Lovely Louhans

Monday is market day in Louhans

And then on Monday we arrived in the very beautiful town of Louhans and it was a market day. What could be better? Old cobblestoned streets full of market stalls… hats, dresses, aprons, cheese and rabbits, among other things. Well yes, that’s even better.

Cute rabbits for pets… I hope

On Tuesday morning we went looking for coffee and with all the market stalls gone we found the arcades – there’s 157 of them! They are covered walkways along each side of the main shopping street and they allow you to walk shaded from the sun or sheltered from the rain. There’s a lot of road works, bridge works and rebuilding going on in the town but no matter its beauty is still visible.

Cobblestone and Arcades

The official motorhome parking spot is about five minutes from the shops and cafes, beside one of the two rivers running around the town. For €4 a night plus tax motorhomes have a river view surrounded by trees with walking access to cafes and restaurants – very lovely.

Picnic Perfect

There and then we invented the habit of going for coffee each morning. It’s such a simple thing, we sit outside in the fresh air sipping coffee and watching the French people getting on with their day.

On the way back to the river we’d collect our baguette from the Boulangaire and notice how lucky we were to be here. By Friday the waitress was asking, deux café allongé? (Two Americano’s?)


It’s very nice to be remembered.

Noticing Every Tiny Thing

We have booked the ferry to France many times over the last couple of years and we cancelled the ferry to France many times… it’s hard to believe we will be actually going this time… I’ll let you know if we do.

Tiny beginnings…

This time it seems different. Like when you don’t eat ice cream during winter and the first one on a grey St. Patrick’s Day tastes better than you remembered. I am being reminded of small towns in France, huge mountains in Spain and tiny cups of coffee in Portugal. It’s like I’m already there, it’s like up until this ferry booking I didn’t allow myself to think of what I was missing and now I can’t stop thinking.

Tiny daffodils…

But I’m also forcing myself to remember the wet days, the grey days, the boring days, the ugly towns, the tiredness, the overwhelm and the underwhelm. Because it’s all part of the journey and if my expectations are just for the beautiful and the sunny then I can add disappointment to the list of expectations!

Tiny bursts of colour…

I love this quote in Solve for Happy by Mo Gawdat.

Happiness is greater or equal to your perception of the events in your life minus your expectations of how life should be.

The shredder is all mine…

(Growing baby daisy’s in the maternity ward)

The gardening continues. I’ve just realised this might be why my dabbling in the garden previously didn’t bear fruit (pun intended.) It’s a continuous game, gardening. Persistence is rewarded and popping in and out once a month is very much discouraged. Maybe that’s why a team of gardeners is a good thing. We have a team here at the moment one of us is part-time but we’re getting the most out of him. In spite of his protests about being too busy I’ve seen him secretly checking out the growth of our seeds in the maternity ward.

(Here we are in prenatal… with little Rose)

So last weekend was the first weekend Denis was able to get into the garden. Eilish had a list of jobs ready for him and I learned a thing or two about keeping him on point and not wandering off to do something he liked better. The phrase, oh no you’re not finished here yet! stops him in his tracks. Let me just write that down for future use.

(FenceChat location)

He fixed the fence between our house and my friend Aileen and now I’m not worried about falling over it during our weekly FenceChat. It’s a new app like zoom but no one freezes, except from the cold.

He also hammer-actioned some screws into some wood and fixed the shed door. It seems lifting the door with one foot while undoing the bolt was not the intended way to get into the shed. We are saving a ton of time without all the gymnastics.

(Can you see those fabulous hammer-action screws?)

Then Eilish found my new favourite tool – a shredder. It was at the back of the shed and one of the things I didn’t know I was grateful for… I woke up on Friday morning with a brilliant idea. With all our enthusiasm in the first weeks we had filled three huge garden bags and numerous smaller black bags with garden debris. Then we had run out of bags and no way of getting more so we were at a tipping point… On the one hand neatly cut plants and pulled weeds, on the other, towering piles of plant cuttings and weeds. I have to be very particular when taking photos for you, one centimeter too far to the right or left and you will be horrified.

