It had been an oppressively hot day, the type of hot that weighs like a stone on your chest and burns the back of your eyes.
Grand Via before sunset….still hot, but starting to cool down
I’d been out early to take advantage of what little cool there was in the morning, but then the heat had gotten to me and I simply couldn’t take it any longer. So I was holed up in my teeny little Hostel room with a sputtering air con that was just barely keeping up.
I was just going to veg here, siesta style until the sun started to set, and then I’d maybe think about heading out again. I could hit happy hour if I went out before 9pm, probably have a bit to eat if I could find somewhere that was open that early and then wonder around the streets until midnight.
Sounded like a plan, right?
Panorama of the Royal Palace in the late afternoon
I’ve Become A Siesta Lover (And A Night Owl)
I’d only been in Madrid for 12 hours. Just time enough to drop off kitty for her I-131 treatment south of town and head into the city. It had taken me that long, a mere half-day, to figure out that taking siesta and going out late was the only thing that made any sense. It wasn’t that the city wasn’t happening during the day. I mean there was plenty going on with museums, and shopping and such. It’s just that that was so darn hot, and for the sake of my delicate Nordic constitution (and my sanity) I simply had to stay indoors until things cooled down.
Back in the day this had real application.
Workers in the fields took siesta in order to shelter from the mid-day heat. The break allowed them to rest during the hottest part of the day, and then work the fields later into the evening, when temps were cooler and more manageable. Life has modernized of course, so siesta isn’t what it used to be (the actual napping part isn’t really done anymore), but the tradition of the late afternoon break is still very much a cultural norm. So the schedule of business revolves around it, and in turn regular life does too.
Not many folks out Mid-Day here, except tourists of course
In Madrid, it’s still common for everything to operate late, at least compared to what you and I are used to. The mornings are a time of complete quiet and almost fully deserted streets. It’s kind of eerie really, but a lovely time to walk around town and enjoy the architecture. Shops typically start opening around 10AM. They close for siesta around 2PM (restaurants close later at ~4PM), open again at 4PM and finally shut their doors at around 8 or 9PM. This naturally pushes out the night-time schedule too. So bars don’t really open for happy hour until around 8PM, restaurants don’t really start to fill up until 10PM and everything else follows.
It’s truly a late-night culture and if you want to fully experience Madrid, you’ve simply got to adjust to it.
The Night-Time Is Glorious
Night is the best time to be out too. Once the sun sets and the heat of the day dissipates into a warm breeze, Madrid comes alive. Its when stuff really starts happening and that makes it a glorious place to be.
Families and kids who were holed up all day spill into the plazas to mingle and play. Workers who were locked inside offices stream into open tapas bars and sidewalk restaurants to chat and laugh. Night hawkers line the curbs with their wares, music fills the streets, performers dance & charm, chatter fills the air and the old buildings glow in a million ethereal lights. Literally everyone is out and the city simply bursts with life and activity.
As a visitor you can spend hours sitting at a street-side cafe watching the world go by, or you can walk the streets and allow yourself be be swept up in the heartbeat of the city, your skin breathing in the night breeze, your body rocking to the street music, your mind alight with the buzz of lights and people. Madrid is like a rare flower that blooms at night and it’s truly an awesome thing to experience it.
But there’s more to it too…
Plaza Mayor comes alive at night
Boutique Hostels Are The Way To Go
I’d planned my 3 night in Madrid in the very center of town to maximize my explorations and night-time wanderings.
Kitty was being treated in Leganés just south of town, and I was flying solo (Paul was with the rest of the paws at home), so I didn’t need anything fancy. I briefly looked at “regular” Hotels, but they were pricey and mostly in the spots I didn’t want to be. Hostels however were everywhere and super cheap!
Hostels in Madrid are everywhere….and SO darn cheap! This is the center of town
Now Hostels in Madrid can run the gamut from fairly run-down to pretty nice, but most of them are akin to “boutique hotels” located in regular-looking residential apartment buildings scattered all across town.
My Hostel room was small, but clean and functional and right downtown
They’re small and functional, often only 20-30 rooms or so on the single level of a building. Rooms can be either shared (bunk-bed type) or private, amenities are basic (maybe just a communal kitchen or some vending machines) and there are usually no extra “frills”. But they’re generally clean and welcoming and they’re definitely the way to go if you’re on a budget. For a mere ~EUR 20-45 a night you’ll be comfortable and right smack in the center of town.
I chose Hostel Astoria, one of four Hostels in the same residential building on Carrera de San Jerónimo, a main drag downtown. I had a bit of trouble finding it at first (nothing but a sign on the outside of the building to identify it, and I needed a “buzz-in” to get past the front door), but once I got up to the 4th floor and oriented it was fine. My room was about the size of my arms spread out, with perhaps a smidgen of extra space to do a little side-step, and my bed was European “slim-size” the kind I might not want to roll around in too much if I didn’t want to end up on the floor. But I had a private bathroom, air-conditioning, free WiFi and access to all of central Madrid within 5 mins of my door. Honestly, it was perfect!
Hostel Booking Tip: Search engines like Google, Expedia or TripAdvisor are great for narrowing down your options on places to stay. Everything is laid-out on a map so you can scan prices and..
Madrid is a city that buzzes with life, color & sound
There are street vendors lined up along the road, their various trinkets on a blanket with a rope attached in case the police come and they need to make a quick escape. A team of folks are offering neck massages on the pavement, while several anothers are selling some kind of blinking, whizzing light thingie that they’re throwing up in the air for attention.
Some rap music just started up in the background and a group of fine young men are break-dancing in the plaza and (whoo whee) stripping with a huge crowd cheering them on. A group of about 40 young children walk by with a few adults to herd them on, likely a school outing of some sort. Lovers hold hands, families are out enjoying the fresh air and old folk are taking a slow stroll around.
It’s an atmosphere ripe with sound and hustle and in any other big city it would be perfectly normal….
Except this is Madrid, it’s midnight and the party is just getting started. Plus I’m wondering around solo and I’m ~750km from home.
Why in the world am I here????
The Cat Made Me Do it….
It all started a few weeks ago when Rand was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism.
Rand with her brand new European Pet Passport
We caught the disease early this time since we went through it with Taggart in 2016. So, I knew what to look for and recognized the signs (losing weight rapidly despite eating a ton, acting hyper and restless, howling at night etc.) very soon after they started.
A quick T4 test at our local vet confirmed the diagnosis. Her levels were well above the limit & she needed to be treated immediately.
I started the meds that same night, but I knew right away what I wanted to do. Rand was going to get I-131, I was going to get it done as soon as I could and I was literally willing to go anywhere to get it done right…
What Is Hyperthyroidism In Cats?
For the benefit of those who don’t recall the details of Taggart’s story from 2016, let me just backtrack a bit and recap. Feline hyperthyroidism is the result of a tumor (in most cases, benign) that grows on the thyroid gland. This causes an excess of thyroid hormone to be produced by the body which, if left unchecked, causes all kinds of serious issues from rapid weight loss to high blood pressure, heart disease, organ complications and (eventually) death. For the cat to survive he/she MUST be treated.
