Cycles, Wars & Wines

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

AGMA loves to travel.

But then you knew that.

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

WTF? Yes…

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

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

It was a beautiful wedding by the way…

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

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

And I’m pooped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just kidding.  Not really.

Wars and Wine shortly…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Loose end tied

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AGMA and Hubs got back from our two week trip to Belgium and France (and a couple other places) less than 48 hours ago. And we’re leaving early tomorrow for Nashville.

I’m not even unpacked.

But that’s okay, we’re driving. I can throw all my crap into a trash bag if need be. Except my dress for the wedding we’re going to on Saturday. AGMA hates wearing dresses…

But that’s another post.

So no time for a ‘real’ post today. Just kinda checking in with everybody to say AGMA is still a force for the universe to reckon with.

I promise I’ll post a trip report next week when I’m stationary.

But I do want to share what we did on our last full day of our trip. And I promise my trip report won’t be backwards (although that is an interesting idea…)

It was a fulfillment of a promise I made last October right here on AGMA. Here’s the post, No blinking .

And you know how these things sometimes (most of the time) don’t work out when you’re planning 6 months ahead. But this time it did.

And I’m so glad it did.

We made it to Avize and to the Le Burn Severnay champagne house. And we tasted Patrick’s delicious champages. And they were wonderful.

But why yak when pictures can say it so much better?

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This isn’t Avize, but I just wanted to give you a sense of what the Champagne region looks like.  Because it was early spring, the vines weren’t leafed out.  But it was still stunning.

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The Le Brun Severnay champagne house on the Avize town square.  Avize is in the Cote des Blanc area of Champagne.  Most champagnes from Cote de Blanc are 100% Chardonnay.

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This shelf was in one corner of the tasting room.  Of course nosey AGMA found it…  Turns out Patrick was a marathon runner!

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Patrick’s words (French words) about his vintage 2006 100% Chardonnay champagne that won honors from the wine gurus in France.  I think he’s basically saying “Try it, you’ll like it!”

 

 

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AGMA’s toast to Patrick (drinking his delicious rose champagne!)  I hoped, but didn’t honestly didn’t think we could manage to do this when I wrote my post in October.  So glad I was wrong!

Helen, the assistant in the tasting room, didn’t mention Patrick at all during our tasting.  Until afterward when I told her about our cancelled visit in September.  And then it all came pouring out…

Listening to her only confirmed the sense that I had that he was a pretty amazing guy.  “He was my boss,” she said “and I am passionate about this champagne because he was so passionate about it.” (with a very cool French accent)  Her tribute to him was incredibly touching.

We brought home two bottles of Le Brun Servenay.  Not nearly enough.

Maybe another visit is in order??

Here’s to you Patrick, and the reminder to be passionate about life.  And not to take life for granted.  And to live the sh*t out of every single day!

 

 

 

 

H-O-P-E

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 Photo by Alex Brandon, AP

Over the past week, AGMA has run at half marathon, helped newly naturalized citizens to register to vote, worked five corporate chair massage jobs, had one table massage client, went out to dinner with friends, attended a Bible study, had a bang trim, and marched in the Atlanta March For Your Life march (after running 6 miles in the morning before the march.)

I’m freakin’ exhausted.

And I leave on my trip in less than 12 hours and still not done packing. So why am I writing this post? Great question….

This is not normal AGMA modus operandi.

Once upon a time, I was bored. AGMA reflects upon that time fondly…

This was pre-blog, pre-running, pre-tRump, and before I transitioned over to corporate chair massage work. Post-blog and running, things were still a bit slow so I started a little eBay business. All was chugging along nicely.

Then November 8, 2016 happened.

All hell broke loose and life hasn’t been the same since.

My new interest in saving the US from the grip of a wannabe fascist, Putin loving, pussy grabbing, narcissistic, homophobic, xenophobic traitor nudged out my little eBay business.

It’s for a good cause..

AGMA knew I hadn’t sold anything for a the past few months, but I didn’t realize how bad I had neglected things until I went to put my “store” on “vacation”. To clarify, vacation is when you tell people they can still buy stuff from you, but it just won’t get shipped out until you get back.

Sweet.

Turns out I never turned off my vacation settings from my LAST trip in late January/early Feb.