(Denis was a little too wide angle on this shot… but there’s me and my shredder)

I started using my shredder (it’s mine) on Saturday. By the way, I’m the only one allowed to use the shredder, safety issues, you understand. Stay well back now. (Don’t tell them but it’s nothing to do with safety, it’s all about the optics, I look like I’m doing a lot but the machine is doing it all. Kinda like how I used to think about ironing before I realised no one was noticing my neat piles of ironed clothes left lying around the house for weeks. The noise of the shredder ensures everyone knows I’m hard at work…)

(Here’s Denis working on the fence or maybe he’s doing a little dance?)

So now I’m shredding (well ok the machine is shredding) the contents of the garden debris bags. On top of that we can use the shredded material for mulch (impressed? that’s a new word in my vocabulary, maybe I will become a gardening app next?) on the front garden. It works best with woody material so the weeds will have to turn themselves into compost on their own. For that purpose we have found a good spot and they are hard at work.

(Even with that big pile of rubbish, this is still my favourite spot to sit and do nothing)

Well to be honest they are slow at work, very slow but that’s ok, slow is acceptable too. I can feel myself slowing down too, is it time to sit and enjoy the garden yet?

May you be well, Mairead.

My Summer Residence…

(Driving into Chambord)

We drove for hours after we left the policeman in Fontenay-le-Comte through beautiful countryside. The avoid toll roads was on again but this time everything worked out and we arrived at my Château in Chambord. (Not actually my château but for eleven euro I can pretend.)

(This is how close we are to the Château)

It was after five by the time we arrived so we had a quick cup of tea and some emergency long life Portuguese tuna patê on crackers and then off for a walk around the grounds. It was still sunny but not too hot and the French were doing what they do on a warm Saturday afternoon – walking in a royal garden. This garden is full of wildlife, birds swooped and frogs croaked and there were signs telling us about the wild boar. It seemed like our breakdown experience had reset something. The long drive hadn’t managed to tire us and we walked enough to hit our step goals.

(You can walk, boat, cycle and drive golf carts around the grounds of the Château at Chambord)

Next morning I was on a mission… I had been reading old reviews about the motorhome parking at Chambord Château and one of the reviewers was complaining about the early morning noise from the balloons… the hot air balloons. There were balloons? Wouldn’t that be amazing? Years ago I had seen pictures of colorful balloons flying over the countryside in France and the image had stayed with me. I didn’t want to go up in one but I’d love to see them floating over the Château.

(Sunrise at Chambord)

So I set the alarm (my 6am habit had taken a hit in the past week but here was my opportunity to start again) and hoped the rain would keep off. Next morning was cloudy and grey but I was energised. I had no idea, by the way whether there would be any balloons but even if there wasn’t, sunrise would be more than enough. I was half way across the field between the motorhomes and the gardens when I realised there was a big bird about 100 yards away from me stalking something in the grass. A very stork-like bird. Thanks to all my stork sightings I know it wasn’t a stork but I’ve no idea what it was. I couldn’t move in case it flew off but I needn’t have worried he wasn’t going anywhere he was dead still too. Then suddenly he grabbed at whatever he was stalking and swallowed it! That’s another reason he wasn’t a stork, they don’t grab, they’re very dainty.

(Sunrise on a grey day)

There was no sign of a hot air balloon and I realised I was expecting too much, I hadn’t even googled it to see when or where they go up or even if they go up anymore. I could just make out a break in the clouds where the sun was coming through so I went off to get my sunrise pictures. The hour after sunrise and before sunset are called golden hours and I was definitely getting opportunities on this trip to experience what that meant. It’s supposed to be a good time to take photos.

(Wild boar this way…)

There was no one around, I was completely alone taking pictures and wandering around, like I was a… I don’t know, a princess maybe? It does seem to be a theme… just saying. Next thing I hear something, not bird song, more a heavy breathing or wild boar snorting. I looked up, it was coming from above me (probably not wild boar then…?) And there it was… floating way, way up in the sky.

(Can you see the hot air balloon?)

A balloon! Yep, one solitary balloon way, way, way up high. Every now and again I could see the flame igniting to lift it higher, that was the wild boar snorting sound I thought I heard earlier. (Well, it might have been.)

(This was the closest I got to it)

I was so excited. The whole experience lasted only 15 minutes. I’m not sure hot air balloons have much control over their direction but on that morning some gust of wind brought this one in my direction.

And then it floated away, Mairead.

