Mallorca, Spain 2010
A short trip......
then disaster....

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It's been several years since I updated our travelogues. During that time we made several trips to warm places like Malaga and Mallorca, Spain. Christine continues to keep a daily travel diary and I take thousands of digital pictures but I haven't taken the time to put the two on the web pages. During those seven years I retired from my job, we became grandparents, and we moved to another state. But those are just excuses.

During the past few years we went on ten trips, some as long as 10 weeks. We had some really good times in the UK, Germany, France, Spain, Greece, Scotland, Italy, and Portugal. We really like Spain and have started going to Mallorca every year for the past six years.

We planned a trip to Northern Spain in 2009 to trek the last 100 kilometers of the Camino to Santiago del Compostela; but I injured my back and we had to cancel. We had really prepared for this trip by purchasing the right equipment and we were hiking around our area with a full backpack, up and down the hills. We could do 9 miles in about 3 hours. I mention this because this trip was the first time I had ever taken out any travel insurance. We had only invested in airfare and we got it all back from the travel insurance company. We had to get forms filled out from the doctor and therapist but basically, the process was fair and easy.

Then, this during May-June 2010 we went to England, Germany and Italy for 4 weeks and I didn't take out travel insurance. We didn't need it just like we didn't need it for the first 46 trips we took over the past 27 years. We had a good time and everything went well.

We also planned on going to Mallorca, the south coast of Spain and a short trip to Morocco for 4 weeks during September 2010. For some reason I took out travel insurance. Well, to make a long story short, Christine fell early one afternoon while we were out and about in Mallorca after we had been there only one week. She broke her right kneecap and was in the hospital in Palma, Mallorca for 4 days while they considered whether to operate and how to treat her. The hospital, doctors and nurses were great. This was not a national insurance hospital, it was a private hospital.

We decided we should go home as her recovery time would be about 6 weeks. We found out there are many airline rules on whether you can fly when you are injured. If you can't bend your knee you have to either buy more seats or upgrade to business class. Lucky for us, our travel insurance decided to upgrade us to business class. Our original tickets were for economy class. They live differently in business class, let me tell you, but that's another story. I had checked with Iberia thinking I would have to pay for the upgrade and the tickets would cost us 4,100 Euro each just for the one way Palma-Madrid-Chicago. That was about $10,400 for both of us. I know that the travel insurance company paid this much because they tried to bill our health insurance company this amount. I don't care because I only paid $76 for the travel insurance.

Additionally, travel insurance also has a small medical benefit too. If you are traveling and over 65 you should note that Medicare does not pay for medical expenses outside the USA. Many private health insurance carriers do pay but have limits, check with your company.

Anyway, when we got home and went to see an orthopedist about Christine's right knee and he said she would be fine in a few weeks but she would need therapy. He was more worried about her left elbow. The left elbow had been originally cleaned and bandaged by the emergency clinic and then ignored since Christine really didn't complain about much pain in the elbow. As it turns out, she had bone pieces that had to be removed and some ligaments had been torn from the triceps muscle. Don't quote me on the medical description as I do not have medical background.

The point of all this information is to 'eat crow'. I have always thought travel insurance to be a rip-off but I have changed my tune. I will never go abroad again without it. We have even been buying it for our domestic trips.

The Hospital in Palma, Mallorca, Spain, was excellent. We always had access to an English translator and the doctors and nurses were excellent. They had a couch in Christine's room and asked if I wanted them to open it up for a bed at night.

The hospital had free Wi-Fi and my IPOD Touch came in very handy. Several times I used the phones and fax facilities without charge. I have a tri-band phone that works in Europe with a SIM chip and it was a real blessing. Don't go to Europe without some sort of Wi-Fi and a cell phone. I have never paid for Wi-Fi and have used the IPod Touch everywhere. You don't want to surf for hours using the small screen but for email, checking some websites, Googling, and airline check-in, it's great. Six years ago I purchased an unlocked Motorola V66 tri-band cell phone that works on the European network (900-1800 MHz) and I had a Vodafone pay as you go SIM card. It was easy to add time to (recharge) the SIM card at tobacco shops, etc. I would give them 20 Euro and write down my phone number and a minute or so later I would receive a text message saying my card had been recharged. I bought the phone on EBay over 6 years ago so I'm sure you can get better phones for less today.

I gave my Spanish number to the travel insurance emergency services and to my own health insurance company and they could easily contact me. Incoming cell phone calls in Europe are free.

We purchased the travel insurance through Expedia and the company was BerkelyCare. They use a company, On Call International, to handle your problems while you are overseas. I really can't say enough nice things about the people at On Call International. There were problems but the personnel didn't abandon me and I felt they were doing their best. There was a 7 hour time difference and our problem occurred over the weekend. We first went to the hospital on Friday afternoon, Monday afternoon Christine was released from the hospital and Tuesday morning at 2:30 AM we were booked on a flight home for later Tuesday morning at around 7:00 AM. All this after we had doctors in Spain complete forms, doctors and other personnel in the USA reviewing them and a whole mess of telephone calls.

