TRAVEL with pat and lew

* a day in Perpignan

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 4, 2007


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Collioure is a marvelous place, but shopping is not its strong suit. We decide to train to Perpignan for the day with a list of tasks. We take an early train, and the shops are not yet open, so we walk to the Palais des rois de Majorque, the palace of the kings of Majorca.

In the 13th century, Majorca ruled our part of France, and Perpignan was their center for this region. A palace was therefore built for their visits, taking 30 or so years, which is remarkably quick when you look at the size of the stones that were dragged up the hill. I take lots of photos and think maybe it could have been a site for a meeting between the representatives of Lorenzo de Medici and King Ferdinand of Aragon in the 1480s. “Could have been” is enough for my evolving historical novel.

Finding a hair salon is highest on our priority list, since Pat was not happy with the lack of attention paid to her color on her last visit in Collioure. We find a local Jean Louis David, which may be adequate, and then we stop looking, although we had a list from the yellow pages with us. Guess we’ll have to go back.

mobile phones 

French mobile telephones (nobody in Europe, except us, says cell phone) are next on our list. We go to the Orange store, this being the France Telecom outlet, and also SFR, which is the French representative for Vodaphone. At SFR, we learn that they offer phones and you can “top up” minutes on the internet, through the phone, or at any outlet.

But the minutes you but have a limited shelf life, use them or lose them, which is not what we want. Our objective is to have phones which we will use infrequently, and we want to buy a small quantity of minutes to last for several months.

Back at Orange, we select phones and make our purchase. Nokia phones, with instruction books in English as well as French.

The next day, setting up the phones, I learn that Orange “top up” minutes are also “use or lose.” It takes only a second to realize that the clerk in the Orange store is not at fault. She would assume that everyone knew how minutes were sold, so there was no need to spell it out. And we didn’t ask. My next reaction is to return the phones. But maybe that’s not going to solve anything either. The cost per two weeks, or per month, is not that great, and we can buy minutes for when we travel, since we have almost no use for mobile phones while we’re in Collioure.

After purchasing our phones, we head to Galeries Lafayette, but the only purchase we make is a small “Catalan” flag to complement the French and American flags we already have. Galeries in Paris is spectacular, in Montpellier it is outstanding, but here the architecture is sort of drab, and the merchandise is limited.

We have a nice lunch at an Italian restaurant, with a waitress whose mother came from Canada. We are impressed that the young girl moves quickly and is attentive, qualities which are not universal in France. We compliment her on her approach, and she says this is her first waitress job, and she’s still nervous. As if to prove her point, she spills a pitcher of water at the next table, drenching a man who, however, appears not to mind. You see, charm can overcome disaster.

We have other tasks to accomplish, but inexplicably, we just head back to the train station. We never look for another beauty salon or the picture frames we need.

trains & web schedules 

We are taking the 14:45 (2:45pm) train back to Collioure. I had purchased tickets for a later train but we’re ready to go earlier.

As the train is pulling in, Pat notices that the train board does not include Collioure. But I looked up this train on the web, on a search for ‘Perpignan to Collioure,’ and it had a departure time (14:45) and a Collioure arrival time (15:10), so up we go. 

As the train approaches Argeles-sur-mer, the stop before Collioure, and begins to slow down, I look for a conductor to confirm, just to be sure, that this train does actually stop in Collioure. But no conductor is nearby, and the train pulls out. It’s only 3 minutes from Argeles to Collioure, but in that interval, the conductor appears and informs us that the train does not stop again until it reaches Cerbere, the last stop in France, and not a place you want to linger.

We enter the tunnel before Collioure, there’s a brief flash of light, and we’re in the tunnel after Collioure.  We remember the Kingston Trio’s immortal song about the MTA in Boston, where you need(ed) an exit fee, and the poor man “would never return.” 

More to the point, I explain to the conductor that the web had stated a Collioure stop, and she, a lovely young lady with excellent English (“my boy friend is British”), writes a note on our ticket to her colleague in Cerbere that we should be allowed to return to Collioure without additional charge. In Cerbere, the colleague agrees and the return train is due to leave in 20 minutes.  

TIP:  The lesson is you cannot trust the web schedules completely. Always check in the station. 

This happened to me once before, when I was at the station trying to buy a ticket on a train which did not stop in Collioure. I thought that was my mistake, but now I think it probably wasn’t. I’m going to try to figure out if there is a way to read the web schedules that will reveal this kind of error.


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