Saturday, October 14, 2017

Time to get going.

We had our trials.
Chased out of Florida by Irma,
Fiesta had a starting problem.
Blew a rear tire on the RV.
Smashed the lid of the casserole dish when we put the slide out.

Our neighbor at Foscue COE Park
But then we randomly picked an area to stop at halfway between Summerville and Birmingham AL and discovered a super Corps of Engineers (COE) facility called Foscue Park.
A nice quiet spot to camp
Foscue was such a pretty place we extended our stay from 2 days to 4, I even broke out my paints and did a watercolor painting of our view across the lake. The rest of the time we sat outside and watched the egrets fishing and the turtles sunning themselves on a log. Such a stressful time!

The thing about COE Parks is that they accept the National Parks Senior Pass. That normally gets us into ALL National Parks free and gets us up to 50% off camping too. Our stay in Foscue was $13 a night instead of $28, which paid the $25 cost of the pass several times over, never mind all the money we've saved in the last 2 years going to all the Parks.

An old grist mill.
We had 4 new rear tires fitted by a shop in Birmingham. We also had reservation at a campground (without a deposit) and there was an Elks Lodge that has camping near Birmingham so we went to see what the Lodge was like and if we liked it we could cancel the campground reservation! Turns out the camping at the lodge was less than ideal with car and train noise but for a couple of nights we made do and we had a lot of fun with fellow Elks in the lodge.

A big vintage/antique motorcycle event near Birmingham caught my attention and we decided to do Friday there as the rest of the weekend could be pretty busy. That turned out the be an excellent idea as the crowds weren't bad at all, but more importantly ANOTHER hurricane was on it's way and headed for this area.

MV Augusta racer.

Barber had a LOT of motorcycles

I could paint these bikes for ever.
Hurricane Nate was due Saturday night Sunday morning and discretion being the better part of valor we headed out!

The best direction to avoid the storm was West and the second best North. When we looked on the map there was our old favorite Memphis just 275 miles North West of us! 

We hit the road Saturday morning and stopped a night in Walmart in Tupelo Mississippi.
MMMM, Charlie Vergos BBQ!!
That broke the trip into 2 reasonable legs 175 and 100 miles each.
After 3 nights at Graceland RV Park and a delicious night out at the Charlie Vergos BBQ restaurant followed by some nice micro brews at the Flying Saucer Taproom we upped sticks again and headed due SOUTH!
Porter ale at Flying Saucer
King cotton ready for harvest

Baled and ready to go.
Wait a minute I thought we were supposed to going west towards our winter spot in Casa Grande AZ??

Well we have a week off!
Well a week out of the rig anyway. How come? We still own a timeshare near New Orleans and we called to ask if we could swap one of our weeks for a week there now and they said yes.

This will be only the second time we've stayed at our home resort IN 35 YEARS OF OWNING IT!

Indian Mounds in Mississippi
That meant a nice leisurely drive from Memphis to Abita Springs along the “Great River Road” thru Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana, taking time to visit the Indian Mounds and the Vicksburg National Military Park. The "Great River Road" sounds really romantic and if you have visions of rolling along the banks of the great Mississippi River, forget it! You barely glimpse the river at all! But is was a very nice drive along a reasonable road with NO traffic.
USS Cairo, salvaged from the riverbed, on display in Vicksburg

Very similar to Gettysburg battlefield park, lots of monuments.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

So what IS normal?

If this is normal then I suppose we have returned to it?

SKP Rainbow Plantation Park
All the excitement seems to be dying down, we're in the rig and have escaped the last hurricane (although there are several more forming out there). Our friends from Florida are headed back and hopefully they will find minor damage and have power when they get home. 
The Chapter 57 crew at dinner.
We have had the bigger maintenance jobs done (Bathroom rehab, roof reseal, transmission service, awning spring replacement) and the list of to-do's is small (Wash and wax the rig, flush the fresh water tank, buy some more outdoor chairs, waterproof the main awning).

Although the weather has returned to hot and humid, we've set up more stuff like outdoor mats, the grill, chairs and sundry other items we normally don't get out for just a day or so. 

We've extended our stay here at the SKP Rainbow Plantation for another week and we're trying to force ourselves back into our Fulltimer's mode (Kick back, relax, try not to fidget!). It's not easy to do after such and active summer and the rush to beat Irma.

I will have to make myself get out my sketch book and start drawing again, it helps me calm down. Barbara likes to read and as usual this SKP park has a great library. If you like a book take it, drop off any books you don't need anymore. Simple and effective.

