Reporting from Antwerp, Belgium—We're packing the mobi for a madcap trip across Europe to see as much as we can in 18 days. If this trip goes badly, it's our daughter's fault. This is her idea, pitched from her apartment in downtown Antwerp during a call months earlier.
"Come visit us," she said.
It conjured up old memories of exploring the Pacific Coast and the Canadian Rockies in our '73 Ford Econoline camper conversion, perfect for two.
"I'll come too," Cassie said.
The last time Cassie joined my wife, Jeanne, and me on a camping trip she dismissed it as uncivilized and swore her allegiance to resorts. She was 13, maybe 14. After college she worked as an excursions escort for an Italian cruise ship and on the front desks at Club Med on Turks and Caicos and at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.
And now the three of us are going to spend 18 days cooped up in a small RV, sharing a bathroom so small the toilet seat swivels sideways to save space.
"And Kurt can join us for the last week," Cassie said.
We've loaded the mobi: pasta, frozen chicken, bottles of iced tea (Cassie says we'll buy wine in Germany), cookware, garage-sale silverware, canvas-sling camping chairs, four travel-advice books, seven maps, four cameras and walkie-talkies in case we get separated somewhere. And because I did my homework, I have my international driver's license and an international camping card that somehow vouches for us so we don't have to leave our passports with campground managers as security every night.
The stage is set: We will careen across Europe, planning only one day at a time and relying on the advice of a mischievous GPS that I hope will point us to Slovakia, not Slovenia.
We have no reservations. I have lots of reservations.
We ask GPS to send us to Heidelberg, Germany. En route, it takes us to Trier, the oldest city in Germany, once protected by a towering stone gate erected by Romans in the 2nd century.
After a 30-minute hunt for a parking spot large enough to accommodate us, we find space along a residential street half a dozen blocks from the historic section. An old man approaches us, shaking his hands wildly and shouting in German, pointing to a street sign that says something we don't understand. We smile and walk to the Roman gate and take the first of what will be thousands of pictures.
By late afternoon we reach Heidelberg. The GPS doesn't recognize the address we type in for the campground, but a street sign depicting a tent points to the riverfront. After settling in, I discover that our little refrigerator-freezer hasn't frozen ice for my evening Scotch and Drambuie. The camp store clerk says he doesn't sell ice. I say I really need some. Why? For my Rusty Nail. Tell you what, he says. I'll get you ice if you pour me a Rusty Nail. Deal.
A German police van passes us, and the young officers wave for us to follow them as they pull off the road. I recall someone's advice: Don't let police lean on you for money, so I pull a bunch of euros out of my fanny pack and tell Cassie to hide them.
The female officer asks, "Sprechen sie Deutsch?" No. "You're American," she says with displeasure. "Oh, great." Her partner, in broken English and using his hands, tries to explain what I did wrong and then draws a picture. When two lanes merged to one, I didn't pull over quickly enough.
That will be 116 euros, he says. Aha! I'm ready. I open my fanny pack and pulled out all my cash: 23 euros. "I'm sorry," I say.