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* getting from New York to Maine … problems with Delta and Hertz

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 29, 2013

From New York we went to Maine, but getting there did not go as we had planned.

delta logo

We had booked an early Saturday morning flight from LaGuardia to Portland, ME. On Friday, I got an email from Delta, saying they had cancelled our flight and were re-booking us from LaGuardia to Detroit to Portland … on Sunday!

I called Delta and also Expedia, through whom we had made the reservation. Why was the flight cancelled, I asked, when 3 other flights from LaGuardia to Portland later on Saturday were still scheduled to go? Weather we were told. The whole east coast was a mess. New York airports were closed down.

This seemed strange to us, since we were actually in Manhattan and the weather was fine. I think Delta was not truthful, probably because weather-related delays do not obligate them to make refunds.

Of course Delta would not pay for the extra hotel night in New York. Amtrak was the alternative. We booked a Saturday morning train from New York to Boston, and changed the Hertz pickup from Portland to Boston. I cancelled the Delta flight and demanded a refund, which was at first refused. After some “additional discussion” Delta changed their mind and within two days had processed a full refund. I can’t be sure, but I think the fact we had booked through Expedia created some additional leverage.

The train ride to Boston was pleasant and uneventful.

hertz

We arrived at South Station Boston, where we had booked with Hertz to pick up our car. But there is no Hertz office at South Station. No car. No sign. No instructions. I spent 30 frustrating minutes on the phone – mostly on hold – before finally hearing an automated message that we had to take a taxi to another Hertz location in Boston, reimbursable up to $10.00.

The counter person at Hertz Park Place location was sympathetic and cheerful. She said they had not had a South Station office for a long time, and the branch manager was supposed to have changed the web site and put some kind of signage/instructions at South Station.

The branch manager was first “too busy to see us” and then unapologetic and brusque and full of “attitude” when she finally deigned to appear. She told me that my reservation said we would have to taxi to an other location, an assertion that turned out not to be true. Then she turned her back and walked into her office.

My subsequent conversations with Hertz customer service were intended to get that arrogant lady with attitude fired, or at least disciplined. I have no idea if I succeeded. I did receive several emails from a Hertz customer service representative, who had gone to the web site and confirmed that reservations could still be made for pickup at South Station. (NOTE: it has since been changed.)

Later, the rental car lost a/c and we had to make an exchange in the Portland airport. The attendant there was most helpful and went out of his way to get us a suitable replacement in record time.

Hertz is not a bad company, but they should really deal with that “bad apple” in Boston.

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Posted in ... 2013, planes, trains & automobiles | Leave a Comment »

* Arthur Frommer reminds us to appreciate the TSA’s efforts to keep us alive

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 10, 2012

Pat and Lew at Oxford with Arthur and Roberta

Arthur Frommer writes on his blog …

  • The people administering airports all over the world have adopted many of the same methods as our TSA has to insure that bomb-carrying terrorists are unable to blow us up.
  • You might want to reflect on the fact that it isn’t just the U.S. federal government that has come up with these procedures, but the governments of Great Britain, France, Germany, Scandinavia, Central and Eastern European countries, India, China, Thailand and elsewhere who have adopted the same procedures.
  • And you might then join me in responding to these sensation-seeking bloggers and other journalists with the strong declaration that we support the work of the TSA and welcome the care and concentration they devote to their security tasks.

http://www.frommers.com/community/blogs/blog.cfm/arthur-frommer-online/#ixzz237n9etLs

Posted in ... 2012, planes, trains & automobiles | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

* caution to Avis car renters in Europe … Avis purposely and systematically over-charges the conversion of your bill from euros to dollars

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 13, 2010

.


There’s a clause in Avis’ European Car Rental Agreements which says …

“I confirm that I was offered a choice of payment in euros but chose to be billed in US dollars. (US$538.13 at exchange rate 0.72 euros to US$1.”

If your experience is like mine, no one will ever point out that phrase or offer you a choice of payment in euros. The bill you see will be presented in euros and you will have no idea that it will be converted to dollars before it is sent on to MasterCard.

What makes this a scam is that the exchange rate used by Avis will be substantially higher than the published rate used by MasterCard for all merchants who submit their bills in euros. In my case, the Avis invented rate was 1.38 dollars per euro versus the published rate for that day of 1.28 dollars per euro, a difference which cost me $28.00.

