TRAVEL with pat and lew

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* saying goodbye to Collioure

Posted by Lew Weinstein on October 9, 2012

the view from our terrace … we never got tired of it

When we purchased our apartment in Collioure in 2005, it was our intent to stay for 2-3 years. Instead we spent 7 summers, during which we have had a magnificent travel adventure, using 23 home exchanges to see and live in almost every part of Europe that is of interest to us.

But it is time for a change. We are anticipating eliminating the shorter one-week trips in favor of longer stays in fewer European destinations. In 2013, we plan to spend one month each in apartments in Nice and Paris.

To implement this change, we put our Collioure apartment up for sale with two Collioure realtors in the fall of 2011. As expected, there was limited interest over the winter, although we did get one offer which was contingent on the sale of the buyer’s apartment which never happened. When we returned to Collioure at the end of May 2012, we added another realtor.

One day later, the new realtor presented us with a potential buyer, and one day after that we had an offer, counteroffer, and deal. We were poised to sell our apartment at a profit over the purchase price! There is, in France, a rather long space between the cup and the lip. Bureaucracy reigns! And the buyer has numerous opportunities to back out at virtually no penalty.

Our buyer seemed firm, however, and when she asked if she could take possession sooner than the 3 months allowed by French law, we accommodated her wish, setting a settlement date of August 27. Since we had already scheduled a trip to the Amalfi Coast in late September, this meant we would be “homeless in Europe” between the settlement and the Amalfi trip. We decided to rent an apartment in Dublin for 3 weeks to fill the void.

The purchase/sale process moved along during July. The buyer decided to make it a cash purchase rather than get a mortgage. Inspections were made. The notaire (a French lawyer-like official responsible for property transfers) received and prepared the paperwork. We went off, as planned, to Oxford and London.

When we returned from London in early August, we had three weeks to pack our accumulated stuff and vacate our apartment. Our job was made easier by the fact that we had sold the apartment with everything in it – furniture, appliances, kitchen utensils, printer and monitor, etc., etc. There was, however, the task of sorting through our clothes and books, to decide what to take and what to leave.

We were ruthless. We had to be, since all of our efforts to get UPS or FEDEX to take boxes from our apartment failed to yield a single realistic option. We had to decide quickly, so we did the following … (1) mailed two boxes of books to a friend in Key West; this reduced the weight in the suitcases we would take with us on our flight home; (2) decided to take our 5 suitcases home to Key West, all packed to the maximum 50 lbs. allowed by American Airlines; (3) arranged to take 3 of the suitcases to Paris in late August and leave them in our friend’s apartment until late September.

tough decisions … what to take and what to leave behind

So we began packing and weighing. Whatever didn’t fit had to stay, be given away, or trashed. Many books stayed on the shelves, as we had agreed with the buyer, who speaks and reads English. I fulfilled my promise to autograph and leave behind copies of my own novels, as well as the Barnes & Nobel poster of my 2001 appearance. Clothes were put in large bags to give away. Our neighbor helped to make contact with the French Red Cross, which took many bags of clothes, and our American friends who are now assigned to the US embassy in London took several bags to leave in donation boxes there.

As the month went on, and our days in Collioure became few, we walked around our town and savored the memories.

the Collioure waterfront at night

We also were fortunate that our friends and Collioure next door neighbors Mike and Rose, who we had recently seen in England, were now back in Collioure. We went together to the festival fireworks, they had us over for dinner (our place was too much of a mess to even consider hosting a dinner) and we also went out to eat at a great new restaurant that opened in the garden of the former Dominican monastery, operated by the man who was our friend Sophie’s boss at our favorite pizza place in Collioure.

dinner with Mike & Rose

On August 21 (my birthday) we had a farewell dinner with our American friends Tom and Kristina and their daughter Hannah at the 2nd new restaurant in Collioure, a delightful tapas place called Ambrosia, operated by friends of our friend Sophie. This was one closing of a loop of our Collioure experience, since Tom and Kristina’s apartment had been the first place we stayed in Collioure, in the summer of 2005, when we first came to look for an apartment. We became friends, and our interactions, including Kristina’s fantastic private tour of the White House, have been reported on this blog over the years.

The great “Bag Job” began on August 23 when we took 3 heavy suitcases on the train to Paris. We avoided carrying 150 lbs up and down several flights of stairs by taking a taxi to Perpignan rather than our usual route of boarding a train in Collioure. At Gare Lyon in Paris, we got a taxi and went to the other side of Paris to our friend’s apartment. Pre-warned and expecting us, the concierge gave us the key, and we spent one night with our bags. We had an excellent dinner at an Italian restaurant just down the block.

In the morning, after a brief panic when we couldn’t find the keys, we left our bags and took a taxi into Paris, where we went to the Louvre, not to see any art, but to go to the Apple store, part of our summer long decision process of whether to switch from PC to MAC. Then we took the train back to Collioure, with no luggage, although this was so unusual we kept looking for the luggage that wasn’t there.

There were several last minute glitches, all of which got worked out. Our buyer, who had agreed to a 9:00 am settlement on August 27, suddenly announced that she couldn’t get there until 11:00 am. When we explained that this would disrupt a whole series of train, hotel and flight arrangements, she made the effort to get there as originally agreed. There was also the issue of returning our “LiveBox,” a wireless modem, to France Telecom/Orange. Three times we asked, and three times we were told that a pre-paid mailing label had been sent to us. But it never came. We boxed the “LiveBox” and asked our buyer to take it to the post office, if the label ever came, which it did about a week after the settlement. There was also aggravation with the transfer of the proceeds from the property sale (in euros) to our bank in Key West (in dollars) but it eventually got done.

The tension over the funds transfer was exacerbated by the uncertainties over the euro and thus the euro to dollar conversion rate. During the month before the property closing, the euro to dollar rate had been falling, from 1.30 dollars per euro to 1.22. On two hundred thousand euros, that meant a loss of $16,000. I was very concerned that Greece would collapse, the euro would tank, and the conversion rate would plummet even further. That was why I needed the funds to move from the notaire to the Collioure bank to the correspondent bank to the Key West bank as fast as possible.

the olive guy at the Collioure market

We took our last walks around Collioure, had crepes along the canal for the last time, saw the olive guy at the market for the last time (he had been there every Sunday and Wednesday for the 7 years), and on Monday morning, August 27, took a taxi to the notaire’s office in the neighboring town of Argeles-sur-mer. The buyer showed up on time and the paperwork was processed without any difficulty. The notaire promised to get the funds to our Collioure bank that day, and he did. We took a taxi to the train station in Perpignan, and were off on our final two travel adventures of the 2012 summer. And, in the actual event, Germany made the right noises, the euro bounced back, and the money moved in 4-5 days as the euro was rising, so it ended ok.

