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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...




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