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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Hitting the RV Trail in Europe Part II

This is the second installment of the story of Steen and Karyne Fouillet Marcussen full time RVers in Europe. “My husband and I just adore this way of life, and I must say, I would not have believed someone telling me some 6 years ago that one day I would live aboard an RV.”
“We wild-camp (boondock) as often as we can, as for us it is truly relaxing. We usually drive everyday between 25 and 100 km, enjoying some incredible scenery, and finally sipping a glass of champagne on the evening once chosen our night-camp. It can be a beach, with the waves crashing a few meters from the rear of the RV where we have the bed. We open our eyes, and the first thing we see… is the sea.It can be a lake, a forest, but also a square in a village with a nice restaurant nearby, a fishing harbor where we enjoy hearing the fishermen coming back from sea at 5 or 6 AM, the hull full of goodies… that we can buy a couple hours later at the fish market. For us, wild camping is exciting, yet comfy onboard our well organized RV… It is like a real holiday.”

They love to travel and have a hard time staying in one camping area very long. “I get itchy feet just writing about it… That is maybe the only draw-back about fulltiming: you just don’t want to stay anywhere anymore. You want to be everywhere at the same time, and any stay longer than a month seems too long. You just want to hit the tarmac, enjoy the drive, enjoy the scenery, the destination, and the departure next day again… “The fulltimer’s itchy feet syndrome”.”In France they have a kind of equivalent to the American Bureau of Land Management camping. “In many European countries, wild camping is prohibited, in some it is tolerated, in others, it is organized. In France, it is organized, through a network of “aires de services”, all registered in a book with the same name. They are vast parking areas with little security, apart from the fact that we are parked next to other RVs and we always keep an eye on each other. We can empty and fill up tanks, plug into the main if necessary, and stay for a limited time (around 2 or 3 days usually)… we pay for the services between 4 & 6 Euros, plus some charge for camping overnight as well.”They tell me that the European RV parks, like our parks in America, range from nice to run-down. If you have a long motorhome you have to pay for the number of sites your motorhome covers. For instance a 36 foot motorhome would cover three typical European camp sites. Some of the campgrounds have many activities and some don’t have any. “France is known to be one of the most RV developed country in Europe. Unfortunately, it is also the country with the largest amount of rules and regulations. In order to avoid people living permanently in campsites, they are prohibited to open more than 10 month a year.” Prices for a campsite in France vary from 20 to 45 Euros ($1.40 per Euro exchange rate) per night.

“Portugal still offers a few really wild surfer’s beaches on the West coast, as well as some inland lakes, where the “GNR” (local police), just come to have a look, say hello, and leave us alone. Security is not too bad, but one must always stay on guard.”“Spain is a country full of contrasts. There, one can find very luxurious beach-side campsites for up to 55€ a night, offering many services such as various restaurants, sports rooms, games and animations, medical services, water and sewage connection for every pitch… but usually they are packed full of retired customers gathering together for many years, coming from Germany, Scandinavia or England to enjoy the warm winter months that Spain offers. Some campsites however offer less services, are more rural sometimes, and are also cheaper, around 20 € for a night. Food, beverages and petrol (1€/litre) in Spain is a lot cheaper than in France.For fulltimers, an interesting discount between 40 and 50% is normally offered out of tourist season.”“South-European natives can be a bit “noisy” when they gather on the week-ends with 15 or 20 family members + children in their caravans, car-boot open with loud music (it can be Flamenco as well as Techno), all laughing and speaking loudly, drinking wine, Pastis and/or beer, while women are cooking a Paella or other barbecue and salad dishes… Sometimes up to 4 generations meet up together.”

Steen is an author and has written several books available on Amazon.com (Africa Go-Go and 2000 Carats) while Karyne has developed a business selling safety and security products to European RVers. Her company is called “RV on GUARD Ltd.” She is always on the lookout for new and innovative RV products that are not available in Europe such as burglar-alarms, gas detectors, road safety products, and personal security. So if you have a product you think would be a hit in the European market, then drop me a line at jimtwamley@gmail.com and I’ll pass it on to her. She is also working hard at establishing a network of full-time RVers throughout Europe - a kind of European Escapees club. Keeping you up to speed on the international RV scene - Jim Twamley, Professor of RVing

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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

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