Monday, September 20, 2010

California Dreaming—Re-entry

By Claire

We’re home!

Our first few days were sheer madness. Both of us were waking early, around 4:30 am, but that turned out to be the best time to get cracking on unpacking and get organized. I have to admit, I was completely unprepared (stupidly) for the enormity of getting back to our lives.

In the meantime, I’ve been paying attention to my reactions to things and checking out what America is like, compared to Europe and the UK. There are definitely differences.

Cell phone usage has completely taken over people’s lives in the U.S. We really didn’t see them used to the extent they are here. And then there is the loud voice in which most Americans speak on their phones—aggravating—which leads to the issue of noise itself. I’m finding myself unable to hear most people when I’m inside a public building because of the cacaphony of sound surrounding us. PA systems, loud speaking voices, crowds of people—I’m not sure what it’s all about but I’m really noticing it.

The prices seem to be really high. Am I crazy or what? And this is in dollars, so it should seem less expensive. I’m reeling from the cost of living in California. Groceries, in particular, seem to have skyrocketed. Costco here we come. We spent $331 there on our first outing to restock our fridge and shelves. Wow.

I do feel a little dazed and confused—almost like I have just arrived in a new country. I’m having trouble understanding how things work and the money just looks strange. While this is all going on, I mourn for Europe and yet am thrilled to be home. I have yet to really appreciate having my own shower. I thought it would be a hugely big deal. I guess I got so used to using showers in campgrounds, which were quite nice most of the time, that having my own just isn’t as important as I thought it would be.

So, a big part of me is emotionally still away from home while another part of me is embracing everything here—mostly my wonderful friends. I wonder if I’ll ever get over our experience?

We spent a day in San Francisco. It was as beautiful as ever and we had gorgeous weather. Weather is something I’ve really come to appreciate here in California.

I went grocery shopping at Safeway. Are those checkers on crack? The woman was hitting those number keys and hurling the food to be bagged so fast I couldn’t keep up. Looking at the debit card reader at the checkout, I started to say, “uh, where do I punch in my phone number to show I’m a club member….?” She interrupted with, “YOU ALREADY MISSED THAT SCREEN. YOU’LL HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL I’M DONE WITH THIS!” as she continued to madly pound in the prices. I walked out stunned and exhausted.

The weather in Davis has been incredible. Blue sky, tiny perfect breeze, warm temps—just my kind of day. I’m finally finding time to sit on our back porch and read, one of my favorite activities. Meanwhile, things are mostly organized now and the things that aren’t? Well, it will happen when it happens. I’m finding myself far less stressed about where the zip lock bags are than I thought I’d be.

There is still a sense of unreality but mostly, we’re in the here and now. Chuck barbecued the other night for the first time. It was funny—he asked me where the long lighter was and I panicked trying to think where I had seen them in which box when I realized, wait, we don’t need a lighter to start the gas grill! It’s an automatic starter. We were both thinking of the gas stove in Homer.

We had grilled portabella mushrooms, eggplant and potatoes. I know, I know…there is nothing green on this plate…or any other color for that matter. It sure was good.

Our granddaughters came for a visit and when we were coming back from feeding the ducks at the Arboretum I noticed once again how beautiful it is here; I am enjoying taking in our familiar scenery, ever changing, never boring.

Interesting tree limb. Does it work out?

Sarah and Megan at the Arboretum

Megan trying out her Egyptian headdress

We’ve had dinner with friends, lunch here and there and we’re slowly reconnecting with everyone. That part is very nice. Thanks to the magic of email, I feel like we can just start up where we left off. It’s not like we weren’t in touch during our year away.

We’re definitely getting back into the swing of things here in Davis and went to the Wednesday night Farmers Market and Picnic-in-the-Park.

I guess we have just as many rules here as they have in the UK.

Mostly, I’m here and enjoying life back in California. But, my heart will always long for Europe. We’re already talking about taking a vacation from our lives here—it’s way more stressful than travel—and spending a month in the parts of France we missed. We’ll see.

