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Welcome to Prague, Nevada

July 11th, 2009 Comments off

We arrived in Prague Saturday evening after a thankfully uneventful day — in fact, a good day, considering how it started.

We had filled our water tank in Munich and, in the course of trying to figure out our hot-water problem, we ran the tank dry. So we had refilled it on Friday, and this morning we were going to run the hot water to wash the morning dishes. Not only was there no hot water, there was no water, period.

This was the last straw! The Gormans have turned into magicians!  We can fill a 100-liter water tank and make it disappear a day later without even turning on a spigot!!

For the third day in a row, we called the dealership in Belgium. This time, a real person answered. And he apparently was a mechanic, because when I told him there was no way a water tank could end up empty in a day without even using it, he said yes, there was one way.  He instructed me to look beneath our bed, through a tiny door, where the boiler mechanism for the hot water is.  “It is possible that the water boiler bled the tank empty without you knowing it,” he said. “It would have pulled the water in, and then drained it beneath your Mobi. You wouldn’t know.”

And the solution? “Do you see a red button?” Yes. “Push it. If it releases and goes higher, that is good.” I pushed it. It shot up higher, like an old-fashion car lock. Bingo. “You will be fine now. Fill your tank again. Everything should be fine.”

Since he was helpful, I mentioned that the valve to our wastewater tank could not be closed. I told him that the handle for the open-close valve just turned and turned and turned and never seemed to lock in an open or closed position, and that every time we run water in the Mobi, it pees on the ground. “Next time,” he said, “press the handle toward the plate right in front of it. Squeeze it. That will engage the valve.”  Oh, squeeze the handle while turning it? The snot-nosed kid at the dealership who taught me how to use the Mobi a week ago never mentioned that.

I went outside, knelt on the ground, reached under, grabbed the handle, pressed it and — bingo! again — the handle this time engaged with tension and I definitely could feel it opening and closing, not unlike a fireplace flu. So I think our watewater tank will now hold water.

So, with hot water (we assume — we won’t be trying until after dinner tonight), and a functioning wastewater tank, we set off for Prague. The German countryside was beautiful  — rolling fields of tall corn and other crops, with a backdrop of lush forests, and we drove through small villages with beautiful homes. We wondered what the Czech Republic would be like. It’s not like the countrywide would suddenly change…

We entered the Czech Republic, paid about $20 for a motorways windshield sticker at the border (no need to see  passports or proof of car insurance or anything, just the money, please) and discovered we were entering some knock-off version of the United States. More specifically, Nevada, if not for the trees.

The first billboard we saw was for a poker tournament. The next, for a casino. It was called “American Chance Casino”  but before we could react, we already were past the off-ramp. Then we saw a McDonald’s billboard. And a topless joint called Pamela’s. And another McDonald’s.  In fact, in the next 45 minutes we would pass no less than 10 McDonald’s restaurants. And McDonald’s wasn’t the only English we saw. About a third of the billboards — actually, they were signs hanging across the freeway, attached to overpasses — were in English, which confuses me.

The other remarkable first-hour discovery about Prague, as we drove through town, was the amount of graffiti. It was bad, with only one or two displays of graffiti art, and the rest mish-mash.

We found our campsite for the evening without too much trouble (the address didn’t show up on our GPS but when we pulled to the side of a road near the Prague Zoo to figure things out, a passing motorist pulled over, too, and asked if we needed assistance, and then pointed us in the right direction.)

The campground is one of maybe 10 along a street of what was once, apparently, a very fancy neighborhood with larger  homes and larger back yards.The homes have been turned into B&Bs or hostels, and the back yards converted into campgrounds.  Interesting. We are parked next to a mom and daughter from Switzerland; the other mobis around us are empty, suggesting that their occupants are still walking around the city and haven’t returned yet.

There is only one computer here, in the reception office, so there will be no photos with this post. I’m hoping to grab some time on it when the line thins.  I told the young man operating the office that the owner should invest in wireless. He said the owner has balked, due to cost.  I told him I would pay $10 a night for wireless. He said he gets lots of offers like that.

At this moment, we are sitting outside, 8:15 Saturday night. I’m sipping my rusty nail (scotch and Drambuie), Daughter has her wine (she bought 8 bottles in Germany today because the prices were incredibly cheap), Jeanne her diet Pepsi. We’re in our sling camp chairs, at a burgundy, round plastic table that was sitting nearby that Jeanne grabbed. It’s maybe 65 degrees, beneath an early-evening blue sky.

People all around us are talking. We don’t understand a word. Daughter is getting ready to cook dinner. Later we’ll see if the hot water works.

