Batalha and James Murphy

I love Batalha!

Well, we did the food tour in Porto and had a really great time! It’s been a long time since we were in a big city and you forget how exhausting it can be. Not just the walking, the talking, the stepping around people, the finding your way, the eating. Full-on days need quiet days. Will tell you all about Porto soon but first I need to tell you about the town of Batalha. We went there last Wednesday.

The Cathedral at Batalha

There’s a huge monastery and cathedral in Batalha built in the 14th century. It is one of the most important Gothic sites in Portugal and one of the most visited monuments. And that’s not a surprise, it is very impressive.

Cleaning has started on the magnificent door to the cathedral

On the way out (as we exited through the shop) a book title in the display caught my attention. Does that say, Murphy? Well of course, I had to check, is this Irish? From inside the cover I read, Murphy is an academic journal architectural history and theory published once a year in Portuguese and English by the Impress da Universidade de Coimbra. (Oldest University in Portugal.)

The Murphy book…

It went on to say the name comes from an Irish born architect, who was the first to promote Portuguese architecture to the rest of the world. James Cavanagh Murphy came to Portugal to study the architecture at Batalha and his drawings of the monastery were published in the 1700’s. Imagine that!

Every approach to the building is impressive

There was no more about James in the book but I searched the internet and… James Murphy was born in Blackrock, Co. Cork (well, of course he was) in 1760 and was a brick layer. He loved drawing and went to Dublin to study either drawing or architecture. He seemed to have a natural ability in drawing. He was involved in work on the House of Commons and the building near Trinity College Dublin that became a bank.

Can you see the cleaned section of “rope”?

When he was 28 he was commissioned by an Irish politician called William Burton Conyngham, to make drawings of the monastery here at Batalha. James Murphy seems to have travelled back and forth from Ireland to Spain and Portugal studying and drawing beautiful buildings for the rest of his life. What a lovely way of life.

Look at that delicate stonework!

I am inspired by James Murphy to keep up with my map drawing work and in honour of him I have added the town of Batalha to my (not to scale or accurate) ©️Map of Portugal.

Now you know where Batalha is!

The restorers are in the middle of cleaning/restoring the monuments at the moment. The cleaned stone looks great and really sparkles but I also love the grubby stone, it reminds me it has been here a long time and it’s not perfect.

Closeup grubby, background sparkling

On a different topic… Do you see the captions on my photos? My friend Yvonne has noticed that the captions are not being added to my photos in emails from WordPress. This makes me sad because I love reading captions on people’s photos. If you get this blog by email and you’re not seeing the photo captions I’m sorry 😞 I don’t know how to solve this problem… yet. But in the meantime you might want to try getting the emails from mail chimp by visiting the blog directly at… and clicking the Sign me Up link there❤️

Portuguese Hospitality

Wisteria? At the campsite

By Thursday evening last we had arrived over the border in Portugal at a town called Mogadouro and booked into a great municipal campsite. Great means the toilets are clean and the showers are warm and there’s all the camper services.

There’s a Costa here somewhere…

After the rush and bustle of France and Spain, Portugal is a lovely change. Everything slows down and yes that includes the service but what’s your hurry? I spent 15 lovely minutes with the receptionist who was having a difficult time with the computer as she tried and tried again to check us in. But she still found time to marvel that we had come all the way from Ireland. And to ask us if we were enjoying our stay. And all this in English!

The castle

We slept very well that night and decided to stay the next day to wander the very hilly town. We visited the castle and the cafe and the supermarket where we found more Portuguese hospitality.

The post boxes are red…

I was making dinner that night and needed crème fraiche but I couldn’t find it. Denis suggested I ask someone… but he didn’t volunteer. While I was giving him the look – you know the one that says I don’t need your advice – the lady who was stocking the shelves nearby said something in Portuguese to me. She couldn’t be offering to help could she? She was!

And so are the fire engines

I mentioned the crème fraiche with an expression of you probably don’t have it, sure it’s French, what was I thinking, no worries, I’ll use cream or maybe yoghurt. But guess what? She found it! I was so grateful and this is the thing that keeps happening in Portugal… it doesn’t matter that we don’t speak the language, we get each other! She smiled and put a hand to my arm, like, it’s ok I got your back!


Well I’m not ashamed to admit, there was a tear in my eye. It was not just crème fraiche, Denis!

