Posts tagged ‘travel’

Travels through storms with Rocinante.

Camp at moténo

A holiday can be a very stressful thing. A month-long tour living in such close proximity to ones partner can bring that stress to boiling point very easily. We had invested a huge junk of savings in Rocinante and this was his first serious test, so I was anxious lest I’d forgotten something or something broke or didn’t work. So I was tense for the first week. As we settled at out first camp site on the north Brittany coast, that was expressed in my increasingly annoying supervision of everything B did.  We had a few minor yaps and barks about that and I tried to back off; not entirely successfully. Even though the van had been very cleverly designed and laid out we had to be careful about exactly how items where stored and where. Efficiency became an obsession for me so as I watched B, I’d be saying things like: “That goes there and needs to go in before that so they don’t rattle and you’d be better to snap-shut the lock now or you might forget later.” Real pain in the ass micro-management stuff.

She was nervous too and that showed in anxiety as I drove, she’d second guess the sat-nav or warn me about stuff I’d seen and was reacting too. In other words we were getting on each others tits big time! The crisis came to a head one evening when we had heavy rain and there was something in the cab we needed. (There are three front seats in the cab and one can’t walk through to the living quarters.) Rather than get out and get soaked I wiggled over the top of the seats and got the item from the glove box. Wiggled is not accurate – stuffed – forced – fell head first  might be more accurate. I’m not as lithe in body as my mind thinks I am! I flailed about like a stunned tuna trying to return to where I’d so impetuously come from. My thrashing legs got tangled in something and I was yelling for B to clear it and hold my legs so I might return. I was not too polite about it as I was beginning to hurt and thought I might do-in my back or lose my dinner all over the front seats. “Move that fucking stuff. What stuff? The fucking stuff tangled in my legs of coarse!”

When I got out, B lost the plot at me, cursing and yelling as she went off on an indignation rage. I lay on the bed and begged her to stop. She didn’t and the van shook with the yelling with me mostly shouting for her to: “Just stop! Please just stop.”

When we did eventually calm down I spoke of humiliation and how I reacted badly to feeling it or having it inflicted upon me or doing it to myself with stupid errors. I was humiliated by my mistake and my bodies failings. A childhood tortured by a mother, who delighted in humiliating me at every opportunity, has made me ultra sensitive to the feeling. I get too controlling trying to avoid mistakes that might produce the feeling.

B saw she had, and often does, use humiliation as a tool. We had a big break through of understanding and empathy. That was the last of the stress eruptions and we truly settled into enjoying the holiday, as we headed to the south coast and a camp site near Lorient. A place called Moténo Camping on the shore of an oyster filled bay called La Ria. (My daughter is called Ria and I love oysters nearly as much as her.)

La Ria bay

Lorrient Uboat base

Lorient itself was a disappointment, but the world war 2 U-Boat pens were worth the visit. They are still in use and many world ocean racing teams are based there.

the pens

still in use

I found the place awe inspiring but not in a good way. I could not escape the melancholy thoughts about how much resources and cleverness the Germans put into ever more efficient killing.

ocean racing centre

We enjoyed our four days in this area, walked the shore, visited the little towns, delighted in a local blues band at the little village pub while eating crepes, and getting a bit drunk. We went to Carnac and looked down our noses at the beach-set and sun-worshipers, as I tried NOT to notice the acres of nubile female flesh on abundant display.

We stopped at a… a field full of antiques and jumble. A big tent surrounded by row upon row of jumble. We collect pewter and we found a nice big jug that we paid a whole six Euro for. It polished up a treat and serves as reminder of how wonderful travel can be – after the storm has passed.

Rocinante – the adventure begins.

People travel for different reasons, for us it’s all about curiosity on the small scale. The details of how others live, where they live, how they eat. We are long term Francophiles and have traveled there often. It is a big country and the regional differences are striking and fascinating. This 32 day maxi-venture in Rocinante presented us with an unrivaled opportunity to see the country in a new way. No route plans, no itinerary and lots of time to poke about in the detail. In particular have a fully equipped kitchen on-board allowed me to explore my passion for French regional cuisines. Markets and supermarkets are a constant source of delight for me and B often joshed me about suffering what we called ‘kitchenitis’ when we stayed in hotels.

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Ready for the off at the ferry port.

No kitchen longings this time. We got off the ferry in Cherbourg with our fridge empty. Our first stop was a little town famous for the making and selling of copper pots – Villedieu les Poéles. We’d had a lovely sauté pan from there many years ago but that was destroyed by a wire wool wielding pot washer in our restaurant. So we returned and left with a splendid new pan. We then found a supermarket and stocked up on goodies for that nights supper. Veal was the main event.

