What I did on my almost summer vacation

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AGMA goes to France!

I know I promised last week, but it’s just so difficult to distill 15 days worth of sights, sounds, tastes and experiences into just 35 photos.  But honestly…that’s probably the maximum number of pictures of somebody else’s vacation that anybody really wants to view.

I know, right?

The “tile” organization of the pictures kind of distorts them – yuck and sorry…  You can hover over each picture if you want to read the compelling caption on each one.

As promised, “AGMA goes to France” in pictures:

 

 

 

 

 

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The Chateau de Villandry in the Loire Valley that is world famous for its gardens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The back of our car at the end of 2400 miles around France. It’s kind of a good thing our friends luggage never caught up with us, but they were reunited with it in Paris before they flew back to the US.

Speaking of travel, for heavens sake, if you haven’t already, subscribe to Scott’s Cheap Flights!

We just booked another trip last night for September on British Airways, $290 round trip Atlanta to Paris.

Wow!!

We promptly cancelled it this morning to get a full refund (even non-refundable fares are refundable within the first 24 hours).

AGMA hated to do that!

But we need to let our waistlines and bank accounts recover for a bit before heading out again.

Sometimes being practical sucks.

 

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Easy peasy, stress free travel planning – Part 4 (the finale)

 

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So it’s been so long since the Part 3 post, AGMA forgot where I was…

I think I was lecturing everybody about not sleeping with bed bugs.

Not a hard sell (I hope…)

The lodging piece is such a very important part of your travel experience.  It can make or break a trip.  And of course, you want it to make the trip…

…absolutely fabulous, darling!

For our upcoming trip to France (coming up really fast for an unprepared AGMA), we have booked a combination of small hotels and AirB&B’s.  It just all depends on the location, the cost and the parking situation as to what I booked.

We’re going to be traveling with another couple, so getting a two bedroom apartment through AirB&B in several cases was MUCH cheaper than booking two hotel rooms.

AGMA has had wonderful AirB&B experiences and would not hesitate to recommend using them if they make sense for your trip.  I truly believe that 99.9% of AirB&B hosts are NOT going to have a hidden camera in your room.  And if they do, they will be horribly disappointed with AGMA staying there.

Like watching paint dry…

IMPORTANT: ALWAYS read the reviews on any AirB&B’s you are considering.  A-L-W-A-Y-S.  And stay with a Super Host if you can.  These are folks who are…Super Hosts. Very smilier to Super Heros (can you tell I spent last weekend with the grands?), they give you a fantastic, heroic AirB&B exprience.

Our AirB&B host in Epernay, France last year had our fridge stocked with her own brand of champagne!

Eddie and Patsy, com’on over!

AGMA is a “thrifty” traveler. And I generally don’t like to pay for 100% of my lodging up front, which is how AirB&B used to work.  Booking with AirB&B all depended on the host’s cancellation policy (which you need to read and understand.).  With a flexible    policy, you can generally cancel several days before your trip and get a full refund minus the service fee.  Those are the ones AGMA liked to book.

Now, AirB&B has an option to pay 50% of the cost at the time of booking.  Yes please!  The balance is due something like 7 to 10 days before your stay.  Again, you need to pay attention to the date you will be charged for the balance.  It’ll automatically be put on your credit card.

But you still need to be aware of the host’s cancellation policy.  And AGMA still wants to only book the flexible ones!

Check in procedures for AirB&Bs can vary widely.  They will be posted by the host on your reservation which is why you need to have the AirB&B app on your phone so you can refer to them when you’re driving into town!

If you booked an entire apartment or studio, some hosts want to meet you to see how many tattoos and piercings you have (just kidding…sort of) and show you around the property.  This can make coordinating schedules a bit tricky between your travel and their schedule.   But we’ve always been able to make it work and actually enjoy meeting our hosts.

Other hosts give you a code and you get the key out of a lockbox so you can arrive at any time.

If you are renting a room in a home (which I have done on numerous occasions), you will always have to coordinate your schedule with your hosts.

On rare occasions, I have also booked lodging through Priceline or Hotwire.  If you haven’t used these two booking sites yet, they can offer incredibly cheap lodging at your destination, however you don’t know exactly where you’ll be staying until after you pay 100% in advance and book.  And the booking is non-refundable if you cancel.

