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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Part VI: Adventures in Barcelona. Provence and Carcassonne - Summer 2014

A lovely seaside with a historic port and art everywhere, home of the Fauve movement. 
A short while after getting into France we headed east towards the Mediterranean.  There were lots of windy roads, and round-abouts, and signs towards a dozen different towns. 

Driving in France

Manual Transmissions You probably noticed the rental agencies didn't really offer automatic vehicles.  Our compact SUV was 6 speed, had a thick credit card that you stuck in the console between you and pressed a button.  It's taken me all this time to realize that really it's not only designed to optimize your MPG, but it's what allows you to cruise through the round-abouts.

Rond-point (Round-Abouts)  If you are not on the freeway, there will be round-abouts, which are used instead of traffic signals.  You yield the right of way into these. The sign as you approach usually shows the schematic of exits.  Sometimes it actually shows the name of exit  next to the symbol, but sometimes it's a list.  That list is in order.  If you miss your exit, simply go around again.

Know where You're Going   Make sure to note the bigger cities/towns near your destination.  The signs will show those first, so go that direction. 

Car Size Two issues I find are one, we need space for our luggage, and two, surprise!, there are actual medieval streets.

Country Roads

Here is an article I wish I had read before I visited: and either the same author wrote the Wikipedia page, or they plagiarized him. 

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.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Part 3: Adventures in Barcelona, Provence and Carcassonne - Summer 2014

Back in the mid-nineties I was on a Mediterranean cruise, and Montserrat and her Black Madonna was one of the tour offerings.  My friends opted for La Rambla and shopping, but I always knew someday I'd visit her.  She is known as La Moreneta (Little Dark Skinned One) and is the patroness of Catalonia.  These days she is encased in glass high over the altar and there is mass at 11 every day.

I climbed into the funicular with my group of people.  I'm sure we were all saying a quick prayer to the Virgin, but it was truly glorious because we ascended up and over the hills, the church bells rang , calling us to church just like it had for hundreds of years.  They were loud and clear, and echoed through the hills, and was really quite moving.  Plus you're slowly floating across on a cable.  There are two cable cars, and it's relatively quite quick, and the air was cool and clean,  not at all like the overwhelming humidity of Barcelona. 

I was always under the assumption that you could only up to the monastery or take the cable car, so was kind of shocked to see a large group of cyclists, and although you come in through this 'tourist area', it's not really quite a monastery like I had imagined.  You're let off at street level and there is only one street with a lovely view of the valley, a café, on the opposite side the church, monastery and museum . 

The courtyard of the church is rather small, and there was a line queued up at one side, I believe to see the Black Madonna herself.  Since I could, and had heard the church bells, I knew mass had started, I went into the church.  It was a lot larger and filled to the back where I stood.  It was solemn and lovely, complete a large group of clergy and their own boys choir.  Everything reverberated and the Black Madonna watched from high above the altar encased in glass. 

Outside the church there is a small room where you can purchase a few things like notecards and holy cards, run on the honor system of you leaving the money as there is no attendant.  Camera, though.

There is also an art museum with a Picasso and a lovely gift shop, but mainly the gift shop is for the museum.  (You'll find a few Gaudi items in there as well, but the nicest selection of Gaudi is outside the Sagrada Familia.)

Other than that, it's pretty sparse with a few vendors on the street,  near the entrance to get back on the funicular. If you walk to where the street meets the mountains, there are some lovely statues and I saw folks with hiking gear, heading into the hills from there.

I also noticed the road going down, and later learned it's where the village is, so it's not quite as isolated as I thought, and also makes sense that there would be a village outside of the monastery's walls.  Even though there was a road, I did not see any cars. 

After my brief visit, the sky started getting dark, and I was determined to get back down as soon as possible.  We were about halfway across the valley when it started raining, light at first, but by the time I got to the rural train stop (outside with a small covered area) it was pouring. 

I have no idea how long I waited but it was a good while before the train going the right direction showed up, and I somehow had a great idea to get off to change trains to skip going into town before going to the airport.  That was a really dumb idea, and it was weirdly surreal, as I got off at the stop, took the elevator up which landed me smack in the middle of a cement square in the between apartment buildings in a rough part of town.  I could not see anything train related.  So I went back down into the subway.  Of course, I didn't have the right amount of change, and since this was a stop, there were no attendants, just a guy sweeping.  I don't speak Spanish, but they really don't speak Spanish either but Catalan, so I just said 'aeropuerto' which, in some language, means airport.  He pointed back to the elevator and then motioned in a direction across the cement courtyard.  Anyway, as I was walking that way, a train went by across street, and I followed the fence until I got in, only the get on the wrong train...which completely skipped the airport exit, and I had to do the lost tourist maneuver of getting off at the next stop, crossing over, waiting for the next train, that actually said airport on its front window.  Mind you, this was a train

That worked, and then I was let off into a giant terminal, El Prat de Llobregat, of course, one that you had to use your ticket to get out of.  Remember that!  You never know when you're going to need that ticket, but it seems like it's more of a train thing, than a metro one.  Although I have seen the metro police quizzing people about tickets.  I did find out that you can buy one metro ticket that is good for 10 trips, and that is a real time saver to get to town, and I even helped a kid out whose friends had gotten in, but his ticket wouldn't work.  When I left, I still had trips on it, and handed it to someone in the train/metro station on my last trip. 

