Communing with Deer

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(There’s a big map in reception showing the path through the park)

I woke up early this morning to birdsong. The rain had stopped and I had an idea. Before I could change my mind I had popped on some shoes, my furry fleece and was standing outside the van recording the sound. We’re still parked at the Parque Biológico de Gaia so imagine a lot of birds. I walked for a few paces to position myself where I thought the loudest birds were and turned on the recording app on my phone… Before long I was mesmerised but then I noticed something move in the park behind the trees.

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(Look closely)

It was when Fernando was taking me on the tour of the park that I realised the motorhome parking overlooks the deer enclosure. There’s a line of trees between us but at certain points the trees thin out and you can see part of the enclosure. Their area is quite big so the deer were off in another section most of the time we’ve been here but this morning as I listened to the birds I realised the deer were less than a 100m from me.

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(The lighter coloured deer by the fence was very cute, from time to time she used to put her head through the fence and nibble on the green plants and then wriggle her head left and right to get it back inside the fence)

There were no one around just me and the deer and it was awesome… There are lots of signs around the park telling you that the animals don’t like noise so visitors should be quiet and respectful. Well I just love rules and boundaries, I see them as guidelines for a happy life. So I was more than happy to stay quiet and this morning I was rewarded by the company of deer. They are so calm and gentle and slow and focused and standing with them I felt calm and focused too.

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(I promise you that fuzzy bit behind the branch in the middle of this photo is a red squirrel, you can just see his little ear)

My phone was still recording sound when I noticed something moving in the tree above me. It was a red squirrel, he mustn’t have noticed me because he squirreled (you can’t call it running, can you?) towards me and then stopped to shake his tail and squirrel away again out to the edge of the tree’s expanse on the tiniest of branches. Until he jumped to the next tree and was gone from my sight.

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(I know its hard to make out but…that one in the middle, that’s a stag!)

When I looked around again, there was a stag in with the deer. With huge antlers. Walking around. Just over there, over the fence, across the path, over the other fence. A stag!

I love this lovely life, Mairead.

I have a great idea! No, hang on, it’s a terrible idea!

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(I went for a walk to find the chiming church)

There’s a church in the town and every hour it chimes, quite a long tune, from a loudspeaker. I noticed it every hour yesterday… I’ve only just this moment noticed it today. That means I missed at least six chimes. (I’m not sure if it chimes on the half or quarter-hour as well.) Anyway, just another example of how one’s brain ignores the familiar…

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(Interesting animals)

This campsite is interesting, I think I said that yesterday and one of the things that make it interesting is the Tubes… The Tubes are cement cylinders. You may have seen ones like them when passing motorway road works. I think they are used to redirect rainwater or maybe they hold electrical wires? Not sure.

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(Three Tubes together)

But here at the campsite they are used for accommodation. They have a bed with thick mattress, an electric light and curtains and windows! They are tiny apartments for people who would like to experience camping without the tent! I am very attracted to them. I am starting to have an idea about buying a field and putting Tubes in it… and you can come visit me or just visit the field if I’m travelling! I haven’t completely (or even slightly) thought it through. I’m in the very-excited phase of this idea. Many of my ideas don’t get past the very-excited phase. It’s my favourite phase but it’s not very productive. It’s where I think This is a great idea and I can’t wait to bring this to the world and this will definitely be workable and I love it and I will work on it every day and in no time at all it will be completed and I will enjoy it for the rest of my life. In mindfulness circles this is living in the future… I am particularly fond of my imagined future.

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(Two Tubes side by side)

Any idea that gets through the very-excited phase moves into the very-scary phase. Very, very few ideas survive the very-scary phase, it’s my least favourite phase and it’s also not productive.This is where I think this is a terrible idea, how did I ever like this idea? I could never share this with the world, this is like that time that people thought my idea was terrible and told me… This is the worst idea I ever had. Here we have living in the past, a particularly scary tiny bit of the past. No fun. It is truly remarkable that any idea would get past this phase, but some do! Anyway, I’m in a very-scary phase of an idea at the moment, I’m encouraging it into a productive phase but it keeps slipping back.

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(Breaking news: The church chimes every half hour, just heard it. Can you see the loudspeaker?)

Step 10. Live in the present, Mairead.

Hello, is that Monica?

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(The neighbours walking their dog last night)

We’ve moved again and now we’re about 30 minutes inland, in a campsite near the town of Lourical. The sun is shining and we are parked between two orange trees. I can hear hens and I believe there’s a pig somewhere around. This is a very interesting site. We found it by accident but it seems like a place we would pick to stay if we’d known!

