Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Community on the Road

My gosh, I am really cranking out the blog posts, aren't I? :)  I think the most I've ever managed in one month was nine posts. That was in May 2016 when we were on our way to Alaska, which to this day remains one of the most exciting and enjoyable trips we made while fulltiming. 

If you’ve followed this blog at all, you know how much we’ve enjoyed our friendships and travels with other fulltimers. Which brings me to the subject of community on the road. It's common to hear RVers say they've met more people and developed more lasting friendships while traveling than in their sticks and bricks life. We would agree with that. The RVing community is huge and even though it is ever fluid, it's surprising how easy it can be to forge a family. 

That photo above is a small representation of the fulltiming class of 2014. It was taken during the RV-Dreams reunion rally last year in Nevada. (Tracy PerkinsI’m so glad you organized the group for this photo, it’s a fun one to look back on).

So what about in Europe? Well, it's a bit premature for me to even imagine what community might look like for us in, say, a year or so. I'm guessing at the very least it will be multi-lingual and involve a lot of hand gesturing and probably some wine. I hope so. I'm sure we won't become fluent in any language during our time here, but a few words in many languages would be fun. Like, a year ago I didn’t know the Norwegian word for motorhome is "bobil", but I do now! Steven says since I’m the boss of the motorhome, I’m a Bobilhead :)

One thing I can tell you with certainty is that we are not trailblazers. There are loads of people fulltiming throughout Europe. Last year as we were researching our big move, we made contact with two couples who continue to offer us invaluable advice and tons of encouragement. I’ve peppered them with questions for months now and they’ve been very generous with their time and detailed information. Though we didn’t know it at the time we made contact, both of these couples also worked with Phill and Hannah at Euro Camping Cars to get set up and on the road.

We found Alan and Ruth's blog, Travel-Cook-Eat, while researching details of visa requirements and Internet options for RVers. They are from New Zealand and have been traveling in their motorhome Betsy since 2017. Alan has done a ton of research and has made it available on their blog. Also thanks to his recommendation, Steven and I are now both set up with affordable SIM cards for our phones. He has also reviewed loads of motorhoming kit which is super helpful for those of us just starting out. 

Ruth has offered valuable advice on packing, cooking, and places to visit. Also, she has a neat little washing machine that I don't mind telling you makes me green with envy. As is obvious from the title of their blog, they love to cook and especially like to try their hand at local dishes, something we have in common with them. They have traveled far and wide to places high on our list, including Turkey, Russia and Morocco! It's great to read how others have managed challenges on the road, it gives us confidence to try for ourselves. 

Shani and Todd are an American couple who arrived in Europe by way of Saudi Arabia. They also own a Hymer, so I reached out to Shani after reading a few of her posts on the Hymer Owner's Group on Facebook. They have, in their lifetimes, traveled to over 77 countries and have been motorhoming around Europe since 2017 with their little dog, Sebastian. You can check out their blog at Don’t Waste Life. I love chatting with Shani on Facebook, she sends me lists recommending stuff we never even knew we needed. While at home over the holidays, she sent us links to products on Amazon that were not readily available in Europe. 

And lest you think no one shares the not-so-fun part of motorhoming in Europe, one morning Shani and I were chatting about GPS and whether or not the motorhome version is helpful. She had this to say, about their GPS named Gabby:

Gabby tried to send us through a historic arch in Italy that was way too skinny....that was after we had gotten lost getting to the campground...which then told us no dogs allowed, then he sent us to their other campground with the directions to go right through town (on a major holiday) through streets packed full of people then we got to the arch (OMG) then had to do a U turn , then back through all the people...until we finally found the campground....that had 2 spots left.

Y'all, would that be your worst nightmare? It certainly is one of mine! But hey, they survived and hopefully if (when) it happens to us, we will, too. :)

So, what now? 

Once again we are in the throes of a packing spree. On Friday we say goodbye to St. Julien and our little maison and make the long 8-hour journey to Toulouse. We have been so happy here, not just in the house but also in the area. The Yonne Valley is just a beautiful part of the French countryside and we have really enjoyed being here. As you might expect, our recent forays to IKEA means our little car will be packed tight! We keep asking ourselves why we did all this shopping now rather than wait until we traveled to Toulouse. Well, we had the time, and once we turn in our rental car, our only transportation will be the motorhome. We figured we need a little drive time before taking on shopping in a big city! Not having a Toadie Hopper is going to take some getting used to, and frankly, I think I see a couple of bikes in our future. 

