Meeting Dookes

Dookes neighborhood!

So where has AGMA been of late?

Not sitting at her favorite coffee shop typing blog posts on her laptop, that’s for sure. 

Where have days (weeks, months, years…) gone?

So while AGMA was goofing off, not posting blog posts, Hubs and I decided to beat the European travel rush that is supposed to happen this summer, and we headed over the Pond in March.

Because Hubs has a mobility disability, we travel with a mobility scooter, most tour companies don’t want to deal with us.  And the ones that cater to folks with mobility issues are out of our price range.

So I have become Hubs’ private travel agent/tour organizer.

Lucky guy.

In March, AGMA Travel and Leisure, LLC. planned a trip to Europe with 4 very distinct parts.

Ever since AGMA saw Poldark on Masterpiece Theater in the 1970’s, I’ve wanted to see this incredibly beautiful part of England.  My desire to visit Cornwall was heightened the past few years by the new Poldark on PBS, and my blogging friend, Hogrider Dookes, who lives in Cornwall.

Lucky guy.

St Michaels Mount. Does it remind you of anyplace in France??
The Minack Theater in Cornwall
The old tin mines ala Poldark

As a matter of fact, Dookes took a YUGE leap of faith and decided to actually meet up with me when we were in his neck of the woods.  Risky business on his part.  But he knows AGMA is a bit….AGMA.

Still, I was hoping that I wouldn’t freak the bejesus out of him…  

Turns out that he and his wife were as charming, welcoming and gracious as I am weird, strange and cray, cray.  We all got along famously.

Harls & Hettie, Dookes’ beloved rides!

Thanks Dookes for a fantabulous time!

Oh…and did I mention that on the way to Cornwall, we stopped for tea at HIghclere Castle (otherwise known as Downton freaking Abbey????)  Being a huge fan of the Downton Abbey series and movies, AGMA was pretty psyched that we were able to take a tour of Highclere.  Unfortunately, the weather that day was pretty much the worst weather we had on our entire trip – this is the best picture I was able to take.

Highclere Castle aka Downton Abbey

By the time the tour and tea was done, It was pouring cats, dogs, and hedgehogs outside.  And no pictures are allowed inside. Damn. 

First world problem.

Part 2 was in jolly old London Town.

Light crowd for the changing of the guard

I hadn’t been to London in over 20 years so a visit there was long overdue.  It was a bit of a whirlwind visit – only 3 nights – but we hit the ground running (and scooting.)   Dinner with a friend who lives there, a visit to the British Museum, an evening walking tour of gaslight London, the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, and the Tower of London kept us busy. 

St James Park was popping with Spring!
The Parthanon Marbles that Great Britain won’t give back to Greece. Naughty…
The venerable Westminster Abbey
The Tower of London & Tower Bridge.

I was wracking up the steps on my smart watch.

AGMA finally got to ride the London Eye, something I wanted to do when I was there 20 years ago.  And it was pretty dang impressive…. It helped that the weather was uncharacteristically beautiful with blue skies and lots of sunshine.

Holy crap on a cracker… The view from the London Eye is CRAZY!!

We also went to a revival of Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theater.  It was a stunning show with incredibly innovative staging and choreography, and a stellar cast.  It was also expensive… On top of the price of the tickets, everybody had to show a negative COVID test to get into the theater which set us back an additional $95.  Ouch.  

But totally worth it!

Part 3 was Berlin.

Brandenburg Gate that was on No Man’s Land during the Cold War.

I was in Berlin in 1976 as part of a college-aged student two month tour (translation = drunken boondoggle) of Europe.  If you were in college in the 1970’s, AGMA bets you saw the flyers for this ISE (International Student Exchange) tour.   

Berlin in 2022 is vastly different from the Berlin of 1976.  

For starters, no wall, no Checkpoint Charlie, no East Berlin.  90 percent of our time was spent in the old East Berlin which I didn’t have access to in 1976.  Stalin truly did take the “best bits” of Berlin when they carved it up after WWII.  Our small, lovely, boutique hotel, the Montbijou Hotel, in the Hackescher Market area, is in former East Berlin area as is Museum Island, the old Jewish Quarter, and the TV Tower.

The Hackescher Market area.
What’s left of The Wall
Oh myyyyy…

Hubs & I got together with a lovely young German woman  (she was the au pair for my niece for 18 months in DC until last year) and her sister for a wonderful breakfast at the restaurant on top of the Reichstag. AGMA highly recommends it! 

The Reichstag was da bomb!

As it turns out, our 5 days in Berlin wasn’t nearly long enough to explore this fascinating, complex city.  We’re ready to go back!

Part 4 was Lisbon.

The famed pastel de nata of Portugal

We flew across the Atlantic on TAP Airlines, which is a low cost, Portuguese airline.  No matter where your final destination is, you will connect through Lisbon.  TAP offers free stop-overs in either Lisbon or Porto, so AGMA said, why not?  

This was our second visit to Lisbon.  The first was part of a tour and was a whirlwind 48 hour visit that included Sintra.  This time, we stayed in Lisbon for the full 3 days and had a chance to explore this absolutely beautiful city.  Our hotel, The 7 Hotel, was modern and delightful, and in a fantastic location in the Baxia neighborhood..  Aside from the incredible food, the beautiful weather, and our evening at a Fado restaurant, the highlight of our trip was the TukTuk tour we took (get it – TukTuk took??)  It wasn’t inexpensive, but the one on one interaction with our driver who knew the city and its history inside and out was worth every penny. 

