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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA There’s an old saying that goes: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.” I have a nice example of that philosophy that occurred this weekend.

We headed down to a Corps of Engineers campground called Ortona South. It is located at some locks on the Caloosahatchee River between Lake Okeechobee and Fort Myers. It’s a beautiful campground with nice level sites and great views. We are continuing our familiarization with the RV, lounging and strolling the campground. We met the local otter family, watched boats passing through the locks and did some light biking. All in all, a very relaxing weekend.

This coach, as I described in my last post, has a very advanced electrical system that includes a built-in surge protector. Despite that, one of the first accessories I bought was a surge protector that sits between the power cord and the plug on the pedestal. It not only protects the RV’s electrical system from surges, it monitors the state and quality of the power being delivered and shuts down if the voltage is too high or low or if the receptacle is mis-wired. It seemed a bit redundant and I almost returned it when I realized how nice our coach was, but I decided that multiple levels of protection could only be a good thing.

I need to mention that when we have no power, we have an inverter that supplies AC power for the fridge and most, but not all, of the outlets. Last night when we went to bed, we left our phones plugged into one of the non-inverted outlets. At 4 AM, we woke up to the sound of power being applied to our phones (“ding”). That signified the return of our 50 amp service. Turns out the external surge protector had detected an over-voltage situation (>134V). It had automatically isolated the coach until the power returned to an acceptable level, potentially saving it from damage.

This took place on our second trip. As far as I’m concerned, the device already paid for itself. I think I’ll remain paranoid, at least about stuff I can control.

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Lady Sybil at Ortona South, 11/10/17

 

Boats queuing for the lock, Ortona South, 11/10/17

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The local family getting ready to dine, Ortona South 11/10/17

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Dinner, Ortona South, 11/10/17

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We took the new RV out for our first run to a local campground. The goal was to start testing out the various systems and start getting smart on the many, many features available. We had big plans.

It should be pointed out that this is in Florida. In August. And it was hot. Really hot. This was not an issue for us, since the vast majority of our planned tasks would be taking place inside our coach, which has 3 air conditioners on the roof. The plan was to pull into the site, hit the auto-levelers, plug in, attach the water, and voila! We’re good to go.

Lesson #1: The auto-leveling system rocks! When we pulled in, Patti had some concerns that the site was not very level and that we would need to utilize our newly bought leveling pads to raise the front end in order to keep the tires on the ground. I thought we’d be OK and gave it a shot. We backed into the site, I hit the button, and a few minutes later we had a nice, level RV with all of the tires still on the ground. Success! This was not a sign of things to come.

Lesson #2: Pay attention when making reservations. I had been so glad to get a site here that I apparently missed an important point. When I went to plug in our 50-amp, 4-prong electrical plug into the pedestal I discovered only a 3-prong, 30-amp receptacle waiting for me. Crap. Those 3 air conditioners I mentioned earlier? They want lots of amperage. After a few choice words directed at myself, we went to the desk to see if there were any 50-amp sites available. No such luck. The lady told me, helpfully, that I’d be able to run one of my air conditioners and if I tripped a breaker they’d be happy to reset it for me. Thanks. We went back and fired up the generator to take the edge off of the 95 degree interior. I can run all three of the ACs using the generator, but it a) sucks diesel, b) is loud and c) generates fumes. Not a long term solution, but at least we could cool off a bit.

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Missed it by that much!

Lesson #3: Bring extra everything because you will eventually need it. This is why I have a 50-amp extension cord and an extra segment of sewer hose. What I didn’t yet have, but had on the list to get, was an extra water hose. I had 25 feet with us. The water spigot was 29 feet away. Crap. Again. Put that on the list to pick up. This afternoon.

