Category Archives: MONEY & HEALTH

Unexpected encounter with Norwegian health care – Solvern


Playing catch up on posts:

Sadly I broke my arm during a great hike in the forest just north of our guesthouse/ hostel. I knew the minute I fell that my arm was the issue…unfortunately the same arm that broke my elbow 9 years ago. We ended up cutting our plans short with our new friends Christine (from southern China) and Alain (from Provence, France) and going first to a little clinic in the small town of Gaupne, where the very courteous and kind Dr then referred me to a small hospital about an hour away in Lærdal that has X-ray capability. The clinic was new and Nordic modern design. The hospital was a little dated in decor but man, what a view from the waiting room — of giant fjords mountains and we had to take a scenic ferry to get there.


Passing the time in the Lærdal hospital waiting room

The doctor on call arrived in casual clothes, with his walkie talkie and was gruff but kind in his way. I wasn’t surprised or happy to hear that my upper arm has a fracture but relieved that I didn’t need surgery…for now.  That would have meant driving two more hours to another hospital.

But now I am stuck with a cast from bicep to wrist on my left arm. It’s heavy and itchy. Painful at times but pain pills are helping and I am trying not to let it get me down. Apparently Norway doesn’t have an opiod issue. My prescription is for dozens of pills. Interestingly, the prescription can be filled anywhere in Norway. I just show up at any pharmacy, show my passport and get. Also, the medical bills came out to about $500/ A bargain compared to the U.S.


The dr mentioned that in July almost all doctors in Norway are on vacation. Not sure why he was available, although he assured me he is a doctor.  He specializes in knee replacements which apparently is big biz in the western fjords, due to the many outdoor activities t popular here. He also sees plenty of tourists like me for the same reason.

We returned home (and Eplet Bed & Apple really feels like home) to kindnesses and concern from other guests. Alain and Christine shared their homemade dinner with us, which was greatly appreciated. I met a mom and daughter who live in Brooklyn but the mom grew up in Des Moines. Small world.

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Filed under health issues, Scandinavia

Sick from Panama trip

A week ago – in Panama City – I was battling stomach upset that I dubbed “Noriega’s revenge” – kind of reminded me of colonoscopy prep, enough said. But throughout the trip, I was staving off a vague headache, dizziness, and nausea. Oddly, or maybe not, that second batch of symptoms hit me hard about midday yesterday – after several days of feeling just fine. So yesterday I took to bed and spent hours trying to get my room to stop spinning. Today, I’m better but still wobbly. D. had something similar – that didn’t last as long but unfortunately marred dinner for him at the best restaurant we went to during our trip (La Posta – more on that later.) Several other people in our group got ill, ranging from the serious (a bacterial infection that sent one woman to the hospital; a diarrhea bout for one man that his doctor thinks was due to a parasite) to not-so (a little vomiting.)

The big issue in Panama and other Central and South American countries is dengue fever but from what I can tell from reading the symptoms, that’s not what D or I had. D did have a fever and some mosquito bites (which is how you get Dengue fever) but I didn’t. I did read that as of Jan. 17, Panama now offers all tourists free  emergency health care – as an incentive to boost tourism – and maybe that’s more useful than I realized. It’s good for the first 30 day of travel and includes top-level coverage during emergencies (although I see that it doesn’t cover accidents caused by extreme sports – so guess if I’d had a mishap while zip-lining I’d be out of luck…)


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Filed under health issues, Panama

Solving your “chip and PIN” debit/credit card problems abroad

A new product could make life – and a plastic charge card rather than cash – much easier for Americans traveling abroad. A currency exchange company called Travelex has begun selling a preloaded debit card that uses the “chip and PIN” technology (the card has an embedded microchip and a PIN number you have to use, like with a debit card) widely used in Europe – rather than the card common in the U.S. that has a magnetic stripe.

I ran into problems with my magnetic stripe credit card when I was in London a few years ago – a few places, especially those off the tourist beaten path, would not accept my card  because it didn’t have the chip and PIN and they didn’t have the machine needed to process my magnetic strip card. (Before this, I didn’t know I HAD a magnetic strip card.)  We also had some troubles in France with this – at gas stations and paying highway tolls at machines that only accept chip-and-PIN cards.

