Travel goals

(AGMAniacs: This was written back in June with AGMA’s full intention of publishing it that day.  All I had to do was attach the pictures…  Clearly, that didn’t happen.  Typical.  But I wanted to give you the moment AGMA in June when I wrote it so I’m not going to edit it.  And it’s loooonnnggg. Opa!)

So yesterday it was 102 degrees.  Yeah – I know that it’s been hot all over the Southwest and South.  But I live in Chicago.

Holy sidewalk fried egg!

Today, it’s “cooled down” to 95.  Last week I was wearing jeans, a long sleeve shirt, and a light hoodie over it.  I’m just so confused…

My good friend, K, and I had similar weather in Greece last month. 

AGMA, as loyal readers know, is the amateur master trip planner. And, if I do say so myself, the trip went off without a sneeze.  Except maybe a hiccup on the way home, but that’s just the way it is with flying these days.

It sucks.

(But not bad enough for me to stay home!)

We started out in Athens.  AGMA has been to Athens three times before this trip, but I realized that I never spent more than 2 nights in that amazing city.  On this trip, we hung out there for 4 nights and it was marvelous (COVID not withstanding.) The breakfast room in our hotel, The Astor (a couple of blocks off Syntagma Square) is on the top floor, and has an incredible view of the Acropolis. 

A really great way to start our day!

And K and I decided that we would end every day on a different rooftop bar. That, of course, had a view of the Acropolis. I mean, you have to have travel goals…

Yeah we did!

This trip to Athens was almost exactly 50 years after my first visit as a student. The top image below is a view of Mars Hill from the Acropolis that I took last month. The bottom one is an orange shirted AGMA on Mars Hill in 1972.

I know – I can’t tell a difference in how I look either… 😉

After 3 full days of exploring Athens (and rooftop bars!), it was time to island hop!

Going Greek island hopping has been on my bucket list for a long time. And hop we did – we visited Naxos, Santorini, and Milos. But Greek island hopping is staying on my bucket list because there are LOTS more Greek islands that need a good dose of AGMA!

After Athens, we flew to Naxos, which was like a 30 minute flight. Easy peasy. We did an AirB&B in Naxos City that was right on the harbor with a great view over the water and of the Temple of Apollo. Or at least what was left of the Temple of Apollo. Which isn’t much. But it’s the symbol of Naxos, and is in prominent place right on the water as you enter Naxos town from the Aegean.

The view of the Naxos City Harbor from our AirB&B
What remains of the Temple of Apollo on Naxos.

Naxos is the largest of the Cyclades Island group, and is surprisingly mountainous. It’s also an island that, unlike so many others, does not rely on solely on tourism for its livelyhood. It’s the most self-sufficient island in the Cyclades because of cattle breeding, cheese, fruit and veggie (esp potatoes) crops, Kitron (a citrus spirit that is incredible!), and cheese. Did I mention the yummy cheese?

The back of a cheese shop in Naxos City where we did a cheese tasting.

We did a day tour around the island that was well worth the cost. Lunch at a seaside taverna in the village of Apollonas was honestly like out of a movie!

K enjoying her pre-lunch adult beverage.

After 3 wonderful nights, it was time to hop again! This time we took a speedy ferry (that was absolutely PACKED with tourists) to Santorini.

Santorini is one of “the” islands that is a must do in Greece, and LOTS and LOTS of people got the memo. It’s a major stop on the Greek cruise circuit. AGMA has been to Santorini twice, but only for day trips on a shore excursions.

I was pumped to be staying 3 nights there.

The BIG BIG BIG (did I mention that it was BIG) thing to do on Santorini is to watch the sunset. While you can watch the sunset from many locations on the island, the town of Oia (pronounce Eea) seems to get the bulk of the crowds. Sunset picture to come…

The other big thing to do is to stay in a cave house. Because Santorini is volcanic in origin, the cliffs are made of soft volcanic rock. Back in the day, the economically disadvantage would build their homes by digging back into the soft volcanic rock with an exterior addition in the front. Cheap digs that stayed relatively cool in the summer. Over the years, these peasant ‘houses’ have become THE places to stay on Santorini sometimes commanding up to $1000 a night (depending on amenities and location.)

So, of course, AGMA wanted to stay in Oia in a cave house where we could watch the sunset. No problem… Gulp. But the key to getting semi-reasonable accommodations is to book as far in advance as you can. As soon as we had made our airline reservations last October, I pretty much booked our lodging, Fotinos House in Oia, right away. While not cheap, it was still a bargain (for the location, the amenities, and the ‘experience’) for $160 per night. And it was awesome…

Our cave house

We booked our ferry pickup and drop transfer from our host.  The transport cost included the portage of our bags from the drop off/pick up point in Oia to/and from our cave house. It was worth more than we paid! The path went up and down, and up and down, and up and down hundreds (no exaggeration) of stairs.  All of the buildings in the Castle area (the area were were staying at) are literally built into a cliff.  

Steps, steps, and more steps! See the mustard colored building center right? Our cave house is at 11 o’clock and our private sunset viewing platform is at 10 o’clock right next to it.

