Your First Trip to Paris June 6 -13, 2016

For complete information, go to my website:

6 Days 7 Nights

$2999 Single - Land Only
$2499 Double - Land Only

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Part V: Adventures in Barcelona, Provence and Carcassonne - Summer 2014

From Barcelona - El Prat airport - to Collioure, France

Credit card perils, humidity,  and too much espresso started off the day which should have been a trifle bit easier.  Plus the first of tolls, the ocean, and windy roads in the wilds of France.  Maybe not that wild, but definitely the rural French countryside with the humidity ranging from 70% to 90%.
Double and triple check your credit card allowances with your banks.  Bring several cards  from different banks for back up.  Make sure ALL clearances are removed.  Make sure you have more than one with plenty of room for an emergency such as your other credit cards failing due to your bank, the magnetic stripe, etc.
Truly, spring for the GPS when renting a car.  It will save you money in time and gazole! Oh yeah, my rental car was diesel.  Oh, and that credit card thing, make sure you get gas early because you cannot use your American credit card in a gas station afterhours
The first real day of the tour and we've enjoyed the beautiful breakfast with Iberian ham and the fresh ground espresso, (God bless the inventor of that dream machine.)  We're loaded and ready to go, and I need to pay the bill.  Of course, I've 'called my bank' before I left, and always bring several cards with me: one Debit, three Credit - two from my Credit Union and two others for back up.  I've called one of the back ups but not the fourth back up.  I go to pay, and after processing the information, my Debit Card (Credit Union)will not go through.  I then had them my Credit Card also from credit union.  They run it on a credit card machine and want my PIN.  Sheesh.  I didn't bring the PIN for that card and think back to what I heard last about European credit cards and their 'flea', that even though it carries that microchip with all your information, it also wants you to have a PIN for extra protection.  (The 'flea' is a microchip in their credit cards.  If you're using your credit card in tourist areas or going inside to pay for your gas, there does not seem to be a problem.  If you're using something that is locally specific like a beauty shop or renting a bike, their machines will only accept cards with the flea.  You can ask them to try to swipe it, but sometimes they don't have  that capability.)  I haven't called in my fourth card that's the back up back up card due to high interest.  I'm at a loss, and want to call my husband, who works at said Credit Union, who I HAD called to prevent anything like this from happening.  It's the middle of night in California, and 8 in the morning in Barcelona.  I go to use the payphone, and of course it doesn't work.  The man at the desk calls the number on the back of my card which is, of course, closed.  I text my husband, who doesn't get out of bed, and find me the 24-hour number.  My heart is pounding, I'm sweating, I feel my blood pressure rising, and I have that little epiphany and say, "I know the PIN to the first card."  It's my debit card, but he hadn't given me that option or I had said run in through like a credit card, either way, he runs it through like that, voila! it worked! 
It's been twenty or thirty minutes since I went inside, and yes, that pretty much set the tone for the day.  The next issue big issue was actually leaving Barcelona, and getting onto the highway to France.  How or why it happened I don't really know,  but I will say for all my preplanning, and not being comfortable with the language or the lay of the land, it was a lot more difficult than it looked on paper.  First thing I didn't want to do, but ended up doing, was driving right through the middle of Barcelona.  Thinking about it now, and knowing where you're actually located, would serve a great deal, if I had actually worked it out more in actualities than letting the road signs guide me.  Really, GPS would have been the way to go.  I say this as a few years ago I had it in a beautiful brand new Mercedes rental car (that totally didn't have enough room for four women and their luggage) it included GPS, and after figuring it out, and setting it to English, whoosh, it was a breeze, although it wanted to take us through toll roads, but sooner or later J figured out how to set it through the towns we wanted to go through generally free , but two lane, as which is most of rural France.
So I drive through, and I do mean drive through Barcelona.  The airport is situated southwest of Barcelona, and Barcelona seems long, stretching from east to west.  Our hotel was situated a mile or two dumped us right on the freeway, going north and I follow the signs to Barcelona, figuring there will be exits (like a California freeway), and we'll bypass it heading north to France.  Second big mistake, not noting that the next major city is Girona which is located on the major toll road (AP7).  That is what I should have been looking for, so somehow I end up on the freeway (C32)cruises the coastline.  Beautiful, but slow and inconvenient, and we'd already waste a good amount of time between the check out and the cruise through the traffic filled center of Barcelona.  (Rockabilly fans, this is where the Callela festival.) Fortunately it dead ends, or I finally realized I was on the wrong road, and stopped to look at the map in my phone, and finally making my way to the AP7.  I plug in my iphone for a charge and to play some music, because hey, this little car has a USB port in the dash (and a credit card thingy for the key, if I didn't say that before.)Yay! 
I have to stop right here and say Mercury was Retrograde.  For a complete rundown on that, please google it, but to me it means a lot of problems with technology, do-overs and misinformation, and this one hit me especially hard. 
So we make our way over to the toll road through the hill,s that are not too unlike our California foothills, towards Girona.  Another thing you will definitely want to note, there are several languages you will encounter here on signs, etc. and I mean on your trip between Spain in France, and different spellings of the same word.  So can be 3-4 spellings of the same word depending where you are, sometimes is included on the freeway signs (Catalan north of Spain, Oc south of France, Gaelic in Brittany).  Most of the time it's obvious, but don't look for the sign to say Girona, because it says Girone. 

