Where’s the Ticket?

(Wooden door)

We arrived in Fontenay-le-Comte in the evening but left after a visit from the policeman. I’ll start at the beginning… Everything went to plan at the garage and we were able to collect Ruby at 6pm. We said our thank yous, merci beacoups, goodbyes, au revoirs and sat in. It was great to be home.

(Fire hydrant)

Then we drove off to Fontenay-le-Comte where we could park for the night and fill up the water. All along the 20 km journey one or other of us would say, she’s going great isn’t she? Or, can’t hear the clunking, can you? And then we’d smile, Ruby was reliable again. That’s nice.

(Red berries)

It was dinner time when we were filling the water and paying the parking meter and we were starving. With all the excitement of going to get Ruby back we had missed the narrow French lunch window and had not eaten since McDonalds breakfast… and yet we were unusually chirpy. We had decided eating out one last time would be ok and give us an opportunity to chat about the whole experience. We’d looked up restaurants and found a little tapas place so when we had finished filling, we parked up, pulled the blinds down and set off.

(This sign was in the tapas restaurant)

The tapas place was open, the nice man even had a sign up to say we speak English. Unfortunately, they were only open for drinks, they serve food at lunchtime, inside my lunch tummy was crying. But he could recommend the restaurant across the road. My dinner tummy was thrilled. Unfortunately, they didn’t open for another half hour. My dinner tummy started growling.

(The view out the window of the tapas bar)

We had a drink and the nice man gave us a large bowl of peanuts, we ate every one of those peanuts before it was time to go across the road. There was one other couple at a table in the middle of the restaurant when we arrived. We said our bonjour to the owner (should have been bon soir, oh well) and indicated we would like a table for two. Did we have a reservation? Nooooo! Both my lunch tummy and dinner tummy were on the verge of tantrums. I was resigning myself to another bowl of peanuts in the tapas bar. After a nerve wracking few moments of checking the reservation book, they found a spot! Yippee! Here is your table… right beside the one other couple.

(Save the snails)

And God love them if they thought they were going to have a nice private conversation… turned out they were Irish. The first we’d seen in two months and we could understand every word they were saying. They were very quiet but Denis jumped in with, is that an Irish accent we hear?

(Love daises!)

Now to be precise we were actually overhearing… aren’t you supposed to pretend you don’t hear what you’re overhearing? They didn’t seem offended by our bad manners, yes we’re Irish. On their way to the Dordogne, they always stop here, stay the night and have a meal, great food. Yes, they did have a reservation.

(Might be a carnation?)

We all stopped talking when the food arrived and it was truly delicious. We were only having a main course so we were first to leave and you know how the conversation gets better as you’re leaving? It’s like everyone sees an end in sight and we’re all more relaxed. That happened and it was a lovely thing and then we were on our way back to Ruby. We never did get to chat about everything at dinner so we chatted on the five minute walk. Who needs longer?


In the morning we slept late and were very cozy under the covers when a knock came to the door. It was 8am. Yes, remember the policeman? Well in all our excitement the previous evening we forgot to put our parking ticket in the window. We both jumped out of bed to greet him in our pajamas. He was undaunted. Le ticket?

(Here’s the ticket!)

We searched every one of my pockets, my purse, my coat… no ticket, he went off to check on the other campers and would be back. I searched again, upending my handbag, the glove compartment, the door, nothing. Eventually Denis checked his jeans pocket… there it was.

(These smell great)

The policeman came back and saw the ticket and told us where the market was and the bins, all in French. It was a lovely experience.

I’m kinda glad we forgot to put the ticket up, Mairead.

(Fontenay-le-Comte, parking €8, water €2. Restaurants nearby. Policeman visits in the morning.)

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.

Kerrygold, Ballymaloe and fried brain

(Cute natural arch in front of the church)

We are making great progress considering how we dawdled at the Le Mont. But between the clock change and the new routine my brain is fried. So it is great to have a little bit of normality in the fridge. I know it sounds crazy considering we’re travelling to get an experience of different. Different places, different people, different languages, and different foods. That will start when the butter runs out so for now it’s ham and coleslaw rolls with lashings of butter and a dollop of Ballymaloe.

