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!

Spandex ya’ll

So not quite as timely as AGMA had hoped after my last post, but an improvement (if I do say so myself…)  Two posts in one month is promising.

But I had a VERY good reason why I am not posting until now….

Regular readers can probably guess.

Maybe.

Or have no clue.

Hints:

  1. AGMA hasn’t been able to travel internationally since March 2020.
  2. It’s July.
  3. The biggest cycling race of the year takes place in July.
  4. The biggest cycling race of the year takes place my very favorite country to visit (think wine, cheese and baguettes.).  The country of Monet, Édith Piaf, and Pepé Le Pew

YES!!

AGMA put my mask on, got on an airplane, and flew across the pond to see my boys in spandex.  

Viva la France!

It was like a religious experience.  

I had a 2 week trip planned in July 2020 to see the last week of the Tour de France plus see some other sights, but we all know how that turned out.  We barricaded ourselves in our homes (other than those who moved from Atlanta to Chicago…) in hopes of keep the contagion sweeping across the globe from landing on us.  It was a time of grave concern for our friends, family and country made worse by the total ineptitude of The Fat Orange Virus in the White House and his enablers. 

The cancellation of a pleasure trip seemed inconsequential given the ever increasing numbers in ICUs and funeral homes.

Fast forward to early June, 2021.  AGMA is healthy and fully vaccinated.  France is opening up to vaccinated American tourists in mid-June.  I’ve been watching European cycling events all spring on my laptop via a VPN (a way to get around geo-restrictions on cycling events.)

AGMA sensed a perfect storm!

I casually say to Hubs, “Would you mind if I went to France in July for a week to watch some of the Tour?” 

“Nope…”

I made my airline reservations that night.

AGMA knows the Delta variant is surging in parts of France.  But I also know that masks are mandatory pretty much in every inside space and on any form of transport there.  Hey – I survived COVID in the US when we had a “president” who wanted us to drink/inject bleach.  I felt confident I would be okay.

And it was wonderful!

Without boring those who don’t really care about the Tour de France (I will never understand you, but I still love you!), my first 2 days were spent in a town – 3 train rides away from CDG airport – called Libourne in the Bordeaux region.  It’s a charming town right on the beautiful Dordogne River, which was quite high and flowing quite fast because of all of the rain in Europe the previous 2 weeks.  Think those horrific, deadly floods in Belgium & the Netherlands.  The theme of high, fast flowing rivers followed me on my trip (both in Paris and Lyon.)

The main shopping street in Libourne
City Hall in Libourne
The very high Saône River in Lyon

Damn climate change.

I was in Libourne for the end of stage 19 and the beginning of stage 20 of the Tour de France.  Because stage 20 was a time trial and riders took off individually with a minute between each rider, I had a wonderful opportunity to see all the riders up close and personal.  I positioned myself near the beginning of the TT and close to one of the broadcasting cameras.  And some of my friends saw me on TV!

You can say you knew AGMA when…

Before all the riders had taken off, I had to hustle to catch my trains back to Paris.  The next day was the stage 21; the ride into Paris. 

On Sunday, July 18th, I went through the vaccination verification check near the Arc de Triomphe to scout a spot to watch the riders do their 8 circuits on the Champs-Élysée.  AGMA found a group of Danish fans who spoke excellent English and I settled in for the 4 hour wait until the riders showed up.

You do some very strange things for love…

Wout van Aert (Belgium) won the stage, Tadej Pogačar (Solvenia) won the yellow jersey (overall winner), the polka dot jersey (best climber), and the white jersey (best young rider). A cycling superstar at 22!

And Mark Cavandish (England), at 36, a sprinter that most people felt was way beyond his prime and the ability compete with the world’s best, won the Green jersey (best sprinter.)  And not only did he snag the Green jersey, but (and this is a WAY BIGGER deal!) tied the record of Eddy Merckx for most stages won EVER in the Tour de France.

I need a cigarette now….

What did AGMA do in France after the TdF you ask?  

I walked.  I walked for 5.5 hours in the Louvre.  I walked for hours all over Paris.  I walked more hours all over Lyon.  Hours and hours.  My new technowonder Alexa Echo watch told me that I averaged 19,000 steps a day for the 7 days I was gone.  Honestly, I didn’t know these stumpy legs had it in them.

And (this is really TMI so look away if you tend to be queasy) AGMA sweated.  Buckets.  It was hot in France.  The heat combined with hours of walking outside in the sun exacerbated by being in buildings that were supposed to be air conditioned, but…ummm…not really.  Buckets.  

It was kinda gross.

In Lyon, which is a WONDERFUL city by the way, AGMA had a COVID test per US requirements to go home.  I was negative so I had to leave the next day.

But the cherry on top of the trip was the flight home.  It was a Air France direct flight from Paris to Chicago.  And it was nearly empty. 

E.M.P.T.Y.

I was in the first cabin in economy (being the value traveler that I am.) There were 78 seats in the cabin.  There were 14 people in the cabin.  AGMA became the undisputed queen of row 20, and was able to lie totally flat to nap on the 4 middle seats.   And they gave me champagne with dinner and cognac after dinner.  

