We’re Back!

Ferris Wheel in Saintes, France. Not Mike’s idea of joy.

Mike and I are now back in Europe starting Year Six of our three year plan.  I guess that means that we don’t plan very well 😊.  After five years Mike and I are about to start exploring Western Europe, well at least the French portion.  I expect that exploring France will take much of this year.  We do hope to get to Barcelona to visit some friends in the next few months.

For only the second time in our lives we arrived at the airport a full three hours before flight time.  Like the last time when we were so early, we came close to missing the plane.  Proof of covid vaccines slowed us down some but the real problem was the security screening of our hand luggage.  The problem was our Canadian Tire battery charger for our vehicles.  Mike specifically wanted to bring this one because it had a “maintenance cycle” that he wanted to use on all the RV house batteries.  It is a very simple device with a standard 110 volt wall plug for input, and 12 volt output cables with alligator clips that attach to the batteries in the RV. The charger says on it that it is suitable for charging 12 volt automobile batteries, and this was our problem.  The security men assumed this meant that there was a 12 volt battery in the charger which you couldn’t bring on board.  NOT TRUE. 

There must have been at least 6 or 7 screeners that were completely stumped for the better part of an hour.  The first screener convinced everyone around him, that the battery charger was a battery so then they all kept telling us that batteries of the size and capacity listed on the charger were not allowed on an airplane.  We kept telling them that there was no battery inside the charger but that the charger could be used to charge batteries with the capacities listed.  Even the supervisor didn’t understand car battery chargers.  Mike was absolutely amazed that so many men, probably ranging in age from their 30s to 60s, had never had a dead car battery or used a trickle charger.  I found an official internet site that said car battery chargers were fine to carry on but since it was an American TSA site and not a Canadian TSA (CATSA) site they wouldn’t even look at it.  As our flight was more important that the charger we were about to give up and abandon it when a screener from a few lanes away came over.  He actually recognized a charger and had it sent through the X-ray machine one more time to confirm our contention that there was no battery inside and the charger was finally cleared.  Even after this, one of the original screeners came over to me and told me not to bring anything through that said 12V on it again.  So with the charger in hand we were off and running to our departure gate where they had already started boarding.  As I write this I am sitting in the RV freezing. Mike has the door open while he attaches our new charger to two of our house batteries to start the maintenance cycle.  Mike says I should say “pulse desulfurization” but I am guessing that most of us don’t know what that means.

Mike in a churchyard in Pons France

As before, Air France treated us well.  The flight didn’t start off the greatest.  We had been told that although Mike had a centre seat, the seat on the other side of him couldn’t be booked.  When it looked like most people had boarded some man came from another seat and sat next to Mike.  He was without the mandatory mask and Mike asked him to put one on.  Shortly after that he moved to a seat across the aisle.  When someone came for that seat he moved behind us and eventually he came back and sat next to Mike.  I asked to see his boarding pass which he wouldn’t show me so I asked a flight attendant to have a look.  By the time she came down he was in yet another seat.  Given that the plane was supposed to be very full, I don’t know how he kept finding seats.  Eventually he managed to stay in a different seat and Mike and I did get three seats between us with the two aisle seats that we both like. 

I don’t sleep on planes but I don’t know how anyone could get any sleep on this flight.  The flight to Paris was seven hours, gate to gate.  It left Toronto before 7 PM (19:00h).  By 8:30 we were served champagne.  Next came the meals and a full small bottle of wine for each person.  Mike and I had different meals and they were both quite good.  By the time dinner and all our various drinks were cleared away it was almost 10pm.  It wasn’t too long after midnight that breakfast was served and we landed in Paris before 2 AM Toronto time.  The time actually went quite quickly.  We had no issues getting the next flight to Bordeaux.  We landed in Bordeaux and called another camper from our campground who was waiting in the parking lot to give us a lift back.  We arrived at our camper at 1 PM (13:00h) local time or 7 AM Toronto time.

The good news was that our camper was free of any visitors that might have taken over while we were gone.  One year we had ants which wasn’t very nice.  Items were damp thanks to the climate here but if that was the worst thing that happened while we were gone, we were happy.  Things went very well and in just a couple of hours Mike had the RV dewinterized (is this a word?), moved to a proper camping spot and filled the water tank.  I managed to unpack everything during this time and get the interior set up.  Mike then left for a quick grocery shopping trip while I faded.  It was probably the quickest we have ever managed to get everything necessary done.