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B departure excited and suffering just a little anticipation anxiety. Mine was off the scale!

We were heading for the north coast of Brittany and a site from the CC Camping Card book we’d invested 15€ in. This gives discounts at listed sights in the off season. Off season runs to around the 7th to 10th of July. We were aiming for the little resort town of Le Val-Andre on the Baie de Saint Brieuc on the North Brittany coast. This proved to be a longer drive than anticipated and we didn’t arrive at the site until 18.10. Our very first camp-site proved to be a vexing and discouraging problem. The entrance was closed by barriers, the office was shut and the contact number was a message. Our email booking had not warned us of their strict ‘closed at 18.00’ policy. We were saved by the Garmin sat-nav which pointed us to another site near by at Pleneuf Val- Andre. This little family run site was not in the book but was open, friendly and welcoming. Unlike Stalagluft 61 atop the hill in Le Val-Andre.


On the road in Normandy. B and D day?

By the time we got set up I was hot, bothered, a little flustered, and I made a real hash of dinner. The veal might have been edible had I remembered the electric grill we carried, but I fried it and it came out like boot-soles! Dinner was a disaster. We opened a bottle of wine, had showers and collapsed in our very comfortable loungers under the gazebo that B had struggled to put up, as I cursed over a hot pan.

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Our fist camp site – me knackered and still fuming!

After a few glasses and B telling me to: “Shut up and give over with ranting and apologies.”

The area and the site were so nice we lingered longer than intended and explored the area. The resort had been full of acres of short-short exposed thighs and assorted flesh when we’d arrived in scorching sun. Next day it was overcast  and the sun worshipers had vanished to be replaced by real people and a nice little market in the town center. I do love a French market. B bought a cheap woven bag and I bought nothing but looked at all the fish and offal. My previous night’s disaster had kerbed my enthusiasm for the pans. That night we ate out.


Soothed and beginning to settle.

So we settled into our routines and tweaked Rocinante to increase comfort. By the third day my anxiety had receded and our initial slightly tetchy stress had subsided. We knew we were going to have a wonderful adventure.

On imagination.

My beloved B and I recently returned from four days in Barcelona. The Catalan capital has long been on our bucket list, largely due to an architect called Antoni Gaudí. We have seen many iconic images and films about his work. A potent appetizer. His natural forms and original thinking appealed to us hugely.

Expectation and images had created a… an appeal, an appetite that could easily have led to disappointment. Too often we have been underwhelmed when reality has failed to match such expectation. We have stood before certain great works in Rome and Amsterdam and been respectfully awed by the obvious talent and skill that created such work but somehow we remained underwhelmed, unmoved.


And so we approached Casa Batlló with restrained optimism.  Huge crowds stood outside the tall thin terrace and that kicked in my aversion to long queues. We looked from across La Rambla at the extraordinary exterior and that was enough to encourage me to cross the road. As it happened the dense crowd was content with the exterior and few had joined the ticket line. We were inside in minutes and since it was early it was not oppressively crowded.

As we climbed the stairs to the first floor we exchanged knowing grins. There was going to be no disappointment here. We pointed, smiled, touched and minutely observed a great deal but spoke little, as we drank in the detail and the forms. We were truly and properly awed by the small-scale spectacle of Gaudí’s achievement. The beauty was in the detail and the overwhelming attention to every tiny facet of the design. On the way back down from the roof I stood by a door with my fingers nestling in the ergonomically perfect form of a small handle shaped to fit the hand. I called B and she too held it and smiled and a tear moistened her eye. We sighed and smiled and touched each other and we were silent.

That day we saw more, so much more, but it was only when we lay side-by-side back in our hotel that we spoke of the Gaudí house that had moved B to tears of joy.

We replayed and synced our mind movies and talked: “The blue tiles in the light-well that were graduated from dark to lighter lower down to exaggerate the incoming light…”


“The turtle shell patterns…”

“The curved organic flow of wood in windows and frames and the way light was used to paint rooms through stained class…”


Those mind movies play still so that weeks later we share and try to find words to connect our imaginations so our four-day break will stretch into the future.

I marvel at the power of imagination; I marvel at the creative spark that can move others to a lifetime altered by that creative spark that ignites ones’ imagination to previously unknown heights of … what? ‘Aesthetic appreciation’ is accurate but too narrow. The nature and power of the human imagination, when done this well, is a soaring flight that lifts us and makes us feel glad we have that creative spark. Some, like me, try to find that spark in words, others like B, in dance movement, still others with music or paint or film or any of the other arts-and-crafts that seem so fundamental a part of the human imagination.