By Chuck

Things I Appreciate About Being Home
I can do laundry and dry it, whenever I want; it is curious, but almost all of Europe does without clothes dryers. I believe this is due largely to the cost of both equipment and electricity. This was even true in England and Ireland, where clothes would be left out through successive periodic showers, apparently in the knowledge that sooner or later the sun and wind would be around long enough to dry your clothes.

I have access to Wifi at home 24/7; in some areas, such as Turkey and Egypt we had free or inexpensive Internet access; in other areas, such as England and Ireland, it was either unavailable or costly. We also used dongles to provide Internet access in parts of continental Europe—beginning in Vienna—and bought another for use in England and the British Isles. In addition, we finally broke down and got a pay as you go phone in England because, due to it being their high tourist season, we had to book our camping spots in advance or risk not getting a place.

I can easily walk to most stores to fill my shopping needs; if not, I can usually ride my bike. I have medical access within a short period of time to a doctor I know and trust—and I can communicate online.

I get to set my own schedule each day and I have time to get together with friends who live out of town. I am in no rush to take on new long term commitments. I don’t know how many times I have heard retired friends say, “I am so busy; I don’t know how I ever had time to work.”

I have far less resistance to watching a DVD movie or TV show in the middle of the day, now that there is more discretionary time in my day. “What do you think about watching an episode of Mad Men?” (at 3pm in the afternoon) is likely to get the response, “Yes, but you know we won’t watch only one.”

The Sacramento Causeway is beautiful—this is unexpected at this time of year. It is very green with courses of water weaving through the rushes. I had expected to find everything dry, brown and hot at the end of a Central Valley summer. Instead, it has been relatively green and mild—a relief to me, a San Francisco native and long-time resident. We drove out there, to the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, to see it close up.

Clear skies with only wispy clouds floating around are a delightful change from the wet environment and hulking clouds of the British Isles. But I do miss the dramatic views. I was dumbfounded when it rained in Davis the other day. This is summer, after all!

Patience. This has always been a killer issue for me: I am neither patient with myself nor with others; this sometimes becomes especially clear when interacting with Claire. We even put a clause in our wedding vows on this topic. I have vowed to be more patient and kinder with others and with myself—to be more curious, asking questions and reflecting more; to allow myself time to answer questions that arise (or to even fail to answer.) I will even try to draw pictures to help my understanding. These days, while I am reading, I become less frustrated with myself for not understanding. It is OK to plan to skim first and then return to read with some seriousness. Hopefully, I will have the grace to let it go when repeated efforts still fail to produce understanding. I plan to begin working my way through my personal library, accepting that the osmosis theory of information acquisition does not really work—you have to get it off the shelf and into your hands to get the benefit.

I notice that, with the passage of time, I am able to sleep in more—Is this a plus or a minus? My first week back, my meditation practice went smoothly, with few annoying distractions; but, then I noticed that I became progressively more distracted during meditation. But now, three weeks into the return, my sitting meditations are more stable and there is less distracting mind chatter. I am pleased to note that I had no difficulty re-establishing a daily practice after a year of having no regular routine.

I have given myself permission to take time in getting my portion of the house resettled; normally, I would drive myself crazy with the idea that I simply had to do it as quickly as possible, while whining that I didn’t want to take time to do that when I could certainly find more enjoyable ways of spending my days. Nonetheless, I am astounded to discover how much there is to do to get settled back home.

I find that I walk a little more slowly and take in more of my surroundings than before—my version of taking the time to smell the roses. Walking down to the Wednesday afternoon and early evening Picnic-in-the-Park in Davis’ Central Park, I notice the lovely trees, the mild weather and the enthusiastic murmur of the crowd. But, that is not inconsistent with failing to pay attention to what is going on around me, often, and missing what is going on.

We knew we wanted cell phones, as we are retired and will not be sitting in an office next to a landline; as we go about our separate days, it will be nice to be able to keep in touch: “Did you remember that we are out of plain yogurt?” And, “I won’t be home for dinner until 6:30…” We splurged and got iPhones! They are pricey, but we thought that the appropriate plans were all comparably priced, not that steep, and they are VERY cool.