Our tiktuk chariot awaits!
Beautiful Lisbon!
São Jorge Castle under Lisbon’s blue skies!
One of the 4 Fado singers for the evening.
Gotta love those Lisbon trolley cars!

So 6 plane rides, 4 COVID tests, 2 passenger locator forms, innumerable times showing our CDC vaccination card, and 17 masks later, we got home at the end of March.  Let’s just say, to travel internationally during COVID, you REALLY need to want to travel internationally during COVID.

And you’d think AGMA would have learned her lesson.

But nah baby nah.

50 years ago, when I was a mere girl of 18, I took my first international trip.  I went to Greece for a week over spring break when I was a freshman in college on a student/alumni trip.  

A very young AGMA in 1972 in her hot pants! (No snide comments Dookes ;-)! )

To celebrate that momentous trip that sparked a lifetime love of travel, AGMA is returning to the scene of the crime.  Tomorrow.

Opa!!

My Dublin palace

Yes – it’s true!  I’m not waiting two months to write another post.  What???

I had so much fun last week posting, I thought, “What the heck!”

Plus, I have to report about the third leg of AGMA’s great travel adventure in October to Ireland.

WARNING: This is a loooonnnnggg arse post. But there are pictures at the end as a reward.

I LOVE Ireland.  This was my 9th visit to that beautiful country.

Did I mention that I love Ireland?

My good friend Lisa (from St. Louis) is very well traveled.  She used to travel extensively to Asia on buying trips for her jewelry business.  And she has been to Africa multiple times.  Plus lots and lots of other places. 

Let’s put it this way – she is a member of a travel club where the basic requirement for membership is to have visited 100 different countries or more.

!!!!!!

But….she had never been to Ireland. 

She said she was saving it for when she gets older.

Did I mention that Lisa is 81?

Knowing about AGMA’s many trips to the Emerald Isle, she asked me several years ago if I would be her tour guide.  And she offered to pay for basically the entire land portion the trip.

“Absolutely, I’ll be your tour guide!”

AGMA has been an unofficial tour guide in Ireland for 2 other friends, but they didn’t offer to pay my way.  And it was kind of a lot of work escorting them…

So hell yes, I’ll be her tour guide!

It only took us three attempts to get there.

Damn COVID.

They say that you never really know somebody until you travel with them.

AGMA’s happy to say that Lisa proved to be a much easier travel companion than my other two friends.  She’s a Buddhist so has this Zen attitude toward life and problematic situations.  She never got flustered about much of anything.   She was a ‘roll with the punches’ type travel companion.  I loved that.

But as we all know, we all have our quirks.  Even AGMA (although I am actually practically perfect…)

Lisa is hard of hearing so she brought her hearing aids.  But she rarely used them.  And when she did, it was only one in one ear, and only for about 20 minutes at a time.  She said her ear got itchy??

Even with her one hearing aid in place, she had a terrible time understanding the Irish accent. Which was pretty much everybody we talked to on the trip.

AGMA has honed both the skills of speaking very loudly as her 2 sons were growing up (VERY loudly at times!) and, on my previous 8 trips, understanding an Irish accent pretty well  so it all worked out.  Literally, I was her interpreter, often repeating in my loud voice and Midwestern non-accent, what was just said by the Irish person talking to us.

You do what you gotta do.

And she ate.  She ate a whole lot.  She ate throughout the day.  

She is pre-diabetic and felt that she needed to keep lots and lots of protein snacks handy, so our little car was full of bags of peanuts, almonds and cheese sticks.  

She would get up in the middle of the night and eat.  She would eat after she got up in the morning. She would eat an hour after breakfast.  She would snack right before lunch, in mid-afternoon and before dinner.

And she would eat a normal sized breakfast, a huge lunch, and a decent sized dinner.

AGMA certainly understood that she needed to do what she needed to do, but at the end of the trip, she told me that she thought she gained some weight.

No sh*t Sherlock.

While planning the trip, I tried to see what she might be interested in seeing.  Multiple times.  I figure a good tour guide needs to find out what her clients wants to see and do.

She just said she trusted me to decide what she should see and do.

Hmmm….no pressure there…

I booked some day tours before we left.  But after we got to Ireland, it turns out she did have some preferences (of course) and they were things that needed advanced reservations to see/do.  Plus most restaurants required reservations for dinner.

So I was on my phone and laptop everyday trying to make arrangements for the next day.  It was a bit stressful, but most of the time, AGMA prevailed.  After all, it was kind of my ‘job’, so it was all good.

After we had a joyful rendezvous at the Dublin Airport on day #1, we picked up our cute, little, automatic transmission rental car with zero deductible CDW insurance.  That’s the ONLY way to go in Ireland when renting a car and driving on the left.  A knocked off side mirror and flat tire on previous trips taught AGMA to get full coverage. Always.

Our first three nights were spent in Waterford city at the really beautiful Granville Hotel.  It was probably our favorite hotel on the trip because it’s an old school Irish upscale hotel.  On the other hand, we had gray clouds and drizzle the entire time we were in Waterford.

But, seriously, it’s Ireland.

Because Lisa had jet lag, we took it easy the first few days. We went to New Ross to see the Dunbroody Famine Ship, tooled around Wexford city, and drove to the Hook Head Lighthouse, all on day #2.  Day #3 was a walking tour of Waterford, a visit to Waterford Crystal and a nice dinner in an Italian (??) restaurant.

We left Waterford city on day #4 and stopped for a few hours for a private walking tour of Kinsale on our way to Killarney.  Miraculously, while we were in Kinsale, the clouds gave way to sunshine and blue skies.  And I had my first piece of banoffee pie of the trip.  It was a glorious day!