It's also time to think about our next move. We've only ever driven thru Alabama along the Gulf Coast, further North there are historical cities and the shadows of the discrimination and bigotry of years past. Montgomery.

Huntsville has the US Space and Rocketry Museum which documents the birth of the US Space Program and hides the importation of the German rocket scientists after the defeat of Nazi Germany. 

So that might be somewhere worth exploring. Some cooler temperatures might appeal too so perhaps it's time to let the weather channel dictate our direction for a while? It's such fun to dream about the next month or so. Would fall leaves be nice again? Last year we chickened out when the evenings got cold and ran down the East Coast in no time trying to get warm again! Tennessee night be nice for some "Leaf Peeping".

The White Mountains, New Hampshire last year.
Sit back, close our eyes, where would we like the wind to blow us?

Life is good.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Back to the USA

We thought our European trip was our excitement for this year but when we got back there was much more in store.

When it came time to leave our friends and relatives on the Wirral we had to drive nearly 200 miles south to London's Gatwick Airport. We left the day before the flight and had a hotel reserved near the airport as we would have to be at the airport by 8am.

British Airways transported us very comfortably and considerately back to Orlando and I have to say that they restored my faith in airlines. Comfortable seats, organized boarding, meals included in the fare including a glass of wine with dinner, no fees for check in bags. I was very happy, plus the fare was the cheapest! 

We started to hear about a hurricane forming out in the Atlantic before we left England. 

When we got into Orlando we had another night in a hotel as we had to get the rig out of storage and setup. We didn't know wether it would even start after 4 months in storage so as the flight got in late in the afternoon we left it iuntil the next morning.

Thousand Trails Orlando is a huge park and has a big storage lot too, secure, reasonably priced and right in the campground meant it was really convenient. We planned on 2 weeks in the park sorting things out getting the rig cleaned and polished, stocking the fridge and doing some annual mainteneance.

Didn't work out that way!

We hoped either the car or the rig would start up straight away. I had disconnected the batteries, stabilized the gas in the tanks and run the engines and the generator to get it into the carbs and injectors. If one started we could jump the other from it. 

As luck would have it BOTH started first time and so did the generator. We pulled off the wheel covers and took down the shades I'd made for the windows. Before we could blink we'd moved over to the campsite we had reserved.

The rig had survived beinf stored really well. We'd put out kitty litter and "Damp Rid" to keep the inside from getting mouldy. We had the AC on as it was hot and sticky out as we loaded the bags into the rig, filled the water tank and did all the other things needed to get it habitable again. Some business at the bank and shopping at the market was next.

We immediately noticed that all the water was sold out as was the bread, baked beans, batteries and various odds and ends. People were stocking up for the approaching storm.

Television was full of warnings and notices to evacuate. Our main decision was where to go. The storm was estimated to hit the Orlando area on sunday/monday and it was thursday already. We quickly decided to leave on friday morning and head North to Tallahassee where we could stay at the Elks Lodge, watch the progress of the storm and decide what our next move might be. We'd filled the car up and the rig had a half tank of fuel which was good for 200 miles. We would fill up on the way North.

That last decision was to haunt us for the next 150 miles as every gas station we saw was either sold out or too small for us. Eventually we saw one that the lines weren't too long at and gratefully filled it up. We had discussed draining the fuel out of the Fiesta if needed to keep the rig running or leaving the rig and carrying on in the Fiesta if it became necessary.

The 250 miles to Talahassee took 12 hours. At time we were at a snails place for 10 or 20 miles then suddenly the traffic would speed up to 65mph for 40 or 50 miles only to slow to a crawl again. We rolled into the Elks at 10.30pm and parked with the car still attached just taking time to get a drink before climbing into bed.

Miles and miles of traffic
We were so glad to be in a motor home in the traffic. We had a bathroom, kitchen and all our electronics right there, we couldn't imagine how hard it was for other drivers without those amenities.

Saturday morning and the weather service was predicting the storm would go straight up the Florida penninsular so we decided to go west towards Pensacola or into Alabama where there was an Escapees Club park. Again with a half tank of fuel we got onto I10 west.

The traffic was moderately heavy. We left at 7am to try and beat some of it.

All the rest stops along the way were full to overflowing. RV's were everywhere, some fast some slow. Occasionally the traffic slowed but rarely below 30mph. We made good time to Pensacola and filled up at a very busy Love's truck stop near the city. We made up our minds to try and reach the park in Alabama and called to see if they had space for us. They assured us they did and we were there by noon (take into account a 1 hr time change crossing the state line).