Avis does not tell you that they will use their own invented rate instead of the published rate used by everyone else.

Even after the fact it is very difficult to get Avis to tell you how they calculated your bill. It took me a month of phone calls and numerous misrepresentations by Avis billing department personnel, but Avis today (7/13/10) finally admitted to me that they are purposely and systematically over-charging customers by using the inflated euro conversion rate and by use of the confusing and untruthful “you have confirmed” message on the Rental Agreement when it is issued.

Then they blamed me.

The nice Avis lady told me I gave permission to be over-charged by signing the Rental Agreement. As if anyone in their right mind would knowingly give permission to be over-charged!

Avis counts on you not reading the “you have confirmed” clause when you’re in a hurry to get your car at the rental counter, with a line of customers behind you, and then not checking your credit card bill when it arrives many weeks later. Note to Avis: You got me at the rental counter, but I do check my credit card bill.

As a courtesy, Avis says they will refund the $28.00, but many days have passed and no refund has yet been posted to my MasterCard.

It’s a nasty scam!

Avis, why can’t you try harder

to treat your customers fairly?

******

Posted in ... 2010, planes, trains & automobiles, problems | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

* Avis round 2 … Avis tries harder to cheat me every way they can … and when they’re found out, they make the refund

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 16, 2010

Avis adds an extra day and an incorrect fuel charge

to a bill they said was “final” …

and once again inflates the euro-to-dollar conversion rate

******

UPDATE … Avis has issued a refund

for the full amount of the overcharge.

*******

.

Before I knew the devious way Avis cheats its customers on the euro conversion (see * caution to Avis car renters in Europe … Avis purposely and systematically over-charges the conversion of your bill from euros to dollars), I had another car rental with Avis.

It was even worse than the 1st time …

Not only did they again jack up the euro conversion, even though, this time, I specifically asked to be billed in euros and not dollars, they also …

  • added an extra day car rental to the bill even though I returned the car precisely when the rental agreement said it should be returned
  • added a fuel charge even though I returned the car with a full tank
  • changed the bill even after I had asked and been told that the bill I had in my hand (from the time I picked up the car) was the final bill

What kind of company is this?

Once again, Avis has agreed to take all the extra charges off the bill, or at least they have submitted the adjustment for approval.

But what about all the people who don’t check their bills?

******

Posted in ... 2010, planes, trains & automobiles, problems | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

* a rocky trip from Collioure to Vilnius … “this is the adventure part”

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 11, 2009

It  started out bad; got much worse; there was a recovery (at great expense), then it was ok, and finally, all it all ended up with a really terrific conclusion.

We had long ago booked Ryanair flights from Perpignan to Stansted (London) and then the next morning from Stansted to Vilnius, overnight at the Radisson in Stansted.

So all we had to do was get from Collioure to the airport in Perpignan.

There were several alternatives, including a taxi from our apartment to the airport (roughly 50 euros). The other choice was to train from Collioure to Perpignan, then take the shuttle bus from the Perpignan train station to the Perpignan airport, which is what our British neighbors in Collioure do all the time. The appropriate shuttle bus was scheduled to leave the train station at 3:45 pm, arriving at the airport roughly 20 minutes later, in plenty of time for a 5:25 pm flight. The latest train to arrive in Perpignan before the shuttle would depart left Collioure at 1:00 pm, arriving in Perpignan at 1:20 pm.

Since the day we were leaving was also the day the Tour de France was arriving in Perpignan, I thought it would be wise to confirm the shuttle bus schedule for that day (July 8). I sent an email to the people who run the shuttle bus and received the following reply …

HI, There are shuttles buses at every arrival in front of the terminal. You buy tickets at the driver. For the 08th july the departure from the railway station is at 15h45 French local time. Bests regard. Marc FIANCETTE, ResponsableQualité Formation Développement, CCIPPO, Aéroport Perpignan Rivesaltes

So we had plenty of time. We walked, with our luggage (there’s no place to check it) about a half mile to the main street in Perpignan, which was the finish line for the Tour de France. We enjoyed the atmosphere, walked back to the train station, had a snack at the café across from the train station and waited for the 3:45 pm shuttle bus.

Which never came!