The sunshine followed us to Killarney and decided to hang around for a few days.  We stayed at The Ross Hotel.  It was interesting.  On the outside, it looked like an old school upscale Irish hotel.  On the inside, it was an ultra modern Irish upscale hotel.  Think Andy Warhol with lots of neon thrown in… Interesting.

Our bus tour (cuz AGMA won’t do that drive) around the Ring of Kerry was spectacular.  This was my 3rd time to do the Ring tour and this was by far the best weather ever.  Stunning.

The next day (day #6) we visited Muckross House, St. Mary’s Cathedral, Killarney House, and took a jaunty jaunting car ride.  AGMA was happy none of them required an advanced reservation.

Day #7, we were on the road again – to Galway.  The “must see” stops on this drive are the Cliffs of Mohr and The Burren.  The blue skies went bye bye, replaced by high clouds. But no rain.  That’s a very good thing.

While AGMA was planning the trip, Lisa mentioned that she’d like to stay in a B&B.  But I’m not really sure she meant it…  When we got to our wonderful B&B in Galway, The Stop, she got a bit out of sorts.  It wasn’t in the center of town (which she prefers), but was only a 7 minute walk to the start of Quay St.  And our room was up one flight of stairs and was pretty plain with a tiny shower.  She didn’t complain, but she said she was feeling grumpy.

Gotta respect a woman who is upfront with her grumpiness.  She was very gracious in her grumpiness.

However, between Russell, the charming owner of The Stop, and the absolutely phenomenal breakfasts (seriously delicious!), she ended up loving our B&B.  Whew!  And she loved the energy of Galway city.

Day #8 was a full day tour around the Connemara with a 3 hour stop at Kylemore Abbey.  The skies were still cloudy, but the sun would tease us now and again.

Our big thrill on day #9 was going to Ashford Castle in Cong.  Ashford Castle is one of the top hotels in the world (yes -the WORLD), and costs like a kazillion dollars a night.  I actually stayed there for 2 nights back in 2006 on my first trip to Ireland.  It was expensive then and dominated our lodging budget (1/3rd of it) for our 2 week trip, but it was nothing like it is now.  $$$$$$. AGMA’d have to win the lottery to stay there now.

So the only way to see the castle if you aren’t staying there (cuz they have two gate keepers on the way in, plus a doorman) is to have afternoon tea, which is what we did. AGMA felt like freakin’ royalty! Maybe illegitimate, but still royalty.

Day #9 was a travel day to Donegal town.  On the way we stopped in Knock.  It’s sort of Ireland’s version of Fatima or Lourdes if you’re a religious sort.  Google it.  Then a short stop at the Belleek fine china factory in N. Ireland.  Despite Brexit, there are still open borders between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

AGMA fell in love with Donegal a number of years ago when Hubs and I stayed there for 2 nights.  I’ve been trying to get back ever since.  It’s remote, wild and gorgeous!  It doesn’t get very many tourists because it’s tucked up in the northwest corner of the country.  Sadly, we could only spend 2 nights there on this trip, and the weather was getting ready to take a turn for the worse.  While Lisa was napping after we checked in (she generally napped everyday), I walked around town snapping pictures while sky was blue and the sun was shining.

We stayed at The Abbey Hotel on “The Diamond” (which is actually a triangle??) in the center of Donegal town.  It is a lovely hotel with a great, lively bar.  More old school Irish pampering? Yes please!

Day #10 was a private walking tour of Donegal town, then a drive to the majestic Slieve League Cliffs.  These cliffs are twice as high as the Cliffs of Mohr and are stunningly beautiful.  We got there just in time. About 10 minutes after we parked, the rain rolled in and low clouds totally covered the cliffs.

We still had to do Dublin, so on day #11 we headed east.  We stopped in Castleblayney in County Monaghan for lunch with an Irish friend I knew in Atlanta in the late 2000’s.  She and her American husband moved back to Ireland about 6 years ago.  The view from their home is spectacular!

Later in the day, we motored into Dublin Airport, did our pre-booked, 35 Euro each COVID tests for our return to the US (ouch), and dropped off our rental car.  AGMA does NOT drive in Dublin.  It’s a rule.

We stayed at The Arlington Hotel at O’Connell Bridge.  I’ve stayed there before – it’s just an okay hotel.  But it has the all important location, location, location!  Most sights are in easy peasy walking distance.

On day #12, we did a walking tour of Dublin, then went to Bewleys on Grafton Street for lunch. We had tickets to the Guinness Experience at the Guinness brewery in the afternoon, but Lisa wasn’t feeling it, so I ended up doing it myself.  LOVE that pint at the top of the brewery with the 360 view of Dublin! 

Day #13 meant it was time for the Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour which, in Dublin, is great.  The HOHO tours in most cities have pre-recorded audio during the tour that are sort of meh, but, in Dublin, each bus driver actually narrates the tour.  And they are normally very funny! 

There was soooo much in Dublin we didn’t see, but it was the end of the trip. And Lisa was getting pretty tried.  So we packed up our suitcases the morning of day #14 and headed to the airport to fly home with our negative COVID tests in our hot little hands.

Speaking of hot, did AGMA mention that temperatures were in the 60’s the whole time we were in Ireland?  What??? Yes! It was unseasonably warm. I didn’t wear my sweaters, but, honestly, that was okay by me.

Finally, AGMA has to give a shout out to The Palace Bar in Dublin’s Temple Bar area.  Temple Bar is normally the 20 somethings place to drink heavily and party into the night.  The Palace is at the very beginning of Temple Bar on eastern end of Fleet Street. The quiet end of the street.