Oops…

No wonder I haven’t been selling anything.

Things will be better when we get back from our trip

Well, actually no. We leave 2 days later for an out of town wedding. After the wedding things will settle down.

Well, actually no. We are home for nine days then got to Chicago for almost a week.

Now we’re into May.

But probably not even then. Benedict Donald is still around and is even more batsh*t crazy than ever.

No wonder I’m freakin’ exhausted.

But the March For Our Lives. Ah, the March…

Organized and put on by students survivors of the Parkland mass shooting a mere 5+ weeks afterwards. Teens who are far braver than I and stronger than most. Teens who are more eloquent than I could ever hope to be. Teens who have allowed me to hope again, I mean really hope, for the future of our country.

The March was worth whatever extra energy I had to expend to be there.

I’ve seen estimates of up to 70,000 marchers in Atlanta. Not sure about the exact number but AGMA can testify that there were a sh*tload of people downtown on Saturday.

But our crowd looked minuscule compared to the “mother ship” in Washington DC. Half a million plus? And YUGE crowds in Boston and Chicago and LA and New York and Miami and, and, and….

And like the Women’s March in January of 2017, there were sister marches all over the globe.

All.Over.The.Globe.

And all orchestrated by teens who less than 6 weeks ago saw friends and teachers murdered in cold blood at their school.

If that doesn’t give you goosebumps, then I don’t know what will. I honestly have goosebumps as I write this.

The winds of change are starting to blow…do you feel it?

And AGMA plans to be available to help these amazing young people as much as I possibly can, exhausted or not.

But that’s okay…I can always pick up my eBay gig after November 10, 2020. Or after the Orange Cheeto-head goes to jail.

Which ever comes first.

Gotta go finish packing…

My evil twin

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In my quiet moments, AGMA thinks ‘interesting’ thoughts.

Uh oh…

We bought a new iron a few weeks ago. Actually I ordered it online. AGMA feels very millennial when I do something like this.

I unboxed the new iron and set it on the dresser beside our old iron that had given up the ghost after years of faithful service. And I wondered what kind of a conversation they might have if they could talk. Seriously.

Would the new iron taunt the old one, saying, “I’m going to make ironing great again (MIGA)!” AGMA would have to chime in, “What do you mean “again’??” Or would the new iron be the student sitting at the feet of the old Master. “Steam, Grasshopper…” I can hear the Master iron say, “She likes a lot of steam. Even when she shouldn’t be using steam. It is her way of taming the storm inside.”

The above being a compelling reason for NOT allowing AGMA to have many quiet moments.

The latest ‘interesting’ thought is about faces.

AGMA’s doesn’t know a lot about the science of genetics other than Hubs regularly asks me to spit in a test tube. Then he ships my spit off and in a week he tells me that I’m related to Gengis Kahn or a 5th cousin twice removed of somebody who was the wife of mayor of Philadelphia once.

From what I understand, there are seemingly unlimited combinations of genetic material inside chromosomes. Okay, the number is actually a little shy of 71 trillion (yes – trillion with a ‘t’.) To AGMA, this qualifies as unlimited.

This YUGE number of possible combinations is why, other than in the case of monozygotic twins, everybody is genetically unique. Kind of like the old ‘there are no two identical snowflakes’ concept.

Except in the case of monozygotic snowflakes I guess.

But AGMA believes that this unlimited genetic combination thing doesn’t hold true for faces. AGMA believes that once you’ve lived ‘X’ number of years on this earth, faces start repeating themselves. The actual number ‘X’ depend on how much you get around.

So for example, somebody who has lived all over the US/abroad and traveled extensively might reach that ‘X’ number in 40 or 50 years. But somebody who was born, lived and died in the same small town and didn’t travel much may never have reached that ‘X’ number.

AGMA believes that it’s all about the number of faces you’ve seen in your lifetime.

I had this epiphany two weeks ago at a political gathering of progressive women in Atlanta. As I walked around the crowded room, AGMA saw people that I KNOW I knew. Their faces looked so very familiar.

But I didn’t know them.

I was sure I went to high school with one woman until I realized that, if I did go to high school with her, she would be in her mid-60’s, not in her mid-40’s as she was. That’s okay though, this high school person was a mean girl.

