Tuesday, May 14, 2013

And the Gold Medal Goes to Germany

We started our most recent EarthRoamer trip on May 9th. Our plan is to go to the North Cape which is in Norway. Well it was probably a mistake to spend the first three nights in German RV parks as it has been all down hill after that. In Germany the parks are so clean you could almost eat off the laundry and restroom floors. There are plenty of rules which have to be followed but the result is super clean, well-functioning facilities. You can actually put your order in the night before for the specific type of fresh breakfast rolls you would like to have the next morning. Works like a charm. Not to mention the laundry rooms feature brand new "state of the art" washers & dryers. Here's a "shout out" to all the US and Canadian RV parks which normally have facilities which could be featured in a museum and are so poorly maintained and filthy it is shocking - why not charge a little more (it is more expensive to stay here) and upgrade your facilities and maintenance schedules? Denmark also had nice clean facilities but not quite to the German standard. However it was possible to order fresh breakfast roles - it's really a nice little extra. The big difference here was that the shower / restroom facilities were coed. Not one big room, mind you, but individual restroom stalls &  individual shower stalls where two people could shower (family facilities).  After being off the road for a a few months, it does take a while to get used to everyone walking around in various stages of undress. However within 24 hours I was back to walking the dog in my pajamas and flip flops. When in Rome ...... The biggest shock so far, though, has been Oslo. The RV park here is a pig sty, plain and simple. The laundry room and grounds (overflowing trash containers, dog waste everywhere ) were enough to make me cry. We had to do laundry and the dirty machines didn't even function correctly. When I brought this to the attention of the reception clerk all I received was a glazed over look. I have now found the European twin of the super gross RV park in Steamboat Springs.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Saga Continues..... Special UK Edition

After spending the past 11 months outside of the EarthRoamer, we had it shipped from the United States to England, Southampton to be exact.I have to admit that I had mixed feelings, leaving the comfort of home and my life but oh well. It has been harder for me to get in the groove this time. Plus I am super stressed at the whole concept of driving on the left side of the road. I keep physically recoiling every time a car or truck gets close to us. I wish that we could all globally decide which side of the road to drive on and what type of electrical plus we are going to use. After visiting Stonehenge - impressive to see but lacking, at least for me, in any type of esoteric pull - we headed to Bath. We were pleasantly surprised to find a really cute, quaint RV park which had its own pub! It had a real "Cheers" atmosphere, very friendly people. So when we set out the next day to buy a converter plug for the electrical connection at the "caravan", not RV as we Americans say, supply store, we were feeling positive towards all things English. Just as we we entered the traffic circle a short way down the road from the RV park, I felt a light impact at the back of the RV. I told Joe I thought someone had bumped into us and that we should pull over. Bad idea. The traffic circle was directly in front of the Globe Pub and what developed was a scene right out of the East Enders - the only characters missing from the accident scene were Grant & Peg. The woman jumped screaming & shouting out of the car yelling that she had a child in the car,her sister had potential whiplash as she'd recently been in another accident blah, blah, blah. As there had only been a soft bump and the only damage was on their rear US driver's side door, I said the police would need to be called. She didn't want police as they were in a hurry but I said sorry I wasn't buying the whiplash nonsense - as my mother would say, I wasn't born yesterday, didn't just fall off the turnip truck. I had images of the 1-800 personal injury advertisements. In the end 30 minutes and 4 policeman later, we were able to drive off - after agreeing to pay for the damage but being held harmless for the damage. At the RV supply, we found what we were looking for and went to the cashier to check out. It was here that I was confronted by a super scary UK fashion trend. There is a whole extreme black eyeliner, false eyelash craze here. Americans also have their odd habits (shopping in PJs) Swiss (complete body tattoos & piercings) but unless you're Adele or a Kardashian, it's probably a "no go" for everyday. It is strangely disconcerting to have the cashier in a caravan supply store (sorry, Rv, for my American readers) have enough make-up and false lashes on that she could give Lisa Minelli a run for her money. I kept having the feeling she was going to dash off to Vegas the minute she finished checking us out. Ladies if you really have to follow this trend, invest some serious money in the lashes. Most women here have clumps of lashes bearing a strange resemblance to a chunk of tar stuck to their eyelid which make it almost impossible for them to open their eyes. Less is really more. It also seems the "no truth in advertising" virus has also affected the RV lodging guides here, just like the US. The first place in Bath was fabulous, actually had a pub on the premises - double thumbs up. The place in Liverpool however was a dump - no water hook-up, no bathroom facilities & a power cord sticking out of the side of a barn for power (We were told not to use too much! Really?!, considering it was the same price as the nice place in Bath) . It was basically a parking place on a farm. Lastly, whoever said, "clothes make the man" has certainly been shopping in Bath. We were strolling through the town after taking a short bus tour and we came across a Russell & Bromley shoe store - one of my absolute favorite shoe stores on earth. We went in and I was looking around. Well, due to the fact that I was dressed in my nice RV traveling gear, not a single soul approached us. I had to practically tackle a young woman to get her to bring me two pairs of boots to try on. She did her best to humour me, I guess feeling secure in her opinion that I wouldn't be buying anything. Well I did buy a pair and she was more than incredulous when I took out my American Express. A more appropriate slogan might be "don't judge a book by it's cover".

