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  • Day6

    Fit out

    September 15, 2018 in France ⋅ ☀️ 18 °C

    Fit out and break-in

    We have finally made it to France and met up with our new home in Sens, which is just south of Paris. On the way back from Vari we stopped in Crete and had a 7 hour layover in Heraklion. It seemed like a good idea at that time to head downtown, do a bit of shopping and stroll around so we did so. It was a neat little shopping/tourist town and we enjoyed a coffee and some of the sites including a local gallery, but I was carrying about 30 KG of carry-on baggage and it was 35 degrees outside so after about 2.5 hours it was time to head back to the airport. Ginette took a detour through the Venetian port and met up with me just prior to flight time. While it was worth it to have a quick look we both vowed to get back to Crete for a more relaxed and comprehensive stay in the future.

    One of the big problems with the RV being in Sens is that there is no easy way to reach it from Paris airport. Trains require big detours and many transfers, plus are very expensive. There is no public transport and cabs are just too costly. So we decided to use Uber. Unfortunately, we have no data on our phones at this point and therefore although we could summon an Uber with the airport WiFi, meeting up became a real problem. As soon as I stepped outside the doors I would lose connectivity, and although I had the name/license of our driver the location was confusing and chaotic and it proved very difficult to meet up. Finally, after half an hour of going in and out of Gate 8 Departure level we were able to meet up with our driver who took us all the way to our RV in Sens. We arrived exhausted and relieved to find Albert right where Ginette left him in a short-term camping park with a barrier-style gate under a tree. I was impressed that Ginette was able to pick him up, drive him around, fill up with gas, partly provision and get him to this spot all by herself. I’m never surprised at what she’s capable of, just more ‘in awe’ of it.Total Uber cost - about 200 Euro, which was 40 Euro less than the train would have cost, took 1.5 hours (train was 5.5 or more plus transfers) and we rode in style in lovely Peugeot 508 wagon.

    Alas, all was not ideal. We got Albert sorted and put our bags on board. Then we maneuvered to the gate to ‘exit’ the facility - which is like an automatic parking garage where you put in the ticket and the gate opens after you pay. Unfortunately, we paid the fee and put in the code but the gate wouldn’t open. So after several back-and-forths to the machine and some cursing, I climbed out to see what could be done. I found that if I pushed up on the barrier it would come open high enough to duck under even being 3.2m tall, so I got Ginette to hold the barrier and I booted through. All to the great consternation of a couple other campers in the site who made some angry gestures as we peeled out of there!

    We made our way to a mall parking area for our first night. We decided that we ought to be close to some provisioning so when we woke up we could get ourselves sorted pretty quick. We arrived at the mall at 830 PM and to our great delight the main grocery store was still open until 9. On the way there though we noticed quite a smell coming from the back and when Ginette opened the fridge we found out why. For whatever reason the fridge had not continued to work while Ginette was away and all the fresh food, vegetables, yogurt, milk etc. had gone rancid. So two issues - one, trying to clean everything up with no real effective means to do so and second how to provision without a fridge. We decided to just grab a few essentials and hatched a plan to make our way back to the point-of-purchase to find out why the fridge had failed.

    We both spent a restless night suffering from jet-lag and anxiety, but got up to a nice breakfast and coffee enjoying the lingering smell of rancid food. We made our way back to meet our salesman at the propane refill to get sorted on how to fill up, and he troubleshot the fridge pretty quick (corroded connection - just like on the boat!). So with propane full and our fridge functioning on 12V while driving we were on our way finally to equip Albert for long-term living.

    Similar to buying a ‘charter’ boat vs. one that is privately owned, buying a motorhome from a rental dealer has its advantages and disadvantages. We got what seemed like a pretty good deal on the machine, but she was really not well ‘set up’ for long term living. For instance, there was nowhere to hang anything, no clock, no curtains, poorly arranged storage, no hooks and hangars, badly wasted spaces and the list goes on. Plus, the company had cleaned out all the towels, dishes, bedding etc. etc. so the unit was totally empty and not liveable. So you can imagine that our first few days were spent firstly figuring what the heck was going on in the unit and then how we could get it sorted for our long-term enjoyment.

    What was amazing was how much our experience sailing helped us to figure out what needed to be done and how. We had a really good idea about what the essentials of life were and how they should be organized. We split up our ‘to purchase’ list and attacked the stores. Luckily, we both have a decent command of the French language and generally speaking we were able to communicate our needs and find alternatives when those were not available.

    One big ticket item that is not on board Albert is an oven. This meant we needed a BBQ with a lid that we could hook up to our on-board propane system. This proved to be a lot more difficult than we thought it would. For one we are very space-limited and for two most of the BBQ’s are meant to work with a stand-alone propane bottle. We have two 15KG on-board bottles and we just didn’t want to be bothered to carry another one. Moreover, we needed something that was compact but had a lid so that we could at least bake things when needed. In the end, we found a good little BBQ but are still searching for all the connections and adapters to make it work with our on-board propane system.