I inquired inside the train station and was advised that, due to the Tour de France, the shuttle bus was not running from the train station, but only from the bus station, 20 minutes walk away. It was now too late to get to the bus station, except by cab.

But there were no taxis!

No taxis to get to the bus station and no taxis to get to the airport. There are always taxis at the train station; today there were none. Maybe they took off to watch the race.

It is now after 4:00 pm, still plenty of time to get to the airport if we can find a way to get there. A man comes to drop his wife at the train station; she is going to Paris. We ask if he will take us to the airport, and he agrees to try, although the route he knows is blocked off because of the race. Pat and I get in his car; he kisses his wife goodbye, and off we go.

Around and around Perpignan, with blocked streets and confusing directions, the clock ticking away. Finally, we are on the road to the airport. We arrive at the airport at 5:10 pm; the Ryanair plane is still there. But the gate has closed, and we would have to be the premier of France to get them to open it again. We have missed our flight. Peter – that was the Good Samaritan’s name – leaves, we’ve thanked him profusely but barely learned his name, and in the confusion, no way to contact him. Peter, if you’re reading this blog, please get in touch with us.

We try to evaluate our options.

We have paid for the flight we missed, a hotel room at Stansted, and the next morning 7:00 am flight from Stansted to Vilnius. The Ryanair agent, a Mr. Delaporte (who was very helpful and considerate), explains that rebooking both flights for the next day will cost upwards of 600 euros ($840). Plus re-booking the hotel (another $200 or more). If the air seats and the hotel are even available. Plus staying somewhere for almost 24 hours until the flight leaves at 5:25 pm the next day. Total misery!

Pat asks, “Is there any other way to get to Stansted tonight?”

“Yes,” says Mr. Dellaporte. “There’s a 10:00 pm flight from Girona.”

Girona is more than two hours drive from Perpignan, across the border in Spain. We could rent a car, but the drop-off fee, for a pickup in  France and a drop in Spain, is almost $1,000. Plus the car rental itself.

So we’ll take a taxi. But … there are no taxis at the Girona airport.

I call Nicolas.

Nicolas is the Perpignan taxi driver we have used to go to Girona and to Barcelona, and who we also hired for our friends Cindy and Ron when they came to Collioure last summer. Nicolas answers his mobile at 5:45. “Can you get us to the Girona airport before 8:30 tonight?”

“Yes,” Nicolas says. “I’ll pick you up at the Perpignan airport at 6:15. You’ll make your flight.”

While I’m talking to Nicolas, Mr. Dellaporte is booking the change in flight to allow us to go from Girona to Stansted: 100 euros each for the re-booking, 40 euros each for the fact that we don’t check in on-line (how could we!), total 280 euros ($390).

By the way, we learned from Mr. Dellaporte that Ryanair knew the shuttle bus would not be running from the train station because of the Tour de France, and had posted a notice on their web site to that effect. But they did not take the next step, which would have been to send an email to all passengers leaving from Perpignan on July 8 to advise of the problem.

What do you think are the chances of getting Ryanair to reimburse me for the consequences of their failure to advise me of pertinent travel information?

At 6:25, Nicolas calls. “The traffic is terrible. The Tour is over and everyone is leaving. They’re all going to Girona which is where the next leg begins tomorrow morning. But don’t worry. I know back roads. I’ll be there in seven minutes.”

Seven minutes later, Nicolas arrives. We load the luggage, and off we go. We are now commitrted to the second Ryanair flight and to the taxi ride to Girona, with no guarantee that we’ll make it.

Nicolas takes us through back roads around the mess in Perpignan. We go through the village where he was born. There is some traffic as we approach the highway, and our hearts drop, but Nicolas says not to worry, we are in his hands now and we will make our flight.

And we do.

Usually, we negotiate a fare for a long distance trip with Nicolas. Tonight, however, is on the meter, and the fare increases at 7:00 pm. We arrive in Girona at 8:15 pm, the fare is 300 euros ($420).

We have now spent an extra $810 because Mr. Marc Fiancette told us there would be a shuttle bus at 3:35 pm. Had we known there was not going to be a shuttle, we could have taken a taxi and waited at the Perpignan airport. (There were plenty of taxis at the train station at 1:30.) Of course, had we known there was no shuttle, we could have taken a taxi from Collioure to the airport.

Could have, would have, didn’t.