For me the majesty of Gaudí’s basilica Sagrada Familia, is a homage not to any religious mystical experience, but to that spark and leap of human imagination that can create joy and tears in us.

New York Icon Stories

I intend this blog to be more personal now I have my website up for the books.

I have been putting off writing about our extended US visit to Virginia and New York City. Now I’ve had time to digest that trip, the next few post will be devoted to those visits. All posts will be brief from now on, as I try to resist my temptation to let the creative juices take control. I’m told blog readers have a very limited attention span for posts! I’m not sure I agree with this social media accepted wisdom – I read all of a post if it’s interesting and can’t believe my literary minded readers are any different, however I will be doing this as a series of short essays rather than a young novel.


New York Streets

New York Streets

New York, New York it’s an icon. All the English speaking world knows New York or they think they do. Since birth we have been presented with images both visual and literary of this city. In film, song, books and later, TV, the streetscape are familiar and often better known than our own capital cities so when Brigitte and I had the chance of a week there we were excited and looked forward to seeing , smelling and pounding the sidewalks of this iconic place. We found an apartment for short term rent just off 2nd Ave in the shadow of the UN building. Lets say nothing about that other than it was a great location. The apartment its self was tiny, dirty, ill-equipped and expensive but it served well as a base to explore, mainly on foot.

Our arrival from Newark by bus, left us near Grand Central and we had what I suspect was a typical bad tourist experience with a New York Cab – he ripped us off for a three block journey. I learned quickly that if a cabby says he has no change you say ‘Not my problem’ and do not make the mistake of handing over a twenty for an eight-buck fare! He was gone before I could do anything. On our return to the same bus stop on leaving, we walked or in my case staggered with a suitcase with broken wheels – I thought I’d die! That arrival and departure were the only low points in an otherwise packed week filled with delights and strained necks from all the looking up.

New York was a deluge; a flood of impressions, an overload of stimulation and it left us breathless and excited but at times uneasy. Not fearful, the unease was a philosophical thing. Big cities and the life of big cities with populations much greater than the whole of little Ireland, are a shock to the system. One question kept circulating: “Why do people choose to live here?” There are many possible answers and many of them are based on the income of the people you are considering. Those near the top of the scale can have escape from the hustle and speed and I guess some have bolt-holes elsewhere to go and slow down. But for those in the lower reaches – it seems a grind. A relentless grind to make ends meet and to climb a ladder that may or may not be there in reality.

All cities offer that promise – the promise of an income, a living that does not depend on the weather and the earth and the strength of your back. But all cities also grind up these seekers and trap them and use the big promise to keep them working and supporting the beast – the beast of consumerism that must be fed low income workers to survive. Why do so many people live in New York? I still don’t know the answer.

Next time – a food rant and first impressions of the cultural icons.


1545.jpgSaturday the 17th August 2013 was Cork City Heritage open day.  A unique event celebrating the architecture and history of the built heritage of the city. Many buildings not normally open to the public were opened for the day, many had special events and guided tours. We could not miss this.  Read more…

The old-world, begining and end.

View from Valenica

View from Valenica

It was a steamy tropical land south of the equator; swamps, mountains, high rainfall, a primal jungle teaming with the land-pioneers – insects. Amphibians came ashore to harvest the vegetation and insects and some evolved to stay on land. They were the very first vertebrates to colonise the land; lizard-like Tetrapods crawling and slithering through the mud. The high rain fall brought floods of silt from the mountains, quickly filling and burying the tracks of the Tetrapod.

Grandads foot prints.

Grandads foot prints.

Read more…

The Rainbow Nation.

I am still in a whirl emotionally after our three week stay in the Western Cape. The nature was truly fabulous and was what we sought out most. That aspect of the trip was a great success. The culture of the area around Cape Town and Stellenbosch is perhaps not typical of the whole country. Stellenbosch, where we were based, is an old Dutch style settlement dominated by its university, tourism and wine estates. Its picturesque and comfortably familiar for a European visitor and that in itself was very odd. This is Africa, there are settlements all around Stellenbosch or what the locals call ‘the village,’ the houses are often pretty fortresses with electric fences and big dogs. Armed response security vans tour the middle class estates and everywhere are warning signs about the alarms. This comfortable whitewashed prettiness feels like a place under siege and that is very unsettling.  Read more…