Hyperthyroidism in cats is associated with an enlarged thyroid gland (picture from petinsurance.com)
The meds to control the disease are rather horrible
Now you can control the disease with a rather horrible medication (Methimazole), but that only keeps the T4 levels in check. It doesn’t stop the slow growth of the tumor or cure the disease. So, not only do you have the constant side-effects of the meds (vomiting, nausea, loss of appetite are all common, with more serious issues such as skin, clotting and liver problems also possible), but you have to keep testing the cat, and over time you’ll need to increase the dose you’re giving to keep up with increasing T4 levels.
You can also surgically remove the thyroid, but it’s a very fiddly operation. So there’s a risk that not all of the tumor is removed and the disease returns later on. Plus if both thyroid nodes are removed, kitty need to be on thyroid meds for the remainder of his/her life. It’s the least expensive “cure”, but it’s not always optimal.
However the good news is that there IS a rather easy cure with a VERY high (>96%) success rate!
Radioactive I-131 is the “golden standard” for treatment (in humans as well as cats, by the way) and the idea is super simple. You inject a specific dose of the radioactive isotope, Iodine-131 into the body which concentrates in the thyroid and emits beta-radiation, killing all abnormal (hyper-functioning) cells. Once the tumor has died, the healthy thyroid hopefully kicks in again, and things go back to normal.
There is a small (~3%) risk that your cat goes hypO thyroid (= thyroid goes too low) after treatment, which will then require life-long thyroid supplement. Plus your cats pee & poo will be radioactive for some time after treatment (so there are some specific steps you have to take to protect yourself while handling the litter), but IMO both of those are well worth it to cure this horrible disease.
Taggart went through the treatment in 2016, was 100% cured and has been perfectly healthy ever since. It was expensive ($2,600 at the time), but has literally saved us thousands in vet bills since. Plus the stress relief of no longer having to pill her 2x per day (and the side-effects of those meds) are all gone.
Rand was definitely going to get the same treatment and she was going to get it as soon as possible.
We Knew THE PLACE For Treatment In The USA
The hard job in all this was finding the right clinic to do the treatment in Europe.
During her stay in NY I was able to watch Taggart on the web cam
Dr Peterson is one of the leading researchers of I-131 and hyperthyroidism in the world, and conducts a very tailored treatment plan that includes a pre-treatment thyroid scan (thyroid scintigraphy), and the use of super small (often only 1-2mCi), specifically calculated I-131 doses that are highly individualized to each cat*. Plus he offers top-notch kitty accommodations with spacious 2-level kitty condos and 24-hour web cams.
The net result is a treatment that’s low-stress on the cat, with high success rate and very low risk of kitty going hypO after treatment. Taggart received a minuscule I-131 dose of 1.85mCi and was back to her “old self” within days of her short 4-night stay at Hypurrcat. It was amazing!
However when I asked Dr Peterson back in 2016, he said he hadn’t shared his specific methods with anyone else. So what in the world was I going to do with Rand here in Europe??????
A Thyroid Scan can tell you the size and location of the tumor, as well as whether it’s metastasized. Only a few clinics in the USA offer it however (picture from Hypurrcat website).
*Note/ In comparison most clinics in the USA don’t do a thyroid scan, and even those that do just use a “standard” ~4 mCi dose of I-131, with maybe a smidgen of variation for tumor size.
European I-131 Clinics -> Standard Dosing & 2 WEEK Stays???
I had to admit that the first places I researched on this side of the pond were not very promising.
A MINIMUM of 2 weeks stay???!!! (from RVC in UK)
I-131 treatment for cats isn’t as common in Europe as it is in USA, so there are simply not many places that offer it. Plus the ones that do generally all do some kind of “standard dosing” and (worst of all) require that cats stay confined at the clinic for up to 2 WEEKS before they release them back to you. Noooo!
I called several clinics in Europe with a similar result each time. There is only one clinic in France (Oncovet), one in Austria (Veterinärmedizinische Universität), one in Holland (Lingehoeve), one in Belgium (Veterinary University Of Ghent) and several in the UK. They all offer the treatment, but only a few do thyroid scans, most use a standard dose of ~4mCi and all want to keep the cats 1-3 weeks for observation.
What a BIG three weeks it’s been! We’ve completed 3 serious medical procedures (2 paw-related and 1 human), I’ve driven over 1800 km solo, I’ve visited another country, and our little family has gone through an emotional roller-coaster. I haven’t wanted to blog during it all partly because of stress, and partly because I wanted these weeks to be over and done with before I wrote about them.
A very worried doggie mom
But here we are, finally! The three weeks of hell are done and I am happy to say they went well. PHEW!
There’s lots to share, but we’ll start at the beginning…..
Our big month of craziness was launched when Polly tore the ACL on her right rear leg back in mid-May. As soon as it happened we knew exactly what it was. We went down this road with her left leg back in 2016 and it basically re-routed our entire year of RV travel that year. It was a looong path to recovery and I wrote in detail about it on the blog in these four posts:
This time around the right ACL was badly damaged, but not completely torn, so we gave her several weeks to see if it would start to recover on its own. Sadly it didn’t, and by the end of week 3 she was still not using it, preferring instead to hop around on 3 legs. At this point our options were clear and the vet agreed. Surgery was going to be needed and it was going to be needed ASAP.
Finding A Surgeon
Of course our first barrier was finding a good surgeon on this side of the pond.
Our previous experience with Dr Acker in Sun Valley, ID was SO good that we were dubious we could find anything that matched over here. After all, Dr Acker is a wizard and we are supremely difficult customers. We wanted someone who specialized in leg operations and who does A LOT of them (good surgery is so much a function of feel & practice). Plus we wanted a surgery that was minimally invasive with a small scar (= faster healing), minimal swelling or bruising, and internal stitches that wouldn’t require her to wear one of those horrible collars afterwards. We were asking a lot!
After weeks of research we narrowed it down to 2 options:
The guys have an incredibly good reputation in UK
1/ Drive to the UK – The first option we thought of was to drive to the UK. So while I was visiting my sister in Bristol I spent every night researching & reviewing orthopedic vets, and there was one which consistently popped up on every search. Fitzpatrick Referrals is a top-notch facility in Eashing, UK (southern UK) that has everything you’d ever want for doggie othopedics. World-class surgeons, a first-class rehab facility and a whole-dog holistic approach to healing. It required a referral from our French vet, a 2-week wait while our case was analyzed & scheduled, driving ~13 hours (each way!), and a cost of £3,800-£4,000 pounds to complete. Yikes! Still, the idea of having everything done in English at a top-notch facility was tempting. Was this the right place?
The small, but specialized clinic that we found by word of mouth locally in France
Dr Guenego (pic from http://cliniqueduvernet.com)
2/ Get It Done Locally – Our other option was to do it locally. Our house is located only ~1 hour from Toulouse which has one of the top vet schools in France, so the probability of finding a top-notch surgeon here should be pretty high. But HOW do actually you find them? In France vets are not legally allowed to advertise their business (it’s literally against the law), and Google reviews are kinda hit and miss (folks just don’t seem to do them as much as in the USA), so almost everything here is done by word-of-mouth referral. We’d already established ourselves with a local vet who said she knew the right guy to do it, a very innovative surgeon by the name of Dr. Guenego who practices at a small, but specialized clinic, Clinique Veterinaire du Vernet just ~30 mins down the road. It sounded OK, but how would we know for sure?
