Monday, August 2, 2010

And Now a Word From Our Driver...Guest Post by Frederick

Observations from the Cockpit

Some stats:
• Drove approximately 4000 km (a little less than 2500 miles or roundtrip from Dallas to LA)
• Visited eight countries
• Stayed in thirteen campsites over 18 days.
Here are the specs of our camper (Dethleffs I 7870-2)
• Length - 27.16'
• Width - 7.64'
• Height - 9.61'
• Weight - 11000 pounds
• Six speed manual transmission

• Europe by Van and Motorhome by David Shore and Patty Campbell - Invaluable source for planning and knowing what to expect.
• ACSI Camp Site Guide for Europe DVD - Allowed us to lookup campsites while offline; a must have.
• Rick Steves' Germany - Mostly designed for people who are travelling by train but still very detailed information on the cities he covers. It came in especially useful in Rothenburg o.b.t.

• Long distance travel by camper is very comfortable. There's plenty of room to move around when moving. You can sit at the dining table and watch a movie or eat something or even take a nap on the bed. Unfortunately, the *driver* doesn't get to enjoy the same amenities. However, the driver (and copilot) have AC, which is a good thing since the front of the camper is a giant fishbowl of untinted glass.

• When driving, I still think in "miles"; I would convert kilometers to miles then figure out how long it was going to take to get to a waypoint. I really didn't have a good idea of how long it would take to go xxx km without converting to miles, which is pretty silly since the speedometer was in km/hr.

• Driving on the German Autobahn is truly awesome. The roads are so smooth that you don't even feel like you're going that fast. Long stretches had no speed limit at all. When there is traffic, it really stops. There was a lot more construction than I expected. The freeways in other countries weren't nearly as smooth, which encouraged you to keep to the posted 120 km/hr speed limit.

• German drivers, when passing, don't leave a lot of room (often less than 10 feet at 80+ mph) when changing back to the right lane in front of you. It's very unnerving at first but they're very good drivers and they're going much faster than you.

• At the eastern European border crossings, there are signs to slow down to 30 km/hr (about 20 mph), even though there weren't border controls, per se. The reason why is there there are very large, long trenches at the borders where the retractable gates were. If you hit them at much more than 25 mph, it's like hitting a reverse speed bump and is pretty jarring, even in something as massive as the camper. I really slowed down at the next ones.

• The daily care of the camper wasn't really too bad. The worst part was emptying the chemical toilet cartridge. It needed to be emptied every few days. Fortunately, it pops out and seals well and had an extendible handle that let you roll it on the ground like a really stinky, sloshy roll aboard. The dump sites all had hoses to rinse out the empty cartridge. (Not all nearby bathrooms had soap and hot water so I would usually empty the cartridge before my morning shower.)

• When filling the camper with diesel fuel, do NOT attempt to top off the tank. When the pump stops, the fuel tank is full. The diesel will still overflow a little. Fuel ranged from 1.08 to 1.40 euros per liter so you could dump a euro's worth of fuel without trying if you top off. (Full means full!!)

• Filling out forms in Slavic languages is not fun. Better to copy what someone before has written.

• It's good to have someone help when pulling into and out of campsites. There aren't a lot of "pull through" spots in Europe.

• When driving in non-English speaking countries, it really helps to have multiple sets of eyes to look for signs, even when using a GPS. Mickie is an excellent navigator, as long as the GPS thinks we were driving a bus. She did a great job of letting me know well in advance what was coming up.

• Even if you're using a GPS system, it's important for the navigator to do a "reality check" using a hard copy map so you don't get led to some tiny country road, even if it's a shorter driving distance.

• Grocery stores with big parking lots are your friend.

• Grey roads are NOT your friend. Red roads are. GPS not always right.

• When putting up your awning, make sure you deploy it at an angle so it doesn't fill with water.

• Filling the fresh water tank is a two person job when using a short hose and high water pressure.

• If you want any kind of additional services (like Internet access or shower tokens), it's important to arrive before the main reception office closes. The after hours reception basically consists of getting your contact information and getting some kind of deposit from you.

• When driving a camper this big, you feel like a rock star. Or at least, everybody stares at you when you drive through small villages (or in the Mala Strana in Prague). Also, Europeans took a double take when trying to figure out what country TX is.

• It's no wonder Europeans drink so much beer; you can get a .5 liter glass for 1.50 euros; a .33 liter bottle of Coke is 2 euros and a liter bottle of mineral water is 4 euros. I can easily nurse a glass of beer to last thru a meal.

• We never ran into another American in any of the thirteen camp sites we stayed in. We rarely ran into anyone who's primary language was English. The Dutch, however, are nuts about camping.

• There's nothing better than coming back to a camper that's had the AC running all day after spending the day wandering cities with no air conditioning.

• Passing in a five ton camper is very exciting, as are hairpin turns on mountain roads. It's hard to pass in 6th gear.

• Crocs make good shower shoes. They provide a nice, wide, high platform in a flooded shower.

• Four minutes of hot water lasts a lot longer than you'd think.

• You don't appreciate the toilet seat until you find a public toilet without one. YUCK!

• When the campsite lists a time during the day that the showers/bathrooms are closed for cleaning, they're not kidding. At one campsite, I was in the bathroom when I heard a woman screaming something in German in the shower area. Shortly after, I heard high pressure water being blasted and a man apologizing profusely about being in the shower.

• It's hard to give away the European version of Frebreeze. They don't understand what it is.

• Two fans (one large stand up and one small table top) = one mirror cover

• It takes some getting used to not having a functional rearview mirror. Apparently, there's a requirement to have a mirror of some sort even if there's not a rear window. And the backup camera only works when backing up.

• Even when travelling by camper, "sea days" are nice every once in a while.

• It's a luxury (especially for the driver) to stay more than one night at a campsite. Driving 100+ miles every day takes its toll after a couple of weeks.

• One bottle of cheap German Riesiling = 1 bag of very stinky German Candy

• Don't forget the spin cycle, especially when there aren't clothes dryers.

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