Back to Work!

(Beautiful strange sky last night in Gron)

I stopped doing nothing today and started working on the book correcting all my typos and writing an intro and a blurb for the amazon page. I’ve had a lot of help from my review team, for which I am very grateful. Thank you lovely people! There’s a possibility my grammar will improve, because if their help. If nothing else, I’m increasing my usage of commas. See if you notice a difference.

(Half timbered houses and old wood decorations in Saint-Julian-du-Sault)

We moved on from Gron this morning just 30 minutes down the road to a town called Saint-Julian-du-Sault. But first, I nearly forgot to mention the ham and cheese pie from the lady with the dictionary in Gron was absolutely divine! Go to her shop if you can!

(Pretty old sign post)

They have a lovely free parking spot with all the facilities at Saint-Julian-du-Sault. We arrived there around 9am and worked until noon. Then we spotted a map showing a walking route into the center of town. Always hoping to increase our step count we followed the map. There were loads of photo opportunities and a coffee opportunity.

(Three little ducks in front of the washing house)

Then we moved on. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to be able to move on at a moments notice. There’s something magical about it. It’s highly addictive and we might be addicts. We rarely stay in a place longer than two nights but we also rarely move on after only a couple of hours. This trip we have started doing just that.

(Look at the details!)

We’ll probably slow down eventually but in the meantime, we might get as far as Switzerland because Denis has spotted a Swiss science tour, that he wants to visit.

From the banks of the Yonne River, which is as good a place as any to tell Yvonne that I sent her mail… Mairead.

(Here’s Saint-Julian-du-Sault and you might be able to see Gron to the north?)

Creative Pathfinding

(More pictures from the place by the sea, Cóbreces)

We had a bit of a hiccup this morning… it started to rain. Ok so I’m not saying we can’t cope with rain, of course I’m not. It’s just you build up a picture of going south  to the sun and no matter how many times you do it there’s a mistaken story that it will be warm and sunny all the time. It’s not. It rains in other countries besides Ireland. It’s just we’re the only ones who talk about it. We probably have more words for rain in Irish than there are in English. I heard that the Inuit have many, many more ways to describe snow than sticky or wet.

(Here’s the gate to the graveyard)

So we’re still in the mode of travelling every day but at the same time it’s raining and we’re in a town. So? So, when it rains there are far more options in a town than in the middle of the mountains in a small village. For one thing there’s the restaurants. We love going out to eat and we love having the option to stay in and cook (well Denis does… I just like eating.) In this town there are numerous restaurants, we went to one last night and had tapas, way too much tapas but we’ll know better about ordering next time. The price is not an indicator of the size of the dish. A €4 dish, it turns out, is plenty for dinner.

(And a cute signpost. I don’t think the arrow is for the Camino de Santiago, it’s the wrong colour)

In spite of the availability and quantity of food, there is a slight problem. With the rain comes rain clouds and the solar panels cannot see the sun. Also, there’s no electricity in our car park so very soon we will run out of power! Only this morning we realised we need a teeny tiny bit of power to use our gas heater. It’s barely 10 degrees here so we will need the heater but if we don’t have even a teeny bit of power… we will freeze!

(Can you see the camper vans? That was Cóbreces)

Ok, we won’t freeze, we could just drive and the heater in the van runs when we drive, it also charges the leisure battery. So, no, we won’t freeze but we do need to consider what to do next? We will find a tourist office. We love tourist offices, they always say yes to the question, do you speak English? We found the tourist office. The nice lady pointed us to a free center with computers, power and WiFi just around the corner. There may even be heat! It doesn’t open until 11 so we are having a quick coffee before we go check it out.

(There were people getting ready to climb this rock as we passed. It’s near the village with the narrow lanes from two days ago)

People often ask me how do we just go away without a plan, what if something goes wrong? I’ve never had a good answer for them. We just go isn’t really explaining it. Anyway, Denis is much better at just going than me. I would probably never do this if it wasn’t for him. I would imagine all sorts of things happening (bad things, I wouldn’t be imagining good things!) Plus in general I’m very good at imagining myself stuck and helpless without a solution.

(Love, love, love the lines (wrinkles) on this tree as it decomposes back into the earth)

I was reading somewhere recently that we never need to be stuck and helpless without a solution because humans are naturally creative. It’s what has kept the human race from going extinct, this ability to think ourselves out of stuck scenarios. This isn’t about making beautiful things, it’s about finding creative ways out of any stuck situation. The only thing that stops us being creative with solutions is a story we have in our minds that we are not capable of finding a way out. We are helpless. But if we look at that story and realise it’s not true our innate creativity will pop up and find a way through. Turns out we are well capable of just going and working things out on the way.

