Tips about Credit Cards When Traveling Abroad

credit card graphicFirst of all, I prefer writing about fun stuff, so I will apologize right now.  This is kind of boring stuff but at the same time it is important to add to your travel planning.

There are three important things you need to do regarding your bank and your credit cards.  Don’t put them off.  Do them way ahead of time so you have one less thing to do right before you go.  Item #2 needs to be done several weeks ahead of time.

  1. Notify your bank ahead of time when you go abroad. You must call or go online and let your bank know where and when you will be traveling. It is a requirement for security purposes. If you do not do this, your bank will close your account when you try to use it in a foreign country. It is the world we live in now. This cautionary step actually is a good thing, unless of course, you didn’t inform your bank. So take care of this before you go.  Oh, and don’t forget this includes travel to Canada!
  2. Global Chip Credit Cards. Europe is ahead of us when it comes to providing better and more secure credit cards. They have a global chip in their cards which protects their customers more. Credit card companies in the US are slowly switching over to this type of credit card, however, if you are going on a trip to Europe, I highly suggest that you call at least 4-5 weeks before your trip and ask that your bank issue you this kind of card. You will keep the same credit card number; you’ll just get a new and improved one in the mail, at no charge. Usually takes up to ten days, but I suggest doing it sooner than later. Why have a bunch of loose ends to clear up at the last minute?
  3. Find out what bank fees will be charged when using your debit or credit cards in a foreign country. While you have your credit card company on the phone, find out what charges you will incur while using your card in a foreign country. Banks will charge you a fee for your cash advance at an ATM machine and also a conversion fee for individual purchases. Usually, the ATM fee is a flat fee. (In our case, it was a $5 fee.)  The conversion fee ranges from 1% to 3%.   If you have more than one credit card, you may find one card is better for ATM withdrawals and the other better for purchases.

Just know what the charges are so you aren’t surprised when you get home and start looking at your bank statement.  Keep in mind that you will always need some cash.  Restaurants and small shops sometimes don’t take credit cards.  Some places don’t take American Express because they charge higher fees to vendors than other credit cards.  Be prepared and be careful with your credit cards. 



Chocolate, Art and Porn

We sampled chocolates everywhere we could.  We bought truffles in shops on St. Germain and thoroughly enjoyed them all.  Then we went to Josephine Vannier’s artisanal chocolate shop in Marais, just a block or two from the Place de Vosges. At first, I thought we were passing a curio shop.  There was a guitar in the window and a saxophone.  Fertility dolls and what appeared to be some African masks, and elaborately covered books.  Then we realized the shop windows were filled with chocolate sculptures.    Inside we discovered even more goodies.

I did a double take when I saw a display of  chocolate dildos, which coincidentally had been reduced 50%, but Dean said no.   All I can say — chocolate is chocolate.  Chocolate Dildos Paris[In hindsight, I should have bought all of them.  I could have had a party and cut all of them up (but one) into individual bite sizes (no pun intended) and served them up to my guests — then held up the lone, in-tact dildo.  I really missed the boat on that one.]

Chocolate guitar
Chocolate guitar/books
Chocolate Fertility Goodess
Chocolate Fertility Goodess

Art and chocolate at the same time Had a car hit me just seconds earlier, and by some miracle, I actually went to heaven after all?  Here’s there link.  chocolate and art.  Go to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dome, walk the Seine and get chocolates at Josephine Vannier’s.  Go just to see their window shop display.


I don’t know who Josephine Vannier is but I wish we were close relatives. 

 Located on 4 Rue du Pas de la Mule

Watch how many people press their noses to the window.  The sales people should take photos of what we all look like as we admire their artful play on delectable chocolates.

Off Beat Things to do in Paris

For years, we have been going to the beloved taxidermy place called Deyrolle, located on the fashionable Rue de Bac off of St. Germain.    Deyrolle Exhibits

Deroyle Taxidermy
Deroyle Taxidermy

I say beloved because several years ago when a fire devastated this stuffed menagerie, Parisians came out in droves to help.  Afterwards, the army offered to house anything salvageable.  The renown auction house, Christie’s set up a foundation to raise funds through an auction.   Hermes created  a scarf to raise funds, and animals from other countries were donated.  All for a taxidermy place, you say?  Go there.

