Friday, March 29, 2019

Week One in the Camping Car

This is the first time I have fired up my computer in a week! We are currently parked up at a lovely campsite in Montréjeau in the south of France where we are taking our time getting properly moved into our new home. The proprietors are nice, shopping is just down the hill and the view is spectacular! It's everything we had hoped for, especially given the stress of the past, oh, I don't know, weeks? Months? 

It seems longer now, but it was just last week we packed up all our belongings and managed to stuff it into our little car. It all seemed so familiar. Early Thursday morning we said goodbye to our little maison and took off for Toulouse. We are really going to miss this place and St. Julien but, we had an appointment with Bijou at 5:00 p.m.

We are really honing our packing skills in the past few months!

We kind of dreaded the trip. Not just the trip, if I am to be completely honest, but the whole process of the walkthrough and the paperwork. It's stressful enough to do all that in English, it was overwhelming to know we would be doing it in French. Plus, we had our doubts that the dealership had actually followed through on some of the items on our agreed upon list. Both of us were pretty much a ball of nerves. Spoiler Alert: They missed a few things but nothing major, gave us cheap-o rear tires, not Michelin as we expected and they didn't clean as well as I would have liked, but you knew I was going to clean it anyway, right?

In spite of being on edge, the eight-hour drive was fairly enjoyable and we arrived at our hotel in plenty of time to have a little catnap before heading over to the dealership. We had heard tales of a secretary who spoke a little English, but he/she never materialized. So with the use of five iPhones and Google Translate, we somehow managed to sign, initial and date reams of papers. All that was left to do was the walkthrough with our tech, Remy. When we first arrived at the dealership, our sales guy said if we wanted the walkthough today, it would have to be a short one. If we wanted to wait until tomorrow, we could have the long one. Since they chose the time, we insisted on a long one today :)

Reams and reams of paperwork and a little help from Google Translate.

There she is! Doing the walkthrough at the dealership.

In addition to the few repair items agreed upon at the time of purchase, we also added a Gaslow propane system (more on this later), two additional 220v electrical plugs and a 1500 watt pure sine wave inverter. Remy was awesome because he actually enjoyed using his limited English and learning new words as we went along. He would say a word over and over and point at something until one of us got it, then we would say the word in English and Remy would smile and exclaim, "Exact!" 

Steven looks like he might be on the verge of a cardiac event.

A few minutes after closing time, 7:00 p.m., we left for our hotel relieved and happy this day was finally over. The next morning we returned to unload our stuff from the car to Bijou, then we drove to the Toulouse airport to return our rental. We managed to grab a taxi with a driver who drove so furiously that we were tossed violently from side to side. It was unbelievable. We were a tad frazzled when we returned to the dealership but we were ready to get going. Now all we had to do was secure our stuff and hit the road. It sounds easy, we thought it would be easy, but it actually took us over an hour because we kept finding things we didn't understand, or couldn't figure out (like how to put Bijou in reverse...) which prompted a few trips into the dealership and a "Excusez moi, Gautier, un moment s'il vous plait?" He must have come outside a dozen times to show us how to do stuff. 

Finally feeling a little excitement about moving our stuff into Bijou.

The taxi driver had found the traffic through Toulouse to be so hideous he suggested we go another way after he learned we would be driving in our new camping car. But I had already studied the map and was familiar with the route we had chosen so, hideous or not, we weren't deviating. The first day I drove Scoopy after we bought her we went through Sacramento. Four days later I drove through Portland and Seattle. Traffic has never been much of an issue for me, but throw in a stick shift,  a zillion crazy roundabouts and a few toll booths and things out of Toulouse got a little hairy. As we made our way to the southwest of the city, we drove on a couple of different toll roads. Each road requires that you first take a ticket, then pay the toll at another booth where the toll road ends. Each time we stopped at a toll booth, I had to put Bijou in neutral, put on the parking brake, undo my seatbelt, roll down my window, get up out of my chair and step down into the well by the door, reach out to retrieve the ticket, or put in the toll ticket and then the credit card. Before I could take off through the gate, I had to do all that in reverse! I'm sure muscle memory will someday make this routine, but right now both Steven and I are on high alert and talking through the steps each time. 

As we got further away from the city we started to relax a bit. It was a perfect warm, sunny day and traffic was light. Then we got our first view of the Pyrenees mountains and it took our breath away. Sometimes we get so involved in our daily lives we kind of forget where we are. This morning I read a new headline stating avocados are being recalled in six states and since I had just bought some, I had to think for a second to remember where I was. Oh yeah, I'm not even in the States!