OK, it’s time to “adapt and overcome,” something we need to get used to if we’re going to full-time. Crap happens, as they say, and we’d better get used to it. The water hose was an easy fix. A short road trip and the judicious use of a credit card and problem fixed. As to the shortage of electricity, I used this as a learning opportunity. This RV has a pretty sophisticated Electrical Monitoring System. I whipped out the manual (yes, this engineer actually RTFM!) and discovered that when plugged into anything less than 50 amps the RV, when using too much current, will automatically shed loads until it’s within the available power. Huh. So I turned off the generator and turned on two of the three ACs. And it worked! Until it didn’t. After 20 minutes or so I believe the fridge must have cycled and started to draw too much current. One of the ACs turned itself off, just like it was supposed to. Cool! (No pun intended.) I later determined that each AC draws about 14 amps, so running two was on the hairy edge, but it worked. Knowledge gained. And it will re-enable the shed load when enough power becomes available.

The rest of the weekend was fine. A bit warm, but careful use of the generator during the day took the edge off and one AC was fine during the night. We got a lot done, including exercising the outdoor 40″ TV by watching the Orlando soccer team lose while sitting outside talking with the neighbors and enjoying a few adult beverages. I like it!

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Watching the Orlando City SC on a warm Saturday evening.

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There goes a Disney Cruise ship out to sea.

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Lady Sybil Ramkin-Vimes, Duchess of Ankh and Campgrounds

PS: As you can see, we have named our RV. The christening will take place in December. We’ll explain then. Maybe.

Well, it’s certainly been too long between posts, but that will probably be changing. A lot has happened in a short amount of time and we have big news, but first some backstory. Warning: this will be a long post.

For several years now, Patti and I have been generating and researching our plans for retirement. The overall plan is to travel, travel, travel. The implementation we decided upon was to buy an RV, get rid of most of our possessions, sell the house, and hit the road full time. We’d like to travel here in the U.S. for 9 months or so each year and then store the RV and head overseas for a few months. Rinse, repeat. In order to get ready for this, we have been doing a lot of research into both the lifestyle and the various RVs out there to determine what will fit our requirements. After lots of online research and many trips to dealers and RV shows, we decided on some basic requirements, desires, and nice-to-haves:

  • Diesel rather than gas. This is more expensive but more comfortable, capable of larger cargo and towing capacities, and safer going up and, most importantly, down steep grades. We plan on spending lots of time west of the Mississippi.
  • 37-41 feet long. Any smaller and we felt we’d be tripping over each other. Any larger is just too much.
  • King bed. We’ve grown accustomed to our sleeping space.
  • Light and airy inside. We looked at many large coaches that seemed claustrophobic due to layout and lack of windows. We need light for sanity purposes.

A couple of years ago, we found a floorplan that checked all of our boxes and more, the Winnebago Journey 38P. Its biggest feature for us — huge windows. We couldn’t afford a new one, but when the time came to actually pull the trigger and buy one (between Labor Day 2017 and Memorial Day 2018) we hoped we could find a used one in our range. Unfortunately, Winnebago only made that model for a few months before halting production. Apparently this floorplan wasn’t selling.

Fast forward to late May of this year. Patti started having doubts about the RV plan. We talked it out and agreed to consider alternatives, specifically just bouncing around the world from Airbnb to Airbnb. Looked like it would be lots of fun, but very different from our long standing plan. Still, we considered it.

And then the Universe stepped in and played its hand. Patti found a (very) used coach that was a good deal, met many of our needs, and was affordable. Downside: it was in Michigan. Upside: one just like it was on a lot in Tampa. We scheduled an appointment for the following Saturday to take a look.

Then, a day or two later, I get an email from Patti with the Subject “OMG!” A dealer up I-95 had a new 38P that had obviously been sitting on the lot for quite awhile and they wanted to move it. It was just under 40 percent off MSRP. We scheduled an appointment for Sunday. It was going to be a long weekend of driving to look at coaches.

The used coach made for an easy data point: we didn’t want to buy an old one and fix it up. Too much hassle to install the technology gains of the last decade on top of all of the upgrades needed after 12 years of ownership. Sunday we went and looked at the 38P and fell in love. We came back and I asked Patti one question: was she comfortable with the RV plan? She said she was. We decided, given that fact, that we would be fools to pass on our “perfect” RV. We looked at the numbers, decided we could afford it and bought the sucker.

