Spandex ya’ll

So not quite as timely as AGMA had hoped after my last post, but an improvement (if I do say so myself…)  Two posts in one month is promising.

But I had a VERY good reason why I am not posting until now….

Regular readers can probably guess.

Maybe.

Or have no clue.

Hints:

  1. AGMA hasn’t been able to travel internationally since March 2020.
  2. It’s July.
  3. The biggest cycling race of the year takes place in July.
  4. The biggest cycling race of the year takes place my very favorite country to visit (think wine, cheese and baguettes.).  The country of Monet, Édith Piaf, and Pepé Le Pew

YES!!

AGMA put my mask on, got on an airplane, and flew across the pond to see my boys in spandex.  

Viva la France!

It was like a religious experience.  

I had a 2 week trip planned in July 2020 to see the last week of the Tour de France plus see some other sights, but we all know how that turned out.  We barricaded ourselves in our homes (other than those who moved from Atlanta to Chicago…) in hopes of keep the contagion sweeping across the globe from landing on us.  It was a time of grave concern for our friends, family and country made worse by the total ineptitude of The Fat Orange Virus in the White House and his enablers. 

The cancellation of a pleasure trip seemed inconsequential given the ever increasing numbers in ICUs and funeral homes.

Fast forward to early June, 2021.  AGMA is healthy and fully vaccinated.  France is opening up to vaccinated American tourists in mid-June.  I’ve been watching European cycling events all spring on my laptop via a VPN (a way to get around geo-restrictions on cycling events.)

AGMA sensed a perfect storm!

I casually say to Hubs, “Would you mind if I went to France in July for a week to watch some of the Tour?” 

“Nope…”

I made my airline reservations that night.

AGMA knows the Delta variant is surging in parts of France.  But I also know that masks are mandatory pretty much in every inside space and on any form of transport there.  Hey – I survived COVID in the US when we had a “president” who wanted us to drink/inject bleach.  I felt confident I would be okay.

And it was wonderful!

Without boring those who don’t really care about the Tour de France (I will never understand you, but I still love you!), my first 2 days were spent in a town – 3 train rides away from CDG airport – called Libourne in the Bordeaux region.  It’s a charming town right on the beautiful Dordogne River, which was quite high and flowing quite fast because of all of the rain in Europe the previous 2 weeks.  Think those horrific, deadly floods in Belgium & the Netherlands.  The theme of high, fast flowing rivers followed me on my trip (both in Paris and Lyon.)

The main shopping street in Libourne
City Hall in Libourne
The very high Saône River in Lyon

Damn climate change.

I was in Libourne for the end of stage 19 and the beginning of stage 20 of the Tour de France.  Because stage 20 was a time trial and riders took off individually with a minute between each rider, I had a wonderful opportunity to see all the riders up close and personal.  I positioned myself near the beginning of the TT and close to one of the broadcasting cameras.  And some of my friends saw me on TV!

You can say you knew AGMA when…

Before all the riders had taken off, I had to hustle to catch my trains back to Paris.  The next day was the stage 21; the ride into Paris. 

On Sunday, July 18th, I went through the vaccination verification check near the Arc de Triomphe to scout a spot to watch the riders do their 8 circuits on the Champs-Élysée.  AGMA found a group of Danish fans who spoke excellent English and I settled in for the 4 hour wait until the riders showed up.

You do some very strange things for love…

Wout van Aert (Belgium) won the stage, Tadej Pogačar (Solvenia) won the yellow jersey (overall winner), the polka dot jersey (best climber), and the white jersey (best young rider). A cycling superstar at 22!

And Mark Cavandish (England), at 36, a sprinter that most people felt was way beyond his prime and the ability compete with the world’s best, won the Green jersey (best sprinter.)  And not only did he snag the Green jersey, but (and this is a WAY BIGGER deal!) tied the record of Eddy Merckx for most stages won EVER in the Tour de France.

I need a cigarette now….

What did AGMA do in France after the TdF you ask?  

I walked.  I walked for 5.5 hours in the Louvre.  I walked for hours all over Paris.  I walked more hours all over Lyon.  Hours and hours.  My new technowonder Alexa Echo watch told me that I averaged 19,000 steps a day for the 7 days I was gone.  Honestly, I didn’t know these stumpy legs had it in them.

And (this is really TMI so look away if you tend to be queasy) AGMA sweated.  Buckets.  It was hot in France.  The heat combined with hours of walking outside in the sun exacerbated by being in buildings that were supposed to be air conditioned, but…ummm…not really.  Buckets.  

It was kinda gross.

In Lyon, which is a WONDERFUL city by the way, AGMA had a COVID test per US requirements to go home.  I was negative so I had to leave the next day.

But the cherry on top of the trip was the flight home.  It was a Air France direct flight from Paris to Chicago.  And it was nearly empty. 

E.M.P.T.Y.

I was in the first cabin in economy (being the value traveler that I am.) There were 78 seats in the cabin.  There were 14 people in the cabin.  AGMA became the undisputed queen of row 20, and was able to lie totally flat to nap on the 4 middle seats.   And they gave me champagne with dinner and cognac after dinner.  

The perfect way to end a most unusual, exhausting, amazing, sweaty trip!

Viva la France!

Wars and wines (minus cycles)

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Our Epernay AirB&B host’s champagne brand! Just the thing to help make packing up to go home a bit more tolerable.

WARS:

Four years ago, AGMA borrowed a friend’s DVD set of Steven Speilburg/Tom Hank’s WWII HBO miniseries Band of Brothers (some 13 years after it aired.) It follows Easy Company of the US Army 101st Airbourne Division from their training in Toccoa, Georgia (right up the road from us!) to D-Day through V-E Day.

Then we saw George Clooney’s 2014 movie, Monuments Men. Based on the book of the same name, it’s the story of a group of museum directors, curators and art historians who, toward the end of WWII, were tasked by the US Government with trying to recover art treasures stolen by the Nazi’s.

We got hooked. Now I know we’re came late to the game, but Hubs and I got hooked on WWII history in Europe. And some WWI history as well.