Ugh.

With Priceline, you can “name your own price” for hotel.  If they accept your bid, again, you don’t know where you’ll be staying until AFTER you pay for your non-refundable booking.  There are bidding strategies to use in order to increase your chances of getting your bid accepted, but that is out of scope for this post.  Sorry…

Google “How to bid on Priceline” and you will get bidding strategies out the wazoo…

Clearly, this is a risky venture if you want to stay in a specific location at your destination or in a certain class of hotel.  Or both.  Both sites show you a radius of the area their hotels are located in, but it’s usually a pretty big radius.  And I’ve also found out that their hotel rating system doesn’t exactly agree with AGMA’s rating system.  Their 3 star hotel might be my 2 star hotel.  Bummer.

There’s a “helper” website called Betterbidding.com that can give you insights from other travelers on they hotels that Priceline and Hotwire are using in specific cities. Many times Better Bidding also has discount coupons for both sites.

AGMA used the Better Bidding site for researching bidding on a hotel in New Orleans because it’s such as walkable/scooterable city.  We got a killer deal at the Royal Sonesta  Hotel on Bourbon Street which would normally be waaaayyyy out of our price range.  It was a gorgeous hotel and we had a spectacular time!

I know that there are many more options for budget travel lodging like house swapping, house sitting, hospitality clubs, friends of friends of friends, Couchsurfing.com, but AGMA hasn’t done any of those so you don’t get to hear about them.

Sorry.

But if you’ve had any experiences with any of those, please comment – we’d love to hear about your adventures!

Every day’s a school day.

Happy travel ya’ll!!

P.S.  Can’t sign off without mentioning the devestating fire in Notre Dame.  I still can’t believe it.  USA tax deductible donations for her restoration can be made at www.notredamedeparis.fr or just Google “Friends of Notre Dame”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yup – that tyre’s flat

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Were the Raisinets yummy?

Time to get back to it…AGMA’s back from Ireland!

And I don’t know how to thank everybody enough for sending those good thoughts our way!

M did not trip once nor did she fall ill for days with some strange virus.  And she was slurping water like a camel to stay plenty hydrated so no fainting.

But AGMA did not dare celebrate until we stepped foot in the good ole’ USA.  One can never be too careful…

We both caught colds but that seemed pretty minor compared to the litany of evils that could have beset us. 

The big excitement of the trip came on Day #1.

After landing in Dublin, we picked up our chariot for the next 8 days – a 2017 Ford Focus with the steering wheel on the wrong side.

Five years ago, AGMA also drove around Ireland with another friend.  The first few days were on good roads (decode: wide enough for two cars to fit comfortably), so I got the “driving on the left” thing down pretty well before we got to more “cosy” roads (decode: 1 1/2 cars wide and curvy, with rock walls on both sides of the road and a speed limit of 80km)

This trip was a bit different.  

Our destination for our first night was the lovely town of Kilkenny.  And as many travelers to Ireland do, we went via the beautiful Wicklow Mountains for a side trip to visit the ancient monastic settlement of Glendalough.

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Founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century, Glendalough is incredibly beautiful – especially in the sunshine!

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The Wicklow Mountains are gorgeous!

If you’ve never driven on the left before, there is a natural tendency for us “right side of the roaders” to drive a bit too far to the left.  Some, more than a bit too far to the left.  Until the driver gets a sense of where the middle of the road is and how the car should be centered, they are doomed to hang left for a spell.

On wider roads, this is not a big problem. 

On cosy roads, this can result in, among other things, tree branches slapping the passengers windshield causing the passenger to lean to the right in a vain attempt to magically move the car over.  Seriously.  I’ve been in that passenger seat before and done the leaning.  

It doesn’t work.

One of the other things that can happen is that the driver, in an attempt not to graze an oncoming car, moves over to the left too far and goes off the road.  

Sometimes they get lucky.  Sometimes there isn’t a rock wall.  Or trees.  Or thick hedgerow.  Or sharp, pointy rocks to the immediate left.

AGMA was not lucky that day in the Wicklow Mountains.  

