TRAVEL with pat and lew

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new friends in Perth – home exchange family and friends

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 22, 2007

New friends are one of the great benefits of travel, especially home exchange travel where you live in a community rather than a hotel.

We arrive at the international Perth airport after midnight on a Sunday night/Monday morning, and move easily through passport, customs, and baggage. We use our cell phone, which we haven’t used in months, to call John, Fran and Claude’s son-in-law who is to meet us at their house. The taxi takes 30 minutes and costs $60 (Australian, about $45 USD).

John, a police officer used to odd hours, meets us at the magnificent Hillarys Harbor property at 2:00 am and shows us around, inside and out. An American from Chicago, he seems excited to talk with Americans. We look forward to meeting again.

The next morning, we’re sitting on the terrace and hear a voice from below. It’s Barry, from next door. Each month, the twelve Hillarys Harbor town house owners get together for breakfast.

“You’re invited,” says Barry. “You can be Fran and Claude.”

We meet eight of our temporary neighbors, all of whom become familiar faces to wave and speak to as our month in Perth goes on.

John drives us around Perth, a police officer’s tour, and we see aspects of the city not usually part of the tourist experience … the homeless he has arrested in the park … the hospital … beautiful town houses in West Perth, with totally different architectural styles abutting one against the other. It sounds like it couldn’t possibly work, but it actually does, creating an unusual but pleasing effect. John also takes us through the lively shopping area of Subiaco, to which we will return.

John and his wife Rebecca invite us to their home for an Aussie barbeque. The driving directions are simple and we arrive around 6:00 o’clock. Rebecca’s two sisters are there, plus 4 kids and a dog. John cooks steaks, hot dogs, Italian sausage. The food is great, and the conversation better.

Fran calls from Collioure while we’re there. She’s amazed by our trip to Broome and Fitzroy Crossing.

The interactions we’re having in Perth are being replicated in Collioure. A few nights later, we get another call from Fran. Our friends Valerie and Lorcan are with them in our apartment.

Valerie gets on the phone.

“Too bad you’re not here,” Valerie says. “We’re having a grand time, sitting on your terrace, drinking your wine. Fran and Claude are great.”

Someday, we hope to meet Fran and Claude. Meanwhile, we exchange emails.

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lunch with our home exchange partner

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 13, 2007

Usually, in a home exchange, you don’t get to meet your exchange partner. But this is a non-simultaneous exchange, so Anne was there to greet us to her home, and a few days later, we have lunch with Anne and her friend Bill.

Anne has suggested Pedro’s Gourmet restaurant in the midst of old-town Ajijic. We arrive first, and Pedro, who turns out to be Peter, seats us.

Anne and Bill arrive. Our conversation includes a review of the Home Exchange Instructions for Guests (in Collioure) which I gave to Anne the day we arrived. She has questions, which I try to answer.

The logistics of getting from Ajijic to Collioure are not simple. We discuss options, but do not reach conclusions. I offer to help more as their plans develop.

Peter comes by, and tells us he is singing in a concert next Friday, our last night in Ajijic. We buy tickets (150 pesos each), as do Anne and Bill, so we will see them again. Bill picks up the tab for lunch, over my objections.

ps. the concert was excellent, and a wonderful way to spend our last night in Ajijic. There were 60 voices in the chorus, all local, supported by an orchestra of local high school students. It was great.

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dinner with Una

Posted by Lew Weinstein on March 2, 2007

One of the really great pleasures of our retirement travel plan, which we hope will continue to expand, is that we have made great new friendships in many wonderful places.

We bought our apartment in Collioure from Una (see finding our perfect apartment ), but it’s been a year since we’ve seen her. As soon as arrangements were set for our home exchange in Dublin, Pat corresponded with Una and she invited us to dinner.

Her friend Con will pick us up at 7:30. We decide to wait outside at 7:25, so he won’t have to find a parking spot, but he’s already there when we emerge, and we’re immediately immersed in his great Irish smile and manner.

I, of course, head for the front right door, the passenger door in the U.S., but the driver’s door throughout most of the present and former British empire. Everyone smiles, and I sheepishly retreat to the other side.

Una’s house is on the outskirts of Dublin, and what a magnificent property it is, the house set in the midst of lush quiet grounds. There’s a large kitchen, formal sitting rooms, and a delightful veranda, where we settle down to eat.

Una’s friend Mary, who was with her when we first met in Collioure, is here as well. The conversation is non-stop, intelligent, and full of laughter. Rosé, white and red wines complement rack of lamb, fruit, cheese, and salad. The evening is cool and the sky is filled with stars. Life is good.