We will always look back on our experience in Collioure with great fondness. The town is a magnificent ancient seaport, morphed now into a vacation spot for working class French, and its charms are considerable. But it was time to move on, and we are very excited about the Plan C phase of Pat and Lew’s Great Travel Adventure.

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* Tim & Jane … Billy & Vero … a whirlwind visit to Collioure

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 17, 2012

Pat’s brother Tim, his wife Jane, her brother Bill, and his girlfriend Veronique made Collioure a stop on their way from Barcelona to Toulouse on a European trip that also includes Dublin, Paris and Rome. They were here less than 24 hours, but it was nevertheless a great visit, time for wine and then dinner on the terrace and a tour of Collioure’s market, shops and waterfront. There was also time for lots of family conversation, or as the Irish call it, craic.

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* Sophie & Anais come to visit

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 17, 2012

Our French friend Sophie brought her new baby (5 weeks) to visit with us at our apartment in Collioure. From the moment they arrived until they left 90 minutes later, Anais was not out of Pat’s hands. We had a delightful visit with our long-time Collioure friend. We first met Sophie when she was our waitress at Collioure’s finest pizza restaurant.

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* Collioure … the bull ring is gone but the market is still here … the priorities are exactly correct

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 10, 2012

One of the great pleasures of Collioure is the farmers’ market

… every Sunday and Wednesday

… fresh vegetables for tonight’s salad, and flowers for our table

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Collioure’s bull ring was used once a year. We went some years ago and found it utterly barbaric. See …  https://patandlewtravel.wordpress.com/2007/02/23/bullfights/ …  When we returned last week, they were just finishing turning the space into a much-needed parking lot. Apparently, they have been banned in much of northern Spain, and southern France has followed suit. So, last year, Kevin & Dawn saw the last bullfights in Collioure.

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for more photos of Collioure and of our apartment …

https://patandlewtravel.wordpress.com/2012/05/29/our-wonderful-apartment-in-collioure-is-for-sale-after-i-put-these-photos-together-im-not-sure-we-want-to-leave/

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* our wonderful apartment in Collioure is for sale … after I put these photos together I’m not sure we want to leave

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 29, 2012

Our intent was a 2 year adventure in Europe …

it’s been 6 summers (this will be the 7th) and it’s time for a change.

The apartment has been everything we could have wanted. It’s very comfortable for 2 people. The terrace provides spectacular outdoor space for living, dining and entertaining.  

And, since many people want to come to Collioure, we have done over 20 great home exchanges, to Paris (many times) and Provence, elsewhere in Europe (Dublin, Vilnius), and to Hawaii, Australia, and Mexico. Great destinations provided by our apartment.

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the view from our terrace

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Our apartment is small inside, but it provides very comfortable living for 2 people. With the terrace adding to the living space, the apartment actually becomes quite large.

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Our apartment is 5 minutes from the beach, with a great parking space, and immediately adjacent to the train station with access to Paris, Barcelona, and all of Europe.

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Welcome to our home … dinner for 8 … cocktails for 14. Our apartment is perfect for entertaining.

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Collioure is a former fishing village located on the Mediterranean 25 miles north of the Spanish border … with highways, train service and airports leading everywhere in France and Europe 

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Collioure is an ancient and still largely authentic French village. It is a place where the French come on their vacations, with their children. All summer there is activity every day and night – street fairs, bands, Catalan dancing. A fresh market comes on Sundays and Wednesdays. There are 5 beaches, a 14th century chateau, and a 15th century church. Did I mention the weather – it’s perfect, in the low 80s by day, down to 70 or so at night. And the location is perfect for access to all of France and all of Europe.

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and then … this is the view you wake up to the next morning

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* and then there’s Collioure

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 22, 2011

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The views along the Collioure harbor and in the town at night match any other village we’ve ever seen, in France or anywhere else. 

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We also love the views from our terrace. From about 5:30 to 8:30, with the cooling sea breeze and the puffy ever-changing clouds, it’s just a great place for a glass of wine, a good novel, and a soft reflective conversation.

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A real highlight of the summer of 2011 was the visit by two of Pat’s kids and their spouse and partner. They got to see what we’ve been talking about for 6 years, and we got to spend great time with them.

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For us at least, it doesn’t get better than this.

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* the expulsion of the Jews from Collioure in 1493

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 26, 2011

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These are details of a large painting which hangs in the ancient chateau of Collioure.

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* Collioure festival of St. Jean

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 27, 2010

Each year on June 23, the Festival of St. Jean in Collioure features a fantastic fireworks display. We went down early, had a lovely dinner, then later a glass of wine along the beach, watched the bonfire, and finally, at 11:00 pm, the fireworks lighting the castle across the harbor.

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* Collioure commandos at war!

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 26, 2010

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We live in an ancient charming fishing village, but for the past several days, it has felt like a war zone. The French equivalent of our Navy Seals train in Collioure, and they’ve been on maneuvers, day and night, for the past several days. The photo showing 10 men being lowered from a helicopter was taken from our terrace. Well, if Spain decides to invade France, I guess we’ll be ready.

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* I could never take a shower.”

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 26, 2010

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Les Docheurs by Emmanuelle Jude

This is one of roughly 50 paintings of people taking a shower at one of the beaches in Collioure, part of an exhibit called Les Docheurs by the artist Emmanuelle Jude. The paintings took on a vastly different meaning when we learned that the artist’s parents had died at Auschwitz, leading to the comment “I could never take a shower” attributed to her at a recent celebration of the collection at the Museum of Modern Art in Collioure.

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* Picasso’s cereal bowls at Ceret museum

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 26, 2010

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Picasso at Ceret

Picasso painted 28 bowls in 6 days one April many years ago. They depict various scenes in several bullfights. The entire set is on display at the Museum of Modern Art at Ceret, about 15 miles inland from Collioure.

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* One more week in Collioure – Oct 07

Posted by Lew Weinstein on October 29, 2007

Back from Tuscany, it’s good to be home. We have a week before we leave for the “new world” for the winter. We have had a marvelous extended summer (from mid-May to the end of October) in Europe and we’re beginning to list potential destinations for 2008 – Prague, Dubrovnik, Mikonos, Portugal – all easily accessible from our idyllic village of Collioure.

A surprise. When we meet with Madeleine to discuss having her open our apartment next spring, she tells us that Kristina and Tom, with Hanna, will be in Collioure the next day. It was Kristina from whom we first rented when we came to explore Collioure in 2005, and she was very helpful as we went about purchasing our own apartment. We exchange emails and arrange to meet for lunch on Sunday.

It is a spectacular fall day (Hanna plans to swim later), and our outdoor table at the Copacabana is perfect. Kristina and Tom both work for the US State Department in Moscow, and we share Russian experiences. Hanna goes to the international school and is an amazingly sophisticated (but still playful) young lady who is not yet nine years old. Tom has brought a bottle of Russian vodka which we manage to keep out of the waiter’s hands.