We decided to get a referral done to both places and then talk to them in person in order to make our final decision.
I called up the UK place first. It clearly hit all our “buttons” and I was super impressed when I talked to them, but it would take over 2 weeks before they could see us, not to mention the price and the complicated logistics of getting there and back with doggie. I really, really liked them, but it wasn’t going to be easy.
A blurry pic of Polly on the way to the clinic. Poor girl didn’t know what was coming…
The place in France was a bit more of a mystery. It had exceptionally good Google reviews (a rarity in France), but I couldn’t actually find any comments that were specific to the ACL surgery. Plus there wasn’t much info about the procedure beyond what (very) little was on their web site.
It wasn’t until I talked to Dr. Guenego himself that the pic came info focus. He’s a specialized orthopedic surgeon who’s been doing surgeries for over 25 years. He prides himself on the very latest operating techniques, specializes in minimally invasive surgery, and constantly tops up his knowledge by writing papers and presenting at conferences (always a good sign).
I spent over an hour talking to him, asking WAY more questions than he’d likely ever been asked before (tell me about the exact angles and how they compare to regular TPLO, talk to me about stitches and the metal alloy that’s used in the plates, describe the post-op complications, tell me how this impacts the arthritis she has in her hips etc.), but he was patient and SUPER detailed, and in the end he totally won me over.
This vet knew his stuff and my gut told me he was the one for the job. Plus he could operate right away and it would only cost us EUR 1600. Clearly it was meant to be!
The TPLO Procedure
So what was it exactly that we were getting done??
Steps of a TPLO surgery (image from saintfrancis.org)
Those of you who remember our last TPLO procedure will recall that this is a very serious orthopedic surgery. During TPLO the bone is basically sawed in half and rotated in order to change the angle of the tibial plateau. This basically takes the torn ACL “out of commission” allowing the dog to use the leg normally without it. In theory it’s quite an elegantly simple operation, and in the right hands it’s quickly and accurately done, but it IS also a very serious op.
For our surgery in France, things were going to be a little different too.
Dr Guenego doesn’t actually do a “classic” TPLO surgery, but a type of modified TTA/TPLO that uses a wedge and a much smaller double plate. It’s something he’s developed (and presented on) over the years through his own expertise and it’s very interesting stuff. The bone is still broken and the result is exactly the same as a regular TPLO (a leveling of the tibial plateau, with pretty much exactly the same angles), but the procedure is less invasive overall. The advantage of this is typically less post-op complications and faster initial use of the leg.
However the absolute recovery time is similar.
It’s A The Loooong Recovery Process (Get Ready!)We’re following the same free rehab guide as last time
We’ve had this red light pen for years (& love it)
This supplement is great for joints
The general rule of thumb for doggie TPLO/TTA recovery is that it takes ~8 weeks before the bone fuses with up to 6 months for FULL recovery. Each dog is a little different and the exact recovery time is highly variable. Some dogs use the operated leg right away and are back to normal after 3 months, whereas others take weeks to use it and/or have to be re-trained to have confidence in the leg & walk normally again (Polly’s last recovery was like that).
Either way, during recovery it’s super important to follow a strict regime.
During the first 8 weeks the dog must be firmly restricted to short leash-walks (starting at 5 mins, and increasing slowly over time), and there can be absolutely NO jumping, NO running, NO stairs, NO play/roughhousing &..
Welcome to part II of my into to European RVing mini-series! If you’ve landed here you might have slogged your way through my RV shipping post and decided that was not going to be the route for you. Why go through all that hassle and (potentially) pay those high insurance prices? Surely there’s another way?
Well thankfully there is. Whether you’re coming to Europe for a short vacay or a longer stay there are options for both renting and buying RV’s (yes, even if you’re a non-resident!) that can get you rolling down the European backroads in no time at all. That’s the topic we’re going to explore today, so let’s dig right in…
Renting An RV (Campervan/Motorhome)
If you’re just coming for a short jaunt in EU, renting an RV can be a very decent way to go. You don’t need any special paperwork and you can do it all with a simple online booking and your regular US drivers license*. However there’s a few small things you need to know before you start down this route.
This is called a motorhome in Europe
The first thing you need to know is that nobody uses the term “RV” in Europe. They are either called campervans (generally smaller, van-like vehicles) or motorhomes (generally larger, class C-like or small class A-like vehicles), so when you’re searching online for a rental in Europe that’s what you’ll be searching for.
The second thing to understand is that costs can vary a TON. Rentals run anywhere from EUR 300-4000 (~US$350-$4700) per week depending on where you rent from, what size you rent and what time of year you come, so it’s definitely worth hunting around for deals. Most folks seem to end up renting something that costs around US$1000/week.
Size Matters: A van that sleeps two to four (e.g. van with pop-up top) can be anywhere from 1/2-1/4 the price of a larger, Winnebago-style RV that sleeps four to five. If you can handle the size, vans are definitely the cheapest and most flexible vehicles to rent in Europe. Plus they’re cheaper in gas to drive around too.
Age Matters: Renting a newer motorhome will cost more than renting an older model. Some agencies offer a selection, but many deal exclusively in newer RVs.
Diesel Is Better: In Europe diesel tends to be cheaper than gas. Most motorhomes in Europe run on diesel, but there are a select few that run on gas (often called petrol over here), plus some van rentals may run on gas too. So make sure you double-check and go diesel if there’s a choice.
Manual Is Cheaper Than Automatic: For vehicles in Europe, the general standard is Manual Transmission whereas Automatic is much less common. It’s also much cheaper to rent a Manual, so if you’re comfortable driving a stick shift definitely go that route. However if you don’t know how to drive a stick, make sure you chose Automatic so that you aren’t surprised when you pick-up your rental!
Shop Around by Country: Rental prices vary a ton by both city and country so it’s definitely worth shopping around. In general, Germany seems to have pretty decent rates, but you can also find screaming deals in France, Italy & Spain, depending on season and time. As an example, I priced out a basic van rental for a week in mid-July (high season), and the prices ranged from from EUR 606 (~US$715) in Milan, Italy to EUR 1698 (~US$2000) in Hamburg, Germany, almost 3x difference! Even within Germany the prices had a huge spread. That same EUR 1698 (~US$2000) rental in Hamburg, was going for only EUR 968 (~US$1160) in Munich. So it really pays to shop around.
Consider The Low Season: Summer is high season and you’ll pay the most for rentals during that time, so consider RVing in the “off season”. For example right after the peak of the European summer holidays, or during winter (e.g. south of Spain is nice at that time). It’ll save you a ton of cash! As an example, that same basic van rental that I priced out for EUR 606-1698 (~US$715-2000) in mid-July above, was going for only EUR 290-588 (~US$340-695) in mid-Nov, almost a 1/3 of the price! Oh and the cheapest place I found to rent from at that time of year? Marseille, France.