Una is a great reader with an eclectic collection of books in her wood-paneled library. We’ve read many of the same authors. She invites me to choose a book to take with me, and I pick Enduring Love by Ian McEwan, a famous Irish author I have not read.

Coincidences. The following January, at the Key West Literary Seminar, I meet Mr. McEwan and tell him how riveted I was by the opening scenes of Enduring Love, which describe a horrible accident in a helium balloon.

Una tells me how much she enjoyed my novel, The Heretic, but how fearful she was, before she read it, that she wouldn’t like it, since she thought the DaVinci Code was awful.

“How did Dan Brown ever get published?” she asks.

I guess 40 million copies pretty much answers that question. Whatever its flaws, it tells a story that captivated the world. I should write such an awful novel.

A little more wine and a lot more glorious conversation, and Una calls a taxi for us. What a wonderful first 24 hours in Dublin. 

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a writer from Argeles

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 28, 2007

While waiting in the Girona airport for our flight to Dublin, Donna hears us speaking “American,” and introduces herself.

A writer, she lives in Argeles-sur-mer, the neighboring town just north of Collioure. Originally from Boston, despite 18 years in Europe, she still has more than remnants of a delightful accent.

She’s on her way to Dublin for a conference on credit unions, which is what she writes about.Donna gives us her card, so we can email and establish contact upon return, and perhaps learn more about the flourishing art community in Argeles..

Best of all, she gives us the fantastic news that her friend operates a used book store – English used books – in Argeles.

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expats in Collioure

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 23, 2007

Valerie and Lorcan

Pat first met Valerie by email, seeking a home exchange in Collioure. That never happened, but Valerie led us to Una and our home (see finding our home in Collioure).

We subsequently met Valerie and her husband Lorcan, they have become regular and wonderful companions.

In mid-July, we invite Valerie and Lorcan, and her brother and sister-in-law Ann from New York, to cocktails on our terrace. It’s a perfectly delightful evening. Conversation never lags, everybody laughs. Lorcan sits so quietly you almost forget he’s there, and then he pipes in with a hilarious comment.

We show our Budapest pictures – too many, but everybody loves the Szechenyi baths.

Ann is reading Valerie’s copy of The Heretic. She brought a pile of books with her, but Valerie decrees she must read this one first. Ann is full of questions about the research and the characters, and excited to know I’m working on the sequel. But we can’t really discuss that because we don’t want to spoil the rest of her read.The conversation ranges widely.

We repeat the story of how Valerie helped us find our apartment, and she insists we tell the story of “stealing” the shopping carts from IKEA in Montpellier.

“Listen now to what these fine upstanding people did.”

But the biggest laughter is reserved for my 13 page Home Exchange Instructions for Guests, complete with 45 photos. Valerie insists I show what I’ve written. Ann calls it a “thesis” and Valerie, chortling, manages to say it’s a “Ph.D. in Home Exchange.”

It’s well after midnight before we finish the last of four bottles of wine and call it a night.

Frazier and Ann

We’re relaxing on our terrace and are surprised to see someone on the terrace above us. It’s the first time anyone had been there. Turns out to be a couple from York in England, with a friend of theirs. They’ve just purchased the unit and are here getting it in shape, just like we did in January.

They come down to see our apartment, and we agree to have dinner later in the week.When the day comes, we stroll down to the village about 8:00 pm and wander until we find a restaurant to our liking. There is, at first, the usual talk, how we each learned about Collioure and made our purchases.

Then we listen spellbound while Frazier tells about his project working in Romania with orphaned children.

He describes abandoned children who spend all of their lives in hospitals, sometimes tied to their beds. His work is to try to rehabilitate them with play therapy. Some respond rapidly. These, Frazier believes are the ones who were born normal but were damaged by the way they were treated. Others, perhaps retarded from birth, respond less. All are, and will always be, significantly under-sized.

After dinner there was live jazz on the plaza near the beach.

Rose and Mike

Rose and Mike live next door to us. We meet Rose first, in June. She says hello and promptly climbs over the low wall between our terraces to join us.

She and her husband Mike, and son Alex, are from London, and they are in Collioure several times over the summer, sometimes together, sometimes just one.  

Rose was a great help in my dealings with France Telecom (see problems).

She read both of my novels, and I took a photo of her holding both books. She was one of the first to read the as yet unpublished A Good Conviction, and was quite helpful in finding typos which had eluded me and all the previous readers.