(We brought some Ireland with us…)

We left Mont St Michel around 11am yesterday and travelled all day down the west coast to a small town between Niort and Bordeaux. The town was called Saint-Genis-De-Saintonge. Our car park for the night was beside the cinema and our payment included parking, 4 hours of electricity, 10 minutes of water and one free entry to the movie! The movie was called Le Chat du Loup and there was a picture of a submarine on the poster. It was probably in French but if there had been a picture of a garden and a picnic I might have been tempted. I didn’t mention the submarine to Denis, I just said it was about a cat and didn’t sound very interesting. He likes submarine movies. Best he not know.

(French is a tricky language…)

I have a great plan to set my alarm for 6am while we’re travelling. Actually, setting the alarm is the easy part, getting up when the alarm goes off is a bit more difficult… Not helped by the time difference in France. I’ve been trying to explain it to Denis that 6am turned into 5am. (He’s happy with his 8am alarm.) To top it all the daylight savings means this morning my 5am became 4am. Hang on what am I saying, maybe this is why my brain is fried. New plan: no alarm, wake naturally.

I’ll let you know, Mairead.

(Yellow dot at the bottom of this map is where we stayed)

Camping Car Park: Saint-Genis-De-Saintonge.

GPS: 45.483055 -0.566322

Cost: €7 includes electricity, water, cinema

The Secret to Life…

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(Here’s our spot today, can you see the orange cable running to a box on the left? That’s the free electricity)

Good Morning! Good Morning! Ok, so I asked about sharing the details from our new friend from Ireland…you’ll have to wait for the book, his book, I mean. That could take a while though because he’s going slowly. Denis shared with him the Andy Weir (writer of The Martian) story of getting writing done – send chapters out to readers weekly/monthly/at regular intervals, it puts a bit of pressure on you because you can’t let your readers down! In the meantime I want to share our new friend’s secret to life… enjoy every minute. Every tree, every place to park or sit or stand, every beautiful building, every nice person you meet, enjoy it all. You’ll understand when you read his book why this man might be worth listening to. For now, trust me, he knows what he’s talking about.

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(Here’s the rules and regulations. One I didn’t mention… we can stay three days maximum)

We’ve moved on today, just a few kilometres north of Honfleur. We’re at a very pretty aire with free water and electricity. It’s a popular place but our timing was just right and we got the last spot, campers keep coming in and have to reverse back out again. We feel a little sad for them but also happy for us. I’ve explained aires before but I think there’s no harm in repeating and I’ll take some pictures today to make it clearer.

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(Here’s where you empty the toilet cassette – on the left and on the right the drinking water. Not sure if you can make out the writing on the right panel in white? People sometimes get mixed up and use the drinking water to clean out the toilet cassette – yuck! Here someone has written instructions to make it clearer. We like it best when the drinking water tap is far, far, far away from the toilet cassette disposal!)

In France an aire is a rest area, you see them on the motorways, at home we might call them lay-bys but here they are much bigger, where cars and trucks can stop for a break. They usually have toilets and picnic tables. There are also aires at the motorway services where you get petrol and diesel (and sometimes cafes and restaurants). All that is similar to what we have in Ireland. Camping Car Aires are something new, they are specifically for motorhomes or camper vans and when I say we are staying in an aire for the night I mean a Camping Car Aire. At their simplest there will be spaces long enough for motorhomes to park in a section of a normal car park. More elaborate ones will have a pedestal thingy where you plug your hose in to get drinking water, empty your toilet cassette and dispose of grey water and get an hour of electricity all for a small charge (€2 to €5 typically.).

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(Forgot to mention, rubbish and recycle bins are always free. Thank you again France! Tip: Yellow lid = plastic and tins. Blue lid = paper and card)

The one we are in today has everything, space to park, space to put out a deck chair, drinking water, toilet cassette empty station, grey water disposal drain, electricity and even little hedges between the motorhomes! Sometimes you will have to pay to stay, sometimes you will have to pay for water and usually you will have to pay for electricity. Today, here, everything is free. Thank you, France.

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(Home for tonight looks nicer than some campsites we’ve been in)

Last month we added a couple of solar panels to the top of the camper. I say we because yes I did get up the ladder and help Denis with the installation. As I am generally very afraid of dangerous things (like falling from the top of a camper van) I surprised myself and a few of the passing neighbours. Having the panels means we can survive longer without having to stay in a campsite where electricity is always available. The cost of a night in a campsite can range from €20 which we would rather spend on delicious French food. Also as we travel in off-season, it’s unlikely the campsite cafe or restaurant or swimming pool will be open plus the locations are often far from villages, towns or cities. So all in all being able to use aires most of the time works very well for us.

