BIG CHANGES are coming to EscapeArtist! CLICK HERE to learn more.
...and a big thank you to our sponsors for their support while we get ready for our big day.
Shopping In Europe
shopping in Europe
frequently asked question after “Why did you do this?” is “How did you
do this?” After thirty years in the computer software industry, we
needed to try something different. When we took a barge piloting
course with Roger Van Dyken in France, my husband Paul and I had come back
with the dream of owning a barge and living in Europe at least half of
the year. The timing was right for us personally. Paul’s two
children were both in their thirties and on their own. We no longer
had aging parents or relatives to take care of and we were still young
enough and healthy enough to handle the physical aspects of a large boat.
Methodically we wrote up spreadsheets and tested the validity of our financial
premise: if we sold our house, our two cars and most of our furniture,
and took along a few paying passengers on the barge, we could buy a
barge and make ends meet until we reached an official retirement age.
Both of us had faithfully been contributing to our 401Ks and IRAs over
the years but we didn’t want to touch them yet. When we weren’t in
Europe, we would live in our thirty-two foot motor home that tows our 1969
VW bug as a dingy. Our expenses would be minimal compared to having a large
house in Boulder Colorado and two cars.
factored in the cost of insurance, food, wine, gifts, permits, mooring
fees for the boat and campground fees for the motor home. The time line
is tight as we want to be cruising the summer of 2000 and we make the final
decision to do this in November of 1999. Paul builds a web site (being
a “techie” has its rewards) and friends, family; even strangers are expressing
an interest in “Bargeandbreakfast.com” so much so that we realize we
have touched a nerve. They want us to sign them up for a cruise.
We ask them to wait until we have a boat before they even think of sending
it seems, share our dream. In the meantime, we put our house in Boulder
on the market in January and in just a few weeks, it was under contract
with a closing scheduled for April. I jokingly told Paul our barge’s
name should be “Our home equity”. I could see that we would be able
to sell or donate most of the things we had accumulated during our lives
and especially the last fourteen years of marriage. What we needed
now was a barge.
Back on the
Internet, Paul was busily chasing down links and finding various boat
brokers who sold the type of boat we wanted. Roger Van Dyken’s
boat Vertrouwen had made her mark on us and we want the classic lines of
a Dutch barge.
the information on various web sites, Paul prints out and creates a book
of all of the candidates so we can study the statistics and layouts of
each boat.He emails boat brokers, getting as much information as he can,
forwards it on to Roger Van Dyken for review, who then emails us back
with comments pro and con about water tanks, engines, ballast, etc.
We finally arrange, again through emails and the Internet, a one-week trip
in March with scheduled appointments to see eight specific barges for sale
and make our decision.
are in France and Holland. We decide to start in France at two of
the largest barge centers in St. Jean de Losne and St. Symphorien sur Saone.
The high-speed TGV train whisks us in ninety minutes from Paris to Dijon
where we rent a car. We arrive one day early for our appointment
and perhaps this is the reason for a rather cool reception by the woman
at the first center.
around the harbor and see one of our candidates, which she tells us,
is already under contract to someone else. It is a lovely boat, quite
large, and at the absolute top of our price range. She shows us the
kitchen area, a separate room. I don’t comment. It’s not the kind
of layout I’m looking for, but it’s not likely we will be purchasing this
in the kitchen for a moment looking and says,” There was a trend, for a
while, to have an open kitchen, a la American.” She sniffs and winces as
if she has been insulted by the very idea. “But many French prefer
the separate room, to keep unsightly mess and odors from the rest of the
house.” Obviously she considers Americans unsophisticated boors who
don’t know an odor from an aroma when we smell one. Another
candidate is in ruin – so much for the photos on the Internet!
appointment is at Bourgogne Marine in St. Symphorien. We meet
Roger Walster, an Englishman, who owns the marina located in a wide spot
on the Canal du Rhone au Rhin, the canal linking the Rhone River to the
Rhine. It is a beautiful location in the French countryside; an old
mill sits by the side of the canal, water flowing over a small falls.
Charolais cattle dot the fields and the largest building in town is the
church. There were several barges here year-round and many others
keep theirs here for the winter. Roger resides here in a beautifully
restored barge, keeps an eye on the moored boats and offers construction
and maintenance services. We like him and the quiet safe-feeling
location immediately and agree that when we buy a barge St. Symphorien
would be our homeport. Unfortunately the barges he has for sale don’t meet
our layout requirements.
With no viable
choices in France, we drive up to Nijmegan (pronounced Ni-may-gen) in the
Netherlands, about a five-hour drive north. On the way up, we take
the time for quick visits to Sedan and Reims to get a feel for the area
we might be cruising in the summer. Neither of us has been here before
and we’re impressed with the rolling hills of northern France, the cliffs
of Belgium and the well-tended fields of Holland. Nijmegan is located
almost in the middle of the country and is the oldest city in Holland.