It will take us four days to get back to Key West.

  • Day 1: train to Girona, pick up rental car, return to Collioure.

  • Day 2: drive to Barcelona, stay overnight a hotel near the airport.

  • Day 3: fly Barcelona-Madrid-Philadelphia-Fort Lauderdale, spend the night in a hotel near the airport.

  • Day 4: breakfast with our friends Eileen and Ron, pickup rental car, drive to Key West.

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* into the Pyrenees

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 4, 2007

        

We enjoy the eastern foothills of the Pyrenees every day from our terrace, but we have long wanted to see the higher ranges to our west, stretching along the border between France and Spain.

There are excursions every week in the summer, listed at the Collioure Tourist Office, and each Friday, there’s a bus trip to Villefranche de Conflent, with English commentary. We almost never take bus trips, but the alternatives of driving or taking the train look too difficult (and more expensive) by comparison, so we decide to give it a try.

The bus leaves Collioure at 6:10 am, from the old tower next to the Port Duvall beach. We’re up before 5:00 am, breakfast, and walk over. Collioure in the cool morning is an absolute delight. Still dark but dawn is coming, dim lights casting a romantic glow, the town perfectly quiet except for the lapping of small waves along the beach. A couple is playing on the swings – out early or up all night?

Several others are waiting, and when the bus arrives early, our group is first on. There are 5-6 stops in and around Argeles to pick up additional passengers, and by the time all are on board, only a few seats are left. We’ve been driving north along the coast, looking at each coastal town, all larger than Collioure, more developed, not nearly as beautiful or charming.

We turn west and pass north of the city of Perpignan, the department prefect of our region (population 163,000), drive for an hour to Villefranche de Conflent (population 225). We’ll return to Villefranche as the last stop on our trip, but for now we go directly to the train station.

We’re early, so we have café au lait (pour moi), chaude chocolate (pour Madame), et deux croissants, in the chill of the mountain air. We’ll catch the 9:00 am le petit train Jaune (the little yellow train).

While we’re waiting, we read our books. I’ve brought with me Escape through the Pyrenees by Lisa Fittko, a heart-pounding account of this brave and resourceful woman’s successful efforts to save herself, and then perhaps 2,000 others, from the clutches of the Nazis after the French collapse in 1940. Much of this took place in the towns near Collioure – Port Vendres and especially Banyuls. It’s one of Pat’s favorites, and I can’t think of a better place to read it than driving up the very same Pyrenees mountains which was the escape route to Spain.

The first section of the train jaune route was completed in 1910, linking Villefranche with Mont Louis, which is as far as we will go today. It’s an impressive construction undertaking, including 650 engineering works along the 44 mile climb  – 19 tunnels and two remarkable bridges: the Séjourné viaduct and the Gisclard suspension bridge. 

We board the car set aside for our group, which is just about full. Pat and I sit next to a delightful French madame, who speaks just a very little more English than we speak French. She says she’s an auteur, Pat says so am I, and she is much impressed with Le Hérétique, says she is enchante to meet me.

I just read Somerset Maugham’s comment in The Razor’s Edge that “in France, an author just because he is an author has prestige,” written in 1943 but apparently still true.

As we climb, I realize we can’t see much if we stay in the car, so I move to the platform between cars, and Pat soon joins me. The views are astonishing, great vistas of mountains, rising high in the distance, and as we climb further, plunging away beneath us, some covered with trees, some huge expanses of bare rock. There are little station stops, tiny villages, and single houses perched at unimaginable heights.

The train is run by SNCF as a regular part of the rail system, and was created originally as a link to these mountain places. Now there are roads which follow the same general route, and most of the passengers are tourists. 

We exit train jaune at Mont Louis, which is roughly halfway up, a trip of 1 hour 20 minutes, and we’re back in the bus, which has driven to meet us. It’s 10:30 am, and there are several more stops in the morning, but our guide asks if we will join the group for lunch and she gives the menu of what we understand is their regular place. The alternative – we’ll drop you off somewhere in Spain and pick you up two hours later – is singularly unappealing, so we’ll join the group. 

We stop at a ski resort with a view of the highest mountain in the Pyrenees, and an old chapel with a fountain miraculously created by a statue of the virgin. The chapel features a stunning altar, with statues and ornaments in gold, by the same artist who created the even more sumptuous altar at the church in Collioure. 

We pass into Spain, a half dozen people leave the bus with nothing much in sight, and most of us go to Paller de Queixans, a restaurant situated in a completely new area of modern town houses which are vacation homes for wealthy Barcelonians, about 1.5 hours away.

Even as we enter the restaurant, we feel we have made the right choice. Our group of over 30 are the only customers. We’re seated at 6 round tables, Pat and I at a table where no one else speaks English. A friendly man announces the menu, in French, then gets his guitar and sings in Spanish, asking the group to join the refrain while waving our white napkins high over our heads. It’s fun. 

Waitresses move quickly to deliver plates filled with a thin pasta, cut into short lengths, apparently fried with mussels and other good things, served with sangria and then rose wine. We had seconds. Then came a serving of chicken, vegetables, potatoes, sausage, and who knows what else, some of which was excellent. 

Meanwhile, the entertainer was doing card tricks. Champagne was served, and we were shown the “calva” method of drinking from a long stemmed bottle, pouring a long drizzle from the upheld bottle into your open mouth. Several of our group tried it, more or less successfully.  Dessert was ice cream, with coffee, and then a choice of whiskey, cognac and vodka, all of which we declined.

All in all, it was a terrific meal, 16 euros each.  My credit card, however, did not process and I paid in cash.

The next day I called Citibank and found that they had not flagged the payment. In fact they had not received it, so it must have been a local problem at the restaurant.  

TIP: before setting out on any trip, it’s a good idea to tell your credit card issuer where you’re going to be, so they won’t set up roadblocks when they see purchases made in unfamiliar places. I had done that in May for the entire summer, and this call was just to confirm everything was properly in place, which it was. 

Again, of course, the value of Skype. Call anywhere, at 2 cents/minute. This call, 4 minutes, 8 cents. 

After lunch, Pat and I had a chat with our English speaking guide. She had been in Key West – it’s amazing how many of the French know Key West and have been there – as part of her year in America, based in DC, specifically to improve her English for this job. 

The first stop of the afternoon was a solar furnace, which we viewed from a hillside vantage point. Constructed in the 1950s for research purposes, its 860 parabolic mirrors and heliostat of 546 flat mirrors focus the sun’s rays into a to temperatures which can reach 3500 degrees centigrade. That’s hot! 

We drove down the mountain on a road that paralleled the train, so we could see where we had been, and the views were even more spectacular.  

