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

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Reflections and Observations About England

By Claire and Chuck
Our expectation about England and all the rest of it was that now things would be easier. We have a common language, after all and we had been traveling for 9 months. I guess expectations are meant to be dashed. Yes, this "strange" dialect of English and how they use it has been a challenge.

Here are just a few we’ve encountered along the way:

Vanilla pod ice cream—when we asked, they shrugged their shoulders. You either know what it is or you don't.
Weak bridge—we saw this sign twice—we think it means narrow; but maybe it is simply not to be trusted with a heavy weight
Hidden dips ahead—never saw them (Could these be Gary Larson's bumpkins, cowering in the bushes?)
Bottle bank—recycle place?
Orbital Road—ring road, perhaps?
New road layout ahead—when does it become old?
Gobsmacked—astonished, astounded
Dog’s Trust (seen on the side of a truck)
Bob’s Your Uncle—and there you have it
The year dot
Tour—meaning to walk somewhere rather than being led by a guide
No worries
Slip road—exit road
I'm not too keen on that—I loathe and despise it with every fiber of my being

For further information try: English (British) - American Dictionary


What are naked lights?

What's a gully and why does it need cleaning?


Navigating and Driving
There seems to be no rhyme nor reason for which side of the street you walk on. In London there were signs on the escalators telling you to stand on the right. On the sidewalks, people are all over the place. Even inside buildings where a sign will say “please stay on the left,” people generally ignore it. I get the feeling that with all the rules we’ve observed, people enjoy breaking them. We have encountered more impatient drivers here and have been honked at fairly often—flipped off, fists shaking, that sort of thing. We're never quite sure what we've done. But, driving has become so normal on the left, we're a little worried about the transition back to the right.

We are certain there are people who are difficult to understand in America. It’s the same here. Sometimes it seems impossible to understand a word. It was less embarrassing when it was a European country and we didn’t speak the language.

It was interesting figuring out how their electric plugs work. It took me awhile to realize you often have to turn on the switch to make them work.

On the whole, the electric power we received at all the British campsites was much higher than in Europe. We were able to run our beloved electric tea kettle inside Homer and Claire's hairdryer (but not at the same time). In Europe, Chuck had to take the kettle to the campground kitchen and Claire dried her hair in the bathroom. We found it odd that British bathrooms do not have electric plugs available, ever, except for shavers.

I know we mentioned the shopping carts in Europe. They do the same thing in most of England: you put in a £1 coin which allows you to unlock the shopping cart. When you return it and lock in the chain, the coin pops out. This is brilliant and keeps the carts in the supermarket lot rather than abandoned in the neighborhoods.

We've seen lots of Mini Coopers, Rovers, Jaguars, Ferraris, and Fords. However, we have never seen a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla like the ones at home. In fact, Denise in Wales had a Honda Civic only a couple of years newer than mine and it was a model I've never seen before.

England is a nation of walkers. There are footpaths (aka public rights of way) everywhere--we even see signs for them as we drive down their secondary (and lower) roads. There are over 140,000 miles of footpaths in England & Wales. I presume this network of trails is largely a traditional holdover from the early years of walking as transportation. Legally, a public right of way is part of the Queen's highway and subject to the same protection in law as other highways, including trunk roads. "In legal theory most paths become rights of way because the owner 'dedicates' them to public use. In fact very few paths have been formally dedicated, but the law assumes that if the public uses a path without interference for some period of time - set by statute at 20 years - then the owner had intended to dedicate it as a right of way.

A public path that has been unused for 20 years does not cease to be public (except possibly in Scotland). The legal maxim is 'once a highway, always a highway'.

Paths can also be created by agreement between local authorities and owners or by compulsory order, subject, in the case of objection, to confirmation by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, or the National Assembly for Wales."

Kissing gate

This is called a stile

Stick with beer.

These are from Wales and called Welsh Cakes—interesting and tasty. They come in a plastic bag ready to eat. They look like pancakes to us.

Couldn’t be nicer. They are always smiling and helpful.

Free, clean, plentiful and stocked with toilet paper.

England has nice, clean campgrounds. They are very organized and you can always count on the bathrooms being well equipped. In fact, most of the bathrooms are identical—it's a bit like going into McDonalds--you know exactly what you will get. The two camping clubs (CC, CCC) are the only way to go. We especially liked the fact that even the urban sites are in a country-like setting with lots of trees and greenery. Bus service is always close by or sometimes a bike path takes you into the city right out of the campground.

London campground

This is a fairly common activity. This was a sneak picture looking through one of Homer's windows.

We saw this kind of sky more often than not. What can we say? It rains here, a lot.

We spent a total of 43 days in England. We rarely notice the accents anymore but they sure know where we come from!

England and America, two countries, divided by a common language. ~ George Bernard Shaw