IMG_0066Deyrolle is a magical place.  Sometimes, you are looking at creatures that no longer exist.  The wood floors have signs of fire and the orangutan that I “talked to” last visit is gone.  The back room is still full of preserved butterflies and insects from places like Madagascar,  a place I probably will never see.  There are shells so outrageous that only God could have thought them up.  You are looking at beauty, never beasts even if they once could have snapped your head off.   

As we left, I spotted a side office.  A woman was working at her computer.  On her desk was a stuffed monkey and a large, regal bird.  There were other creatures scattered around her office like the rest of us stack folders and arrange photos of family.  It all made perfect sense.


Aurouze in Paris
Since 1872

Then there is  Auruoze, the pest exterminator shop on Rue des Halles, where you buy poisons to kill rats and other city vermin.   You are asking yourself.  Why does one frequent places like this as?  First of all, we stumbled on the place decades ago while  looking for a car model shop, which turns out to be next door.  It’s the window front display that grabs your attention.  Stuffed rats dancing in a circle with several other rats hanging from traps above, their necks clearly broken.Auroze shop window584

In the past we’ve always just taken photos and went next door, but this time, I ventured inside and purchased some of the old fashioned mouse traps called Lucifer.  I just know they will come in handy for an art project.  I’m thinking some kind of political satire about Congress.  Stay tuned.

Need More Time, Better Knees, and a Good Broom

Paris has flown by. Tomorrow we head home.  I will hopefully be able to work on my Paris postings during the return flight and wrap up this trip sometime next week when I am working with a real computer.

The apartment worked out beautifully, although the master bathroom was weird.  The design was so awkward.  I won’t even try to explain except to say it would bring tears of joy to an American liability attorney.  You basically take a cat walk on polished granite tiles to get to the deep, sunken tub/shower.  Getting in or out is challenging especially when the wet tiles turn the floor into an ice rink.  I think a breathalyzer test should be a requirement before venturing near that tub.  Thank God there is a powder room for answering the calls of nature in the middle of the night, because to get to the master toilet, you must use that same cat walk.

Actually, having a big tub in a Paris apartment is uncommon, and I probably wouldn’t have been such a wuz if I hadn’t fallen on my knee on the second day of our trip.  When one knee is giving you trouble, you can be guaranteed that some other body part will get jealous and retaliate, like the other knee.

We’ve eaten fresh croissants every morning.  Our white-tiled kitchen floor has drifts of flaky croissant crumbs piled in corners and under the table. A broom is in order before we turn in our keys.

Orvieto Field Notes-Final Day

101 Public Toilets.  Flushing a toilet can be a hide-and-seek game at times.  If it isn’t obvious, just stand back and look around.  It can be a  lone button on the wall, maybe plastic or an antique brass looking thing that you might pick up in a flea market and wonder what it was for.  It can be a chain hanging from the ceiling, a foot pedal, a sleek plastic, flush surfaced button that isn’t even noticeable at first glance.  Like I said, just keep looking around and you’ll figure it out. Years ago in Madrid, I went into a restaurant bathroom, a cavernous room with a lone toilet.  A light switch turned on automatically when I opened the door.  I sat down and in only enough time to say out loud, I wish I had eaten some prunes, a timer turned off the light and I was thrown into total darkness.  I spent the next few minutes feeling walls trying to find a light switch.

It’s all in the name.  Or at least one must wonder why a group of ancient people named their town Bastardo. We passed the sign on one of our road trips, which started a slew of questions. What do you call someone from Bastardo?  Bastardos or Bastardas? What do they call the mascot of their soccer team?  Sons of bitches?  Do they skip over the security question “what city were you born?”, simply because it causes too many problems?  Of course, none of these questions were obviously important enough for us to turn around and check out the town of Bastardo.