When we were near the bottom, our guide told us about the maiden run of the yellow train in 1905. A select group of 6 was on board for the event, but the engineer drove too fast around one of the many curves and the train flew off the tracks, landing 80 meters down in a gorge, and everyone was killed. “That was the first and last accident with the train juene,” we were told, but I’m nevertheless glad she saved this particular information until after we had left the train. 

Villefranche de Conflent is a fortified town founded in 1090 by Guillaume Raymond, Count of Cerdagne. The remarkable old church within the walls was built in the late 11th and early 12th centuries. After the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1679, the fortifications were improved by Louis XIV’s ubiquitous military engineer, Marquis Sebastian Vauban, who also expanded the castle in Collioure, all to defend against attack from the Spaniards to the south 

There are only two streets in Villefranche, but our 30 minute visit was well worth it. Old, old buildings, all shops now, narrow streets, water running down open culverts, a church as old as any we have ever been in, and witches, good witches. That’s all I know. Good ice cream too! 

We slept for most of the rest of the drive, back to Perpignan and then letting off the passengers, us last in Collioure at 6:30 pm. It was a good trip, and at 33 euros each, a terrific value.

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* 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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* visitors from the “new world”

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 2, 2007

 Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Since we have company “from the new world” coming tomorrow, we go down to the village to make a reservation for dinner. I try my best to use only French, but don’t quite make it. Je voudrais faire un reservation pour quatre personnes pour se sois …..?

I don’t know the word for Wednesday. Pat points to the word in French (Mercredi ) and asks the waiter who is making the reservation, “How do you pronounce this word?”  He immediately answers … “Wed-nes-day.”

 Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Pat’s cousin Karen and her husband Joe are due on the 11:48 train from Cerbere, on their way from Barcelona. This is our first family visit, and only our second visitors from the “new world,” so we are quite excited. It being the 4th 0f July, Pat takes the American flag we purchased in Normandy (for this purpose) to the platform and stands ready to wave the colors.

But 11:48 comes and goes, and the only thing that arrives is the rain. We had left the cushions out on the terrace, and debate whether to run back upstairs (remember that our apartment is only 100 yards from the gare). We decide not to, and the drizzle subsides.

But still no train. The electronic announcement board now says 12:44 for the next train, skipping automatically to the next scheduled departure. We start a conversation with a couple from Australia who are on their way to Edinburgh for a wedding, and they worry if they’ll make their connection in Perpignan. Someone says they can make up time, and just then a passenger train speeds by without stopping. “Is that how they make up the time? Are our guests now on their way to Perpignan?

Pat goes into the station and reports back with the good news that the train from Cerbere is expected in 10 minutes. Lo and behold, in 10 minutes the train arrives, and Karen and Joe emerge onto the platform. They’re going to stay in our apartment while we are in Ireland, and have come a day early so we can visit before we leave.

The next several hours are a blizzard of family updates, a brief tour of our apartment (300 square feet doesn’t take long), a walk to the Madeloc Hotel so Joe and Karen can check in for the one night we will all be in Collioure. Their room is very nice, as is the hotel. We walk down the hill into the village for a first look around and lunch.

We’re thrilled that Joe and Karen seem to be as enamored with Collioure as we are.

Later, we have champagne on the terrace, and then dinner in the village, where our reservation for Wed-nes-day is in order. We have an excellent meal looking out over the beach and bay. After dinner we walk out toward the sea and the chapel on the rock, and are almost blown away by a sudden gust of wind.

We finish the day (for us) by introducing Collioure ice cream to our guests, and then head back up the hill. The next morning, we learn that Joe and Karen returned to the beach for another glass of wine, followed by a late night swim in the pool at their hotel.

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* food shopping in Collioure

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 1, 2007

Our main source of food is SHOPI, a small supermarket in the center of town, which has a very nice selection of fresh and packaged foods.

Of course there are delicious cheeses, and we’re experimenting our way through them all. There are canned goods, including Geant Vertz (Green Giant) corn, cookies, bread for toast, soda (Coke and ginger ale), and beer. We’ve learned to interpret what is printed on the cans and boxes, and are only sometimes surprised when we open them.

An aside … our French toaster makes toast perfectly, unlike every toaster we have ever purchased in America, and … when done, the toast pops right out of the toaster, sometimes onto the plate … it’s utterly remarkable what the French can do when it comes to food.

Shoppi also has real food … small packages of fish, shrimp, hamburger, and steaks. A few days ago, I saw a package of salmon steaks, which they don’t always have. Cooked on our tiny electric grill, they were excellent.

We will not go hungry, although we do wish we could find just one can of Campbell’s tomato soup.

For the best bread we’ve ever tasted, there is the small boulangerie next to Shoppi. It took many visits and many bonjour Madame’s, but now we receive a genuine smile in return. We practice our French for this simple task … Je voudrais une baguette et un pain d’raisins.

In France, you buy a baguette every day, since they harden quickly, but Pat has learned that warming the rock hard bread in the oven both softens it and produces a delicious crisp crust. The only problem is that bread is my downfall, and I’ve gained 5 pounds. Maybe the cheese has something to do with it. 

The farmer’s market on Sunday and Wednesday mornings is our main source of fresh vegetables – pepper, onions, lettuce, and olives.

Carrefours in neighboring Argeles-sur-mer is a major supermarket with a wide variety of packaged foods, cosmetics, paper goods, etc. We get there by train from Collioure (4 minutes) and taxi (5 minutes). Then we have the lady at the customer service desk call the taxi for the return trip to the gare dans Argeles.

We can only carry two shopping bags each, so this is a limited voyage, and we schedule large shopping runs to Carrefours whenever we have a rental car for some other reason.

Pizza and ice cream are staples in Collioure. There are several pizza restaurants, as well as one terrific take-out place. Ice cream in dozens of flavors is sold from freezer bins along many streets in town. I still prefer vanilla, and you get “French Vanilla” without even asking for it.

I should mention shopping bags. They don’t give you any in the stores, so you have to bring your own or buy one. We have forgotten enough times so we have quite a collection, but lately we seem to remember.

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* instant oatmeal

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 1, 2007

 

Oatmeal is filling, which helps me eat less bread, and it also reduces cholesterol, so this is an important topic. It took several trials, and thus several errors, but success has been attained.

First, to find the ingredients. In the U.S., Quaker offers a wide variety of pre-packaged instant oatmeals – apple & cinnamon, raisins and spice, strawberries and cream, and my favorite, maple and brown sugar. In France, no such packages exist.

There are a variety of Quaker oat cereals, and, I’m excited one day at Carrafours to find, a box which proclaims QUAKER OATS Flocons d’Avoine, which Google Translate later tells me is “rolled oats.” On the side of the package, three cooking methods are offered – au micro-onde, caisson traditionnelle, and, glory be told, instantane. 

