Mallorca, Spain, Istanbul and Morocco 2011.....

This was a four week trip and we both agreed it could have been longer. We had a great time. We booked on Iberia Airlines early in the year because we had already booked at a finca (small country house) on Mallorca for two weeks. We have been looking for a place to stay on Mallorca for several years and we were not totally pleased with the places we had tried. They were nice but not exactly what we wanted. We booked at the Finca in November 2010 when Christine was still recooperating from her accident and we wanted something to look forward to in 2011. A Finca is a country house in Mallorca. There are many for rent by the day, week and month. We have also tried apartments. We like the idea better than a hotel because you can get up when you want and eat breakfast when you want and you have someplace to go back to after a day out. In a hotel or B&B you really only have your room. In a country house you have a kitchen, a lounge, etc. It's more like home.

We like to go to markets in Mallorca and always looked with envy at the people who were shopping. With your own kitchen you can buy the fruits and vegetables at the market and we did that. It was great.

I will say there are many places for rent and if you are interested you can find them on the world-wide web. Most fincas have 3 or more bedrooms and are meant for large groups. They may have a pool and the kitchen will be well furnished. It was cheaper than a hotel but it would have been even cheaper if we had more people to share the cost. You save a lot of money on food especially if you eat in instead of going to a restaurant. The better restaurants on Mallorca are not cheap.

Our original plan was to go to a hotel in Soller, Mallorca, for two days and then spend the next two weeks at the house we rented. Then, we would fly to Malaga, Spain, on Air Berlin and travel around the Andalucia area for two weeks. We even purchased one way tickets on Air Berlin, flying from Palma, Mallorca to Malaga. Then Christine decided we needed to go to Istanbul, Turkey and we got a very good airfare on Swiss Airlines, Palma to Istanbul and Istanbul to Malaga so we were in Istanbul for five days. Both flights were through Zurich. For the second year in a row we booked a flight on Air Berlin from Palma to Malaga and failed to show up for our flight. I'm sure Air Berlin doesn't care.

We rented a car through the broker, as we have for many years. I checked with them a few times during the weeks before we left and got a better deal several times and just cancelled the previous booking. This is contrary to what you would think as I have always thought that you get a better rate the earlier you book. In 2010 it was the same and I got a better rate a few days before I left. This can be explained by the fact that CarJet is a broker and when I rebooked they booked me through a different rental company. The final booking this year was through GoldCar Rental. I was not happy with GoldCar. The car was nice, a Ford Focus Diesel, 4 door, with hardly any luggage space even though it was a large car. They now charge for an extra driver (3 Euro per day, maximum 30 Euro) and they charge for a tank of fuel expecting you to bring it back empty. Oh how I wish I could bring it back empty so it would just stop in the return lane. They must make a fortune on this charge but I know that when they expect people to bring it back with a full tank, they don't. My big complaint with GoldCar rental is they pulled the Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) scam on me and charged me in Dollars. Now, usually I am aware of this scam and avoid it. The agent asked me to sign one of those electronic signature pads with the statement in Spanish "I accept the contract provisions." There was no amount or mention of Euro or Dollars on this device. I had just given her the voucher which stated the amount in Euro. The agent printed the contract and folded it in half and proceeded to explain the charges in Euro pointing to the top half which was in Euro. She had included an extra insurance charge which I told her I did not want so she had to re-print the form. I asked where I would sign and she said it was not necessary, It turns out my signature was electronically inserted on the bottom of the contract when I signed the signature device.

A few days later I unfolded the contract and noticed that they had electronically inserted my signature on the bottom half under the statement that I had agreed to be billed in Dollars. The word Dollar was never mentioned during my discussion with the agent. This resulted in an extra charge of about $33 more than if I had been billed in Euro. This was the only charge on my Visa in four weeks that was made in Dollars as I am aware of this scam. I sort of blame myself as I had been traveling from the USA for 20 plus hours and was a little tired. I was a little more careful when I rented from GoldCar in Malaga several weeks later but the agent again folded the contract in half and explained the charges in Euro. I turned over the contract and told her I had asked to be billed in Euro when I handed her the credit card. A coincidence, I don't know. I am contesting this charge with Visa.