Soon after, Hubs and I went to Belgium and France. Sound familiar?

To make a long story short, we visited a number of WWII and WWI sites on our 2014 trip. It was eye opening, heart wrenching and incredibly memorable, moving experience.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago.

Return visit to Belgium and France. Here we go…

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The Cloth Hall in Ypres, Belgium. It looks old doesn’t it? It’s not… The Ypres Salient was the scene of intense fighting in WWI with some 450,000 lives lost on both sides.. The entire town of Ypres was destroyed as was everything else in the area. It all became a No Man’s Land. Every building in Ypres dates from after 1916. The rebuilt Cloth Hall is the sight of the In Flanders Fields Museum which is excellent in explaining the WWI history of the area.

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WWI recruitment posters in the In Flanders Fields Museum. Anybody who thinks the rise in Nationalism is a good thing needs to learn more about the causes of WWI, and the devastation that the Nationalist passions back then wrought to Europe. And 16 million people died as a result.

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In driving from Paris to Ypres we passed probably 25 small WWI cemeteries. And there were dozens of small WWI cemeteries around Ypres as well. They just buried the soldiers as they fell in skirmishes and came back after the war to formally mark the graves. The past is very much present and in people’s minds in this part of Europe.

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In Bastogne in the Ardennes where the Battle of the Bulge took place. The 101st was surrounded on three sides by the Germans during the brutal winter of 1944/1945. Supplies had to be air dropped to them and they prevailed until Patton’s Third Army advanced.

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A display of Patton memorabilia in the 101st Airborne Museum in Bastogne.

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Just outside of Bastogne is the Mardasson Memorial honoring the memory of 76,890 American soldiers wounded or killed during the Battle of the Bulge. The memorial itself is a huge 5 pointed star (one of the points can be seen in the distance) Each state name is carved in the parapet, the insignias of each participating battalion on the outside walls and carved in the inside walls are 10 passages describing the battle. They still remember…

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An uncentered photo (sorry…) of Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna in the Church of Our Lady. In Bruges, Belgium. It is breathtaking (AGMA’s photography isn’t!) It was stolen by the Nazi’s in 1944, and was found a year later by the Monuments Men in a salt mine in Austria.

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A view of Saint Bavo Cathedral in Gent, Belgium. The Gent Altarpiece (Adoration of the Mystic Lamb) done in 1432 is located in Saint Bavo. This was another priceless work of art stolen by the Nazi’s and recovered by The Monuments Men. We saw the Altarpiece in 2014, but got to Saint Bavos too late in the day to see it this time. Dang…

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We’re at the Verdun Memorial in Verdun, France. Verdun was the scene for some of the fiercest fighting in WWI. There were anywhere from 700,000 to 1,200,000 casualties in the nearly year long battle. Again, the museum inside the memorial did an excellent job explaining the battle and its aftermath.

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Our rental car’s passenger side mirror and the Douaumont ossuary memorial (around the phallic looking thing…) that contains the bones of 130,000 unidentified French and German soldiers. It’s surrounded by a cemetery of soldiers who were identified. War sucks.

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Like Ypres, the area around Verdun was obliterated by the fighting and the bombing. The chapel at the end of the walkway stands where the church in the village of Fluery once stood. The entire village along with several others was completely destroyed, and was never rebuilt. The craters from the bombs (they look like ski moguls) are still visible all over the landscape over 100 years after the end of the war.

WINES:

Yeah we did!

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The most charming, ancient town of Trier, Germany on the Mosel River. Trier is considered the oldest town in Germany. The Romans moved in back in 30 BC and things have never been the same since! Mosel River = Mosel wines! Cheers!

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No – this is not something in Disney World or Epcot although it looks like it. It’s Colmar, France in The Alsace. And our AirB&B was the white home on the right (NOT the pay toilet…) Our hosts started our visit off right by leaving a bottle of Pinot Blanc in our fridge!

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A canal runs through it…. This section of Colmar is called Little Venice!

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Some of the delicious Alsatian white wine from the Paul Schneider vineyards tasting room in Eguisheim, France. It’s exhausting work, but somebody has to do it….

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The enchanting town of Riquewihr, France. NOT Disney World. We did the Alsatian self guided ‘wine tour’ suggested by Rick Steves and it was nothing but one stinkin’ charming wine producing half timbered house village after another…

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More wine tasting in the tiny village of Hunawihr. We’d never heard of the Sylvaner grape variety, but it make some pretty nice wine!

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Our last stop on our trip was the Champagne region. We stayed in a charming AirB&B in Epernay hosted by the charming Michele who just happened to have her own small champagne house. This meant our fridge was stocked with 4 bottles of her champagne. AGMA did not want to be awakened from this lovely dream…. We had to pay for what we drank but at 14 Euros a bottle, it was an amazing bargain. And yes – Epernay has a glitzy Avenue de Champagne where all the YUGE, bougie producers have locations and you get to pay a premium for a tasting.

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This is ground zero for champagne lovers! This is the Abbey Church in Hautvillers, France where Dom Perignon sang hymns and did Benedictine Monk stuff. Legend says that after he got the fermentation process right for his sparking wine, he ran into the church and said, “Brothers, come quickly! I’m drinking stars…!” Yeah he was! He’s buried in front of the alter of the church.

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The big producers have vineyards everywhere!!

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AGMA and Hubs were very relieved that our precious cargo made it back to the US unbroken and unconfiscated. Four bottles in each of our suitcases. We pack pretty light when we travel so we have room to bring our booty home! There is always the wearing of sackcloth and gnashing of teeth when we drink the last bottle.

So there you have it…the good (wine), the bad (war), the ugly (my pictures) and the ‘makes AGMA’s heart sing’ (cycling!) It was an eventful 2 weeks with a lot of ground covered, great food consumed and fabulous wines tasted.

I’m so blessed.

But AGMA’s glad I’m home and staying home for the foreseeable future. Other than the 5 days in Chicago starting tomorrow…

Yeah we are!

P.S. After I published this, WP informed me that this was my 200th post! Where’s the champagne…???