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Texas - A Tale of Two Cities

Our trip is slowly winding to a close and we are heading to Las Vegas where I will fly home to Switzerland. We had the opportunity to spend a day in San Antonio and really enjoyed ourselves. We took public transportation from our RV park to the Riverwalk area. The driver was very helpful and let us know exactly where we needed to get off the bus and where we should pick up the bus for the return trip. We visited the Alamo and had dinner at one of the Riverwalk restaurants. It was so romantic sitting outside enjoying our dinner but the cooler temperatures drove us inside for a final drink. Finding the bus for our return trip was a little complicated but a nice young man helped us out. He was on the same bus and apparently heard us discussing where we needed to get off for our RV park. Amazingly we didn't realize we were at our stop - luckily the young man asked the bus driver to wait and told us we needed to hurry up and get off! It was a really positive experience and we look forward to going there again in the future.

Unfortunately our experience in El Paso was less than positive. We had hoped to stay overnight there and had located an RV park on the Internet. Upon reaching the RV park, we realized it was located in the middle of nowhere. So we decided we would drive into the city proper and look for a dog-friendly hotel. Although it is listed as the second oldest city in the country, there was - at least in our mind - nothing appealing about the place. It is overwhelmingly industrial. Add to this the fact that there are currently US travel advisories in place due to the proximity to Juarez, Mexico. It just had a negative vibe for us so we decided to travel farther. This proved to be a good decision because as we continued to drive a perfect view of the fence along the US / Mexico border came into view. It is truly shocking when you see it for the first time. Plus, as there is a Brooks Brothers outlet almost directly across from the poverty of Juarez, it forces you to face why people continue to try and across the border - legally or illegally. Very sad indeed.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I Guess You Can Never Really Escape Grammar School, Sadly.

The living culture is transient in most RV parks - most people stay anywhere from one day to one week. This culture really shifts, though, in the snowbird states. During a recent stay in Tampa I was able to practically time travel back to 6th grade. Joe was away in New York for a consulting job so I was alone. I decided to go into the clubhouse to write some postcards and enjoy some human interaction (Nera our dog is a great companion but not much of a conversationalist). Well I should have saved myself the trouble. I walked in and said hello to the women there. In return I received zero response or acknowledgement. Later I went to the pool and said hello to the maintenance man ( also a park resident) which earned me no response. The only time anyone paid attention to me was when the on-site RV technician came over to fix our faulty shower head. His wife conveniently decided to "stop by" - assessing the competition?!?!? So the popular crowd (aka winter regulars) don't bother with the short term visitors.

I did, though, make an interesting discovery. It seems that seniors are strongly attracted by clip art! It is virtually impossible for them to produce an announcement or flyer without clip art. Chili Cook Off - here we have the steaming bowl of chili, the ladies mystery lunch was a veritable cornucopia of question marks. Hopefully this lifestyle works for all involved but I know I wouldn't last. Although these regulars should be enjoying life, they are still engaging in territorial fights and power struggles. All the clip art in the world can't put a happy face on this.

Just wondering.....