The Statistics

The Route: Outward – Black Return – Dark Blue

Thought it might be interesting to gather some data about the journey. As I write we are waiting in Cherbourg to board the ferry home. It’s all over!

Beautiful wall in Sézanne

How many miles? 3648 (5870km)

Restaurant in Saint Mère Èglise

How many countries? 5 Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal and Disneyland (😉)

The market in Louhans

How much diesel? 673 litres

Diesel somewhere in France

How many days? 84

Old wash house in Chaource

How many blogs? 41

French postbox

How much solar electricity did we generate? 58kw hours (I don’t know what this means either)

Canal Pont du midi

How many crossants/pastries? Don’t know but probably 1 a day! Which is…84😱

How many campsites? 20 (approximately)

How many free parkups? 40 (approximately)

How many paid parkups? 20 (approximately)

Pont du Gard

Highest Temperature?
37 degrees C (Poix en Picardy France, Saturday 17th June)

Frost on the windscreen Saint-Brice-en-Coglès

Lowest Temperature?
-2 degrees C (Saint-Brice-en-Coglès, Friday 1st April)

Sunset near Villablanca, Spain

Thank you for reading, you make writing this extra fun! xxx Mairéad

Just noticing…

Shutter pattern

One of the things I have been attempting to do on this trip is spend more time doing nothing, just noticing. Yes I know you already think I’m doing nothing. This type of doing nothing is sitting still, not reading, not writing, not thinking of things to do. Instead… noticing. There’s a lot to notice while we do nothing. This has been the procedure… first notice the things that move into the space in my mind while I do nothing and second let them be and definitely don’t engage with them. Do you follow me?

Church pattern

For example, here we go, a thought just popped in:
No one wants to read this.
Right, I notice what’s arrived in my space. Second part, let it be and don’t engage. Ohh, easier said than done but here goes…
Oh here’s another one, I’m hungry. Let it be… don’t engage.
And another, Did you reply to the text? Oh holy divine, this one is very hard not to engage with…
Another, What if you forget it? Noooooo… DON’T ENGAGE!
Another, Now you’re angry, that’s not helpful is it? Hello emotion that I’m now engaged to…

Brick pattern

Dong this nothing isn’t easy, it’s work to notice the thoughts and let them be. It’s a lot of work to not engage. And then when the emotions turn up and they get mixed up with the thoughts and, and, and..

Wood pattern

I was thinking about this during our week of thunder storms. About how the blue sky is up there all the time during the storm. About how it is unaffected by the thunder or lightening or rain or any kind of cloud. It’s just there, sort of watching and waiting until everything calms down again. It’s doing nothing. My emotions are thunder and lightening and my thoughts are the rain and they are all connected and they all feed off each other. And they are very loud and they crave my attention. I don’t have to give them my attention.

Stone pattern

I am not the thunder. I am not the lightening. I am not the rain. I am the blue sky, they cannot hurt me…

Sky with a dusting of clouds

Our Daily Baguette

Bread and coffee

On our way to the Pont du Gard on Saturday we called in to a boulangarie we had seen on our first day here, Marie Blachère Boulangeire. It’s a chain of bakeries, there’s many of them around but we packed this one because of the parking – plenty of room for us to fit in without bumping anyone. Yaa.

Our local…

By Saturday we had been there three times and the lady was beginning to recognise us. She didn’t quite understand my version of French so she always helped out by speaking a little English. I wanted an Americano but with extra hot water – no one in France wants this so it’s always more difficult to explain. Added to that the queue in every (yes, every!) boulangeire is long but moves surprisingly fast because the servers zip through the orders. Zipping through the orders does not allow for hard to understand Irish tourists. But this lady slowed down and got what I was trying to say and I got my hot water every morning.

Thank you, lovely lady and your colleague❤️

On Saturday, maybe because I was so excited about going to the Pont I forgot to buy our daily baguette but she realised I had forgotten and brought it over to me when there was a break in the queue. Then she said, that’s for you and wouldn’t take payment! Are you feeling the love? I certainly felt it.

We were here ⬆️

And at the same time I was conflicted. It’s hard to accept a gift, isn’t it? I find it hard. I wondered what should I do for her. But what can I do… just accept her kindness and feel grateful? It is something I have been thinking about during the pandemic times. I received such generosity at times when I could do nothing to repay it and I was uncomfortable. But when I got the opportunity to be generous, giving felt so good that I realised accepting is necessary. For giving to happen, accepting the gift is part of the contract. Accepting is part of human connection. It’s Give and Receive, not Give and Give.