Other that the DCC scam, which I avoided in Malaga, the GoldCar Rental was fine. Just be aware.

Normally, I hand my card to the person and tell them I want to be billed in Euro. I was pleased this past trip with the store El Cortes Ingles, a major department store in Spain that we like to shop at. Every purchase resulted in a printout of the charges in Dollars and Euro and the sales person then asked us which currency we wanted to be billed in, circled our choice and then processed it that way. This was the first time in all our trips to Europe that I was asked how I wanted to be billed. Visa should note this, they DO NOT normaly ask you how you want to be billed....Visa thinks they do ask! I have observed some businesses as they process your credit card. A question pops up on the machine asking does the customer want to be billed in Dollars or Euro and if the clerk just presses Enter, you are billed in Dollars, that's the default for credit cards issued by American banks. DCC is a scam. The merchant benefits and the processing company benefits. The customers always loses.

I disputed the GoldCar charge in dollars with my credit card issuer and the extra charge was removed. DCC had increased the cost of the rental by 5.4%.

This Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) is a real scam and also appeared a few years ago at the cash machines. I didn't see it in 2010 but it re-appeared in Spain and Turkey this year, 2011, under a slightly different name, a Conversion Rate. I did a non-scientific study and took a photo of the cash machine screen on a few occasions so I would remember the rates they were quoting. I did this 5 times for a total withdrawal of 1,100 Euro and my bank charged me $1,508.03. If I had accepted the rate at the ATM, and allowed them to bill me in Dollars (they called it the Conversion Rate) I would have paid $1,578.10, $70.07 more. Had I accepted the Conversion rate on all my ATM withdrawals of Euro and Turkish Lira during our 4 week trip, I would have paid $171.91 more, almost 5% more. And, if your bank charges a transaction fee, you would pay an additional 3%.

Here are the Cash Machine screen shots:

Note the black circle blocking the rate.
I saved $16.13 here by not choosing the Conversion Rate.

I saved $11.26 here by not choosing the Conversion Rate.

I saved $6.19 here by not choosing the Conversion Rate.

I saved $21.57 here by not choosing the Conversion Rate.

I saved $14.92 here by not choosing the Conversion Rate.

If I had accepted the rate at these Five ATMs and allowed them to bill me in Dollars (they called it the Conversion Rate) I would have paid $70.07 more for the 1,100 Euro.

Some banks are are not as greedy as others.

We spent the first two days up in the Tramontana Mountains on the north coast of Mallorca in the town of Soller. Then we drove to the country house we had rented and were met by the owner. I phoned him first, as he had asked, to make sure he was there. We had a little trouble finding the place because the roads in the country are narrow and some are not paved. A word about cell phones. Read my notes about mobile (cell) phones in Europe. I recommend getting an unlocked GSM cell phone and just buying a SIM card in the country you plan on traveling in. If you are only going to be in a country for a short time and only want the phone for an emergency you can use any SIM card you have even if it has expired. Most SIM cards expire after 9 months of inactivity. I usually ask a friend in the country to add 10 Euro (after 7-8 months) to the phone so I can keep the same number. Having a cell phone is a real plus and much cheaper than using your USA carrier.

After getting to the house we rented we settled in, unpacked and drove to Pollenca for dinner. Pollenca has many fine restaurants and cafes where you can have a drink and/or eat and watch people.

