The renovation I

So we bought the RV. It was 10 years old with only 27,000 miles on the clock but very ‘brown’ inside. Literally everything was brown, beige, taupe, cream or some other variant of the 1970’s caravan look.

Actually the outside is still brown as well but that will have to wait until another day. The carpet and lino was brown, every single cabinet door or drawer front (all 46 of them) were brown, the walls were brown, all the upholstery was brown and on it went.

For months we’d been checking out images and stories of RV renovations and had concluded that a mix of white, greys and black would be cool. In addition, some light blue accent pieces (as Vanessa calls them, I just agree!) would work.

I’d somehow guesstimated that 3 months full time would be sufficient to get everything done. In reality though days off, weekends away, birthdays, Christmas etc all got in the way and in the end it took us about 4-5 months. There were times we spend all day in the RV and others where we spent the whole day researching or out shopping for the RV so I guess in total my 3 months actual work estimate was about right.

Our first problem/mistake was where we stored the RV during this process. It was winter time and damn cold and we had no access to mains power. I’d watched so many YouTube videos of people renovating their RVs and they all seem to be in Florida in the summer ! Try doing it in England in December with no power !

Some days I was so cold and fed up I’d give up for a bit but Vanessa’s endless supply of coffee, food and encouragement would get me back to work.

It was only daylight from about 09.00 until 16.00 so the days were short and batteries on power tools and iPods/speakers would run out. I’d fire up the engine on the RV to provide some heat and charge up the leisure batteries but it was only a short term fix. If I ever did this kind of project again, no way would I do it without mains power. Lesson learned.

Anyway, first task was to remove all the cabinet doors for painting. Took me all day – this was mistake No.2. Unless once you’ve removed 46 doors you’ve got somewhere sensible to store them all, do this in stages. I put mine in the RV storage lockers but it was a clumsy process and some got scratched.

Next phase was the carpet removal. Horrible horrible job. When Winnebago install the carpets and vinyl they intend them to stay put for ever. Glue and 1,000’s of tacks have to be removed and there ain’t no magic trick to this, it’s just getting down on your knees and pulling & scraping. Carpet and vinyl is all laid before the cabinets & furniture are installed so you either cut really close to the edges or you also take out the furniture as well.

What became apparent to me after a few days was that RVs are built by people rather than robots welding them. What that means is what 1 man has screwed together, another man can take apart ! If you can find the screws or bolts you can take them out, no special skills required other than reasonable DIY competency and plenty of tools.

I took all the dinette chairs and table out and also the sofa bed but I left the kitchen cabinets in place. The captains chair came out with 1 bolt and the driver and passenger seats came out with 4 bolts each and a bit of fiddling with the manual slide control. The sofa called for Joe to squeeze underneath to help get all the bolts out…he’s not significantly smaller than me anymore but no point doing all the crap jobs yourself when you’ve got teenage sons ! The sofa wasn’t going back in anyway, it was yellowy brown fake leather and we soon discovered it would be more expensive to cover/reupholster it than simply buy a new sofa. We wouldn’t need the seatbelts for the sofa so simply bought and installed a regular house sofa which fitted perfectly and it’s far more comfortable than the original factory-fit sofabed.

The original sofabed is now in the shipping container we used to move back to the UK – one day I’ll see if anyone wants to buy an original Winnebago sofa on eBay !

The captains chair didn’t feature in the plans either so that was also dispensed with (into the shipping container). We needed the space behind the front passenger seat to build a multipurpose cupboard to house coats, shoes, wine bottles and our dog! More about that later. There had originally been some discussion about installing a washer/dryer into that space but that would have been a horrible mistake – water supply in Europe isn’t ‘city water’ like in the US and we’d have been draining our water tank. A few Euros in laundries once a week and so far we’re all good with the laundry process.

With the flooring and cabinet doors removed plus most of the big furniture and all the blinds out it started to look awful and on a cold day was quite miserable working on it.

Painting all the cabinets plus 46 doors was a total nightmare. We experimented with primers, undercoats, rollers, brushes, spraypaint and to be honest, I’m not sure we really mastered it. The doors were all painted satin white and took at least 5 coats to cover. We did all the fronts and edges and I kept promising to do the insides if I had enough time but it never happened! It was cold and each coat would take so long to dry properly that this process seemed to go on and on for ever.

The cabinets themselves were a bit easier as they were still in place and we painted most of them grey. Before anyone asks, the doors have to come off as the hinges will be in the way and you’ll end up getting paint on them. I tried to mask the hinges but it’s too fiddly and you can’t paint close enough to them.

All 46 of the door/drawer handles were replaced with more contemporary designs – tip – find new handles that can use the same bolt holes as the originals or you’ll end up trying to fill the old holes which will look terrible unless you’re a cabinet maker. We got some that ‘fitted’ with a little persuasion from a hammer remembering that US imperial measurements will be a fraction different from metric ones you buy in the UK. The old handles all went in the trash which seemed a waste, maybe someone out there wanted them but I really had no time to waste trying to sell small stuff on eBay.