After checking into our hotel in Toulouse, we will make our way to the dealer for our walkthrough. Yeah, we're going to be tired after an 8-hour drive, but since our tech only speaks French, we won't even know what he's saying. Hopefully there will be enough pointing and demonstrating that we at least get the gist of it. 

We will try to get some sleep Friday night, but we're pretty excited. Saturday morning we will unload all our stuff into Bijou, finalize anything that needs finalizing, return our rental car, taxi back to the dealership, then off we go! Eeeeee!

We spent a ton of time looking for a place to go and settle in with Bijou for a while and get ourselves unpacked and sorted. We looked at a few apps and resources people use to find camping spots, of which France has thousands. But honestly, we had a hard time finding one that seemed suitable. The Wallydockers in us thought the IKEA parking lot in Toulouse looked pretty good, but we don't even know if that's allowed! And really, we need a place where services are readily available and where we can stay for more than one night. We don't want to have to pack up and move every day, at least not at first. 

Finally, in a slight panic, I threw myself at Shani's mercy. Please, I begged, find us a campsite! And she did! If all goes well, by Saturday afternoon we'll be parked up in the foothills of the Pyrenees in full sun and temps in the mid-60s. With lots and lots of wine. That is the moment we have been dreaming about since we decided to move to Europe over a year ago. Doesn't it sound lovely?

UP NEXT: Moving Day, with photos :)

Sunday, March 17, 2019

France in a Roundabout Way

I've been to France a few times in my life, but never for a long period of time. Usually we arrive and check into a hotel or Airbnb and settle in for a few days. The little market on the corner becomes our daily stop to grab snacks and drinks, the boulangerie around the corner is our favorite stop for bread and pastries and the busy café at the intersection is a great place to people watch and share of bottle of wine. 

That's all well and good for a vacation, but moving here is a whole other story! Once we arrived at our little maison, we had to figure out how things work, where to get stuff and, believe it or not, what food to buy! I have to be honest and tell you, we struggled a bit to get settled in, partly due to the language and partly due to general unfamiliarity. 

Get your priorities right

It took a bit of time for me to get used to driving a stick shift. In the first few days I wanted to take the car back and get an automatic. I dreaded going out because I just wasn't enjoying driving, it was such a chore! I am sooooo glad I stuck with it, because just these few weeks of experience will make the transition to Bijou so much easier!

Once I learned the road rules, and there are some doozies, I felt much more comfortable on the narrow roads in and between villages. For example, there is this thing called "Priority on the Right", and frankly, I don't get it. Basically, you can be whizzing down the main road through a village and suddenly the car on the little side street on your right has priority. That means you've got to slow down and let them go or risk getting plowed over! But sometimes this is not the case! How do you know? And what do you do when YOU are the car on the right and you have a car to the right of you? I know, right?? It's all there in the signs, you just have to pay attention!

That’s pretty clear, right?

There are not a lot of traffic lights out in the country where we are, instead, there are roundabouts. In equal measure, these are both helpful and annoying. They slow you down, which is part of their function and they can be difficult to get into and out of if traffic is heavy. But the great thing is if you miss your turn, you can just go around again! If you get blocked in, just keep going around until you find an opening. The worst thing you can do is take the wrong exit because it can be difficult to get turned around. Once, we got spit out onto the toll booth road and had to take a ticket and drive 19 kms before we got turned around. Seriously, do not get off that roundabout unless you know it is where you want to go! Go around as many times as necessary!

The first thing we bought from Amazon when we arrived in France was a Garmin GPS. Because France recently reduced speed limits on many roads, it was out-of-date when it arrived and Steven had to do a massive update. As we drove around the countryside, I kept noticing flashing speed signs that said "One point!" (Actually, it said "un point", but I translated that for you.) Google informed us that a driver starts out with 12 points on their license and, once all the points have been substracted, the license is suspended. For about a day I freaked out that I was well beyond a dozen and might even have some tickets coming in the post. But we finally figured out it is just a warning and that there are no cameras attached to these warnings. Whew! Helpfully, there are actually signs that let you know when you about to pass a speed camera, but we thought it indicated WiFi ahead. LOL, live and learn.

Free WiFi??

Roundabouts also used to be Priority on the Right, which meant those entering the circle had the rightaway. Yikes, can you imagine that nightmare?! They changed that, though, except at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, where there are a dozen multi-lane spokes converging on a 10-lane roundabout. It’s chaos. I don't think I will drive there. In Dublin, there is a massive roundabout near Steven's parent's house that is just a big scary free-for-all. Steven says the only right you have on the roads in Dublin is the right to die. Maybe that's why he's never driven there, although as we plan our trip there, he seems fine with me doing it. He is so brave.