Coming down from Wicklow Pass on the way to Kilkenny, I moved over too far to the left to avoid hitting an oncoming car (that in reality was about 2 football fields away…)   

BUMP. BUMP. BUMP.

I looked at M.  She looked at me and said, “That was jarring.” 

“We need to stop when we can pull over and see if the tire’s okay.” I replied.

Round ‘bout that time, some light came on my dash warning me about something gone amiss with a “tyre”.  And then the low tire (tyre) pressure light came on.

Uh oh…

We made it a few kilometers to Hollywood.  Hollywood, Ireland that is.  And pulled into a Emo Service Station.  

The left front tyre (tire) was indeed well on its way to lifeless flatness.

But a YUGE shout out of thanks to the people of Hollywood who were incredibly friendly and helpful to AGMA and M!

To make a long story short, we got the spare put on, and got a new tyre (tire) the next morning in Kilkenny.

As AGMA advised in my post of March 16…ALWAYS GET THE CDW CAR INSURANCE IN IRELAND!!  A-L-W-A-Y-S!!

Did I say that too loud?

The first few days were full of cosy roads, made even more cosy by having to drive directly into the afternoon sun.  Normally, NOBODY complains about sunshine in Ireland…

…other than a nervous American driver on cosy roads.

Happily there were no more incidents.  Other than backing into a low stone wall which did no damage to the Focus or the wall.  The wall has probably been there for 300 years so no surprise it was okay.

We survived.  The good people of Ireland survived.

Win-win!

Other than the tyre that sacrificed itself for a greater purpose.

AGMA promises I will finish the final AGMA’s “Easy peasy, stress free travel planning” next week.  Until then, enjoy some weird, lovely pictures from my trip.

Sláinte!

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On the Dingle Peninsula.  It was lambing seasons so there were little lambs everywhere!

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On a cosy two way road on a tour bus on the Dingle Peninsula.  Yikes!

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At the Cliffs of Moher.  We saw a few potential Darwin Awards winners.

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I beg your pardon…

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New friends on the Connemara Peninsula.  They don’t get flat tires!

Cork

The awesome city of Cork!

Kinsale

I like Kinsale’s style!

 

Intermission (Raisinet time!)

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I know ya’ll are just sitting on the edge of your La-Z-Boy with your electronic device by your side just waiting for the 4th (and mercifully, the last) installment of AGMA’s travel advice.

You might want to get up, stretch, visit the loo and get a snack.

It’s gonna be a few weeks because AGMA is going to be….

(wait for it…)

TRAVELING!

Yes – I’m taking my own advice and getting outta Dodge.

And unlike so many of you who write lovely posts and share your beautiful travel photos while you’re on the road, AGMA will not be sharing anything while I’m gone.

Nothing personal.

It’s just that I’ve left on many a trip with the best of intentions of posting while on the road only to go into stealth mode on WP for 2 weeks.

Posting while AGMA’s traveling is about as realistic for me as taking my running gear so I can get some runs in while I’m gone.

Ain’t.Gonna.Happen.

My travel days normally start early and are usually so full and busy that I fall into bed each night exhausted by 9 PM.

Nothing says “Party Girl” like (in the summer) going to bed while it’s still light out…

AGMA will be making another appearance on the Emerald Isle to cavort with leprechauns and fairies!  And maybe visit a few pubs.

Maybe.

This time I’m going with a friend.  Hubs is staying home with the “boyz” (Gus and Max, our cats.).

He might be getting the long straw.

The friend I’m going with, M, is the same friend I went to Spain, Portugal and on a Mediterranean cruise in early 2018.  The one who got ill twice this 14 day trip.  And was kinda nasty with me when AGMA suggested she see a doctor after she spent 72 hours in bed while we were on the cruise.  I thought it was a sensible suggestion.

The good news is that she recovered in time to have a wonderful time in Portugal. For 3 days.

She’s also prone to tripping and hitting her face/head.  The first time I met her was on a trip to Croatia, and she had a black eye.  She had fallen a few days before on the island of Hvar.  She has fallen several times since then on trips (more black eyes.)   The last fall was last Fall, and caused her to stay on Mykonos (and miss Santorini) to recover from a slight concussion.