Cycles, Wars & Wines

Frites all over Belgium.  All. Over. This was a shop in Antwerp that we enjoyed.  They have frites shops/stands like we have hamburger joints in the US.  Word has it that fries were invented in Belgium, but were given that name “French fries” because WWI soldiers got confused because the people in the Flanders part of Belgium speak French.

AGMA loves to travel.

But then you knew that.

Surprisingly, I’m getting a bit burned out on travel. Actually more than a bit.

WTF? Yes…

AGMA’s sure it’s just a temporary condition. AGMA HOPES it’s just a temporary condition.

But seriously….six weeks after I got back from a 2 week trip to Spain/Portugal with a friend, Hubs and I left for a two week trip to Belgium & France. Two days after we got back from Belgium/France last week, we left for a wedding in Nashville.

It was a beautiful wedding by the way…

We got back on Sunday and leave next week for 5 days in Chicago to visit the grands. And their parents. Of course.

Too much travel – definitely a 1st World problem and a really good one at that. But as Hubs can attest to, when AGMA gets pooped, she gets pooped.

And I’m pooped.

Today Hubs suggested a short getaway to NOLA in June because airfares were on sale. I told him to take Son #2, who will be soon unemployed (his choice – he took ‘the package’) and available for junkets. I hope they go.

I’d actually love to have the house to myself for a few days.

So before AGMA turns into a total travel troll, for your entrainment and delight (I’m sure…), I’m sharing a few of the best pictures (not the ones of the ground, my lap, my fingers, etc…) of what I like to call our Cycles, Wars and Wines trip.

I promise it won’t be the 240 pictures that Hubs shared on Facebook. OMG….

First for the Cycles. And you know AGMA loves those young men in spandex!

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So the famous Cobbled Classic bike race, the Tour of Flanders (Ronde Van Vlaanderan) is a one day race that takes place in Belgium.  And it starts in Antwerp.  And at the frite shop that we went to in Antwep (pictured at the top of my post), this was ALL the sauces that you could put on your frites!.  Ketchup is so yesterday…

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Night falling on the Grote Markt (main square) in Antwerp.  AGMA loved Antwerp (over Gent, Brussels and even Bruges!)  The construction in the foreground became the main stage of the start of the Tour of Flanders where the riders signed in.

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A day of spring sunshine brought Antwerpians (??) out to the Groenplaats in Antwerp.  The sunshine didn’t last….

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We’re now in the tiny village of Kwaremont, Belgium where there is a very narrow , steep hill full of cobblestones (called The Kwaremont) that is one of the famous climbs in the Tour of Flanders.   Riders have to ride up not one, not two, but three times! AGMA could barely walk up it….  Oh – and the sunshine and mild temps of Antwerp did not show up in Kwaremont,

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Though a wonderful Belgian organization called Inter that promotes accessibility to sporting events and festivals, we had a GREAT view of the goings on at the top of The Kwaremont.  You know the riders are close when their team cars pass though.  AGMA’s excitement was building….

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My fav rider, World Champion Peter Sagan from Slovakia.  You can tell it was a cold day because the riders are somewhat (for professional cyclists) bundled up.  And so is the crowd.  And so was AGMA.  And Sagan didn’t win – he finished 6th.

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The main square of the town of Oudenaarde, Belgium.  The finish line is just outside of town.  We visited Oudenaarde the day before the race to explore the town, go to the Tour of Flanders Museum (yes there is!) and see the riders in the Tour of Flanders Sportive.  This event takes place a day before the ‘real’ race and allows any cyclist who thinks they have the right stuff to ride part of the course (some ride the whole course – 273km!) There were 3000 riders who rode the Sportive this year.  And I think they all stopped in Oudenaarde for a beer afterwards.

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The official finish line with Sportive riders coming in.  Son#2, the cyclist, rode the Sportive a few years ago and says the vast majority of the Sportive riders are MAMILs (Middle Aged Men In Latex.)

Sunshine, mild temps, riders not bundled up…  Dorothy, I don’t think we’re at the Tour of Flanders anymore.  And you would be right!  We are in a tiny town in France called Maing.  This is another very famous one day Cobbled Classic race called Paris Roubaix.  We drove 100 minutes from Epernay, France and 100 minutes back to watch 5 minutes of bike racing in Maing.  Hubs is a total saint for indulging AGMA’s weird cycling compulsion!  Here’s Peter Sagan again.  And yeah – we were that close to the riders.  And he won!

The guy in the pink helmet is Taylor Phinney, the only rider from the US who was in Paris Roubaix this year.  One thing I adore about cyclists is how incredibly tough they are.  In 2014, at the age of 23, at the US Nationals Road Race, Phinney totally shattered one of his legs in a horrific crash.  He’s worked incredibly hard to come back from that near career ending accident to ride in the Tour de France last year and finish 8th at this Paris Roubaix.  And he is a total character.  When he’s interviewed, he sounds like a laid back California surfer dude, and has a never ending supply of wise sayings and smiles.

Sooo…yikes…this post has gotten way longer than I had intended so I’m going to give you a breather.

And let you heave a sigh of relief that that cycling “stuff” is done. Heathens…

Just kidding.  Not really.

Wars and Wine shortly…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continued…(really)

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Port wine tasting in the Calem Cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia across the river from Porto. All of the big Port wine cellars are in Vila Nova de Gaia.

But wait.

Before AGMA wraps up her Barcelona/diarrhea & barf cruise/Porto travel post, I need to share an exchange that my travel companion, Mary, and I had during the trip.

It started out innocent enough. We were getting ready for dinner one night and she said something like, “That’s as good as it gets.” while looking in a mirror. Mary is a young looking 76 and very pretty when she has her hair done and all her make-up on.

So AGMA, being the magnanimous person that I am, told her I thought she was lovely. She thanked me then, about 5 minutes later said….

Wait for it…

“You know the saying that beauty is only skin deep? Well, they aren’t right about that because you are really beautiful INSIDE. No – I mean that. You have an INNER beauty about you.”

Huh? Did I just hear what I thought I heard? Was the beotch saying that I wasn’t pretty? To my face?

Evidently so. And I think she was pretty pleased with what she said.