_JP17923It needed some repairs and prep work, so we took the time to sell our travel trailer. While showing it to one gentleman, he asked why we were selling it. I told him of our plan and casually asked him if he wanted to buy a house. He did.

We now have in our possession a new 40′ RV and a signed contract on our house. Holy crap, things got surreal pretty quick. We are 4 to 10 months ahead of schedule on the RV and 18 to 20 months on the house!

But we’re executing “The Plan.” Stay tuned for our break-in stories. We’ve already had some misadventures, but that’s for next time.

 

(BTW: we’re brainstorming names for our new ride. Feel free to provide us with suggestions.)

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North Captiva Island, 12/27/16

North Captiva Island, 12/27/16

Last year we decided to get together this winter with the family and celebrate my birthday (60) and my brother-in-law’s birthday (70). We wanted to rendezvous someplace nice, so we tossed the task of searching for a place over to my sister-in-law. Her track record of finding sweet locations to stay is pretty damn good so we had high hopes. As usual, those hopes were met.

We spent the Christmas holiday on North Captiva Island, just off the southwest coast of Florida. Who knew that a four-hour drive (and a half-hour ferry ride) can take us from our daily life to authentic island time? No cars, golf carts only. We never removed the keys from the carts. For that matter, we never took the key out of the front door of our house. We were directly on the gulf, so close that we were told that often the gulf is actually under the house. Our activities consisted mainly of strolling the beach, reading, boating, fishing, taking photos, enjoying sunsets, catching up with the family, eating and drinking. It was hard.

Being located on an island necessitated leaving our truck on the mainland. It also required us to buy enough food to feed 10 to 12 people for eight days, including drinking water. (While the island has all of the normal amenities like electricity, internet, etc., the tap water is highly sulfuric. It stinks. Badly.) This was a logistical issue but the ferries are used to it and getting the food and all our stuff to the house went smoothly.

While we already live in sunny Florida and were able to drive over to the ferry, our family came in from colder climes (Ogden, Utah, Bozeman, Montana, and New York City). They had a perfect week for it. Weather was warmer than normal with zero rain. We couldn’t have asked for better. Now we’re all back to our normal temps, sub-freezing for the westerners and only 72 for us. (I couldn’t resist.)

I wonder where we’ll meet up next time?

Christmas Sunset, North Captiva Island, FL

Christmas Sunset, North Captiva Island, FL

Our house on the beach, 12/24/16, North Captiva Island, FL

Our house on the beach, 12/24/16, North Captiva Island, FL

Working men on Christmas Day, North Captiva Island, FL

Working men on Christmas Day, North Captiva Island, FL

We were directly next to a grass airstrip and saw this all week. Christmas Day, North Captiva Island, FL

We were directly next to a grass airstrip and saw this all week. Christmas Day, North Captiva Island, FL

From our living room. 12/29/16, North Captiva Island, FL

From our living room. 12/29/16, North Captiva Island, FL

Until next time! 12/27/16, North Captiva Island, FL

Until next time! 12/27/16, North Captiva Island, FL

We finished up the Rick Steves portion of our tour of Switzerland Thursday evening in Bern. Bern was a bit of a surprise to me based upon my image of the city as a modern steel and glass urban area. Instead we enjoyed a walking tour of an old town surrounded on three sides by a swiftly flowing river. In fact, a summertime pleasure of Bern residents is to jump into the river, float around the city, and hop out on the other side. A short walk through the city in your swim suit and you’re back where you started!

Friday, we hopped a train to Zurich where we strolled the city for many hours, finishing up with a pleasant dinner on the sidewalk in the “Old Town.” Much to our surprise, a small orchestra came along and set up shop in the street just a few feet away. Instant concert! It was an absolutely great way to finish our Swiss adventure.