Photos from Le Pont du Gard

Approaching Le Pont du Gard from the Rive Gauche (Left Bank)

We went back to the Post du Gard last Saturday and I got loads of pictures. It really is a beautiful peaceful place, in spite of all the people visiting. We arrived a little before opening time – 9.30am. The sun was shining but it wasn’t too hot. We have become experts at working out the best time of the day to do things in order to remain cool.

Pont du Gard with humans for scale

Early morning – 8am – for walking outside, but you have to get back inside before 11.30am. Mid morning for walking or sitting inside – if it’s air-conditioned or there’s a little breeze through the window. Mid-day for driving with the windows down.

Looking up at the second row arches

Mid afternoon – find shade or keep driving with the windows even further down. Late afternoon – poor you, just suck it up. Late evening for walking, in general you’ll feel better if you get a walk in now, I promise. Night time for sleeping as best you can with the windows open near a source of breeze, sea breeze is the best.

Looking down at the river Gardon from the Pont du Gard

Anyways we were there at the perfect time of the morning in this beautiful place. First stop, we went to see the museum and the best video presentation I’ve ever seen at a tourist site. Seriously. Just enough information, given in a way I could understand. Plus the photography was superb.

View from the very top and more tiny humans

I always find it very difficult to grasp big numbers when I hear them. For example, the Post du Gard is 50 meters high but really, how high is that? Well in the video they had different items pictured beside the Pont like 16 elephants standing on top of each other to help show how tall that really is. Good, right?

This door is at the very top of the Pont and leads to the water channel but it is only accessible on a special guided tour

And they had cartoon planes standing one behind the other on the top level of the Pont. I love how creatively helpful that is.

Apprentice stone masons used to chisel their names on the stones. Can you see 1905?
Doesn’t this look like a pint of Guinness? It’s a picture of a picture of the inside of the water channel. The bulges on either side are limestone deposits left by the running water. The aqueduct was in use for 600 years.

You’ll have to go there and visit the cinema in the museum to see all the other creative things they did to help explain this amazing monument. I just love it.

The First Nata

The first bite of the first Nata of 2022

We crossed the border! We are in Castro Marim, Portugal. We were here in 2019, in fact it was the place where we started hearing an ominous knocking sound from Ruby (our motorhome) that led to a big bill in a mechanic’s workshop in France a few weeks later. No knocking this time. To celebrate our arrival we park and go straight to the nearest cafe. Dos cafe y dos natas, por favor. (Two coffees and two natas, please.) We have been dreaming of these natas for a few hundred miles now. Although it’s possible to get natas in Costa in Bray (and probably lots of other places…?) we never do. We haven’t seen them anywhere in Spain so here in a tiny cafe beside the roundabout at the edge of Castro Marim is our first taste.

Have a rest

The nata was created by the monks (or maybe the nuns…) in Lisbon pre 18th century. They used a lot of egg whites starching laundry which led to loads of leftover egg yolks. Not wanting to waste them gave birth to Pastels de Nata. Tasting my first Portuguese nata in almost three years makes me very happy. Wait! This nata seems to have ignited some ancient ritual and I hear a voice telling me a story. Could it possibly be the true story of the very first nata? It’s in old Portuguese, give me a moment to interpret…

Enter at your own risk….

We’re in a huge stone monastery in Lisbon, Portugal. The year is 1687. Sr. Agusta works in the kitchen she’s only 14 and in training to be a nun. So far she’s not doing very well. Her superiors think she spends too much time daydreaming and not enough time scrubbing. But the old nun Sr. Jerome who makes the bread for the monastery really enjoys her company. It is Sr. Jerome who suggested just now to Agusta to start experimenting with the egg yolks. Sr. Jerome has been wondering for a while what to do with the surplus. The entire congregation (nuns and monks) is fed up with her three times a week omelettes and she’s fed up dumping eggs into her bread dough. She has a few ideas for a desert but today she thinks, if Sr. Agusta doesn’t get a win soon she may be moved into the laundry room and the old nun fears for her safety surrounded by vats of boiling water.

What do you love to eat, Agusta? Agusta! Sr. Jermone has to repeat herself a few time to get Aguste’s attention.