What are my chances of getting anyone in the French railroad system to even consider reimbursing me for the consequences of Mr. Fiancette’s bad information?

Of course, Ryanair, with the best on-time record in the world, leaves 45 minutes late, all of which we have spent standing in line.

Our room at the Radisson is superb, although we only get 4 hours sleep. The 7:00 am flight leaves on time and arrives on time in Kaunus. Ryanair celebrates the on-time arrival with a flourish of horns.

Now the good part. Our home exchange partner was leaving Kaunus on the same Ryanair plane that brought us. He had arranged for his parents, who brought him and his wife to Kaunus, to wait and drive us back to Vilnius, saving us two more exchanges, more waiting, and who knows what other difficulties.

The parents were a delight. We chatted, learned a few words in Lithuanian, and then they gave us a driving tour of old town Vilnius, which is lovely.

As Pat and I say to each other on days like these, and there aren’t very many of them, “This is the adventure part.” Our life, and our travel which is such a big part of our life, is so wonderful that we can put up with an occasional “adventure.”

But … I’m still deciding how to deal with Mr. Fiancette and Ryanair. I want my $810 back!

Posted in ... 2009, planes, trains & automobiles, problems | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

* Key West to Collioure – May 2009

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 28, 2009

Getting there was more of an adventure than we wanted, but it worked out OK in the end.

On Monday morning, we were accompanied down our lane to the taxi by our great Key West neighbors Bill and Lane who helped with the 8 bags we were taking. This includes 4 bags to check (with 100 pounds of book) plus our carry-ons.

Checking in at the new Key West airport was a snap. The expanded facility is clean and functional, if not as “charming” as the old, and there was almost no one in the security line with us. We had loads of time, since I always leave earlier than necessary. This time, we had even more time. The plane coming in to take us to Tampa was late.

Continental AirlinesFirst, Continental announced it would be 24 minutes late and that all connections were still safe. That soon changed, and it became obvious that we could not make the connection from Tampa to Newark and then on to Barcelona.

I worked with the Continental gate agent (Norm Maxson) and he could not have been more helpful. We worked through any available options – there were not many – and ended up re-scheduling the last two legs of our trip for Tuesday instead of Monday. Continental provided both hotel and food vouchers in Tampa. Delayed flights happen, and in this case, Norm and Continental responded beautifully, including re-tagging our luggage to stay in Tampa and not fly on without us to Barcelona.

In Tampa, our room was in the Marriott at the airport. No shuttles, easy in and out.

However, we did have an adventure. Pat and I got CARDED! Should we be flattered or indignant?

We went to dinner at an Italian restaurant in the airport, ordered wine and our meals, and were all set for a pleasant and leisurely experience. Until the waiter re-appeared, saying we needed to show ID. We are both in our late 60s; I think we both look younger than our years, but this was ridiculous!

There was no visible sign stating this policy, nothing on the menu itself. I had ID with me, but Pat didn’t. I asked to see the manager, but he refused to make an exception. I told him I thought that was a bad decision, but he was unmoved.

We went back to our room for Pat’s ID and then went to Friday’s. Same policy, no visible signs, but we were told immediately when we ordered our wine. We were also told it was an airport-wide policy to deal with underage drinking. Stupid! But we were prepared and had our meal. Probably not as good as the Italian restaurant we had first chosen, but I refused to go back there. By the way, the Marriott restaurant in the same Tampa airport has no such carding policy.

The next morning, we watched President Obama nominate Judge Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, then flew to Newark and on to Barcelona. Before leaving, I called Hertz to push our reservation back a day. No problem.

The drive from Barcelona to Collioure was uneventful. I took a 15 minute “rest my eyes” break, not having slept much on the plane, and we arrived before 1:00 pm. It was exciting to return to our home in the south of France for our fourth summer.

Mostly unpacked now. Tomorrow, we’ll do our “setup the apartment shopping.”

For now, we sleep.

Posted in ... 2009, planes, trains & automobiles | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

* trains and web schedules … not always equal

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 4, 2007

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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* if you’re taking a train to Paris, book early

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 25, 2007

When I returned the car in Perpignan (from our Nice trip), the train back to Collioure was 25 minutes late. This is very unusual, but later I learn the reason.