When we entered France last year Mike and I both bought French SIM cards for our phones.  We use a lot of data when we are in Europe since all our current television, i.e. Canadian and worldwide news and YouTube, comes from the internet using our phone’s data.  We each are paying €19.99 monthly.  This works out to $27.90 Cdn or $24.69 before Canadian taxes.  Our French plan includes 210GB of 4G or 5G data when we are in France and unlimited calls to much of the world and unlimited text messages.  In Canada you won’t get 1GB of high speed data for this price never mind 210GB.  The icing on the cake is that when we are in Canada, this phone plan partners with Rogers (at least in the Toronto area) and we get 25GB per month roaming and as well as calls and texts within Canada and France.  This is considerably cheaper than purchasing a Canadian data plan and way more data than we need in Canada since we have fibre optic internet in our apartment.  It is just wrong that Canada has some of the most expensive internet in the world.  The US is known to be expensive and we are considerably higher than the US.  We are hoping to keep our French data plan for years even after we leave Europe. It was great to have our Canadian cell phones work in Canada when we boarded the plane and continue working without doing anything when we got off the plane.  It made it easy to call Roy who was waiting, so nicely, to take us back to the campground where he keeps his camper year round.

Photo of Jonzac, France taken after sunset in dark.

On our first full day here we decided to go out for a nice French dinner.  Mike and I have all sorts of problems with the eating times in France and often starve on our bike rides.  By the time we leave and bike for a while and then want to stop it is often around 1:30 PM or even later and most restaurants are closed by then.  This night it was about 6 PM when we went out for dinner.  We were still trying to recover from the six hour time zone change and didn’t have a lot of energy.  We wanted a relaxing sit down dinner in a restaurant, but nothing too elaborate.  The first restaurant we stopped at had closed at 4:30 PM.  The next restaurants we saw, driving through a few different towns, where all closed.  Eventually we saw an open restaurant in the town of Jonzac.  We went in and had a problem because the French EU vaccine certificate that we got last year was only for two shots and our Canadian certificate, that included the booster, couldn’t be read by the restaurants app.  Eventually they agreed to let us in but they weren’t serving any food until 8pm.  I had a quick look at the menu and the prices were higher than our tired bodies would appreciate and we weren’t waiting for an hour to eat.  We ended up eating our first night out in France at a McDonalds!  We did get the opportunity to walk around and see parts of the town of Jonzac. The picture just above was taken half an hour after sunset when it was getting quite dark.  You wouldn’t know that from the photo.  It is unbelievable what the cameras do automatically nowadays.

One day we visited the towns of Pons and Saintes, both of which Roy had recommended.  I have a google map where I store all the recommendations that people give us or that I find on the internet and any other geographic information that I want to store for future reference such as where the train stations are, where some campgrounds that I am specifically interested in are located, etc. 

The picture at the top of this article was taken in Saintes.  Mike actually came on the ferris wheel with me although he complained the whole time.  He really doesn’t enjoy them while I certainly do.  The views over the town weren’t as great as I was hoping for.

In Saintes we wandered around the ruins of a Roman Amphitheatre.  You couldn’t go inside but we have come to expect that when you travel out of season.  We met a man from the Netherlands who was in Saintes on business and also exploring.  Hopefully this year we will meet and talk with more people than we have during the last two years of the coronavirus.  On March 14 France lifts all it Covid restrictions except for seniors homes.  France has a system, that you pay for, where you can get your Canadian vaccination certificate approved and be issued a French EU certificate.  We had planned on doing that this week but with the limits being removed I think we will skip it.  It would be nice to have a proper EU version with all three certificates indicated but it is probably not worth the time and money.

An old Roman Amphitheatre in Saintes, France.

Tomorrow Mike and I plan to visit a few more places, one of which is called Cognac.  I will let you know how that goes.  We are waiting here until Thursday when Mike has an oil change booked and we will be leaving this campground on Friday.  Oil changes are a much bigger production in Europe than at home where you just drive into a Mr. Lube without an appointment and then drive out with everything complete 15 minutes later.  Next we hope to stay at a marina which should be nice.

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