Yay, so we're on the toll road, oops, going the wrong way.  Don't ask how that you have to go to the next toll exit which may be quite a ways down the road because hey, you paid to get on the toll road. 

Driving on the toll roads in France and Spain. 

  • Have change.  Lots of it.    It will take at least twenty euros to get you from Spain to Avignon. 
  • Head to stall that has the coin icon.  Very rarely are there people in booths, but sometimes there are.  If there are, you're out in the middle of nowhere and ten to one, they don't speak English, so read the amount posted, pay and say Merci or Gracias.
  • No, you can't pay with your American credit card. 
  • Yes, there is a booth that looks like it takes credit cards, but generally it's for people with monthly transportation passes. 
  • Sometimes you pay a certain amount when entering the toll road, as it is only a stretch on that area of the road, but generally you pay at the end of the line.
  • Don't lose the ticket!  I believe there is a 200E fine at the pay point, and you're stuck behind the barricade, so keep an eye on it.
  • Please note here, that the exits are far and few between.  You're paying for  a straight shot to the next big town. 
  • Is it worth it?  Definitely! But you do need to know where you're going.

So, you get to the top of the Pyrenees and there armed soldiers but they just nod you through and now you're in France, but the road pretty much stays the same. 

American Credit Cards in Europe 2014

Your card DOES NOT have a microchip and that sucks!  This means at anytime you may not be able to use it. 

Get a PIN (4 digit only) for every card you bring.  In adjunct with the microchip, they generally use a PIN. 

Bring back up cards from other banks and have that PIN.  This is just as a fallback plan. 

Make sure you call the bank BEFORE you leave to remove ALL holds.  In my case above, obviously all holds were not removed.  I had gotten money from an ATM before I left on my trip to Monserrat, and I paid for my train trip, ate, bought gifts, and got back to my hotel with the same card. 

All credit card processing machines/programs are not created equal.  At my hotel I was saved by swiping in a handheld machine and putting in my pin.  The hotel first processed it through their computer, and zilch! more than once.  The second hotel in Collioure (which is a small village on the beach) also used a computer...




Monday, September 1, 2014

Part 4: Adventures in Barcelona, Provence and Carcassonne - Summer 2014

On Wednesday, the ladies arrived, but their plane had been delayed , which means hanging around the airport and visiting every store.  Unfortunately, there is really a small selection that is geared towards the tourists who are in and out quickly.  The dull highlight of it all was having to witness an Ugly American.  But the free time did give me the opportunity to check in with Europcar about my rental which I would pick up at the end of the day.  Later, we did enjoy a stroll through Barcelona from Casa Batllo with a stop for tapas and a drink at a lovely sidewalk table of a Basque flavored restaurant.

Breakfast at the Tryp Hotel was lovely.  It's a huge buffet, although some things I don't particularly care for or can't have.  They had a wonderful assortment of cheese and lots of wonderful Iberian ham, and fruit.  But their bread is different from France and they put a weird glaze on their croissants which I don't care for, but the espresso machine made up for everything.  It literally ground the beans, and quickly brewed your espresso, and steamed the milk.  OMG, I fell in love with that thing.  It was the best espresso of the whole trip, and I did have way too much of it, which is not a good thing with the stifling heat and stress of traveling in a foreign country.

The ladies were to arrive at 10:30, so I left about 9:30 and I doubt if it was a 15 minute trip to the airport.  I had tried to get on another shuttle, but it was only going to Terminal 2, and the driver wouldn't let me on.  I, of course, knew how to get from 2 to 1 on the free Green Bus that takes passengers from terminal to terminal, but since we were having a communication gap, I wanted for the next shuttle. 

Shortly after arriving, and seeing that their plane wouldn't land until noon, I worked on keeping myself busy exploring the airport.  Well, like I said there wasn't much to see, and decided to check in with Europcar.  I passed the information booth that is situated in the center of the building, which is open on two sides in an open L form.  A lady attendant sat on the right and a gentleman on the left.  A large American man was standing in front of the lady, literally talking over her, to the gentleman, in a very loud voice.  I was like, 'uh oh, exit stage left' as I didn't want to witness it, but could hear the male attendant respond, 'Sir, I am not responsible for your travel plans.'  The American man, who appeared to be a Mid Western senior citizen of a large jolly,  relentless badgered him, while his little wife made herself as little as possible behind him, with his point being 'You don't even know me and you won't help me...'  I wasn't sure where he was going, but I vowed to keep my voice as low as possible, and slunk off to the car rental booth across the way.