As we have been driving through Louisiana and Texas, I have noticed the almost overwhelming number of churches along the highway not to mention billboards displaying religious messages. However, interestingly enough, there are also far more billboards for adult erotic stores and "men's only" clubs than I have seen anywhere else in the US during our trip. What is up with this? It seems so incongruous to me not to mention really just awful and gross.

Key West, The Place Where Back Fat Rules

Getting older and accepting the physical changes in one's body can be a bitter pill to swallow. Speaking from my own personal situation, I try to fight the middle-aged weight gain by counting calories and battle back fat (men, you should ask your wives about this) by purchasing a special bra which covers it. I agonize over my figure and look for creative ways to camoflage my "muffin top". I guess I was of the mis-informed opinion that all women were concerned about these issues and looked for ways to package their middle-aged bodies so the tracks of time weren't so apparent. Well, after spending some time in an RV camp in Key West, I see I was so woefully wrong.

As we were getting set-up, I saw a couple walking toward us. From a distance they looked to be about thirty. Well as they got closer I realized that they were in their early fifties. This didn't stop the gentleman from sporting his vintage 1974 pukka bead necklace, no sir. The woman however was wearing an "A" cup triangle bikini top over a "D" cup chest. The outfit was completed by a pair of low-rise Daisy Dukes that I wouldn't have worn with 20. What is surprising here is that her muffin top was on display for all to see as well as her back fat! These imperfections didn't seem to bother her in the least if you judge the way she was strutting her stuff.

As it happens we arrived in Key West during the "Fantasy Fest" celebration. This wasn't our plan as neither of us had ever even heard of "Fantasy Fest" but Key West was simply the next planned stop on our trip. Based on accounts from other RVers it sounded like a wild time but I was of the mistaken assumption that most participants were young people. Oh, how wrong I was. When we got to downtown Key West Thursday night it was apparent that most people attending were over 40 with the over 60 crowd super well represented. I don't believe I have ever seen so much naked airbrush painted skin (a true lifesaver for me where some people were concerned) in my life - the Street Parade in Zurich has nothing on these people and what they are willing to expose. It takes a little getting used to sitting at a bar next to a woman wearing nothing but pasties and a grass skirt or a man wearing only a "wet paint" sign in front of his crotch. These people do get an "A" for creativity if nothing else. I guess a lot of young people don't attend because let's face it who would want to see people your parents' age walking around like this? Also what would you do if you actually saw someone you know dressed like this?

Funny enough a lot of Americans are uncomfortable when they first move to Switzerland due to the topless sunbathing and the coed saunas where bathing suits aren't allowed (thought to be poor hygiene when sitting in a warm sauna). After Key West I would embrace these things no questions asked. The images of some people are burned into my memory - and let me say, not in a good way. As I told a friend, if gouging my own eyes out would remove these images I would gladly do it.

Friday, October 28, 2011

"Dude, Where's My Car?", Special Key West Edition

Tonight in Key West I had the most fun I have had since high school, believe me. Joe and I had spent a few hours in Key West walking through Fantasy Fest. It was really raining cats and dogs so we decided to try and find a cab to go back to the RV park. Luck was with me and I was able to hail a mini-van cab. As the door opened all I could think was "Dude, where's my car?" as the cab driver was a total hippie and Manfred Man's "Blinded by the Light" was blaring on the radio (his bongo drums were also on the floor!) We hadn't gone a block when our driver saw four more people trying to hail a cab. Next thing you know, after a short price negotiation, they were traveling with us. We went on to pick up six more people and our driver kept track of all our destinations in his head. Our fellow passengers were shouting out things like "Dude, just turn left and you're at my house" or "Hey, let us out here and we'll walk" - let's just say our driver simply followed his own internal GPS to determine who was getting dropped off and in what order. As all this was all going on, our driver provided commentary on the music playing and kept trying to find a better station on the radio. His phone kept ringing and he kept saying things like "I'm trying to get to you man, hang on" or "Dude, I have to drop of a bunch of people first, I'll call you!" As it was really raining, the windows were fogging up. Our driver was yelling "Hey, can anyone see out the back window, I need to back up!" I felt like a high school student in the car with a friend, great feeling. It's important to add that except for one college student all passengers were in the 50 plus range and having no problem dealing with this unorthodox ride. The young man, however, looked shell-shocked like he was ready to bolt the next time the car door opened. Age does have it's advantages.