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.  White Island in the red dot at the top right of the first picture.

 

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 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…

 

 

Peek-a-boo 2

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In the wee hours of Wednesday, May 22nd (2:00 AM to be exact) AGMA crawled into her own bed.  The day started out 26 hours earlier in Paris.

Yikes.

But hey, I slept 3 hours on the plane to Chicago so I hadn’t entered the realm of total zombie yet.

When I booked our tickets ($392 R/T each courtesy of Scotts Cheap Flights) in February, a 9 hour layover in Chicago sounded like a good idea.  We would go visit the grands for a few hours!

We did have a lovely visit, but when we touched down in Atlanta at 12:30 AM on the 22nd, AGMA was questioning her decision making competency.

But what the heck, it’s only sleep right?  Plenty of time to catch up after the Grim Reaper comes to call…

France was awesome!

So AGMA’s peek-a-booing above from the Chateau Fontainebleau which is about 55 km south east of central Paris.  Often called the forgotten palace because it’s sort of off of the regular tourist track, it’s the only royal residence that has housed French rulers for 8 centuries.

Impressive.

And it was.

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Napoleon I (short dude with the big hat and an ego to match) called it home for 6 years (1808 – 1814) until he had to abdicate.

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No shortage of self-esteem here.  When I look at this picture of the “Emperor” Napoleon, I keep thinking Don the Con must be sooooo jealous….

Lessons learned or that should have been learned (not necessarily by AGMA or Hubs) on our 15 day trip to France:

  1. If you travel with other people, make sure they are relatively easy going.  K & D, our friends from Missouri, joined us on our grand tour of France.  Unfortunately, they checked their luggage at their home airport on May 5th and then didn’t see it again until it was time to leave France on May 21st.  Despite having no luggage for the ENTIRE TRIP, they had a lovely time.
  2. Never – I repeat – NEVER put your CPAP machine (or any necessary medical device or medicine) in your checked luggage.  Always put it in a carry on and carry it onto the plane.  Your checked luggage may decide to go on it’s own tour of the country you’re visiting and you may not see it again until you’re ready to leave.
  3. Because your luggage may have its own travel plans, always, always, always pack a change of clothes/underwear, basic toiletries and another pair of shoes in your backpack if you check your bag.  Hubs and I already do this due to a missing suitcase in Barcelona several years back, but this trip really drove that point home.
  4. When trying to track down your missing luggage, be proactive.  Very proactive.  Trusting that the airline and the delivery company are going to do what they say they will do is a sweet notion, but not really an effective way to get your luggage back.  Call the airlines several times a day to follow-up on the delivery plan.
  5. Always rent the smallest possible car that will fit all of your “stuff”.  Because there were 4 of us plus our luggage, two overstuffed backpacks, a duffle bag, 2 regular backpacks and an electric scooter, we rented a large car which made for some interesting, let’s just call them, “situations” on the narrow streets/roads in France.  Like trying to put Dolly Parton in a 32A bra.
  6. Unless you pay a fee to them, if you travel with other people who have done all the trip planning, arrangements, research before hand out of the goodness of their hearts, this does not mean they are your tour guide or that they are responsible for your good time. Take responsibility for doing your own research about the areas you are going to visit before hand.  Please. Please. Please.
  7. If you are unwilling to use technology (ie, your cell phone, tablet or laptop) or travel books to research restaurants in the area that you might want to go to, don’t complain about the restaurants that others choose.  And for the love of God, please understand that you will not get the same food you get at home. And when you order a coffee in France, you won’t get the same thing as when you order a coffee in the US.  Thankfully.
  8. AirB&B’s are NOT hotels.  Nobody makes your bed during the day.  If you want it made, you need to do it yourself.  And sometimes the pillows are a bit flat.  And you have to wash the dishes you use and put them away.  Kinda like you do at home.
  9. Not everybody in France understands or speaks English.  Duh…
  10. You never really know anybody, I mean really know them, until you travel with them.  Seriously.

You might guess that there are some stories associated with some of the points above.  Well, of course there are…

But AGMA is not a tell-all kinda girl.  Although I sort of did tell all, didn’t I?