But people definitely have doppelgangers. Even AGMA!

I’ve had a number of people tell me they knew somebody who could be my twin. I have yet to meet one of them. I’m not sure I want to. It could be shocking seeing somebody that other people think looks like me, and she looks like old, haggard and cranky.

Reality is a beotch.

Doppelganger is actually an interesting word. German in origin (hence an umlaut is sometimes used over the ‘a’) I just thought it meant a double in appearance until I did a bit of research.

According to the source of all life, knowledge and wisdom, Wikipedia, a doppelganger “is a look-alike or double of a living person, sometimes portrayed as a ghostly or paranormal phenomenon and usually seen as a harbinger of bad luck. Other traditions and stories equate a doppelgänger with an evil twin. In modern times, the term twin stranger is occasionally used. The word “doppelgänger” is often used in a more general and neutral sense to describe any person who physically or behaviorally resembles another person.”

Which begs the question, is AGMA’s doppelganger the evil twin or am I?

OMG. Something new to obsess over.

I’m pretty sure they did a Star Trek episode about something like this back in the 60’s…

Getting back to my crazy-ass idea about faces, AGMA is pleased to announce that I am getting ready to expand my inventory. Of faces that is.

Hubs and I leave next Monday for a boondoggle in Belgium and France (with brief stops in Holland, Luxemborg, Germany and Switzerland) And you know what that means…

The posts will be few and far between for a few weeks. I’ll try to get a post written to schedule to publish when I’m gone. And I might even grace you with one of the now famous infamous AGMA haikus.

In the meantime, we can all hope and pray that I don’t get too much quiet time to come up with more ‘interesting’ thoughts. Or crazy-ass ideas.

Ya’ll behave yourselves!

Bejing 2022…here I come!

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It’s happening.

As much as I’d like to think it isn’t, it is. Follow that?

My body’s getting older and starting to develop some significance health issues.

Bummer.

Conventional logic would tell me that I need to start fading into the sunset and taking it easy while I tend to my AIP, UC, HPB and CKD.

And if you don’t know what any of those are…be glad. Sheesh.

But in my head… Ahhh…in my head AGMA is an energetic 26 year old who can do all the things I did when I was young and carefree.

Full disclosure: I was pretty dull as a 26 year old. I’d been married for 3 years, had a full time job and was going to graduate school part-time.

Yawn.

But, hey, I was 26! Young and strong and healthy. Sure that I knew everything about the life. AGMA had it all figured out. The world was my oyster and I was having it broiled with garlic butter. Yum.

But time and life are great teachers…

It will come as no surprise to any of my wise readers that AGMA did indeed NOT have everything figured out. The world was NOT my broiled oyster with garlic butter – it was more like a sea urchin served raw in saltwater with sand still sticking to it.

Ouch.

But somewhere deep down inside of me, there is a spritely spirit that still thinks AGMA is 26. A vivacious spirit that still, for some odd reason, thinks that the world is her BWGB oyster.

But a shrewd spirit that acknowledges I did NOT have everything figured out.

I still don’t.

But why let that spoil the party?

So when a co-worker was in tears on Sunday because she was behind in moving out of her apartment, totally exhausted and having horrible back pain, 26 year old ‘spirit’ AGMA (in the 64 year old body) said, “I can help you for a couple of hours!”

What I forgot was that her apartment is on the 3rd floor. With no elevator. And what I didn’t know was that her new apartment (same complex, different building) was on the 3rd floor. With no elevator.

At the end of two hours, I thought my legs were going to collapse and my arms burst into flames. It’s nearly 48 hours later and AGMA’s still sore. And tired.

What’s that old saying, “The spirit’s willing but the flesh is weak?”

Yup.

But I’m really glad that 26 year old ‘spirit’ AGMA is there. She keeps me interesting. She keeps me engaged. She keeps me optimistic in the face of yucky stuff. She also probably keeps me sane.

Okay…maybe semi-sane.

She’s the one who pushed me to go back to school to become a massage therapist at 54. And run my first marathon at 60. And get a tattoo at 63. And play granny superhero with my grandson. And buy a backpack suitcase “just in case” I decide I want to backpack through Europe. Or Thailand. Or Mexico. She’s the one who is making me want to start skiing again after a 20 year haitius. Downhill.

