USA 58, 27th November 2006

Back at Micki's I spent a couple of days packing and cleaning up the van, then Tony drove me to Dallas to catch my plane to Paris, travelling by Chicago. Last time I was returning via Chicago I missed my connection and had to travel back the next day. This time I did rather better, the only delay, over an hour, was due to a faulty navigation computer on the aircraft needing replacement.

My stay in the terminal in Paris was unusually quick. Less than 5 seconds at immigration, my bags were almost the first to arrive, then I made an immediate exit managing unintentionally to avoid all customs checks. So now I know. It can happen!

My daughter Eleanor was there to meet me, we embraced with big Texan style hugs and headed off to my van. Oops! Eleanor had parked in the short term parking expecting, naturally, that she would only be parked a short time. Because the plane was late she was parked over an hour. Now the parking rates up to an hour are just the regular rip-off airport rates. But over an hour, we were charged at the daily rate of 33 Euros. That's almost $40. We just managed to raise that much cash between us.

Eleanor and about half a dozen of her friends had laid on a super homecoming lunch for me. Charcuterie and cheeses. Charcuterie is French cold meats, saucisson, dry cured ham, etc, these are delicacies I have never seen in the USA. There were cheeses to make the taste buds go wild, and each friend seemed to arrive with yet another bottle of really good wine.

Then the time difference caught up with me and I went to sleep for a couple of hours.

They were all off to a birthday party out in the suburbs that evening so I went too. I was, by more than just a little, older than everyone else there but that didn't seem to cause any problem to any one. Around 4.30 am I said I'm getting a touch bored, shall we go? So my party was rounded up, somewhat in the style of cowboys rounding up cattle, counted into the van, and the bar was put down at 12 since that is the maximum that the van, registered as a minibus, can carry. The rest were told, sorry, find your own way back to Paris! No big deal, the Metro goes out that far.

I was the only one who could pretend to be sober so I got to drive. Back in Paris I crashed out until 11.30 am.

Later her friends said, they couldn't take their fathers to a late night party............

We took coffee in a cafe since there was none in the apartment Eleanor had borrowed for me from an ex boyfriend. She went somewhere, I went back to the apartment. After a while I needed to go to the lavatory. In American, that's the bathroom. Yep, I'm back in France. No toilet paper in the apartment..........

I met Eleanor by chance just outside the restaurant where I was returning for my restroom needs, so we took lunch, same restaurant. After lunch she went off to do some work, she is at University studying to be an International Lawyer, and I don't want to hold that up. I started checking over the van.

The hinges graunched with a really bad noise when you opened the doors. Like they were going break into small pieces. I put some oil on them and they are OK. I checked the engine oil. Nothing showing on the dipstick so I filled up. I checked the oil change sticker. The last oil change was due 3,000 miles ago. I'll get that done. The brake warning light has been on for several weeks, (note - several weeks!) so I checked the brake fluid level. It was low but fortunately not yet dangerously so. I'll fill that up soon. The second battery had not been charging. A wire had come loose, that's all.

There was a mattress in the back of the van. It's my mattress, from my bed! They took it when they took the van, to make their 6 week trip around Europe last summer. I'll give them their due, both she and her friend Audrey have hardly stopped saying thank you for lending them the van, they had a super trip apparently.

Otherwise, bar a scrape along the side, the van seems all OK.

We took dinner, Eleanor and I, in a nice little French restaurant. I ate lamb, very hard to find in the USA.

Next day I met Frank Bart, from the balloon list, and his wife Margaret, they are spending a few days in Paris, we went to the Sacre Coeur and the Place du Tetre, then after lunch I met up again with Eleanor - she had lectures this morning. Then off to a friends for aperitifs, that finished at 4 am.

In the morning I started my 500 mile journey south to go home. I expect it will take me a couple of days, but, hey, my mattress is already in the van for my overnight stop!

Around 5.30 pm I crashed out in the van, then continued again around midnight.

Nice to be home. I was slightly amazed to find the place all clean and tidy and in order. Remember, Eleanor and up to six friends had spent 2 weeks here last summer, I was half expecting to find the place in chaos. But no, all was OK. Everything absolutely in order. Tidy and in place. Wow!

Of course, I couldn't start the car, the diesel pre-heater wasn't working, there were a couple of dents and a wing mirror was held on by clear tape but hey I can get all that fixed.

Around 6 pm Little Cat 2 walked past. That was a relief, I hadn't know if she was still around. She didn't come very close, although she obviously recognised me because she runs a mile when she sees anyone else - when Eleanor was here she never saw the cat, although the food was disappearing. Little Cat wouldn't come in the house but ate dinner outside. My neighbours who have been feeding her are away, so I haven't heard how she has been. She's obviously been fed well, since she's not so little now, decidedly chunky in fact.

Next day the power went off. I found some melted wires in the distribution box but no reason why they should have melted. I replaced the damaged cut-out switch and the melted wires, and all seems OK.

Little Cat took dinner just outside the door but still wouldn't come inside. She let me stroke her though. I left the door open all evening in case she would come in, although really it's too cold to leave the door open. Next day was much the same except I put the food just inside the door, she poked her head inside just far enough to eat. She'll be back, eventually, it will just take time. She's a 100% outdoor cat.

So, now that I know Little Cat is OK, and everything is in order - even the wild birds are back, hanging on to the little sack of nuts I put out for them.

So really, this is the end of my trip. It's also the end of my major trips to North America. Time for me to consolidate. I've got a huge stack of good memories.

I know there are lots more places to see in the USA, but you can't do, or see, everything. Each of my three voyages has taken me about 20,000 miles. I have stopped overnight in over 600 different places, total time travelling in North America being almost 2 years. A rough check on finances suggests I spend around $1500 per month when travelling, more in Canada, less in Mexico, the biggest expense of course being petrol (gas). I have probably spent around $8,000 total on repairs to the van in my 3 trips, this is included in the monthly figure above. I originally paid $5,000 for the van and am hoping to realise $2,500 from the sale. That makes a running cost of about 15c/mile, which is OK, gas is currently costing about 20c/mile.

Of course, remember that I don't drive far or fast on any day, that I stop to look at everything of interest (cheaper than driving), I don't stay at campgrounds, and I rarely eat in restaurants. Also, when I am at home I don't exactly live on nothing, so the real cost of the trips is much less than would appear at first sight. In terms of pleasure per dollar spent I've had excellent value!

I now have in mind that I shall spend some time at my home, then maybe I may start to think, I have never seen Athens, it is a long time since I have seen Rome, I may remember that the Alps in the spring are beautiful, and that there is a lot of beauty to be found in Europe. I have friends all around Europe that I wish to see again.

If you want read more about my life in France and ongoing travels, then hang on in there. I suspect that for some months at least there will be little action on these emails. Please tell me if you'd like to stay on my list.

On the other hand, if you think that you have read enough about me for the time being also please tell me. I have finished my travels in the USA so now is a good time to stop receiving my emails. No hard feelings. No point in downloading my long emails then immediately deleting them. If you want you can always catch up later with my movements on my website. All my journey logs, and more, are to be found at on my website.

I thank all of you for travelling with me, albeit vicariously, and being my companions on this my last voyage in North America. Many of you I have met on my journeys, every meeting has given me enormous pleasure. Every single one of you, who receives these letters, I shall be glad to welcome to my home in the south west of France, and I will look forward to the prospect of meeting again.

Best regards

David Barker
Back home at Mirande, France

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