Avenches, Switzerland, 6/2/16

Avenches, Switzerland, 6/2/16

On the way to Bern we stopped in the town of Avenches for a quick (and rainy) peek at a lovely Roman amphitheater. They were setting up for a performance of the opera Madama Butterfly. That would have been something to see.

Avenches, Switzerland, 6/2/16

Avenches, Switzerland, 6/2/16

Bern, Switzerland, 6/2/16

Bern, Switzerland, 6/2/16

It is said that when there are no bears in Bern then Bern will fall. Three bears are kept in an enclosure occupying some prime real estate that happens to be right next to a micro-brewery. They’ve got it pretty cushy.

Zurich, Switzerland, 6/3/16

Zurich, Switzerland, 6/3/16

A serenade on our last night in Switzerland.

Zurich, Switzerland, 6/3/16

Zurich, Switzerland, 6/3/16

 

 

We just wrapped up our visit to Lausanne in the French speaking portion of Switzerland. We had a great time getting here via the extremely quaint village of Gruyere (cheese!) where we saw a bizarre museum and had a good lunch. We started our time here in Lausanne with a walking tour last evening and a fondue dinner. Today was a wander through the town, a lovely two-hour boat ride on Lake Geneva, and a guided tour of Chillon Castle (a very cool medieval castle).

I'm not going to be long winded because I'm fairly beat, but I will toss some photos in from the last few days. I'm doing this from my iPad, so they're pretty much as they came straight out of the camera.

Tomorrow: off to Bern and our last night of the tour.

Gruyere, Switzerland, 5/31/16

Outside the Giger Museum. H.R. Giger was a surrealist artist who won an Oscar for his designs for the movie “Alien.” His museum is in the very quaint village of Gruyere and is a very strange place. We're glad we went.

Gruyere, Switzerland, 5/31/16

Lausanne, Switzerland, 6/1/16

Lausanne, Switzerland, 6/1/16

Chillon Castle, Switzerland, 6/1/16

Lausanne, Switzerland, 5/31/16

 

 

One of the driving reasons for our trip to Italy a few years back was to visit the Cinque Terra. It is such a beautiful place that we wanted to see it, and I wanted to photograph it. We just spent the day in the same type of place in Switzerland: the Berner Oberland, specifically Murren and its immediate surroundings.

The fact the it was raining and overcast this morning didn't slow us down at all. We started the day with a great walk down the mountain a bit to the tiny village of Gimmelwald. The rain stopped and it looked like the sun was trying to peek out, so we hopped a couple of gondolas to the Schilthorn (10,000', give or take). It was mostly in the clouds, but there were some interesting photos to be had. It is also the location where the Bond film “On Her Majesty's Secret Service” (starring that oh-so-famous-Bond George Lazenby and the lovely Diana Rigg) was filmed, so it is a Bond-centric place. Whatever. The people watching was outstanding, however.

Back to Murren for another short walk, then we picked up a large bottle of beer and a small bottle of wine and sat on our balcony and watched the sun light up the face of the mountains on the opposite side of the valley and the paragliders float right across in front of us. And below us. Awesome.

Another great day in Switzerland.

(BTW: yesterday on the way here, the bus was loaded onto a train — with us on it — that took it through a mountain. Saved us 1.5 hours on the road and was a very odd experience.)

Murren, Switzerland, 5/30/16

The view from our balcony. Jeez.

Murren, Switzerland, 5/30/16

After another rough day.

Murren, Switzerland, 5/30/16

Again, the view from our balcony.

Murren, Switzerland, 5/30/16

Murren, Switzerland, 5/30/16

Murren, Switzerland, 5/30/16

Murren, Switzerland, 5/30/16

Somewhere in Switzerland, 5/29/16

Riding the rails. In a 40' bus.