The ladies arrived, late but with their bags, and we set off to the shuttle stop out in the blazing sun and humid air.  Being from California, I cannot deal with humidity, and my last trip to the air twenty years ago had made me very sick with an upper respiratory infection with  a horrendous cough.  The shuttle came, and the ladies put their bags away, and we ended up having lunch at the hotel restaurant. 

After a bit, and true of all my trips, I advise them to arrive early and keep them up until an early bedtime.  It gives us an extra free day to do something extra.  We were going to visit the Sagrada Familia that day, but with the late arrival we decided to visit La Rambla.  True to summer, there were lots of tourists, but not as many street performers as there had been years ago, which I thought was unusual for the beginning of July.  Maybe it was the heat, or maybe it was siesta time, but it was fairly comfortable walking without being overwhelmed by people.  We bought a few tourist things, but my favorite part was La Bouqueria, the outdoor food market with everything, and sometimes a bit uncomfortable looking at animal parts. 

We took the metro/train back to the airport and picked up our car without much effort, except in the few minutes it took me to track down the ladies after I finished getting the keys (which wasn't a key at all, but a plastic credit card looking thing you put in a slot!) they saw me and waved and shouted 'over here'.  As I walked up to them, an older couple joined us, the gentleman saying, "Oh good, you're getting your car, we'll follow you as we don't know where to go." 

I planned on following the directions just like the Europcar rep explained: go out that door (the opening across his right/my left across the thoroughfare of the airport) take the elevator down one floor, and cross over the parking lot to where the rental cars are. 

I had been across the parking lot one too many times as it took me until that morning to figure out how to get to my shuttle pick up area, and when I had been there ten years before the area I remembered was now filled with buses, including the free Green Bus that gets you from terminal to terminal. 

Feeling confident, we headed towards the elevator with the couple in tow, the little lady pushing the cart of luggage, the man chatting away about how he couldn't figure out the instructions.  You actually go out the terminal doors, and you'll see the elevator on your right.  In only really goes to the ground floor and through the parking lot.  (Technically, if you need to use the elevator to get the buses, you could.  The signs actually point to the other side with an escalator to get to the Green Bus, the side of the car rentals.  The escalator takes you right to the Green Bus stop, whereas the elevator will be on the other side of the street on the other side of the terminal thoroughfare above). 

Arriving at the elevator, the man goes in first followed by his wife and their luggage, and pressed a button, and two of us had to jump in at the last second. All of a sudden, it dawns on me that this is the Ugly American from this morning.  Next thing I know the elevator doors are opening and he's proclaiming this isn't it, and he doesn't know where to go.  I said, "Sir, excuse me, but you pressed a button without having any idea where to go, so let's just go back up and we'll start over.  He said go to go down one floor".  The whole issue here is that the elevator floor starts on 0 with the other floors beginning with 1 or -1 going up and down.  So, we go up, we go down, I get off the elevator and tell my ladies to "stay right there, I'll come get you", and he's again saying, "I don't think this is it" and I just keep walking across the parking lot just like the rep told me to do.  The man keeps yelling, "I don't think you know what you're doing.

Needless to say, voila!  Halfway across the parking lot it turns into the Rental Car Parking lot.  The parking lot is divided by barriers, with the traffic ramp through the middle of the structure.  (I believe there are parking structures on both sides of the terminal thoroughfare, so I'm referring to one on the left after you've come in through Arrivals.)

I walked right up to my car, which I was expecting to be more of a van (because us American ladies have luggage) but it was more of an SUV called a Citroen Scenic.  White, manual 6-speed, brand new, with less than 1000 miles on it. Nice but basic with no GPS. You have to rent that separately.  I will insert here, just go ahead and do it.  It will save you numerous heartaches. 

Thrilled with myself, I then am faced with the credit card key and driving the 6-speed.  Put in the key, hold down the break, press the button.  OK!  After searching for the slot, which was not in the dash, but next to my right arm in the console, I got her going, and took off.  So it's a one way, and I go around, but now I've come to the stop sign to get back to the elevator and it's barricaded from the regular parking lot.  I get honked at and go around again.

Next time, I honk for the ladies, long honks as it's a way off, and they can't see into the setting sunlight.  There really isn't any where to park, as it's pretty clear they expected you all to actually go to pick up the car.  But the ladies arrive and take off to our hotel following the road just like my shuttle driver did every day.  You actually exit the parking terminal at the area where you arrive from the walking thoroughfare to where to shuttle picks you up.  In ten-fifteen minutes we were at Hotel Tryp, which is located in a large industrial park.  Parked out on the street which is deserted after working hours, thus avoiding the 15E fee. 

True to the plan, we turned in early, to head off to Collioure, France the next day.