Now I know I’m not beautiful in the classic sense. My nose is too big and I wear glasses and I have a receding chin (they used to call it a ‘weak chin‘ back in the day.) And I don’t wear any make-up.

I’m AGMA au naturale…. What you see is what you get. No nasty surprises.

But I always thought that ‘cute” was the word for me.

Yeah…I’m just real cute.

So rather than grabbing her by the hair, yanking and clawing her with my non-existent fingernails (I’m a massage therapist remember?), I just looked at her sideways and mumbled, “Well bless your heart!”

For those of you who have spent any time at all in the American South, you know EXACTLY what I was saying to her….

Okay. I really needed to get that monkey off my back.

Back in Barcelona, Mary rested in the non-sticky room while I finished up my Barcelona sightseeing. She was much improved by the end of the day and ready to roll.

That night we flew to Porto (Oporto to some,) Portugal to continue in the Griswold vacation tradition of, “Oh God…what’s going to happen next?”

But seriously, Porto was beautiful! Great food, beautiful architecture, interesting history.

And AGMA learned an awful lot about Port wine.

That was fun.

So with a nod to my travel friend The Wife of Bath at Picnic at the Cathedral’s latest post about bad travel photography that made me laugh out loud, I present to you AGMA’s photo journal of Porto and environs…

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The Riberia neighborhood waterfront in Porto on the Duoro River. Gotta love the satellite dishes!

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The fantastical (is that a word?) Livraria Lello bookstore. J.K. Rowlings lived in Porto for a year and was said to have gotten some of her Harry Potter inspiration here! It’s so popular that there is normally a long queue, and they charge a 4 Euro admission. But you get a 4 Euro credit on any purchase you make so of course AGMA made a purchase!

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The incredible tile work in the Sao Bento train station.

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The colors of Porto!

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This is an old Rabelo boat. They are wooden cargo boats that were used for centuries to transport people and goods (especially Port wine barrels!) along the Douro River.

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This street used to be the Beverly Hills 90210 of Porto back in the day.

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This is your cardiologist’s worst nightmare… It’s the famous (in Porto) Francesinha sandwich. It’s cured ham, linguica (a Portuguese sausage), fresh sausage and steak stacked between two pieces of fat bread smothered in melted cheese with an egg on top and covered in a special, slightly spicy tomato and beer sauce. We didn’t get the egg and got the sauce on the side. Party poopers….

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The beautiful Douro Valley where the Port wine grapes are grown. It’s about a 90 minute drive from Porto.

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The most elegant McDonalds ever! It’s called the Imperial McDonalds because they took over the old art deco Imperial Cafe on Liberdade Square.

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Italian churches ain’t got nothing on Porto churches! The interiors were all over the top, covered with gold leaf and life sized statues! This is Igreja do Carmo Catholic Church.

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We climbed all 200 steps to the top of the Clerigos Tower (built in 1763) for a spectacular view of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia across the Douro River.

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AGMA loves the contrast of the modern fountain with the traditional homes. In the Riberia neighborhood of Porto.

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The narrow streets of the ancient Riberia. Don’t you love the color coordinated laundry?

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Quinta do Tedo – a small boutique Port producer in the Duoro Valley. OMG…they still stomp grapes with their feet to crush them in the Fall! AGMA feels as if she needs to go back in September to see that!

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Port sampling makes for new friends! AGMA the Cougar’s new BFFs from Croatia. The absolute BEST part of travel is the people you meet. I’m just thankful that most folks seem to speak English.

Can you tell how gorgeous Porto is? It’s an extremely welcoming city – the people could not have been friendlier or more helpful. It’s very compact & walkable (but lots of hills.) But Uber is really cheap if you poop out. And, overall, it’s less expensive that other cities in Europe. And the food is amazing!

Score!

AGMA’s advice…put it on your Bucket List!

Nothing was sticky

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Best chocolate eclair EVER!!

Imagine that you’re trapped in an interior, windowless 8 ft by 14 ft room with recirculated air for 7 days with another human being who is NOT your significant other. Or even a semi-significant other.

Now imagine the 5 ft by 5 ft bathroom – so small you can brush you teeth in the sink while sitting on the “throne”. Not that I did that…

Well – maybe once. I was in a hurry.

Now imagine that the person you’re trapped with has, not one, but two bouts with an intestinal bug during the 7 days you are in this itty, bitty, closed in room. The first occurrence manifested it’s self in the lower GI tract. The second was in the upper digestive area.

Both involved extensive use of the toilet, if you get my drift.

Welcome to AGMA’s Griswold European vacation!

Vacation blues indeed.

Our first 4 nights in Barcelona were great! Sangria, pinxto, tapas, cava, cider, chocolate. Pretty standard, awesome stuff for Barcelona!

Our hotel, The Denit, was wonderful. Not luxury, but nice amenities and location, location, location. We had a lovely terrace that would have wonderful to use had the weather been a bit warmer.

HOHO (hop on hop off) bus tour, walking tour of the Gothic Quarter with Runner Bean Tours, a Barcelona Guitar Orchestra concert at the Palau de la Musica (amazing place!), a tapas tour with Sandemans New Barcelona Tours (I managed NOT to get my purse stolen on this one), self-directed Monserrat tour, Sagrada Familia (for 4 hours), the Picasso Museum, dinner with an old friend who is in Barcelona for a few months.

Whew. Awesome.

Then the trouble started.

On Friday, Mary (my traveling companion) was struck with some sort of a bug during breakfast and promptly proceeded to act like she was prepping for a colonoscopy. Multiple times.

This was a problem.

We were supposed to board our cruise ship in the early afternoon. It was 10 AM.

Dutiful AGMA went to the pharmacy. My pantomime to the pharmacist the nature of the problem could’ve made me a YouTube star. The pharmacist he knew exactly what the problem was…

9 Euros later, Mary was downing a couple of “plug up” pills. A wonderful front desk clerk who knew of our dilemma allowed us to stay 2 hours past the checkout time so Mary could rest. And hopefully the magic pills would do their thing.

So, naturally, AGMA went out shopping.