The park was very nice and quite big, not very busy at all at first, then the rigs started to roll in. We met up with some couples from our Florida SKP Chapter, Chapter 57 "The Sun Gators" with whom we've had such fun over the winter. News was exchanged and the "Compulsory" happy hour organized! This might have been one of our better decisions since we arrived back in Florida!

Happy hour inspired me to try and mix some New Orleans "Hurricane Cocktails" which are both delicious and very intoxicating. Unfortunately we couldn't find passion fruit juice at Walmart but we did find the box mix for strawberry margaritas that Harold French introduced us when he and Wanda took us out on their boat, to thanks Harold! We bought rum and tequila so people could choose between margaritas and daiquiris.

Cocktails in a bucket!!
Happy hour became a very happy Hurricane Party and Irma appeared to be keeping East of us.
In the party mood

Everyone is still worried about friends that decided to stay behind and about their homes back there. We hope and pray that everyone is safe and well and that the damage is minimal. 

Meanwhile we're safe and sound here and beginning to wonder what our next move is going too be.

Comparing our UK Motorhome with our US one.

When we picked up the Motorhome in England we started running around getting all the stuff we needed for living in it.

Immediately the differences between the UK and US became obvious.

Our US rig has a 3" hose that runs from the outlet of the tank to the sewer connection in the ground provided for it.
Our UK rig seems to have a sewer tank and an outlet similar to our US rig. BUT NOBODY HERE KNOWS WHAT IT IS! 

Further more there may not be any connections to suit it and the RV parts places don't have hoses for it or know where to get them!! They suggested replacing the toilet entirely with a "Cassette" type. 
Eventually we figured a way to dump the tank into the type of drains they have in European dump stations but it wasn't pleasant and we minimized the use of the on board toilet as much as we could.

Grey Water
Our US rig has a grey water tank and a pipe that connects thru the sewer hose to dump the tank. We can also use a "Dump Station" at campgrounds etc to empty out tanks.

Our UK rig has a tank. There is no hose just a valve, when the tank is full you drive to the "Chemical Disposal Area" where there is a drain and you park over it and open the valve on the tank.

Our US rig has a water connection via a hose that we leave constantly connected to the faucet located next to the camp site (Pitch in UK), There is a water tank and water pump when there are no "Full Hookup" sites available.

Our UK rig has a tank. You drive to the water spigot and fill the tank by hose. There is a water pump that moves the water around the rig. When the tank is empty you go back to the faucet and refill it.

Our US rig has a 30 amp service, when we pull into a campground we plug it in to the pedestal next to the site. If we had a 50 amp rig we would ask for a 50 amp site.

Our UK rig has an electric connection. Don't know what amperage it is, then again we don't have an AC or anything with a big demand, just the fridge and a couple of lights. Some cheap campgrounds had meters that you put money into and got so many amp hours of power per euro!

Our US rig has a propane tank built in. It holds enough for several months depending if we need to use the heater. When we want to fill it we either drive to a propane supplier or we get a delivery made to our site by a propane tanker.

Our UK rig has a separate portable tank. It's connected to the rig BY A RUBBER HOSE that pushes on to the end of the pipe secured with a hose clamp! Apparently the suppliers across Europe all have different bottles and connections AND WON'T REFILL OTHER COMPANIES BOTTLES, so you have to buy THEIR bottle if you need a refill, plus their regulator and fittings!! EXPENSIVE.

Our US rig has a single width fridge with a freezer in the top. It's about 5' tall, 30" wide and 30" deep. It runs on 110v AC, propane and 12v electric. We set it to "Auto" and it switches to whatever is available.

Our UK rig has a TINY fridge. About 3' high 24' wide and 12" deep in places. It has a tiny little freezer inside that might hold a small ice tray or 1lb of frozen peas! You manually switch the 240v AC on. If you have no mains voltage you manually turn on a propane valve, open the door of the fridge and look in a little round window then operate a manual igniter to light the propane pilot light!! If none of those works there's a separate 12v switch. We only managed to get it to work on mains voltage

Our US rig has a propane 3 burner cooktop with an oven under it. Over the cooktop there is a combination Microwave/Convection oven. When we get bored with that we have a gas grill in a storage bay under the rig.

Our UK rig has a 2 burner cooktop.
That's all. There's no storage under the rig so nowhere to keep a gas grill.

Tables and chairs
Our US rig has a table and 2 chairs, a recliner and an L shaped sofa. If we want we can rotate the driver and passenger seats so they act as additional chairs. In another storage bay under the rig we have 4 camp chairs and a folding table. I keep my 2 art easels in yet another storage bay.