I downloaded a free app to be able to read my Kindle books. I belong to a monthly reading group. I am a visual person and I normally like to have the reading in front of me as we discuss it, turning to the page under discussion to read along and making marginal notations as ideas strike me. I decided to boldly strike out and try to change that pattern. Next month, I will have covered the assigned material through a combination of Kindle and iPhone reading, making any notations in a separate journal. Instead of turning to the page under discussion—very awkward to do in timely fashion in an eBook or on an iPhone—I will try listening (what a concept!) more carefully. I am curious to see how it all turns out.

Claire had been talking of wanting a new bed since before our trip. She says that you need a new one at least every ten years. I was reconciled to this move although I was still finding the current bed just fine—a combination of being a cheapskate, living on a fixed income and a desire to spend money on frills (e.g. technology) and not essentials (e.g., bed). However, a few days after returning to Davis, Claire was out with our friend, Carol, for lunch. On her way back, she walked past a mattress and bed store and decided to check it out. Thirty minutes later I received a phone call asking me to join them in considering the options; an hour later, we were walking home with pricey Tempur-Pedic pillows under our arms and the receipt for purchase of a new medium firmness memory foam mattress in our pocket. Since delivery was scheduled for two days away, next day we rushed off to Ikea to consider affordable bed frame options.

After much discussion we settled on a birch veneer queen size frame. We were so glad we thought to ask to borrow Carol’s truck for the expedition—we would never have fitted the boxes for the bed frame parts and the two end tables into either of our cars. A full day later, we had finally assembled all the parts and were ready for the mattress to be delivered.

Claire had to argue with the delivery crew to get them to take away our old box springs and mattress—whatever happened to Service Nation? Yet, the store salesperson had informed us this would be “No problem.” Well, we still aren’t sleeping through the night, but that is not the fault of the bed; we are still adjusting to the new rhythms of life as retired folk back from a year abroad. Thank goodness there are normally no pressing activities that absolutely require that we get a full night’s sleep.

U.S. Culture
In the U.S. there is much less concern regarding the amount of the paper currency you pay with or the amount of change you will get. In many parts of Europe they expect you to pay with the small bills—even though the ATMs (Bankomats over there) generally give mostly large denomination bills! Sometimes they expect exact change; yet, we had people help us convert piles of change into bills, helping them and us.

I had become so used to hearing only English spoken around me that I was shocked when I overheard two young women speaking Spanish in the SPCA thrift store, yesterday. I realized that I miss the Tower of Babel sense that we had throughout much of our travels, especially in England and Ireland—I kid you not.

I am happy to be back. I appreciate what I have—house, retirement, friends, health (for the most part). I would like to travel, again; but, it could be for a shorter time and in another mode: for example, we have talked about traveling in a small car with minimal luggage and staying in apartments with cooking facilities. Both the U.S. and selected portions of Europe are potential destinations. Stay tuned…

I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself. ~ Maya Angelou

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Chuck and Claire's Excellent Adventure Wrap-up

By Claire and Chuck
Our dream trip is over. It has been the experience of a lifetime and we have learned so much—about history, about ourselves and about each other. We will never be the same. There are memories burned into our brains, like coming around the corner at Abu Simbel and seeing the massive statues of Ramses II and Nefertari for the first time. There were so many connections between countries that we didn't expect and so many things to learn. One was how to live together in small quarters for an entire year. It worked surprisingly well and we still love each other! Not only that, we have so much to look forward to: a new grandson, life as retirees and even at long last, a Trader Joe's! Thank you for coming on our journey with us.

Here are some things we thought you'd like to know, including how much this trip cost.

