We have finally reunited with our Roadtrek CS Adventurous, nearly a month since we dropped it off with the shipper in Baltimore for transport to Europe. The pickup day kept changing – cargo ship schedules are an art, not a science – but we showed up at the port in Antwerp, Belgium after three days in very nice but very expensive hotels. Thanks to my mad paperwork skills the customs people just stamped the documents after looking at emailed copies of my passport, drivers license, registration, title, European insurance, international drivers license, birth certificate, letter from my first grade teacher, etc. OK, that last part was a slight stretch of the facts, but the paperwork requirements were a strain on my thoroughly retired disposition. However, I had done my homework, and it was all in order. They didn’t even want to see the originals. All I had to do is take a sheet of paper and a gate pass from the freight forwarder I met at the port, walk in, jump in, and drive it out.
The dock worker who drove my campervan off the ship to the parking lot had left the key in the ignition, which was also left turned on, and the dash display indicated that the ignition had been on for 23 hours, but no worries. My starting battery is switchably wired into my front battery bank, which is powered by the OEM alternator and the front three solar panels, and I had left it connected, so the solar offset the ignition battery drain, and it cranked right up. I wonder why Roadtrek’s Jim Hammill designed an idiot-proof RV and picked me of all people to test drive it… hmmm….
We had been driving a VW Golf rental car around since we flew in three days ago, so now it was time to caravan. My beautiful and brave wife Sharon, who hasn’t driven a stick in 25 years, followed me in the VW through the very truck-heavy and congested Antwerp traffic, sticking to me like glue, because if we got separated there was no way to communicate. Lots of potential for disaster, but Sharon has driven in New York, LA, Miami, and Houston, so she’s no shrinking violet when it comes to driving. Several times she muscled her way into a lane to stay right behind me, driving that tiny econobox car like a Sherman tank and giving no quarter to the truck drivers. I would say I married well.
First stop was a fuel station, where we got diesel for both vehicles, and propane. The Roadtrek had to be shipped empty of propane and with only 1/4 tank of diesel – it makes shipboard firefighting much simpler, if you know what I mean. Propane is called autogas or LPG in Europe, and a sizeable number of vehicles run on it, particularly imported American gas hogs. In front of us in the LPG line at the gas station were a 1990ish Ford conversion van and a 5.7 Hemi Dodge pickup. You pump it yourself, just like we pump gas or diesel here. Luckily, I was used to doing this because Canada also has drive-up propane pumps, and Jim Hammill gave me plenty of practice by keeping me up there for months when I was at the Kitchener, Ontario factory building by vehicle. The only thing different was the sequence – thread the hose on, open and lock the nozzle trigger, and THEN mash the big button on the pump. The attendant straightened me out, and soon I had 40 liters at three liters for a euro – nuisance money compared to the 1.40 euros a liter diesel. The Roadtrek itself was a hundred dollar fillup – I had flashbacks to the 2008 gas price spike after Hurricane Ike.
Back in caravan, we head to the grocery store. It took nearly an hour, but we managed to get the basics. Neither one of us can speak Dutch, but there are enough cognates to get the gist of things. After three days of eating street food and bakery stuff, we wanted a home cooked meal. Back onto the freeway, with bumper to bumper trucks (Antwerp is Europe’s second largest port), we crawled the two and a half miles to Camperplatz Vogelzang, a grassy field near the convention center that they keep open for 10 euros a night to encourage RVers to visit the city. No bathrooms or showers, but fresh water and a dump station. We needed the water, and filled up gratefully. 100 liters for 50 cents – wonderful deal. I dewinterized the Roadtrek and am ashamed to admit I had to get out my manual to figure out how to reset the Alde frost protection valve. I’m looking forward to more such senior moments as I get older.
So we have the essentials – water, diesel, propane, and food. That and a legal place to park for the night is all we need with this RV, really. Tomorrow we head out over a vast, unexplored (by us) continent, just like we did in 2010 when I retired and we hit the road in North America. Oh man, I am excited.
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