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(Sunset over the Atlantic later last night)

Anyways it’s run by a Dutch couple and they have young helpers. During busy season there’s a very pretty restaurant (with good reviews) but it looks like we are the only ones here so we may be unlucky with that. One thing we are very lucky with is the train station. There’s one in a nearby town and we will be able to park in the supermarket and take the train to Porto (Yay Porto) when Denis gets word from Monica.

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(The restaurant at our new campsite)

Still no word from Monica… 😦

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(They have a (tiny) farmers market in the garden)

Real time drama: Denis maybe you need to ring Monica? Denis considers his options and rings Monica. I can’t hear the other side of the conversation but Denis doesn’t look happy, overjoyed or ready to dash off to Porto. He looks… confused. I think there might be a problem with the fixing…. Ok, Denis has just got off the phone with Monica. Monica was just about to ring Denis. There is a problem. The part cannot be shipped and there is an email on it’s way from the manufacturer to explain. I suppose we won’t be rushing back to Porto (missing Porto already) …and that grand idea with the supermarket car park and the train… poof!

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(A hen jumped out of this hay stack – she was hiding her eggs. Hens not in full agreement with the farmers market?)

So here we are in a beautiful tree, animal, egg filled garden campsite enjoying the sun. Now what?

Step 9. Gratitude… for the old, slow computer that is working.

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.

The house special and a van full of whiskey…

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(Spotted this van near reception yesterday)

Whiskey Van

(The writing on the side…)

We are still in Luz near Lagos and it’s just starting to get warm enough to sit outside and write… wearing three layers, thick fleece, woolly socks, boots and sun hat! So this is what spring looks like… here. I’ve been getting weather reports from my Mam and twitter (two very good sources) and spring in Ireland seems a little different. We went to visit the southern edge of Europe on Saturday, the bit of Portugal that points south into the Atlantic Ocean. It was very windy and then rainy and then sunny, familiar. Familiar is nice.

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(The tip of Portugal looks a bit like an open crab claw with Cabo de São Vicente (above) on one tip and Sagres on the other)

We met a lovely couple on the bus to Lagos last week who recommended a restaurant in the nearby village. You really don’t need recommendations as the food in Portugal has been really good, no matter where we go. This one wasn’t Portuguese but we thought we’d give it a try anyway.

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(The landscape at Ponta de Sagres. Kinda like the Burren?)

There were lots of free tables when we got there but despite my very winning smile (normally..) the grumpy man behind the bar didn’t react to our arrival, so we picked a good spot, sat down and waited. We waited a long time during which the occupants of the only other table had taken out their iPod and started a 70’s sing-a-long. Maybe this was the wrong place?

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(The lighthouse at the fort on Ponta de Sagres)

While we were considering our options the grumpy man arrived with menus saying, there’s a lovely Chicken Pie special. We spotted some interesting dishes on the menu and when he arrived back with drinks we asked about a few. Each special we asked about was off or finished or just for the summer season and then he mentioned the lovely Chicken Pie again… we looked at each other and there was a long pause…

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(The beach at the peninsula behind the fort at Ponta de Sagres)

I gave in first, I’ll have the Chicken Pie, please. The grumpy man perked up slightly. Denis wasn’t ready to let go of an interesting steak and sausage thingy and tried again. To which grumpy man replied, ok but it’ll take a while, I have to defrost the sausage. Denis was torn but smart enough to say, no, sur’ I’ll have the special too, thanks. Grumpy man almost smiled. The Chicken Pie was very nice and by the end of the night we were humming along with Gloria Gaynor’s I will Survive.

We have a new rule: Portuguese Restaurants Only. Mairead.

When the Rains Came Back…

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(A kite surfer on his way home on Saturday evening. By the way that red sky at night didn’t bring a shepherd’s delight…)

It’s been raining continuously here since early Sunday morning and the two of us are getting plenty of practice at being together in a confined space… We’ve had rain before on this trip but we knew we could move along if it persisted and although sometimes we waited a couple of days to be sure it was persisting we knew we could get away from it if we really wanted to. We can’t get away anymore. The forecast is rain for the next two days, then on the third day we will be going home.

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(Could be a sea urchin?)