So, I finally got back to the airport, and back to my hotel.  There was a convenience store/gas station around the corner from my hotel where I picked up some bottles of water. 

Part 2: Adventures in Barcelona, Provence and Carcassonne - Summer 2014

So, you do have options, depending on how brave or comfortable you are, because it is very different than where I come from in Fresno, California.  We don't have a metro, although I'm quite comfortable with the underground after years of going to Paris, and we don't pay tolls on the highways or utilize roundabouts.  But, we'll talk more about that and the price of gas a little later, but first,  this section will be about getting back and forth from Montserrat, home of the Black Madonna. 

It was my one free day, and on my bucket list was a trip to Montserrat.  If you want to go there or anywhere, do your research, but often it is hard to come by or timely, as I found out.  I was on a website that hadn't been updated in about a year, and thought that would be current enough information, but it wasn't. 

I bought my overpriced ticket to Passeig de Gracia and was blessed with a beautiful early morning sunny view of Casa Battlo.  Absolutely breathtaking.  Speaking of breathtaking, just a warning and reminder that the humidity can stifling, especially if you're not used to. 

Anyway, I walked down to the next stop enjoying the view, Plaça Catalunya got there, and nada.  Yes, there is an underground train stop, but no wonderful kiosk of Montserrat information and the direct train to the hamlet of Montserrat up in the mountains.  Finally a ticket booth opened up, and the man directed me to yet another train stop, Plaça Espana .

Of course, when I got off, I'm at a enormous roundabout with a beautiful sculpture , but the area was pretty much devoid of people, and I  pretty much no idea where I was.  Fortunately, this was a lovely area, but my return I found myself in less affluent neighborhoods that were a little rough and worn.  Looking around, I saw a small information booth that was opened and manned, not far from where I had popped out of the underground train stop.  There were a few tour buses about as well, but only one couple at the kiosk ahead of me.  The young man was nice and friendly and  told me 'orange' and pointed across the street when I asked for the train spot.  Seems one entrance was the train spot, and where I got out, maybe, the metro?  Worked for me.  He gave me a Montserrat brochure  and I crossed over a few streets to the orange sign that was the train station departing (I think) only for Montserrat and destinations on that track.

There was a man who could help and direct you, and I'm sure he heard the same  questions over and over, pointing people to the machine where you buy your train ticket, and it seemed to me that it only came back and forth from direction Montserrat.  You also have a choice to include the  air funicular to the town, or something else, walk perhaps?  I can't remember, and even though I was nervous about the funicular, I ended up with that ticket.  And really, I was so glad I did! 

The only downside on the trip up was a cackling ugly American.  Yes, I had to say it.  I think she had with her two or three teen age girls, and trying to be one of them, she'd howl with laughter that resonated through our whole car.  It was awful.  I don't know where they got off, must have been the walk up spot that was the next stop.  Anyway, once you see the funicular, two small yellow cars, going in opposite directions, over a deep valley, you have something else to focus on.  You get dropped off on the side of the tracks, and walk under them to the other side and through the building.  About sixteen people fit in the car, and you take off up the mountainside of Montserrat, that means just that: serrated.