We were looking forward to arriving at our campground. We had no idea what that experience would be like, but after the stress of the past couple of days, we were eager to get settled in and crack open a bottle of wine. There was just one big thing standing between us and a lovely happy hour. (Not really. There were a hundred big things, but we like to tackle them one at a time.) We had to refill our propane system. Bijou originally came with two large gas bottles that, once empty, could be exchanged for full ones. The problem is that the gas cylinders are not always compatible from one country to the next, so you could end up toting around an empty bottle from France that is useless in Spain and vice versa. You can see how this would be an undesirable system, which is why we had the Glaslow system installed. Gaslow is a refillable, twin cylinder system that, in total, holds 22 kgs.of propane. The key word there is "refillable"  With a handy set of adapters, it can be refilled throughout Europe. 

Our Gaslow propane system.

In France, we have to refill it ourselves. Here it is called GPL and can be readily found. We use a website called that offers an interactive map where you can drill down and find places that offer propane. We had found one just before the exit to our campground, so we thought we had it all figured out. Except we didn't. In a nutshell, we went to the wrong lane. Bijou's system is on the passenger side, and we went to the one on the driver's side. We were too tired to try and figure out how to move, because lanes at these toll road stations are blocked off six ways from Sunday and they don't make it easy to turn around or get repositioned. It probably is easy, it just wasn't obvious to us. We just went on and decided to tackle the GPL challenge another day. It would have to be soon, though, as the dealership put in just enough propane to test the new system and we had no idea how long that would last us. 

We arrived at our campground and got checked in. There is a discount camping program called ACSI that is much like Passport America. It has a ton of participating campgrounds throughout Europe. When you check in, they take your ACSI card and keep it until you are ready to check out. They never asked for any other I.D. (Non-ACSI campgrounds ask for passports, etc. before you can check in). And, rather than pay upfront as we do in the States, here we pay when we check out. I guess they figure you won't want to leave your ACSI card behind. 

We got set up in our site and when Steven went to retrieve the electrical cord from one of the bays the door handle fell right off in his hand. Also, we had no food, no wine, and we needed a hose so that we could put fresh water into our tank. Off we went to the nearby Carrefour, about a kilometer away, on foot, to see what we could find. Thankfully there was also a hardware store nearby, so while I shopped for food and wine, Steven went to find a water hose. Of course, walking downhill to the store is easy enough, but carrying all that stuff back up the big hill was more than we could handle. We called a taxi to drive us home. That was an expensive one-kilometer ride. Bikes would not have been helpful in this instance because the hill up to the campsite is about a 10 percent grade. And yeah, we could have driven there in Bijou, but I need a bit more experience with parking lots here before I just blindly wheel in like I own the joint. 

 Oh oh, looks like we need some duct tape.

Actual re-enactment. The load Steven is carrying is about half what we had the day we decided to take a taxi. :)

Steven had gotten a set of tools he needed to work on getting that bay door open. Without that cord, there would be no electricity. An hour and a few curse words later, we had electricity! Next, he went to hook up the water hose and fill our tank. No water flowed from the site faucet. After inquiring, we found out it had not yet been turned on for the season. But, we had a back up plan for this very circumstance! We had purchased a collapsible water container that can be filled at any (working) water source and then simply poured into Bijou’s gravity fill tank. Tedious, yes, but we didn't need much. I think in the end he put in about 30 liters, and our tank only holds 100 liters. So, not too shabby! 

After returning from the well, Steven fills the tank with water from his handy dandy collapsible container.

We had stuff scattered everywhere and while Steven was taking on his challenges, I had a few of my own, namely unpacking. It always sounds fun to unpack and go through new stuff, but really it's a big chore. As I am working away, Steven appeared at the door whispering, "Our new neighbors speak English!" He made a beeline for their campsite for a quick introduction and later, they joined us for wine and conversation. Steve and Jackie are Brits who live in Spain. They've been camping for years and years and, on this trip, they were on their way back to the U.K. for a wedding. Our little campground is one of their regular stops along the route they have taken many times before. 

And by unpacking, we mean getting our essentials in order.

Our main closet begins to take shape.