We had planned to leave for Paris on the 6:04 am train Monday morning, but the ticket clerk says the local train from Collioure to Perpignan (where we connect with the Paris train) probably won’t be running. We can hope the train runs, arrange a taxi to Perpignan, or take the Sunday night overnight train which is direct from Collioure to Paris.

I choose the overnight, but in seats rather than the sleeper, which we used last year and which is awful, and we get an earlier transfer to Rouen, so we’ll end up with more time on Monday to see the D-Day sights.

I use our Senior Carte to get the discounts, but learn that I should have booked the tickets sooner. The way it works is like airline miles, with a 50% discount for a limited number of tickets and a 25% discount after the 50% tickets are gone. I get a mix of 50% and 25% discounts, and the cost of the round trip for two people is 279 euros.

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great Euro low-cost air search site

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 22, 2007

This site accesses all of the low cost airlines. Enter departure airport, get all destination airports from there. Choose a destination, get a booking page.

 http://www.flylc.com/directall-en.asp

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Adventures in Low-Cost Travel – New York Times – 4/22/07

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 22, 2007

 A great article for those travelling in Europe. Find it at

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/22/travel/22journeys.html?ref=travel

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changing rental cars in Mexico

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 13, 2007

                        

I reserved our car in Ajijic, Mexico, with Budget car rental, rather than one of the local operators, specifically because I felt more comfortable being able to talk to someone if there was a problem or a question. But it didn’t work out the way I had hoped.

The original car rental was from March 14 to March 24, 10 days. Then we decided to go to Puerto Vallarta for two days. I could park the car at the Guadalajara airport (~ $50.00 USD) or return the car and get a new rental upon our return to Guadalajara.

I called Budget’s international reservations number in the US (using Skype) to find out how much I would save, if anything, by splitting the rental into two, for 5 days and 3 days, rather than the original 10 days.

Unfortunately, Budget could not give me the answer. “We can’t get into your open contract.” Very frustrating. The Budget person was polite and apologetic, but not helpful.

“You’ll have to call the Budget counter at the Guadalajara airport,” she concluded.

“They speak Spanish, and I don’t,” I said.

“I’m very sorry,” she said.

I tried to call the Budget counter at the airport but I didn’t get through, so I don’t know if I would have found an English-speaking agent, but I doubt it. In any case, I had to solve the problem myself.

First, I reserved a car for the 3 days after our return from Puerto Vallarta. Now I knew that price. NOTE: You can always cancel a car reservation without penalty.

Then I entered dates for a 5 day rental, to learn what the charge would be, although I did not actually make that rental reservation. Adding the two rentals together, there was a savings of another $50.00. No parking, less car rental, $100.00 savings.

When I returned the car to Budget prior to our flight to Puerto Vallarta, the charge was exactly what the web site had calculated for a 5 day rental. We picked up the new car (which turned out to be the same car), upon our return.

Now, why couldn’t Budget, on the phone, have done the same calculations I did on their web site?

This small incident points out how important the internet is to the way we travel. You plan in advance, but you can also modify your arrangements as your plans change.

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Guadalajara airport

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 13, 2007

This is a small and welcoming place. Upon first arrival, we go to the designated luggage carousel and wait. Soon a representative arrives, asks us where we came from, and tells us that the luggage has been switched to another carousel. A little thing, but nice, done with a caring and professional attitude, appreciated. Good first impression.

The airport has a Starbucks, a small English book section, the usual array of duty free shops, and comfortable seating. It is like many second tier airports in Europe, which are so very preferable to the inhospitable, inefficient places most major airports have become.

When we return several days later for our trip to Puerto Vallarta, the airport is bustling at 7:00 am, so unlike the Miami terminal where we began our trip at a similar hour.

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a small absurdity on the train to Dublin

Posted by Lew Weinstein on March 9, 2007

                 

Sometimes little things happen which are so absurd they leave you absolutely dumbfounded, and whenever you recall the incident later, you can’t help but shake your head and smile. One of these episodes happens on the train from Cork to Dublin.

We’re in the latter stages of a long day … up early, train to Cork, walk around town, bus to the seaside village of Kinsale, then reverse the process. It’s been a nice day, but we’re tired and I’m thirsty. There was a vending machine at the station, but then we got in line to board the train and it was too late.

I perk up when I see a railroad employee pushing a small food cart down the aisle of the train. My thirst will soon be quenched.

“Do you have anything cold to drink?” I ask.