Again, thank you, France! Mairead.

We have electricity!

2018 5

(Just as the sun was rising at Ortiguera. Can you see the fishing boat coming home?)

We have moved from our lighthouse location overlooking the Bay of Biscay, but before we left I took some pictures as the sun was rising. Now we’re at a new location on the edge of a small town called Ourol, it’s further west and inland a little, there’s a map below. The lovely people of the town provide free electricity, free wifi and free water!

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(The little beach this morning)

This is our first time this trip availing of free electricity and it means we could stay here a second night. Normally we generate our own electricity, by driving. It’s not enough to run a heater or the blender or the coffee machine but it’s plenty to charge our laptops and phones for the day. Depending on how far we have driven the previous day we could possibly get a second day’s worth of charging. We’ve been travelling short amounts so we keep moving to keep generating.

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(Huge tourist map)

Free wifi on the other hand is unheard of, except for that time last year in France when there was an aire beside a McDonalds and we were able to reach their wifi. Of course the smell of the frites was too great a temptation. Because we have wifi here there’s a project I would like to do.

Map 23rd Feb

(The red marker shows where we are now, the black circle where we were last night. Map from Google Maps)

We have a camera on the dashboard all the time as we drive and I thought it might be interesting to put a few clips of the roads we travel each day so you can see how beautiful (and sometimes scary) it is. The wifi means I will have enough “power” to upload the video. (I will put a link here where you can watch it.)

Now I’m really looking forward to coffee for breakfast, Mairead.

Can I check your oil and water?

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(That’s a ginormous sign)

We now have a petrol station to add to our locations. I think this is the first time we’ve ever stayed the night at a petrol station, but I know petrol stations… My Dad ran a petrol station in Cashel for over thirty years and as young children it was one of the favourite places to visit for my brother and I. The other favourite place was the Rock of Cashel. (In case you didn’t know that’s a famous and beautiful historic site.) When we got a bit older and started working in the business it wasn’t as much fun but we did enjoy meeting people and earning money. The smell of petrol still brings back memories so I feel quite at home here. If not for the lack of language skills I could probably offer my oil checking skills.

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(Our view today)

We hadn’t intended staying here tonight. I had picked a different stop just half an hour to the east. It looked like a lovely town and we found the aire without too much trouble but we needed water again and their black water drains were blocked, so we didn’t want to chance their water. We searched the Parkings app and headed here instead. On the way we passed a supermarket with petrol station and I had a bit of a realisation…

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(Cute Spanish church in the distance)

When my siblings and I were younger and going for a drive with our Dad, he constantly had to drop into the petrol stations we passed. Either to chat with the owners or to slowly drive past the pumps and check the prices. He got great craic out of comparing their prices to his own. A favourable comparison meant his business would do better but I don’t know if favourable meant a higher price at his competitors or a lower price.

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(There’s a grove of trees beside us)

Well anyway the supermarket with petrol station (that we were passing only because the previous aire drains were blocked (I know, it’s a confusing story)) had the lowest diesel prices of the whole time we’ve been on the road! How do I know? Well, Denis has been constantly checking the prices. On Monday the fuel low alarm bell came on and do you know what he said? He said, “don’t worry I’ve been keeping an eye on that for a while, the prices are too high around here we’ll wait until we’re nearly empty.” And he drove on… So when he saw the lowest prices, he was thrilled and couldn’t pass it up, despite our half full tank. My realisation? Denis might be channelling my Dad…

From a Repsol petrol station on the north coast of Spain, Mairead.

Beware of the… stationery

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(Seen at roundabout near Saint Lô. I think it means being here changes your point of view)

We have a bit of a routine going and while the weather is encouraging us to move along, that is what we are doing. We set our alarms for 7am this morning and by eight we were first in the door of our supermarket (it’s ours now). Bonjour! (from the lady on the checkout) Bonjour! (from us). It is absolutely lovely the way French shopkeepers say hello as you walk in the door. I had forgotten all about this ritual. It makes me feel very welcome and I like that.