French Laundry

Steven says that anything with the name "French" in the title sounds naughty, but let me assure you there is nothing naughty or fun about doing laundry in France. In our little maison we are lucky because we have a washer, but the drying is all solar. Or radiator, if there is "pas de soleil".  I am all for the idea of letting my clothes and linens flap in the wind on a sunny day, but the reality is not like those television commercials with beautiful things flowing gently in the sunny breeze. There is just a tiny little spot to hang clothes off our terrace and I have to pin the living daylights out of everything so it won't fly off into the stream. Plus, when everything is dry, it is as stiff as cardboard! And winkled! I've never used fabric softener in my life, but I guess I'm going to have to start. Kelly Murray suggested I use Tide pods, but there is no such thing here! I mean, there may be somewhere, but I haven't found them. So I bought a little plastic bag of softener but I have no idea how to use it. Where does it go in the washer? When? How much? There are instructions on the bag in 10 different languages, but not English. 

Flapping in the wind.

First world problems, I know. But it's something we think about as we prepare to move into Bijou. I loved having an on board washer and dryer in Scoopy and I am one of those people who washed all the time. I was never keen on letting it pile up. Anyway, while laundromats as we know them in the states are few and far between here, we do have some options. 

There are literally 2 washers and a dryer in the grocery store parking lot! Can you imagine this at Safeway?

We can head to the local grocery store and throw our clothes in while we go shop for groceries. Or, we can check into a campground that has a washer and, if we're lucky, maybe even a dryer! But probably a clothesline, which is fine, because we stocked up on plenty of clothespins. One way or the other, we'll git 'er done.

Mutant Chickens

I hate to keep bringing up the whole language barrier thing, but sometimes it can be such a huge deal, it just stops us in our tracks. Like that time we went shopping and Steven bought buttermilk instead of regular milk, and we didn't notice it until he put it in our coffee the next morning. Have you ever had buttermilk in your coffee? I don't recommend it. He also came home with sour cream instead of regular cream, but that was an okay mistake because we needed some of that anyway. 

Goodbye buttermilk, hello sour cream!

The first time we went to the Saturday market in a nearby village, we came home with what we thought were chicken legs. I was going to buy a whole chicken but it still had the head on it, so I passed on that and just got the legs instead. We just threw them in the freezer because we were waiting on delivery of the Instant Pot. When it finally came and we thawed the legs and got a good look at them, we realized there were only two of them and they were gigantic, like some kind of mutant chicken thunder thighs. I seasoned them and put them in the IP and when I removed the lid they looked exactly the same! I thought the IP was defective, but in fact those legs were cooked perfectly, they just never changed shape or color. And the color was super dark, like oxblood dark. This was the darkest dark meat I have ever eaten and it was fabulously tasty. Thing is, I think it might have been turkey, I honestly couldn't tell. Whatever it was I am sure it was fresh off the farm, and I don't even want to think about why turkeys and chickens in the U.S. have dark meat that is barely distinguishable from light!

Grocery games

I shared with you about our first trip to the grocery store, which was kind of pathetic, especially because we were jetlagged. Since then we have been to several other markets, but our favorite is Lidl. I went to Lidl when we were in Dublin a couple of years ago, but I wasn't in charge of cooking then, so I didn't really take it all in. If you live or travel on the east coast in the U.S. you might have run across one. If not, the most similar would be Aldi. Lidl is the Trader Joe's of Europe and RVers love it just the same. The wine, though, is much better than Two Buck Chuck, but maybe that's just because we are in France. 

Lidl is the first store that actually made sense to me. It's small, so I don't wander around lost with my eyes glazed over and it has pretty much everything we need. That said, there are still some quirks that I've had to learn. Buying fresh bread, for example. It is behind glass with this knob thingy sticking out and I could not for the life of me figure out how to get at it. I slyly watched an elderly gentleman retrieve his and that's when I learned it's a bit like those machines with the claw where you try to grab a stuffed animal. You have to grab ahold of that knob and maneuver a long shovel over to the loaf you want, then scoop it up in the little shovel and with a firm jerk and toss it sideways into the chute. Voila, out comes your bread! I mean, it seems easy enough once you learn what you're supposed to be doing, but you can imagine the attention you draw when you haven't a clue and you're just sort of pulling and pushing on the knob, trying to lift the fixed glass door and generally just banging around all for a measly loaf of raisin bread.

