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* Preparing for year 3 (2008)

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 24, 2008


We’ve spent a delightful and quite busy winter season in Key West, with no travel except two trips to New Jersey and Manhattan to visit with children and friends. Now we’re looking forward to our third summer of European travel adventures. 



Once again, we’ll be based in our apartment in Collioure, France. So far, we have trips scheduled to Sicily, Paris (3 times for a total of 4 weeks), Amsterdam, and Prague. We also plan to continue our explorations of France, including visits with our friends in the Loire Valley, and will probably add some time in Vienna to our Prague trip.

Plus, whatever else occurs to us or comes along.

Maybe we’ll even do our fantasy Ryanair trip, where we go to the Girona airport, with carryons and passports in hand, but no destination chosen, looking for a one cent flight to somewhere we’ve never been. And without a guidebook!

Here’s an overview of our preparations for year 3 …

Home Exchange

Pat has been productive arranging home exchanges, for all three Paris trips and for Amsterdam. We tend to start looking for exchanges earlier than most, but during March the floodgates opened and it seemed we got an exchange request almost every day. Some excellent exchanges have been “stockpiled” for 2009.

We’re very pleased with our decision last fall to continue our membership in , a conclusion we reached only after carefully looking at many other home exchange sites. We like the quality and quantity of the listings on, as well as the ease of editing our own site.

Preparation for travel

Reading – guidebooks, travel essays, history, and novels – is an important part of our preparation for travel. Some books we read in advance, others we’ll take with us to read just before each particular trip. We’ve been buying books ever since our return to the ‘new world” last fall, mostly from but also including two wonderful trips to Barnes & Noble, in Manhattan and Fort Lauderdale. Amazon offers incredible selection and search capability, but there is something very special to us in wandering the stacks of B&N, actually touching the books. This is the best way to compare travel books to see which best fits our needs.

Financial arrangements

All of our bills, in Key West and France, will be paid automatically or via electronic pay –  the same as in prior years. (There are several articles on this site which provide details of how we do this, and I’ll be happy to respond to any questions you have.)

Medical issues: HTH and AARP

We’ve purchased the same travel HTH TravelGap Excursion policy as in prior years. The policy provides 100% coverage for all medical expenses during our trip, including pre-existing conditions. It requires that we continue to maintain our underlying US medical insurance. For more details, you can check out the HTH site at 

Getting six months prescription medicines to take with us was every bit as difficult as in prior years. We have the AARP Rx plan, and it was a nightmare.

I started in February, anticipating aggravation, and I was not disappointed. The policy of AARP allows a 3 month vacation override. We need 6 months, and in one case 7 because the “month” supply for one of our medications is actually only 28 days. When we explain this to AARP clerks, they mindlessly repeat that only 3 months is possible, and offer no suggestions. We tell them that we did obtain 6 months’ supply in each of the last two years, but they don’t listen. “It’s not possible,” they repeat. I get someone to try, and she finally gets back to me that all is arranged, but when the pharmacist tries to place the order, it is rejected.

I spent 6 frustrating hours on the phone before I reached someone high enough in the AARP management chain to be allowed to actually think. She directs me to someone who she says will solve the problem.

But they don’t. The resulting email suggestion is infantile and unresponsive. More phone calls. Another wasted hour. Finally, I find Chad, and he does what the others couldn’t or wouldn’t. We have our meds for 2008.

I ask Chad to place a note in our AARP file that the 6 month vacation override is permitted. And to send me a copy of his note by email so I can refer to it next year. It takes four more phone calls and another two weeks, but finally it’s done. Maybe next year will be easier.

Skype and Slingbox

We have continued our Skype connection, renewing our Skype-In phone number which allows our children to call us in France by making a local call in the US. We also got all the web cameras working so we can see our children and grandchildren (5 and another on the way).

Slingbox continues to be an important part of retaining our connections and following the US presidential election campaign while abroad. Just think … “Morning Joe” live (at noon) in Collioure!

Movies, movies, movies

Last November, I purchased a 150 gigabyte external hard disk. In addition to backing up our regular computer files, the external hard disk, which we will take with us, is now the repository of 50 movies and numerous travel shows.

