March 29, 2013

Along the Gulf Coast

“Embrace the detours.”  Kevin Charbonneau

Carol writes:  Before we knew it, as we headed south and east, the Colorado winter scene was being replaced with sure signs of spring—blooming dogwoods, redbud trees, azaleas, and daffodils.  Even bundling up in our sleeping bags in the RV at night was no longer necessary! 

Our first stop along the Gulf Coast was in Bay St. Louis where we spent the day with Mike Harris, our Mississippi hiking buddy.  We had a wonderful laughter-filled breakfast with the breakfast bunch at Grammy’s Donuts.  These guys and gals sure know how to start a relaxing day!  I remember from our early married years in Slidell, Louisiana, that in the Deep South it can take all morning just to say “hello”… and that is a good thing. 

Breakfast was followed by Mass at Our Lady of the Gulf Catholic Church, where Mike serves as a deacon.  The extra Mass that morning was in honor of the feast day of St. Joseph (March 19th).  It was a very special occasion for us to attend a Mass in which Mike served as deacon.  After Mass we gathered at “St. Joseph’s Altar” which was set up inside the church community center.  There we enjoyed a spaghetti lunch with a special emphasis on traditional desserts and treats that are associated with their unique St. Joseph’s Day celebration.  I was once again reminded how important it is to preserve the wonderful culture and traditions that are alive and well on the Gulf Coast. 

It was amazing to see the completely restored Our Lady of the Gulf church and community center.  The last time we attended Mass at Our Lady of the Gulf in November 2005, it was held in the storm-ravaged community center with nothing but big holes in the walls where large windows had been blown out during Hurricane Katrina.  The church had also been ruined by Katrina, and I remember we couldn’t even walk inside for fear the buckled, water-damaged floor would give way.  Now all has been rebuilt.  I sense even stronger community bonds, brute determination and heartiness of spirit in our Lady of the Gulf parish.
Lovely restored Our Lady of the Gulf Catholic Church
View of the Gulf of Mexico from Our Lady of the Gulf
Procession to St. Joseph's Altar

Many of the large old trees destroyed by Katrina in Bay St. Louis have been turned into amazing carvings
The Three Amigos
We rounded out a full day with a walk around the trendy tourist shops in downtown Bay St. Louis, then a final shared dinner with Mike and his wife, Mary.
The next day we had one more stop before reaching our daughter’s home in Destin, Florida, and that was to have lunch with an ole Naval Academy buddy of Al’s in lovely Gulf Breeze.  We had a delicious seafood meal and a great time catching up with Jim and Anne Hooper.
These reunions with dear friends make us feel like our relaxing journey has really begun.  Our plan is to spend a few days of quality time with our daughter before heading up to Marietta, Georgia, for new RV tires and one more visit with another classmate of Al’s.  Looks like our visit here in Destin will be a little longer than we had planned because we have to wait for our “green card” (mandatory proof of insurance card) to be mailed from Germany a third time, due to typos!  Ugh!  We are trying hard to “embrace the detours.”
“There ain’t no journey what don’t change you some.”  David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas






March 22, 2013


“The journey is my home.”  Muriel Rukeyser

Carol writes:  Departure day arrived March 16, 2013, and we were underway at last on our hoped-for 500-plus-day European RV adventure.  There were times when it seemed this day would never arrive; then toward the end the countdown seemed to accelerate too much.  Many aspects of preparation for this trip could not be finalized until the last minute, and so it was a sprint to the finish.

The thing I worried about the most was what to do with our house—leave it empty? get a renter? find some other option?  Good ole Internet surfing finally paid off one day when I discovered a national company called Caretakers of America.  We had been advised against obtaining a renter for many reasons —chief among them, getting locked into a long-term lease with a tenant over which there would be no supervision.  A caretaker, however, would present a far different situation.  We would be able to leave our furniture in the house and would have to pack up only our personal items, a huge convenience!  Most caretakers with Caretakers of America are living in houses that are for sale by owners who want their property staged, occupied and cared for when they cannot be there.  It is a month-to-month arrangement, an important consideration for us, not knowing for sure how far we will go with our plan.  The expectation for caretakers is that the home will be kept in show condition at all times.  Caretakers also have background checks done on them, and the homes are inspected once a week.  Seemed the perfect solution for us!  We met our caretaker the day before we left and had an instant feeling of comfort.  It meant a lot to be able to leave without worries of our house being an obvious target for burglary, undiscovered broken pipes, unkempt lawn, etc.