You have to rent your cart with a coin. You get it back when you return and reattach the cart to its neighbor like this.

Another thing that has been a challenge is bagging groceries. First, you have to remember to take all of your own bags, which we forgot a few times and therefore have bought enough for a small country. Now we don't forget. We had our own in the states, in fact, I brought SIX Trader Joe's bags with me, so I don't know why this was so hard for us. Brain fog, I guess. Second, you have to bag your own stuff. Again, this is not a new concept to us, however, one thing we have not encountered before is the rapid fire cashier and the expectation of the crowd that you will have your stuff bagged by the time payment is requested. As soon as she hands you your receipt, she starts slinging the next guys groceries down the counter and he expects to be there bagging his own stuff. He does not want to wait for you to try to get everything to fit just right. 

admit I aspire to the bagging genius of the TJs cashiers, but that's never going to happen. Each trip to the store we make a plan. Steven loads everything onto the conveyor in a certain order, like all frozen and refrigerated stuff together, while I race to the end of the chute and get my bags open and ready. My goal is to try and get things into the proper bags, but the bags usually collapse and I have to start from scratch, only now I'm under pressure. After I neatly place the first two or three items, I realize there are 20 more just rolling around on the conveyor belt and Steven is signing the credit card slip. So I end up just throwing everything into the bags in a completely insane manner. I might be a tad OCD about this stuff, but mostly I find it to be a challenge. 

Update! There’s been progress made on the bagging front! Today I went to Lidl's by myself as Steven spent the day in Paris and I discovered a little trick. There is a hook on the cart that I can hang my bag on and it will stay open! Holy cow, genius! But, there is only one hook and we usually have two or three bags. So it's still GAME ON!

UP NEXT: Who knows?!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

About the Hymer B 544 SL

My Instant Pot arrived and the first thing I noticed is that is looks bigger and feels heavier than my U.S. version. The information on Amazon does not support that, so maybe it's just that I am adapting to the concept of living in a smaller space. I'm actually not sure where my IP is going to fit in Bijou!

My friend Connie said on Facebook, "there's always the bed", which made me chuckle, and then realized I haven't shared with you the details of Bijou's floorplan and why it was our first and only choice for our new digs.

Bijou is 6.6 meters long and just under 3 meters tall. I think the TV satellite makes her over 3 meters, we will need to measure to be sure. She is 2.35 meters wide. In U.S. terms, that's 21.7 feet long, 9.5 feet tall, and 7.7 feet wide. That's it. No slides. She would make the perfect little chipper van should we ever decide to open a food truck. :)

There is a driver's side door, but the main entrance door is at the rear on the passenger side. This means both the kitchen and bathroom are at the rear of the rig and all the living space is forward. This is one of the things we loved about this floorplan, we can enter at the back, put down our stuff, hang up our coats, take off our shoes and then enter the living area. 

Our sales guy Gautier, holding up the Déjà Vendu sign (Already Sold).

Here is the entry, mud room, kitchen, wardrobe and, to the far right, the bathroom door. So compact!

As I mentioned before, many motorhomes in Europe with mid-entry doors (like, 99% of them) have a living area consisting of a small L-shaped seating area with a big table, some with a side bench by the entry. Obviously many people find this arrangement appealing, because it is the most popular and available plan. But I am not a fan, and the reason is because I like to sit with my legs stretched out or lay on a sofa and relax. There is actually a photo taken on our very first night in Scoopy back in 2013 with me on the sofa and the cutline "assuming the position" and it's true! My kids will tell you that a sofa in our house meant seating for one, me!

Checking out my new sofa in Scoopy, circa 2013.

I have been this way for as long as I can remember and the idea of the sole seating arrangement being upright at a table seemed awful to me. Perhaps we might have had a rear bedroom, but how unappealing to have to retreat to the bed to relax? 

In any case, all that is to say that a proper sofa is important to me. Steven, on the other hand, likes to have a comfy space with a table. He spends his down time processing photos and watching movies, so he likes to have a table where he can sit his computer, cameras and hard drives. 

Three adults on the sofa with plenty of seating to spare!

Enter the Hymer B 544, a European Class A with a large, IMAX windscreen, just like Scoopy, if not as tall. Sofa? Check. Comfy sitting with table? Check! Rear kitchen and bath? Check and check. But what about the bed?