But sometimes she makes AGMA really sore, achy and tired.

Still, she helps me see the world as a place of ‘the sky’s the limit’ potential through younger, enthusiastic, unjaded eyes.  She encourages me to move forward when I want to stop.  Or retreat.

And when I resist her suggestions, she gently reminds me that the sand is quickly running out of the AGMA hourglass; I’ll have plenty of time to rest ‘afterwards’…

Beotch.

Aging gracefully my ass!

“Three year old wandering around in aisle 7”

Tantrum

AGMA had been home from her European mis-adventures for a whole two weeks.  So, it was time to go somewhere again last week.

Honestly, I can only stay put for so long…

This time it was Chicago where TMAGITW (the most adorable grandchildren in the world) live. We left 70 something degree Altanta to go to 30 something degree Chicago.

It’s true love.

But I was thinking of amending my acronym to TMAGITWAACTYO (the most adorable granddaughter in the world and a cute three year old) after the first part of our visit.

Our grandson is nothing but pure energy with some thin flesh coating. He just turned 3 in December so he’s still got some lingering ‘terrible 2’ issues. He’s got a strong personality/will, and more often than not, some tears, some screaming and a fit usually gets him what he wants from his parents.

I have nicknamed him Little Napoleon (LN.)

And it seemed like LN was not getting what he wanted quite a bit while we were there. Lots of crying and screaming and temper tantrums.

AGMA was clearly concerned about this behavior and it’s future ramifications.

More immediately, AGMA was concerned (read that, terrified) because Hubs and I were going to be the chief cooks and bottle washers for 24 hours while Son#1 and DIL did an mini-vacation downtown.

But I think my son started rethinking leaving the kids with us after I lost LN in Whole Foods the second day our our visit.

Yes – I lost my grandson in Whole Foods. In the middle of Chicago.

You may judge me.

I won’t go into detail, but there was a full 5 minutes when his whereabouts were unknown to all but the Creator.

AGMA was scared sh*tless.

So there I was running down the main aisle of WF screaming his name.

I found him on the far side of the store (or course) with some really nice store employees who kept telling me, “He’s fine, he’s fine. Everything’s okay.”

My heart started beating again.

There was also a woman around my age with a cart who was shooting daggers from her eyes at me like I was Bette Davis beating LN with a hanger. I think she was the one who found him wandering around. I tried thanking her, but she just glared at me.

She was definitely judging me.

On a positive note, the little guy managed to score a box of cookies during his wanderings. So of course I bought them for him.

And wouldn’t you know it, the first thing LN tells his mom when we get home is, “I got lost in Whole Foods.”

Dammit.

AGMA wanted to gradually introduce the subject. Perhaps in explaining the source of the cookies?

But my DIL was not too terribly upset (perhaps because he returned home with us and was not purloined away), and used what happened as a lesson for him as to what to do in the future if he wanders away.

AGMA was impressed by her lack of hysteria.

But later that night when Son#1 came home from work, oh boy…

I casually mentioned losing LN for a few minutes in WF. Son#1 seemed to have heard that LN was stolen by white slavers who were going to ship him off to an Ivanka Trump sweatshop to put zippers in dresses, and we barely wrestled him away from them.

Son#1 was furious. But in a quiet, seething, scary way. He really couldn’t say much when I willingly admitted my wrong, profusely apologized and assured him I would NEVER take my eyes off LN again. And I meant it all.

But the fury continued on slow simmer from him for the rest of the night.

Awkward…

BUT, he was not angry enough to cancel their stay-cation plans. Hmmm…

Now pressure was on. AGMA couldn’t screw up again or else…(???)

LN’s old enough to understand the concept of his parents going on a date, so when they left at 11 on Saturday morning he was okay with it.

My 16 month old granddaughter, just starting to talk, emitted a constant stream of, “Ma ma? Da da?” At which point LN gently and sweetly assured her that they were on a date and would return soon.

Yeah. Sure. Like in 23 hours.

But the truth is that we all had a wonderful time together!

There was very little crying and no fits or tantrums. From any of us.