Tomorrow, Sunday, we will go into historic Prague.  Life is good.

When good Mobis go bad, film at 11

July 9th, 2009 Comments off

We woke up this morning feeling good. Somewhere deep in the Black Forest, the sleepy Danube was silently gliding past us, 20 feet off our bumper. It had rained a bit overnight, which only pushed us deeper asleep.

As we were preparing to leave, Jeanne found she could not lock the side door from inside. And I couldn’t figure it out either, so I examined the lock from the outside. And I saw what happened: The lock had turned into a position that would not accept the key. When we picked up Mobi, the young man warned us that this was bad. Very bad.  It was not Jeanne’s fault that the lock had turned sideways on us, because she was only trying to lock it from inside, and had no idea the lock would twist in a way that was disastrous.  To get the lock to work, I actually had an excuse to use the Leatherman tool I had purchased for the trip. By prying a screwdriver blade into the key hole, I was able to twist in into the position that would accept the key. Whew. In the course of my effort, I broke off the cover of the latching mechanism, but so be it.

On our way out of the campground, I stopped to top off our water tank with more fresh water. But the cap seemed stuck and would not come off the inlet pipe.  A wonderful couple from Belgium, Mia and Adelin, stopped to help (she teaches English for high school juniors, he is a solar-energy engineer – and wherever he travels, he carries large tool boxes.)  Despite Adelin’s best efforts, the cap would not unscrew. As it turned, so did the entire inlet pipe into the water tank. They were frozen as one.  Jeanne suggested smartly that we find the water tank because it might have another inlet opening for a hose. The tank was hidden beneath one of  the couches inside, and in fact there was another large cap that came off easily. We could stick the hose inside the Mobi and into the tank below the couch. But wait! Our hose would not fit the spigot. Adelin came to the rescue again, this time giving us a one-size-fits-all hose adaptor.

Of course, bad things come in three and that might have been three, but not for us. Not the Gormans. This was the day of calamity we had feared.

I wouldn’t be slowed by the semi-broken side door lock, and frozen water cap, and a hose that almost didn’t adapt. We needed to dump our “grey” (kitchen) water, behind the campground manager’s office. It was a tricky turn to get to that driveway, and I cut it too tight. A bronze pipe that was part of the entrance gate jumped into the side of the Mobi just as I was turning, and it left a deep scar and ripped off a piece of plastic trim from Mobi.  The incident attracted quite a crowd of campers who were muttering something about Americans and camping.  I don’t know if I will lose the entire security deposit for this damage, but am braced for the worst. Other campers looked at me, some sad, some laughing. Along came Mia and Adelin, who looked chagrined on our behalf. He helped push the pipe as I slowly pulled away from it. .

With the Mobi now freed from its bronze pipe friend and finally backed in to position over the grey-water drain, I got on my hands and knees, found the water-release valve, and turned it. It turned, and turned, and turned. It was broken. There didn’t seem to be an “open” and “shut” position, and I was stricken with the fear that the holding tank waste water would back up into the Mobi during one of our deep sleeps (“American Family Drowns in its own Grey Water While Asleep in their Mobi, Film at 11”), or the grey water would dump onto the ground the moment we ran water into the sink.  It turned out, as we would discover later, that the latter was the case: when we run sink water, Mobi immediately pees on the ground.

And finally this: for two days running, we haven’t gotten hot water. We couldn’t figure out why not, but didn’t fully explore.  Tonight we asked fellow campers, here in Munich, for help.

Ute and Ernst, from Hanover, came to our rescue, and the three of us poked and prodded and explored and even read the thick instruction manual. It finally occurred to us that the sink water faucet hookup was backwards and when the faucet was put on “red,” only cold came out, and when we put it on “blue,” only — well, only nothing came out, because it was in fact connected to the hot-water boiler, but it was filled with air bubbles.  At least we knew we had the solution. We let the water run on “blue” for a while and finally hot water came out. Success!

But wait: the water stopped altogether. And not even cold water is coming out tonight. We are out of water. We have drained our 100-liter water tank dry.

So, let’s recap: Semi-broken side-door lock, stuck water-inlet cap, an un-adapted hose, a deep gouge on side of Mobi from collision with gate, a broken water-drain valve so we always leak when we run sink water, and finally the hot water works after discovering it was plumbed backwards…and we’ve run out of water. .

The trip is turning a bit ugly. It was only a matter of time.

The good news: the toilet is working perfectly and easy to clean. That’s my job.

(Dear friends: the day was so traumatic, I was too distracted to take photos… Jeanne took one which I will download. But it is depressing.)