The movie process involved a sequence of steps: (1) download from Comcast via DVR; (2) copy from Comcast DVR to DVD’s, using our new DVD recorder; (3) upload from the DVD’s to the hard disk, using 1-Click DVD software.

Time to pack

We’ll be posting articles about each of our trips this summer, and also about any new experiences in Collioure. Right now, however, it’s time to pack.




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* From Key West to Collioure – May 17 to 19, 2007

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 16, 2007

Thursday, 5/17/07, Key West

Our Love Lane neighbor Steve took me to the airport to get our rental car, and then I took Steve and Karin, a couple of hours later, back to the airport. They’re flying to their home in Vermont and we won’t see them again until November.

It’s been a good winter season in Key West, and we’re looking forward to Collioure, but we will miss our Key West friends.

Today we finish packing. We’re allowed 4 suitcases, 50 pounds each. The overage fee is $50.00 per bag, up to 70 pounds, and we’re anticipating at least one “over-weight” bag.

Since we left a lot of clothes in Collioure last fall, and since we have almost no household articles to take over as we did last year, the main issue is books.

We’ve been buying books like crazy since we returned to Key West, and we have about 135 books as possible to take. Pat has fiction and non-fiction, I have books about writing, novels to read for my “education of a novelist” project (see my blog of that name), research related to Lorenzo de Medici and his times, for my next novel, plus more novels just for fun.

Both of us decide we have more than we can possibly read in the 24 weeks we’ll be away, and we begin to prune.

The new rolling carryon, which will not be weighed, contains both laptops and as many books as we can stuff in. We pack the four suitcases to be checked, and we’re close enough, if we delete a few more books and adjust the weight between bags, to get each bag at 49.5 pounds. I have done more weight-lifting than I’ve done in months, and my arms and back will feel it tomorrow.

We go to Sarabeth’s for dinner, and our friend David, who runs the place, says he’s honored that we chose to spend our “last supper” with him. We try to say goodbye to Bill and Lane, but they’re still out for dinner when we go to bed early in anticipation of an early departure the next morning.

Friday, 5/18/07, Key West to Collioure

Pat opens the gate at 5:00 am and is startled by our neighbor Lane standing right outside the gate, on her way over to say goodbye. Bill soon follows. It’s really a blessing for us to have such great neighbors. Bill will check our house all summer, including letting in the exterminator for a monthly treatment.

We go through the final items on our checklist, the last of which is to set the air conditioning at 84 degrees, same as last year, and necessary to keep the moisture down during the Key West summer months.

Neighbors Joe and Todd are not home, so we’ve used their parking space, to which we roll our suitcases, load up, say goodbye to Bill and Lane, and head off for what we hope will be another summer of adventure and fun in Europe.

We’re driving to Fort Lauderdale, since the difference in flying from Key West or starting in FLL is substantial. It also gives us a chance to see our friend Eileen, who will meet us someplace near the airport. It’s a four hour drive, through most of which Pat sleeps.

We call Eileen when we’re nearing Fort Lauderdale, she gives directions, and we promptly miss our exit and are soon heading to Naples through the Florida Everglades. We turn around, call Eileen again. She notes our new position, gives new directions.

Always leave early. If you do, you can absorb these little blips without too much panic.

“I’m in my car,” she says as the conversation continues, “on my way to rescue you.”

We meet up on the road, and head together for bagels and coffee. Pat tells Eileen the story of Kevin’s surprise the previous weekend when we were in Cherry Hill, in part to celebrate his attainment of a Master’s Degree from Rutgers School of Social Work. The graduation is Monday night, and on Saturday afternoon there’s a party for Kevin at his father’s house. At the party are the parents, brother and grandmother of Kevin’s girlfriend Dawn.

Kevin assembles the guests and says he wants to express his appreciation for all of the support we have all provided during his long path to graduation (he is now 42).

“Nobody has been more supportive than Dawn,” he says. “You all know how I feel about her, and in case you don’t, I’ll make it clear.”

With that, he drops to his knee, and surprises everyone, including the soon-to-be bride, by saying, “Dawn, will you marry me, now.”