Check Restrictions: Always make sure you understand where you can drive with your rental. Most EU rentals allow you to drive anywhere within the EU, but there may be restrictions on taking your rental in Eastern Europe. Also, British (UK) rentals sometimes add a fee if you take the vehicle to the Continent. Lastly make sure to check the mileage allowance (= how far you can drive each day) that’s included in the price. Unlimited mileage is always preferable, but some rentals do have a limit/day with extra mileage charged on top.
Understand All Extra Taxes & Fees: When renting in Europe make sure you check that taxes are included in the final price, otherwise these can add quite a nasty little surprise on top. Also, Insurance may or may not be included and can be a costly addition if it’s not. Lastly, if you decide to drop-off the motorhome in another country than the one you rented it in, a one-way drop-off fee is usually tagged onto the price.
Check Included Physical Items: Always check what physical items are included in your rental. For example kitchen items are usually included, but bedding & linen is sometimes not. Think about camping chairs, appliances and other day-to-day practical stuff too. For anything not included you can either bring your own or buy some cheap options once you get here.
Some of the bigger rental agencies I’ve seen online:
*NOTE/ Get Yourself An IDP: Although you can drive around most of Europe on your regular US drivers license there are several countries such as Austria, Italy & Spain that require an International Drivers Permit (= an internationally recognized translation of your US license). You might never be asked to show it, but it’s such an easy thing to get that it makes no sense not to. Just pop into your local AAA office with a filled-out application, your US license, 2 passport photos, and $20 (this can all be done by mail too), and literally 15 mins later you’ll have an IDP valid for a year.
Buying A Motorhome (Without EU Residence)
If you’re planning to RV around Europe for multiple months, renting starts to look really expensive. So maybe buying would be better? But here’s the rub. As a US Citizen you just can’t can’t do it. In order to register (and insure) your vehicle you need to have a fixed address & legal residence in Europe, and unless you’re settling here longer-term, that just isn’t possible. So what’s an aspiring RVer to do?
The answer is a snazzy buy-back scheme that has been developed to specifically address this problem. It’s was pioneered in the Netherlands, although a few other countries offer it too.
The idea is this: You buy a second-hand motorhome from a dealer, but the vehicle stays titled & registered with the dealer (not you). You then travel around at your leisure and when you’re finished, the dealer agrees to purchase back the motorhome for an agreed-upon % of the purchase price.
It’s like a guaranteed buy-back sale, except you never actually “own” the motorhome outright. It stays titled to the dealer throughout.
The advantages to this method are that you get the option to buy a European-style RV for a reasonable price. Plus you get access to MUCH cheaper insurance than if you’d shipped your own RV over from USA.
Things To Consider:
Buy-Back Is Negotiable: In most cases buy-back price is negotiable and tcan vary a TON, anywhere from 30%-70% of the original price depending on where you buy and how long you keep the motorhome. Make sure you understand exactly what the terms of your buy-back are before you purchase.
Pre-Post Note/ Thank you for all the support comments on my last post! We’re narrowing down clinics for Polly & Rand and will hopefully have a treatment plan in place soon. In the meantime it’s back to my “Moving to Europe” series of posts and today’s topic is one that I think will be of great interest to all my US RV friends. Enjoy!
We got soooo close to buying and shipping this to Europe
One of our big goals at the time was to use it in the US for ~6 months (= avoids having to pay import duty in Europe) and then ship it over to Europe and RV with it over here for the next 5-6 years. We were smitten with the van and really liked the US-style details (e.g. slides and large holding tanks, both of which are not common in EU), so we thought this would be the perfect option.
So WHY didn’t we go through with that plan??
Well it all came down to a single item, the very last thing I decided to check just a few minutes before we were scheduled to put down a deposit on the van. And the answer almost knocked me off my seat.
Insurance!! OM….frikkin…G! For our nifty new Leisure Travel full (comprehensive) insurance would have cost us $10,500 for 6 months which meant it was going to cost us ~$21,000/year in insurance to RV with our US-plated rig in Europe. WHAaaaaaaT???
Now there’s a reason it cost so much, and it CAN actually make sense to ship your US rig to EU, depending on your RV size/value and how long you’re planning to stay there. But there are other options too! US citizens can rent RVs in Europe (perfect for short stays), but they can actually also buy, even without residence or a local address (there’s a sneaky way to do it!). These are BIG topics however so I’m just going to talk about the first one today -> shipping a US RV to Europe. We’ll cover everything from costs to mods, insurance and hidden “gotchas”. Here goes….
Shipping Options & Costs
Shipping your RV from US can actually make sense if you’re planning longer-term travel around Europe. Bringing your RV with you means you’re ready to go RVing as soon as you land, and if you keep US plates on the vehicle that means you don’t have to worry about going through local registration, or getting a local drivers license, or any of that stuff. Plus the shipping part is actually quite affordable.
Roll On, Roll Off shipping is the way most RVers go
Type Of Shipping: The first thing you should understand is that there are basically 2 ways to ship vehicles over the ocean. You can ship them as Roll-On, Roll-Off (RoRo) where your RV is driven up a ramp into the open hull of a shipping vessel, tied down for shipping and then simply driven off the ramp on the other side. Alternatively you can ship them inside a standard shipping container (20ft, or 40ft, if it fits), which is then loaded onto a container ship. The former is much cheaper and easier and what most folks go with for vans and RVs.
Most RVers use a shipping agent
Shipping Lines & Agents: There are several large vehicle-shipping companies that can accomodate your RV or van across the ocean. Wallenius-Willemsen (www.2wglobal.com/) and K-Line (www.kline.com) are 2 big names. However most folks don’t book directly with the shipping line, but instead use an Agent or Broker that specializes in RV shipments. The advantage of the latter is that they organize everything for you, including the mass of paperwork & docs required for transport & customs clearance (no small matter!). SeaBridge is a reputable name and one that many RVers use. IVSS is another big one.
Shipping costs are based off total volume of your vehicle, measured outside mirrors and anything else that “sticks out”
Shipping Costs: Rig size & value are the 2 biggest factors for shipping costs. RORO prices for vehicles are normally priced by cubic metre (CBM = length x width x height in metres), for the type of vehicle shipped (larger vehicles have higher CBM rates). For vans & small RV’s, current rates run around US$50-53 per CBM. Measurements must include everything that “sticks out” such as side-mirrors, bumpers, hitches or air-cons. For this reason, folks will often remove as much of this stuff as they can before shipping. Obviously, the larger in total volume your vehicle is, the more it costs. Marine insurance, if you opt to pay for it is extra, and runs around 1.5% of the cost of your rig (so, the more expensive your rig, the more it costs to insure for shipping). In addition you may be charged security fees, gate fees, document fees, Terminal Handling Charges (THC) & clearance fees.
Our Experience: When we priced out ~25 ft Leisure Van for shipping, we got quoted a base shipping price of $2800, with a combined total cost (incl. marine insurance & documents) of around $5,500. Not bad at all! A cheaper/older/smaller van would obviously cost less than this.
