Carol writes: The days of November had been clicking right along. Before we knew it, Thanksgiving had arrived and we found ourselves in Fatima, perhaps the most well-known of all the Catholic pilgrimage sites. In 1917, in the pastoral fields of Fatima, three young shepherd children claimed that the Blessed Virgin Mary had appeared to them. Fast-forward almost a century and the apparition site now has a visitation chapel
and a grand basilica dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Francisco and Jacinta died as children and were declared ‘Blessed’ (one step shy of sainthood) by Pope John Paul II. Lucia lived as a nun to the ripe old age of 97. All three shepherd children have been entombed in niche areas toward the front of the basilica.
Since we don’t have the ability to use our RV’s convection oven, our Thanksgiving Day in Fatima did not feature a turkey dinner—cheese ravioli instead—but, after all, Thanksgiving isn’t just about the food, and Fatima seemed to be a perfect place to spend the night and reflect on how fortunate we were to be able to undertake such an incredible European RV adventure.
As we flipped the calendar page to December, we found ourselves beginning a long 1500-mile drive to Amsterdam—through Portugal, Spain, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. On our last night in Portugal our streak of incredible good luck took a wrong turn. Unfortunately, Al misjudged a left turn in a housing area and we scraped a low stone wall.
Al writes: In my defense, it was a narrow one-way lane with stone walls instead of curbs making a 90-degree turn.
Carol writes: The crunch we heard was the sound of a 7-foot section of our running board and attached sewer hose storage tube being ripped off. The streak of nonstop cussing I heard was from Al…well, enough said.
Al writes: I only cussed about a minute and stopped when I was surrounded by lots of Portuguese men providing all kinds of advice in a couple of languages I did not understand.
Carol writes: Three elderly Portuguese men came to our aid and helped hold the loose end while Al unscrewed the remaining screws that held the dangling running board. Once again, we were witness to the incredible kindness of strangers. So, now we are faced with hauling a loose, unwieldy section of running board (with its attached sewer hose storage tube) around with us in the RV by day, leaving it outside our doorstep at night, hoping we don’t forget it and run over it in the morning. For the record, we have only run over it once.
A couple of days ago we discovered that the shipping date for our RV had been moved up by three days. For us, that meant no more easy days of driving. Fortunately, Spain’s divided highways were excellent, so we made good time on our planned route along a section of the Camino de Santiago, the 400-mile pilgrimage path across northern Spain that was made even more famous in the movie “The Way” starring Martin Sheen. (…great flick if you haven’t seen it…)
We finished up our drive through Spain in Basque country, then entered into French Basque country where we admired the unique beauty of the whitewashed buildings with their traditional red or green shutters.
Once again, we found France very camper friendly with lots of free “aires” where travelers passing through are welcome to camp for the night. We especially like the ones in small towns.
We even camped for the night in one “aire” that we had used last summer on a blistering hot day. I have such a clear memory of camping next to this weeping willow while savoring its blessedly cool shade.
There were many things to love about France last summer, but one of my favorites was its excellent French bread. It was heavenly once again to bite into a fresh slice smeared with a little butter. Throughout our European travels, we have found no other country that makes bread as delicious as the loaves we savored in France.
As we left France, we celebrated buying our last tank of very costly European diesel fuel…
and looked forward (??) to paying about half the price back in the good ole USA.
It seemed like the 1500-mile drive to Amsterdam would take forever, but within 5 days we found ourselves back in the land of the “giants” (the very tall inhabitants of the Netherlands). We also noticed that even on blustery, freezing days the Dutch people still have a love affair with riding bikes.
It was with some trepidation that we dropped our RV off at the shipping line in Amsterdam.
We will not see it again until January 11th when we meet up with it at the port of Jacksonville. Meanwhile, we nervously checked off all the last-minute details with the shipping line. We also packed our large duffle bags on wheels with every piece of clothing and all the personal items we thought we would need for the next 5 weeks. Did we forget anything? Time will tell, but so far, so good. We are now tucked away in a nice, cozy, small European hotel called “The Poet.”
We have weathered a big nasty storm off the North Sea that blew through the first night. The creature comforts of our hotel have felt awfully good after almost 9 months of living out of our RV. Last night it felt a little strange to both of us to sleep without a sleeping bag, hat, gloves, and hoodie. For now, I think we are going to enjoy a lot of sights in Amsterdam that we missed last April and we were here as newbies at this European lifestyle.
“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.” Susan Heller