According to some, this is where Hymer really excels. Others want nothing to do with it. For us, we don't know yet, but it seems like something we can deal with. During the day, the bed is raised and secured up near the ceiling and at night it's lowered to make a comfy retreat. Hymer thought it wise to include a ladder, but most toss it aside and climb up via the sofa. Before lowering the bed, the driver and passenger seats must be pushed forward. When it’s raised, you hardly notice it's there, other than the lump it makes on your head when you bash into it, as I did at the dealership. Unlike a Class C in the states, there is no step down to the cab and so we must become accustomed to the hard stop as we move to the front of the van. I don't think it will take long before muscle memory takes over on this one.

Some good points about the bed is that as it is lowered, it slides forward so that it rests more toward the front over the driver and passenger seats than the living space. I can be snuggled in bed reading while Steven is sitting below watching a movie. It's an ingenious design. Still, there is no escaping the fact that when nature calls in the middle of the night, it's not going to be convenient. No matter what, it's going to be interesting to see how well we adapt. 

As you can see in the photos, on the passenger side of the motorhome there an L-shaped sofa with a "surfboard" table. It's probably bigger than I prefer, but Steven likes it. The table is on a sliding mechanism, so it slides in all directions. It can be moved to the middle so that anyone sitting on the sofa or in the front seats can reach it with their dinner plate. It can also be moved completely to the right to make the isle down the middle a big wider. Again, an interesting design. Speaking of dinner plates, Bijou can comfortably host according to the RVers mantra: cocktails for six, dinner for four and sleeping for two! Unless the kids are visiting, then we'll cram everyone in but otherwise, things are as they should be!  

That’s the basics. Once we get moved in we’ll do a walkthrough, maybe a little video and give you the complete tour!

NEXT UP:  Finding community and campgrounds

Friday, March 8, 2019

Shopping for Bijou

Have you ever thought about all the stuff in your home? I mean every little teeny tiny item? We had to think about it when we cleared Scoopy out, and now we're thinking about it again only in reverse. It's a ton of stuff! Since we arrived in France with only the measly 50 lbs. each of luggage allowed by the airlines, we have nothing for our motorhome. We are literally starting from scratch. Whether you live in a sticks and bricks or an RV, you still have areas dedicated to sleeping, cooking, bathing, and living. Large or small, all these areas need certain kit. 

That's what we've been doing over the last few days, buying stuff for our new home. I know some of you would relish the idea of shopping for all the things and others who would hate it. I'm somewhere in between. While the idea sounds fun, the actual experience has been exhausting. It's really hard to make decisions when you're standing in the middle of the isle in an unfamiliar place. It's frustrating when you can't communicate with the salesperson without Google Translate. We've managed to order some things from Amazon, but it's not the same experience here that it is in the states. As you might expect, search results are in French, so we rely on Google for translation. The brand names are unfamiliar, and the French apparently are not that into doing reviews, because on the things we're looking to buy, there are only one or two, if we're lucky. Mostly there are no reviews at all.

We nonetheless have made good progress in this gargantuan task. Over three outings, and by outings I mean all day shopping trips, we have managed to buy a good portion of the household items we think we need to make our travels enjoyable. We made one trip to Carrefour, which Steven calls Fredmart because it reminds him of a cross between Fred Meyer and Walmart. It's basically a Walmart superstore anchoring a mall. Just like Walmart there are some newer, more modern stores that are great for shopping and then there are older ones that are kind of eww. Still, we got a lot of household items there, so our trip was a success.  

Shopping at Carrefour is fun until it’s not. It can be a little overwhelming and the quality of household items is meh.

The next two outings were to IKEA. Certainly we are aware of this store, but it is not one we have shopped at often. The one in Seattle was so far from our home, we went there just a couple of times in the 14 years we lived there. We were already on the road when Steven made his beautiful photo of the Superstition Mountains in Arizona which was subsequently picked up by IKEA and offered in stores worldwide. Even then we didn't make it to a store until we arrived in France and purchased Bijou. 

According to our receipts, we have purchased 59 items at Carrefour and 122 items from IKEA. The largest is a duvet, the smallest is a teeny spoon. The cutest thing we bought is a Socktopus, from which we will hang small things for drying in the wind. Laundry is a whole other topic which I will tell you about in a future post. Suffice it to say, we like the Socktopus. And did you know it takes the same amount of time to remove all the sticky labels from each and every one of your items as it does to shop for it? Truth. After Steven brought all the items into our unpacking room, I poured myself a glass of wine and sat in the floor and began removing packaging and peeling off all the labels. What a chore! 