We have many conversations with Mike towards the end of the summer, share strategies for discouraging the cats which by then had become an annoyance, and have dinner with him in town the night before we go to Australia.

Una

Of course we had met Una the previous summer when we bought her apartment, but we hadn’t seen her since, not having been in Collioure at the same time.

The next time we see her, it’s in Dublin. Pat and Una had been corresponding by email, so she knew we were coming, and she invited us to her home for dinner.

Her friend picked us up at our Dublin exchange house, and both he and Mary, who we had met in Collioure the previous summer, joined the dinner party. We also met Una’s daughter, the one Pat had called who told us Una was in Collioure.

Una has a magnificent home behind high hedges on the outskirts of Dublin, and she had prepared a wonderful meal. Later in the summer, Una comes to Collioure and seems pleased at how we’ve enjoying her former apartment.

The next day, we get an email. “I’ll be at Templiers at 10:00 tonight.”

We join her for wine and late night talk.

Later, as walk back up the hill to our apartment, we reflect on just how active and delightful our Collioure social life has become.

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Collioure natives

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 23, 2007

Sam

Sam (the realtor), who speaks perfect English, was the first breakthrough. Not only is he an excellent realtor, but he is friendly and he became our friend. Whenever we had a problem, we could go to his office or call on his cell phone, and he was always willing to help. He found us a plumber. He told us how and where to pay our taxes. He came to our apartment to help get our Wanadoo connection connected. And we didn’t even buy our property through him.

Madeleine

Madeleine, who works with Sam, is a gem. We first met her when she opened up Kristina’s apartment on our first visit to Collioure in 2005. She always has a big smile and a cheerful word. It was very exciting for us, strangers in Collioure, to cross paths with Madeleine and her husband one night walking through the village.  

One day in her office, we discuss my novel The Heretic, and Madeleine says she would like to read it. I’m happy to loan her a copy (I only have two with me in Collioure), but she says it will take her a while to read a novel in English, something she has never done before.

I give her the book just before we go off to Australia for a month, and receive this email shortly before we return:

Hello Pat and Lew! Hope you are healthy and happy! I thank you again to have given to me the chance to read your book ! I really enjoy to read it: – at first because of the style, it’s easy to read, and understand the story of this family and the historic facts. And also because I had the feeling to live (maybe) the story of my own family (born in Spain and being obliged to leave and go to Algeria!) I have learned a lot and would be happy to see you when you come back to Collioure to speak about it. A bientot and all the best for you both. Madeleine.

This was the first time we had any inkling that Madeleine’s ancestors had been Spanish Jews, subjected to the same persecution faced by my fictional family in The Heretic.

Lawrence

Lawrence owns Café Sola, the sports bar at the very center of town. On our first trip to Collioure in 2005, his imperfect internet connection was the only game in town. We used it every day, and when it didn’t work, Lawrence let us use his own computer in the back room. It’s a great pleasure for us to wave hello to Lawrence almost every day we walk through town. ps. he now has a better internet connection.

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Who will we talk to?

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 23, 2007

One of our biggest worries in living abroad is that we would have no friends. We’re in a new place, we don’t speak the language. Who will we talk to? Will we be lonely?

This was less concern for me, since much of my time would be taken up in writing, which is after all a solitary activity. But for Pat, who is far more social to begin with, it is a real issue.

Not to worry …

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Brigitte comes to dinner

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 22, 2007

I love to cook, although I still classify myself as a beginner. So why not invite our neighbor Brigitte to dinner?

Well, there were lots of reasons. The apartment, without the terrace available for eating since it’s too cold, is too small for company. And how dare I think I can cook an interesting meal for a French woman who is probably a real cook?

Finally, we’re leaving early the next morning for Montpellier and IKEA, so cleaning up afterwards will cut into our sleep time.

Undaunted, the invitation is offered and accepted.

We squeeze the chairs around the too-large table in the too-small kitchen, now made smaller by the clothes washer. Brigitte arrives and it turns out fine.

We talk, using a French-English dictionary that Brigitte has brought and our little Franklin electronic translator.

We eat, and Brigitte says the potato encrusted salmon is good. She’s very polite.

“You know,” Brigitte says as we ate our pastry dessert (purchased, not home baked), “French people do not go to each other’s homes to eat. We go out together to restaurants, but only family gather to eat at home.”

We are appalled at our social blunder, and then pleasantly surprised.

“But this is good,” Brigitte says. “When you come back in June, I’ll invite you to my apartment for dinner.”

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