I love pastries, sister. That’s lucky the old nun thinks. What kind of pastries do you love?

Cool shade

I love all of them but especially apple pastries, sister.

Unfortunately we have no apples, but we do have lots of egg yolks

Sr. Jerome is tired, she has been baking since 3am, She heads off to her cell for a quick nap leaving Agusta with instructions to warm some milk. What Sr. Jerome doesn’t know is that Agusta invents things all the time in her daydreams. There was once where she got very close to inventing a non stick saucepan. When the old nun is gone Sr. Agusta starts dreaming about egg yolks. In her daydream she is adding the yolks to her non stick saucepan with warm milk. Meanwhile the actual milk in the not non stick saucepan is boiling over and a smell of burning is filling the kitchen. (Can you smell it?) From her cell Sr. Jerome is dozing and you know the way a dream kind of takes on the reality of the situation you’re waking up to? Like a doorbell ringing will be in your dream and you wake and your doorbell is actually ringing? Well in her dream eggs and milk are burning and just like that she thinks of a pastry case filled with egg custard! Up she sits and manoeures herself towards the kitchen, calling, Agusta! Agusta! At the same time Agusta is running out of the kitchen, Sr. Jerome, Sr. Jerome, I have it! Creamy Custard Pastries, burnt on top!! They meet in the long corridor in front of the statue of Mary – you know the one with her smiling? Sr Jerome’s face is a picture of joy as Sr. Agusta dances around her. Mary smiles down on them. This is the best day.

Rocks and red poppies

Unfortunately, this is not the happy ending… the monk in charge of this old monastery has heard the commotion. Long story short, the recipe becomes the intellectual property of the monastery and Sr. Jerome and Sr. Agusta are written out of the history of the nata. Oh well.

Erosion of clay or slices of bread?

At first Sr. Jerome was upset, then angry. But you can’t stay angry for long in Sr. Agusta’s company, she realised there’s something more important than fame and fortune – friendship and daydreams. Sr. Jerome lets her anger go and puts her attention on supporting Sr. Agusta to be the best daydreaming pastry chef she could be. The two nuns spend the rest of Sr. Jerome’s life inventing and perfecting pastries. None were ever as famous as their natas but that didn’t bother them, they had the best life you could have in a convent with no money or power governed by monks. When Sr. Jerome died Agusta left the convent and became a pastry chef in a nearby restaurant. Even though she never got the recognition she deserved for her invention she knew the truth and now you know too.

There you are, you’re the first to know, Sr Jerome and Sr. Agusta invented the Pastel de Nata.

(Disclaimer: This story might not be true.)

Simply Be and Do Gently and Slowly

Adorable statue in the center of Valverde de Camino

It’s Saturday, the rain has stopped but it is still quite a grey day. We travelled up into the hills of Andalusia this morning to a town called Valverde de Camino. It’s on the Camino de Santiago as the name hints. The park up is on the edge of town beside a little vegetable garden. The sun is coming out and the smells of soil and vegetation is just glorious. It is striking the difference between a city park up and a country park in terms of the senses.

Close up of the stitching on the statue

First of all I notice the smells. Then the visuals, here there’s a lot of green growing things and a few red tiled roofs. Then soon after i notice a feeling. Very hard to describe, like a slowness in my belly for the country location and a speediness in my veins for the city.

They are huge palm trees!

We didn’t realise how big this town was until we went walking because we are on the edge and there is nothing but nature all around and the feeling is slow. I love slow feelings.

Location of Valverde de Camino north west of Seville

When we were packing the van to come away I think I mentioned I was less overwhelmed this time than previous times. I think that’s because I had a little chat with myself. I told myself I wanted to be more intentional in how I was preparing this time. It was a long talk but at the end of it my intention was to Simply Be and Do Gently and Slowly. And to a greater or lesser degree that is how I prepared. Now that we are here that is also how I want to be.

The vegetable garden

Here on the edge of Valverde de Camino with the smells of the wet earth and the man in his vegetable garden waving to me I am reminded to simply be.

Balancing Act

Adiós Béjar

You know when a small/annoying/disturbing/upsetting thing happens at the beginning of the day and the rest of your day is off? Like, it’s not balanced, it’s just a bit off? Ok maybe it doesn’t happen to you. It happened to me yesterday. Now just so you know, it’s wasn’t a big thing but I’m telling you about it so that I remember. I want to remember this is something my mind can do. I want to notice the off-balance that sometimes happens and just notice it. No need to do anything about it, no need to beat myself up. Nothing. Just notice that I may not be able to recognise the whole truth in this moment as I’m unbalanced. So here’s the story…

Our hero!