Orvieto to Spoleto 001


A gorgeous drive.  Originally, we were going to drive to nearby Todi, another charming hill town close to Orvieto.  Along the way, we decided to pass on Todi and head over to Spoleto to a restaurant specializing in truffle dishes.  The drive through the Martani Mountains, with occasional glimpses of a meandering river,  was inspiring. We took turns driving so we each had a chance to gaze out the window and enjoy the scenery.  The road is as curly and winding as my hair on a humid day but we both enjoyed ourselves tremendously, despite the tendency for Italian drivers to have issues with space.  Specifically, wanting to be in our space.

On the way back, we stopped at a typical country restaurant that had a view of the river and vineyards below.  We were the only tourists there.  Loved that little place.  I got a bottle of Prosecco that cost what a glass of same costs in the States.   Vineyard near Spoleto







Oh, and one other obscure little thing that puzzles me.  There isn’t a word in the Italian language for “hangover”.  The closest thing they have is “postumi di sbornia”, which means the aftermath of drunkenness.  Doesn’t that seem odd to you?  I will admit I never saw anyone drunk in Italy, but there must have been a tourist somewhere on a beach nursing a splitting head, cursing the light of day, and swearing off grappa for the rest of their life, or at least until happy hour.  In spite of all the wonderful wine (and beer)  Dean and I sampled, I am happy to report that during our entire trip, we never had a postumi di sbornia.



ORVIETO:   Walking down a narrow, crowded street in Orvieto, you turn a bend and you get your first glimpse of The Duomo, one of the most important cathedrals in Italy.  That first feeling of awe was nothing compared to when we walked onto the piazza.  It’s massiveness is imposing.  The front of this building is beautiful and inspiring, but the sides of the building are painted with stripes.  My first thought was war, then the stripes on concentration camp uniforms.  The building said to me, I am beautiful but I am also a fortress.  I don’t know what I am talking about.  I’m just telling you fluid thoughts as they transpired.


1st Glimpse of Duomo
1st Glimpse of Duomo

Inside, there are less decorative facades of the building than most catherdrals of this size.  How do I say it?  It is less gaudy.  There are less “monuments” to the famous. It rests on the fact that it is a holy place.  There are two small chapels on either side of the front altar area.  One is for prayer only, and I went there and said prayers for friends who are battling illnesses or grieving.  As always, I asked him to strike down terrorists like ISIS, dictators, and several of the idiots  who have thrown in their hat for the USA presidential race.  (I guess I should stop doing that.  One good request might get cancelled out by a not so nice one.)

Anti-Christ (who looks somewhat like Christ) and Lucifer whispering in his ear.
Anti-Christ (who looks somewhat like Christ) who is fumbling during a speech to the crowd.  Lucifer is  whispering in his ear what he wants him to say.

The other smaller chapel, Chapel of San Brizio has an altar in the center but it’s the frescos that captivate you.  I should tell you that they were painted during the period of 1499-1504 by Luca Signorelli, a man who certainly had every reason to go home every night and complain to his wife about his poor, aching back and neck.  The Frescos are of the Day of Judgment and the After Life.  They are the stuff of nightmares, but nevertheless compelling.  I thought about this guy Signorelli.  His frescos are his interpretations of Revelations, which makes you want to know more about him– this painter who had such visions.  This one in particular stood out.

Prediction of the End of the World
Creatures that look like ISIS

Men dressed in modern attire coming from a different kind of church not particular to anything painted in this chapel. They remind me of, well, you decide.

PAUSE No. 2:  The white-haired, tuxedo-wearing, mad professor playing the flute on the street.  Specifically, Ava Maria.  I cried.  I saw him again later and took a short video, but you had to be there.  Dean saw him as well but this time he was in a heated argument with another man.  At one point, he was screaming at the other guy, then stormed off.  Maybe he is a relative of Signorelli.Kimi

PAUSE No. 3:  Thirty-minute drive from Orvieto is a beautiful little town on Lake Bolsena.  It’s a great excuse for a drive to find a place to have lunch overlooking this lake dotted with islands.