She is also really bad about drinking water while traveling and has fainted twice because of dehydration.  This past January when we were in Mexico together, she was once again feeling very lightheaded.  She hadn’t had any water since the day before.  Once she had a big glass of water, she felt much better.  Oh my.

And she is a retired nurse.

Say a prayer for AGMA and M!

As an FYI, I booked this trip through Great Value Vacations.  It’s one of those package deals – it includes air, hotels and rental car (upgraded for more $$ to an automatic and we paid the extra $$ for CDW).  We set our own itinerary between/in hotel cities.

And yes…we are renting a car.  AGMA will be driving on the left side of the road while I’m sitting in the “wrong” side the car holding a steering wheel on the “wrong” side of the car for 8 days.  OMG.

Say a prayer for the good people of the Republic of Ireland!

See everybody in a couple of weeks.

Ya’ll behave!

Let stealth mode begin and the Guinness flow…

P.S.  Just for the record, Great Value Vacations has pretty mediocre customer service.  As I mentioned in a previous post, when you call them, you stay on hold for for 30 to 40 minutes before somebody picks up.  Also, when you contact them via their contact form, it takes them a week to get back to you.  This does not make AGMA happy.

 

 

 

 

Easy peasy, stress free travel planning – part 3 (where to ZZZzzz)

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You’re adventurous. You’re an explorer.  You’re daring.

You’re following AGMA’s travel advice which makes you VERY daring!

With your incredibly inexpensive Scotts Cheap Flights airline ticket tightly clutched in your sweaty palm, your itinerary set and your transport lined up, now it’s time to figure out where you will spend each night of your adventure.

Some people are totally ok with finding a place to stay each night on the fly.

On one hand, it allows for more travel spontaneity.  You aren’t tied down to a set schedule or list of destinations.

This is not AGMA.

While the idea of total travel freedom is indeed intoxicating,  I’m more concerned about knowing I’ll have a comfy place to lay my head at night that isn’t hosting a bed bug flash mob.

Being very left-brained, AGMA needs to plan.  And plan.  And plan.

Although as I’m getting older, I’m more willing to just sort of go with the flow EXCEPT where lodging is concerned.

IMPORTANT:  Start shopping for your lodging as soon as you figure out your itinerary.  You will have the best selection at the lowest prices if you do!

If you’re not on an escorted tour or a package tour (airfare/hotel/car provided), finding a place to stay each night is a big deal.

It’s a big deal because:

  1.  Location is important!  If you know you want to spend 90% of your time in central Paris walking around smelling croissants baking, you don’t want to stay 20 miles outside of the city.  You don’t want to have to take a 40 minute train ride into the city (and back) everyday with those yellow vest guys.
  2. Hospitality, comfort and cleanliness (HCC) is important!  Hosts who speak English.  No bed bugs. Not 4 floors up with no elevator.  No shared bathroom. Heat in the winter.  However you define hospitality, comfort and cleanliness…
  3. Cost is important!  If you travel on a budget like AGMA and Hubs, this is a big deal.  Lodging costs can quickly add up and bust your budget.  Very quickly.

As is true in every aspect of life, no one hotel/B&B will be perfect, fulfilling all of your criteria.

Damn…I hate it when that happens.

IMPORTANT:  Start shopping for your lodging as soon as you figure out your itinerary.  You will have the best selection at the lowest prices if you do!

As you research, you’ll find you’ll be constantly flip flopping between the importance/priority of location, HCC and cost.

For example, you might want to always stay in the core city.  But if you have a rental car, you might also want lodging with free parking (parking can be very $$ in central city areas) so might be willing to be a bit out of the city.  If you won’t have a car, you may be willing to pay a bit more for a centrally located hotel because you don’t want to have to take taxis, Ubers or public transit.

Years ago, Hubs and I wouldn’t blink to stay on the 3rd floor of a hotel with no elevator.  Now that he’s mobility impaired, we might do one flight of stairs, otherwise we need an elevator.  And because public transit is difficult for him, we tend to spend a bit more for lodging than in the past so we can be more central.  And we take more Ubers and taxis.

And again, your best friend in your lodging search will be Ms. Google.  Specifically Trip Advisor, AirB&B (or VRBO, etc), and Google Maps.