“No,” he says, without looking up or stopping.

I guess he’s at the end of a long day, too. Anyway, I give up on the idea of a cold drink. Just then, however, another passenger comes walking down the aisle carrying two cold beers. “Pardon me,” I ask, “do they have cold sodas wherever you bought those beers?”

“Yes, they do. There’s a counter in the next car.”

I look around for the guy with the cart, but he’s in the next car, and besides, what would I say to him anyway?

I get up and get my soda.

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driving too fast on the wrong side of the road

Posted by Lew Weinstein on March 9, 2007

                             

I don’t drive much at all any more, since we have no car. In fact, one of our important criteria in choosing to live in Key West and Collioure is that we don’t need a car in either place.

However, some of our retirement travel does require driving. Including a trip from Galway to Westport.

Unless you want to pay much more for an automatic drive, when you drive in Europe you’re going to be driving stick. Actually, this is fun for me, a throwback to “really driving.”

Pat, who never learned to shift gears, can’t share the driving, but we don’t take long trips anyway, so that doesn’t hinder us much. Maybe some day I’ll try to teach her, since it would be useful for her to know in case of an emergency.

In Ireland (and later in Australia), the stick is on the “wrong” side, so I’m shifting gears left handed. While also driving on the left side of the road. Fortunately, the pedals are the same as in America.

Every initial driving instinct is wrong, and I have to think constantly. It’s not relaxing in the least.

The hardest part for me is judging the space on the left side of the car. It’s even more frightening for the person sitting over there, since on the narrow Irish roads, there’s very little margin for error.

Pat has a tight stomach the entire way, urging me repeatedly to move away from the left edge of the road which is frequently a stone wall. But I can’t move, since there are only inches between the right side of the car and the center line of the two lane roads.

On top of that, Irish road signs share that “uncertain” characteristic of Irish oral directions, so there’s frequent uncertainty as to which road to take and when to turn.

Five minutes into our 2 ½ hour drive to Westport, we agree that we should have taken the train from Dublin to Westport and rented a car there, but it’s too late for that now. We have to tough it out.

Another problem is speed. Irish drivers go way too fast for the roads, often passing on narrow two lane roads, and a head-on collision frequently seems imminent. I’m tempted to look up accident statistics on the web, but I’m afraid it would be too terrifying.

I’m actually thrilled when I get behind a large, slow-moving truck or farm vehicle. Now I can drive more slowly and it’s not my fault.

We do get to Westport, and back, without incident. Except for the damage to our nerves and digestive systems.

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Ryanair to Dublin

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 28, 2007

Ryanair was Europe’s original low fare airline and is still Europe’s largest low fare carrier. This year, Ryanair says it will carry over 35 million passengers on 346 low fare routes across 22 European countries, utilizing 15 European bases and a fleet of over 100 Boeing 737-800 aircraft. They claim a team of 3,500 people, comprising over 25 different nationalities.

We get in line to check in, although it’s still 30 minutes before they’re scheduled to open the line. I bring a tray from the café and have my dinner standing in line. 

The weight limit is 15 kilos each. We packed and weighed carefully. My bag is 15 kilos, Pat’s is 15.5. There’s no charge for the extra half kilo, and they never weigh our carryons. Other passengers have significant carryon, which must be more than 10 kilos allowed. Nobody bothers them, a lesson for next time.

The flight leaves and arrives on time. The plane is clean and comfortable. Food and drink are available for purchase.

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* train to Girona

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 28, 2007

sncf

Our Ryanair flight to Dublin leaves from Girona in Spain. To get to the Girona airport, we train from Collioure to Port Bou, just across the Spanish border, then from Port Bou to Girona, and then by shuttle bus from the train station to the airport. It’s not the easiest of trips, especially with (too much) luggage.

The train from Collioure to Port Bou is a few minutes late, which is unusual. French trains are usually precisely on time. The delay had to do with a defective air conditioner. Unfortunately, they didn’t get it fixed, and it’s over 90 degrees outside, with no circulation inside. The good news is that it’s only a 20 minute ride to Port Bou.

In Port Bou, we buy our tickets to Girona. Buying tickets separately seems to be much less expensive than purchasing the through ticket in Collioure. I don’t know why.There’s a wait in Port Bou but the station has a relatively nice café.