 

So, only enough time for another quick post. Yesterday we drove from Engelberg to Lugano with a few stops on the way, one of them a dam where they filmed scenes for a Bond movie and — wait for it Karen — “The Amazing Race.” We headed up a twisting turning road (in a 40' bus) to a tiny Swiss village looking at more spectacular scenery the whole way. Wow. We then drove on to Lugano for dinner and a lakeside stroll.

Today we took a boat ride to Gandria, a tiny village perched precariously on a hill alongside the lake. We wandered the very narrow streets and alleys for a while, always up or down, never level, and then had a delicious lunch (with adult beverages, of course) perched over the lake. It was pretty unbelievable.

The sights we have seen on this trip keep getting better and better. Tomorrow we get up early and head back to the Alps, this time into the Berner Oberland to a tiny village, only reached by gondola, called Murren. Stay tuned, should be some interesting images.

Lugano, Switzerland, 5/27/16

This is the view from our room in Lugano.

Sonogno, Switzerland, 5/27/16

Sonogno, Switzerland, 5/27/16

Sonogno, Switzerland, 5/27/16

Above Locarno, Switzerland, 5/27/16

Above Locarno, Switzerland, 5/27/16

Alas, the bungee jumping off the dam was closed.

Gandria, Switzerland, 5/28/16

Gandria, Switzerland, 5/28/16

Another great lunch.

 

I'm too tired to do much more than quickly post some photos from our great day here in Engelberg. We started the day with a trip up Mt. Titlis (10,000') where we slipped and slided through the snow, dodging tourists, taking photos, and generally being awed by the views that are one of the reasons we came this way. It really was spectacular. After a sunny lunch partway down the mountain, we crossed the valley and took a hike that, to us flat landers, was a tiny bit challenging. Dinner and drinks, including the most expensive shot of rum I've ever paid for, and we're ready for bed.

Tomorrow we're off to Lugano.

Mt. Titlis, Switzerland, 5/26/16

Paragliders were everywhere.

Mt. Titlis, Switzerland, 5/26/16

Mt. Titlis, Switzerland, 5/26/16

Mt. Titlis, Switzerland, 5/26/16

Mt. Titlis, Switzerland, 5/26/16

Mt. Titlis, Switzerland, 5/26/16

Mt. Titlis, Switzerland, 5/26/16

Lunch on Titlis

Mt. Titlis, Switzerland, 5/26/16

Mt. Titlis, Switzerland, 5/26/16

Feeling pretty good

Above Engelberg, Switzerland, 5/26/16

Above Engelberg, Switzerland, 5/26/16

Above Engelberg, Switzerland, 5/26/16

 

Yesterday was a rainy day in Luzern so we headed off to the Transport Museum. We had heard that it was worth it and we had heard correctly. Lots of old trains (who knew the Swiss were pioneers in developing the technology to convert electricity to mechanical energy? Besides the Swiss, I mean.), old (and new) cars, and old (and new) planes. They even have some space related stuff there. All-in-all it was an interesting way to spend a dreary day.

Later we had our first meeting and meal with our tour group. Since this is the inaugural “Best of Switzerland” tour there will be…wrinkles, which just serves to keep us on our toes. Yesterday there was an issue with the original meeting room they booked for our orientation, so we met on one of the many tour boats for a “Cruise To Nowhere.” We never left the dock. After a short walk to see the Lion (see below), we had a nice dinner in a small restaurant and then called it a day.

Enjoy the photos!

Transport Museum, Luzern, Switzerland, 5/23/16

Remind anyone (ahem…Karen) of The Amazing Race?

Transport Museum, Luzern, Switzerland, 5/23/16

This one's for Brady!

Transport Museum, Luzern, Switzerland, 5/23/16

 

Some of their inclines are so steep they utilized custom cars. We could have used this the other day going up and down Mt. Rigi.

Transport Luzern, Switzerland, 5/23/16

 

The famous Lion of Luzern.

Luzern, Switzerland, 5/22/16

The day before we saw lots of folks sailing. Looked like a lot of fun. Nice backdrop, too.