It’s a bar.  They serve no food.  And the most interesting folks hang out there.  I stop there every time I’m in Dublin.

On this trip, we met friends Jim and Jerry, two Irish undertakers (seriously), who were meeting up for the first time since COVID started.  They had evidently been at The Palace for a while before we got there, because they were pretty pickled when Jerry came over to talk to us.  We all talked and laughed and made some pretty tasteless jokes about their profession.  It was probably our most fun evening in Ireland! 

AGMA’s already planning my next trip to Ireland. I want to spend most of my time in County Donegal.  With a day or two in Dublin so I can go back to The Palace.

Anybody want to join me?

Staring

We went on a vacation!

Sort of…

Loyal readers will recall AGMA’s brilliant decision to go to Turkey in March, 2 days after the WHO declared the coronavirus a global pandemic. We ended up coming back to the US 72 hours after we landed in Istanbul.

Nobody has ever accused me of being the sharpest needle in the pincushion.

But this trip was safe. Or as safe as you can get these days that is.

Friends of 30+ years, K & S, own a vacation cabin in a small town in NW Michigan near Lake Michigan. And they let us use it for a long weekend this past weekend.

K’s parents used to rent a house for the summer there in the 70’s, 80’s & 90’s, and as young parents, K & S would bring their children, and K’s sister and BIL would bring their children, and it was a big ol’ family memory maker.

When her parents passed away, they left K with a nice monetary legacy. So to honor the memory of so many wonderful summers, she and her hubs bought a small vacation home on the very same street as her parent’s rental cabin. This was about 15 years ago.

K & S & sister & BIL and cousins have continued to gather there in the summers albeit the siblings & spouses aging (hopefully not gracefully!) and the cousins now being adults.

AGMA has a sneaking suspicion that the ultimate goal was for the grandchildren, who were only twinkles in K’s eyes at that point, to gather there each summer and create the kinds of memories her children did when they were little.

Now the grandmother of 7 (!), that is indeed what’s happened even though K’s children and nieces and nephews are now spread out over the US. At various times during the summer there can be a wide assortment of grandmas & grandpas & nieces & nephews & great nieces & nephews & cousins & second cousins making new memories.

Pre-COVID that is.

It’s been a quiet summer up there this year. K & S were up their with 2 kids and 4 grandchildren last month, but that’s pretty much it. Everybody is just too far away to drive and they don’t want to risk flying. Since all adult children and spouses work, and all have small children, it’s just too difficult to make it happen.

This makes me sad. The whole thing just makes me sad.

Damn virus.

That’s a very long and wordy way to say, because the place was open and we needed a place to escape our Hobbit Hole for a few days, K & S gave us their blessing to stay there for a long weekend. They weren’t there (on their way to CA to meet grand baby #7), but they figured we couldn’t do too much damage.

Fools…

So Hubs and I rattled around by ourselves in a 3 bedroom, 2 bath house that is ABOVE GROUND and has a beautiful view of the Traverse River across the street.

Sweet!

We spent 3 days of socially distanced sightseeing since this was our first trip this far north in MI. The weather was fantastic and it was a much needed break from our tiny, basement apartment in Chicago.

Because MI has pretty strict social distancing and mask regulations, and the county we were in only has 34 confirmed coronavirus cases and no deaths, we felt somewhat safe in going out to eat a few times.

Damn virus.

We lived in Cincinnati, OH for 30 years (where we met K & S) before we moved in 2006. During our time there, we realized that 95% of the population of Cincinnati goes up to Michigan for at least 1 week in the summer. Okay, maybe AGMA is exaggerating a bit.

Maybe only 93%…

Because of this and because 90% of the people we saw this past weekend were baby boomer types, AGMA kept wondering if maybe I knew any of them. After all, it is a small world (according to Walt Disney right?)

Do you ever do the same thing? Do you ever stare at somebody and think, “Did I work with you in 1978?” or “Were we freshmen together in college?”

“Did I know you years ago?”

AGMA does.

Again, not the sharpest needle…

I know a couple of women in knew in college and haven’t seen since then moved to Chicago in the 70’s. Maybe one is sitting across from me on this lovely French bistro shaded patio right now and I just don’t recognize her. Actually, everybody here (except AGMA) is a millennial, but you get the idea.

There was a couple behind us in one restaurant in MI who were wearing Cincinnati sports team shirts. Did Hubs or I know them way back when? When our hair was raven and we actually had waistlines? BC (before children?). When the Cadet Orange Cheeto Bonespurs was content in just bankrupting his businesses (rather than a whole nation.)

Some people change dramatically in the course of 40 years. Some don’t seem to change very much at all. I have some friends from high school and college who, other than the gray hair and lack of waistlines, look pretty much the same. Others, I couldn’t pick out of a line up even with the threat of something horrible happening to me like turning me into a MAGA Republican if I didn’t.

AGMA’s idea is heaven is that, at some point during the “orientation” (seriously, there has to be an orientation…), we are allowed to ask any questions we want. You know, like what REALLY happened to Jimmy Hoffa or did Putin blackmail the Covidiot with a “golden showers” video?

One of my questions will be, “Who did I bump in that I knew way back when that I didn’t recognize? Can I see before and after pictures? Did they think I looked familiar?”

Until then, AGMA will just have to keep wondering and staring.

The staring may get me into trouble…

 

 

 

 

 

My weekend in Istanbul – Part 2

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The forbidden women’s section of Cagaloglu Hamami!