A young lady offers to share her table. She’s a musician who plays viola for the BBC Orchestra, on her way to Girona to mentor a young people’s orchestra giving a concert next week. The train to Girona is also without air conditioning, but the conversation is good and the hour goes quickly, except for another 20 minute delay at some dusty stop with no station.

At the Girona train station, we catch the (air conditioned) shuttle bus to the airport.

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low cost airlines

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 23, 2007

Since the inception of low cost airlines, many destinations in Europe are now less expensive by air than by train.

We’ve flown Ryanair to Dublin, booking our tickets on the web (http://www.ryanair.com/site/EN/). Sometimes, if the flight is not full, they will offer tickets for a one euro, or even a penny. You still have to pay the taxes, which might be 25 euros, but still, what a bargain.

The flights are a delight. If there’s any kind of question, however, contacting Ryanair by phone is very difficult.

The other issue is luggage. I think the low cost airlines may make more money on overweight luggage charges than they do on the tickets. So be careful. Weigh everything, and give yourself a slight margin for error. I will say they have given us a one kilo grace without extra charge.

There are other budget airlines. We flew Wizzair (http://wizzair.com/) to Budapest and it was excellent. Although the startling pink and purple planes were even more distracting than the unusual name.

We’ve never flown Easyjet (http://www.easyjet.com/en/book/index.asp) but have heard good things.

From Collioure, flights on low cost airlines are available from Perpignan and Carcassonne in France, and from Girona in Spain. Some destinations have daily flights, some less frequent, but you can reach almost anyplace in Europe.

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organization of the train

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 23, 2007

When you have a reserved seat on a train, you have to find the right car, and do so quickly, because the train doesn’t stay in the station very long. If you board the wrong car, you will have a difficult passage through narrow aisles with all your luggage. This is not fun.

Our friend Karl pointed out to us that most stations have an electronic signboard which lists the exact sequence of cars in the next train and gives a platform location for each car.

So easy when you know.

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don’t take the sleeper

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 23, 2007

We’ve enjoyed sleeper trains with a private compartment in other European countries. We bought first class tickets on the sleeper train from Collioure to Paris, expecting similar privacy, but instead we were in a four berth compartment. When we entered, there were people on the lower two berths, plus a dog in a cage.

The dog was never a problem.

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always ask twice

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 23, 2007

We’re in Paris, with a ticket on the 11:24 am train to Collioure. It’s only 7:00 am and there’s an 8:24 am train.

“Can we exchange?”

“Certainly, monsieur, but only first class is available. It will cost another 125 euros.”

We decide to take a walk instead. About twenty minutes later, Pat suggests asking a different ticket agent the same question.

Lo and behold, we get a different answer. Second class tickets are available. The price difference, reflecting a rush hour train, is only 29 euros. We buy the tickets at 8:10 and easily make the train.

Our seats are close but not together. The second ticket agent took the time to search for two singles. The first agent couldn’t be bothered.

We’re in France, where the consumer is never king, and service is not our job. Always polite, always with a smile, but never going that extra step.

Well, almost never. The second guy did.

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the train goes everywhere

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 23, 2007

The train, located less than 100 yards from our apartment, is a major amenity for us, as well as a necessity. Trains in France, and throughout much of Europe, are clean, comfortable, and on time.

Travel by trains has become much more affordable for us since we purchased our Carte Senior. For 53 euros per year (each), we are entitled to 50% off all tickets if available. If the senior allotment has been used up, then we get 25% off. We made back our investment on our first round trip to Paris.

Unfortunately for visitors, you have to be a resident of France to get the senior discount. Even without it, trains are often cheaper and always easier than driving.

TIP: Ticket early. Many reserved trains will fill up. If you can, book way in advance. You can always get a refund, or exchange tickets (if available), if your plans change.

LEW

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where’s the car?

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 22, 2007

We disembark in Perpignan and find ourselves on the middle platform. There are steps down and an elevator up into the station, but no carts and no porters. We’re unwilling to let our luggage or boxes out of our sight, so we set up a relay.

Pat guards the remaining suitcases and boxes while I carry and drag one at a time about fifty yards to the top of the stairs, leaving them in sight as I return for the next. Same process down the stairs and along the underground corridor to the escalator.

Thank goodness for the up escalator. What’s this? They’re shutting down the elevator. Pat pleads. I plead. Someone takes pity and keeps the elevator running. We get the bags up.

