Balancing in Beja

(From inside Ruby inside the garage)

We got to the garage in Beja and Denis talked to the very nice man on the desk. Big and all as the garage was they couldn’t fit us in (maybe to their diary) but he did have a solution. He sent us to another garage to get our wheels balanced.

(The balancing man)

It worked. Ruby is no long shaking, she has found balance. While we waited I was transported back to my childhood. My Dad had a petrol station with a tyre repair garage and I remember watching him or Dick (who worked there) balance wheels. It was labour intensive work. They have fancy machines now in the garage in Beja but it’s still work.

(Bunting over the streets in Beja)

Afterwards we booked into the municipal campsite. I had a fun time bleaching our tea towels before we went on a mission to find dinner. We’d had a lovely meal in a tapas restaurant last year so we went off to relive that. It was closed. We rambled around Beja in the fading light looking for a replacement.

(There’s a tap up there!)

Denis loves Chinese food, especially if it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet. I do not. Not because it’s not yummy. No, it’s because of the temptation of the sweet section and the pancake section. Desert is my favourite meal. Also, I’m too embarrassed to keep going back to the buffet and I never put enough on the plate to begin with. I might be the only person who leaves an all-you-can-eat buffet hungry. We found a Chinese restaurant, it was open, it was not all-you-can-eat. We ate moderately.

Balance in all things, Mairead.

(Beja: Parking, toilets, showers, water €12)

Leaving Paradise…

(The fort from the castle walls at Castro Marim)

And then we had to leave… leave the beach, the 6am walks, the sea glass, the heat – no we didn’t have to leave the heat, it is hot everywhere at the moment. We travelled to the border town of Castro Marim. We were here before. It has a big fort and old town walls. And a grand big supermarket.

(The castle walls. I feel very safe up here. Can’t see anything though…)

We parked in the huge car park at the grand big supermarket and settled down for the day. I went to buy provisions for lunch. It was really, really hot but the breeze was strong. By nightfall we were reconsidering the whole “strong breezes are good” thinking. The wind shook us and the bicycles in the back all through the night. By morning we were in need of a good night’s sleep.

(Some lovely lichen)

Truth is we are leaving more than the beach, we are leaving The Algarve and taking our first steps home. From now on we will park for a night and move along in the morning. I think the wind is upset for us. It will take three more weeks but this is the beginning of our journey home.

(Flowering tree)

Ruby (the motorhome) was upset too but we didn’t know that until we were driving along the motorway out of Castro Marim. Even though the wind had died down she was still shaking. This was not good. We would have to find a garage. Memories of last year, in the small village of Moncarapacho, very close to here where we had to wait for two weeks to get the clutch fixed, came rushing back. The atmosphere was tense.


There was nowhere to stop on the road and have a look. Also, what were we looking for? So we kept going. But I wondered if staying in the Algarve with all the tourist facilities might be our best option. At the time we were heading for a parking spot in the middle of nowhere. We kept going. When we arrived there was no one there. We knew it cost €5 and last time we were there it was almost full. Where was everyone?

(The salt fields at Castro Marim)

Denis took a quick look around the van, no puncture, nothing hanging underneath, no clue. Decision time. My choice was the Algarve, Denis’ Beja. He was driving… Three years ago we found the town of Beja and fell in love with it. We stayed for ten days in their Municipal Campsite. It was old and in need of repairs but the toilets were clean, the people were friendly and the location was perfect. But what made him think we would find a mechanic who could understand the problem and us?

(Cobblestone road inside the castle walls. Do you see the stones placed especially for cart wheels?)

Ninety minutes later we knew. Somewhere in the back of his mind Denis had a memory of a huge garage in Beja between the supermarket and McDonalds. (Three year’s ago McDonald’s WiFi was one of the best ways for him to work.) He didn’t know he remembered the garage until he saw it.

(True that)

Our mind are amazing. We have more stored in there than we know. I was choosing the Algarve because I was afraid we wouldn’t find someone to understand us anywhere else. Denis was looking for the best solution and instinctively knew it. Very useful.

Be like Denis, follow your gut, Mairead.

(Castro Marim, in the Algarve and on the border with Spain. Free parking and water. Nice town, restaurants, cafes, castle walls, fort and grand supermarket.)

Bye, Bye, Beja

IMG 1315

(We left Beja on Saturday morning)

We finally had to leave Beja. It had been eleven days and it was time… to leave the great toilets, the brilliant library, the very convenient supermarkets, the just-up-the-road McDonalds, the interesting churches and chapels, the restaurants, the cafes and the happy man in the museum.

IMG 1330

(There are lots of chapels and churches to visit)

One day last week I went off exploring the town and found a little church with a museum and something else – a happy man. I had been to a few of these churches with museums while we’ve been in Beja. There are always very friendly attendants who go to pains to explain in English that if I have any questions, please ask. Generally, I don’t have questions because everything is so different. I am too busy getting my head around what I see to have any.

