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Picking up “Minou”, Sens, FR


March 2nd, 2022

We arrived in Paris at Charles de Gaulle safe and sound  on Tuesday afternoon on a direct flight from Cairo.  The plane seemed to taxi forever before arriving at the gate.  It was a bit of a walk to immigration and here’s where the reality of being in France began:  it took us over TWO hours to get to the front of the immigration line!  The area is divided into French residents and non-French residents which the latter was of course, what most our plane from Cairo fell into. There must have been at least two other plane loads of passengers there at the same time yet they only had three and sometimes only two agents out of a possible eight working!

By the time we got to baggage claim we only waited a couple of minutes to get our bags and while Doug did that, Fran went to find an ATM to get Euros.  Both machines in the baggage area were out of order.  Once we got through customs – which was virtually nothing – we looked for more ATM’s and Fran found four more – ALL out of order.  We had arranged for a driver to pick us up to take us directly to Euro Camping Cars (ECC) where our “new to us” motorhome was located – this was in the small city of Sens about 120 miles// 70 miles southeast of Paris.

Stephane was waiting for us patiently (Fran had messaged him about the delay); he had a nice big comfy van with USB ports and water bottles for us.  We had a nice chat as he spoke a fair amount of English and he agreed to stop at an ATM and a grocery store once we arrived in Sens where we bought bread and cheese and beer for our first dinner in France.

We arrived at ECC around 5:15 which was not enough time to do a complete walk around as they close at six.  They plugged us in but couldn’t figure out why the power was not working fully.  We unpacked as much as we needed for that night and they left us locked in their property next to the workshop bays.

Minou is the second camper in the line up

We enjoyed our little French dinner. We then settled in for some sleep  – one hour time difference from Cairo.

So here’s a couple of photos of what we’ll be living in for the better part the next three years or so:

The rig seems well designed for the most part – one super weird thing is the toilet only has about 3” in front of it so you cannot sit properly as it’s too close to the wall! We couldn’t find the light switch that night for the bathroom and we thought the right front tire looked a little low.

Thursday they opened at 9 and lent us a car to go shopping while they worked on the power issue.  That was a huge shop!  We needed not only food but items like dishes, pots, utensils, etc.

We went to Mcdo’s (as they say here in France) for a bad lunch around one just to get something quick in our tummies.  Upon returning to rig; they had sorted the power issue; it was not turned on! – there’s a display where you turn on the water and power and they’d forgotten and they showed us where the bathroom light switch was located.  We did another partial walk around; had lots of questions; picked out a few items from their “used section”; they worked on a couple of minor things and we began paperwork around 4:30 – as it was getting late we stayed another night.

ECC is owned by a couple: Sandrine runs the office and her husband, Bruno runs the shop.  They also have their two children working there.  The lady we’d been dealing with mostly online was a young university student name, Asia – just learning the job and only working part time – which explains (in part) why it might have been so hard to get hold of her.  She had not told us of the registration costs so we were surprised by the additional 650€ we had to pay!  Now Fran had anticipated there would be some fee for filing the paperwork but this seemed excessive.  Well it is what it is.  Sandrine was able to file the registration online that afternoon and said we’d get the “Grey Card” – like a title document – in a day or two in the mail if we wait or she could send it to us.  We had 30 days that we were allowed to use the former one but as we don’t have any idea where we’re neither going to be nor an address to use, we thought we’ll just hang around here; that leaves us in the area if there are other issues like the right front tire that kept seeming low to Doug despite them telling us it was fine so this was also an opportunity to monitor that more closely.

Friday morning, we were able to dump our cassette toilet in their bathroom and fill up with water before leaving to find sim cards and a few more things; then we couldn’t figure out how to lock the coach door!  We also heard a chirping sound; we returned to and Bruno showed us how to lock the door and during a short test drive we didn’t hear the chirping again!?  (Later we did figure out it was probably the GPS letting us know there were speed cameras ahead!)

So we left and went to a different grocery store and to find the Orange France store to get a Sim for Fran’s phone that we’d share for the short time we will be in France.  By the time we got to where we’d spend the night it stopped working as a hot spot – it had worked in the shop.

So in France and some other European countries we understand, there are motorhome parking areas with and without services; sometimes for a small fee, sometimes free.  These are run by the local towns.  Here in Sens there was one that offered power, garbage bins, a cassette dumping station for €10 for 24 hours with in and out privileges and for €2 more, you could get water for ten minutes.  We read it used to be a proper campsite and there is a building with toilets and showers but it was not open – could be seasonal or could be closed since no tents are allowed there anymore so basically you need your own “facilities”.