It is located on the Waal River that flows into the North Sea. Further
east, in Germany, it is the Rhine. River traffic abounds, huge
commercial barges operate twenty-four hours a day to get their cargo to
its destination as quickly as possible. I watch them barreling down
the river and feel that any personal barge is so vulnerable – will they
be looking out for the smaller, older versions of themselves?
appointment is scheduled for the next day at the harbor where the owner
will show us the boat, Pallieter, that we’ve nicknamed “Blue Boat” in our
shorthand form of names for discussion. I have my fingers crossed.
disappointments, I steel myself for another letdown. I am beginning
to worry. With only eight boats to start with, half of them were
not viable for us for one reason or another. What if we
don’t find a boat? After all, we’re only spending a week here.
We’ve bought and sold several houses and I know from experience it can
take weeks, even months, of looking to find the right home. We drive over
to the harbor and locate “Blue Boat”.
From the outside,
it is almost as pictured on the Internet. Only a large blue plywood
box near the front of the boat has been added since the photograph, which
puzzles us. Pallieter is even bigger than Vertrouwen, an additional
three meters long for a total of twenty-five meters. She has the
same graceful lines and I’m favorably impressed with the exterior, all
it needs is a little painting. The owner is a young Dutch woman
who speaks good English and tells us her name is Desiree. The
pilothouse view up the deck is formidable, I try imagining getting this
into one of the small French locks and I think, “This boat is long!” Well,
it is almost ten feet longer than Vertrouwen and the pilothouse is set
Down a few
steps, we check out the aft cabin, half of which is a bathroom containing
a large bathtub, a sink, a toilet and a washing machine. The other half
is being used as a grubby storage area and the owner hangs her laundry
here in bad weather. Paul and I had previously decided that
this area shown on the floor plan might become our cabin and bath and afford
us some privacy when we have guests on board.
We go back
up to the pilothouse and then down a steep set of about seven stairs backward.
I’m seriously considering whether I can handle this climb on a regular
basis when I turn around and look at the kitchen and huge salon.
I have to
remind myself to breathe; I’ve fallen in love. Desiree has gigantic dragon
plants growing which block most of the view, but peeking through the jungle,
I see a gorgeous antique pine floor. Soft light filters in through
two large skylights creating a warm ambiance even on this chilly early
spring day. There are two bedrooms forward and room to add two private
baths with showers in part of the salon that would give us the ideal
layout we have wanted. Desiree offers us freshly brewed coffee and
we sip and ask more questions. She and Paul go in and explore the
engine room and the utility room. I stand at the kitchen counter
under the skylight imagining living here. I’ve made up my mind; I
want this boat.
When we leave
after about an hour, I tell Paul how much I loved Pallieter. He points
out that the engine is an old 1959 Volvo Penta marine diesel that may be
problematic and may even need early replacement. The mysterious blue
box on the deck turns out to have been a recent addition by the current
owners – it’s a big, cheap, noisy generator that we would have
to replace. The existing bathroom needed work and two needed to be added.
“We’ll have to take that all into account when we make our offer,” is all
I will say. “What about the feeling in there? Didn’t you feel
it?” I ask and Paul admits it is as close as we’ve seen to our ideal, but
we have another boat to see today and a new broker to meet up in the north
of Holland tomorrow.
boat we look at reinforces my decision. I liken it to a floating
three-bedroom ranch house similar to the one I grew up in; beige sculpted-wall-to-wall
carpeting, three bedrooms jammed together, one dated bathroom and a tired
kitchen off by itself. It has as much work or more to do as Pallieter
and amazingly, Pallieter has the lowest asking price, by tens of thousands
of dollars. The broker meets us at the showing and as he also
represents Pallieter we cautiously indicate our interest in it and briefly
discuss how a purchase is made here in the Netherlands. He tells
us that a German has also expressed interest in Pallieter and is scheduled
to come back for a second visit. Paul and I have both been
salespeople and we have purchased our share of large items. One of the
oldest tricks in the book is the mysterious other party who may come along
and snatch something you want away from you. There’s a reason “As
seen on TV” ads command you to “Act NOW!” It’s an artificial way
to create a sense of urgency to keep the buyer from deciding to either
do nothing or look elsewhere. Do the Dutch barge brokers know and
use the same trick? We don’t know, but it plants a doubt in my mind
that I don’t need right now. We have a sense of urgency without worrying
about the German.
