is too hard I remember to NOTICE IN MY BODY and I slow down and it’s ok. Feeling embarrassed is actually ok… the thing that’s upsetting is the thinking about being embarrassed, the thinking about the people watching, the thinking about the people who are good at this fun thing. 

IMG 1971

(Rocks and sea at Luz… doesn’t it look like Greystones? Or does everything remind us of Ireland?)

Sooo, I’m stand-up-rowing with a smile on my face and a hello for all the people walking by and my new Dutch or German friend says, the hardest thing is to stop yourself competing with other people, just do your best. Well, wasn’t that lovely? I feel quite emotional all of a sudden. I’m rowing away and I’m thinking this embarrassment thing isn’t so bad. Then a group of six toned Swedish women jog past and I wave and nearly fall off my stand-up-rowing machine.

There should be a health warning on these machines, Mairead.

Shuush! We’ve found a McDonalds! 1 of 2

IMG 1179

(Beja is on a hill)

Don’t tell anyone but… we’ve come to McDonald’s this morning! Yes I know, how could we? Well… there’s a certain thing that McDonalds do and Starbucks do too that we haven’t found elsewhere here. I promise we will start looking for a Portuguese version soon though, because I am embarrassed to be resorting to something familiar and comforting.

IMG 1240

(Stone stairs in the Convent of Nossa Senhora de Conceição)

The things that McDonald’s and Starbucks do? Well there’s the free wifi (actually I don’t know if Starbucks do.) Then there’s the comfy seats – we’re getting fussy about seating as we get older… Then there’s the stay-as-long-as-you-like attitude. If you haven’t darkened the door of a McDonalds for a while you might not be familiar with their less plastic look. It’s more brown and cream now (well it is here) with a modern pretend-wood-kitchen feel. Perfectly fine for an hour or two, plus the staff seem fine with us staying an hour or two with just a couple of coffees (@€1 each!)

IMG 1264

(An old street in Beja)

From time to time we both like a change from Ruby when we’re working. I would prefer a shaded spot outdoors with a nice view but it’s a bit too cold to sit outside for long so this is a good second choice. It’s shaded, the sun is shining outside and I can see some green bushes in the play area and of course a big sky full of blue – nice. I’m working on my next ebook! This one will be about Creative Calm and how I think using creativity can nourish our lives. Funny thing is that although I brought lots of creative things with me (embroidery, crochet, paints, pens, glue and scissors) I didn’t even unpack them until I started listening to what I was writing!

IMG 1231

(Decorative doorway in the chapel at the convent)

As always, everything I write is for me but sometimes I don’t pay attention to what I write, that’s why I started writing to you. Somehow sharing it makes me pay more attention. I think that’s probably why I started the Monday morning Creative Calm sessions. Sharing the making part made me pay attention and realise that thinking about being creative is not enough, the doing of it makes the difference.

So if I realise the doing of it makes the difference how come here in Portugal I’m not doing it?

To be continued… Mairead.

Feeling some madness…

IMG 0652

(Can you see this kite surfing guy’s feet and surfboard are out of the water?)

It rained a lot last night. Lots of rain, lots of wind. Teeny tiny bit of sleep. Not feeling too bubbly today. So I’m reminded of something Eckhart Tolle wrote “When you complain you make yourself a victim. Leave the situation, change the situation or accept it. All else is madness.” It’s kinda nice to find patterns in the things you see and experience and relate them to the way you feel inside, isn’t it? I think so. I think it helps to understand the feelings inside.

IMG 0686

(This boat was just sitting on the beach this morning… could someone look up French salvage laws, please – we might own a boat)

So, here’s us having a nice old-time wandering around France, minding our own business. Loving the sun and the pleasant temperatures at this time of year. Then, the storms arrive. From nowhere they come…. And one might be tempted to whine and grumble. At home we might say “desperate weather, isn’t it?” to the postman or the assistant in the bank or the next door neighbour.