You drive into these and there is a barrier that will open after you pay at the kiosk.   This gives you in and out privileges for 24 hours.

paying at the kiosk in order to raise the barrier to enter

Then you park where you want and are able to access power points. We chose a spot  (see photo at the top of the post) and got settled for the night.  As the hotspot on Fran’s phone is still not working, we’ll have to return to the shop tomorrow and get this sorted.  We’d used an Orange SIM card in Iceland last year with no issues on the hotspot so we are surprised it’s not working.  We spent the rest of the day unpacking everything else and trying to organize our cupboards.  Today it was our first sunny day in France.

Saturday after doing some chores went back to the Orange store; Fran spent over an hour with no success using her broken French and Google Translate; one lady finally called the head office and was told hot spot is NOT an option in France with Orange and a refund was not possible because the SIM does work.  Meanwhile, Doug was back in the grocery store where he found us more things we needed to buy.

We returned to same camp site and paid for another night – having power is almost essential when you only have one solar panel and want to run more than one laptop, charge other devices,  etc.; we then went for a walk into the town of Sens – just over a kilometre away; We enjoyed a happy hour beer on the plaza facing the 11th century cathedral.

We had another quiet but cold night – thank goodness for the furnace but we think we should get an electric heater to save propane when we have access to power like we do in our trailer in the US.

Sunday, we did some more shopping then spent night free in a Gron motorhome camping area.  Gron is just across the river from Sens and their motorhome parking is really just a parking lot but there is a bathroom, water, a dump station and it’s free but has no power.  It has a nice little path into the village where you can find basic things like a bakery for bread and pain au chocolat!  Yummy!

Monday, as ECC is not open on Mondays, we had a few more things added to our “should buy” list and found a different department store where we bought, amoung other things, a heater.

Tuesday, we waited at ECC for the mail but still no Grey Card so we went back to first campsite to get power and water.  As Fran had received a free prime trial offer and we still needed more, we made a new order of things we’re having trouble getting in shops which should arrive tomorrow as we’re here for at least another day…..

Once again we returned to ECC on Wednesday to wait for the mail and to use their free Wi-Fi.  Here we met an couple from Washington State; Kate is actually from Victoria BC and David is a retired doctor from Ireland.  They  also just bought a used rig from ECC.  We went back to the free spot for the night as it was not going to be as cold that evening.  Actually went up to 14 today!

That night our first propane tank emptied and we switched to the second one.  Thursday morning we went to try to get propane but couldn’t get the bottle out, so back to ECC we went – still no Grey Card but all of our amazon order had arrived including camp chairs and an air compressor.  That right front tire was still looking a bit low so Doug pumped it up and we’ll watch it more.

That night we went back to the paid spot for power where Kate and David joined us and we had a little happy hour in their rig.

Upon returning to ECC once again the following day, we found out that the propane needs a special key we don’t have!  Bruno didn’t understand why there was no key in the propane cubby so we bought one and waited for the mail lady – nope, no luck again today.

We then returned to the free spot in Gron for that night; it was warm again today: all the way up to 17!  And today we had a Eureka moment – Doug figured out that the toilet bowl turns! So no more sitting sideways on the bowl!  You cannot possibly comprehend how happy this made us!  It’s the little things in life, right?

Friday, our luck still had not changed on the registration front but the tire was low again so upon arriving at ECC, Doug asked them to take it off and check it.  They couldn’t find a leak so Doug suggested we could take it somewhere and they could reimburse us for the repair.  Instead they took to their repair shop for us; the garage couldn’t find a leak either but they did put some anti leak around the edge where the rim touches the tire.  We returned to the propane place and managed to swap out our bottle this time after asking for assistance to access the bottles (they give you a key to access the cages where the bottles are kept but neither of us could get the doors to move). It began to rain and was cooler so went back to spot with power since it was cloudy and threatened to rain that night.

Saturday morning again our grey card was not in the mail again and they are closed on Mondays; Sandrine at ECC said her husband Bruno, would be working on Monday and she’d arrange with the postal lady to deliver him the mail at the side gate and if it was in the mail that day, he’d call her and she’d WhatsApp us to go see Bruno and get it.

So as the weather for the weekend continued looked wet, we went back to the campground that has power and stayed for two nights; this gave our solar panel a break and meant we could use our electric heater rather than propane and a warm dry place to hang out in the wet weather.  Doug has been looking into what is required for swapping/filling propane bottles in Europe and it’s not easy – seems you almost have to purchase a new bottle in nearly every country so he’s looking into getting a fixed system as filling seems possible in most countries.  As it seems to be less expensive to get this done in the UK (Doug has emailed a place), once we get the darn Grey Card we’ll make a bee line that way if they can take us.