The Castle area of Oia is where 90% of the people go to watch the sunset every night.  And we had our own, private viewing platform.  Seriously. We finished each day with a glass Assyrtiko wine from Domaine Sigalas vineyards while watching two of the most amazing sunsets I’ve ever seen.

Our private sunset viewing platform!!
A stunning view, great wine, and a good friend – life is good!

Yeah – the 3rd night was a bust with lots o’ clouds.  I felt bad for the cruise folks who only had one evening there. First world problem.

It can still be beautiful even on a cloudy evening.

For some reason, AGMA thought it would be fun to walk the 10K from Oia to Fira (the largest town on Santorini) on the walking trail that goes along the rim of the collapsed volcanic caldera.  K agreed.  After all, we hiked the Cinque Terra together 5 years ago.   It would be a snap.

Nah baby nah.

5 hours and 30 minutes after leaving Oia, we arrived in Fira.  It was not a snap.  We had to walk over mountains (at least they seemed like mountains to us.) It was hot. We were sweaty. And hungry. And tired. But we did it!

We started in Oia, at the tip of that white village on the left. We were maybe 2k from Fira when I took this picture. It was a loooonnnng hike!

What the hell were we thinking??   But it makes for a great travel story….

After 3 nights, we reluctantly said goodbye to Santorini and jumped a slow ferry to Milos.  AGMA pretended I was on a Aegean cruise because we stopped at 4 islands before we got to Milos.  More ideas for future island hopping adventures?

We rented a car on Milos.  Our lodging was in the charming village of Pollonia that is about 6 miles from Adamas, the main town on the island.  There is public transportation, but everything I read about visiting Milos suggested renting a car.  We ended up with a little white car from a local Milos rental company that we nicknamed The Paper Cup. 

She was quite yar!

The other thing that travel bloggers suggest was a ‘must do’ on Milos was to take an all day boat trip around the island.  Check.

Our boat, the Eleni, and Dora the Explorer, our guide for the day, in the yellow top.

I waited until a couple of days before our visit to book our boat excursion because of the nature of the weather around the islands.  Wind can be a problem and the excursions boats won’t go when it’s really windy. It was very windy and even a bit chilly when we were on Naxos.  So much so that I had to buy a velour hoodie to wear in the evenings.

AGMA stylin’ in her new deep Aegean blue velour on Naxos.

Velour is trendy again… Who knew?? 

The weather was pretty perfect when we were on Milos, so off we went for our 10 hour trip around the island.  What a fantastic time!  We had a wonderful guide in Dora, and lots of great food, and pretty much as much wine as you wanted.  Plus, it had gotten warm enough to go swimming from the boat.

I case you were wondering, I did not do any sort of editing of my photos. The sky was THAT vivid blue and the water was THAT turquoise.

However, K and I didn’t bring our bathing suits to Greece because we both feel like we couldn’t fit the volume of fabric it would take to cover our COVID-angst fed bodies into our carry ons.  So we improvised wearing sports bras & running shorts!

Oh la la!

And yes – we met two hot French men…  And their wives.  Who gave their approval for the photo. Damn. But nobody else has to know that we weren’t being cougars – it will just be between us WordPressers.

The last night on Milos was the night of the blood moon.  Cafe Opsidianoa in Pollonia was the perfect place to watch it and spend some time thinking about how much we didn’t want to leave Greece yet…

Terrible picture of the blood moon rising over Milos. In person, it appeared much, much larger.

We flew back to Athens the next day and spent our last night near the Athens airport.  The hiccup the morning we were going home was that our direct flight from Athens to Newark that was supposed to leave at noon, was rescheduled to leave at 8 PM, and now included a stop in Iceland.  Which would have caused us to miss our connecting flight to Cincinnati in Newark, and me to miss my early morning flight the next day from Cincinnati to Chicago.

Through AGMA’s dogged determination, we managed to get rebooked onto a direct flight from Athens to DC then onto Cincinnati. Yay! But because of stupid issues (multiple) with the plane from DC and a really bad thunderstorm in Cincinnati, we ended up arriving there 5 hours late anyway.  Boo.

So let’s review… There are 227 Greek islands.  I have visited 7 of them (Crete, Mykonos, Rhodes & Patmos plus the three on this trip)

Only 220 to go!

#travelgoals

AGMA after yet another sweaty hike up a mountain (on Milos this time) pondering what islands I’ll visit on my next trip to Greece!

  

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?

My nose hurts

(The below was written nearly 2 weeks ago while flying across the Atlantic back to Chicago.)

Holy cow!

It’s been a month of Sundays.  Several months of Sundays.

AGMA has missed everybody!

But it’s been a crazy busy (with good stuff!) September and October.  

I started out September visiting family in Washington DC over Labor Day weekend.  Then a few days after we got back, Son#2 came to visit.  That’s ALWAYS fun!

Then the weekend after that, AGMA went to her 50th high school reunion.

OMG…my 50th high school reunion.  

5-0 (as in a half a century!)