(Château Chambord: €11 parking for 24 hours, Princess experience included but no motorhome facilities except bins.)

Just hanging around…


We stayed a second night by the canal. Just being. Walking along the paths. Taking pictures. Getting by without butter, we do have the five litres of olive oil after all…

(The neighbours)

It’s so peaceful here. I might have mentioned that yesterday. Just us and the French fishermen. They are a persistent lot, I haven’t seen one fish taken from the canal. Maybe fishing isn’t about catching fish. Maybe it’s about waiting for fish to bite?

(Sunset over the canal)

Maybe it’s about being in the right place at the right time. Maybe it’s about being prepared to be surprised. Being ready for the result. Being alert to the fish signs.

(The path less travelled)

I don’t know the fish signs but funny enough we will be meeting the fisherman brother and his fishing family, accidentally, coincidentally on our way home, maybe I will ask him.

(The cycle path)

This has certainly been a trip with surprise meetings, with friends and now with family. With being in the right place at the right time. With being prepared to be surprised by the extraordinary ordinary things.

With hanging around and letting go. Mairead.

(Caumont-sur-Garonne: free parking, motorhome facilities, toilet, water €2, four hours of electricity €2, tokens from Mairie or post office.)

Bird Song and Frog Croaks

(Park here… this one’s in Spanish but the picture is always the same)

Sunday is the day we travel the longest so from Évora we travelled three hours to a camper van parking spot called Penamacor in Benquerença which is in the middle of the countryside. We passed through small mountain villages, along narrow roads following parking signposts.

(Lovely lavender growing wild)

When we arrived it was full of camper vans and motor homes and there was a spot for us beside the river. The temperature was high but there was shade. With the solar panels we don’t normally park in shade but as we’d been travelling for hours our battery was full.

(Can you hear the frogs?)

We parked up and went for a walk. There was a little bar on the other side of the river over a foot bridge. I’ll remind you this was in the middle of the country, nearest tiny village probably 5km. In the height of summer the river gets diverted and you can swim here, there’s also a playground. There were plenty of people inside the bar and on the deck outside. The waitress had no English but we managed to be understood.

(Sun-bleached table)

Afterwards we walked along the deserted country road and a dried mud lane to another bridge. This is olive farm land with small holdings and what looks like hand-ploughed fields. The only sounds the birds singing and the frogs croaking.

(Wild flowers by the side of the road)

Denis barbecued chicken outside and we were asleep before ten. Next morning we left early.

Note to self: Spend longer here next time. Mairead.

(Free parking, free motorhome facilities, free rustic toilets and shower, near bar.)

Looking for the Sea Glass

(Early morning pilgrim on Praia da Falésia)

When I wasn’t watching the waves down at the beach I was watching where I walked for interesting treasure. The sea provides plenty of gifts if you keep your eyes open for them.

(Sanded piece of shell)

I love broken shells not the sharp edged ones, I like the one that have been in the sea awhile. The ones that have been sanded… by the sand. There are plenty here. Their rough edges are smooth and each one is a different shape.

(Can you see the sea glass?)

There are also little pieces of sea glass on this beach. They are harder to spot in the beginning but soon they are very hard to miss. It’s like anything you are interested in. If you like a particular make of car you will see it wherever you go. We notice every motorhome or camper van on the road. I see storks and now I notice sea glass.

(Close up)

I wonder could I use this for contentment? We humans have a tendency to notice what is going badly for us, what we’re not good at, what we should be doing. This is not contentment. Even if we can see the good in others we find it difficult to see the good in ourselves. We tend to notice what we didn’t do on our to do list or if we get 80% in a test we are disappointed about the 20%. Or we wonder why only 6 people liked our photo, instead of being amazed that 6 people took the trouble to tell us they liked our photo. This behaviour does not produce contentment.

(Footprints of contentment)

How about if we looked for only the good in ourselves? Like looking for sea glass. My sea glass looks like an hour of photography or a thousand words of writing or or a nap when I’m tired or time in nature or a tidy kitchen or a 6am start. When I look at my day with eyes only for my sea glass I don’t notice the things I didn’t do. What if contentment was more than enough?

What does your sea glass look like? Mairead.