The perfect way to end a most unusual, exhausting, amazing, sweaty trip!

Viva la France!

Let’s go viral!

corona

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

Into the fire…

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

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

A little late methinks.

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

Shrewd…

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

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

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

Favorite moments:

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

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The Flower Parade

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The Night Parade

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

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A little bit of Australia in France!

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

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Flamingos!!

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A beautiful Carmague pony gets up close and personal!

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

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The drive to get up to this view was interesting!

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

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The name is Bond…James Bond

  • The view from our apartment in Marseilles.

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Stunning!

  • Great art!

  • And of course great food and wine!!

Next week I’m supposed to leave for Turkey.

Maybe.

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

And over the weekend, Turkey declared war against Syria.

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

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

 

 

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

train travel

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

The professional cycling season is gearing up in Europe.

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

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

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

I’m a woman of divided loyalties.

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

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

How’s that for a cop out?

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

Now what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you sensing a theme?

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

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

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

Part 3…wait for it….

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

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

Pass the cava

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Even though I’m in Barcelona now, AGMA’d love to tell you that I’m enjoying a cafe con leche and writing this post in a small cafe in the Gothic Quarter.

But I’m not.

As much as I want to dash off a post after our first few days in Spain to let everybody know how it’s going, AGMA is a realist. I’ve been through this too many times before. It ain’t happening.

So I’m in my favorite coffee shop in Atlanta. And I’m going to use that future post date function in WP.  I love that.

This trip is going to be really interesting.

Hubs is staying home taking care of the Princes of Casa AGMA, otherwise known as our cats, Max and Gus.

So I’m traveling with a dear friend who is getting ready to turn 77 in March. She’s young in mind and spirit, and is in great shape physically.  Plus she’s a voracious international traveler.

However, she’s hard of hearing (and won’t get a hearing aid) and I think she’s starting to have some memory issues.

And she has really fuzzy personal space boundaries.  This kinda makes me more crazy than I already am.

You know the type…physically, she moves really close to you whenever you interact. We spent 9 days in Paris 5 years ago and by the time AGMA got home, I wanted to move into a monastic hermitage and live alone the rest of my life. We would look at something in a store window and she was practically right on top of me. I may have gently thrown an elbow at her once or twice.

Don’t judge me.

It was a relief to be in a restaurant and have my own side of the table.

I think it might be related to her hearing loss?

So I’m looking for some suggestions as to how I might let her know in a sweet, kind, but firm way that she tends to get a bit to up close and personal. Anything?

Since I’m getting over the flu, I can use that for a few days.

“Don’t get to close to me Mary, I still have an active virus inside of me and could soon be a biter on the Walking Dead.”

Our trip is in 3 parts.

Part 1 – Barcelona. Cava, tapas/pintxo, paella, cava, crema catalana, bombas, cava, jamon ibericao, cava.

Can you see the pattern? AGMA loves me my sparking!

Since my last visit in Barcelona was so brief, I’m anxious to see what I missed the first time around.

Added bonus…AGMA has a former co-worker working on her masters in Barcelona so she’s going to hang with us on some of our adventures. Nothing beats having an insider show you the local scene!

Part 2 – ‘The Cruise’  THIS is going to be the true adventure. We are going on a 7 night Mediterranean cruise on a cruse line that gets terrible ratings on the all of the cruise bulletin boards. The ship itself is new and supposedly amazing, but everything else pretty much sucks according to the reviews. But it’s cheap – really cheap – and we’ll be seeing places we’ve never been (except Rome and you really can’t visit Rome too much…)

AGMA’s a firm believer of going into something like this with the lowest possible expectations. That way, if something is actually decent, it’s thrilling!

I’m planning on bringing lots of hand sanitizer and antiseptic wipes.

Part 3 – Porto, Portugal. Portugal is hot right now. Not with heat (although temps aren’t too bad) but as a tourist destination. In 2017, it was voted by the Word Travel Awards as the Best European Destination. Portugal actually took home 37 of the 123 awards.

Smokin’ hot.

Who knew?

AGMA visited Lisbon and the Algarve about 5 years ago. Since Mary abdicated all of the trip planning responsibilities to me, I decided that we’d go to Porto, home of Port wine. It’s supposed to be incredibly charming and a throw back to “old” Portugal (whatever that means…), and prices for food ‘n stuff are less than in Lisbon.

And after sharing a tiny interior cabin on the cruise for 7 nights with a person who has personal space boundary issues, I booked a 2 bedroom AirB&B in Porto.

Of course.

I’m hoping to be able to post while we’re on the cruise (or at a port with wifi) so you may actually get some real time AGMA updates from the road. Or water.

‘May’ being the operative word…

AGMA has to admit that I’m so looking forward to 2 1/2 weeks without hearing about the Massively Yuge Sh*thole Cheeto every minute of every day. Ignorance is definitely not bliss when it comes to the attempted destruction of our democracy, but a little respite now and then is good for the soul.