When we last left our heroines, they were stranded in Istanbul with no money and no way home.  They were falling on desperate times so had to start working in a Turkish brothel….

Just kidding.

AGMA always did have a flare for the dramatic!

Our first full day of touring Istanbul was wonderful!  We went to the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.  We ate incredible sweet treats at the Hafiz Mustafe 1864 close to the Sultanahmet tram stop.  I-N-C-R-E-D-I-B-L-E.

Then we were off to Cagaloglu Hamami Turkish bath.  I was a bit nervous about talking my 3 friends into going with me….

While AGMA thinks a Turkish bath is probably the closest to heaven I will get on this earth, I understand that it’s not everybody’s cup o’ tea (the sauna, being pretty much all naked, the scrubbing with a kese mitt and the BUBBLES – oh Lord… THE BUBBLES!)

They adored it!  Whew.

All squeaky clean, back at our hotel, we discovered a letter has been slipped under our door.

???

I read it.  C read it.  I reread it. C reread it.

“Does this say what I think it says?”  I asked.

Yup!  It was a letter from the Gate1 tour director in Turkey telling us that we were going to be picked up at 6:30 AM the next morning to be taken to a different hotel in Istanbul so we could join up with the tour group that left on their tour of Turkey the day before ours was supposed to leave.  We could just pop in with them and spend the next 11 days touring Turkey instead of going home.

Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me…

C & I aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed, but we had learned our lesson (the expensive way) about travel during a global pandemic.  We were going to get out butts home ASAP.

HOWEVER, K&D, our travel companions, thought staying was just a dandy idea.

WTF???

Our eyes rolled all the way around in their sockets!

So they were off the next day.  And we got regular texts throughout the day from them saying how wonderful their new tour friends were. And how nice the tour manager was and that they were soooooo glad they decided to stay.

More eye rolling.

But C & I did have a 2nd lovely day in Istanbul.  HOHO bus, the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Market, wandering the very crowded, not socially distant streets around the Bazaar and Market.  That evening we had an incredible dinner with a fabulous view of The Golden Horn sitting next to a table with two hot Frenchmen.

Did AGMA say that out loud?

But we were very happy to head Istanbul’s beautiful new airport the next day  (3/15) to make our way back home.

In the meantime, K kept posting pictures of their trip on Facebook – the massive hotel breakfast buffet, the Anzac cemetery at Gallipoli, the ancient city of Troy.

At this point, it was obvious that things were getting pretty serious at home, so worried looks replaced our eye rolling.  But they were adults right?  Maybe?

As we settled into our extra legroom exit row bulkhead seats on the plane (I rarely upgrade, but thought it might be a good idea), it was obvious that people were nervous.  I could see the masked guy sitting next to me sizing me up  as to whether I was “safe” or not.

I tried not to cough…

Then we got the “What a surprise.  NOT!” text from K&D.  They just found out their tour was suspended.  They were heading back to Istanbul.  To, once again, be stranded.

I didn’t, but AGMA sooooo wanted to say “We hate to tell you we told you so, but we told you so!”

They assured us that the tour company was going to make all of their arrangements to get back to the US even though they had booked their airfare (like we did) through an OTA and not the tour company.

Back to eye rolling.

The flight to Atlanta was uneventful.  We spent quite a bit of time reading the breaking news from the US as well as getting updates from K&D.  They and the rest of their tour group were very upset the tour was cancelled and BEGGED their Turkish guide to continue.

Again, WTF???

Turkish Airways served a nice dinner complete with a lovely French red wine from Bordeaux.  Seriously, it was the best wine I’ve ever had on an airplane.  I had several little bottles.

If ever there was a time to get lit, I was pretty sure this was it!

But, oddly, the dinner included a side of beans.

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Beans.

The flight was 12.5 hours.  There were about 450 people on board.  It could have gotten real ugly…

Note to self…send an email to Turkish Airways to suggest they may want to rethink that side dish.

When we got to Atlanta, we braced for being screened, scanned, probed, questioned, and possibly told we had to quarantine.

What happened was a joke.

We had to stay on the airplane while some masked Feds came on board and asked us to complete a form.  The form asked if we had been in China in the last 14 days; if we had been around anybody with the coronavirus; if we felt sick.

That was it.  At this time, Europe was being slammed by COVID – 19.  No questions about Italy.  Or France.  Or Spain.  Or the UK.

Then they gave us a paper with information about the coronavirus, and let us deplane.  We got our luggage, breezed through customs and were on the streets of Altanta in about 30 minutes.

That was it.  No thermal scans.  No infrared thermometers.  Of course, no tests.  And we weren’t told to quarantine.

AGMA still wonders how many people on that plane had the virus.

The next day, after a decent night’s sleep in my bed, we found out that K&D had been “deserted” by their tour guide and were told that they had to make their own arrangements to get back home.

Damn – I hate it when I’m right!

They ended up leaving Istanbul on March 17th (2 days after us) but, in total, their trip to get home, with 2 layovers was 26 hours.  So they actually got home on March 18th.

So the moral of this story, boys and girls, is NOT to travel when WHO declares a global pandemic.

And if you do, have enough sense to come home when the Universe tell you to.

My friends, stay home, stay safe and TRY to stay sane!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s not funny, but…

pennywise

…it’s kinda funny.

The response to COVID-19 that is.

Now if you are in the middle of it in Washington state or Italy or Iran or Wuhan, China or other locations with a high infection rate, I do understand that this is a very serious life and death global health crisis.  I’m in no way making light of the loss of life and plight of those who have contacted the coronavirus and/or are in high risk areas.