Silves’ elusive things

(A glimpse of the wall)

There are two things you see a lot of in Silves – the old moorish walls and the storks. Funny enough both are hard to photograph as you walk around. The storks are always too far away. So I had to stop trying and just watch them instead. The walls are surrounded by houses built in their shadow so there’s only a glimpse ever now and then of their red stone.

(Storks on top of the supermarket)

The storks build their nests on top of electricity poles or tall chimneys or on the corner of a very tall abandoned house. They are so graceful when they fly off to find food for their chicks. I think their grace is connected to their size, they have to glide everywhere to remain in balance. The ends of their wings are like long fingers and I think that’s what they use to change direction. When they have picked a direction their long legs seem to click back against their abdomen so that they are streamlined.

(On top of a pole)

Looking at them from underneath as they fly over me I am reminded of an airplane tucking in the wheels as it lifts off. Whenever they do fly over me I am unable to even think, all I can do is stare up with my mouth slightly open and watch. It’s only afterwards I consider my luck at being in exactly this place as they pass by.

(On an edge of the old walls)

You will never guess what is happening as I write… we are parked beside a river today far away from Silves and a stork just walked up the river outside my window. It’s 7am there’s no one else around so I guess she feels safe to walk so close to the vans. Watching her now at such close quarters I realize why storks are so hard to capture on my phone. They are very, very wary. This one seems to jump when a smaller bird flies too close. She even seems to be aware of my watching. I am not moving a muscle, I am in the van and there is a window between us but she has stopped fishing and she is alert for danger.

(Can you see her?)

She started walking up the river out of my sight so I risked grabbing my other camera and sneaking out of the van and up the river bank. She didn’t hear me but as soon as I had cleared the trees she snapped to attention and rose into the air. I didn’t even get a chance to watch, I was watching my footing instead. When I looked up she was in the grass on the far side walking parallel to the riverbank. I had a clear view but she was far away from me.

(Here’s a zoomed in one)

This is the closest I’ve been to one as they walk and they are not as graceful on the ground. Her legs are impossibly thin and her body so much bigger. So the balancing requires more jerky movements as she places one foot down, rocks her body back to be able to place the other as she steps, steps, steps through the grass. For some reason it reminds me of a documentary on television where the scientist is placing drops into individual tiny glass cylinders. Drop, lift, tilt, drop.

(And another)

And then she was hidden by the trees. Of all the experiences I’ve had on this trip the storks are the ones who remind me to be present. They say, for this one moment I will tuck my impossibly thin legs under me and I will fly over your head and you will not be able to capture this moment, you will not be able to slow it down, you will not be able to share it with others, it is just for here and now and then I will leave.

Here and now, Mairead.

Off to the Beach

(Nice flowers in the dunes)

One of the great things about Portugal is that no matter how hot it gets there’s always (almost always) a breeze near the coast. So when it got really hot by the river we moved to a beach.

(Not a lot of shade)

The beach was Santo André and it’s just north of the city of Sines. There are board walks, a cafe and a restaurant and lots of sand. We went for a couple of walks on the sand and along the boardwalk but the main attraction for us is the breeze and they have great breeze here.

(Can you feel the breeze?)

My band of comfortable temperatures does surprise me every time I hit up against it. It’s very narrow. For instance, at 10 degrees I think I’m freezing to death and at 25 degrees I think I’m roasting to death. Outside that band I stop making rational decisions. When the temperature hit 30 degrees in Alcacér do Sal the only thing I could think of to help was to go to bed.. inside the van… where the temperature was higher. Funny enough that’s also my answer when the temperature falls below 2 degrees.

(The boardwalk)

Meanwhile there are people out jogging, riding bikes, playing boules, lying in the sun. How do they do that? One of my favourite fairy tales when I was little was The Princess and the Pea. In case you don’t know the story… the Princess went to visit another kingdom and to make sure she was really the princess they did a bit of a test. They put a pea under her matress. Next morning they asked how she slept, she replied she was a little uncomfortable. Next night they gave her a second matress but the pea was still underneath. When they asked her next morning how she slept she said she was grand but the matress was still a little uncomfortable. They kept adding mattresses until she almost touched the ceiling and they were convinced she must definitely be a Princess if she could still feel the pea under so many mattresses.

I don’t want to blow my own trumpet but I’m obviously a Princess, Mairead.

(There’s Santo André. Free parking, toilets open when cafe open, free water, loads of breeze)