Walls. The factory design brown walls are super durable but horrible. We considered wallpaper at one point but our friend rightly raised the issue of condensation and heat and whether one morning we’d wake up to find it all peeled off ! Hence we just painted them. This was easy enough with a roller but there are 100’s of edges, nooks and crannies and they take forever to paint. Vanessa was good at painting the walls and then leaving me all the fun of cutting in and painting up to the edge of carpets, ceilings, cabinets etc !!!!

As light relief from the drudgery of painting, I built the multi purpose and customised cabinet which would sit between the door and passenger seat. Timber frame and 9mm MDF sheets did most of the work. I relocated a light fitting and put in some extra insulation where the dog would sleep and covered the ‘wall’ with 2 sheets of MDF panelling. Expensive but looks much nicer than plain MDF.

Measuring the dog for his entrance hole and a jigsaw did the trick and this area was now looking OK.

The Netherlands, Amsterdam

The Netherlands, such a vibrant country full of beautiful scenery and warm, friendly people.

Amsterdam

Dank je wel Amsterdam, a couple of days in the Dutch capital has left us exhausted and very full. Walking along the many canals and eating our own body weight in cheese has us feeling very content.

We started at the Van Gogh museum, followed by an enjoyable stroll around the city, we walked from the Rijksmuseum to the flower market and along the canal stopping for coffee along the way.

Jon and I reflected on our last trip here many years ago, pre Joe and Mikey. We had a very different experience back then when we were younger and more carefree. It’s also the place where Jon bought my wedding ring, now we are here with the boys.

Today we started at the Tony Chocolonely shop, where we learnt about this fair trade, anti slavery brand of chocolate. We had great fun sampling the many flavours and choosing our favourites to buy.

We took a drive past the Anne Frank house, it is currently under renovation so unfortunately we couldn’t get tickets to go inside.

Then we took a drive to Volendam, a gorgeous little harbour town to see how they make cheese. We enjoyed a beer at a bar looking out at the bay. The water was completely frozen, it was quite still and eerie.

Finally we went to Edam, yes where the cheese is from.

Vaarwel Amsterdam, we houden van je ❤️

My house is my home no matter how small

Nearly 3 weeks in now and we are all finding our places in the motorhome to relax and have some time on our own. When there are five of you in a confined space it’s good to have a place of your own.

The PS4 is in our bedroom, it’s where the boys spend most of their time

Jon enjoys a glass of wine on the sofa

When he’s not on the PlayStation Mikey will be on his bunk enjoying Netflix

or enjoying a game on his laptop…

Lester has a few places in the motorhome, usually he is looking out the window, watching the world go by

“Home, where the story begins”

The Netherlands, Rotterdam

Rotterdam

So Rotterdam wasn’t on our list either. Glad we made the stop though. We parked up the RV and headed straight to the city in Mini.

I had researched the Markthal, a huge indoor food market in the centre of Rotterdam, opened in 2014 and costing €178,000,000 this is a food lovers paradise. An afternoon very well spent. Every market stall offers samples which meant we had eaten a three course meal without spending a single cent !

Just across the road from the Markthal are the famous cube houses, these 100 square metre homes are really interesting use of space and look really quirky.

A short drive from our campsite in Alblasserdam is Kinderdijk a village full of windmills.

An early start tomorrow as we make our way to Amsterdam.

The Netherlands, Eindhoven

Food, friends, snow and did I mention……..chocolate milk ?

Eindhoven

Head straight for Amsterdam, that was the plan but what we have realised already is that it’s the diversions, detours and spontaneous stops which can be the most fun and this one was certainly no exception. Our Dutch friends invited us for lunch at their home which took us to Helmond, a town close to Eindhoven not on our original route but we are so glad we made the detour.

Caroline and Marco, former neighbours from Singapore had prepared a fabulous lunch for us and lunch led to dinner. With the snow settling and a perfect canal side campsite in Oirschot we decided to stay for a couple more days.

Oirschot is a picture perfect town, it’s small stores look like a Disney set. A super friendly place with a beautiful church in the centre and shops around the square.

Waking up to a blanket of snow was a first, the boys were so excited and so was Lester.

We decided to have a relaxing day and chill-out after the past couple of weeks, the snow was a good excuse to stay put.

Sunday afternoon we went to a local brewery recommended by the campsite owner as they were hosting a German Festival. The music was played by a band from the town.

The snow has melted and we are ready to move on, next stop Rotterdam.

Belgium, Bruges

Belgium, chocolates, waffles and beer, who could ask for more ?