Modes of transportation:
Rental Car

Desert tent
Wild camping

City—Istanbul (Chuck), Amsterdam (Claire)
Campground experience—Camping Finikes, Finikounda, Greece
Campground facilities—Seecamping Berghof, Ossiacher See, Austria
Campground—most beautiful—Camping Grubhof, St. Martin bei Lofer, Austria
Site—Cappadocia (Claire), Versailles (Chuck)
Meal—Our Greek Thanksgiving, Kavala, Greece (Claire), Antipasto Misto, Osteria Alla Botte, Venice (Chuck)
Day—De Hoge Valuwe National Park, Arnhem, Netherlands
Gadget—Amazon Kindle
Moment—Sunset at 10:30 pm at John O'Groats, Scotland

Highlight by Country:
Austria—stunning scenery, friendly people
Czech Republic—Prague
Egypt—The Bedouin (Claire), Abu Simbel (Chuck)
England—Eyam, the Plague Village (Claire), London (Chuck)
France—Bayeaux (Claire), Versailles (Chuck)
Germany—Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber
Greece—Meeting great people
Hungary—Meeting the very friendly Catherine on a tram
Italy—Cappuccinos (Claire), Gelato (Chuck)
Jordan—Monastery hike (Chuck), Treasury by night (Claire)
Netherlands—De Hoge Veluwe National Park, including Kröller-Müller Museum and 60 acre sculpture garden
Northern Ireland—Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
Republic of Ireland—Kinsale (Claire), Rock of Cashel (Chuck). People we (re)connected with in Ireland: Bart & Marion; John & Helena
San Marino—Castles
Scotland—Culloden Moor
Slovakia—a drive-through, beautiful countryside
Switzerland—Scenery, waterfalls and charm
Turkey—People (and an incredible number of stunning sites. If we were to pick one country to revisit at length, it would be Turkey)
Wales—Hiking with Gino and Denise

Things we’ve learned

  1. Do not bring enough clothes for a year. A few changes, both waterproof jacket and shoes, and you’re set. A scarf and gloves will be welcome in winter or cold climes. A waterproof backpack (or covering for one) may be very useful. A large pocket or bag for carrying your guidebook and maps is recommended.

  2. Ask for help. People are almost always incredibly willing to be of assistance.

  3. Plan your driving route—don’t depend completely on a GPS, nor on the planned signage--street signs and highway directions cannot be relied upon and are often missing. Have your map ready at all times.

  4. Compare fuel prices. The autobahn prices are much higher than the secondary roads. After studying fuel prices and passing several stations, once you’ve made your decision, stopped and filled up, you will now pass a station with bargain prices. Every time.

  5. Scout out the bathrooms in the campground. You don’t want any surprises. Pay special attention to the presence of hooks and toilet paper. Ask about (and get, when necessary) tokens for showers. Take them with you!

  6. Slow down. It’s OK if people have to wait. We’ve been waiting all our lives for other people.

  7. Be patient. It will all work out in the end.

  8. Be alert while you walk. Laws and customs vary, as do street conditions: Learn to be aware of your feet and your surroundings, simultaneously, at all times. Remember that wet marble and cobblestones can be very slippery.

  9. In the UK and Ireland, in high season, we found a phone (pay as you go) to be essential for making reservations, after 9 months of managing without.

Useless Statistics
Kilometers driven—27,132 (16,821 miles)
Number of books read—Chuck, 71; Claire, 74
Number of blog posts—343
Clothing most worn out—Chuck’s black Smartwool shirt; Claire’s North Face shoes
Number of photos taken—12,764
Cost of National Trust of the UK membership—$80
Amount we would have spent visiting the National Trust sites: $351.71

Camper Costs for one year:
Camper: $26,455
Insurance: $2,045
Registration: $2,000
Repairs: $4,556.25
Buy back: +$11,520 to us
Net cost: $23,536.25

Living expenses:
Camping: $6,885.88
Eating out: $5,958.56
Groceries: $3,636.19
Attractions: $5,312.69
Fuel: $5,490.66
Other Transportation: $3,442.51
Ferries: $1,482.30
Hotels: $2,517.68
Miscellaneous: $5,308.79
Total: $40,035.26

Pre-trip expenses: $5115.08     (see What's This Trip Costing Us?

