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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Hitting the RV Trail in Europe Part 1

Full-time RVers Steen and Karyne Fouillet Marcussen enjoy the RV lifestyle touring Europe. Steen is Danish and Karyne French and they travel with two cats and a Rottweiler named “Big-Boy”. Karyne says, “We just love this life, going from the few wild-camping beaches or lakes left today in Europe, to the camps for services.” Her English is much better than my French, and her mention of “camps for services” is her translation of what we would call an RV park with full hook-ups, laundry, etc. Their story begins with luxury living in a gorgeous 5 bedroom villa overlooking a golf course in the coastal town of Marbella in the south of Spain. He a successful businessman, she a model for european fashion-houses. “We got fed-up with the artificial way of life we lived. Almost no friends nor family surrounded us, loads of unnecessary luxury…” They decided to downsize their lifestyle and moved to France on a four acre property with a “lovely domaine” (nice home). Not satisfied in France, they moved back to Spain where they purchased their first motorhome. It was an “Elnagh” made in Italy. European motorhomes are notoriously small in comparison to US motorhomes. They have cassette toilets (the kind where the toilet bowl is shallow and folds out of the way into a container box on the wall). She says, “We blindly started the experience of a life-time: becoming fulltimers… but we didn’t know that yet… it was supposed to be an “in-between” situation, until we could find another property to invest in…” They relate that when they picked up this new motorhome form the dealer they got a one hour lesson on how everything worked (sounds familiar). As former yacht owners, they were used to the idea of living in a moving vehicle but the European RV was just too small. It wasn’t long before they traded their european made RV for an American made 29 foot Fleetwood Class “C” motorhome. “It is not the most luxurious model nor the biggest I could find, But size wise, I wanted something I could drive easily in most campsites.” Karyne describes the differences between American RVs and European RVs, “The main difficulty I had with an American RV versus a European model, was that everything was different: the toilet is a tank, not a cassette (the first time I emptied it… no, you don’t want to know! Have you seen the movie “RV”?), electrics are complicated as there is 12V, 110V, and the added 220V UK plugs as "Yankee the Beast" (their nickname for their RV) came from the States through UK for one year before ending in Spain and in Portugal with me. The LPG is also in a tank instead of a bottle (in Spain there are only around 30 petrol stations offering LPG, in Portugal there are a few more, and in France it is not a problem).”

Karyne remodeled their RV by upgrading the bedroom with luxurious bedding, lighting , curtains and window treatments.She also turned the galley into a showplace.
But how about driving on the roads in Europe? When I was stationed in Belgium I drove an ambulance on those narrow, built for carriages, cobblestone roads and it wasn’t easy. Karyne says, “Most country-lanes are Ok, but it is another matter with many town-centers, bridges, tunnels, pay tolls and campsites. RVs in Europe are a lot smaller than ours, and we were often getting “too close for comfort” so I prefer to do the driving as my husband is sometimes… less patient!” She tells of a time they were stuck in a narrow european campsite and, “We had to maneuver 10 times before being able to get out without taking the fence with us… before the 10 pairs of eyes watching us... How embarrassing…” Now that is an experience that most US RVers are intimately familiar with if we’re willing to admit it.

From my own experiences RVing in North America it appears they have the same kinds of problems there that we do here. Have you ever followed a sign to a campground only to find nothing. I'll never forget the time we were stuck on a narrow two lane road unable to go under a low hanging bridge. It’s not fun but makes for a great story later. These kinds of experiences are not unfamiliar to our Eurpoean RVing friends. Having traveled extensively in Europe myself I could easily visualize this story: “We once tried to follow a sign for a campsite up in the mountains South of Spain, and ended up squeezed between low-hanging balconies and tight corner-streets of a very charming narrow mountain village. 20 men came out of the only bar and shop of the village, yelling and razing arms to the left and right, trying to get us out of there… Going back was impossible as we couldn’t turn around anywhere on the hair-pin curved mountain track that led us to this tiny village. Speaking Spanish fluently, I asked if we could exit the village going forward with our RV, and they said that it would be Ok, although it would only be a dirt track… We made it, but never found the campsite and the villagers didn’t know about it either, so we went to a large hotel and asked the manager if we could camp in his large parking lot. That evening we had a very nice soothing long-drink with a lovely meal in the elegant restaurant of the hotel.”

They were headed to a nice boondocking spot on the beach in Torre del Mar in Spain and ran into road construction. “I wanted to go around town through a large avenue. Unfortunately there were road works and an unavoidable deviation through town. I knew I was gona get in trouble, but I had no choice. I turned into a one way lane to get out of town… one of those lanes where all the car-mirrors are tipped inwards… I said to my husband that the best thing to do in such situation is to close your eyes and just go fast and straight and hope everything will go Ok… he was green, don’t know why. Finally, of course, I went very slowly, zig-zagging between the badly parked cars, making sure my tail didn’t touch anything… and exciting a few drivers in a trance, cramped on their hooter… Oh well, that’s RV life in Europe.”

I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed these accounts of European RVing. Check in tomorrow for Part II of the story. Jim Twamley, Professor of RVing



  • Just got back from 3 weeks in Spain. They've got guts! I cringed at their description of manuvering an RV through these streets. I was in a compact car and "puckered" many times. Even parked the car with the mirrors tucked in. I wondered how I would ever tow my 28 foot TT through this country. Loved it none the less.

    By Anonymous Scott, at November 4, 2007 7:16:00 PM PST  

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