Don’t judge me.

“Things” settled down with Mary. She managed to rally when we needed to check out. A quick cab ride to the dock and a painless check-in, and we were in our cabin on the MSC Meravaglia. Mary promptly went to bed where she stayed for the rest of the day and most of the next day.

AGMA was alone and on her own.

MSC is a European cruise line. Most of their customers are from Europe. And Asia I think, judging by the number of kimonos on the formal nights. While most folks spoke English, I was definitely in the minority as a native English speaker. And seriously in the minority as an American.

The ship was new last May and is sparkling. And HUGE. There were 19 floors. Something like 4 pools and 10 hot tubs. Four chocolatiers actually making chocolates in a very large, open shop. A mozzarella cheese making kitchen. A bowling alley with 2 lanes. An indoor tennis court. 10 lounges/bars (one just for champagne). A specially made Cirque du Soleil theater with 2 different CdS shows. An long (think shopping mall long) 2 story atrium with shops and restaurants, and digital projections and shows on the ceiling. A outdoor water park and obstacle course. A large casino, 3 large restaurants, a huge buffet and large theater for their live shows rounded out the offerings.

AGMA was overwhelmed.

Mary perked up on day 2 (Sunday) having missed a trip into Marseilles on day 1. I liked Marseilles. I had the best chocolate eclair EVER from a small bakery there…

All was well in Genoa (day 3), Rome (day 4) and Palermo (day 5).

Then, double trouble struck. Mary got another bug the evening of day 5. This time it was tummy issues. It also involved multiple visits to the bathroom.

But wait…AGMA got sick as well. All of the wine and spirits, and fatty foods I’d been ingesting for 9 days made my pancreas very, very angry. So I was down for the count with acute pancreatitis.

We both missed the tour of Malta on day 6 and I am very, very sad about that. FWP right?

I rallied on day 7 which was an ‘at sea’ day. Mary, on the other hand, stayed in bed for yet another day. AGMA has never seen anybody sleep for almost 48 hours. Because she is 76 and basically hadn’t eaten and had very little to drink for 2 days, I suggested she see the ship doctor.

Nah baby nah – she wouldn’t do it.

But she HAD to get up and dressed on day 8 because we were back in Barcelona.  Our cruise was over.

Our original plan was to go to Park Guell and do some other sightseeing before our flight for Portugal took off that evening. But Mary didn’t have the endurance to walk down the street let alone walk around Barcelona. She had no clue what to do.

AGMA (cue the hero music) to the rescue! I found service called ByHours that rents hotel rooms in 3, 6 and 12 hour blocks.

And I know what your thinking…

Yes, maybe it’s used for that. Okay, for sure it’s used for that, but it is also for travelers with long layovers (no pun intended.) I got Mary a room at a small hotel on Las Ramblas for 6 hours.

It was a nice room. And nothing was sticky. That was encouraging.

To be continued……

Pass the cava

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Even though I’m in Barcelona now, AGMA’d love to tell you that I’m enjoying a cafe con leche and writing this post in a small cafe in the Gothic Quarter.

But I’m not.

As much as I want to dash off a post after our first few days in Spain to let everybody know how it’s going, AGMA is a realist. I’ve been through this too many times before. It ain’t happening.

So I’m in my favorite coffee shop in Atlanta. And I’m going to use that future post date function in WP.  I love that.

This trip is going to be really interesting.

Hubs is staying home taking care of the Princes of Casa AGMA, otherwise known as our cats, Max and Gus.

So I’m traveling with a dear friend who is getting ready to turn 77 in March. She’s young in mind and spirit, and is in great shape physically.  Plus she’s a voracious international traveler.

However, she’s hard of hearing (and won’t get a hearing aid) and I think she’s starting to have some memory issues.

And she has really fuzzy personal space boundaries.  This kinda makes me more crazy than I already am.

You know the type…physically, she moves really close to you whenever you interact. We spent 9 days in Paris 5 years ago and by the time AGMA got home, I wanted to move into a monastic hermitage and live alone the rest of my life. We would look at something in a store window and she was practically right on top of me. I may have gently thrown an elbow at her once or twice.

Don’t judge me.

It was a relief to be in a restaurant and have my own side of the table.

I think it might be related to her hearing loss?

So I’m looking for some suggestions as to how I might let her know in a sweet, kind, but firm way that she tends to get a bit to up close and personal. Anything?

Since I’m getting over the flu, I can use that for a few days.

“Don’t get to close to me Mary, I still have an active virus inside of me and could soon be a biter on the Walking Dead.”

Our trip is in 3 parts.

Part 1 – Barcelona. Cava, tapas/pintxo, paella, cava, crema catalana, bombas, cava, jamon ibericao, cava.

Can you see the pattern? AGMA loves me my sparking!

Since my last visit in Barcelona was so brief, I’m anxious to see what I missed the first time around.

Added bonus…AGMA has a former co-worker working on her masters in Barcelona so she’s going to hang with us on some of our adventures. Nothing beats having an insider show you the local scene!

Part 2 – ‘The Cruise’  THIS is going to be the true adventure. We are going on a 7 night Mediterranean cruise on a cruse line that gets terrible ratings on the all of the cruise bulletin boards. The ship itself is new and supposedly amazing, but everything else pretty much sucks according to the reviews. But it’s cheap – really cheap – and we’ll be seeing places we’ve never been (except Rome and you really can’t visit Rome too much…)

AGMA’s a firm believer of going into something like this with the lowest possible expectations. That way, if something is actually decent, it’s thrilling!

I’m planning on bringing lots of hand sanitizer and antiseptic wipes.

Part 3 – Porto, Portugal. Portugal is hot right now. Not with heat (although temps aren’t too bad) but as a tourist destination. In 2017, it was voted by the Word Travel Awards as the Best European Destination. Portugal actually took home 37 of the 123 awards.

Smokin’ hot.

Who knew?

AGMA visited Lisbon and the Algarve about 5 years ago. Since Mary abdicated all of the trip planning responsibilities to me, I decided that we’d go to Porto, home of Port wine. It’s supposed to be incredibly charming and a throw back to “old” Portugal (whatever that means…), and prices for food ‘n stuff are less than in Lisbon.