You’ll probably have a lodging budget (the “cost” component) unless you won the MegaMillions a few months ago.  If you did, please email me…

AGMA’s goal is always to average less than $100 per night for lodging (for 2) for a trip while meeting my HCC and location “goals” (give or take a bit).

I ALWAYS start out with TripAdvisor.

TA is sort of a clearing house for travel booking sites and gives you a general idea of hotel costs at your destination.  TA lists the costs of each hotel on Expedia and Orbitz and Agoda and lots of other sites. Clicking on one of those sites will take you out of TA and onto that travel booking site.  TA will also give you each hotel’s website and a map with the hotel’s location.

TA has a star “quality” ranking of hotels based on traveler reviews.  I estimate 80% of them are legit and I DO take time to read many of them if I’m interested in a specific hotel.  Also, you want to make sure there are recent reviews and they don’t all date back to 2017.  That’s suspicious…

And I’m always impressed when the hotels take the time to respond to reviewers.

So if I find a hotel in the general location I want, that is sort of in my price range, and has good reviews, I click on a few of the travel booking sites (like Booking.com or Expedia) to see how much it would cost to book with them.

BEWARE!!!  The cheapest prices are often “pay up front” deals meaning you pay when you book.  Some are non-refundable.  Some are refundable with advanced notice.  Read the fine print and cancellation policy before you book!

Often, you can get almost the same deal through the hotel website without paying in advance.  But not always.  Again, know when payment is required and read the cancellation policy.  I always prefer to book directly with the hotel, but will book through a travel booking site if it’s substantially cheaper (sometimes it is) and the reservation is cancellable with no penalty.

IMPORTANT:  Start shopping for your lodging as soon as you figure out your itinerary.  You will have the best selection at the lowest prices if you do!

Am I repeating myself…?

So what was supposed to be a single, helpful travel planning post has expanded to 3 very wordy posts.  And lucky you – AGMA still has more to say!

Part 4.  Soon.

Be there.

 

 

Easy peasy, stress free travel planning – part 2 (how to get around)

train travel

So I’m sitting at my favorite coffee shop ready to write.  Sort of.

The professional cycling season is gearing up in Europe.

And ya’ll know how I LOVE my men in spandex!

For those of you new to AGMA, I have this strange, inexplicable obsession with men’s professional cycling.  Tour de France type stuff.

Right now two stage races (meaning they last more than 1 day) are being contested in Europe.  Paris-Nice in France (duh…) and Tirreno-Adriatico in Italy.  And at this moment, AGMA is streaming Paris-Nice on her phone.  Sitting in the coffee shop.

I’m a woman of divided loyalties.

But I promised a part 2.  And AGMA always keeps her promises.  And there are only 19km left in today’s stage…

I need to preface the rest of this post and the next by saying that most of my travel advice is specific to Europe, Australia and New Zealand.  I’ve not traveled to South American or Asia, but AGMA feels certain there are lots of resources on “The Google” you can use if you’re planning travel there.

How’s that for a cop out?

So, you’re feeling pretty good about yourself because you snagged a super inexpensive airline ticket to Paris (or wherever) for a 10 day trip.

Now what?

I highly recommend you order several good guidebooks (or down load them onto your Kindle), and get onto travel bulletin boards specific to where you will be traveling.  Fodors, Frommers, & Rick Steves are all good sites you can check out.

When you’ve figured out where you want to go and what you want to see, NOW you need to decide if you need to rent a car or take trains and/or busses.

Taking trains and/or busses can be a great alternative to renting a car.  It’s generally cheaper and less stressful.  And many tour operators offer day trips to see interesting areas outside of where you might be staying.   For example, just Google “day trips from Rome” and you can see the incredible number of places you can visit for the day while you’re staying in Rome.

Keep in mind that many of those places are also easily accessible by train if you want to self-tour.

Remember, if you want to book a day tour from a tour operator, read the reviews on them and understand their cancellation policy in case your plans change.

More often than not, because of Hubs mobility issue, we rent a car if we are going to cover a lot of ground.  For us, train travel with a scooter/wheelchair and luggage tends to be a bit of a challenge.

If you’re planning to rent a car, AGMA has 3 words for. you – research, research, research!