Grand Total: $68,686.59

Packed and ready to head home

I know of no sweeter sight than of one’s own country. ~ Homer

Monthly Expenses for August 2010

By Chuck and Claire

We averaged this month over 30 days since we’ll be in the air on the 31st and our trip is pretty much over. Our main attraction will be sleeping.

Camping, €705.56
Eating Out, €470.04
Groceries, €218.92
Attractions, €92.50
Fuel, €341.31
Other transportation, €69.32
Ferries, €65.00
Hotels, €69
Misc., €154.03
Grand Total €2,185.68
Daily average: €72.86
In dollars: $2,688.39

Last Days in Europe

By Claire
We arrived at Lianne and Kees' house Thursday afternoon with the plan to spend one night then head to Amsterdam to meet with René, pack up, clean up and go.

Lianne convinced us to stay with them, generously offering to drive us to Amsterdam to turn in Homer and bring us back to their house. We thought it over and decided to do it. But, it meant quickly clearing out everything inside Homer and piling it in their house, which we did. I was frankly amazed at how fast that part went. I had visions of an entire day of work, but it took about two hours.

Before and during


Once we had all our stuff out of Homer, we were able to relax, have coffee and cake, and get caught up with Kees and Lianne. We also spent time getting all our stuff organized to go into our four suitcases, two backpacks and two small duffle bags, which we would pick up the next day from René.

Their house is very large and very high--3 stories with lots of room and beautiful inside and out. We loved the very modern architecture of their village, Glanerbrug and the adjoining town, Enschede.

Kees and Lianne's house--you can see the top of their caravan.

The next morning Lianne followed us all the way to Amsterdam for our meeting with René. It went pretty much as we expected. He was unwilling to share in any of the repair costs we had incurred, claiming that that's the risk you take buying a used vehicle. I was under the impression that since this was their business, selling these campers over and over, they would check them out thoroughly and make sure everything was in good working order. No harsh words were exchanged and he will wire transfer the €9,000 we had agreed on. However, it would be impossible for us to recommend going this route. We patted Homer goodbye and that was that. We stopped for lunch on the way back, but it was nice to get back to their house so we could tackle the big job of stuffing everything into the bags. We did it!

After a fantastic dinner prepared by Lianne, we went for a walk around their village and into Germany--it's only 200 yards away. They had experienced torrential rains and there were many areas of Holland that were flooded.

Pork rolled around cheese, with potatoes and salad.

Bridge into Germany

We saw lots of deer, penned up in a huge area for their safety.

The architecture was distinctly different from Holland once we were in Germany.

Dutch houses

Saturday morning we drove into Enschede where a market was going on. We had coffee, then mostly walked around, looking at the town center. What a great place, with so much happening and so many shops and things to do.

We enjoyed these sculptures on the old theatre building

For lunch, we met up with Kees and Lianne's daughters, Inger and Karin. All three women are so beautiful!

We drove on to a small village that was having an art festival. It was fun to see the neighborhoods, the houses and the art.

This kind of work always looks hard to me

Twig woman

Driving back, we stopped to see this 17th century house. A wedding was going on that included a white horse. I was only able to catch the bride walking away.

This is a different bride, just a few yards away. I like her dress with the decorations on it. Very different from home.

We did a lot in one day but managed to make it home for a quick cup of coffee before setting out for dinner at a great restaurant Kees and Lianne picked out. We had a good time then went for a walk so they could show us the redevelopment in the city. 10 years ago, a fireworks plant exploded and burned destroying 400 homes and killing 23 people. Many people were injured. It completely wiped out a section of the city. We were able to see all the new, gorgeous homes and the beautifully laid out neighborhood plan. I could live here very easily (if only we could afford it!)

Each of these very large homes was designed individually and all the different architectural styles work together beautifully.

This is an amazing apartment building with a very retro look. I love the terraces looping out the side and the big balconies wrapping around the building.

We are eagerly looking forward to the next phase of our lives--retirement at home! We hope that with all the excitement and distractions of re-entry we will be able to note our thoughts and feelings as we transition back into our lives in the United States. We know there will be some surprises and challenges; we anticipate writing one final blog post in the near future about this experience.