One thing you should also know before traveling abroad is how to telephone the USA collect from wherever you are traveling. I know it sounds easy but all the public phones I found had no instructions in English or Spanish. The travel insurance company faxed me some instructions on how to call the USA collect but they were incomplete and wrong. My health insurance company also told me to call them collect but didn't tell me how. I'm not complaining, I just think you should find out on your own before you go how to call the USA collect from wherever you are traveling. If you don't believe me look on the back of your credit card where they tell you to call collect if you are out of the country and need help. They give you the number and that's it. I was lucky I had Wi-Fi and through Google I found out how to call from Spain collect. From Spain you dial 900-99-0011 to get an AT&T Operator. Actually, you get an automated system and you indicate you want to make a collect call and then say your name and then they connect you to the number you request. The automated system then repeats your name and asks the person answering to say 'Yes', they will accept the collect call. Unfortunately, the systems that answered from the travel insurance company and my health care provider were also automated and either didn't say 'yes' or said it before the automated AT&T system was through talking. My advice is to ask to talk to a real AT&T Operator.

The travel insurance company faxed me some forms to have the hospital and doctors complete and fax back. Stupid me, I didn't pack my Fax machine. The hospital was very good about letting me use their Fax facilities. This could have been a real problem.

This photo is Christine in the hospital with the first very large cast on her leg. I went to the airport and Iberia Airlines informed me that there was no way they would let her fly with that cast. As it turns out, you need two economy seats if you have a half cast and three economy seats if you have a full leg cast. We were lucky, the travel insurance company put us in row one!

Here are some more photos of Christine in the USP Hospital, Palma, Mallorca

It's been over a year since Christine's accident/fall and I want to say that the travel insurance was worth it. Additionally, BerkelyCare did everything we could have expected. They got us home quickly and they paid all our deductibles, copays, etc. The items not paid by our own insurance. I give them a perfect 10 in rating.

Enough about the bad part of our journey, the first week was great. We really like Mallorca (and Southern Spain). It's low key, very relaxing and very few Americans, mostly English and Germans. The beaches on the east coast are nice and sandy with clear warm water. The north of Mallorca is mostly mountains with a few coves where you can swim. The beach near Deia is rocky but nice with two chiringuitos. These are seaside restaurants serving fish, paella, and wine. Ca’s Patró March is the chringuito up high and is more expensive than Ca’n Lluc right on the beach. Both are great. The beach at Cala Deia is not well marked from the highway. I'm sure they want to keep it local. You drive down to the sea and then you must pay and display to park unless you are local and you get to park for free.

Here are some photos of the beach at Cala Deia

The food was great.

We like the Playa de Muro located on the east coast of Mallorca between Alcudia and Can Picafort. You can rent an umbrella and two beach lounge chairs for 8.50 Euro per day. There are several chiringuitos on the beach. We like Can Gavella.

The area can be a little touristy but mostly with English and German package tours so they eat at their hotel and not at the restaurants we go to. We rent a car through, a broker and the car price includes the CDW. We feel it's a good deal but lately the Spanish Car Rental Companies have been adding a lot to what is not covered and All Inclusive no longer means ALL Inclusive. Carjet has helped a little with a modest surcharge (at your discretion) that will cover just about everything. In 2009 Christine ripped the wing mirror off in Cordoba, Spain, and we paid nothing. Had we not purchased the 'Topup' from Carjet, we would have been libel as wing mirrors are not covered by the term 'All Inclusive'. Yes, we use a Gold Card but there is the hassle involved with filing a claim, etc. The 'Topup' at Carjet cost about $24 for 12 days. It has been worth it.

Palma, Mallorca, is a nice city to visit, many stores and shops with plenty of outdoor cafes with good food and drinks. Great place to people watch. We especially like the Market area and the store El Corte Ingles. Many cruise ships for the Mediterranean leave from here and the ferry to/from Spain's mainland dock in Palma. The Palma airport links up with just about every major European city and cheap airfares abound. We've used Air Berlin several times. They too, have started adding what I consider, strange charges to the price. We were charged and extra 50 Euro for 'kerosene' and an extra 10 Euro to use a credit card. So the 34 Euro ticket wasn't so cheap after all. The kerosene charge surprised me, didn't they think they would need fuel when they set the fare? And the credit card charge, how did they think we were going to pay for it on-line?

There are many cities on Mallorca worth a visit and most have great markets, restaurants and small cafes. We especially like Alcudia, Pollensa, and Soller.

Here are some photos of some of these cities:

Pollenca has one of the best markets on Sunday morning. Great for food.

Sineu has a great market on Wednesday with plenty of everything, incuding livestock, tools, food, kitchen items and clothes.

We rented a nice apartment, 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, a kitchen, great terrace overlooking a nature preserve south of Can Picafort; TV and A/C with a washing machine. We also rented a car. We could walk to a beach in 5 minutes.

We didn't see much evidence of Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) rip offs the past two years. Two years ago we saw it everywhere in Spain even at ATMs (Cashpoints) where they seemed to always try to charge you in US Dollars. I now ask to be charged in Euro whenever I hand someone my credit card. If you pay in Dollars you end up paying 3-4 percent more and if your credit card company charges a Foreign Transaction Fee you will end up paying 6-8 percent more. I didn't see the Dollar or Euro question once when using the ATMs. I did get charged my first European commission charge (3€) from an ATM this year. It was in Soller, Mallorca, at a Caixa Bank ATM. I was in a hurry and won't use their ATM again.

One other thing I learned on this trip is that if you get sick on a cruise, you may be quickly on your own. I met two couples at the hospital where one of the pair had become ill on a cruise and the ship did not have the facilities to care for them. In both cases, the ship pulled into port and dropped them off. In one case, the cruise line just called an ambulance and left. The man was incapacitated and the woman didn't know how to charge the cell phone or use the ATM card. I'm not faulting the cruise lines because if they could not take care of the man, they had to do something. The point here is be prepared.

That's all for now.