Example RORO rates for a regular car to various ports (from http://ro-ro.internationalshippingusa.com)
Shipping Ports: The other factor in shipping costs is where you ship from and to. When shipping from the US you’ll want to chose an exit port on the East Coast (MUCH cheaper than shipping from the West) and then you’ll need to chose your import port on the other side. Popular export ports are Halifax, Canada, Charleston SC & Brunswick NC. Popular import ports are Antwerp, Belgium, Zeebrugge, Belgium and Southampton, UK. Which port you use affects your costs! Some US-EU routes are cheaper than others, so definitely work with a shipper & shop/ask around on this.
Pro-Tip/ DO NOT ship to Germany since they require you to post a bond equal to 29% of the value of the vehicle, in cash, before they will release the vehicle, which is only returned to you when you leave the EU within 6 mo of arrival. Other European ports do not have this restriction.
A map of Sea Bridge shipping routes
Booking & Shipping Time: Folks recommend booking 1-3 months in advance of your dates (cargo shipping routes typically aren’t fixed more than 3 months in advance). Actual shipping only takes ~10 days, but you may have to drop off your RV a few days before that date at the origin port, and it may take some days for release/clearance on the other end. So plan for around 2-3 weeks in total.
An additional thing you need to consider before you bring your RV or van to Europe is that you’ll need to make some mods to it so it can function once it arrives
Step-down transformers come in multiple sizes, rated by Watts
Voltage Differences – Europe operates on 230V whereas US operates on 110V so if you try to plug your US-based RV directly into a European pedestal it will burn out all your electrics! To prevent this you’ll need to install a step-down transformer (230v down to 110v). They are sized by wattage, so make sure to buy the size* you think you’ll need to run your most power-hungry appliance. In addition make sure to buy a collection of adapter plugs so you can plug your rig into the European-style pedestals.
*NOTE/ You Can’t Run It All: An additional thing to be aware of is that campsites in Europe are rated and tend to have very restricted supplies. They are generally rated at 16A or 10A, sometimes as low as 5A (all 230V of course), so even if you get a mega-sized transformer you won’t be able to plug in and run everything in your US RV all at once. Most of the time you’ll have to conserve/limit what you turn on in order to prevent tripping the main power supply. So plan on running your appliances one at a time and size your transformer for that.
Frequency Differences – The other little electricity wrinkle for US-built RV’s is that US electricity operates at 60Hz, whereas everything in Europe operates at 50Hz. Now most electronic devices these days are designed to run on either 50Hz or 60Hz, so they won’t care either way. But certain appliances with frequency-sensitive parts like motors and solenoids are designed and wound for a specific mains frequency (e.g. things like A/Cs, microwaves and washing machines may suffer a bit with the incorrect frequency). You can buy transformers that convert both voltage AND frequency, although they are pricier than simple step-down versions, but from reading through various forums most folks don’t seem to worry too much about it. Their washing machine may run a bit slower or their A/C may not cool as well, but they just live with it.
Only a few weeks have passed since my last post, but what a lot has happened. We’ve made significant progress on the whole “getting settled in to France” thing, we’ve had some great news and then we’ve been hit with 2 pieces of bad news that make it seem like 2016 all over again (ah, life….)
Life can take many turns in just a month…
Good Stuff -> Settling In To France
It was a tight fit into the garage, but our “stuff” made it!
Everything arrived in perfect order
Well it arrived in France, pretty much exactly 7 weeks after we shipped it from Miami and I’m happy to say it was a smooth and superbly easy process. The shipping guys on the US side gave us regular shipping updates via e-mail, and we were able to track our sailing vessel across the Atlantic pretty much in real time, using free online Cargo Vessel Trackers (e.g. AIS Ship Tracking works great).
On this side of the pond the importers in Europe (located in Antwerp) were efficient and easy to work with. They asked for a few pieces of additional paperwork by e-mail to prove our residence in France, but otherwise didn’t require anything else. A truck came loaded with our crate on May 7th, exactly as scheduled and dropped it off at the house without a glitch. All our stuff had arrived in exactly the condition we’d shipped it!
I can’t deny it was kinda surreal to see stuff that had been part of 8 years of RV life in the USA show up in France, but it was also nice to get it. We don’t have much, but we have a few things that make us happy. Paul got his tools, I got my bike and we’ve got our books, our kitchen items and some pics on the wall. Makes it feel more like home, you know?
We Have Wheels (Regular Ones, Not An RV…)
The other big event of the month was getting some wheels. Since we’re staying for a while here in France while dad gets treatment and Paul gets legal, it made sense for us to be mobile and get a car.
We initially considered a long-term rental. Believe it or not this is actually a “thing” in France! Thanks to some convoluted French law (a common occurrence over here), both Renault & Peugeot offer specific programs that allow long-term car options to foreigners. These are actually not regular rentals, but short-term car leases with a guaranteed buy-back option (this kind of deal exists for RV’s too by the way, but that’s the topic of another post). They are WAY cheaper than regular rentals, plus you get a new vehicle, unlimited miles AND full comprehensive insurance coverage included!
In France, both Peugeot and Renault offer lease deals to foreigners
In order to be eligible you have to be a non-European citizen, or a European Union citizen whose residence is outside the E.U., and traveling in Europe for a minimum of 21 days or more. If we weren’t establishing residence for Paul in France this would absolutely be the way we’d go. So, if you’re an American planning to travel by car in Europe for a longer period, check this out!
Since we are establishing French residence however (Paul won’t be subject to those pesky 90-day Schengen visa restrictions), we decided on a regular car purchase and it took a bit of doing to figure it all out.
These guys made our money transfer from USA to Europe super easy. We’re fans now.
First of all we needed a verified address which we’ve found is pretty much a requirement for ANYTHING you do in France. Thankfully my dad was able to offer one through an “attestation d’hébergement” which is basically a written statement that we live with him. Then we needed to figure out how to get the purchase money from USA to here. The research I’d done for my Europe banking blog was helpful for this. We used TransferWise and they were awesome. Lastly we needed to buy car insurance. For this, an attestation d’hébergement was (once again) needed, plus we needed proof of our last 13 years (!!) of insurance in the USA with any and all claims made. Thankfully we’ve been Geico insured since forever, so all I had to do was call them up and ask for the required document. Phew!
Thankfully Geico was able to send me a letter via e-mail with our past 13 years of insurance records
Oh and what did we buy in the end? A Peugeot 3008. It’s a “demonstration” model so we got it for a sweet deal and it is a SWEET ride!! 4-wheel drive, keyless entry, back-up camera, electronic dashboard, you-name-it. Overall it’s like a compact, snazzier version of our old Honda CR-V ,the major difference being that the Peugeot engine gets around 60 miles per gallon compared to our old run-rate of ~25 mpg (wow!), a major bonus in much-more-expensive-fuel France. We’re very happy indeed.
Our new sweet ride…..
*Note/ Although we won’t need to get a French license until next year, it came in super handy that we had our International Drivers Licenses, which we got for only $20 from AAA in the USA before we came. It means we won’t have to have our Florida Drivers Licenses officially translated into French.