Wait, first here’s the end of the story… Our gas (LPG) gauge was in the red and that’s a problem because we need the gas for cooking and heating water and running the fridge. We have an app that tells us where the nearest gas supplier is located and we arrived to see red covers on the pump handles, indicating that they had run out of gas too. And only yesterday I had read something about gas shortages in the UK. Is there a gas shortage here in Spain too? My mind was getting ready to imagine the worst, when what should arrive but a gas tanker. No kidding! And no shortage. Ten minutes later we filled up with enough gas for two weeks. Is it possible that everything works out? Sometimes it takes ten minutes, sometimes longer? And the unbalance? It doesn’t last long either.

City walls in Plasencia

Ok back to the start of the story… We left beautiful Béjar the morning after my tunnel walk full of optimism and drove to the city of Plasencia, less than an hour south. There was a free car park near the centre where motorhomes were welcome. The sun shone and the temperatures were rising. We had hardly turned off the engine when a dishevelled looking guy came banging on the window. Even though we didn’t understand his words it was clear he was looking for money. Denis said no and shook his head and he left. He returned half an hour later and we realised he was going to every arriving vehicle.

Can you see the swallows? They move too fast for me but I’ve circled them above. Have the swallows arrived in Ireland yet? These ones seem to be getting ready for their journey north…

My mind asked, “is this a dangerous city?” and tipped off balance. Everything else that happened that day was slightly off. It was too hot to go for a walk, there were too many cars, too many bugs, I was hungry, no, I was thirsty, I was fed up. On and on until… We were eating a dinner of cold pie and salad (remember the gas was running out) when a knock came to the door. We both looked at each other… but it was only the owner of the camper next door who had parked so close to us that we couldn’t open the side door. As I’m the one learning Spanish… Denis indicated I should go out the other door to discover what he wanted. I began with “I don’t speak Spanish” in Spanish… turns out that’s not as useful as you might think. If you’re speaking Spanish – badly – the exact meaning is lost on the native speaker but well, you’re speaking Spanish, so they presume you probably understand it, right? I understood nothing and that resulted in the man speaking faster.

Here’s the gap after we moved…

Fortunately, he had a wife who spoke face-language – she saw my face and knew I didn’t know what he was saying. Between the three of us (and Denis looking from the gap in the door) we worked out he was suggesting that if we reversed a bit our door would be parallel with the end of their van and we’d be able to open it. And he was right and it was perfect and as we stood outside smiling and saying Gracias to each other Denis and I noticed we were now surrounded by motorhomes. Literally, surrounded. (Ok no, there was a gap in front of us but there were vans at each side of us and at the back, mostly parking illegally!) And they were still arriving. Smiling, chatting, gesticulating, happy people, parking wherever they could find a gap.

And an even smaller gap behind us…

And it was so odd it unbalanced me right back to balance. They do things differently here. They eat dinner late at 9.30pm or 10pm. They park in the tiniest of spots. They talk loud and fast. And it’s ok. I slept really well that night, all the windows were open and the sounds of fast talking Spanish drifted in. Yes my mind did throw up some safety issues but I took note of the location of our fire extinguisher and I was reassured. And the next morning we had landed in a new world. Everything was good. There was space again in the car park and the temperatures were more pleasant. We found a small bakery beside the city walls and watched the swallows swooping and soaring. And then as you know, just when we needed it the gas tanker arrived.

Coffee time

I remember as a child when we would go to the city with my Dad to some football pitch or greyhound track and if there was a big crowd there were men who used to help you park and then take care of your car. Everyone gave them a few coins but I always worried that there were so many cars they would forget which one was ours and it would be gone when we got back. It was never gone. My Dad called them the Lock Hards because they used to repeat “lock hard, lock hard” while helping you parallel park into a tight space. The Spanish motorhome drivers are experts at parking in a tight spot. Had a 50 year old memory unbalanced my mind? Was I just recycling one familiar situation and glueing it to this city with my childhood feeling of worry? I don’t know.

Noticing seems like doing nothing but it’s not and there’s nothing better to do when you’ve tipped off balance.