Sunday, we mostly stuck around the campground due to the dreary wet weather but did venture out to “Mcdo’s” for breakfast and Fran took a walk to a shop in the afternoon to get a couple of things and complete her steps.

Monday morning, it was clear and promised to be a better weather day so maybe we’d be lucky and our Grey Card would arrive?????  Since we were antsy and itchy to move on out of Sens after nearly TWO weeks here, and finally thinking maybe we just have the thing mailed to us in the UK, we headed over to ECC before ten in the morning and parked outside.  The mail comes between 10 and noon weekdays and so we could be there to see it arrive.  We could tell that Bruno was inside working as one of the bays was open.  Fran went for a walk (Doug had already gone earlier that morning when he couldn’t sleep) and we waited.  Fran returned around 11 and the mail lady arrived!  At the same time, a man wandered into the place even after we told him it was closed (?) and two minutes later Bruno was outside chatting with him!  We had no idea if he’d checked through the mail.

Then two minutes later, Fran got a message from Sandrine – it was there!  After the man left the workshop, Fran went inside to try to talk with Bruno (he speaks little English) and he told her Sandrine was on her way in.  She arrived in one minute and said she’d get us the Grey Card and bring it outside.  We’re not sure why she came in but she did.  In the meantime, we asked if we could fill our water tank and by the time we were done, she came out with the document and we are able to leave the country!  Yeah – finally!   Aaaah, the French.

Over the past week since we moved into our new home, we’ve been discussing where to head to get out of the Schengen – do we go right into England on the shortest ferry or do we take the long overnight ferry and start in Ireland?

We have a British friend we met when in Panama (and he’s a supporter of Kitojo) who owns a farm in the UK and when he saw we were in Europe, told us we could visit and stay at his family farm when in the area.  He rents out the house/farm and reached out to the tenant and she is fine with us coming.  So we asked Norm, if we could hunker down there a few days and work on the motorhome so that’s what we’ll do.

Now we didn’t decide this until we were half way to the northwest of France to catch the ferry to Ireland, but luckily we were at a point in the France highway system where when we got to Rouen, we could go east or west, so east it was.

This was a long a$$$$ driving day for us and at 6:30 we arrived at a free camp spot behind a tennis court less than 30 km / 20 mi from Calais, France to spend the night.  We booked a spot on the ferry for tomorrow morning.

We were the only ones in the lot here which is also a school’s parking lot.  At one point while we were eating dinner a fellow knocked on the door and said we couldn’t park here as it was a school – there were no ‘no overnight’ parking signs and Fran tried to tell him we’d move after we finished eating.  Then one of the two guys who were sitting on a nearby park bench knocked on the door and said that guy was wrong, we could in fact stay here so we did. We’d found this place on an app called “park4night” which is used a lot in Europe so it wasn’t that we’d just shown up.

We had a quiet uneventful night but while getting ready in the morning, that same first man knocked quite loudly on the walls and when we opened the door, he pointed at his watch and Fran told him we were leaving soon.  Two other cars arrived in the lot after he left, and no one bothered us so he was just being an a-hole we think.

SIDE BAR:  Diesel prices in France:  the first time we filled up we paid €1.86 per litre, next time it was up to €2.11 but before leaving Sens we got €1.91 so if you average it  it’s about $8.20 USD a gallon!  Good thing our new home seems to get up to about 20mpg with that little engine – can’t imagine how bad it would be doing this trip in Tigger!

We left before 8 and thank goodness there were a good number of signs for the ferry terminal, as both our app and our GPS did not know where we should go for sure.  But even then we ended up at the truck toll booths and they directed us to the car lines.  Upon arriving there, we were asked if we’d fill in the UK passenger COVID forms  online and we had not; so we backed up, pulled over and Fran did those on her phone as she still had some data and we got back in line and got checked in.

Next was French immigration to get stamped out of the EU – super easy then UK immigration to get into the UK – the border agent was a young woman who seemed to be in training – we were her first Canadian passport holders and she only scanned our passports, no stamp but said we could stay up to six months.

Immediately after the UK immigration booth were two French Customs Inspection officers who did a thorough search of our motorhome; even insisted on unscrewing the lid on the dinette seat under the cushion that doesn’t normally  open to be sure we had no one inside!  That is where our fresh water tank is located but you can’t see it from the outside or underneath.  This all took a good fifteen minutes so we were glad we arrived early.

We were directed over to the ferry line up and waited there till our sailing in about 40 minutes.

driving onto the ferry