The Socktopus made the two hour-long trip and three-hour long shopping spree worth it for Steven.

Now the washing begins. We have lots of new kitchen stuff that needs to be clean when we move in, and there is a bunch of it. Even though our new kitchen is tiny, we still need all the kit necessary to cook the foods we enjoy. We wouldn't last long in this journey if we ate out all the time, so cooking at home is a requirement. Plus, we enjoy it, so we like to have all the kitchen tools and accessories to help us make great meals. I ordered an Instant Pot from Amazon France but it got lost in the French post, they think. In the end, my order was cancelled and they said the item is no longer available. I ordered again, this time from Amazon Germany, and I am expecting delivery March 12. Everybody, please, keep your fingers crossed. I need my Insty Pot!

All our new IKEA stuff stacked up in the wash pile.

We bought sheets, which was baffling because top sheets are not really a thing here. I mean, you can buy them, but we didn't find a single set of sheets where both the top and bottom came together. In IKEA, that meant hunting around in different isles and trying to make sure you got matching sheets. We managed to buy an unmatched pair, which we only just discovered today. We thought we bought pillowcases but we instead bought cases for those giant square pillows. Oh, well. One of these days we'll make another trip to IKEA, but since it's over an hour away, it won't be any time soon. Oh, guess what? Today I discovered there is a Costco a half an hour further north from IKEA! I am dying to go look but, for my own sanity, I will refrain. Sad. Maybe I'll go another time when Bijou is fully kitted out and I won't be in that "oh, we need that!" frame of mind. 

IKEA dictated our color scheme. Teal and chocolate, just like in Scoopy, LOL!

Every time we return from a shopping trip, I sit down and compare our list with actual purchases. Then I revisit the online lists that I am using as a guide and begin making a new list. Why is this thing not getting any shorter?? We have to be done, though, because in order to move into Bijou we will need to pack up our car with all our stuff and drive for eight hours to Toulouse. Is this sounding familiar, like we just did this a few weeks ago in Toadie Hopper?!

Who’s ready for another car trip?!

We are ready to move in and relax. :)

NEXT UP: More about Bijou, probably.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Hymer Maneuver

Now down to only three motorhomes that fit our desired criteria, we had a plan when we left our meeting with Phill. He was going to call that dealer down the street to see if perhaps all could be forgiven (spoiler alert - nope!) and, in the meantime, we were going to visit a couple of big dealers to see if we could find a different model and floorplan that might work. In other words, prepare ourselves for compromise.

We returned to our little house feeling kinda depressed. The next morning over coffee, I told Steven that I didn't want to go look at any other motorhomes. Until we had ruled out all possibilities, I didn't want to change course. So we took a closer look at our three options, all of them hours away from our location. 

Merde!  One of the ads for a Hymer B 544 was gone! No longer available! So we zero'd in on the one in Toulouse, which is an eight hour drive south from Saint Julien, 16 hours round trip. That's like flying from Paris to Atlanta and back again! We nonetheless decided to go for it. Phill called the dealer and got all the details and was told the motorhome was in great shape and ready for us to see.

Since we are still waking up super early in the mornings, we thought we'd just hit the road around 4:00 a.m. But that would have us arriving at the dealer at noon, just as they were closing for their two-hour lunch. This lunch thing is common and most businesses do it. On the one hand it is so wonderfully civilized, but on the other, it requires some forward planning on our part that we're not yet accustomed to. (You can't make a midnight ice cream run either, as there are no 24-hour grocery stores around here. Again, forward planning.)

We left at 6:00 a.m. instead and rolled up to the dealership at 2:00 p.m. on the nose. We were once again exhausted, hungry and kind of grumpy. Gautier, our sales rep, walked us to the motorhome in the nether reaches of the lot, unlocked it and we stepped in. Of course we were both hoping to relive the immediate excitement we felt a few days earlier when we spent all of 90 seconds in the first motorhome we visited, but we didn't. We were both completely underwhelmed. 

Steven whipped out his phone, as did Gautier, and via Google Translate we asked for some time alone so that we could really look around. He agreed and left us on our own. I would love to tell you that this little rig was perfect and that we fell in love with it, but that just didn't happen. The main reason is because it was filthy. If you've ever been in Scoopy, you know we're pretty diligent housekeepers, but it was clear this little rig was not given the same level of attention. I'm sure a lot of rigs are like this when they are traded in, but it was obvious that the dealer had put this one up for sale before it was detailed. We will spare you the photos and details, but suffice it to say that it was so gross we didn't want to touch anything. It made us wonder, what else was not taken care of?