Part 1: Adventures in Barcelona, Provence and Carcassonne - Summer 2014

Another fabulous trip, where I drove us from Barcelona to Provence and back in the course of twelve days.  We visited beaches and lavender fields, lovely historic villages and towns, wonderful antiquities and food, and even some rock and roll.  We had some ups and downs, but mostly a lot of turnarounds and roundabouts. The section tells you about arriving and some transportation options from the airport BCN. The tour started on Wednesday, June 25 and we returned home July 7, Monday.
I arrived in Barcelona on Monday ahead of my guests, flying into London Heathrow, a place I detest and avoid flying through.  I had returned home through there a few years ago, and it seemed to have greatly improved in efficiency, so I took a chance with a stop there as British Air is partnered with Iberian Air, that gets you to Barcelona.  It had been over 10 years when I landed there this time since I had vowed not to, and I wish I could say it was a great experience, it was once again, trying.  The whole screening process from landing to getting to your next plane is literally jammed-packed and the agents delighted in going literally as slow as possible, baiting you, especially if you're in a hurry.  And rude, always so incredibly rude and hateful.  Really, don't say anything, next thing you know you'll be surrounded by guys with guns.  Ha, I digress, but truly, if you're traveling avoid Heathrow, you will be so glad you did. 
On that note, I arrived in Barcelona in little or no time from London.  The airport is called El Prat de Lobregat.  Actually, that is the name of the nearby suburb of Barcelona.  Take note of this if you're planning on using the train/metro system to and from the airport.  I hadn't been to Barcelona since the aforementioned irritating experience, and the airport has grown a giant parking structure, that I don't recall at all.  But, nonetheless, once you realize how simple the airport is to maneuver, you'll be a pro. 
Our hotel was located near the airport and offered free shuttle service to and from the airport, and I chose it for this reason as I had driven in Barcelona before and was going to wait until the last minute to pick up our vehicle as I had previously experienced their big city traffic.  I always use Europcar as it generally gives free mileage, and is reasonably priced. 
There are two terminals at the BCN airport with a huge multilevel parking garage, also bus stops, but I'll get to that in a moment.  Arriving at the airport via plane,  you're on Terminal 1, departing you're on terminal 2.  They're small, kind of non-descript, with a few stores.  On the arrival level, it's kind of the same, but once you go through the gates onto the plane, it turns into a gorgeous indoor mall complete with designer stores.  You can take the free green bus to get you from one to the other and the train stop.
Arriving terminal , if you continue straight (you'll already have picked up your bags), you'll go into a giant covered walkway that walks across the parking lot/parking garage and if you take the elevator down, you'll be at the spot where the shuttles come to pick up guests.  You can go immediately right and go down to get a taxi.  Go a little further ahead of you, and to the right you'll see the car rentals inside booths, and a walkway to go down to the buses at ground level.  IMPORTANT!  The green bus is free and takes you to the next terminal, so if you're at terminal 1 it takes you to terminal 2.
When you arrive, you have about three options, that you should have planned out before you got there. I utilized all three, and felt comfortable with all of them. 
  • Hotel Shuttle:  We stayed at the Tryp Hotel, and it was maybe 2-3 miles from the airport at the most, and included free shuttle service.  This would be handy when I rented my car as well.  To get to the train station, go inside the terminal and take the free green bus to Terminal 2.  To get to the shuttle stop, use the long walkway from Terminal 1, directly ahead of you when you arrive.  Take the elevator down to ground level.  Different shuttles come and go, and ours was pretty efficient.  Check with your hotel for hours and details.  You might have to call your arrival in.
  • Car Rental:  We picked up our 6 speed Renault Scenic, early evening Wednesday, and arrived at our hotel rather smoothly.  The only scary part was the fact it was brand new with only 1000 miles on it, and white.  It was more of an SUV than a van, so no matter who you are, (if you can do it - I never can seem to) pack light, pack small, save room in your suitcase.  This had room for two medium sized suitcases and two small, but it was very nice.  If you're weird about manual transmissions, just note that you will pay more for an automatic.  European cars are primarily manual, it saves gas, and seems to be made for using the roundabouts more efficiently.  We were directed to go one floor down, and across.  The parking lot is divided into half guest parking, half car rental places.  The car rentals are on the far side getting off the elevator, (this is where my Europcar was anyway), and the two lots are divided by barriers, so you do have to walk over to that part of the garage.  No picking up at the elevator.  When returning it, follow the airport signs and drop off was super easy. 
  • Train/Metro:  Ok, this is where you need to be careful moneywise.  There is a tourist scam/misunderstanding.  Yes, this is a train station, but you can also consider it a metro stop as it is on the same line and you can use the same ticket to get there.  One you pay a small amount for the other you pay a larger amount, but they do the same thing.  Here's how I learned it  My first trip I wanted to go back and forth into Barcelona, and bought a train ticket for that for about 5to Passeig de Gracia where Gaudi's  Casa Battlo is, but found out later that I could buy ten tickets for like 11€ that covered the same territory/same train! (This is one ticket, but counts down.  It's fabulous!)  To get there from the airport.  Go to Terminal 2, take the long walkway and you'll end up at the train station.  You can buy tickets in a machine, or ticket window if it's open.  Have change.  Always have change.  Just send it through the ticketholder, it will pop up, and the door will open.  Don't forget to take it with you. Sometimes you do have to use it to get out as well or instead. I did take some unexpected detours, so watch where you're going and stick to your plan.  

Monday, May 19, 2014

The South of France Tour - Summer 2014/Closed

This is the first time I've offered a trip to the South of France and am so excited to take my guests to so many fabulous places. Basically, we'll be staying in Barcelona, Avignon and Carcassonne. We will be beginning and ending the tour in Barcelona spending a total of three nights there, where we'll visit the La Rambla and a few things Gaudi. We'll travel on to Collioure just the other side of the Pyrenees which is a seaside town with a Knights Templar fort and castle. It was a town favored by the Fauve artistic movement that favored it for the light. We'll travel on to Provence where we'll stay in Avignon for five nights. We'll explore the city and the Pope's Palace, and drive to other destinations for day trips including Nimes, Orange, Aix-en-Provence and St. Maximin-la-Baume. Guests will enjoy a wine tasting event and a bit of free time as well. We'll be part of the local music scene as I'll be performing a set with the French rockabilly band Kad and the Fifty-Fives. Look for us in Nimes the evening of June 28, and in Sorgues, on July 1, that is part of their summer festival. After that, we're on to Carcassonne, where we'll spend three nights to enjoy medieval delights and cassoulet. We'll visit the fabled Rennes-le-Chateau, the Cathar Chateau of Puilaruens, and enjoy performances of jousting and flamenco. During our drives we'll enjoy lunches and a bit of site-seeing in Stes. Maries de la Mer, Narbonne, and Perpignan. Even though this tour is now closed, I can always create a tour for you and your group.