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The morning after

July 9th, 2009 Comments off

Here in Munich, it is 8 a.m. Friday, and I’m hoping today goes better than yesterday. I’m sitting in the little internet room alongside the reception desk of Munich’s big, semi-urban campground. Hundreds and hundreds of camping vehicles are here, separated by class: cars with tents, vans and small motorhomes (that’s us), pull-trailers and large motorhomes.

Outside, it’s maybe 65 degrees, drizzly, grey sky. It reminds me of June gloom along the California coast.

An amazing assortment of people are walking past my window, from their camping units to the bus stop outside the gate where they can grab a bus to the underground to take them to the heart of the city. (We are about 2 blocks from the city’s zoo, on the edge of downtown.)

The people walking by are mostly casually dressed, carrying backpacks for a day of adventure in the city. But a surprising number of people men are in coats and ties, with nametags and carrying briefcases, as if they are going to work or to a convention.  I suppose it is possible that in Europe, to save money, men go to conventions and rather than stay at a hotel — say, the Bellagio or Venetian or Mandalay Bay — they travel by motor home.  I doubt these finely-dressed men crawled out of a sleeping bag in a tent, though.

So this is the morning after yesterday’s series of small disasters that just took the spirit out of us by last night, when I posted the long story about all that went wrong.  I’ll recap:

* The side door cannot be locked from inside because when we do, the key cylinder thingy twists on the outside and a key won’t go in, and it freezes until you manhandle it loose.

* The wastewater tank valve is broken, so when we use sink water, it immediately spills onto the ground, rather than collecting in a tank for proper disposal at a dump station. (This is not the toilet, which has its own tank and is working fine.)

* We finally figured out why our hot water wasn’t working: the plumbing was reversed on the sink, and “cold” was really hot and “hot” was cold. For the gallons of water we wasted waiting for the hot water to pour out, we were draining our tank. And last night, when we finally realized that we should have turned the spigot to “cold” to get hot water, we got maybe 30 seconds of hot water before we drained our 100-liter holding tank. So this morning, we have no water.

* Putting more water in the tank should not be a problem, except that we have to disconnect our electricity line and drive into the heart of the campground where the “water house” is, to hook up our hose. And that gets us to the other problem from yesterday: the cap for the inlet pipe is frozen to the inlet pipe, and so when we turn the cap, we are turning the entire pipe. That means the only way to put water into the tank is to access the water tank from inside (beneath a seat cushion) and drag a hose inside Mobi. That’s a pain in the rump.

All of this follows our most costly incident, which also occurred yesterday:  Making a turn too tightly, and rubbing the side of the Mobi against a gate pipe, gouging the right side of the Mobi for about five feet, and tearing off a piece of plastic molding around the back right tire. I’m distressed now that the dealership will argue that they should keep our entire security deposit to cover the repair. This puts me in a bad mood.

These events all occurred yesterday. Not a good day. But we can focus on the good times, too: the great dinner Daughter cooked last night — steaks with mushroom sauce, fresh French-cut green beans, risotto. Walking the streets of small German towns and watching children play in school yards.  Meeting the cousins of my health coach, the Traub family that owns two bakeries in the Black Forest region of Germany. And meeting Mia and Adelin, the Belgian couple who helped us with our water problems yesterday morning, and Ute and Ernst, from Hanover, who helped us figure out the hot-water problem last night.

Funny how people can make international connections, and become instant friends. We exchanged e-mail addresses and who knows if we will run into each other again. But now we can say we have friends in Europe, people who will help us out when they see our distress.

As I sit here, more people are streaming out to catch the morning buses. Here comes a family — mom, dad, two young kids, all dressed very nicely, he in a suit. And another couple holding a basket between them. I can’t tell if it is a picnic basket or a small basinet. I wonder where they’re going. And what’s it like waking up in a campground and putting on a coat-and-tie?

Me, I haven’t worn a tie now for a week. And I’ve only shaved once. Now, that is camping. 

The dark side of camping

July 8th, 2009 Comments off

Our first night in Mobi was Tuesday night, at the riverfront campground on the edge of Heidelberg. We were exhausted and ready for sleep. We closed up tight and pulled every curtain shut.  When we laid down, it was blissfully dark.

A gentle rain lulled us quickly asleep.

And we didn’t wake up until 11:30 the next morning. Two-thirds of the campers had left, and we didn’t hear a thing. When you are on vacation, and don’t wear a watch and don’t care what day of the week it is,and there are no noisy campers near you – or sirens, or honking cars, no street cars, and the inside of your baby motorhome is very dark, sleep comes easy.