Rental car costs can vary wildly based on the time of year, the rental car company and the website giving rental car cost estimates.

Lots of US membership organizations will offer discounts via a coupon code for US rental car companies overseas.   Check out any organization you belong to to see if they offer discounts.  AAA, my professional massage organization (AMBP), Costco are just an example of some organizations that offer discounts.

If you book a rental car using the Costco discount code, there is no charge for a 2nd driver (which can save you 100’s depending on the car rental duration and if you need  2 drivers.)

But keep in mind, booking through a travel site like rentalcars.com can often be cheaper than using a discount code on Hertz or Alamo.

Also, be aware that, unlike the US, most cars for rent in other countries are manual transmissions.  If you want an automatic, you need to change your car search criteria.  And automatics are always more expensive.

Priceline and Hotwire often have lower prices for rental cars, but you must pay in advance and you won’t know the company you’re renting from until you’ve paid.

Most of the time, no matter whether you book directly with the car rental company or through a travel site representing many companies, the least expensive option will always be a pay in advance option.  If you choose that, check carefully to see if you will get a refund if you cancel prior to pick-up.

AGMA has been known to book a car then cancel it two months later because I found a cheaper deal.

Finally, understand that there are places on this good green earth that you would NEVER want to drive.  Not sure you could master driving on the left side of the road (for North Americans)?  Don’t rent a car in the UK, Ireland, Australia or New Zealand.

As much as AGMA loves Italy (Hubs and I were there a few weeks ago), I would NEVER drive there.  We just don’t have the nerve!

The rental car companies recognize that there’s a higher damage risk to their cars in certain countries.  Specifically Ireland and Italy (see….).

In most countries, you can decline Collision Damage Waiver insurance.  If I use my United Chase Visa to rent a car, it actually covers CDW for rental cars in most countries.  EXCEPT Ireland and Italy…  Hubs has a deal with AmEx that also covers CDW for a charge of $19.99 no matter how long the rental period.  EXCEPT in Ireland and Italy…

Are you sensing a theme?

If you do rent a car in Ireland or Italy, you either must buy the CDW insurance (at a pretty penny) or they put a 700 Euro hold on your credit card to insure against any damage to the car.

Trust me when I say that you will have waaaayyyy more peace of mind buying the CDW insurance.  You can return the car with two missing bumpers, a missing mirrors and huge dents in the rear.  And just walk away.

If you put the deposit down, you will NOT like what you will be charged for any damage repair.  Ouch!

Part 3…wait for it….

P.S.   The race just ended and a rider on my fantasy team won the stage!!  And another rider on my team took over as the overall race leader!!  It’s been a good morning…

 

 

 

 

Keeping my day job

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AGMA loves to travel; ya’ll know that.

At some point last year, I declared on AGMA that I was done traveling for a spell.  I’d lost the joy of the planning to the stress of the planning.

Bummer…

Hubs and I used to take overseas tours that didn’t involve any planning with a value tour company.   They were normally no brainer, whirlwind tours with mornings often staring at 6 AM, but you got to see a whole lot of wherever you were.  And while the tour groups were larger (38 to 42 people), 98% of the folks were delightful and fun to be around.  The hotels were lovely and we found the tour guides excellent.  And we ALWAYS bought the tours when they were “on sale”.

Interesting factoid…did you know that travel goes on sale on Black Friday like everything else?  Sometimes you can snag an amazing travel bargain.

But alas…we can go on these types of value tours no longer.  Hubs genetic condition in his legs is slowly progressing and, although he can still walk slowly with a cane, he’s at the point where he needs a wheelchair or scooter to go any distance.

Bummer…

We have this awesome portable electric scooter (Ralph) that Hubs uses to get from here to there when we travel.  The seat comes off and the handle folds down to make it incredibly easy to stow and gate check.  And at 39 pounds, even a weakling like AGMA can lift and carry it.

It turns out that Ralph or a portable wheelchair are not welcome on traditional tour company tours.  WTF??

They say it’s because there isn’t room on the tour bus for mobility devices, but with a portable wheel chair that folds up flat and our offer to only take one suitcase between the two of us, we kinda figured out that “room” wasn’t the issue.