IMG 6199

(More doodling today)

In France I haven’t a clue how to say anything about the weather and when I consider looking it up (or asking Thierry) there’s no incentive to do so. There’s no good that can come out of telling the French people in the camper van next door that it’s raining… They already know. Sometimes it rains. Get over it. There’s at least four guys out on the water doing their kite surfing thing. They’re already wet so a bit of rain doesn’t bug them and the wind is very useful when you have a big huge kite.

IMG 0634(Fence post with organic decoration)

So how’s this relate to feelings? Sometimes we feel down, maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s an insensitive friend, maybe it’s a disappointment – life can be very disappointing. So we talk to ourselves or others with words something like “desperate feeling, I’m having”. Maybe we whine a bit, grumble a bit and complain some. What if we had to translate our complaints into French (or Swahili if you’re fluent in French) would we bother? Like the rain, the feelings will be gone soon and like the wind for the kite surfers, they are useful – they remind us we’re alive!

Sure isn’t it great to be alive? Mairead.

Happy Puppydog Day

Souillac River Dordogne

(Fishermen on the Dordogne, just over the hedge from our pitch)

We have reached the Dordogne and it’s very hot. We arrived on Wednesday around lunch time. Very slow at the best of times the heat makes me much slower and in turn that can make me irritable and then annoyed with myself for being irritable. Bit of a vicious circle really… Denis was very glad there was an Apple event and a good wi-fi connection to submerge himself in. Eventually my body became acclimatised and I bounced back with the energy and disposition of a happy puppy. Now, as my happy-puppy-self two things occur to me… First, I didn’t think it would possible for me to be irritable here in my dream life. And second, surely being annoyed with myself for my irritability is counter-productive?

Signpost Souillac

(It’s a sign!)

So, my happy-puppy-self woke up this morning and realised the best of the day (temperatures of less that 25 degrees) was before lunch and if I wanted to experience that I had to jump out of bed straight away! So I did. I went off to reception to tell them we were going to stay another night and to collect our breakfast (baguette and croissants.) But, horror of horrors there was no bread or croissants! (I had forgotten to reserve them yesterday.) Fortunately, happy puppy is full of forgiveness and I decided it was definitely cool enough for a walk to town. Denis (whose default disposition is happy puppy) and I set off to find café au lait and croissants and we found something even better – market day!


(The view at breakfast)

Market day involves lots of people watching and the most interesting people to watch were the stall holders. There was one lady who was selling vanilla pods and some other unidentified vanilla things. People were stopping to try her produce and she was smiling all the time, even when they didn’t buy anything. She looked very happy and sort of proud of her wears. If I had any idea what to do with vanilla pods I’d definitely have bought some because her smile and her pride made me believe in her product!


(The veggie stall)

After our coffees we wandered around the stalls and spotted very good-looking humous (well… we thought it was humous.) We were engrossed in how lovely it looked when the stall holder (also looking lovely) started talking to us in French, he quickly reverted to English and told us about his product (now I think it was olive pesto or tapenade, maybe?) We were looking at the humous coloured one but he was saying that wasn’t his best, he was having an off day when he made it! Then he started giving us bits of bread with his best effort, so we bought some… of whatever it was. It cost more that I’m willing to admit but he threw in some sun dried tomatoes so we’re all friends again.

Fig Jam Souillac

(Bubbling Fig Jam)

He also mentioned it was good with Fig jam and as Eilish’s Apple Chutney is almost gone (Eilish! We are in a dire straits here! Please get in contact so you can arrange delivery!) maybe it was time to try a French temporary solution? I asked the lovely looking Frenchman where we could get some Fig jam and he pointed us towards the stall beside his. When we had passed over our grocery budget for the week (kidding… ) we approached the next stall holder. She didn’t have any jam… but, she did have figs!

I made Fig jam! Yes I did! (*tail wagging) Mairead.