And after sharing a tiny interior cabin on the cruise for 7 nights with a person who has personal space boundary issues, I booked a 2 bedroom AirB&B in Porto.

Of course.

I’m hoping to be able to post while we’re on the cruise (or at a port with wifi) so you may actually get some real time AGMA updates from the road. Or water.

‘May’ being the operative word…

AGMA has to admit that I’m so looking forward to 2 1/2 weeks without hearing about the Massively Yuge Sh*thole Cheeto every minute of every day. Ignorance is definitely not bliss when it comes to the attempted destruction of our democracy, but a little respite now and then is good for the soul.

The only problem is that, when people find out we’re Americans, EVERYBODY (I know this from experience) will be asking us, “What the hell is going on with the US??”

I think my answer will be, courtesy of Molly Shannon’s horrible alter ego comedienne, Jeannie Darcy….

“Don’t get me started. Don’t even get me started.”

Pass the cava.

Three strikes…

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AGMA channeling Bob Ross

…and AGMA’s out.

I have the flu.

At least I think it’s the flu. Fever, mild chills, congestion, coughing, just feeling over all crappy. I’d be willing to write it off as a cold if it wasn’t for the fever. AGMA rarely gets a fever.

I need to get rid of this. Fast.

AGMA’s going on another juant… Back to Barcelona to track down those darned would be purse thieves. Read about my harrowing adventure here.

And I leave on Sunday morning which doesn’t give me a lot of time to heal.

(Just kidding about the purse thieves. I’m not on steroids anymore so they’d probably beat the crap out of me.)

Son #2 wants me to go to a Doc-in-a-Box.

Great idea, but it snowed last night in Atlanta. Again. And it’s really cold so…once again….the whole city has shut down.

Including the Doc-in-a-Boxes…

Evidently getting sick in Atlanta when it snows is a risky proposition.

I emailed my regular doc. I love her, but she tends to be very conventional. She said it ‘could’ just be a cold. Some colds present with fevers. And they can last anywhere from 24 to 36 hours, and if mine lasts more than 36 hours, I should come in.

Except they were closed today. I plan to be on the phone bright an early tomorrow morning.

I’m sick of being sick if you know what I mean.

I started to get a cold in mid-December but immediately did my Kung Fu cold fighting moves. Oil of Oregano, Umcka drops, zinc lozenges, neti pot (such a delightful experience…), fizzy vitamin C.

And it went away with nary a sneeze.

AGMA was feelin’ pretty, pretty cocky.

Strike 1.

Then, I came down with the mother of all colds on Christmas Day when we were in Chicago. Courtesy of TMAGCITW otherwise know as the adorable germ factories.

And I didn’t have any of my Kung Fu voodoo stuff with me.

Oh the humanity!

It took me a while to shake that cold. I must have gone through 3 boxes of tissues. I had no idea one person could produce that much mucus. Except Trump of course. I’m sure he can out mucus/snot anybody with the best mucus/snot from the best sinus’ ever.

Strike 2.

Then I awakened on Monday and whispered those 4 little words that Hubs really never wants to hear.

“I think I’m sick.”

Actually, I croaked them.

So I was hacking and coughing and snotting. And feeling really, really lazy. Then yesterday I had some pretty serious body aches and started to get chills. “Mr. Feder, you sound like a real attractive guy.”

And I though I felt a bit warm, but AGMA couldn’t find out new fangled thermometer that you stick in your ear.

But I honestly didn’t suspect the flu. What a dolt….

So I went about my business yesterday. I had a corporate chair massage job in the afternoon. I loaded up on cough suppressant and the kids stuff that dries your nose up. I had 10 clients. Oops.

Then I went to a “Paint like Bob Ross” night at a local pizza place. I felt like sh*t, but we’d paid for it already so I went. AGMA didn’t want to be a wimp.  After all, I’m a mom, I know how to power through.

In hindsight (and I have spectacular hindsight), I wouldn’t have done the chair massage job. But the Bob Ross night was a total HOOT – we got wigs and painted a snowy mountain scene. I probably would have still done that.

Don’t judge me.

I got concerned today when I finally found the ‘stick in you ear’ thermometer (honestly, are those things really accurate?). I was at nearly 101.

Hmmmm…

Then I looked up the symptoms of this 2018 version of the flu. I had 6 out of the 8 symptoms.

Hmmmm…

Strike 3.

AGMA has cleared my calendar until I leave.

I missed dinner with Son#2 tonight. It was his early birthday dinner – I’ll be gone on his real birthday. This makes me sad. Hubs went out with him instead.

And I’ll be missing an event called Power to the Polls GA on Saturday to mark the 1 year anniversary of the Women’s March in DC and Atlanta. Instead of marching again this year, the organizers are maturing the local resistance movement to bring together amazing speakers, have workshops in grassroots empowerment and provide plenty of volunteer opportunities as the 2018 mid-terms approach. And considering the Yuge Girth Cheeto Sh*thole’s antics of the past week, those mid-terms can’t get here fast enough.

AGMA will certainly be engaged in continued resistance to the attempted dismantling of our democracy. But it’s just nice to be around folks who have really put some skin in the game. And are wearing pink pussy hats.

*sigh*

I know, a barely 1st world problem (because we’re barely a 1st world country anymore.)

AGMA’s out after her three strikes.

I’m tired and sad that I am missing fun and important stuff. And I’m concerned about flying in an enclosed metal tube with recirculated air for 9 hours on Sunday.  And coughing.

So AGMA’s going to tuck in for the night and pretend like everything is going to be fine.

Hope springs eternal.

See you in Barcelona!

Salamanders and sips

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In Chateau d’Amboise

AGMA’s so on top of things.

I’ve been back from my trip over 2 weeks and I’m just now getting around to writing about the last week and a half of our adventure.

Top notch travel blogger here.

Our last 10 days in France can be summed up as a festival of the nectar of Vitis vinifera.

And Francis I.