And tour companies that cater to those with mobility issues are priced way out of our price range.

Sooooooo…..

Most of our trips since 2016 have been AGMA planned and executed.

And they have been good.  Real good.

Because AGMA is an excellent travel planner.

Yeah – I said it.

I’m a left brained, ADHD, OCD detail oriented person who, despite having no Scottish ancestry, is as thrifty as they come.

So of course I plan fabulous trips that won’t break the bank!

But it is precisely because I’m a left brained, ADHD, OCD, detail oriented person who LOVES a great bargain that it takes many, many days to plan a 2 week trip.  Which is fine if you have nothing else to do…

That isn’t normally the case in my or most everybody’s life, so sometimes – most of the time – trip planning ends up being kinda stressful.

Total first world problem.

AGMA’s become a bit famous with her family, friends and acquaintances for her travel planning acumen.

I’ve had quite a few offers to “come along” on trips with friends/acquaintances to destinations I’ve already visited.  Seriously?

AGMA didn’t fall off the cotton truck yesterday…

I know the “come along” offer translates to “we expect you do all the planning and then be our tour guide when we get there.”  In the case of folks who are normally delightful, but would be absolute nightmares to travel with, I politely decline and offer to give some ideas for their trip.

With a smile.

They say you never really know anybody until you travel with them.  But with some people, AGMA knows absolutely for sure, for certain, even before setting one foot on a plane, that we would NOT be good travel companions.  Like oil and water.

Or more like gasoline and a flame thrower.

Some have suggested that I should hang a shingle out and help others plan their travel for a fee.

But honestly, AGMA can’t think if anything more nightmarish than travel planning for paying clients.  Well – I probably can, but this would be a close second.

It’s one thing to give friends and family pointers and tips on planning the perfect trip, and even some booking help now and then.  But when $$ gets involved, people tend to get a little cray cray.  They become unreasonable, demanding and just plain nuts.

Honestly, they couldn’t pay me enough.

With today’s technology, I’m sure I could figure out some way to leverage what I’ve learned so far about travel planning into some sort of business in the future.  That doesn’t involve dealing with the general public.

(shivers run down AGMA’s spine)

Right now, I think I’ll be keeping my day job.

There are 4 international jaunts AGMA’s trip hopper for 2019.  My head is spinning like the pea soup girl in The Exorcist.

So much for not traveling…

Two trips are easy peasy – short, and hotel/airfare/car pre-booked through an independent trip package.  These are packages booked through a travel operator but are not tours – the book your airfare, hotel and car (if you need one), but you are on your own for day to day activities.  And both are revisits to familiar places so we pretty much know what we’re going to be doing.

The other two trips are more challenging.

So while AGMA is in the throes of planning these two trips, I thought it might be fun to give you a view into the convoluted, demented and intensely OCD time consuming process I go through to end up with a fantabulous travel experience.

Not sure fun is really the word.

Tune in next week…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BUBBLES!!

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If I made a movie about our recent trip to Istanbul, Rotten Tomatoes would describe it: “The adventurous AGMA and her humorous sidekick Hubs sing and dance their way to Istanbul while encountering wacky blondes, many naked people, and never ending samples of Turkish Delight.” 

Turkey has been on my “list” for a long time now.

A few months ago, after having just read a travel post of one of my favorite bloggers, Life in the Boomer Lane (or LBL), describing her latest trip to Istanbul, AGMA perked up.

Turkish Airlines started flying direct to Istanbul from Atlanta several years ago and offered dirt cheap promotional pricing for a while. But it was right after the terrorist attack on the Araturk Airport and the coup attempt. 

Timing…not so good.

But two years later, LBL’s post about Istanbul got me thinking again…

A couple weeks later, a sale to Istanbul popped into my inbox from one of the travel sites I follow.

It was a sign!

Not only did we book the trip, but two friends of mine from my former life in Ohio decided to join us!  P-A-R-T-A-Y!

AGMA has to say that this was one of the best (albeit shortest) international trips I’ve ever taken.

Sadly for the Turkish people, their currency, the Turkish lira, is at one of the lowest levels against the dollar and Euro it’s ever been.  For Hubs and AGMA, it meant a $3.77 twenty minute Uber ride and lunch for two for at a local place for less than $6.  We left big tips.