LN and his sister didn’t fight over toys or take random whacks at each other. We played and we ate and we napped and we played some more.

It was like a frat party for toddlers.

Every time Son#1 texted, “How’s it going?” I had to text back, “Great!”

At some point that evening, we told LN that some dates are overnight dates, and that Mommy and Daddy would be back around lunchtime the next day. He was way cool with it. And amazingly well behaved.

Little V just kept saying, “Ma ma? Da da?” But she continued to play the heck out of those little flower stickers.

They both had moments when they freaked out a bit, but they were very short lived. And we all slept really well that night.

Thank God!

Overall, AGMA Nana and Bumpa did a stellar job. Other than the Whole Foods debacle.

I’m never going to live that one down.

Obviously, the kids were overjoyed when their parents came home on Sunday. But within 10 minutes there was crying, screaming and tantrum throwing. Which continued for the next hour. Both of them.

The kids that is.

Hmmm….

Who knows?

Maybe Hubs and AGMA are child whisperers. Maybe our lifetime experience in child rearing gives us an upper hand over relatively new parents. Or maybe somehow we managed to communicate firm but loving boundaries for the kids to operate in and they liked it.

Or all three?

And the good news is that we saw our grandson transform from LN back to TMAGITW.

Nice.

Continued…(really)

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

But wait.

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

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

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

Wait for it…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah…I’m just real cute.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And AGMA learned an awful lot about Port wine.

That was fun.

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

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

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

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The incredible tile work in the Sao Bento train station.

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The colors of Porto!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score!

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

Just can’t do baby goats

prayers

Okay…this isn’t a continuation of my vacation report post of last week.  For good reason.

Like most Americans with a soul (this excludes the GOP), my heart is broken over the slaughter of innocents in Florida last week.

Still.

My Facebook timeline is full of antigun memes that I’ve posted.  I know people on Facebook are wondering why I’m still harping on this gun control thing and the FL shooting.

I mean, wasn’t that so last week…?

That’s what’s become of us Americans.  Oh – another week, another massacre using semi-automatic weapons built to shoot between 4 to 8 rounds a second.  No biggie.  It happens all the time.

And as the gun rights advocates say, “Your dead children don’t override my 2nd Amendment rights.”  Seriously.

We are losing our souls and our ability to feel horror at the type of mass murder we tragically experience on a regular basis.

But I’m just not ready to move on and watch baby goat videos yet.

I still feel the horror.  Still hear the heartbreak in the parents voices who lost children.  Still think of the young children who lost their parents; brave teachers trying to shield their students from death.

But I sense a glimmer of something different happening this time.

Yes, the GOP lawmakers who’ve taken the NRA blood money will still continue to offer up their ‘thoughts and prayers’ and then do nothing.  And the NRA will probably double down on their efforts to buy our Republican Congressional cowards.  And the impotent gun loving lunatics who say they need an assault rifle to hunt ‘varmints and coyotes’ (I had somebody actually tell me that’s why they needed their assault rifle!) will go out and buy more just to prove the point that they can.

But there is something in the wind.  Something that feels new this time.

I won’t call it hope.  That would be too optimistic.

The students of Parkland, FL are speaking out.  Loudly.  They are calling out the ‘thoughts and prayers’ of the GOP for the B.S. that it is.  They aren’t stupid.  They know hypocrisy when they see it and hear it.

And the GOP has their hypocrisy on full display this time.

The students of Parkland, FL are sick of being told their right to live doesn’t supersede the crazies right to own high powered killing machines.  They are sick of their lives being sold to the NRA by their elected officials.  They are sick of do nothing politicians who care more about getting re-elected than protecting kids.

They are calling for a student and teacher walk out all over the country.  And a march on Washington DC and in as many other cities in the US that want to organize one.  They will be demanding our elected officials do something about these senseless, preventable slaughters.  They will be demanding sensible gun legislation that will aim to keep these killing machines out of the hands of the mentally ill, those with criminal or domestic abuse backgrounds, teenage kids…

And if you don’t like the the term ‘gun legislation’, let’s call it massacre prevention.

AGMA will be marching with them.

Because I don’t want my grandchildren to be afraid to go to school.  And I don’t want to be afraid for them.

#Enough

 

 

 

 

 

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……