The only problem is that, when people find out we’re Americans, EVERYBODY (I know this from experience) will be asking us, “What the hell is going on with the US??”

I think my answer will be, courtesy of Molly Shannon’s horrible alter ego comedienne, Jeannie Darcy….

“Don’t get me started. Don’t even get me started.”

Pass the cava.

Fat, happy cows

cow

Moo

AGMA’s back in the land of orange, spray tan insanity!  I hope I didn’t miss too many of the Tweeter-in-Chief’s pearls of monosyllabic feculence…

I started this post nearly two weeks ago during our trip and felt certain that I would finish it before we came home.

Clearly, that didn’t happen.  But I kinda liked it so I finished it.  Here goes:

September 16, 2017

We just left Brittany.

We discovered there are very fat, happy cows in Brittany.  And fat, happy cows make delicious, creamy milk that’s made into “to die for” butter.

Demi sal (partially salted) please.

And AGMA ate mass quantities of this delictable Breton butter during our 6 days in a beautifully renovated 17th century Breton farmhouse outside of the charming “Petite Town of Character” (seriously) Jugon-les-Lacs.

Some backstory as to why we were in a 17th century farmhouse in Brittany…

Hubs was inspired last year on our short visit to Provence to learn French.  He actually has a history of living in France.  His dad was in the army and was stationed there twice while Hubs was growing up.  I guess he picked up some French then, but put it down pretty quickly.

A determined Hubs is an obsessive-compulsive Hubs.

He’s spent the last 9 months trying to become proficient in French.  He reached the highest level on the Duolingo app in French.  He’s now going backwards (from French to English.)

Huh?

He’s been seeing a French instructor once a week in Atlanta for about 6 months.  And for the last 3 months, he’s been Skyping with two French instructors – one in Belgium and one in South Africa.  He’s just recently discovered Edith Piaf.  Nevermind that AGMA told him about the wonderful Edith years ago…  And he watches French cartoons and sitcoms on YouTube.  And listens to Zaz.

He was ready for the big time.  French immersion.  In France.

Turns out, there are quite a few folks in France who want to have people come and stay in their homes to learn French.  For a price.

Who knew?

Next, we had to decide who and where.  Good teachers (based on previous student reviews and bios) are all over the country, but we wanted to go somewhere we’d never been before.  AGMA wanted to go east towards the French Alps, but that teacher was booked.  It got narrowed down to a teacher in Brittany and one north of Paris.

Brittany won.

Best.decision.ever.

The history of Brittany (Bretagne in French) in  is fascinating.  It’s more Celtic than French.  They call Great Britain “grande Bretagne” and Brittany “petite Bretagne”.   It was an autonomous region with ties to Great Britian for centuries until it finally became part of France in 1532.

The Breton language is (according to the source of all knowledge, Wikipedia) “one of six extant Celtic languages.”  And, evidently, there are quite a few redheads in Brittany.

The countryside is spectacular.

No vineyards here.  They grow corn.  Lots and lots of corn.  To feed those fat, happy cows. To make that incredible butter.

That makes AGMA so happy.

The bits of the north coast we saw were spectacular.  Wild and rocky.  Cliffs and crashing waves.

With very, very few tourists.  We liked that.

Hub’s lessons were in the morning, but we managed to see a lot on our free afternoons.

The half-timbered houses of the medieval town of Dinan,

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the port of St-Malo with it’s ancient walls,

 

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the world famous oysters at Cancale,

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the romantic ruins of the Abbaye de Beauport,

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the fortress of Fort la Latte on the sea,

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the windy, rugged Cap Frehel,

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the very weird Danse Macbre in the Chapelle de Kermaria an Iskuit,

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the charming island of Ile-de-Brehat,

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and the iconic Mont St Michel.

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We loved it!

Our hosts were a lovely English couple who lived their dream by moving to France in 2002 and refurbishing an old French farmhouse into a Chambre d’hote (bed and breakfast to you and I.)

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The lovely La Croix Julot

Both Suzanne – Hub’s tutor – and Peter are teachers.  Suzanne teaches French to non-French types and English to French types.  She also speaks German and a bit of Spanish. Peter is an accomplished musician and teaches music – mostly piano.

Aside from their teaching skills, Suzanne is an incredible gardener.  Much of the food we ate came directly from her garden.  Including the beautiful preserves we had at breakfast everyday on our bagettes and crossiants.  And Peter is an accomplished cook – his lunches were 3 course gourmet wonders.

And butter.  We had lots and lots of butter!  They bought that at a store.

Honestly, it was a bit embarrassing how much butter I put on the fresh baguettes that we had for both breakfast and lunch.  Everyday. But oh so delicious…

It really kick-started the weight gain which gained momentum everyday for the entire 23 days we were in France.

But what the hell…  You can’t take it with you.

The butter, I mean.

Viva la France!

P.S. Peter and Suzanne’s farmhouse is called La Croix Julot.  En suite bed and breakfast is about 50 Euro a night.  You can read the Trip Advisor reviews here.  Hubs and AGMA highly recommend it!