Digital reality

July 7th, 2009 Comments off

I grew up studying maps, and paid attention to every highway, every town, every crossing of railroad tracks or a river. On a vacation, the map was my best friend. I knew where I was.

Today I am driving a motor home with a global positioning satellite. There is no confusion. I tell it where I want to end up and the female voice (my preference) tells me when to turn in 100 meters and for how long to remain on that highway before turning again in 100 meters.

It lacks soul. It is at arm’s length from reality. I have no idea where I am as I cross from Belgium into Germany. I’m not even sure what direction I’m heading (but I assume east or south). I am crossing grand rivers but don’t know their names. On the tiny screen of a GPS it shows only as a blue ribbon the width of a pencil.

Earlier in the day, we had typed in an address of a campground in Heidelberg, Germany, where we planned to spend the night. En route, we stopped at Trier, Germany, where we saw Roman ruins dating back to the second century. It was amazing, to touch stones that were cut and positioned more than 1,800 years ago to funnel people into the town, or to keep enemies out. On this day, 50 yards from the main Roman gateway, a Japanese man was selling his wire sculptures to tourists who were more interested in his designs than in Roman soldier’s architectural accomplishments 1,800 years earlier.. His soft wire trumped tons of cut rock towering above the town center.

In Heidelberg, we drove alongside a river. The GPS did not identify the river, but it was beautiful, cutting through the hills of western Germany, hills covered by a thick blanket of oak and maple and birch trees. We were entering the Black Forest.

We found a campsite – we’re not sure if it was the campsite that GPS wanted us to find. Daughter saw a roadside sign pointing to this one, and we drove in to check it out. It would cost 28 euro, and offered wi-fi for 2 euro an hour, and we were within 100 feet of the river, and we had full electrical hookup so we could play with the satellite TV. Ah, camping.

Daughter cooked us a fine dinner, and we explored our RV on our first night on the road – all of its luxuries and  practicalities. We’re not sure we figured out how to heat the water, and the fridge isn’t as cold as we would have expected, but the TV worked great, and Daughter’s cordon bleau with salad was great, and the Scotch was good, and the wine too.

Jeanne laid down as I began typing this blog, and started to chuckle. She was reading a Mark Twain book about western Germany, and it mentioned the great river that cut through Heidelberg. Finally, the river that on the GPS showed only as a blue ribbon had a name. We were camping in the Neckar Gorge, which according to Twain, afforded a most stunning view.

I asked Jeanne how she knew this, because I didn’t see her pack any books. She said she was reading from her Sony e-reader. And I’m still trying to get my hands around the day: watching satellite TV in a campground that I found through a GPS, alongside a river whose name I discovered from a digitally uploaded novel being read on an electronic reader..

I’m sure I could have seen the river by calling up Google Earth on my miniature laptop computer with its wireless  connection. But, you know what? I actually walked down to look at it.

It was lovely.

The convergence of Costco and Europe

June 24th, 2009 Comments off

As we draw closer to our trip, we may have to stop shopping at Costco. Things we wouldn’t have looked twice at are now jumping out at us as we walk down the aisles, screaming, "Buy us! You need us!"

The most recent examples: the Motorola Talkabout 2-Way Radios, and the Leatherman Core & Crater c33Lx.

The little walkie talkies almost make sense. We don’t have European-friendly cell phones so how do we stay in contact with each other if we stray while shopping or walking around the campgrounds? This pair  has 22 channels, 121 privacy codes and 2,620 combinations. Combinations of what, I don’t know.  But it’s got a range of up to 35 miles! (There’s an asterisk next to that in the packaging: turns out that range is for ideal conditions.)

Most heartening is this line on the package: "An essential part of any survival kit." Is that the end-game of our vacation? Surviving?

As for the Leatherman Core & Crater: It’s basically a Boy Scout knife on steroids. "19 Tools in 1." Looks like it had a role in a Transformer movie. The diagram shows that it is a pair of pliers that turn into a fully-armed F-22. It features "all-locking blades." Goodness knows, you don’t want a blade slipping on you. And the Crater tool, I’m not even sure what it’s for. But how can you not buy something that has "Blade Launcher Technology"?

It also has, in addition to a very very sharp edge, a bottle opener. That, I get.

I’m guessing this baby won’t get past airport security so I’ll have to pack it in my suitcase, with the 2-way radios.

I got so distracted at Costco, I forgot to buy the milk.