This is unlike anything AGMA’s seen in my lifetime and it’s frightening.  And it’s really just getting started in the US.

But I’ve always live by the personal credo, “You can either laugh about it or cry about it.  I choose to laugh.”

AGMA would’ve been a comic genius during the Black Death.

Lest you think I’m being insensitive, in AGMA’s world, funny doesn’t always translate to  “ha ha”…

The description of “funny” can be very situation.

As in, “That smells kinda funny.”  (Translation – “What crawled in here and died?”). Or, “He’s always been a bit ‘funny’.”  (Translation – “He cray cray!”).  Or, “You think that tRump is making America great?  That’s funny!” (Translation – “Are you f*cking crazy???”)

I think it’s funny (translation – “pathetic”) the way the CDC sycophant in charge totally screwed up the testing strategy and test kits leading to the US being 6 weeks behind other nations in our testing.  And I think it’s funny (translation – “ridiculous and dangerous”) that vice sycophant Mike “smoking doesn’t cause cancer” Pence is heading up the, as it turns out, non-response to the CV in the US that is resulting in no cohesive plan based on medical facts whatsoever for dealing with this serious health crisis in America.

And tRump’s comments during his visit to the CDC last Friday…hysterical!!  (Translation – “We’re all screwed!”)

But I REALLY do think it’s funny (Translation – Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!!) that two of 45’s most dedicated gestapo men in Congress – Doug Collins and Matt “gas mask” Gaetz – who were in “Heil Twitler” proximity to the Fat Orange Menace are in self quarantine because of encounters with a CV positive person at CPAC.

Karma can be a beautiful thing.

And AGMA is laughing at myself (Translation – “You can run but you can’t hide!”) as I wipe down the ATM drive through machine, the self check-out machine at Kroger, and the counters and my computer at my favorite coffee shop.

I’m sure I will be chuckling tomorrow (Translation – “Resistance is so futile…”) as I put my protective seat cover on my airplane seat while wearing my nitrile gloves.  After which AGMA’ll throughly wipe down my tray table, video screen, armrests, the wall around the window, and anything else that doesn’t move before settling in for my flight to Amsterdam.

All the while avoiding touching my face.  ALWAYS avoid touching the face.  Although right now my hand is on my face!  How funny!  (Translation – “What the hell is wrong with me??”)

And I’ll probably be guffawing (Translation – “I wonder if I’ll see my family again??”) as I repeat the ritual on my flight to Istanbul.

Allegedly Turkey has no reported cases of the coronavirus.  Knowing what an upright and honest guy their president, Recep Tayyip “let’s imprison journalists as terrorists who dare to tell the truth about my repressive regime” Erdogan, is, AGMA’s not entirely buying what he’s selling.

Turkey is surrounded by countries with CV-19.  They share are border with Iran that is one of the hotbeds of the coronavirus.  It’s estimated, despite their reported numbers only being around 60,000, that there could be possibly 1/2 million people in Iran have CV-19.

And AGMA’s read that there are rumors of suspected CV patients in isolation in hospitals around Turkey despite the “official” stance that they are free of the virus.

I get wishful thinking.  And clearly AGMA’s okay with Turkey’s wishful thinking.

I myself am a wishful thinker!

That’s so funny! (Translation – “WTF are you thinking AGMA??  It’s been nice knowing you…”)

 

 

Let’s go viral!

corona

We got back from our adventure on the French Riveria last Tuesday and life has been nonstop.

Into the fire…

Of course Hubs and I both came home with a cold (one of us always gets sick when we travel), and now we think we are infecting the entire Atlanta metro area with the latest designer contagion, the Coronavirus.

AGMA initially wanted to get tested, but quickly found out that, due to the stunning foresight of der Führer Twitler wanting to give all his billionaires BFF’s a tax break, public health funding has been slashed at every level of government and many positions in the public health sector are unfilled.  Currently, there are no tests available unless you are on your deathbed.

A little late methinks.

The US is 6 weeks behind most countries in preparing to deal with the Coronavirus.

Shrewd…

So we’re sending up thoughts and prayers (Mother and Coronavirus Tsar VP Pen-is would approve!) that we really do have a run of the mill cold and nothing more exotic.

In the meantime, AGMA thinks I’ll have a beer.

Our trip was really great!  Unseasonably mild temps and sunny days were pretty much the rule rather than the exception.

Favorite moments:

  • Carnival in Nice!  The Flower Parade during the day one day and the Night Parade one evening that was TOTALLY over the top!

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The Flower Parade

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The Night Parade

  • The Menton Citrus Festival and parade!  Floats made up of oranges and limes, beautiful women in feathers and sequins, people in butterfly outfits on stilts, Italian bands and lemon tarts (the kind you eat that is…)

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A little bit of Australia in France!

  • The Carmargue National Park where flamingos and Carmarge ponies frolic along with Camargue bulls (they get to live in the bull fight ring) and Spanish bulls (not so lucky in the ring). The main products are rice and speciality salt.  It was an area unlike any other I’ve been in in France.

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Flamingos!!

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A beautiful Carmague pony gets up close and personal!

  • Gorges du Verden.  One of the Grand Canyons of France.  It’s a beautiful area in the Var.  In the summer, it’s packed with tourists.  The day we went (and it’s a full day trip from Nice), it was virtually deserted.

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The drive to get up to this view was interesting!

  • The Casino in Monte Carlo.  Proves that AGMA can lose money with the best of them!

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The name is Bond…James Bond

  • The view from our apartment in Marseilles.

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Stunning!

  • Great art!

  • And of course great food and wine!!

Next week I’m supposed to leave for Turkey.