AGMA can’t say I’d ever heard of Francis I (1494-1547) before last month, but if you go into any of the grand chateaus in the Loire Valley, you’ll see his salamanders everywhere.

Yeah. Salamanders. With little crowns.

WTF??

Francis I was the first king of France with absolute power, and ruled from 1515 to 1547. And everybody knows every king with absolute power needs a symbol he can slather all over his castles just in case people don’t know they belong to him.

Evidently back in the day, folks thought salamanders were magical creatures able to live in and use fire for their own purposes. They were a symbol of power, mystery and purity. I guess Francis liked that ‘cause all the chateaus we visited were dripping with salamanders.

With little crowns.

Not having Instagram or Twitter back then – they were sooooo lucky – Francis I had to travel around France with his entourage giving folks some face time so everybody knew that he was THE king.

It’s good to be the king.

He seemed to have spent an inordinate amount of time in the Loire Valley. But of course it was the Beverly Hills 90210 of the time. It was the epicenter of chic where all of the beautiful and powerful people in France hung out.

Paris was so 1400’s…

We visited 7 chateau’s in the Loire – Chenonceau, Gaillard, Amboise, du Close Luce, d’Azay-le-Rideau, Blois, and the grand Chambord. Easy for me to say. They were all either built by Francis or “borrowed” by Francis.

Like I said, it’s good to be the king.

Good Lord, AGMA can’t clean our townhouse. Chambord alone would have done me in…

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Honey, can you grab the vacuum cleaner and a mop?

Aside from the yugely biggly chateaus, there was wine in the Loire. Lots of wine. While not as famous as Bordeaux and Burgundy, the Loire Valley produces some lovely, affordable wines. Both red and white.

We visited Vouvray twice for “tastings”.

“Tastings” is code for “they give you enough wine to get you well on your way.”

That’s what I’m takin’ about!  A “tasting” in Burgundy.

We stayed at an AirB&B in Amboise during our visit to the Loire Valley. Our host was the fabulous Christine who spoke wonderful English. Here is the link to our room. Everything in Amboise was walkable from her home and she served a uber-yummy breakfast in the morning with home-made crepes and preserves. It was a great value for the money.

We got very, very serious about wine after we left the Loire. We spent 3 days in Burgundy and then 2 days in the Champagne region.

More tastings! AGMA loved me my “tastings”!

Burgundy was really interesting if you are a oenophilia. Yeah, I said it. Oenophilia.

It was fascinating learning about all of the wine “rules” there. And there are a lot of rules. Which is why wines from this area are $$. Actually, they are $$$. And some are even $$$$.

Hubs is a pretty steady guy and doesn’t get excited by much. But you should have seen him when we drove through the unassuming looking Vosne-Romanee vineyards. He was as excited as tRump with a bag of Cheetos in a spray tan booth watching Fox and Friends.

The vineyards looked like the vineyards we saw around Saint Emilion and the Medoc and in other areas of Burgundy.

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Evidently they’re not.

The 6 Grand Cru vineyards in this area only total a mere 67 acres. But most of the bottles of wine produced from these vineyards are all pre-sold starting at $1000 and up. Depending on the location of the vineyard, the year, the producer and the harvest “rules”, prices can go up into the 10’s of thousands.

In case you’re wondering, AGMA did not bring a bottle of this particular wine home.

Burgundy was actually kind of a pricey area. For us, it was real pricey. Hubs somehow lost his wallet (the jury is still out on how it happened…) He was panicked. Naturally.

But of course AGMA had my wits about me. I went to the TI (Tourist Information Office) across the street from the last place he had it, and we were in luck.

Sort of.

Yes, they had his wallet. Yes, it had all his credit cards and ID and other cards in it.

No, there wasn’t any money in it. To the tune of about $300.

Ouch.

Having learned my lesson last summer in stealth purse protection when my purse got stolen in Barcelona (it was recovered in tact from the hapless lady thieves), I would say Hubs learned his lesson in stealth wallet protection. An expensive lesson.

Ouch.

In Burgundy, we stayed in Beaune which was brilliant. Our hotel, the Brit Hotel Au Grand Saint Jean, was a great value (for the area) in a fabulous location. Easy walking distance to all of Beaune and some fabulous restaurants.

After Burgundy, we drove north. Our next stop was Reims.

Finally, AGMA was headed to the promise land…

OMG – CHAMPAGNE!!

But this post is getting too long and I have a lot to say about our last 4 days in France, sooooo…..

Meet me here next week.

Same time, same place.

 

 

 

Oh my…

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Yeah I did!!

That was fun.  I think.

AGMA’s not sure that I’ve ever thought of a marathon as fun, but this was probably as close to being fun as one can get.

No – it was definately fun!

To relieve the burning question you all have – I did finish.  Barely.

But let’s start from the beginning….

We arrived in Pauillac on September 7.  Pauillac is in the Haut-Medoc region of Bourdeux.  The wine in this area is spectacular.  But since AGMA was going to attempt to run/walk 26.2 miles (42KM) in two days, I needed some restraint.

I was semi-successful.

It was difficult.  There was/is wine everywhere.  Everywhere.  Good wine for very little $$. Great wine for very little $$.

There was wine at the little Expo.

Every marathon has an expo the day before (or sometimes two days) the run.  The runners pick up their running “bibs” (with their number on them and timing chips on back) and get a goodie bag (ususally).  There are also booths and displays from vendors trying to sell you running “stuff”.

This one had wine.  Lots of it.

Then there was the pasta “dinner” the night before the marathon at Chateau Livran.  For 1500 close friends.  That started – started mind you – at 8:30 P.M.

It was beyond description so I’ll just post a few pictures.

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The calm before the storm…  Because of Hubs mobility issue, they let us into the dining area early.

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This was a man who was dressed like a woman who evidently decided that undergarments were for the weak.  This was evident when he lifted his arms to dance or bent over, which he did frequently.  Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore!

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Each time a new wine was served, the wine stewards marched out to music each carrying 6 to 8 bottles.

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The first of 4 bottles of wine – all from different wine Chateau’s – they brought for Hubs and I, and a couple from England we were sitting with!

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And then everybody danced.  And danced.  And danced!