For me, the sights were magnificent, the food incredible, the wine superb and the coffee just plain yummy.  Our AirB&B’s were great as were our two chambers d’hôte (traditional B&B’s) and our three hotels.

We dined in a cave in the Loire Valley, saw Van Gogh projected on the walls of a quarry in Provence, visited a village destroyed by the Nazi’s in WWII that has been left untouched for over 70 years near Limoges, toured a B&B host’s vineyard in the Languedoc, ate foil gras in the Dordogne, scampered around a glacier in the Alps, sampled champagne in the winemakers home.

Pictures soon.

 

 

 

 

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……

The miracle of Rick Steves

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“I don’t understand how you can possibly take just a carry-on sized bag for two weeks in Europe.” my sister said to me on Monday.  “I just need too much stuff!”

“Too much stuff” is an understatement.  I’ve seen the luggage they use. The entire von Trapp family could have escaped Austria in it.  No mountain climbing; just smooth, 4-wheel, 360 degree swivel action all the way to Italy.

I told her to pack less clothes.  Wash things out in the sink.  Or the bidet.  She said she packs very few clothes.  But she admits her husband needs a new outfit every day along with matching shoes.  Seriously?

I’m a minimalist traveler and my packing hero is Rick Steves. My younger son told me never to trust anybody with two first names…

For those who don’t know, Rick Steves is a US travel guru/television host who has specialized in European travel for the past 35 years.  He has hundreds of guidebooks/DVD’s not only about individual European countries but many specific European cities.  Lots of American Baby Boomers are fans of Rick.

Or is it Steve?

But the true miracle that elevates him to near-travel god-like status is that he can go to Europe for an entire summer with only a back pack and a carry-on.  Let that sink in.  One back pack.  One tiny, fits-in-the-overhead-bin carry-on.  Mind blowing.

It’s like Jesus feeding the 5000 with one loaf of bread and one fish.  Rick/Steve miraculously just keeps on pulling out clothes for a whole summer from that little carry-on!

I’m a Rick Steves packing disciple.  I try to emulate him.  And I’m getting pretty darned good at it.

So for those of you who travel who might want to get on the bandwagon (NOT my sister) here are AGMA’s top 10 reasons for minimalist packing for an overseas trip:

10.  Speed.  You can get though customs faster because you don’t have to wait for your bags.  Okay, maybe only 5 minutes faster.  But it feels like a win.

9.  No worries about lost luggage.  When your carry-on is in the bin above your head, you know you’ll be able to change your nasty, been-wearing-them-for 36-hours-straight travel clothes that have almost welded themselves to your body as soon as you get to your hotel room.

8.  Accessibility.  When your carry-on is in the bin above your head, you know you’ll be able to change your nasty, been-wearing-them-for 36-hours-straight travel clothes that have almost welded themselves to your body in the airport bathroom as soon as you get off the plane.  Or in the airplane restroom.  Or at your seat.

7.  Saves money.  Totally limits souvenir buying!  There’s no room for that bulky Aran sweater or the three Belgian lace tablecloths or that impressive Australian didgeridoo. And buying another suitcase on your trip is cheating…  Although my MIL did that once. No surprise there.

6.  Simplifies wardrobe choices.  People honestly don’t care if you wear the same outfit in Paris that you wore in Rome that you wore in London. Or if you wear the same outfit twice in the same city.  Think about it.  Nobody.  Cares.

5.  Mingle with the locals.  Most cities and towns in the industrialized world have stores with the same stuff that you can buy at home.  You don’t have to pack for Armageddon. It’s fun to meet new people while you shop for your Imodium or Pepto-Bismol!

4.  Nimbleness.  It’s much easier and quicker to get on and off trains, busses, ferries, etc. Or to carry your bag up to your 4th floor hotel room because the 3 ft X 3 ft lift is broken.  It’s sad to see people struggling trying to get their three 70 pound bags up the steps onto a train or into their hotel.  And kind of funny in a twisted way.