Our final appointment
is with a broker in the north of Holland. As we begin our three-hour
drive, we start seeing windmills, old ones made of brick and wood, and
modern ones, like tall white metal fans. I wanted to count the windmills,
but I lose track, there are too many. It’s early for tulips
but we go past large fields of squares ranging from deepest royal purple,
through lighter lavender, bright yellow, cream and finally white.
I guess that they are hyacinth, jonquils, and crocus.
We arrive barely
on time for our appointment but the broker, Mr. Doeve, is gracious. We
spend time chatting about the weather, he has his son brew up some coffee
and he offers us a cigarette. We decline and he carefully rolls his
own and begins to tell us about the boat we are about to see. He’s
an elegant man, tall, sliver-haired, his long legs crossed out in front
of him and he tells us the story of the boat. A Dutch couple
had lived full-time on this barge for seventeen years and they finally
felt it was getting to be a bit much for them as they were in their eighties
so they listed it with Mr. Doeve. The son takes us over to the boat.
Looking through the boat we realize that there is only one bathroom – with
no bath or shower, just a small sink and toilet. “They lived here
for seventeen years with no tub or shower?” we whisper to each other. It
is too large really for the French canals. This boat belongs in Holland
on the wider waterways. To be courteous, we spend time looking the whole
thing over, but we’ve already ruled it out. Paul spends a while in
the engine room while I survey all the decorating that would be in need
of updating and it’s a daunting task. Pallieter is looking
better and better.
barge shopping on Monday and now it is Friday. We arrange to meet
with our broker, Mr. De Haan, and begin the purchase. He explains
the procedure and it is not unlike purchasing a house or boat in the United
States. We will make an offer in writing with some earnest money
that must be wired to the broker in Dutch Guilders and the couple who own
Pallieter will accept or counter the offer, although this may be verbal
and not written. We know from our research that a final contingency is
a detailed survey of the boat by a professional inspector who we will hire.
The steel hull must be at least four millimeters in thickness and we will
want him to look at various other technical items such as the engine and
other mechanics. Desiree told us that they had entire hull was doubled
in thickness only two years ago, so the hull should not be a problem. We
make an offer. We wait. Later that evening, Mr. De Haan calls
us at our hotel. They have counter-offered, not budging much on the
price, with the explanation that it is early in the season and they have
already had a great deal of interest. (“The German,” I say to Paul).
We rationalize that this barge is one of the lowest priced ones already
and come back with another offer. We wait all day, wandering around
Nijmegan. Another call from Mr. De Haan tells us they have accepted
We come back
to the States elated with our find but with an enormous amount of work
ahead of us. Our house sale is due to close in four weeks.
I run ads for our cars and furniture. People respond almost too enthusiastically
and pieces of our furniture began disappearing leaving impressions in the
thick carpet. I feel disoriented. Every evening our shy black
cat, Bear, comes out and sniffs around the areas of any newly missing items
and looks at me quizzically. Our other orange tabby, Sundae (as in
“Butterscotch Sundae”) has a more relaxed attitude. She seems to know something’s
about to change but she is ready for it. They will be coming with
us; they are fourteen and fifteen years old and I will not leave them.
cats are now allowed in the aircraft cabin in bags that fit under the seat
in front of us. We purchase two of the Sherpa brand soft-sided
cases and leave them open for the cats to explore. They sniff them
once and then avoid them. People I ask are also uncertain as to the
exact vaccination and certificate of good health requirements. I
always keep their shots current anyway but the final information I receive
is that I need a certificate of good health from a veterinarian just before
we leave. It was just one more thing to add to our ever-growing to-do
It’s not bad
luck to rename a boat in Europe as it is in the States. Barge names
often change with ownership so it was perfectly fine for us to come up
with a new name. I ponder name choices while I disassemble the exterior
of my life. Each item has to examined and relegated to a category:
sell it, give it to someone, donate it, throw it away, recycle it, bring
it to France, place it in storage, or put it in the motor home.
I come up with
a list of names for the barge and present it to Paul. I start with
my favorite. We both love the John Lennon song and its sentiment of peace
and world unity. Webster defines the verb as “to form a metal image of,
to picture in one’s mind”. The name has layers of meaning to us;
this boat represents the fulfillment of our shared dream, I want to spend
some time aboard writing, the word is even the same word in French.
Paul says, “That’s it.” So we agree on Imagine
From America Magazine - The very best way to get
the most current and up to date information on overseas retirement is to
subscribe to our free eMagazine. We have a hassle free unsubscribe policy,
and we don't spam, period. If you want to find out how to live overseas,
where to live overseas, where to find retirement havens, where to find
the best bargains in real estate overseas, how to live a quality international
lifestyle, and how to move your cash and your life offshore; then do subscribe
to our eZine. Close to half million people already have and over 100 more
sign up every day. Find out why.