Our UK rig has a table with 2 bench seats. We bought 2 camping chairs. They have to be stored in the shower.

In our US rig we have a queen size bed in the bedroom, it has a nice "sleep number" mattress with infinitely adjustable firmness. The sofa in the living room pulls out for a second bed.

Our UK rig has a cab-over bed. To access it we have to put a ladder up and climb in. There is about 30" headroom at the highest point, not enough to sit up in. The mattress is foam rubber on a solid board. It;s surprisingly comfortable. The table in the living area spans the gap between the bench seats and 2 spare cushions make up a mattress, it isn't long enough for an adult to sleep comfortably 

Our US rig has a closet each side of the bed and a large closet (about 5' long) opposite the bathroom. There are draws under the large closet and a dresser each side of the bed. More cupboard space is in the kitchen area and around the overhead of the living area.

Our UK rig has one closet. It's about 30" wide and 48" high. There are a total of 5 cupboards in the overhead and 3 drawers in the kitchen.

In the US in a commercial campground you may have a large area, usually gravel, with electric, sewer and water right there, and a bath house somewhere. In some parks there might be tennis, shuffleboard, maybe a small store and a rec center.

In Europe the campground is likely to be grass and each site is surrounded by a hedge to isolate it from the neighbors. There will be one electrical outlet for that site but it may be up to 75' away! Long extension cords are a must. There will be bath houses around as most people use the bath house rather than the facilities in their campers which we found small and inconvenient. Water and a dump a station will be at one spot somewhere on the campground and you may have to wait in line to use either on a busy day. 
The campground is very likely to have a restaurant and a licensed bar on the premises. 
Most campgrounds have a sign up sheet for fresh bread every morning is you want it.

Quiet times are very late and very lax in Europe, if there is a sign stating the times it is usually 11pm to 8am.

Our US rig has a TV in the living room and one in the bedroom. Both can pick up a signal from either the antenna on the roof or if the campground has cable TV we can attach to that. We can also stream TV and movies from the internet.

Our UK rig has no TV and in fact there is no space to put one either! We have Kindles and a laptop and can connect to the internet in most campgrounds but there is usually a fee. We read a lot of books!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

On the Wirral

The Wirral Peninsular lies in the North West of England. It is bordered by the River Dee to the South and the River Mersey to the North. West is the Irish Sea.

This is where Barbara and I were born and raised and where I trained in the shipyard for a career that lasted 49 years.

We both have relatives here and lots of friends from the days before we emmigrated to the US. Our daughter Sally now lives here with her husband Iain and our Grand Kids Kaytland and Nial.
Katyland and Nial
Obviously we were going to be busy socializing!

My sister Jackie volunteered to put us up for the first couple of weeks and arranged our first night out. Her daughters Lyndsey and Cathy met us a a local India restauarant together with Evie, Matt and my other sister Beryl. Luckily the restaurant was within walking distance as the party progressed rapidly and continued when we got home.
Barbara and I with neice Cathy

Sister Beryl and Barbara

Sister Jackie and Barbara
Nial's birthday was lots of fun. When you provide a 3 year old with a "Fart Gun" it has to be good. Barbara's brother Stu and his wife Linda  arrived to help make more chaos.

Niail and the "Fart Gun"
Spoiling our Grand Kids became our main task and trips to the shops and the park with a little babysitting gave us lots of opportunities.
Nail and Kaityland dressing up at the Birkenhead Priory
Ken and Angie the friends that hosted us in Spain ( live in the Wirral too and we accompanied them to an "Italian Night" at the Rugby Club. By sheer coincidence we started talking to Dave who it turned out lived around the corner from where I grew up and who knew my Dad who delivered bread door to door for the local bakery!
Niail driving the tractor at Tam O'Shanter's Cottage
Soon our calendar was filling up with lunches and dinners! 

So busy have we been that I haven't had time to write the blog lately! This will have to be a quick catch up and we'll get back to normal when we arrive back in the USA.

Meanwhile I'll drop in lots of pictures!

Malcolm and Barbara in the beautiful Yorkshire countryside

:Sid's Cafe" from the TV show "Last of the Summer Wine"

Janet, John and Barbara

Ken, John, Ronnie and I

Sally, Barbara and Angie. Where did Sue go??

Cousin Janet's Cafe in Yorkshire.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Back in UK

The ferry from Dieppe took us into Newhaven which is on the south coast of England between London and Portsmouth. Our plan was to drive back to Portsmouth and stay with my Aunt Sheila again while we fixed the bumper of the van which had been “Crunched” in Portugal.