Great Stuff -> It’s a BOY!
There’s no doubt that the biggest, craziest, most awesomest happening of the past month is that my sister gave birth to a beautiful little baby boy!!!
I had fun taking lots of classic baby shots
It was a long and difficult labor, but my sister has Viking strength so she made it through like a trooper and the little boy came out healthy, happy and ready to take on the world.
My dad and I gave the new parents two weeks to settle in before we flew up to see them, but then we were ready for some serious baby time!
I cannot deny that it was an intense moment when I got to hold that little miracle in my arms, and despite having quite a bit of colic (I can confirm that he’s got healthy lungs!), he did really well the week we were there. I did a lot of cuddling, quite a bit of soothing and endless swaying. Plus I took a ton of artsy baby pics (only one of which I’ll share here….sorry, private stuff this). It was a fabulous week and we loved every minute of it!
My only problem now? Despite an absolute genetic lack of rhythm (trust me, you don’t want to see me dance), I seem to swing my hips unconsciously every time I stand still now. If someone videos me in France and I become an international meme, you’ll let me know right?
Finally getting back to my Europe series of posts here, and this is going to be a very practical one.
When you’re moving abroad an item which many may not think about until it’s too late, is how to keep your US cellphone number. This may not seem important at first (I’ll just get new local number and cellphone plan after I move, so why would I need it?) but there are actually many reasons you might want to do so:
There are many reasons to keep your US phone number when you move
Continuity – If you’ve been living in the USA for a while you’ll likely have had the same phone number for a long time. It’s the number you’ve used for your friends, your business, your online accounts (e.g. banks etc.) and who-knows-what-else, so it’s the number everyone knows.
Keeping it Local – Your US number is “local” which means your friends & family in the US can call it without incurring any international calling fees. It’s not that there aren’t other ways to avoid phone fees between friends & family when you live abroad (there are plenty, and I’ll cover them in a future post), but maintaining a local US number is easy, especially if you have elderly folk who are used to calling you that way.
2-step verification may involve a text to your US phone
Verification – Have you ever set-up 2-step verification on anything that involves getting a text to your cellphone? Or do you have accounts (e.g. banks) which rely on texts to your phone to verify things (e.g. suspicious charges, online transfers etc.). Well, if you lose your US number you obviously lose that option. There are usually workarounds, but often it’s a major hassle & you might have delays getting things done. Keeping your US number active & working while you’re abroad is very, very handy for these things.
It’s nice not to have to worry about missing calls to your old phone
Not Missing Anything – You might get calls from the US after you leave that are important. Maybe from your former doctor, or an extended family member or an old friend, your bank or something else. Even if you’re meticulous and try to update every phone number you can think of to your new international phone number, you may well miss something. Also some US-based organizations just won’t accept an international number in their system (try giving one to your local US doctor, for example), so keeping a US-based number that they can contact you with is good practice.
Oh and the other reason to do this? It only costs $20!!!!! YES, there’s only a one-time $20 fee to retain lifetime access to your US number, and once it’s done it’s FREE to maintain!
The Key Is Porting Your Number To Google Voice
The key to all this magic is transferring your current US cellphone number to Google Voice, and it’s super easy to do. You just need to make sure you do it BEFORE you cancel your US cellphone plan and WHILE you’re still physically in the USA.
TIMING TIP: My recommendation is to start your phone port about 7-10 days before you leave the USA. It typically only takes ~24 hours to complete the transfer of your number from your cellphone provider to Google Voice, but there CAN be delays*
You’ll need a current, active US cellphone number and a Google account login (if you don’t have one already). Then you’ll just follow these simple steps to port your number. Or, you can see how we did it below:
1/ Check Your Number Is Portable: The fist thing you need to do is check that your current US phone number is eligible for porting using this link: https://www.google.com/voice/b/0/porting?pli=1. Most cellphone numbers are, but you do need to check first.
Check your number is portable first
2/ Start The Porting Process: Using the same link as #1, the next step will be to start the actual porting process. You will be asked to check a box that you understand there is a $20 (one-time) charge and then you must click the next button in order to go onto phone verification.
Accept the cost and then click on the next step
3/ Phone Verification: At this point Google will give you a verification code and then they will CALL YOUR US PHONE NUMBER. In order to complete verification have will have to answer that call and enter the code they’ve given you. So your US phone number must active and ready to do this.
Google will call your US number and you will need to enter a verification code
4/ Enter Your US Account Holder Info: Once phone verification is complete you will be prompted to enter your current US cellphone provider info (= where you’re porting the number from) including the account number, holders name & billing address, and the holders last 4 SSN.
Make sure you have all this info handy from your current provider
5/ Confirm & Pay: Finally you will be asked to confirm your transaction & pay the $20
You’re done! Just sit back and wait for the transfer to complete (~24 hours. You’ll get an e-mail when it’s done). Once the porting process is complete your existing phone will be “dead”, and all calls & texts to your US number will now go to Google voice instead. Most times this should automatically cancel your old cellphone plan, but definitely double-check. If the plan hasn’t automatically cancelled, now is the safe time to do so.
What If’s And Other Questions
*What If You Already Left The USA? You mean, like what happened to us, because Google Voice went down the week we flew out of the USA??? Well, then it becomes tricky. You’ll need to follow these steps:
Keep Paying For Your US Plan: If you want to keep your US number don’t cancel your US cellphone plan! You’ll need to keep paying for your US cellphone plan until you can figure out how to port your US number.
Get A VPN That Can Map Your IP Address To USA : Google only allows porting from within the US (it checks your computer IP address for location), so you will have to make it look like you’re still in the USA before you start the port process. Luckily there are lots of VPN providers who offer exactly this kind of service (e.g. NordVPN is great, although there are lots of other good options out there too). Once your VPN is active you can just follow the same porting steps I described above.
Make Sure You Can Receive The Verification Call: You’ll need to be able to receive a phone call on your US based number for step 3 of the porting process (again: your US cellphone plan must still be active to do this!). If your US plan doesn’t support receiving calls internationally, then your best option is to send your phone (or just your SIM) back to someone in the US who can receive the call & enter the authorization code for you. If you’re just sending your SIM make sure the receiving person has an unlocked phone they can use it in.
Once you’ve completed the porting request, you’ll just need to wait enough time for the port to complete before you check that your US plan is cancelled. In the end this is the process we went through and it worked out fine.
What If You Already Cancelled Your US Phone Service Plan? Unfortunately if you forgot to port your number out before you cancelled your US cellphone plan, this probably means you’ve lost it. There might be a grace period with your old carrier if you act quickly, so you may be able to re-instate your old plan and recoup your number (I’ve read of a select few successful accounts), but I wouldn’t count on it. If you’re in this situation it certainly doesn’t hurt to call your old cellphone provider and try.