Maybe.

Right now they are COVID-19 free (“right now” being the operative words.).  But of course they share a border with Iran that is Coronavirus central behind China and Italy.  And Iran is still pissed off at Twitler for assassinating  that general a couple of months ago and has vowed revenge against Americans.

And over the weekend, Turkey declared war against Syria.

AGMA’s not really feeling too warm and fuzzy about this trip.

On the bright side, I bet there will be a lot of empty seats on the plane…

 

 

Steampunk, penguins and earthquakes

This is why AGMA will never be a travel blogger.

It’s taking me longer to get the posts done on our trip to Fiji/NZ than the entire trip lasted.

AGMA’s a bit like a hyperactive puppy.  All kinds of things (squirrels, squeak toys, etc.)  distract me and cause me to run amok for a spell.

(The etc. being devastating Austrian wildfires, the assassination of a high ranking Iranian official in a neighboring country, and the potential start of WWIII.  And Christmas and New Years – but they seem a pretty minor compared to everything else aside from the squirrels and squeak toys.)

I WILL finish the saga of the Great AGMA Adventure to the lands of Fiji water and Kiwis!

9.  Oamaru.  Oamaru is generally not on the radar when most folks think about visiting New Zealand.  But AGMA thinks it should be.  First of all, it’s the Steampunk capital of the world.  Yeah, I said Steampunk.  S-T-E-A-M-P-U-N-K.  Very surreal. Second, it’s one of the few towns in New Zealand that still has its original Victorian architecture and it’s gorgeous.  Third…PENGUINS!!  Cute, adorable little blue penguins (also known as fairy penguins.).

But oh Lordy…that Steampunk thing…

 

 

10. Christchurch.  AGMA and hubs were in Christchurch for the first time in 2014.  We were shocked to see that the city had barely begun to recover from the devastating earthquakes in 2010 and 2011.  Unsafe, unstable buildings still stood in the CBD.  All over the CBD.  I remember a parking garage that had cars in it that had been sitting, parked in the same spot they were in when the last quake hit 3 years before, because the structure was too damaged to safely be able to remove them.  But you could tell that the people of Christchurch were determined to see their city come back better than before the quakes.

And AGMA’s happy to report it has!

Other than a few sites we recognized on our first trip, it was like visiting a totally different city.  New office buildings, lots of gravel lots where old buildings used to be, cute laneways with kickin’ good restaurants and bars, new shops, and some buildings severely damaged in 2011 that were still sitting abandon.

We stayed spent the night outside of Christchurch at an AirB&B in the caldera of an extinct volcano turned inland bay.

We flew out of Christchurch on 12/5 with a 4 hour layover in Fiji then on to Los Angeles.  We landed 3 hours before we took off…  That International Date Line screws with AGMA’s head.  Spent a couple of nights in LA visiting a friend then headed back home.

As Dorothy chanted, “There’s no place like home; there’s no place like home.”  She was right.

Thanks for hanging with AGMA while I chased those squirrels.

And between 3 international trips, the upcoming presidential election (if we haven’t been nuked before then as a result of tRump’s psychotic madness), the grandkids, and the possibility of selling our house, I think 2020’s gonna be a wild ride…

Hang on!

P.S.  Happy birthday to me!  Today Mrs. Mowry’s little girl completes yet another trip around the sun.  Now I’m one number shy of the mark of the beast (just need to add another 6) so nobody better give me any sh*t this year!  🙂

 

 

Extreme sports, dark skies and lupins

For those who celebrate Christmas, we’re in that purgatory between Christmas and New Year where nobody quite know what day it is, where they are or what they’re supposed to be doing.

It’s a perfect time for a blog post!

I promised the rest of New Zealand, but after the franticness (is that a word?) of the past 3 weeks, it seems like our trip was a long time ago.

Funny how time has a way of doing that.

When you read the words “extreme sports”, I know that AGMA is the first person that comes to mind.  Just like tRump is the first person that comes to mind when you read the words “honesty and integrity” right?

AGMA has a very strong sense of self preservation.  Because of that, I’ve never really done anything even remotely dangerous.  Unless you consider not putting my seatbelt on in an Uber as living on the edge.

And sometimes it is.

But on this trip both hubs and I caught the New Zealand extreme sports bug and indulged in activities outside of my itty bitty, teeny weeny comfort zone.

(FYI, each picture has a caption.  If you want to read it, just hover over the picture.)

After visiting Middle Earth, we finished our visit on North Island in…

5. Auckland.  A beautiful city sitting inside the innards of multiple extinct volcanos.  Or so they say…  And quite a diverse city with wonderful energy, great restaurants and a beautiful harbor.  They have this tall structure in the CBD (just 1 1/2 blocks from our AirB&B) called the Auckland Sky Tower.  It’s kinda like the Seattle Space Needle.  And hubs decided to jump off of it.  Jump.  OMG.  192 meters (630 feet) straight down.  Of course he was in a harness and it was all super safe, but he still had to step off a ledge into a free fall (for the first 1/2 of it).  OMG. AGMA stayed at the bottom and watched.  Call me a chicken, but at least I had clean underwear at the end of the day!

6.  Blenheim.  We flew from Auckland to Nelson (on the South Island) and immediately hopped into our rental car (sadly, because Nelson looked very cool!)  Destination,  Blenheim, at the heart of the famous Marlborough wine district.  There’s a lot of sauvignon blanc there and somebody had to drink it!  On the way (which was incredibly scenic over unexpected mountains), we stopped in Havelock, the self proclaimed green lipped mussel capital of the world.  Who knew?  These mussels are MASSIVE and put US and European mussels to shame.  Kinda like tRumps imaginary brain.