Still, under instantane, there is mention of delicieux dans du lait froid, delicious in cold milk, which is not my idea at all.  So I start with caisson traditionnelle, heat milk in a small pot, add the cereal, mix it about, and create an generally unsatisfying mess. 

Boil water in the pot, it occurs to me, like you do in Key West. Cereal in the bowl, along with the cassonade (brown sugar), and pour on the boiling water.

Better, but still not quite what I’m looking for. 

Finally, the perfect method (méthode parfaite). Cereal in the bowl, pour in the boiling water, mix thoroughly and allow to stand. Then add the cassonade, lots of cassonade. Voila! Toss in a few almonds. This is delicious. 

Thus we bring our American tastes to Collioure, adding to the pleasure of our daily adventure. 

Now if I can only find maple syrup.

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* a fortnight in Collioure – May 20 to June 5, 2007

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 16, 2007

Sunday, 5/20/07

We have just arrived in Collioure (Saturday) and our first visitors are arriving on Tuesday, so we have to get the apartment ready. This means unpacking clothes, building the bookcases, and unpacking the 95 books we brought, in that order.

We interrupt our work to go to the outdoor farmer’s market, where we buy wonderful fresh peppers and onions and lettuce, plus of course a baguette.

By the time we have dinner on the terrace, the apartment is in good shape, except for the 5 suitcases which still fill almost all the floor space.For the moment, we have no place to put them.

It seems that the syndic (Les Rocades condo association) changed the lock on our cellar (closet in the access hall) some time over the winter, and didn’t tell anyone.

When Madeleine came in to get the apartment ready for our home exchange guests, she was unable to retrieve the terrace furniture from the cellar. Eventually, we emailed our neighbor Brigitte and learned that the lock had been changed, and Madeleine went to the syndic and got the new key. But it’s Sunday, Madeleine is not in her office on Sunday, and we have no key.

Tuesday, 5/22/07

We get the cellar key from Madeleine and put our suitcases away. Finally, we have room to move in the apartment. If 300 square feet can seem large, it does.

I ask the syndic – in French – “Je suis Lewis Weinstein, de 303B Les Rocades. La clef de cave est différente. Je voudrais savoir pourquoi?”

Translated, this may mean “I am …, of 303B … The key of the cellar is different. Why?“

The answer is they don’t know. Brigitte explains. There was some problem with the apartment above our cellar, perhaps water related, and the syndic broke into our cellar to see if anything was wrong there. Then they replaced the lock. But they never told us or provided a new key.

Debbie and Tom, our first visitors from the new world, have been visiting Debbie’s brother Evan in Paris and are coming to Collioure today. 

Debbie has emailed Pat that they will be on the 2:30 train. We go down to the station at 2:20 and wait, but no train arrives. Nor is one due from Perpignan for several hours.

Pat goes to the Templiers, where they will be staying, but they haven’t checked in yet. I look up the train schedules. The 8:24 out of Paris, changing in Perpignan, would have arrived shortly after 2:00.

Where are they? Lost in town? Pat says, “If I call Evan and tell him I lost his sister, he’ll kill me.”

Then she checks Debbie’s email – it said 2:03, not 2:30.We go back down to the Templiers, and there they are.

“We just arrived,” Tom says. “Our train was late getting to Perpignan, and we missed the connection. They drove us here in a Mercedes taxi!”

So they have no idea we weren’t at the station waiting for them at 2:03. I tell Pat, “You don’t have to tell them.” But, honest woman that she is, she does anyway.

Finally, we all relax with a glass of wine, rose all around.We have dinner at the beach, and great ice cream cones for dessert. Two boules of scrumptious butter pecan.

Wednesday, 5/23/07

Pat, for the first time in Collioure, has running partners. Debbie and Tom are not used to the hills, but they reach the high road to Port Vendres and enjoy the stunning views of the Collioure bay.

We tour the 14th century Château Royal which dominates the village. It was built on Roman foundations during the reign of the Counts of Roussillon and Kings of Aragon, and became the home of the Majorcan court, after which it was occupied by the Spanish until1642, when Collioure fell into French hands.

There’s an art exhibit in the castle by a painter named Andrzej Umiastowski, featuring enormously fat women in various states of undress. The paintings showed great good humor and we really enjoyed them. Prices range from 2,000 to 3,500 euros. We don’t but any.         

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The castle also houses a large painting depicting the expulsion of Jews from Collioure in 1493. I was not aware of this event, but will now do some research and see what I can learn. Collioure was, of course, still part of Spain at that time.

While at the museum, we are able to purchase the video, describing the work of Matisse and Derain, produced in 2005 to honor the 100th anniversary of their appearance in Collioure in 1905. The video has numerous shots of Collioure today and excellent descriptions of the art, in French and English.

A brief rain deposits a layer of  brown dirt over all of our terrace furniture. We’re told by three different people that this is sand, blown from Africa across the Mediterranean from the Sahara Desert.

The distance from Marrakesh in Morocco to Collioure is about 1000 miles. That’s a long way to blow sand, but what do I know.

We hold our first party of 2007, in honor of our visitors from the new world. In addition to Tom and Debbie (US), we’ve invited Valerie & Lorcan (Ireland), and they in turn have brought their guests Richard and JoAnne, and the honeymooners, their son and new daughter-in-law.

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I observe that Debbie, Richard and myself may constitute the largest assembly of Jews in Collioure since the expulsion in 1493.

We enjoy many bottles of wine, lots of cheese and olives, and great conversation.

Thursday, 5/24/07

Today the three runners make it all the way to Port Vendres. I take pictures as they re-enter Collioure.

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An interesting vignette on the way the French think …

At breakfast, I sit next to Pat, with Tom and Debbie opposite us. We all order petite de’jeuner, two with tea and two with café. The waitress brings the first tray, with two orders, sets it on the table between Tom and Pat.

There is coffee in front of Pat, so she picks up the cup to give to me.

The waitress emphatically says, “No.”

She indicates that Pat and I should change seats to match the tray she has brought, and Pat, obedient after 12 years of Catholic school training, begins to get up.

“Not a chance,” I say. “Please sit down and give me my coffee.”

The waitress frowns, but brings the other tray, sets it in front of me, and I give Pat her tea.

This incident tell us all we need to know about the French approach to service. The customer must adjust to the worker, not the other way around. As Americans, we find this incredible, but to the French it is perfectly normal. Good luck, Mr. Sarcozy, at changing the French work ethic.

Debbie and Tom are taking the 11:24 train to Paris, and we go to the platform to see them off. There’s a young couple there who have just come from Spain and are carrying Rick Steves’ Spain 2007.

“Does he recommended things to read before going to Spain?”

“Yes.”