(There we are between Santander and Gijón. By the way, the locals get a great kick out of the way we pronounce Gijón. We pronounce it like Chicken goujons but we should be pronouncing it HeeHon… which is even funnier to us!)

From a warm and friendly free computer center beside the post office in Cangas De Onís, Mairead.

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 beautiful animal park in Cléres

(The pink Flamingos and some random ducks)

I mentioned yesterday that there is a zoo here in Cléres and today we went on a visit. As it’s France, of course this would not be an ordinary zoo, this is a beautiful compact bird and animal park in the grounds of a château with it’s own Gothic castle and the remains of a medieval keep. And one more thing to thank France for – there was no entry charge today! Don’t know why. The zoo was set up over 100 years ago by Monsieur Jean Delacour. Seemingly he was a famous ornithologist (had to look it up: interested in birds) who worked for zoos around Europe and the US. His family was rich so… he got a château and started taking care of birds and animals.

(Even without the animals this is a beautiful park)

The majority of the birds and animals run (or waddle or bounce) free in the unfenced paddocks and seem unafraid of the humans who are very well-behaved walking along the paths and staying off the grass. Well they were mostly unafraid but I got in the way of three young antelopes, called black bucks, who were trying to cross a bridge and they looked very worried. I stayed very still and eventually they bounced off on their way. It really looked like they bounced, you know like when sheep jump over fences in cartoons?

(I have no idea what this guy is called, but he was munching away at bugs on his tree trunk when I took this. He’s about the size of a hamster with a long tail)

My favourite animal was the Red Panda, which looks like a cross between a fox and a teddy bear. Like the black and white Panda the red one has an extra bone in it’s wrist that helps it grab bamboo shoots making it adorable… A close second favourite was the Emu, his feathers look like hair with a parting running down the center of his back while his feet are very prehistoric looking.

(Here’s the Red Panda, can you see how he holds the bamboo branch? Awww!)

Up at the château there’s a pretty garden filled with flowers that I love. As I was taking picture after picture of blooms, one nicer than the next a butterfly caught my eye. He was perched on a big flower head and didn’t notice me walk round and round getting shots of him. I must have been there for 10 minutes and he was still there when we left.

(This is a terrible shot but I wanted you to see how strange it looks… it’s part of the Emu’s foot – two of his three toes to be precise. His entire foot is about the size of my hand)

I’ll send you the flower and butterfly pictures tomorrow,  Mairead.

I think… a lot

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(The rocks at the lighthouse near Sagres, Portugal)

It’s coming towards the end of this journey and as always my mind stops living in the present and moves ahead. It’s very counter productive because on the one hand I am thinking about leaving and missing this lifestyle and on the other hand if I’m thinking about leaving then I’m no longer here! So I’ve left the travelling already… two weeks before it ends! I used to do the same thing when I got a massage. The session would hardly have started before I’d be thinking, I wonder how much time is left, I wish this would last longer….

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(Port with little lighthouse near Sagres)

For the past two weeks I’ve been meditating using Headspace and that’s how I recognised that I was in this pattern again. During the fifteen minutes of the meditation, the guide, whose name is Andy, reminds you to pay attention to your breath and count along with the in breathe and the out breath to ten and if you get distracted by thoughts or feelings to stop the counting. Then notice you had a thought or feeling and go back to counting the breaths. I used to think that I couldn’t meditate because I was continuously distracted by thoughts but now I realise that the distractions are the place where I learn what I’m doing to myself.

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(This guy was in the campsite at Luz, Portugal)

And the thing that I’m doing to myself, is thinking… constantly thinking. Thinking about the future, the past, the bad things that could happen, the good things that could happen, the things I might miss, the things I did wrong, the hurt I caused, the apologies I could make, I didn’t make, I can’t make. These thoughts have an impact on my mood, my well-being, my mental health, my relationships, my productivity, my sanity! Since restarting meditation I have been noticing my thinking as it distracts me for a fifteen minute section of the day. (For the other 23 hours and 45 minutes each day I hardly ever realise I am continuously thinking.) For fifteen minutes a day I cannot stop those thoughts but I can notice them and then return to counting my breaths and that helps.

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(Gibraltar, of course)

Today, in the meditation Andy asked me (it’s pre-recorded, he’s not actually talking to me…) to consider the bigger picture. To consider everyone I meet is doing exactly the same thing to themselves. Everyone I meet or see on the street or hear in the shop is doing this to themselves. And they can’t stop. We can’t stop the thinking of the thoughts, the best we can do is to notice it and then return to what’s actually happening. For the rest of this journey I will be practicing returning to what is actually happening here, because I’m still here, even if my thoughts are not.

One teeny, tiny, baby step at a time, Mairead.

P.S. Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Ireland!