 It takes a few seconds for us to gather the import of the word “now,” but we understand fully when we turn around to see a minister in the room, along with the township clerk who has brought the marriage license, which Kevin has signed but not Dawn.

Dawn says “yes,” flowers and rings appear, the wedding party forms, and the marriage ceremony unfolds in front of the stunned but happy families.

Eileen asks the same question others have asked. “Didn’t Dawn miss having a wedding?”

We explain that they had been planning to get married some time after graduation, and that they said they were going to go away and tell the families after the wedding was over. Kevin’s surprise was to include both families, and Dawn was thrilled.

After bagels and coffee with Eileen, we tank up the rental car and drive to Budget at Fort Lauderdale airport. Incidentally, anyone with a choice between Fort Lauderdale and Miami airports should choose Fort Lauderdale, far more convenient in every way.

The Budget guy sees all of our luggage and offers to drive us to the check-in gate. He asks for nothing, and we give him a big tip for saving us a long walk with four large bags plus carryon. A very nice service from Budget.

We’re still early. We check our four carefully weighed bags, but US Airways never actually weighs any of them. Given our last experience, when our suitcase to Philadelphia was ticketed for Hartford, CT, we make sure all four bags are properly ticketed for Barcelona.

The flight to Philadelphia is uneventful. On the transfer to Terminal A from Terminal C, the new rolling carryon pays big dividends. Nothing to carry. What a difference!

We board for Barcelona, and have an aisle-window to ourselves. The carryon doesn’t fit in the overhead until I remove two books from the outer flap. The seats are leather, and we have more leg room than we had anticipated. We read, eat and sleep, and wake up over Spain.

 Saturday, 5/19/07, Collioure

Barcelona Airport is by now familiar to us. The luggage arrives, and we instantly spot each of our bags among the many black bags since we had placed bright yellow strips of tape on all 6 sides of each piece. We load up two carts (free everywhere except the US) and roll away to the Budget counter, which in this airport is the Avis counter.

Our plan is to drive to Collioure and then use the car for shopping over the next two days, so we have rented a larger car than usual, a four door Volvo with a hatchback. Our flight arrived at 8:30 am and by 9:30 we are on the road.

The hardest part of the drive is leaving the Barcelona Airport and finding the road north that leads to France. I have missed this once before, but this time the A7 appears on schedule. The ride takes about 1 1/2 hours, and our excitement grows as we approach our magical village.

We park in the upper parking lot and carry the lighter pieces down to our apartment. Since we have had two home exchange guests before our arrival, we expect that everything will be in good order, and it is. We had arranged for our friend Madeleine (from Sam’s real estate office) to get the apartment ready, and our guests have left it in perfect order, as has every other home exchange guest we have had.

I lug each 49.5 pound suitcase down the 60 steps to our apartment, which is much easier than pulling them up the 45 steps from the lower parking lot. Now our tiny apartment is completely filled, with almost no space to walk or turn around.

But rather than unpack, we decide to head right out again. Our shopping list includes two bookcases, a stick vacuum cleaner, an ironing board, and a full load of groceries.

We find Auchan (the French WalMart) just outside of Perpignan without difficulty, but they have no stick vacuum and we don’t like their bookcases. We walk across the parking lot to Leroy Merlin, where we find an English speaking store clerk – his name tag sports a British flag – and two bookcases, but no vacuum.

We’re beginning to fade – we left Key West at 6:00 am Friday and it’s now 3:00 pm Saturday – and we debate whether to do our grocery shopping on Sunday.

But we’re not sure if the stores are open on Sunday, so we head off to find Carrefours in Argeles. We’ve been there several times, but never driven. I choose exit 10 on the D914, and luck is with us; we find the store without difficulty. But first we go to the neighboring sporting goods store for hand weights and a yoga mat. These and a huge order of groceries are added to the bookcases and ironing board.

Back in Collioure, we unload most of the items – not the bookcases – and head down the hill into the village. A glass of wine at one of the cafes on the beach, followed by crepes along the canal, then back to our apartment for a long 12 hours sleep.

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