“Novels?”

“Yes.”

“The Heretic by Lewis Weinstein?” 

“Yes!”

Pretty exciting, huh. Being listed with Ernest Hemingway (For Whom the Bell Tolls), Miguel Cervantes (Don Quixote), and Washington Irving (Tales from the Alhambra) is a great honor and thrill.   

Friday, 5/25/07

We’ve settled in Collioure, renewed acquaintances with our friends and had our first visitors, and now we have two weeks before our first trip (to Nice).

Time for me to get to work … this journal, research for my next novel, my self-education project on novel writing, French with Michel Thomas, and promoting my just-published novel A Good Conviction

Pat sets up her Yoga tape on the terrace. She strikes poses as I watch from the sofa. She really looks good.

About a month ago, I decided to publish A Good Conviction via a POD publisher. I investigated several, chose WingSpan Press, submitted the manuscript and cover, reviewed and approved proofs, and the book is now available on amazon.com. ( * purchase “A GOOD CONVICTION” at amazon.com)

My job will be to promote it. I purchased a book by Brett Sampson called Sell Your Book on Amazon, which is a treasure chest of suggestions about using the various options amazon.com makes available for publishers and authors to promote their books.

We watch the movie Anna Karenina, starring Vivien Leigh as Anna. Pat loves it; I am less enamored. We each had the same response to the book. If you’re interested in my comments on the book, you can see my blog, (* Lew’s blog about writing novels). Enter “Karenina” as the search term. 

Saturday, 5/26/07

We hang around the apartment and watch the brown rain come down. 1000 miles? 

The sun comes out and Pat does a load of laundry, which must hang outside on the rack to dry. She takes a chance and it’s almost dry when the rains start again. We drag the rack with the now once again damp clothes into the house.

The Yankees play an afternoon game at the Stadium, so it comes on at 7:00 pm here, and I get to watch it live, via internet and mlb.com. The reception is great, but not the Yankees, who lose again in what is so far a terribly disappointing season. They’re now 11.5 games behind the Red Sox and fading fast. 

Sunday, 5/27/07

It stops raining long enough for us to exercise on the terrace, using the lounge chairs for floor mats.

Pat is reading Pride and Prejudice. It got onto her summer list because she had never read anything by Jane Austin and felt obliged as a cultured person that she should. She is being rewarded. She’s over half done and loves the book.

I’m reading about Lorenzo de Medici, who will be a central figure in my next novel, set in Florence in the late 15th century.

lorenzo.jpg

Actually, I’m reading three books at once. One is an old biography by William Roscoe. I mean old. It was written in 1796, and the 10th edition I’m reading was published in 1896. Pat cringes every time I yellow highlight this old book, but I must.

When I get to Roscoe’s comments on Lorenzo’s poetry, I switch to Lorenzo de Medici: Selected Poems and Prose, collected and translated by Jon Thiem. Lorenzo is now regarded (by Thiem at least) as the foremost poet of Renaissance Florence, and Thiem’s book, published in 1991, is the first published collection of his works in English.

I read the opening stanzas of Lorenzo’s long narrative poem The Supreme Good.

“Lured on, escorted by the sweetest thoughts, I fled the bitter storms of civic life to lead my soul back to a calmer port; and so my heart was carried from that life to this one – free, serene, untroubled – which retains the little good the world still knows.”

This poem was written in 1473, when Lorenzo was 24 and had already been the “ruler” of Florence for 4 years. What other man in history, so renowned as a politician, banker, diplomat, and patron of the arts, has been known to write such poetry?

I’m hoping that Lorenzo’s poetry will be a route to his inner thoughts, and from this beginning, I am much encouraged.

The third book I open and browse is Janet Ross’s Lives of the Early Medici as Told in their Correspondence. This is a collection of private letters from and to Cosimo (Lorenzo’s grandfather), Piero (Lorenzo’s father), and Lorenzo himself, and again, I’m hoping to find insight into the mind of this remarkable man.

At 4:00 pm Collioure time (10:00 am on the east coast) we watch Tim Russert interview Gov. Bill Richardson on Meet the Press. Richardson is not impressive, despite his wonderful resume. Slingbox, by the way, works perfectly to bring us our Key West television in Collioure.

Our movie tonight is the Boynton Beach Club, a enjoyable comedy of life among the still spry elderly in south Florida.  

After the movie, I watch the last out (Derek Jeter this time, with the tying run on third base, although he did hit the ball hard) in yet another Yankee loss. 

Monday, 5/28/07

It’s Memorial Day in America and Whit Monday in France.

“What is Whit Monday?” you ask.

I search the web and learn it is the day after Whit Sunday. Not very illuminating.

Next I learn that it has some connection with the Jewish holiday of Shavuos, which I suspect would surprise most Catholics.

Finally … Whitsunday is the Pentecost celebration, commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles seven weeks after Easter … which still leaves Whitmonday as the day after Whitsunday.

In any case, the French are trying to eliminate the holiday. Too many days off in France.

Several years ago, Whit Monday was officially cancelled in France, but French workers took the holiday anyway. The Socialist candidate in this year’s French presidential elections promised to re-instate Whitmonday, but she lost, so I guess the celebration will continue as a renegade affair.

During the month of May, there’s a holiday in France nearly every week.

Enough … more than enough. 

Tuesday, 5/29/07 – Sunday 6/3/07

It’s a quiet week in Collioure, with mostly rain and clouds, broken occasionally with sunshine. We meet with more of our neighbors.

Mike (UK) has made his adjoining terrace blossom with trellises and plants. I go with him to Jardinland and pick out 3 plants to begin our own terrace garden.

We have dinner with Mike at Casa Leon. There’s a funny story about dessert. We didn’t order dessert, but the waiter puts one in front of Pat and she starts to eat it. Well, it was intended for the next table. The waiter comes to retrieve it, too late. Everyone laughs, at our table and nearby. The intended dessert eaters, from Barcelona, get another one. By the way, the unordered dessert was on our bill, and we paid it.

Some months ago, we received a communication, in response to this travel blog, from a couple living in Tasmania (Australia) who also have a home in Collioure. It’s incredible the connections made possible by the internet.

We invited them to a terrace wine and cheese, but only the husband, Peter, showed up. Apparently, there had been a plumbing disaster, made worse because they were leaving the next day and a tenant was coming in, so wife Lynn has stayed in the house while Peter came over.

We had the strange experience of having this person, Peter, whom we had never met, know all about us – from reading our blog.

We talk about buying our place in Collioure, and he says, “Yes, you bought it from Una.”

Left without our usual stories to tell, we nevertheless spend a very enjoyable two hours and resolved to get together when we both return from our travels in 10 days or so.

We are invited to lunch with Valerie and Lorcan at their French “in-the-village” chateau in the hill town of Laroque de Alberes, which they have been fixing up. Fixing up old houses is what they love to do.