What If You Already Canceled Your US Plan AND You’re Already Living Abroad? Well, you can’t get your old US number back, but if you really need/want a US number it IS actually possible to set-up Google voice with a new US-based number from abroad. It’s a bit of a hassle that requires jumping through a few hoops, but it’s do-able. Follow the steps in this post: Use A Google Voice Number From Outside the US
Using Your US Number While Abroad
OK. You did the port and you got your US number into Google Voice. Now what? How do you actually use it while living abroad. Well there’s 2 main ways:
Use Google Voice As-Is
If you just want to send/receive texts or receive voicemails (i.e. you do not need to make or answer phonecalls from your US number) then I’d recommend sticking with Google Voice the way it is. The good thing is that once you’ve ported your number, you won’t need to do anything additional to set it up.
You can see all incoming calls, texts & voice messages on the Google Voice website. You just can’t make or answer calls.
Another few weeks have passed and I’ve spent most of it back in the USA, at least in blog-land. You see I’ve been doing a very necessary Spring Cleaning of the blog and re-organizing it into what I think will be the new look going forward. It was a bear of a project, but I “think” I’ve finally found a general format that makes sense, at least for the now (things can always change, right?). So I figured I’d write a quick post to introduce it to you all.
First things first ALL my US-based blogs & articles will remain available and accessible on the blog. I know that many of you were concerned the “old stuff” would disappear from the web-sphere but fear not, it’s all still there! However I have made some changes. In order to make space for our upcoming European travels, I have consolidated my categories which means I’ve significantly reduced the number of tabs in the 2 banner menus at the very top of the page. So in case you’re reading this via e-mail or RSS, the blog now looks like this:
My new banner and menu items
As you can see, all my US-based items are now exclusively on the upper menu of the blog leaving the bottom menu open for my (hopefully lots of) upcoming Europe stuff. Also there are now only 5 main US- based categories:
US Maps (detailed maps of each travel year and everywhere we went from Mar 2010-Mar 2018)
The last category (US RVing Tips) is probably one of the meatiest, especially for newbie RVers since it contains literally everything we ever learnt about the RV lifestyle from our 8 years on the road. So I cover things like finances, maintenance, technology, entertainment, solar, RVing with pets and volunteering etc. There’s lots of juicy stuff here, and I’ve broken it into sub-catagories that (hopefully) make it easier to sort through. The “overview” page is a good place to start since summarizes it all, but for those that would like to keep a reference copy of this in their files I’ve re-created that page directly below (plus I’ve added a little blurb about boondocking at the bottom). Hopefully you’ll find this useful.
That’s about it for the current version of the blog. Now, back to writing about Europe stuff…
Below is a recreation of my “Overview (All Topics) US RVing Tips page. It is always accessible HERE:
All my general articles about the RV lifestyle from detailed financial costs to buying warranties to how to caravan with friends. I’ve written about general maintenance, driving (tolls, low clearances), and planning your RV travels. I’ve got posts on selling you house items (before you move into an RV) and even a few posts how to handle the BAD side of RVing (yes, it does happen). Lots here….
Adding solar to our RV was one of the very first things we did to “the beast” back in 2010 and we loved it so much that we upgraded to an ever bigger, better system in 2016. Plus we switched our batteries from AGM to lithium which we absolutely LOVED!! If you’re at all interested in solar, this is the section for you!
Wondering how to RV with pets including 2 cats AND a dog? Our pets were an integral part of our travels so naturally they became a big part of the blog too, and it wasn’t all smooth sailing either. During our 8 years on the road we dealt with the whole gamut of pet issues from adapting our cats to RV life to serious health problems, emergency & surgery. Plus just figuring out where we could go that was pet-friendly (Pro Tip: if you click on my camping map you’ll see EVERYwhere we went that was!)
Some of my biggest posts on traveling with our paws:
We volunteer hosted almost every year we were on the road. Our specialty was hosting at lighthouses as docents (although we also did a few other gigs), and we absolutely LOVED it! Not only did it provide a way to indulge our lighthouse obsession, but it also allowed us to spend several months for free in absolutely stunning coastal locations. If you’re spending significant time on the road I HIGHLY recommend picking up a few gigs like this. It’s super fun, it’s social and it’ll save you money.
I can’t quite believe it’s been a month since I blogged. With all the pre-move craziness & stress of moving to France, plus the post-move decompress & details of getting set-up and working through the basics of life (how do I set-up a bank account? how can I get a SIM for my phone? where in the world do I go to buy a mattress? etc.) somehow a WHOLE MONTH has passed since my last post.
Time passes differently here…
It’s not that I haven’t thought about blogging over the last 4 weeks, it’s simply that I needed some time to sort out this new life of ours. Plus to be honest, I needed some space not just from the blog, but also from the web and social media in general. I hadn’t quite realized how wound-up I was from the move, and it took a good few weeks to decompress from all that.
It took me several weeks just to come to grips with the fact that we’d actually MADE it and that all our pets were OK (I still can’t quite believe that). Then it took me several more to come to grips with the fact that we were actually LIVING here. THEN came the full and complete realization that we really weren’t RVing in the US anymore (no more beast…….!!!!!) and wondering how in the world I was going to change the look and content of my blog to anything that made sense (yes, I’m still working on that one!).
Life Changes Are A Process….
Of course all of this is perfectly normal! Making a big move like this is a bucket of emotions all at once, and it’s never completely smooth sailing. Change is super exciting, but it’s also (often) hard. I talked about pre-change emotions in my post about “Overcoming Fear And Inertia“, but there are also a whole set of post-change emotions which I think many folks go through no matter how much they’ve wanted or worked towards a given goal.
Change is never a smooth path, no matter how much you plan for it
Paul and I have gone through multiple life-changes in our time together so I knew this stage was coming, but this time around it happened much faster for me than I expected. It’s an interesting enough topic (for anyone making any kind of big transition in their lives) that it definitely deserves its own dedicated blog post. Plus I have yet to finish my “Moving to Europe” series of posts one of which will cover the very pertinent question of “why we didn’t we bring a small RV with us?”…so far I have ~3,000 word answer to that one.
But I’ve still got lots more goodies to share
So I’ve got a ton of blog material in the bag. It’s just a question of sorting myself out, and then getting it out of my head and onto digital paper. While I rummage through all of that however, I figured I’d give you a quick run-down of our first month here and what it’s been like including some of the good, the bad, the frustrating and the fabulous.
We Are Loving It So Far
Bottom line is yes, we’re actually living in France now and yes, so far everyone is loving it. Paul and I have settled in and we’re enjoying the rest, while the pets are absolutely LOVING their new space. All three of the paws are ridiculously relaxed and happier than we’ve seen them in years.
Polly conducts an afternoon rabbit survey
Rand loves going outdoors and habitually purrs herself to sleep (she even purrs and snores at the same time), while Taggart spends hours inspecting the garden and warming herself in the sun followed by even more hours snuggling and sleeping with her sister. They are so active and healthy that it’s hard to believe they’re over 16 years old.
Polly is in dog heaven and is experiencing a very full and exciting doggie life. Of course there are all the outings to local markets and such (all very new and interesting), plus there’s all this SPACE which is now HERS and which must be properly monitored. So she takes regular walks around the property, enjoys long afternoon naps in the grass and conducts daily in-depth surveys of the local rabbit population. It’s a lot to take stock of and keeps her very busy indeed…
But we’ve also encountered a few hurdles.