We nonetheless spent two and a half hours poking around (wishing for some gloves!), taking photos, checking out the storage underneath. Gautier checked in on us occasionally. We finally decided it was time to go check into our hotel and have some wine, so we thanked him and said we'd be back the following morning. Non, he said. Fermé!  Wait, what? WTF do you mean, fermé?? Closed in the morning for inventory, then there was the two-hour lunch. Once again, dumbstruck. 

But then Gautier spoke up and said if we were there by 9:00 a.m., he would let us in the gate. Whew! Further, he said he'd move the motorhome to just inside the front gate and we could take it for a test drive. I have to admit the thought of a test drive was horrifying to me, we were in a super busy industrial area with skinny roads, so we said we'd wait and see how things went before taking that step. 

Steven’s face at the end of day one says it all.

When we arrived the next morning, there she sat, right by the gate. Gautier fired her up and was ready for us to take off, but we again explained that a test drive was premature. He reversed her out of the way. Steven requested a ladder and he was brought one of those giant step thingies you see in the isles of Costco. So with the dealership closed and everyone else running around taking inventory, no attention was paid to us as we continued to poke around. We talked with Phill on the phone and got his input and advice. We studied our inspection lists and checked items off one by one. We had brought drinks, snacks and lunch. We kind of felt like squatters, lol.  

Around noon I went inside to find the bathroom and the sales team were busily setting up a lunch table. They were bringing in loads of baguettes and wine, and I thought to myself, this two-hour lunch thing is looking better and better. Gautier offered wine, I accepted and carried two plastic cups back into the Hymer. There we sat with our sandwiches and adult beverages. It was a little surreal.

Much like bacon, wine makes everything better :)

Phill had suggested that over lunch we make a detailed list of the items we would want addressed should we decide to make an offer. As we did that, we realized that much of it had to do with cleaning, serious deep cleaning. There really wasn't a long list of things that we had found wrong, per se. Around this time I had stepped outside and Gautier arrived with a guy who spoke English. Turns out he was the director of sales over many locations of this dealership. I think he was there for the inventory party. This turned out to work in our favor, not only because we could actually have a discussion with him, but because he was rightly horrified at the state of the motorhome. (lol, I insisted he take a look at the shower.)

In total, we spent 8.5 hours inside the Hymer. We knew we had to look past the housekeeping to get any real sense of whether or not this motorhome appealed to us and once we did that, we actually found a lot to like. We were surprised at the upgrades that were not included in the listing, things we were expecting to have to do ourselves, and by "do ourselves" I mean pay a professional. For example, solar, AGM batteries, a bike rack. Also, this motorhome is the premium version of the B 544, so it has beautiful silver paint outside, leather seating and spiffy appointments inside. It has an Al-ko chassis with a double floor. This not only provides better insulation, but also creates more storage since fresh and grey water tanks are located between the floors rather than inside the van. All maintenance records are available at the dealer because they sold it to the original owner as well as to the “bad housekeepers”. It's a 2008 model and 6 1/2 meters long. And best of all, it's a Hymer B 544. We decided to go for a test drive. 

Mon Dieu! It’s so big for such itty bitty roads and so many scary roundabouts and crazy French drivers! But the engine is very purr-y and the gear shifting was nice and smooth, better than our rental car, in fact. We survived numerous close encounters, at least they felt that way to us, and made it safely back to the dealer. Now, we had a decision to make. 

Test driving in Toulouse traffic.

Despite dodging the traffic and curbs, Linda briefly takes her eyes of the road and manages a smile.

We decided to make an offer. We both immediately felt good about our decision. I found Gautier and told him we were ready to talk. Perhaps he and Mr. Director could come out and join us in the motorhome, after lunch, of course? He agreed. 

Getting down to business.

We had one more conversation with Phill, and when they arrived, we all sat around the table where negotiations began in earnest. Two hours later, we had a deal! 

Her name is Bijou. 

NEXT UP: All about Bijou!

Saturday, March 2, 2019

It Takes a Village to Find a Motorhome

We are well into our second week in France and though at first everything seemed a little daunting, we have started to adjust to our surroundings and the French lifestyle. Our little house has become our happy place and we are glad to return to it after a day out.  

The sunny entrance into our petite maison.

This is the view from the little terrace where we enjoy local wine and cheese.

The light and the view makes this a very relaxing place to be.