OMG – the French sure know how to have a pasta dinner!

AGMA tried to be restrained.  I only sampled each wine and probably had 2 glasses total. Others were not quite so restrained.

Ah, to be young again.

I felt it was a poor decision for others to dance when they were going to run a marathon the next day.  Tut, tut…

That is until the band played Pharrell’s song, Happy.  And Earth, Wind and Fire’s song September.

Yup.  AGMA joined in the party.

Hubs and I tore ourselves away from the party and headed back to Pauillac at 10:15 P.M.  This was BEFORE they served dessert.   At that point, we’d been served 4 bottles of wine between 4 of us.  Who know how much was served after we left…

Every party needs a pooper right?  An AGMA pooper.

Thankfully, the marathon didn’t start until 9:30 A.M.  And AGMA was stealth in planning this trip – we were in an AirB&B in Pauillac, about a 10 minute walk to the start of the run.  And the finish.

So I got a good night’s sleep.

Thank God.

I’m not going to go into details about the run.  AGMA will just say it with pictures….

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Vikings!

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1st of 20 wine stops

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I saw this guy finish!  He ran 26.2 mile wearing an Eiffel Tower.  Yikes!

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The theme was 33 RPM because it was the 33rd running running of the marathon.  Lots of hippies, rockers and, especially Elvis’.

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Lots and lots and lots of men dressed as women.  tRump would have a fit.  Or try to pick one up…

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The guys in red had inflatable dinosaurs on them!  Normal for a marathon really… NOT!

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OMG – I got behind the sweep wagon!  If you are behind these guys at the finish, you don’t get a medal.  AGMA hauled butt after I snapped this!

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Just another Chateau to drink at!

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Caught guys (again, dressed as women…) peeing in the vineyards while I snapped a picture of one of several beautiful rainbows during the run.

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AGMA stems afterward!

There was a naked guy who had nothing but his bib in front of his twig and berries who threw up at one of the wine stops.  That picture might be TMI…

So AGMA finished.  I got the medal.  I got the backpack.  I got the bottle of wine.

Official time…slow.  Let’s just say I beat the sweepers, but I’m pretty sure they slowed down along the way.

This was a good thing since I was over 6 hours and 30 minutes…

I’m sore.  And still tired.

But boy, was it fun!

Next year?

 

Parlez-vous bucket list?

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AGMA’s getting ready for a bucket list experience.

Okay – it wasn’t really on my bucket list, but then again, I don’t really have a bucket list.

Well, I do, but it’s a dynamic list. Most things get added after I’ve done them.

It’s also a mental list. God forbid I writing/type anything down. That would be a bit too ‘restrictive’. And concrete.

AGMA likes flexiblity.

It’s just soooooo satisfying to add things to my mental bucket list after I’ve done them, then mentally check them off the list.

I think there might be a diagnosis for that.

Hubs and I leave on Sunday for 23 days in France.

What?? 23 days?? Are you crazy?? Are you rich??

23 days in France. Yes. Maybe. No.

We made the airline reservations way back in January right before the inauguration. Getting out of the country for an extended period seemed like a really good idea at the time.

Still does.

And we caught an amazing sale. $394 RT per person from ATL to CDG.

Yeah we did!

And we were heady at the prospects of Hubs impending retirement and no restrictions on vacation length anymore. We really didn’t think through the budget restrictions we would have after retirement…

But AGMA’s a ‘value’ travel planner so I think we’ll be okay.

Lots of Airbnb’s and budget hotels. But they all have good reviews, so no bed bugs. Hopefully.

And lots of ‘value’ meals. We need to cut back on calories anyway.

AGMA’s going to try to post while we are gone. ‘Try’ being the operative word. I might just post a “Hello, we are in ______. Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here.”

We’ll see how things go.

Getting back to the bucket list experience that I didn’t know was on my bucket list until February…

Since I was planning on running the Rome marathon in April, I figured AGMA would make 2017 the year of the international marathon. I started looking for a marathon to run in Europe during this trip.

And boy, did I find one!

It’s called the Marathon du Medoc and is unlike any other marathon in the world.

Turns out, it’s on many runner’s bucket lists. Who knew?

It’s in the Bordeaux region of France where some of the best wines in the the universe are produced.

So it would be natural that instead of water stops for runners, there are wine stops right?

Twenty (20) to be exact, from some of the top wine Chateau’s in the world. Actually, you can get water at the wine stops too, but seriously?

Wimps.

Aside from the wine, there are ‘nutrition’ stops. But instead of the orange slices and bananas and energy gels you get at a normal marathon, they will have breads and sweets and meats and cheeses.

BONUS – at mile 20…oysters!

Finally, all the runners dress up. Well – the fun ones dress up. Which is about 90% of the 8500 runners.

Hey, AGMA’s fun.

But AGMA has to schlep my costume across the Atlantic in my little suitcase. So I opted for compact, easy to run in and cheap so I can pitch it all afterwards.

And nothing says compact, easy to run in and cheap like HULA GIRL!!

Yes – AGMA is going to be a hula girl. But don’t expect any pictures. Nah baby nah.

I don’t mind exposing my chubby arms and midriff to a bunch of crazy, drunk French strangers, but to post a picture of Hula AGMA for the rest of the world to see…

Oh, the humanity!

The marathon time limit is 6 hours and 30 minutes. My fastest marathon was 6 hours and 10 minutes. And I thought I was going to die afterwards.

This does not bode well. Especially since there’s wine involved.

But then again, maybe the wine will help.

So AGMA’s decided not to stress about it and just enjoy what is sure to be a once in a lifetime experience. If I end up swimming in the pond at Chateau Lafite Rothschild for the afternoon, so be it.

Two things I know for sure. It’s going to be unlike anything I’ve ever done. And I’m gonna come back with some pretty good stories.

Aging Gracefully My Ass!

Catch you on the other side of the Pond.

P.S. If you are in the US and haven’t yet donated towards the relief efforts of the historic, devastating Texas floods, please consider donating today to the charity of your choice. Just make sure it’s legit… Love you all for your generous hearts and spirits!