If I’m reading the NYTimes travel story from Dec. 5 about this correctly, the new Cash Passport smart cards will include both the magnetic stripe and the chip and PIN.  They’ll be sold initially at Travelex airport and retail locations and then early next year online. And they’ll be available in euros or pounds and can be used wherever MasterCard is used.  Word has it there’s no fee to buy or use the card from Travelex but some ATM operators abroad may charge fees.  All good but one question: Why don’t U.S. credit card companies adopt the chip-and-PIN technology which I gather better safeguards us if the card is stolen since people can’t use it without knowing the PIN?

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New York on the cheap

As if.

well everything’s relative and I guess that means New York’s version of cheap is Des Moines’ version of not-so-cheap but that said, the NYT had some suggestions for people visiting the Big City on a Tight Budget:

– The Jane – 113 Jane Street (a very sweet street in the West Village that my cousin used to live on)…”50-square-foot cabins” for $99 a night (that’s a single withe shared bath)…

– The Hotel Chelsea, studio and shared bath for $99…if it was good enough for Sid and Nancy it may be okay for you.

– MOMA is free on Friday nights. Otherwise it’s $25 as I recall painfully.

– for other free events look in the listings of Time Out NY and New York magazine also and

– a seven-day unlimited ride metrocard $27. soon to be $29.


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Filed under cost-saving travel, LODGING, New York City

A review: the Megabus from Chicago to Des Moines

I planned to blog from the road yesterday – specifically while cruising along Interstate 80 from Chicago to Des Moines in the Megabus but alas, the bus’s much-ballyhooed free WiFi was on the blink.  The driver didn’t know why but said this happens occasionally. Otherwise,  the bus ride was just fine – and for the $10 fare, better than fine. (Some people paid as little as $1 for the ride, a few others got two tix for $8 total. Fare comparisons dominated the chitchat amongst passengers. )

The bus departed on time (5 p.m.) from Chicago at the crowded Megabus stop just south of Union Station and Jackson Street, on Canal Street – and it arrived in Des Moines about 35 minutes late, which was no big deal. The bus was clean, the seats comfortable, the air not too cold or  too hot. The driver was courteous and informative, taking the time to fill us in on bits and bobs, like the one scheduled pit-stop at a small gas station on I-80 near Davenport.

A few minor quibbles, some beyond Megabus’s control, that  have more to do with the nature of cheap bus transportation in general.  The bus stop in Chicago was somewhat chaotic, with a large crowd fanning out across half a block as a succession of buses pulled up – one bus going to St. Louis, another to somewhere-ville Ohio, another to Ann Arbor/Detroit and my bus to Iowa City/Des Moines.  As one of the older passengers correctly noted, this open air bazaar – with no visible crowd control and no benches to sit on or lines to stand in – is relatively OK in pleasant weather, which we had yesterday early evening.  But it might not be so OK when it’s raining or snowing or bitter cold.

Many passengers, as expected, were young people in their late teens and 20s  some tattooed and pierced, some black-clad Goths with dusty white faces, two chic geeks, some inner city kids wearing droopy pants.  Great people watching and reminded me of my lost-youth, riding the Magic Bus in Europe.

But on my bus there was also  a large multi-generation Asian family with a pushy patriarch, a Mennonite woman, some middle-aged couples, a few moms with kids.  I worried at first when the watery-eyed man in front of me took a sip from a liquor bottle inside a brown paper bag but he was well-behaved throughout. So was the little girl who sat on the lap of the teen-ager  beside me. The rowdiest passengers were some  women in their mid-30s who laughed and talked loudly, as if they riding their very own party bus after hitting the bars on Division Street (which come to think of it was probably where they had been.)

There were other annoying sounds and smells but that’s to be expected: a rattle-and-squeak  from  somewhere in the back of the bus near the bathroom, pulsating iPod musak from somewhere in the bus’ mid-section (the Ipod must have been  cranked up to blow-your-eardrums-out volume), smells of fried chicken, McDonalds (from the pitstop in Davenport), a fully-loaded brat, and corned beef (my bad. I  brought the sandwich with me from a Chicago deli.)

Next time, I’ll remember to fire up my Kindle – or at least bring the cord so I can plug it in. (There was an outlet below my window but my cord was in my suitcase in the bowels of the bus.) And I’ll remember to leave my novel out of my suitcase. I’ll also remember to fire up my phone (which was also losing juice.) Thank God my iPod was still working.

All told, it’s great to have a viable and inexpensive new option for getting to Iowa City and Chicago from here.

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Filed under Adventure travel, bus service, Chicago, cost-saving travel, Des Moines