3.  Avoid personal injury. See #4.

2.  Avoid pity/ridicule.  Especially the withering, smug, superior glances of AGMA and husband as they deftly and every so delicately whisk their light carry-ons onto the train or up the hotel stairs while you struggle with the von Trapp family luggage. See #4. Yeah – everybody is looking at you.  And feeling sorry for you.  Or snickering.

And the #1 reason for minimalist packing…

1.  It’s cool. You’re friends will be awed and amazed that you only took a carry-on and a backpack for two weeks in Croatia. They now think that YOU are the packing travel god.  Don’t tell them about Rick/Steve.

So that was all to say it’s time for this AGMA travel goddess to pack her minimalist bag and hit the road again.  Back to the land of Guinness and Leprechauns.  I’ve never actually seen a Leprechaun. Maybe I’ve never had enough Guinness…

I’ll really miss AGMA and writing and my WordPress family.  But I’ll be sure to lift up a pint in your honor!  Be back in mid-April.

Slainte!

It was a rough landing

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AGMA’s back!

So I got home from Rome last Wednesday.  By the time I went to sleep that night, I had been up for more than 24 hours straight minus about a 15 minute nap on the Rome to London flight.

Ugh.

I tried really, really hard to sleep on the plane from London to Atlanta, but no dice.  I just can’t sleep on those trans-anyoceanic flights.  I hate that.

Back home, you’d think I’d have slept like a rock that first night back in my own little cozy beddy-bye, totally tuckered out from a busy, long day of travel, right?  Nah baby nah.  It took like two hours to fall asleep.

The cumulative effects of too many cappuccinos that past week perhaps?

I awakened rather urgently at 2:30 AM to (how can I put this delicately…) visit the bathroom not only for #1.  I mean, who does THAT in the middle of the night?  Normally, when I get home from one of these trips,  I need to down a couple of boxes of prunes…oh, excuse me…dried plums, to get myself back in action.

And you can’t just stumble into the bathroom in the dark for #2. The lights have to go on and clean-up is infinitely more involved.  OMG TMI.  I was wide awake when I went back to bed.  My husband was sleeping like a baby.

Sometimes I can’t stand that man.

I managed to get back into a fitful sleep at best.  Asleep, awake, asleep, awake…for the next four hours with some very strange dreams sprinkled in.  Something about a friend working in a balcony of St. Peters Basilica overlooking the huge alter canopy by Bernini running sausages and chunks of ham through a vacuum sealer machine to sell for a funder raiser for the Vatican.  I’m glad Freud is dead.

Thursday morning, I had a sore throat.  Great.  Can it get any better? Jet lagged, sleep deprived and now sick.

And less than 48 hours before a 23 mile training run.  Yeah – you heard me.  23 miles.  My very first 23 mile run.  Possibly the timing of my trip could have been a little bit better.

The only thing good about this whole situation was that I didn’t need to go out to buy some prunes…eh…dried plums at all.   Things just kept on moving.  Gotta look at the positives.  Lemonade outta lemons and all that.  Weird, totally inappropriate analogy…

Anyway, I threw everything I had in my homeopathic and herbal cold remedy medicine chest at this nasty little cold virus plus drank gallons of water.  I even neti potted three times a day.

Yuck.

Then I got up at 4:30 AM on Saturday morning, donned my running regalia and met my group (all 5 of us) for our run.  At mile three I was feeling puny and pretty sure I would only last for another six or seven miles.  Miraculously, with the help of my friends, I kept on going.  It’s totally amazing how much more you can accomplish with the encouragement of a group than if you tried to do it by yourself.

And I did it.  Very slowly, but I did it.  And lived to tell the tale.

Most distance runners are actually crazy people who, on the surface, seem like normal people.  See the picture above.  It’s so true.  As I told my friend Jodi over at Life In Between, there’s a diagnosis for me somewhere out there.

I promise my next post will be about my trip.  Rome was wonderful! The history, the art, the churches, the food, the wine, the people – all amazing and astounding.  A thousand plus topics to blog about.

I think I’ll write about Roman toilets and the unnatural lack of toilet seats.

Naturally.

I’m glad to be back!