The typical trip to Europe lasts two weeks and leaves a tourist stressed, jet-lagged and with a blur of impressions and pictures that didn't come out.
Ralph and Nancy Rosenlund of Portland, Ore., had a better idea.
"At King Ludwig's castle in Germany, three busloads of Americans came in at about 3 in the afternoon," Ralph said. "We pulled in with our Oregon plates. They said, 'How did you get clear over here from Oregon?'
"About then the tour leader told them, 'You folks have about 28 minutes to get up the hill and see the castle because we have to be at the next town to check into the hotel.'
"We waited until they all left, then we had the castle to ourselves. When we came out I asked, 'OK to park here?' They said, 'Sure,' so we put our awning out, our deck chairs out, opened a bottle of wine. Nancy cooked dinner, and the lights came on (around) the castle. We spent the whole evening there."
The Oregon plates were on the Rosenlunds' 19-foot van-size motor home--their way of beating the usual tourist syndrome satirized in the 1969 movie, "If It's Tuesday, This Must be Belgium."
They shipped their van over for $700 and stayed for six months. Insurance cost $240. Living expenses--mostly for food and fuel--ran about $3,000.
They made three such trips to Europe in the 1980s, have written a book, "Travel Europe With Your Motor Home," and will present seminars on the subject at the 27th annual Anaheim Sports, Vacation & RV Show at the Anaheim Convention Center Saturday through Jan. 12.
"The little van is the best way to go," Ralph said. "You're sort of unobtrusive."
Besides King Ludwig's castle, the Rosenlunds also parked two blocks from Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, and in Vienna they camped at a parking meter in front of the Intercontinental Hotel for four days, while guests inside were paying more than $200 per night.
They have traveled in recreational vehicles since 1950, before they were called RVs.
"They called them gypsy trailers," Ralph said. "Some of them had a hose hanging out the bottom of the sink, and that was the plumbing."
When Ralph, now 70, retired from his insurance business in 1974, they launched an international odyssey that would find them camping in Kenya, at Carnival in Rio, atop the Great Wall of China, amid the Himalayas and on the road to Mandalay.
For practical reasons, Europe is the only continent besides North America they have traveled by RV, and they undertook that when little how-to information was available, confident they would somehow muddle through. Attitude is important.
Said Nancy, 68: "I say in the book, 'If you can drive the back roads of your own country, you can drive anywhere in Europe.' It's so easy."
But, what about . . ?
Ralph: "It's $3.50 a gallon or so, but we would drive 50 miles some days, over the mountain into another village, and park for three days because, see, you're not in a hurry.
"We're crazy here in the States. Americans drive 3,000 miles from coast to coast and think nothing of it. Over there if you drive 300 miles, you're in a different country. If you drive 3,000 miles, you've seen all of Europe. So the gas is expensive, but you don't use much."
Ralph: "We had a Ford engine, and there are 6,000 Ford dealers in Europe. The parts didn't always fit, but they can air-freight anything in two days.
"And I tell people, if you did break down in a little village for two days, you'd probably have the most pleasant two days you ever had enjoying the people and the village."
Nancy: "The only place I prayed I would never get sick was in the Eastern Bloc countries. If anybody is prone to heart attacks or something else, they should stay in the west, until the East gets back on its feet.
"There are excellent hospitals in Germany, the American Hospital in Paris, and Switzerland has fantastic hospitals. I wouldn't trust Italy too much, but they do have some good ones that deal with foreign nationals."
FINDING YOUR WAY AROUND
Nancy: "Normally, I'm the navigator. Some maps are really easy, and in the book I recommend certain maps and which maps to stay away from.
"Belgium has two languages and two names for every city. We kind of went around in circles until we caught on. But it's a small country.
"You have to have at least three maps going for you because each map is a bit different. One will have all the ferries listed. Another will have historical monuments. Some will have English and Romanian or French or whatever. Most will not have a city index.
"When you get to the tourist office at the border, try to get a current, up-to-date map, because Eastern Europe has been changing their mapping numbers and systems to coincide with the rest of Europe.
"When we do get lost, we just pull over, pull out the map, open the wine and find somebody to talk to in pig Latin or hand signals."
WHERE TO PARK AT NIGHT
Ralph: "There are millions of campgrounds, but they let you park a little van right on the streets in Europe.
"We had our own television, so in Germany we could watch the American programs. We watched Bryant Gumbel (on the "Today" show) every afternoon at 4 o'clock."
Ralph: "We bought our food from farmers. They had little stands. The squares in all the villages have the farmers' markets in the mornings. That's how we ate.
"Propane is a problem, but we recently got an address for every propane shop in every city in Europe. There's plenty of nice water . . . usually at filling stations on back roads."
Nancy: "But your hose might not work. (All the connections are) different over there.
"We never let ourselves get empty. When things were about halfway down, whether it was gasoline, water or propane, we started thinking, 'Time to fill up.' "
DUMPING WASTE WATER
Nancy: "You dump where the natives dump . . . which is any place you darn well please. (RVs) have portable toilets (not holding tanks) in Europe. They're beginning to put dumping stations in Germany, (along) the freeways, (but) that's the only place.
"So we'd just drive off someplace. We were very careful with the (toilet paper), using biodegradable and a lot of water. We also kept a detergent added to the tank, rather than a chemical."
PROBLEMS CROSSING BORDERS
Ralph: "None at all. If you have insurance, they give you the green card and that's all they care about--that you've got insurance to protect their people.
"Two years ago when we were in Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Hungary, Turkey, it was very difficult crossing the borders. Today there is only one country left with a visa: Romania. It's simple now."
DRIVING FOREIGN ROADS
Nancy: "The Italians are out of their minds. The Germans, when they hit the Autobahn, they can go insane. There's no speed limit (and) they travel at 120 m.p.h. You learn to stay on the right unless you have to pass, and if you see somebody blinking their lights about three miles behind you, you know they're coming straight through and you get over as fast as you can, because you blink your eyes and they're on top of you.
"But you stay off the freeways, because that's not where the fun is, anyway.
"If you insist on going through a city, do it on Sunday morning at 6 o'clock--unless you absolutely have a death wish."
Nancy: "I can't say we found anybody un friendly. I've heard people say that the French are terrible, but we've never had a problem with the French. I think a lot of it is how you approach people.
"People are intrigued with the van. We've had people in Switzerland walk their dogs for hours around the van, hoping to see it, until we finally invited them in. They were amazed at what we had in it, with the microwave and the generator and the hot water heater and the (heater) and the bathroom."
The Rosenlunds plan to return to Europe next summer.
Ralph: "The world has really changed. We saw the end of communism in Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. It was pitiful . . . no food."
Nancy: "But I want to go back because it's changed, and we want to see the changes."