We’ve arranged to pick up a rental car in Perpignan. The in-town Budget car rental office closes at 5:00 pm, and it’s now 4:30, which is why we were so anxious to get the early train.

I find the office, just down the street from the train station. It’s closed!

Now we’re stranded in Perpignan, with more luggage and boxes than we can possibly manage, and no car.

Next to the closed Budget office is a Hertz office, open. As happens so often in France, the young woman at the counter is as helpful as can be. She calls Budget’s other office at the Perpignan airport, and within 10 minutes, they’ve returned to get us.

We drive 37 kilometers (22 miles) and arrive at our apartment in Collioure. I put the key in the lock and turn it. Nothing happens.

I can’t unlock the door. I remember vaguely that there is something different about this lock, but I can’t remember what. We stand in the hallway, frustrated by our long trip, not knowing what to do.

Then suddenly, there is our neighbor Brigitte, an angel from heaven, walking down the hall to greet us. She opens the door and we’re home in Collioure. We raise the electric gate and stare at the magnificent mountain view.

For about five minutes.

Then we collapse into bed and sleep until mid-morning the next day.

LEW

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Paris Gare Lyon

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 22, 2007

It’s January. We own a 300 square foot apartment in southern France we haven’t seen since the previous July. We’re going to spend much of the summer in Collioure, but we can’t wait that long.

We decide to fly over to begin making our new home comfortable and connected. This time, we decide to fly to Paris (instead of Barcelona), take the train to Perpignan, and rent a car to drive to Collioure.

We lug along two oversize boxes, checked as luggage, containing art work and photos to hang on our apartment walls. In fact, we have so much luggage we can’t fit into a normal taxi at Charles de Gaulle airport, and have to wait for a larger van taxi.

The trip from the airport to the Gare Lyon train station in Paris takes about 30 minutes in moderate traffic. We’ve been worried for days about transferring our luggage and making the morning train. The next train isn’t until many hours later. But we make it with time to spare.

Outside the station, two men with carts magically appear as we exit the taxi. Who are they? Should we trust them? They turn out to be free-lance entrepreneurs waiting to serve the weary and confused.

They rush the carts to the ticket windows, wait for us to purchase our tickets, and then hustle us to the platform and to the train, which has not yet begun boarding passengers. They open the door. We’ll be the first to board.

Is it the right train? Our new friends the luggage handlers insist it is, but between their poor English and our worse French, we’re not sure. Then I see a small sign on the side of the train with the same train number as on our ticket.

Thus encouraged, we board and negotiate a fee for the services provided. We settle on 20 euros, which we regard as more than fair for helping us over logistics problem we had worried about for days. Next time, we’ll do it ourselves, but for this first time, we feel it was well worth the expense.

The train ride from Paris to Perpignan is pleasant and comfortable, and the food, like all food in France, is excellent.

LEW

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best site for European train schedules

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 22, 2007

 

We use the train extensively. In fact, we selected our Collioure apartment in part because it was close to a train station. But I spent many hours trying to find and interpret schedules, both the little printed schedules available in the stations, and several very poor web sites, before I found the Route Planner at

http://plannerint.b-rail.be/bin//query.exe/en?L=profi&en=++++English++++

This site offers user-friendly entry of all European stations, along with desired travel date and time of day, and then provides all of the resulting schedules, with intermediate stops and layover times (try Paris to Moscow – 39 hours with 7 changes, but you can get there).

The only complication is that there may be several stations at major locations, so you have to choose the one you want to get the schedule.

LEW

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packing 93 books

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 22, 2007

Pat and I like books. Lots of books.

As we head off to the “land of no Barnes & Noble,” both of us are terrified that we will run out of books to read. Collioure, we believe, has no English book shops.

So we take 93 books with us for our first summer abroad, including fiction, non-fiction, and research for my next novel.

93 books weigh a lot. We explore many expensive ways to ship them, but in the end decide that the least expensive solution i sto pay the overweight luggage fee. We pack two suitcases and two boxes, even a few ounces under the 70 pound max.

Our flight over involves several connections, and the boxes barely make it.

Later in the summer, we find a used English book store in a neighboring town, and we also buy 25 more books in Ireland and Australia. Most we read, and some are left in Collioure for next summer.

LEW 

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