Some of it is just a mental adjustment thing. The pace of life is soooooo much more relaxed here, which is both a good and (sometimes) a frustrating thing. It encourages you to slow down and enjoy the moment, but it also means accepting that everything simply takes more time (patience is admittedly not my strongest quality). Other barriers are uniquely French and have just required us to accept that c’est comme ça (“that’s the way it is”). Things are done differently here, and whether or not you think it’s inane, it’s simply the way it is.
So, what have we experienced so far?
Rand is loving all this green outdoors
The Food (and Food Markets) ROCK!!
Before we moved here we already knew that the food was going to be one of our favorite things about living in France. We love our food and considered ourselves pretty hard-core “foodies” in the US, but we quickly realized that we were mere amateurs compared to the average Frenchman. This point became crystal clear when I overheard this serious (and somewhat disapproving) question at a regular French open-air market…
“Ces oeufs ont été pondus hier, pas aujourd’hui?” (“these eggs were laid yesterday, not today?”)
Wild boar sausages
Market day in the gorgeous town of Mirepoix
Ah yes, NOW I understand….
From the French point of view, be it eggs or bread or veggies or meat, if it isn’t perfectly fresh and you haven’t personally met the person who raised it or made it, then why would in the world you buy it???
You can find open-air markets every single day of the week in the French countryside and it’s such an integral part of the local culture that you’d be crazy not to participate. Folks mill around the market chatting to friends, grabbing an espresso from the local café and picking up the best and freshest produce you could ever imagine. You’ll find stands over-flowing with crisp veggies, cheese-makers with at least 40 different kinds of cheese, pans sizzling with paella, fresh-baked bread so fragrant it’ll send you into an instant food coma, not to mention custom butchers, artisan sausage-makers, honey, crafts and and reams of other local specialties. If you can’t find what you’re looking for at a French open-air market, there is something wrong with you.
And everything is SO DARN FRESH!
Holy smokes, I’d forgotten what real salad tastes like….
We have been reveling…..REVELING I tell you….in the exceptional quality of French ingredients. We are re-discovering the joy of vegetables, re-living the taste of pasture-raised meat and re-learning what real food is. Produce which might generally have seemed bland or indistinguishable “back home” is vibrant and flavorful here. We are in frikkin’ foodie paradise and it’s going to be darn near impossible to ever go back!
Given how I finished my last post I’m sure many of you are wondering what happened last week-end. Did our flight take off? Did we have to make any crazy last-minute changes? How did the pets do?
Well I’m VERY happy & relieved to say we all made it safe and sound. We’re now officially in France!!
To our new lives….
It Was Super Stressful
I can’t deny that it was one of the most stressful 3 days that we’ve ever been through.
This stuff worked wonders for the pets
Before departure I had several panic attacks and spent 2 days obsessively checking the Air France website for our flight status (a deep thank you, by the way, to all the blog readers and friends who sent us so many positive thoughts and support!!). When we finally found out we were leaving on time, as planned we were deeply relieved. PHEW!
For the pets we loaded up on every natural pet calmer I could find including Feliway Spray for the cats, Sentry Calming Spray for the dog, Rescue Remedy and something called Zen Licks (individual liquipacks with L-theanine as the main active ingredient, a good natural calmer). This last-minute addition to my traveling pet cabinet actually turned out to be one of my best buys. All 3 pets loved the taste and I could tell they were visibly more relaxed around 1/2 hour after I gave it to them. If you have travel-stressed pets, I definitely recommend giving this a try…
A Predictably Long & Uncomfortable Flight…That would be the opposite of traveling light
We traveled heavy, with 7 suitcases (!!!) as well as Tom & Maruja (Paul’s stepdad and stepmom) who’d graciously agreed to help us across to France w/ the paws. I don’t think I’ve ever traveled with this much luggage, but we managed….
The ~8 hour passage went pretty much exactly as expected. It was stressful to check-in, horrible to go through TSA and the flight was predictably loooong and uncomfortable. But we had our paperwork in order, and the only real hiccup was a moment of near heart-attack panic when Rand escaped her carrier mid-flight (only so many places a cat a go on a double-decker Airbus A380, right??).
Thankfully both Paul and I were wound so tight that tracking her down happened in record-breaking time. I’d care to wager that no passenger in the history of modern aviation has ever jumped out of their seat and catapulted themselves over their neighbor with more lightning speed than I did when that cat escaped….it was quite the sight…
When we finally got on the ground in Paris, we all breathed a giant sigh of relief. All 3 pets had traveled well, and despite needing to go to the toilet rather promptly, they were all surprisingly relaxed. No pet pics since I was too stressed beforehand (and too exhausted afterwards) to take any, but it was a 12 paw crossing success!
We Become Van Dwellers (Kind Of)
We spent the night in an inexpensive & superbly pet-friendly hotel (Novotel Suites) just ~20 mins from the airport and picked up our new RV the next AM.
I call this…almost #vanlife
A slightly chilly, but happy family
There were many temptations along the way…
Well technically it’s only a 9-day car rental, but I felt rather #vanlife hip for the first few seconds we posed outside her, before we realized that neither of us had driven a stick-shift in ~15 years. I won’t say it took us 20 minutes to figure out how to put her in reverse, nor will I admit to manually pushing the thing in neutral, and I certainly won’t concede that we might have stalled slightly once or twice, but I will acknowledge that we (eventually) succeeded in driving it like a pro. Call it training for a soon-to-come European RV, right?
Our ~7 hour drive down to the Southwest of France was easy and super pleasant. We stopped several times at the free Aires, enjoyed multiple French espressos and got rather overly excited when we used our no foreign transaction fee Barclay’s chip & pin Credit Card at a gas station for the first time (it totally worked!!!!). Smooth roads and almost zero traffic to boot too.
When we finally arrived at my dads it was sunny, warm and beautifully clear. The cats promptly went to sleep, Polly bounced around the grass like a dog in heaven and we all drank a glass of red wine overlooking the Pyrénées. Sheer perfection!
After 42 crazy, intense hours of door-to-door travel we’d made it, safe and sound. It’ll take a few days for the pets to settle down, and it’ll likely take a few weeks before it REALLY sinks in (can you believe we’re actually living in France now???), but we’re HERE!! What seemed like just an idea a few months ago is now reality, and although it felt at times like a far-fetched dream it actually, finally happened. I always find it amazing that you can change your life like that…one purposeful step at a time…
And Thus Begins A New Chapter…
This is it, the beginning of our next chapter. We will miss our lives and friends most dearly back in the USA (it’s both the beauty and the curse of a nomadic life, as my good friend Cherie so perfectly wrote in a recent post), but we’re VERY much forward to our upcoming adventures here too. I’ve got lots to write (there are several more “Moving To Europe” posts yet to come, plus at some point we start RV shopping here) so fear not that I’m leaving the interweb or giving up on the blog (it’s here to stay), but it might be a few weeks before you hear from me again. Gonna take a well-deserved little break now….