You may be wondering what we did for two weeks. We did have a list of things to do but as it turned out we only went out one day to do anything you might call 'touristy'. Mostly we just relaxed. I got up first every morning and drove into town to buy fresh bread. The first few days I got slow service as the lady at the Forno Shop took her time as she conversed with the regulars. By the third day I was a 'regular' and she immediately acknowledged me with an 'ola'. She would grab a loaf of bread on her way over and I would give her the money. I did this every day (except one) for two weeks. On the day I failed to show up I tried another bakery but the bread was not as good. When I returned to the finca Christine would be cutting up fresh fruit that we had purchased at the many markets on Mallorca. We made coffee and sat around eating the fruit salad, bread, some cheese and occasionally some yougurt.

After breakfast we drove to the beach, Playa de Muro, near the northern part of Can Picafort on the east coast of Mallorca. We usally go to the southern part of the beach near Sa Caseta des Capellans. This area is frequented mostly be German tourists staying at the hotels a little to the south. We find an umbrella, made from palm leaves, with two beach lounge chairs. Sometime during the day a collector comes by and the daily charge is 8.50. If we plan on having Paella for lunch we book it at the local chiringuito. There are several on the beach. We like the Can Gavella Chiringuito. They only make Paella if you order it so you have to book it. This also assures you of a reserved table and fresh paella. If you want Paella on a Saturday or Sunday you would be wise to book Thursday as the place is very busy with the locals from Palma. If we are not having Paella we order from the menu and they don't take reservations unless you have a big group.

Can Gavella usually has a fresh fish listed on the black board every day but many times we just order a mixed salad (or tuna salad), some aceitunas (olives) and some Chipirones, which are small squids (5 to 6 centimeters) and fried, a bottle of water and a bottle of rosado wine. It's sort of like a white zinfindel, nice and cold. We sit and watch people for an hour or so before we go back to our umbrella and the water.

A word about the tables at the chringuitos. We like to watch many of the German tourists because they stake out a table early and keep it all day. We think they work as a tag team with some sitting at the table with water or a glass of beer and others going for a swim and then returning. Frequently, a group will just sit and play cards all day. Since it's outside smoking is allowed. Someone will order a wine and a large bottle of water and the wine gets very pale as the day goes on... I think someone is adding water to it.

After swimming, eating and relaxing on the beach we head back to our rental house, sometimes stopping at a market for supplies. At our rented house we jump into our pool and do a few laps. The pool is only 18 feet long but we are not strong swimmers anyway. During the evening we either go out to eat or we would 'eat in' a light supper. One night we had our friends Peter and Stephen over for dinner and we discovered the chicken breasts we had purchased were 'sliced'. I couldn't understand, as I grilled them on the outside grill, why they were literaly falling apart. Stephen pointed out that the breasts were pre-sliced. The package was in Spanish. Another language problem we had was with fresh basel, an ingredient that Christine needed for her mozzarella salad. We could not find fresh basel anywhere because we really didn't know the Spanish name for it. We finaly found the name by showing a small jar of chopped basel leaves to a woman at the local market. The name albahaca is now well known by John and Chris. As it turns out, no store had albahaca but a local maket vendor had a small albahaca plant. So, in order to have a mozzarella salad we had to by the whole plant. We gave it to Stephen and Peter. We've had several language adventures over the years and people have helped us, and laughed with us, and laughed at us many times. Sometimes we just laugh at ourselves.

One day we actually 'did' something touristy. We took a ride up into the Tramontana mountains. Christine drove a winding road from the ridge that runs along the north of the island down to the sea towards a beach at Sa Calobra. The winding road was about 10 miles long and it was a string of switchbacks and narrow lanes. When we got near the sea we turned off towards another beach called Cala Tuent. We stopped at the restuarant Es Vergeret for a coffee. The view was nice. The beach was mostly rocks and it got deep quickly. There were not many people around but several people were snorkeling. We swam for awhile and decided to go and have an early dinner back at Can Gavella Chringuito at the Playa de Muro. It was a long drive but worth it.

After 16 days in Mallorca we took a flight to Istanbul with a plane transfer in Zurich. More on Istanbul and the rest of our trip later.