The extra bedroom has become an unpacking room for us.

Our kitchen.

From our master bedroom, the kitchen is to the right and unpacking room to the left.

Our sunny bedroom.

You might wonder why we chose such a sleepy little village for our home base as we search high and low for the perfect motorhome for our European travels. Saint Julien du Sault isn't the most convenient place to be, all things considered. 

We came here because we are working with a company called Euro Camping Cars which is located a few kilometers from Saint Julien in the town of Veron. Phill and his wife Hannah own this motorhome rental company and they also assist expats who are looking to buy and tour around, much like we plan to do. They are originally from the U.K., so English is their first language. 

As a foreigner, it's not easy to buy a motorhome in France. Even if you can meet all the requirements, there is still plenty of paperwork to contend with. Having someone on your team that understands the process and speaks the language is priceless. We have been in touch with Phill and Hannah for months now and they have guided us in our efforts. That is the one and only reason we are in Saint Julien. That it turned out to be an awesome place we are really enjoying was just a stroke of luck. 

The road to the patisserrie in Saint Julien du Sault.

Hey, that’s our street. You’d be hard pressed to get a motorhome down there!

At the Sunday market in Saint Julien.

So much cheese, so little time!

Love this pano fail. Steven appears to have lost about a 100lbs while photographing the local church.

We've spent the past year looking at motorhomes online, trying to get of sense of which manufacturers have a good reputation and offer a quality product. We tried to understand the floorplans and how the living arrangement could work for us. As you might imagine, sitting in Scoopy and looking at the teeny tiny motorhomes was a jolt to the system. We knew we'd be downsizing, but it was difficult to imagine just how much. For some reason I cannot begin to fathom, European manufacturers consider the "living area" to be some bench seating and a gigantic table. I can't think of anything more uncomfortable! Who wants to sit ramrod straight all the time? And don't even start me on the kitchen area. Yes, I know I absolutely sound like a spoiled American, because I am one. I can adjust, but we have to start with something I can work with, right??

Once we got to know the manufacturers, we settled on the Hymer brand. More specifically, a Hymer B 544. (More on why that particular model later.) We found one in the U.K. and were first in line to buy it. We really liked it and would have bought it if not for Brexit. We kept waiting for the British government to sort things out, but they didn't, and the owners rightly needed us to commit or move on. We felt we couldn't take the risk of potentially having issues with insurance or registration, or with our travels in general in what would soon become a non-EU motorhome. So we let it go and went back to square one. 

That's when we made the decision to work with Phill and Hannah and refocused our search in France. The best place to search is the French version of Ebay, called Leboncoin. We also looked on websites of the Hymer dealers in France. Language was an obvious barrier and also the fact that the sales people did not seem to ever check their emails. 

We nonetheless kept up our online search and over time we were able to narrow down our criteria and get a sense of availability. We had decided not to purchase sight unseen, but to wait until we were in France and would be able to see the motorhome in person. We had no idea what would still be on the market when we got here. 

Turns out, in our budget range, there were precisely four Hymer B 544 motorhomes for sale in all of France. One of them happened to be at a dealer just 11 miles from Saint Julien! We couldn't believe our luck! The second day after we arrived we hopped into our car and drove over to take a look. We walked onto the lot at noon and out came the salesperson. We assumed he was there to assist us, however, we soon learned he came out to tell us the dealership was closing for lunch and could we come back at 2 p.m., s'il vous plait? 

We were dumbstruck (and jetlagged), but we pleaded for two minutes just to peak inside. And guess what? We LOVED it! But as much as we wanted to come back and see it again after 2:00, we just didn't have the energy. We decided to go back after we had met with Phill and Hannah on Monday and then spent the rest of the weekend toasting our good fortune to have found our motorhome so easily. Can you believe our luck? Can it really be this easy?

As it turns out, no. No it can't. 

When we met with Phill on Monday and told him of our find, he stopped us and told us point blank, he cannot work with that dealership. Turns out that years ago there was a perceived slight on the part of the dealer and they have not spoken since. Again, we were dumbstruck. (I am seeing a pattern developing here . . . .) 

Phill suggested we read the online reviews of the dealership and they were quite informative. They had a 3.5 rating, which for a motorhome dealer is pretty good. However, some of the favorable reviews were written by the actual owner, his sales manager and local guides!! Reviews from actual buyers were mostly terrible. It was in these reviews that I learned a new French word that is now my favorite and one that I use as often as possible: CATASTROPHIQUE!!

And then there were three.