We’ve had rain before at home too, but sitting here, I can’t remember what I did on a rainy Sunday… What did I do? Probably watched television. We don’t have a television. We do have internet and we could watch YouTube videos, but it’s very slow. Fortunately, I brought a crate-full of crafty things so I have plenty to do. I spent most of yesterday doodling.

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(Can you see his eyes?)

It’s not cold but when we go visiting the photogenic toilets (thank you Thierry for the translation: Vos chiotes sont tres photogeniques!) we get a little damp and then it’s lovely to turn on the heating! Yes we have heating! The gas that powers the hob, the oven and the fridge also blows warm air through our little home when necessary. Because it’s a small space it doesn’t take much to heat it, in fact when Denis cooks the dinner (yes, he’s still cooking) it’s also toasty in here.

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(Lots of shells on the beach plus a little bit of seaweed)

Anyway, the rain stopped at about midday and I rambled out to the beach to take some more pictures… but the smell. As I may have said before I grew up in Cashel, Co. Tipperary. One of county Tipperary’s claims to fame is that it’s Ireland’s largest inland county. Which is a great honour… but it means that there’s no sea. As a child a trip to the seaside involved days of travelling. Well, it seemed like days… but it was probably only a couple of hours. About a mile away from our destination, my Dad driving, my Mam in the front, my brother and me in the back (our sister not yet born) the windows were rolled down and we caught our first smell of… seaweed. Even today the smell of seaweed makes me happy! Ah seaweed.

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(Look! Not a butterfly but a mussel pretending to be a butterfly. Saw this and thought of you, Cathy!)

I read somewhere that we are wired for pleasure, simple pleasure. Pleasure receptors are located very close to where we receive information from our senses. From the smells or tastes or touch or sights or sounds around us we have the ability to derive pleasure. From the dictionery pleasure is a feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment. How incredibly simple and free and even freeing.

Don’t wait, be happy now, Mairead.

Here’s all the news….

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(An old pathway leading to the château beside the campsite near Bordeaux)

Well it’s been too long….. I’m starting to get phone calls and texts asking where we are and when are we coming home so it time for a check-in. Last time we chatted (well I chatted, you guys have been very quiet!) we were just outside Carcassonne. Then we moved to Bordeaux, which I loved, lots of vineyards and a beautiful campsite beside a château with loads of birds and loads of birdsong. We also visited a wine cooperative there (hello Dave, we have your wine!) Well… don’t tell Dave but I think it might have just been a one man small business vineyard. He was a lovely man though and his wine was lovely too. The entire transaction was conducted in French. And not just, “I’ll have some of your wine for Dave“, “here you are, hope he likes it” No, we were in his house, shaking hands, patting the dogs, tasting two reds, two whites and a rosé, hearing about their merits, calculating costs, visiting the storeroom and shaking hands goodbye. And he had great hands, working hands. We were delighted with ourselves and with Dave for sending us on a quest…. to a wine cooperative… Mum’s the word, though.

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(A very old church in Surgeres)

Then we went to Surgeres which is near La Rochelle. We saw the Blood Red Moon there and coincidentally we heard and felt some Blood-sucking mosquitos. I always react badly to bites so I was feeling a little poorly (Hello Helen! you taught me that word and it exactly describes how I was!) and bad-tempered and grumpy and not a happy blogger… sad face 😦 I’m all better now though!

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(Place Royale in Nantes and possibly St. Nicholas church in background)

Then we went to Nantes, a lovely city with a great, easy-to-use tram system. The campsite was very well landscaped and the trees through the bedroom window were absolutely perfect. I used to lie down and look at them when the itching got too bad and they were very soothing. Even more soothing was the French anti-histamine.

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(There’s a bunch of people kite surfing on the beach in front of our campsite. I just took this picture of one guy setting up. Once the kite is up he then has to walk all the way out to the water with his surfboard under his arm. Although it’s not clear from this picture the tide is out about 1km from the shore)

So, you’re all up to date, today we’re in a place called Asserac in Pays de la Loire. It’s north of Saint Nazaire and on the coast. In fact our campsite is right on the beach. And the weather isn’t too bad… 16ºC bright with the odd burst of sunshine. We thought the Nantes campsite had the best toilets of our trip (yes we’re back to toilets…) but this site in Asserac beats all the rest. Maybe I’ll get some pictures later…. what’s the French for “your toilets are very photogenic”? In case I don’t, think very nice hotel lobby and then add some toilets and some trees! And automatic sliding doors (not the toilet doors.) And self-flushing toilets! There’s even brightly coloured hand-washing sinks for children, in three different heights! Don’t get me started on the dish washing sinks…  you know those professional hose things that people washing dishes in a restaurant kitchen use (you might have seen them on the telly?) well they’re here! And they have plugs for the sinks! I used to think a plug for the sink was no big deal… It is a big deal.