Lorcan came to “collect” us, and we drove 15 minutes to the town and up the narrow streets to their home. Valerie conducted the tour. … a huge basement, a first floor with living room, master bedroom and kitchen, and a second floor with 3 more bedrooms.

Lots of outdoor space on all 4 sides of the house, and extensive grounds with great trees and plants behind. An area being cleared for a swimming pool.

Wallpaper – such wallpaper! – being scraped from almost every wall.

We had a delightful lunch on the back patio, on a spectacular table that we will try to duplicate for our own terrace (from Weldom or Auchan) at the conclusion of the Nice visit.

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Last year, we were bothered by several cats, who live in or around our building, coming onto the terrace and seeming to have an interest in coming into our apartment.

We have a similar problem in Key West, which we solved with a water cannon. Same solution here. Pat spotted the weapon at a Collioure shop, and, armed and dangerous, on the next cat appearance I had two direct hits from 15 feet.

The next time the cat came across the terrace, he didn’t put a foot on it, nor even on the ledge, but walked quickly across the sloping roof beyond the ledge. I think we have, for the moment at least, established our respective territory. I won’t bother the cat if he doesn’t bother me. 

Monday, 6/4/07

On Saturday, we’ll begin the 2007 version of “travels from Collioure” with a trip that will include Nice, Arles, and two nights with Valerie and Lorcan in an exchange property in the French village of Caune-Minervois near Carcassonne.

There are also some shopping objectives for this trip – a stop at IKEA in Montpellier, and visits to Auchan, Leroy Merlin, Weldom, and Carrefour on the way home.

In Nice, we’ll be meeting our friends from New Jersey, Herb and Marlene, who will begin a Mediterranean cruise in that city. Lots of excitement coming. 

Tuesday, 6/5/07

We can’t wait to begin our shopping, so we take the train to Argeles-sur-mer (4 minutes) and then a taxi to the shopping complex that includes Weldom and Carrafours.

At Weldom, we see the spectacular table we saw at Valerie and Lorcan’s new (old) home, and also a round table with bright green and yellow tiles. We choose round, plus four wrought iron chairs.

“Can you deliver? “

“Yes, will this afternoon be ok?”

They arrive at 3:30, thirty minutes early, and agree to assemble the heavy table for us.

Is this France? 

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* trips from Collioure

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 19, 2007

a selection of trips, some within walking distance, others day trips by car or train, some overnight trips, and a 7 day hike along the coast from Collioure to Cadaques (in Spain).

within walking distance

·     walk to Port Vendres, the next town south of Collioure (25 mins) lunch there and take the local bus back.

·     walk the coast to Argeles, the next town north of Collioure … see an English movie in the cinema (details at Tourist Office) … return by train.

·     walk to ‘The Hermitage’ … details at Tourist Office.

Day trips by car or train

·     Train to Banyuls (past Port Vendres) and visit the winery … free tour and video show (English sub-titles) Free wine tasting after the tour … they will ship your order, unfortunately NOT to U.S.A.

·     Eus … among the beautiful villages of southern France … by car from Collioure, Michelin route finder says 57 minutes, 72 km

·     Castlenou … A walled town built in the 13th century by Louis IX … by car from Collioure, Michelin route finder says 41 minutes, 47 km 

·     Villefranche de Conflent  … by car … then take  a trip on  ‘The Yellow Train’…… to Font Romeau ( we prefer to get off at Mont St Louis) … suggestion: explore Villefranche before the Yellow Train trip  (check timetable) … if you wait until after, the shops and churches in Villefranche may be closed.  

·     Carcassonne … by train or car. By car from Collioure, Michelin route finder says 1 hr 31 minutes, 150 km the site of the largest preserved medieval walled town in Europe. Quite a lot to see, but can be done in a day trip. There are hotels within the walled city if you want to stay overnight. 

·     Perpignan … by train or car, either way, less than 30 minutes. We go to Perpignan for shopping. There’s a Galeries Lafayette, several home stores, electronics, etc.

·     Ceret … an easy (30 minute) drive from Collioure … Museum of Modern Art … Picasso, Braque, Gris, Soutine, Chagall, Herbin, Matisse

·     Barcelona … in the summer, there’s a bus that leaves Collioure early in the morning and returns that same night. Inquire at the Tourist Office. HINT: DON’T DRIVE in Barcelona!  Restaurant recommendations: (1) Les Quatre Gats (4 Cats) (2) an outdoor restaurant in a large plaza off the Ramblas, next to a narrow alley with a pizza place (forgot the name and exact address, will get it the next time we’re in Barcelona) …  a good (concise)guide book: DK – Top 10 Barcelona

·     vineyard tour & dinner … offered during the summer. bus leaves in early evening, drives to vineyard for tour and dinner. several different vineyards. Inquire in Tourist Office.

Overnight trips by train or car

·     Paris … 5-6 hours by train (leave at 6:00am, be there for lunch)

·     Nice … Michelin route finder says 4:46 hrs, 517 km by car … easy to combine with car trip through Provence … more details after we go there in June 07

·     Barcelona … 2-3 hours by train … recommended hotel: Catalonia Albinoni …  … we haven’t stayed there, but checked it out last year and plan to stay there in 2007. HINT: DON’T DRIVE in Barcelona!

·     lastly, a 7 day hike for the truly adventurous … a walking tour from Collioure to Cadaques … From the Côte Vermeille to the Costa Brava … web site: http://www.inntravel.co.uk/walking/guides/collioure.htm 

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about Collioure

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 25, 2007

Our magical fishing village of Collioure is located in the south of France, on the Mediterranean, about 25 miles north of the French-Spanish border. The nearest large city is Barcelona.

Our apartment is described in detail at www.homeexchange.com, where we are listing #52059. Let us know if you’d like to swap homes.

Collioure is a delightful blend of narrow cobblestone streets, art galleries, restaurants ranging from gourmet to pizza, boutique shops, beaches, spectacular views, and friendly people.

During the summer season, there is frequent local entertainment showcasing the unique Catalan culture. A fresh air market comes to town year round, on Sunday and Wednesday mornings, bringing fresh produce, cheeses and spices. The local wines are outstanding and inexpensive (3-4 euros a bottle).

Additional information and photos can be found at the Collioure Tourist Office site (see blogroll) 

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fireworks in the harbor

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 23, 2007

Valerie says it’s the best fireworks she’s ever seen.

But we’ve seen the fourth of July fireworks on the East River in New York, and the Festival fireworks in Edinburgh, Scotland, so we’re skeptical. It turns out we’re wrong and Valerie is right.

The pathway along the old castle is blocked, so we walk up and over the parking lot. We’re fortunate to find one of the few remaining spots on the Port D’Vall beach. We set up our beach chairs for the hour long wait.