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(French coffee…)

Back on the road within 20 minutes. Then we spotted a Boulangerie with parking spaces big enough for Ruby… Bonjour! Bonjour! We sat down to our first French cafe au lait for me and espresso with chausson au pomme for Denis (thanks to two friends, the one who knows food intake and the one who knows hypnosis I am a complete star at the moment regarding my intake of pastry products!) and pondered the fact that these independent bakers get up each morning to make exquisite (tasting and looking) pastries, cakes and breads while cheaper supermarket products are available all around them. (This particular one also made great coffee.) It has to be down to the French people supporting them, I suppose. No wonder they greet us so warmly, they probably appreciate us. You’re welcome.

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We’re at another supermarket car park tonight, very close to the border with Spain. When we arrived Denis had a client call and then we had lunch and visited our new supermarket (this one’s ours now too). In fact having lunch before entering a supermarket here is a top tip for protecting oneself from the pastry dangers and the even more dangerous large-bag-of-Magdalenes dangers. We survived.

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(Absolutely. No. Lines.)

I do probably need some protection from the stationery dangers though because I don’t know how it happened but I arrived out with a lovely sketching notebook (no lines, sigh) a tube of clear glue (no solvent…?) and a pack of blank cards and envelopes! That makes three blank sketching pads, six different glues and about fifty card blanks in my travel kit… don’t anyone tell Denis. I do intend to do some craft making while we are away so none of that glue or paper or card will go to waste…

Hmm, maybe I have a problem… Mairead.

Wash Day

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(Another lovely sunset)

Yesterday was wash day. Washing your clothes while travelling in a camper van requires a little extra organisation. [But before we start a health warning… Kate, close the email… there’s a picture of a snake in this post!] When we arrived last week we were at the limit of our clean clothes and we picked this site because it had a washing machine. It turned out to have so much more but that’s another story. So as soon as all our passport details were handed over I asked about tokens for the washing machines. (Would you like to know the cost? €3.73 and the sun dries them for free.)

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(Our washing…)

So we parked and I went straight to the washing machine room. But it was full. The washing machine, I mean. With someone else’s clothes. On other trips I would have happily taken out someone else’s washed and wet clothes and placed them on top of the machine to put mine inside but we’d had bit of an incident back in Vila Chã. There was a great washing machine there too and a dryer. Anyway, the incident… it had been raining for a few days but on the morning of the incident the sun was blazing so I took off to reception to buy a token. When I arrived at the machine with my bag of washing and my token there were three bags of washing beside the machine. There was also a man pulling clothes out of the dryer. I smiled and put my bag down in the queue.

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(Perfect drying weather)

I came back thirty minutes later to the incident…. the cleaning lady gesticulating and talking loudly in Portuguese to the maintenance man. I was considering backing out of the washing machine room when the maintenance man turned to me asking, is that your washing? pointing to the dryer. Sensing, clarity was of the utmost importance I shook my head violently while saying, No, No, No. Communication is great when it works and it worked this time because when I had stopped shaking he was smiling at me and telling me to go ahead and put my washing into the now empty machine… No idea what happened but it makes me think twice before taking someone else’s clothes out of a machine. On this occasion our need to have clean clothes made me brave.

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(This little snake stood between me and my washing…)

And now I’m feeling a ton of gratitude for my washing machine at home. When I’m at home I never notice how easy it is to throw some washing in the washing machine. I just don’t notice. I don’t notice and I take it for granted. But the way to a joy filled life and a happy filled heart is to notice all the simple things around me that bring me joy and allow every simple thing in my life to flow. Gratitude isn’t about being nice to someone, gratitude is about noticing the things and people who make your life lovely….filled with love. Noticing them and thanking them with love.

Step 14. Say thank you to your washing machine, Mairead.

A day in the life…

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(A little bit choppy)

It’s St. Patrick’s Day as I write and as luck would have it, there’s rain so we feel quite at home! I promised my friend, Julie, ages ago to include the normal day-to-day stuff of life in a camper van and I never did… So for Julie, here’s a typical day on the journey! (Well, a typical travelling day.)

The alarm went off at seven am and I got up, opened the roof vent blinds to make staying awake easier. The blinds in the van are really good, complete darkness guaranteed but when it’s dark it’s tempting to fall back to sleep. Then I drank my health drink, got dressed and sat down to meditate.