Prices for tours, authentic name brand clothes/accessories and “experiences” (think a Turkish Bath) are in Euros because of the unstable lira.  

Did somebody mention Turkish Bath?

Yeah we did!  

We went to the Cagaloglu Hamam. They’ve been scrubbing and bathing the good people of Istanbul since 1741.

Reservations (done via email) are a must because it is a relatively famous Bath in Istanbul.  They have a “Wall of Famous Clients” (pictured above.)

AGMA’s picture will be added beside Oprah’s next week, I feel certain.

We opted for the 50 Euro “Istanbul Experience” – sort of the basic Turkish bath.  

The check-in area in the lobby was serene and peaceful, with a flute player playing mellow melodies. There was a fountain in the middle, and low table and stools for post-bath tea.

Serenity now…

 A lovely woman who spoke wonderful English whisked me off to the “Ladies Only” section.  I said bye to Hubs, praying that he wouldn’t bolt as soon as I left. 

She escorted me to a courtyard area surrounded by dressings rooms. I got my own personal room complete with a lounging couch, a side table, lamp and mirror.  On the couch was a towel and sandals wrapped in plastic.  And some “undies”.

This was getting interesting

I changed out of my clothes, wrapped the lovely towel (called a peshtemal) around me and slipped on my “underwear”.

Turns out, it was a disposable thong.  A thong??  AGMA, for reasons that would be totally clear if you knew me in person, has never worn a thong in her life.  But when in Rome… (or Istanbul!)

When my attendant Eaja came to fetch me, she told to leave my glasses in the dressing room.  AGMA is blind without her glasses.  

In hindsight, it was a good thing.

Eaja lead me to the sauna area first.  The idea was to literally sweat the crap out of your pores.  Turned out, I had a lot of crap in my pores.

After about 15 minutes, Eaja lead me to the large bath area and one of the many sinks that surrounded the large central marble slab.  Sans my towel (oh-la-la) Eaja dumped small bucket full of water on me.  Cool water.  

WTF?

She also washed and rinsed my hair.  With cool water.

Eaja then lead me to the central raised marble slab, laid my towel out and had me lay on my back.  

Mind you, AGMA is only clothed in her “thong”.  YIKES!  But my fuzzy vision could tell that everybody else was going almost commando.

It took me about a minute to get over it.  I guess that answers my question about going to a nudist camp!

Then Eaja started scrubbing me with a kese (a exfoliating mitt).  And baby, she scrubbed me from head to toe.  On both sides.

No soap; just the kese.  From the looks of the kese afterwards, I was pretty grubby.

But the next part…OMG…was the best!

BUBBLES!!!

More bubbles than I’ve ever seen in my life!  They covered me like a blanket.

Then a massage.  A bubble massage.  For about 10 minutes.

I flopped over onto my tummy, and got bubbled and massaged again.

AGMA was sooooo relaxed and little fuzzy on what happened next… 

Somehow, I got rinsed, wrapped in a dry towel and was lying down on a lounger back in the dressing room courtyard with a cup of tea, small glass of sharbat and some pieces of Turkish delight beside me.  

After 15 minutes of lounging and sort of getting my wits back, I changed in my dressing room (sadly leaving my “thong” behind.)  I dried my hair, gave Eaja a nice tip and was off in search of Hubs.

I found him in a robe, with his hair in a towel, drinking tea on a lounger in one of the rooms off the lobby.  Smiling.

He LOVED it!  Whew…

The wacky blonde was my friend who almost spent $500 (but didn’t) on saffron for “stocking stuffers” in the Grand Bazaar.  Long story…   

And Turkish Delight was EVERYWHERE and everybody wants to give you a sample!  

It was a quick hit trip – we were only gone for 5 days.  But it was a truly amazing 5 days. 

We found the Turkish people incredibly friendly and so very helpful.  Somebody was always willing to help Hubs and I when we needed to lift up his mobility scooter on a curb or up some stairs.

AGMA signed up for Turkish Airlines deal emails as soon as we got home!

I can’t wait to go back to get scrubbed and bubbled again!  Naked (nearly…)

Don’t judge me.