The world is round and the place which may seem like the end may also be only the beginning. ~ Ivy Baker

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Eindhoven, Holland

By Claire
We arrived in France by ferry from Dover, England, yesterday morning. Everything was immediately different. Our hearts were beating fast at the idea of driving on the right. It really does take two to do the driving over here—Chuck does the maneuvering and I do the quick intake of breath and then the gasp and then the reminder “DRIVE ON THE RIGHT!” But, we made it. Who would have thought it would be an adjustment driving the way we have all our adult lives? I guess three months of driving on the left gets a hold on you.

We were out of France too soon, swiftly arriving in Belgium. We hadn’t really had a breakfast so we stopped at a rest stop only to find a restaurant with exorbitant prices—€19 for a meal at a gas station??? We moved on, finally finding the perfect place with great cappuccinos, friendly service and almost reasonable prices (€2.50 each). We grabbed a couple of rolls from the shop and made sandwiches inside Homer.

I do love being back in Europe and there is a definite difference, I just can’t put my finger on it. Susan was right on with her navigating, almost as if she was glad to be back too. In fact, she took us right to the campground. As we went through a small roundabout, there was a single clog, lying on its side—only in Holland.

As soon as we were settled—it takes about 2 minutes to set up and plug in—we called Hans and Nel whom we had met way back in September at the Paris campground. They are the ones who bought us the discount ACSI camping book and mailed it to us at our hotel in Istanbul. They also made the arrangements for us at our current campground, Camping ‘t Witven, even taking care of payment for it so they would hold a spot for us (€25.20). We agreed to meet in 30 minutes and they drove over from their home and picked us up.

Relaxing with Hans and Nel in Paris

It was wonderful seeing them again. Their home is perfect—small and compact with a wonderful kitchen and just right for two people. Hans has a large vegetable garden and Nel made a dinner from all their own fresh produce. I could kick myself for not taking a picture of the food!

Nel in the kitchen

We had a good visit, talking a lot about travel—they are very comfortable people to be with and have been all over, including Russia and Israel.

The next morning, Hans and Nel picked us up at the campground and took us on a wonderful tour of Holland. We started with Eindhoven which seems to have a space ship and a very interesting modern building.

I liked this statue of Frits Philips, founder of Philips electronics. I thought the scarf added a nice touch.

We stopped for coffee at the square where we met up with their son, David, and his wife, Anna, and their 4-1/2 month old daughter, Victoria Cornelia (for Nel). What a lovely family. We had a fun, relaxing visit in the sunshine.

Anna, Hans and Victoria

Walking back to the car, we noticed a bike parking garage. Hans suggested we go down and see it.

The escalator is flat so you can take your bike down to the underground garage.

Hans riding the escalator back up

We stopped to see a windmill on our way to lunch. We also saw a couple of stork nests, one of them occupied.

The lunch menu came only in Dutch but Hans and Nel both recommended the Krockettes as being very Dutch. They were really delicious but hard to describe.

Our next destination was Kinderdijk where the story of Pieter and the dike originated. He’s the one who put his finger in the dike to save the land from being flooded.


We were able to go inside a windmill and climb up and up the stairs to see how it worked and enjoy the views. One of the rooms had a built in wall bed, a stove, dining table and other furniture. It was certainly cozy.

We enjoyed looking at the bucolic countryside but decided we better drive on to see Gouda, home of the famous cheese. What a charming little town.

Town Hall


Lots of bikes

We toured the church for a discounted price, because it was 15 minutes to closing, then slowly strolled through the quiet streets, stopping to sample (and buy) some Dutch waffle cookies, ending up at a cheese shop (of course!).

Siroop Wafelen—very tasty with a touch of cinnamon

We like the old cheese the best (Nel bought some for us) and the green basil cheese. It was very interesting even if it is a strange color for cheese.

What a completely great day! We enjoyed every minute of it and feel like we’ve really seen another side to Holland. I love this country and can't say enough about the kindness of Hans and Nel. We were so lucky to meet them.

A good friend is better than silver and gold. ~ Dutch Proverb