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(Can you see the spray?)

Afterwards I went off to take some sunrise pictures as we were by the sea, waking Denis before I left. As we are by the sea the site is sandy so I don’t wear shoes inside the van so that’s a bit fiddly taking off and putting on shoes or slippers. It was very cloudy this morning and I think I was too late for the moment of sunrise. I’ll look at the pictures later. When I got back Denis was up un-hooking the electricity and turning off the gas. He’d taken down the cab blinds and turned the driver and passenger seats to the front (they can turn around to face the table when we are stopped).

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(I like the reflection of the sunlight on the water)

We used to have a list of things to do before we left a pitch but we lost it… Usually we remember everything and if we don’t I can do them as we move… slowly. Like pushing the buttons to secure all the presses and locking the fridge door. Putting away the kettle, the dishes and any food. Opening the window blinds and turning off the 12V battery and the water pump. Putting away the laptops. Plugging in the phones and turning off the wifi. Securing everything that might fall off the table.

We were driving out of the campsite at 8.10am following the instructions of Molly (we named our sat nav Molly, Molly!). We love Molly, even when we take the wrong road she never fusses, she doesn’t even say recalculating she just goes quiet for a moment or two and then finds a way to make our mistake go away. She takes very good care of us (except when she was taking us on the very scary roads in Portugal but that’s in the past, we’ll say no more about that…)

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(Stripes of colour)

Molly takes us on the toll road and I am very happy. Denis is not as happy but we have reached a compromise – the one who sits closest to the oncoming traffic gets to choose, so we take the toll road today. Our two and a half hour journey cost €20 in tolls, I feel it was worth it. In Spain you stop and get a ticket as you enter the toll road and then as you leave the toll section of the road you put the ticket and your credit card (or cash) into a machine. In Portugal the number plates are scanned as you drive under cameras (like the M50 in Dublin). We may be getting a big fine because although we connected our number plate to our credit card, the system is really difficult to understand.

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(What is that?)

We arrived at today’s campsite at noon and I brought our passports and camping card (there are reductions off-season) to reception which was at the bar. It’s slightly different at each campsite, but at this one you pay first, get a choice of pitches, the location of the toilets and showers, the wifi code and then you’re on your own. Sometimes we walk around looking at each one, to find the very best…. today we took the closest and reversed what we had done to leave the last campsite. Within half an hour we were sitting down to lunch.

Denis makes dinner each day and usually lunch too and I wash up. Today because of the rain I turned on the water heater to wash the dishes in the van, usually I wash up in the campsite sinks. It saves gas (we need to save gas because the gas bottle connectors are different here, so we must bring all the gas we will need from Ireland). It also saves the water in our clean water tank and it means we don’t have to empty our grey water tank as often.

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(Foamy waves)

While the water was heating I went to investigate the toilets. Toilets are different everywhere we go and bear no relation to the cost of the overnight stay. We are paying €20 per night at this campsite, the most we have paid so far on this journey. My friend Magda was asking me what I was looking forward to most on this journey and I said the toilets! She thought she had misheard but no it’s the toilets! Everything else is so new and interesting and fun but…. toilets are essential.

We have been very lucky, the toilets have always been clean. After that, toilet paper, soap and a drier make everything perfect. My investigation showed there’s no toilet paper, soap or dryer here… oh well time to take the toilet bag out of the wardrobe…. The toilet bag contains a toilet roll, a bar of soap and a hand towel. (Note to self: Remember to bring the toilet bag…)

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(This is my favourite one)

Now both of us are at our computers, Denis is at the table, I’m on the bed with my feet tucked under my favourite patchwork quilt. He’s talking to a client and I’m writing… this. Next I will look at the pictures from this morning and add them (or older ones) here before posting. Then I will have a shower – no queues in the afternoon. And back to working on my book. We will eat dinner around 7.30pm. Then read or play a game or if the wifi is fast we will watch the latest video from our favourite YouTube camper van geek. I will be in bed by 10pm. Denis might be working until midnight.

Too Much Information? Mairead.

PS Forgot to mention breakfast! I cannot survive unless I have breakfast within an hour of waking. Normally, I have it before we leave but today with the picture-taking there was no time so we stopped at a service area before I got too grumpy where I cooked my Irish Paddy’s Day Flahavan’s porridge.