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(Hello Laura! The beach here is beautiful and reminds me of your beach at Ballytrent!)

So that’s it, we’re on our way home from here. The big ship will be leaving Cherbourg on Wednesday evening and arriving in Rosslare on Thursday afternoon and we’ll be on it.

See you soon, Ireland! Mairead.

Pam’s Picnic Holidays


(I remembered it’s Wednesday so I’m doing creative!)

It’s nearly lunchtime as I write and I’m a little distracted… because I’m hungry and today we’re going on a picnic! Ever since Pam commented on Facebook about holidays as a child where her Dad would drive them all over Europe having picnics I couldn’t wait to try it. Maybe I’ll stop now and get back to you later with pictures….


(Some French desert)

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(Pam’s Picnic Holidays… this is definitely happening)


(Our picnic site – that’s the Loire)

I’m back from the picnic –  it was great! Lovely view, lovely food… not exactly a small French town but almost, it’s a small French campsite. Baby steps. We had the picnic area all to ourselves. Maybe it’s the Irish weather that trains us to be able to sit outside at lunch time? Fortunately, I had remembered the sun cream and the little fluffy clouds managed to shade us at intervals. We made the rolls ourselves: French bread ordered yesterday from reception, French brie (bought in France), French lettuce (bought in France) and some very nice apple chutney made by my mother-in-law. Yum. Maybe a little snooze to follow.

Dear Eilish – please send more, it’s very good! Mairead.

Irish Cuisine in France


(As requested by Moira: Picture of Ruby on a trip to Cork last weekend)

We’ve arrived in our first campsite on the edge of the city of Rennes, a couple of hours south of Cherbourg. It’s hot here or maybe we’re just not used to anything about 19 degrees celsius yet… I think it’s 100… oh, ok it’s not, its 27. The campsite is in the middle of a huge park with walking paths, cycle paths, sports fields, swimming pool and lots and lots of trees. We’re a ten minute bus journey from the city but all I can hear is birdsong.

Before we left I had a request from Julie D. for information about travelling in a motor home (or camper van not sure which to call our home… her name is Ruby.) So from time to time I’m going to include some practical details that may or may not be of interest to you. Feel free to ask questions in the comments and I’ll answer if I can.


(Road to Rosslare)

Ruby has a small fridge with a little icebox. The fridge runs on electricity when we are connected to a power supply at the campsite or at home. It runs on the van battery when we are driving and then when we stop by the side of the road it runs on gas.


(The almost empty fridge)

I, of course, knew all that before we left but being new to the whole concept of having everything to hand didn’t fill the fridge…. Anyway, we left the ferry at about 10.30am this morning and promised ourselves a nice cup of tea as soon as we found a lay-by. Every other time we’ve been in France on the bike or in the car we’ve stopped at motorway services where you can get petrol/diesel, visit the restaurant, use the toilets, buy souvenirs, groceries and even beer. But this time we don’t need restaurants and we have a big tank so we stop less for fuel and we buy groceries at the supermarket (well… we will just as soon as we get our bearings.) And no one really needs souvenirs… There’s lots of these motorway services but there’s also lots of the other places. The places with only parking and toilets. They are called Aires and they are probably going to be our new best friends.



Unfortunately, there’s not lots of them on the road from Cherbourg to Rennes, feeling a little dehydrated, we decided to stop at the first motorway services place. But it was full! Literally, there wasn’t even one car parking space. We had to leave. Sad Campers 😦 We had been so looking forward to our first cup of tea in France. On and on we drove, the temperature rising all the time. At 1pm on the dot the first Aire came into view. Happy Campers 🙂 There was room for us to park and the toilets were not too bad. (We do have a toilet in the motor home but I’ll explain another time why we use other toilets as much as we can!) That’s when I realised I hadn’t brought any lunch stuff (well, I was still thinking food = restaurants…) there was no bread, no cheese, no salad. There was some milk – possibly of dodgy quality.There were biscuits – possibly of dodgy nutritional value. Fortunately, I love breakfast and had remembered it so we had some great Irish porridge oats for our first meal in France.

Viva la Flahavans! Mairead.