    A couple of the big-ticket items we got were two bikes and a Honda scooter. When we lived in Europe before we found bikes to be by far the best way to get around in most cities. You can see a lot in a day, you get exercise while you’re at it and most European city’s are much more ‘bike-friendly’ than almost all the rest of the world. That said, we didn’t want to blow the wad on bikes, because these bikes are going to be used and abused, neglected and left relatively unsecured for long periods of time. At Decathlon - which is a European outdoor/sport/camping store - we found the perfect model - the Riverside 500 - which has 9 speeds, disk brakes and hybrid wheels. It is not ‘high spec’ and cost less than 300 Euro all-in, but is light, comfortable and looks robust enough to last for some time.

    Our second big purchase was the scooter. We had originally decided to wait on the scooter but when we pit-stopped at a bike store I wandered over to the scooter/motorbike store next door to have a look and happened upon the perfect scooter for us. It is a 2015 Honda CVX 125CC that is a beautiful ruby reed color and just so happened to fit EXACTLY and I mean EXACTLY in our inside storage compartment in Albi. When we bought Albi we installed an electric/motorize scooter loading system and securing platform (cost 2000 Euro - not cheap!) Though it is tight, we figured that given we’d be staying on the outskirts of town there would be many occasions where we would need to provision, explore further afield or even deal with emergencies where the scooter could come in handy. So I test drove this one and it just seemed too good to pass up. Although executing the registration, licenses and insurance was a huge challenge in French we managed to get it done and now ‘Ruby’ is loaded in the back as we set out on our first ‘leg’ towards La Rochelle, Rochefort and ultimately Bordeaux. (See pics)

    In addition to the big ticket items, we had to buy a lot of other things to get Albert going. This included some curtains to cover some windows, many hooks and hangars, a clock/weather station, bins/totes and Tupperware to hold all our belongings and provisions, bike parts and many tools, spares and creature comforts. After 3-4 days of buying, returning and installing we finally have everything set up to the point we are both satisfied that we can enjoy living in this small space with everything we need. Unfortunately, the ‘spending spree’ has been pretty taxing on the bank accounts and credit cards - and although we are now fitted out we are departing literally broke and with our credit cards completely maxed out. Luckily, our gas tank is full and Albert is incredibly efficient on diesel it seems - so we will make the first 500-600 km at least before we have to figure out how to pay for the first tank of diesel!

    One of the more complex things about this adventure has been dealing with foreign exchange and bank accounts. Almost by chance we stumbled on ‘N26’ bank which is essentially a virtual, multi-currency bank based in Germany. N26 only requires a European address and thanks to starting our French corporation to buy the RV and scooter we have that so we were off to the races. The great thing about this bank is that it is multi-currency, allowing us to easily switch between US, Canadian, Euro and NZ dollars at close to the posted exchange rates. Anyone who has spent any time abroad will tell you that if you’re not smart about exchange you’re getting ripped off by the banks and credit agencies. If you are transferring money around or going on extended vacation and you don’t have a FOREX account of some kind - get one! Anyway, suffice to say that N26 has proven a great tool for us during this transition and allowed us to pay in Euros and save many hidden costs. Unfortunately we’re now ‘out’ of Euros in that account and had to start reaching out to our accounts in Canada to pay off our initial fit-out. No matter, it is now done and in the end it’s only money right? The last challenge will be figuring out how to get my pay deposited into the N26 account - the admin staff is working on that and hopefully we can find a way.

    So for the next couple days we are in Sens. We did a day-trip down to Villeneuve-Sur-Yonne, a beautiful little village about 20 min south of here and spent two nights on the river and exploring the town. We broke in the bikes with a 50 km ride back to Sens to finish some provisioning and enjoyed the ride along the river back to the RV, seeing the fisherman, boaters and families enjoying the last of the summer weather. The weather has been unreal for us so far - sunny and 25-35 degrees every day, which has made our initial time absolutely amazing. The evenings are getting cooler though and it is only a matter of time before the weather turns and the rains come. Hopefully by that time we have moved further south into Spain and can prolong our summer just a bit more. Our itinerary has changed slightly now we are bypassing Le Mans and heading straight to the coast to La Rochelle, Rochefort and ultimately Bordeaux. After researching Le Mans we did not find much to attract us and we need to make up some time now since Ginette has some travel plans coming up (can’t reveal what they are as it is a surprise for someone). So we will press to the coast. Ginette will be gone for about 2 weeks so I am contemplating heading up to the Netherlands to meet up with some cruising friends and help them do some work on their boat. I will also take some time on my own in Bordeaux and wait for Ginette to come back. From there, we will head to the north and west of Spain where Ginette hopes to complete at least some of the Camino de Santiago which she has aspired to for some time. In mid October I return to work for a 3 week stint, likely I will fly out of Madrid for that.

    Sens has been great to us - a real hidden gem. Last night we enjoyed the lights show in the town square and today we will complete a short walking tour and visit the crypt below the massive Cathedral here. Then, finally, we are off to the coast and points south.

    That is all for now. Thanks for riding along with us. We are still figuring out many of the systems on this RV which differ greatly from our boat, but have a familiar feel. So far all is functioning great and we are happy with our choice and excited about our plans. We are looking forward to the adventures ahead, catching up with some friends and family here and experiencing again the best of what Europe has to offer in the coming months. In the meantime, we hope you are all well and look forward to your thoughts, comments and communications to keep us connected to our loved ones - which helps us greatly to stave off the loneliness of this nomadic life.

    With best wishes,

    Derek and Ginette
    Fast Albert
    Sens, France
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Sens, XSF, Agedincum, 89100