Next to us, a young girl (8 or 9?) takes off all her clothes except her underpants and goes into the sea. Her long blonde hair and naked body look surreal in the dark. She emerges, her parents help her change to dry clothes under a towel.

At 10:00 pm sharp, music pours from speakers across the harbor, and the lights along the castle wall and the church go black. Fireworks shoot from five different locations across the harbor, continuously for 20 minutes, many in patterns we’ve never seen before, all coordinated with the music. It’s breathtaking.

When it’s over, we join the huge crowds working their way slowly into the town center. We stop for dessert crepes, then continue toward our apartment.

There are mobs of people standing in the street. As we get closer, we can see they’re patiently waiting for the train. Despite many extra trains, the last visitors don’t depart until the wee hours.

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bullfights

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 23, 2007

There is a corrida in Collioure, next to the train station, just below our apartment.

As far as we can determine, it’s used only two nights each year. One night the bulls will be killed, one night not. This year, it’s bad luck for the bulls, and the less lethal night is rained out.

Let me say first that we will never go again. It is a disgusting, brutal, cruel, immoral, and pointless display of bravado. But we did go, just this once, and Mayor Moly was there collecting tickets. There was an almost-capacity crowd, perhaps 2,000.  

The band played and the opening procession, the paseillo, was impressive: matadors, picadors, and huge horses, whose function we later learn is to drag the dead bulls out of the ring.

The first bull enters the ring. Picadors, mounted on horses protected with thick padding, taunt the bull and drive a lance into his back. Next, three banderilleros each place a pair of sharp sticks into the attacking bull’s back, jumping aside at the last moment.

Now at last, when the bull is already worn down, it’s finally the matador’s turn. He flashes his red cape to entice the bull to charge, nimbly stepping aside, a little closer each time.

When the bull is practically comatose, from all the charging and the stabbings, the matador takes his sword and prepares for the kill. Slowly, he maneuvers until the bull is directly in front of him, standing still, snorting, dripping blood and sweat.

I’m rooting for the bull, but there’s no chance. The matador rises high and plunges his sword deep into the bull’s back.

At first, the bull doesn’t move. Then his knees begin to buckle. He is down, but still dangerous. The matador removes the bloody sword, and another man plunges a knife into the bull’s neck.

The bull falls dead to the ground. The man with the knife cuts off the bull’s ear.

Out comes a huge horse, dragging a harness. The dead bull is attached to the harness and dragged from the ring.

The matador is presented the ear. He struts around the ring to the applause of the crowd.

The same sordid sequence is repeated four more times. We’re actually ashamed to watch, but we stay anyway.

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the festival of St. Vincent

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 23, 2007

Every August, the Festival of St. Vincent is Collioure’s biggest week of the year. There’s music, fireworks, and bullfights, and our little town is glutted with over 100,000 visitors.

The partying goes on until 5:30 in the morning, including those camped below us in the train station parking lot. However, the police are omnipresent, and we saw not a single instance of any disorder.

We did see Mayor Michel Moly, just about everywhere. He was introducing performances, directing street performers from one venue to another, and even collecting tickets at the bullfights. Early every morning, the streets were swept spotless, as they are every other morning in Collioure. I wrote a letter to the Mayor telling him how impressed I was with him and his administration.

Blessing the fleet

One of the major events, in fact the historical reason for the festival, is the blessing of the fishing fleet.

There’s a chapel overlooking the sea, and we watch four strong priests carry the relic of St. Vincent, held on their shoulders with long wooden rails, from the ancient church, along the beach, then up precarious rocky steps with no handrails. I guess if they slipped it wouldn’t be a good omen for the fleet.

Mass is conducted at the chapel, with about 50 people standing reverently for the service. Then the relic comes down the steps, an even more dangerous journey, it seems to me.

Many priests march in a dignified line along the beach at the edge of Collioure bay, then load the relic onto the signature lanteen-rigged fishing boat of Collioure, the hull painted bright blue with two horizontal stripes, one yellow and one red. Leaving their shoes behind, the priests, and the mayor, board the boat for a quick trip around the bay. They return, retrieve their shoes, and escort the relic back to the church.

Red neckerchiefs

We have coffee and croissants with Valerie and Lorcan, and begin to walk home.

There’s a group of young people outside our friend Lawrence’s Café Sola, already drinking at 10:00 am. They’re all wearing red neckerchiefs designed for the 2006 festival, and I want one.

“Where can I get one of those neckerchiefs,” I ask.

Lawrence overhears.

“I have them,” he says, and promptly produces two. A young man ties them around our necks.

“Can I pay you?” I ask Lawrence.

“No,” he says.

Then he smiles slyly. “But give me ten euros for a round of drinks for all these wonderful young people.”

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shopping near Collioure

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 23, 2007

The neighboring village of Port Vendres, less than a mile south of Collioure, has a large well stocked supermarket, but is accessible only by car.In the other direction, accessible by car, bus or train, is the town of Argeles-sur-mer.

Our experience there includes Carrefour, a major department store on the outskirts of town, and the tiny English used book store in the town center.

Further to the north is Perpignan, on the outskirts of which is Auchan, an even larger department store, and Leroy Merlin, the Home Depot of France.

In the city of Perpignan is a wide variety of shopping. There’s a set of modern stores, including electronics, DVDs, and a home decorating boutique, in a marvelous old building 10 minutes walk from the train station.

Also in Perpignan is a Galeries Lafayette department store, not quite the equal of the flagship store in Paris, but that’s a very high bar. In Perpignan, Galeries serves Pat’s passion for gracious table and glassware.

Barcelona is two hours away by train or car. There’s an excellent department store, El Corte Ingles on Playa Cataluna, that we only discovered as we were leaving Europe last year. Of course, Barcelona is a shopping mecca, with many great stores, including one of the largest sporting goods stores in the world.

And then, of course, there’s Paris.

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narrow streets and tiny shops

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 23, 2007

There are no large stores in Collioure, but the village is full of boutique shops selling art, ceramics, espadrilles, jewelry, and women’s clothing.

One of our favorites is Majolique, which has three small shops selling their own handmade ceramics: colorful bowls, jugs, and dishes in primary blues, yellows and greens. We have purchased an olive oil cruet, several small serving bowls, and dishes, some of which we have brought back to Key West. This is also our first stop for presents. Check out their web site at …

www.roussillon-pyrenees.com/artisanat/artisanat-collioure-majolique.html.

Espadrilles are the favored footwear in Collioure, reflecting the area’s Catalan history, and they’re available all over town. Pat swears by them.

Artists have flourished in Collioure since the early 20th century visits of Matisse, Derain and Picasso. Sidewalk artists abound, some of considerable quality, and there are numerous art shops.

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