IMG 1430

(This is the one with secrets…)

This attendant was different. He did tell me if I had any questions I should ask and then he said “but, before you start looking could I tell you some things about this church…” Of course! There followed a private tour with a man who loved his work. He told me the church was built in the 14th century. That it used to be a lot bigger. That the garish gold decorations were a later addition. He didn’t actually say garish but I know he meant it! Each of the churches I’d been in had this gold paint covering everything. Well everything except for the 1950’s style statues that you might see in any convent in Ireland.

IMG 1433

(… and fake marble)

Hearing that the gold was not the original made my eyes light up because I had noticed when I walked into each of these churches a deep sense of calm, but then I would see the gold paint and wonder how it was possible that such a flashy place could be so calm. The attendant saw that he had caught my attention and pointed to the wall near the door, saying it was marble, or at least that’s what I thought he said. I had noticed the wall, it looked like a painted green marble… was it possible it was really marble? I went over to touch it and he exclaimed, “Noooo, that’s just like the gold. Here, this.” He was pointing at the holy water font, a beautiful simple basin with simple carved lines. It was real, no gold, no green and it was cold, very cold like real marble. Because it was real marble. They had to rip away the fake marble to expose it. Then he said, “We also exposed a secret passage. Would you like to see it?” Yes. Yes, I would!

IMG 1437

(…and real marble, behind the fake marble)

He walked over to the altar, grasped two sides of the gold front, something clicked and then he lifted the front away. Inside there were bricks and what looked like a door gap that had been cemented closed. “Oh yes, I see” says I, but he says “Noooo, look over this way” and to the left of the cement door I can see a gap running behind the fake green marble. And I can see tiles, the pretty blue Portuguese tile that you see everywhere here. Again he say “Noooo, they are not tiles, they are frescos! From the 14th century!” O my Goodness, they looked like they were in perfect condition, they had been protected all this time by the horrible green fake marble.

IMG 1432

(Anyone educated by nuns will recognise the statue. Under it is the panel that opens to reveal the secret…)

In case you didn’t know, I used to be a tour guide at the Rock of Cashel… There are old, but very badly deteriorated frescos in St. Cormac’s Chapel, a 14th century building on that site. Frescos (from Wikipedia: Fresco is a technique of mural painting executed upon freshly laid, or wet lime plaster) are a big deal! Here in the small church in Beja there are 700 year old frescos in near perfect condition. (I was too stunned to take a picture!)

Sometimes a rough exterior hides a beautiful soul, Mairead.

The Library

IMG 6688

(I’m at the Library)

So today, on the lookout for a Portuguese venue to rival McDonalds, I’ve come to the library. And I can report that the chairs are comfy, there is indeed wifi and I can sit here for as long as I like! There’s no coffee though… Perfect otherwise.

IMG 6686

(Books, books, everywhere)

So I’m in the Municipal Library of Beja surrounded by books that I cannot read! There might be an English language shelf but I’m between the Geography shelf (if Geografia means geography) and the History shelf (Historia?) I am tempted to look for the craft shelf but what if there were some great looking books? It might be too upsetting not to be able to read the descriptions or the instructions. Oh maybe it’ll be worth it, I’m off to look for the craft section….

IMG 1411


You will never guess what I found! No, not a craft section, still haven’t found that! I found a coffee shop! In the library! What a great place.The library is now officially the perfect Portuguese place to write. Or draw. Or drink coffee. Or read. Or search for craft books. Oh there’s a magazine area with even “comfier”seats and I can see a National Geographic and it’s in English.

IMG 1445

(There are lots of places to sit in Beja)

Some students just came into the coffee shop, two guys and a girl. I don’t actually know if they’re students…. but they do seem to be working on something together and the girl just took out what looks like a text-book. She has green hair. In the magazine area there’s an older man taking notes as he reads a newspaper, maybe he’s writing to the editor. He’s really concentrating, maybe he’s writing to someone else, an old girlfriend, an estranged daughter a friend he met in the army. It seems like he’s finding it a really hard letter to write. Oh hang on it’s a crossword…

IMG 1419

(Narrow streets, where pedestrians squeeze into doorways when they hear a car)

Now there’s a lady collecting a huge hard backed book from the librarian. By huge I mean it’s about three feet by two feet. I‘m trying to sneak a peek but she keeps catching me so I look away. She’s taking pictures of some of the pages with her phone… it might be very old newspapers. The colour of the pages is the same colour as newspaper left out in the sun. Or painted with coffee… as you do!

It’s all happening in the library, Mairead.

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

So to continue from yesterday’s post… So if I realise the doing of a craft makes the difference how come here in Portugal I’m not doing any crafting?

IMG 1166

(The street names are tiles)

Most people I know who love to create sometimes stop creating. For no good reason and lots of good reasons: They’re too busy. They’re too tired. They don’t know what they want to create. They don’t realise they have stopped. Whatever the reason the longer they stop the harder it seems to get started again. But starting again has it’s own momentum. Once you’ve started again some kind of creative magic energy kicks in and it’s like you never stopped.