Bruges, the capital city of West Flanders turned out to be a whole lot more than chocolate, beer, waffles and frites even though I am sure you could survive on those four staples for a long time. The cobbled town centre with its morning market selling fresh fruit and vegetables, freshly cooked meats and spit roasted chickens, cheeses and hot waffles did not disappoint. Trip Advisor will give you the run down on churches and historical buildings to visit but what we were most taken with was the people, friendly, engaging, warm and cheerful…we were all struggling with the arctic snap and yet all we felt was warmth.

I have fallen in love with the shops too, each one is quite understated and classy. The signage doesn’t really give any clues to what is behind the door – the bakery looked like a high end law firm but if you look carefully through the windows you’ll see tastefully presented breads and cakes…it’s Disney like.

We also struck gold with the ongoing LPG saga in a small local garage where the owner (who spoke English as well as us) had all the necessary attachments and knew how to fully fuel us up – and the gas was literally half the price of France – again, another mystery about a so called United Europe.

We’d overdosed a bit on World War 2 cemeteries in France so for a change decided to visit all the World War 1 memorials, cemeteries and trenches we could find in Belgium ! Joking apart, it’s hard to explain how moving and deeply tragic it is…we’ve all studied this stuff in school but nothing stops you in your tracks quite like 12,000 graves of young men at Tyne Cot cemetery and the amazing city gates of Ypres. It’s hard to describe the Menin Gate, it is truly a magnificent memorial, remembering those lost in WW1 without a known grave.

To round off the historical tour for the day, we drove the 200 km round trip to the site of the Battle of Waterloo where the Duke of Wellington kicked Napoleons backside. We were proud to be British.

So having fallen in love with Belgium and it’s lovely people it was quite entertaining watching Jon being pulled over and breathalysed by the Belgium Highway police this morning in the motorhome. After a document check the police told us that whilst a car can tow a caravan in Belgium it’s apparently not legal for a motorhome to tow a car (!) We were then asked to remove Mini and get on our way. Which we did and continued to the Dutch border.

Jon’s story

Time… the only thing I wanted. As I’d gotten older and dared to start giving advice to my kids and junior staff, I found myself often using the phrase “in life you are sometimes overworked and underpaid and at other times you’ll be underworked and over paid”. Of course in reality (apart from not giving people a pay rise) what this really means is that you gotta do 25 years of the first part before the second part starts!I’d worked hard my whole life having started at 18 and although I was never the smartest, nobody had ever questioned my work ethic. I grafted like a dog when I was selling and it taught me that only I was going to put food on the table and pay the bills, nobody was going to come to my rescue, a lesson that has served me well.As I operated at more senior levels and finally started to enjoy the second part of my infamous phrase it began to dawn on me that although I was being generously rewarded and enjoying some of the trimmings of a decent lifestyle, the one and only thing I craved was time. I had 4 fabulous kids, a gorgeous wife, several properties around the world, a few quid in the Bank, but never enough time to do things properly. We were lucky enough to enjoy several holidays a year but as soon as we arrived I’d be counting down the days or hours before we left, I was craving to go somewhere and not leave until I was done but work, school & life in general dictates that all good things must come to an end and you need to depart.We’d grab a long weekend at our place in Bali and Vanessa would scold me for undertaking DIY tasks asking “why don’t you spend some time with the boys and pay some guy $50 to do that?”….of course she was 100% right but the point is I didn’t want to make the choice, I wanted to do both, I wanted the nice lunches, trips to the beach and shopping excursions but I also wanted to clean out my own fish pond and paint my own walls.Having had maids and drivers for years you finally realise they are just part of the self fulfilling equation of keeping you at work for longer. You’re far more valuable to an employer being at work an extra few hours than going home and washing your own car so you get a driver to do it for you. We’d bought a villa in Spain 10 years ago and to this day I’ve never seen it once !Asia had been good to us in so many ways but financially it was perfect. I worked damn hard for 14 years out there and got well paid but we spent wisely and saved a lot. So many expats spend what they earn and have to keep working well beyond their ‘best before date’. We didn’t, we had a blast but we saved as much as possible as I’d always been very clear that I wouldn’t work beyond 50. From age 45 I was counting it down in how many more paydays there were to go ! By the time I was 49 I was done with Corporate life.I announced my retirement…almost nobody apart from those that were really close to me believed me. So many people asked me for the ‘real story’ ! The truth is often so dull eh? but the truth is the truth….I was ready to retire. Here’s the funny thing…virtually everyone I know of my generation/seniority/status etc tell me they are jealous and wish they could afford to retire…they must think I have far more money than I really do !For me, this is like having kids, if you wait until you can properly afford it, you’ll never do it. You have kids ‘cos you want to and then you figure out how to pay for it. For me, retirement is similar. I just don’t want to work anymore. I want the time to do what I want. Sure, I have a few quid but trust me, I ain’t mega rich but now I have that most precious commodity – time.