The other issue that occupied a lot of my time was the whole medical/dental issue.  Dental was easy—there is no coverage abroad under our insurance provider.  We will have to rely on the local economy for any dental issues that arise unexpectedly, so we actually delayed our departure by one day because our dentist in Colorado Springs was willing to fit us in for a last-minute cleaning and checkup.

 As far as medical care, Medicare does not cover you when you are out of the U.S., so medical travel insurance or a Medicare supplement that will be effective abroad is mandatory.  Obtaining refills on our routine prescriptions was another issue that I wrestled with for many weeks.  Not every country in Europe allows prescription drugs to enter by mail, especially Germany.  The best advice I can give concerning prescription drugs is to obtain as many refills as possible before leaving the U.S. and to carry these medications in your carry-on luggage in their original labeled bottles.  It’s also a good idea to have hand-written original prescriptions written by your doctor to carry with you as a backup plan.

One comment about RV insurance…  We were told it is pricey (it is), it can take a few months to arrange (took 2-1/2 months for us to get a quote) and there is only one company that will arrange this for Americans who want to ship their RVs abroad (fairly accurate statement).  Luckily, the middleman who arranged this for us here in the U.S. was a pleasure to work with, and our German insurer was kind enough to raise our deductible to a point we were comfortable with but which in turn brought the year’s premium down to a “tolerable” number.  Like most of the issues we dealt with, there always seemed to be a solution at hand if you worked it long enough.

Well, Willie Nelson’s On the Road Again just started playing on Al’s iPod as we are rolling down Route 412 in northern Oklahoma…made us both break out in laughter.  We are starting to feel a little more relaxed and are slowly leaving the last-minute preparation stress behind us. We spent last night in a rural campground in the Oklahoma panhandle with cows in the field as our view for the night.  This week we are looking forward to connecting with a few friends from our past along the Gulf coast, then spending some time with our daughter in Florida before we head up the east coast to Baltimore for shipping day on April 12th.

Sunrise in the Oklahoma panhandle
Al writes:  Carol told you a little about the details that she researched, so I will tell about my areas of preparation.  Mainly, I had the responsibility for all RV matters.  One of the main concerns I had was how to prepare for the European power grid which is 220 volts, 50 Hz, instead of ours of 110 volts, 60 Hz.  Fortunately, there were several blogs by very experienced RVers in Europe that I could learn from.  We will see how well I learned in a month.  Anyway, I chose to put on a 140-volt solar panel to keep our battery charged.  I also got a small catalytic heater that runs only on propane (no electricity) to use instead of the electric-guzzling installed furnace.  With our LED lights, we will consume little electricity and hopefully the solar panel will keep us charged up when not driving.  Finally, I purchased a 3000-watt converter which will allow us to use our RV plugs and maybe the microwave if there are enough amps coming out of the campground.  The blogs are full of stories of Americans blowing fuses in the campgrounds, so I will have to be careful not to get the French, Dutch, Germans, etc., mad at us. 
Another item I obtained was a motorized macerator, or what I affectionately call a "poop pump."  Most European motor homes have sewage cassettes which can be wheeled to the dump station.  I might have to pump my sewage to an elevated position, so now I can with my trusty macerator. 
Did you know that there are three different propane adaptors necessary to travel in the Eurozone with an American RV?
Living in a small RV for a year made me take a close look at space savers.  Now we have a collapsible trash can, collapsible tea kettle, and children's plastic sippy cups for my wine glasses.  It helped that I found a small storage area under part of the bed area that I did not know existed.  I keep looking for another secret storage area but no luck lately.  I took the TV out (would not work in Europe anyway) and now the space is a cool book rack. 
This is probably more detail than most would want except for those who would like to take an RV to Europe.  At one time Carol and I had about 10 lists organized by topics to prepare for this adventure.  I even had to have a list of my lists (old joke). 

“There is a kind of magicness about going far away and then coming back all changed.”  Kate Douglas Wiggin, New Chronicles of Rebecca