As we were yakking and laughing, we noticed a new motorhome slowly making its way down the lane. As it got closer, we all jumped up out of our chairs incredulous at what we were seeing. Squeezing down the narrow lane was a giant Fleetwood Expedition! It looked to be about the same age as Scoopy and just about as long, followed by a tow car on a trailer. The driver stopped right at our sites and unhooked his car. Once he had that off, he manually pushed his trailer into an empty site. Then he proceeded to get turned around using all the nearby empty sites for reversing (I still do not know how he managed this...) and took the site next to ours. In doing so he scraped off a few trees, tore up the trim over his rear tire, scratched the arm of his awning and ran over a row of bushes separating our campsites. It was both hilarious and horrifying to watch, but as you can imagine, it made for great evening entertainment. 

Reminded us of the good old days although we like the more compact version in Europe :)

Steve and Jackie’s cozy little pitch.

Steve and Jackie only stayed one night and we were sad to see them go. It was so wonderful to meet our very first camping friends! We hadn't realized how starved we are for conversation we can actually understand and for the company of people other than ourselves. We have promised to let them know when we are in Spain so that we can all go camping together! How fun! 

Hanging out with our new friends, Steve and Jackie.

On day two, the unpacking continued. And, out of sheer necessity, we learned how to empty the toilet cassette, affectionately known as the "Schlitterbahn". Though Steven has gamely taken on this task as his own, I came along this time for moral support and also to take photos. Oh, and I did carry a bucket of water for rinsing, because we weren't exactly sure where that water source was located. I mean, we barely found the dumpsite, because if you don't know what you are looking for, you'd never just intuitively find it. Thing is, I think there are lots of different types, so we may always be on the hunt for a dump because the Schlitterbahn must be emptied every day or two. We won't be boondocking for weeks at a time like we did in Scoopy.
Dumping the black water European style!

Day three is kind of a blur, but I know this is the day we walked nearly 2 kms. to Lidl with our big backpacks. We filled them up and walked home, which was a bit of a challenge, but we considered it training for our upcoming walk across Spain. (Yeah, that's only three weeks away!)

On day four we decided it was time to try again to fill our propane tanks. While we were at it, we thought a shopping trip was in order. Steven found a place not too far away, which happened to be right by a big shopping store and an Aldi. We again studied the map to make sure we were being sent on larger roads and not through narrow village streets. We soon learned that there really aren't any "larger" roads and unless you are on a major highway or toll road, they all go through villages. I haven't really gotten used to the length of Bijou, so getting into a teeny gas station with multiple curbs and barriers was a bit of a keystone cops event. We must have looked like idiots, but who cares, right? We had received thorough instructions from Shani and Todd about how to pump propane, and they advised Steven to wear something over his mouth to protect himself from the inevitable spew from the disconnect. Steven stepped out with his Survivor buff around his neck. Honestly, he looked more like he was about to rob the place than someone who was about to pump propane. He put his credit card in, got everything hooked up, pushed the button aaaaaand, nothing. Again and again he tried. Still nothing. Finally, after about seven or eight tries, a message appeared on the screen. "Pump Out of Order." I thought he might cry.

If you look closely, you can see how close the barriers were on the other side of Bijou. Everything here is a tight fit!

Propane bandit.

We gave up and went to the shopping center where we parked way out there, just like we used to do at Walmart. It felt oddly familiar to us and we were happy to be able to put our groceries away and not have to take a taxi home. We sat in the parking lot trying to figure out what to do about the propane. We decided to go back to the big station off the toll road, the one we tried on our first day. We figured since we had been there before, at least we know where the pump is and can hopefully get into the correct lane this time. When we got there we learned how to circle around the lanes a few times, but finally got ourselves positioned properly. Five hours from the time we left we arrived back to our campsite with a full fridge and full propane tanks. We were exhausted. 

In the remaining days of the week we've settled in, learned a few more things about our new home and continue to enjoy the most perfect weather. We've hardly had a cloud in the sky the entire time we've been here. We have had three different neighbors beside us in site 9, all of whom have been Dutch. It's interesting, because the Dutch are like the common denominator, they speak everything. They "Guten morgen!" to the Germans and "Bonjour!" to the French and "Hello! Good morning!" to us, the Irish-Americans. We are envious of their communication skills. 

Despite all our challenges, this makes it all worthwhile.

We are sleeping well, eating more than we should and enjoying the wonderful French wines. We are happy.

UP NEXT: I need to stop putting this here because IDK.

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