7.  The Wild West Coast of South Island.  Going across South Island on the way to Greymouth on the beautiful west coast, we drove along the gorgeous Buller River.  In keeping with the extreme sports theme hubs inaugurated in Auckland, we opted to walk across the Buller River swing bridge and come back across via a zip line.  Okay, so maybe those just a demi-extreme experiences, but for AGMA it was cray cray!  A seal colony in Westport, the fascinating Pancake Rocks, and gorgeous coastal scenery are just some of the reasons we would LOVE to go back to the west coast to do more exploring!

8.  Lake Tekapo.  AGMA was pretty excited about our drive to Lake Tekapo.  It was going to take us over the Southern Alps through Authur’s Pass National Park.  This is supposed to be one of the most beautiful drives in the world.  “Supposed to be” being the operative phrase.  Unless it rains.  And is foggy.  Like it was the day we did the drive.  Damn.  It was still lovely even in the fog and rain, but I feel like I need to go back someday to see it in the sunshine.  But the incredible beauty of Lake Tekapo helped heal our broken expectant tourist hearts.  And the lupins.  So many lupins.  And the night sky.  Tekapo is part of the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve which is the worlds largest dark sky reserve.  Clear skies and few people along with strict regulations on exterior lighting results in some of the most amazing dark skies in the world with (to quote Carl Sagan) “billions and billions of stars”  The opportunity to do the Summit Experience at the Mt. John Observatory, I think, was the main reason we returned to New Zealand.

Okay – so I’ve been at the coffee shop for 3 hours now and AGMA’s pretty sure they are going to kick me out. There are a few more highlights, soooo…it looks like there will be one more post on New Zealand.

Sorry.

In the meantime, I’m going to try to figure out what day it is, where I am and what I’m supposed to be doing.

A typical day for AGMA.

Volcanoes, Hobbits and glowworms

AGMA’s back!

And I’m still fighting jet lag. Even after a 2 night stopover in LA on Thursday and Friday before we flew home on Saturday.

So sorry I didn’t get anything posted other than the stinky haiku. The days were full and this AGMA needs a full 8 at night.

And I really can’t do a proper post on my phone.

Fat fingers….

I missed you all!

Here’s the Readers Digest of our escapades:

  • 1 night in LA (fun and hot!)
  • 2 nights in Fiji (yes – Fiji!)
  • 7 nights on the North Island of New Zealand
  • 7 nights on the South Island of New Zealand
  • 2 nights in LA (cool and rainy – WTF??)

All good?

We were in New Zealand for a week in 2014 and went to Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown.

This trip, our stops were Hamilton, Taupo, Rotorua, Auckland (all on North Island) and Blenheim, Greymouth, Lake Tekapo, Oamaru and Cass Bay (all on South Island)

We had AMAZING weather pretty much the whole trip. And it was far warmer than we had anticipated or that Weather.com had predicted for New Zealand. AGMA had a “feeling” so I took out some long sleeved shirts and threw in some t-shirts, an extra pair of capris, and sandals in my suitcase like an hour we left!

Maybe I could get my own 800 number as a weather psychic?

I’ve said before, I’m not very good at the travel blog thing. AGMA would end up droning on about boring stuff that you really couldn’t care less about. ZZZzzz…

So let’s just do highlights with pictures (some pictures have captions that will pop up if you hover over them.) And of course some words. You know me…

1. Fiji. It’s a country made up of 330 islands, 100 of which are inhabited. We were there for 2 nights. Guess how many islands we visited? Yup – one…Viti Levu (location of the international airport.) AGMA’s not too much of a tropical island/beach gal so what impressed me most about Fiji was the people. Gracious, friendly and charming. And the orchids at the Garden of the Sleeping Giant (land that used to belong to Raymond Burr of all people!!)

2. The Ruakuri Cave and Waitomo Glowworm Cave (North Island). Most people don’t do Ruakuri because the glowworms are the big draw at Waitomo. But since hubs uses a mobility scooter and Waitomo isn’t accessible, but Ruakuri is, I did both caves. It’s very cool that Raukuri is only one of two fully accessible caves in the world. And honestly, Ruakuri was more interesting than Waitomo! And it had glowworms (but not nearly as many as Waitomo.) And you could take pictures in it.

3. The awesome and plentiful geothermal features of the Taupo/Rotorua area (North Island.) Yes – AGMA’s a geology nerd! This is one of the most geologically active areas of the world – the Pacific plate is moving under the Indo-Australian plate right underneath this area!! It’s called the Taupo Volcanic Zone and is a super volcano like Yellowstone in the US. Lake Taupo is the largest lake in NZ and it is part of an enormous caldera formed from a volcanic eruption some 26,500 years ago. The last eruption way back in 180 AD was the LARGEST volcanic eruption EVER! EVER! The effects of this massive eruption were seen and documented in Rome and China. Just this morning, there was a volcanic eruption on White Island (the red dot at the top right of the first picture) in the Bay of Plenty (in this Taupo Volcanic Zone) which unfortunately took 5 lives with 8 people missing.

4. Hobbiton in Middle Earth (North Island) And yes, I’m a LOTR geek as well!

Okay…there’s a bit more – we aren’t even on South Island yet! But I’m still jet lagged (I think I said that already, but hey, I’m jet lagged!) and AGMA needs to get started on Christmas stuff. We’ve been home almost 48 hours now I have done nothing that is holiday oriented.

One more travel post so hang with me.

Maybe only one…