The white cliffs, but not of Dover, these are near Newhaven.
Aunt Sheila welcomed us once again and her Son in Law Robin was kind enough to lend me tools and run me round to the Auto Parts stores to get some fiberglass, paint and filler.

The weather decided NOT to co-operate and I ended up getting soaking wet and taking a day longer than planned to finish the job. As soon as it was finished we drove back to Weston Super Mare where we bought the van and took it back under their “Buy Back” agreement.

I was quite stressed out about this, I was convinced in my own head that they would try and knock the price down. In the end my repairs helped when they glanced over it and gave me the full agreed amount! Which meant that the cost for the 2 1/2 months we had the van was about $4000 including repairs, insurance, tax etc. Which compared with the $1000 A WEEK it would have cost to rent one was a good deal and we didn’t have the hassle of selling it privately.

Next order of business was getting a rental car and loading all the equipment we’d bought for the trip into it. We were going to donate everything either to our daughter Sally if she wanted it, or to a charity store.

After some LONG delays due to a wreck near Weston Super Mare we finally got on the road to see our friends Graham and Elaine who live near Lincoln in the East of England North of London.

Lincoln Cathedral from Lincoln Castle
Lots of catching up was spread between dinners out, trips to Lincoln castle and cathedral, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and a wonderful Country Fair/Show. Lots of fun was had and lots of memories shared.
Lincoln Castle
The city gate which dates back to the Roman era

The Country Fair had so much to see

Sheep dogs herding geese!

Our good friends Graham and Elaine
Barbara’s Brother Stu and his wife Linda live a little way South of Graham and Elaine so we spent the rest of the first week with them with more dinners out and more catching up together with a trip to the Shuttleworth Trust.

This was to have been a picture of Stuart and Linda until Holly decided she was the star!
Shuttleworth trust and a very rare Kirby Kite glider
WW2 Hurricane fighter

1909 AVRO triplane.

Shuttleworth is a great collection of airplanes, cars and motorcycles that began as the private collection of Richard Shuttleworth in the 1930’s and which was carried on by his family after he was killed in a flying accident during WW2.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Last days in France.

After we finally shook ourselves loose of the mechanical breakdowns in Bastogne we drove almost due West and back into Northern France. 

From the Bastogne battlefield of World War 2 we had arrived in the area of the vast battles of World War 1. Signs for Museums and Military Cemeteries appeared at crossroads along the way.

The Musee De La Grand Guerre

The French call World War 1 "La Grande Guerre", what might have been grand about it I don't know. Of course Grande means "Big" in English and WW1 was. Millions died in the 4 years of trench warfare. The trenches reached from the coast of Belgium all the way to the Swiss border. South of Switzerland the Germans and Italians (who were on the Allied side in WW!) fought in the Alps. Britain landed Australian and New Zealand troops in a disastrous attempt to invade Turkey.
A typical soldiers equipment.
We picked a campground from our book based on mileage as much as anything. We found ourselves in a delightful little town a short distance off the A2 the main road. Looking at the brochures in the reception showed us a local museum "History of the Grande War" which was about 15 minutes away.

When we got there we discovered that it was located in the rear of s lovely Chateau on a lake close to the Somme river.

The place was very different from other museums. I've been to a lot of military museums usually they are dark and fairly well packed with displays. This one was light and airy,  It showed current events in France, Britain and Germany at each stage of the war and the build up to it through newspapers, souvenirs and posters.

Dieppe Harbor
We ended up in Dieppe at a campground about 6 Km from the city. At first it seemed nice and quiet but as the weekend arrived the place filled with teenagers and families. Every evening in the restaurant there was an "Entertainment". One night a disco that started at 9pm and went on until about 1am. The next night Bingo announced on a loudspeaker system and then Karaoke.

Carousel Horse Dieppe

The old city Dieppe
We got a cab into the city and enjoyed a day walking all around the place visiting the Canadian War Memorial, the shops and the restaurants where seafood was featured and it was FRESH.
Dieppe was the scene of a complete fiasco of a raid in WW2 where Canadian troops attempted to land on the beaches in front of the town. The tanks couldn't make it across the pebble beaches and the troops couldn't scale the seawall. Out of 5000 troops landed only about 2000 made it back. All the equipment from tanks to trucks and guns were lost. 

Monument to the French Canadian Troops Dieppe

Canadian War Memorial Dieppe
Then the time came for us to get on the ferry and depart for Newhaven in UK.
Dieppe - Newhaven Ferry