Lake Bolsena
Approach to Lake Bolsena

The day we went, it was a cloudless day and the lake was a deep blue.  It was the first water we had seen in Italy and it warmed my heart.  A tree lined street carried us along to the shore where we dined in a little restaurant that looked like it belonged in Nice, France.


PAUSE 4:  The best seafood restaurant and perhaps our best meal in Orvieto took place at CIBUS on Via Garibaldi, a small piazza.  Travel Advisor Cibus  Dean ordered a octopus seafood salad and I had stuffed sardines.  Mine were good, but Dean knew better than leaving the table for a second.   Cibus chef and II later went back to the kitchen and asked to talk to the chef.  I was hoping I could watch them tenderize the octopus, but he told me that when the octopus is first caught, the fisherman bites it and kills it before it has time to tighten up its muscles and get “tough”.  Usually, you have to beat the octopus against a table or something.  I’ve watched it done in Greece and have done it once myself.  But, biting the octopus?  Where do you bite it?  I need to research that one.  Why do I feel that I lost something in the translation?

Another good restaurant was next door.  Very regional, comfort foods.  Il Cocco Ristorante on Via Garibaldi.

PAUSE No. 5:  The Pisco Sour that the bartender just brought to me at our favorite restaurant so far in Orvieto, Bar Montanucci, which touts itself as a Caffe Pasticceria Gastronomia

Best Bartender Orvieto
Slavic, Best Bartender in Orvieto – May 2015

Ristorante.  They have an amazing buffet at lunchtime that reminds me of tapas bars in Spain, a glass cabinet full of beautifully displayed tortes, and pastries.  And, then there is the bartender who makes every drink with such artistry that I keep waiting for him to sprinkle fairy dust from a wand over the whole thing.

PAUSE No. 5:  Dean and I (finally) feel better.  Energy is back up and I think we aren’t walking around slack-jawed anymore as we appreciate the sites around us.  However, Kleenex is still my best friend.  I think it is all the cedar trees blooming around me.  Austinites:  you know what I am talking about: cedar fever.

Sorry.  I know I need to post photos.  I miss my computer.  I’ll try to put aside some time and some Pisco Sours for photos tomorrow.

Now, my second Pisco just arrived and I’m pretty sure I see some fairy dust on it…..


Field Notes-Amsterdam

Exploring is exhausting but typing on my Kindle Fire is maddening.  The keyboard I brought for it is not working, so I apologize for skipping out for a while.

We have been spending more time around the center of the city, and discovering that the bulk of tourists seem to be in those areas.  I love it here on Lijnbaansgracht Street, one block from the museum district, but back to where the masses are.  There are a lot of large, elegant hotels on the canals.   We went to the Flea Market and the Flower Market.

Even the mannequin is taller than me.
Even the mannequin is taller than me.





BIKES RULE:  We should have been born with eyes in the back of our head (although I think my Momma might have been an exception).  As a pedestrian, you have to be constantly alert.  Between watching out for cars (which are mostly the minority in the historical part of AMS),you need to make sure you are really on the sidewalk and NOT a bike path.  Most of the time, you can figure it out, but there are times when there are so many parked bikes on the sidewalk, that you are forced to share the road with bikers.  Most of the time, you can hear them coming (like bats coming out of Carlsbad Caverns at sunset), but on the chance you are listening to Dutch folk tunes on your IPod, they will run you over.   One young lady hit Dean as we were coming off a bridge that was lined with parked bikes on both sides (hence no place to walk but the street).  Anyway, this is just a simple warning:  Read up on your tour books. When you arrive here, look at where the bike lanes are located.  Figure out the scene here and you will be fine, except for Dean who has a tire track on his pants.

After banging up my knee, I gave up on the idea of riding bikes.  However, bike rentals are scattered around.  If you are intimidated by the numbers of bicylists, go out in the early evening when the numbers are down (which is the opposite of bats).  Anyway, you may want to familiarize yourself with your surroundings before jumping on a bike with a map.