IMG 1208

(Ceiling of corridor at convent)

A bit like when I meet my friend, Helena. I have known Helena a long time, we went to the same school and were best friends from the age of twelve. She lived in the country and had to take the bus home so we would say goodbye after school and not be able to see or talk to each other until nine the next day. There were no mobile phones, the one phone in the house was in the hall so everyone could hear what we were saying… so we invented an early version of Facebook and used to write letters to each other each day. (Ok so it was nothing like Facebook, maybe it was like iMessage or.. never mind I’m just trying to say it was hard back then!)

IMG 1268

(Clock on…)

I think that’s why I love to write, writing was a way to communicate my best and worst times without judgement, with encouragement. In school writing essays was very difficult for me, so much so my mother used to write them for me! I always had trouble with spelling and stopping to consider the correct way to spell something would mess with my flow and make the whole thing so frustrating. but in those letters I would write my best guess at a spelling and write (spelling!) after my attempt and Helena always seemed to recognise the words. Each morning we’d pass each other our letters and head into our first class reading.

IMG 1266

(…Clock tower)

Anyway, time passed, I got married she was one of my bridesmaids and then she went to Australia. She met a lovely man, Henry and had four children. We wrote infrequently. It’s a long way to Australia, I’ve never been but Helena comes home regularly. There’s a lot of people in her Irish family so we don’t always get a chance to meet but we met last year.

IMG 1159

(Tiles on the outside of a house)

On a cold and wet July Monday in the Horse and Jockey Hotel we hugged and squealed our “oh my God you look so good”s. Henry found something to do and we set to chat. And it was like we had never been apart, so comfortable and warm. So easy and familiar. How did we ever stop the writing? When Henry arrived back after an hour Helena sent him off again, after the second hour he just sat down nearby and read a newspaper.

IMG 1164

(And more tiles)

I know why I stopped writing to Helena. I had started to think it had to be a big production. A long and perfectly structured letter with news about everything and details about the things that had happened. A letter that would take hours to write and never be quite perfect enough…. Doesn’t that sound like what starting a new project feels like? It does to me. Now I email Helena whenever I see something that reminds me of her or when I’m doing something I think she will enjoy. The emails are short, they usually take about two minutes but if I find myself rambling on I don’’t worry because I know Helena won’t mind my imperfect email. She never stopped being encouraging and non-judgemental.

IMG 1287

(My small imperfect start…)

So if there’s something you’ve loved doing (creative or not) and you’ve stopped, can we encourage each other to make a little start? It doesn’t have to be a big project. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to take a long time. It could be as quick as it takes to write a two-line email and if we start to ramble that’ll be fine too. There’s no judgement, only encouragement.

Just like Helena, 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.

Beja: The Promised Land


(We got a map, Lar!)

We’ve been in a bit of a wilderness. Still on our journey south, in search of warm air and bright skies. From time to time we find them. Then we can’t find a place to stay… We found both in Beja, a very old town in the Alentejo region of Portugal. That (very big) region stretches between the Atlantic sea and Spain and from above the north-east of Lisbon to the Algarve.

Portugal Mine Village

(Oranges growing by the path in the mine village!)

Being in the wilderness has had some surprising bonuses, but first some surprising downsides… We found a great camper van parking area in Grandola (it’s west of Beja, if you’re plotting our journey, Sally – btw in primary school we used to plot the routes of huge cargo ships travelling the world) within walking distance of a big supermarket (where they sold Kerrygold cheese… we didn’t even know there was such a thing) on one side and a small town on the other. All was well until six am when the truck drivers arrived to start their day. Trucks make a very loud noise when they start up. They were all gone by the time we were having breakfast.

Beja Street

(Street in Beja)

The following night we thought we had the perfect spot, a camper van car park near an old mine museum, closed when we arrived but would be open in the morning. To add to its attractiveness there were two other campers parked when we arrived. It was in the middle of nowhere surrounded by farmland, roads too potholed for big trucks, perfect. Well… it had just got dark when Jimmy (name changed) arrived, I thought he was from one of the other campers but it turned out he was a down on his luck Dutchman needing the train fare to Lisbon… He didn’t like Anchovies but he had some ham and cheese instead.

Beja House Tiles

(Lots of houses have tiles on the outside)

Then we arrived in Beja. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, the reviews of the site were not glowing. But I needn’t have worried. There are toilets with toilet paper and soap and paper towels. There’s electricity. There are no trucks. There is no sign of Jimmy. The main bonus of travelling through the wilderness is that on the other side you are so happy when the basics are covered. The wilderness has lowered our expectations. I was wondering why that was a good thing and I think it’s because our expectations force us to fulfil them. If we don’t fill them then we are dissatisfied….

Even if we already have enough of everything, Mairead.