It was weird, crazy, and otherworldly.  Who were all those old farts & blue hairs?

Some of us have aged well (but NOT gracefully…)  Others looked like they fully drained their batteries during the disco era and were out of juice.

AGMA, by the way, looked fabulous!

Then the weekend after, I left for 24 days in Europe (mostly…)

COVID?  What COVID?

I’m pretty sure I DON’T have COVID since I’ve been tested for it 4 times in the last 26 days.

My right nostril hurts.  TMI, right?

Hubs and I started the adventure in Reykjavik.  We’ve never been to Iceland.  AGMA’s not really sure Iceland is the right name for this stunning windswept country.  It was cold while we were there.  It snowed while we were there.  It rained while we were there.  The wind nearly blew me off my feet while we were there.  The sun came out and it was warm while we were there.  There was a 3.5 point earthquake while we were there.  A volcano was erupting while we were there.

And we were only there 3 days!

More like Disassocationdisorderland.

Oh – and we ate some of the famed Icelandic hot dogs. Yum!

Seriously, I would love to return and explore the entire country.  The little bit we saw was stunning.  But, clearly, one must respect Mother Nature before attempting any sort of sojourn there.  No selfies on the edge of any cliffs or volcanos!

Then we hightailed it out of the snow, wind, rain, sunshine and earthquakes for my favorite city in the world (this week at least.) – Paris.

Yes, yes, yes…. I know.  AGMA was just in Paris in July.  But Hubs was with me this time so it was different.  And there were no men in spandex to chase. Well – there were, but that’s a story for a different post.

Paris was a bit cool and rainy at times, but next to Reykjavick, it was like a walk in a park.  Literally.  We stayed at a lovely 4 star hotel next to Luxembourg Gardens, The Hotel Observatorie Luxembourg, courtesy of a TravelZoo deal I bought months before.  We tend to be “value” travelers (translation: cheap – but not tacky or dangerous), so 4 star hotels are definitely out of our price range.  But the TZ deal put it in our price range – sort of – and it was lovely! 

AGMA could get used to being treated like I’m a rich *itch.

We did the “normal” Paris stuff.  Eat, see art, eat, see art, eat, see a palace or two, eat, see art, eat.  Repeat.  We got to see the Arc de Triomphe wrapped up in a posthumous tribute to Christos, the new multi-sensory art exhibition (like the Van Gogh one that is going around the US) on Dali with a bit of Gaudi thrown in.

Anything with Dali as the main attraction is totally nuts!  AGMA loved it! 

We went to a practically empty Versailles.  We saw the Morozkov collection (sort of a once in a lifetime type thing) at striking The Louis Vitton Foundation.  We also went to the Picasso Museum, something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.

And we did what everybody does in Paris…we walked and walked and walked. Well, Hubs actually scooted on his mobility scooter. But AGMA walked my sweet tootsies off. It was wonderful!

After 6 nights in Paris, it was time for Hubs to head back to the Windy City.  Buh bye Hubs!

And AGMA continued on with Phase 3 of the adventure.

I flew to Dublin and met an 81 year old friend who flew in from St Lous.  My job was to be her unofficial tour guide around Ireland for 2 weeks.  

AGMA, reporting for duty.

But the story of that part of the trip is another post…

So what was it really like traveling internationally during COVID?  A bit stressful as one might imagine.  Not really because of fear of catching the virus, but more from all of the safety precautions put in place by the various countries.

Because AGMA’s trip covered 3 countries, I pretty much kept on top of the travel requirements for each country in the weeks leading up to the trip.  A COVID test was required to enter Iceland, but not France.  But France requires what’s called a Passe Sanitaire be presented to enter indoor spaces – museums, palaces, historic monuments, restaurants, music venuse, etc. 

AGMA & Hubs applied for our Passe Sanetaire 3 weeks before we left.  It was supposed to take 16 days to get approved.  Yeah – 16 days came and went.  21 days came and went.   

Nothing.

Soooooo…the evening we got to Paris, we decided to get COVID tests at 25 Euro a test.  That would give us 72 hour “temporary” passe sanataire.  The next day, we went to Versaille and discovered that, if you don’t have the regular passe, then your COVID test can’t be any older than 48 hours.

Got it?  Corn-fusing….

And so the trip proceeded.  We got new COVID tests 3 days later (at 25 Euros each again!) to give us another 72 hours (which would also give Hubs the test he needed to fly back to the US!)  The next day we went to the Pantheon, which was like Versailles in only allowing people with COVID tests less than 48 hours old in without the regular passe sanitaire.

Got it?  Continued corn-fusion…

And for most sights (other than outdoor venues), you need to have a timed reservation. Kinda discourages that last minute, impromptu, spur of the moment spirit of adventure.

Champagne problem.

To travel in Europe now, you definitely can do it, but you really need to WANT to travel in Europe now! 

Next post….  AGMA, the Irish tour guide.

P.S.  Oh, we each finally did receive our official French passe sanitaire.  The day we left France.  Of course….  So very French!

VIVA LA FRANCE!!

AGMA waited, but it wasn’t midnight yet!