The Dutch haven’t passed laws on handfree bicycle riding, but I’m betting it is just a matter of time.  Saw a lot of cyclists reading their phones and texting.  In the evenings, it is not unusual to see couples out on a date, the gal on the back, riding side saddle.  Brought back memories of jumping on the back of a friend’s bike when mine was kaput and speeding off.

EVERYONE SPEAKS ENGLISH:  One day, I went up to a sales clerk in a department store.  I had been searching for gloves since my arrival but could only find stores with socks.  (The Dutch apparently love brightly colored socks.)  I told the woman, “I’m sorry.  I don’t speak Dutch.  Can you tell me if you have any gloves?”  A woman standing next to me turned looked my way and said,   “Of course she speaks English.  Everyone speaks English here.”   It’s true.  It’s a blessing, travelers.  It makes life so much easier.

THE DUTCH ARE HAPPY, FRIENDLY, TALL AND BEAUTIFUL:  So what’s wrong with them?  I wasn’t there long enough to figure that out, but if I had been, my negative nature would have forced me to dig up the dirt on these affable and gregarious people.  It just seems, well, unseemly.

WHERE WAS THE DOG POOP?  Everyone warned us, including Rick Steves, to watch where you walked.  The Dutch don’t like to pick up their dogs’ deposits.  Afterall, they pay a lot in taxes (50% TO 60%).  For that, they feel the government should be the ones picking up their dogs’ shit.  Personally, I think politicians in all countries should be responsible for picking up the dog shit of all their constituents.  Just to let them know who really is in charge….the dogs.

Trouble is, there were scant amounts of dog poop when we arrived.  We had just missed King’s Day, which is The Netherland’s biggest holiday.  I gather it is their Mardi Gras.  I think street cleaners (who I assume also speak English) had cleaned up the city right before we arrived because by the time we left Amsterdam, the poop was starting to drop here and there like early cherry blossoms.

Last night,we dined in an amazing place, Bo Cinq, at Prinsengracht 494.  It was sort of a Moroccan place, but not really.  First of all, they had the best bar drinks.  The bar scene was cool and hip beautiful people, which is why we were immediately seated in the dining area.  For an appetizer, we had fresh tuna with salted cod, which I will be trying at home.  Our entrees, seabass and a seafood tangine were perfectly prepared.  (I almost ordered the Ray dish like in sting ray, but when I asked our server about the dish she gave me the wink-wink servers give you when they are trying to telepathically tell you, “Run for your life”.  Later, she pointed to a guy two tables over who had obviously and foolishly ignored his server’s crossed eyes and hand gestures . This poor guy was hacking away at his “ray” with a gardening tool, while trying to put on a happy face for his date.

OK. Time to pack for our departure tomorrow morning, then, we are going to an Indonesian restaurant that was highly recommended and we won’t be getting back till late, like in vacation late, after 11 or 12, so I need to get this packing out of the way.  I don’t know about you, but I do not pack well after a few drinks.

I have switched to Dean’s IPad and should be able to report back more timely.

PS:  I still love this place.

Day 2- amsterdam-it

I love this vibrant, young, picturesque city with it’s unique architecture, canals, cyclists in biblical numbers, with countless appealing shops that warrant a good face print on their dressed-up storefront windows.

Today we went to the Rijksmuseum which is only one block away.  Worth it but DO buy your ticket online to avoid the on-site ticket line. It will be an open ticket so no reservation time to be locked into later.

However, avoid any sudden burst of spontaneity after your museum tour.  When you see the ground level water fountain, a circle of revolving frigid water where people are standing in the middle, just shy of getting wet, walk away.  First of all, under most cicumstances, you would never mingle with any of these folks unless they married into the family.  Look straight ahead.  Keep walking to the cafe with the sign that reads, “wine and beer.”

Now I sit here with ice on my knee., limping on the second day of a 16-day vacation.  Nothing is broken– just a swollen knee missing a  lot of skin.  There’s a shop nearby that sells walking canes.  They open at 10 am tomorrow.  I bet I won’t have to wait in line there.