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

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ciao Bella Italia Part Due

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I found my 2018 Easter outfit in Rome

OMG – how did three weeks fly by?

It’s been hoppin’ here in AGMA central since I landed back in Wonderland.

I’ve been working wayyy too much, visited the grands in Chicago and on top of that, I was in charge of Hubs retirement celebration 2 weeks ago.

 

More about the retirement later.  Probably a lot more…  AGMA just wanted to give a excuse (albeit lame) as to why she’s been so quiet. Again.

But now, it’s time to go back to Italy!  Picking up where I left off in my post of 4/19 (which seems eons ago)…

We left Rome the day after the marathon. AGMA was walking kind of slow.  Especially when I had to pick up and schlep my suitcase.  AGMA packs light for overseas adventures  – my bag was slightly larger than a carry-on.   But it felt like it weighed about 300 lbs.

It made my legs wobble.

We headed east to a small hilltop walled village circa 1000 AD where K’s old high school friend lives. Mr. D has lived in Italy for 40+ years so he knows a thing or two about lamb entrails…

He arranged for a private tour of the local sites – an excavation of a Roman villa and a church built into the side of a mountain that St. Francis hung out in for a couple of nights.  I’m a history geek so I loved it. K, not so much – I saw her eye’s roll, ever so slightly, back in her head.

We spent the night in Mr. D’s 700+ year old home up in the walled village.

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My guess is that the cooler is probably not 700+ years old…

And were treated to a cold shower the next morning. But it’s 700+ years old right? AGMA had a 30 year old house once that had plumbing issues too…

The next day Mr. D took us to the charming town of Orvieto that has a fabulous cathedral. Shelley at Destination NOW visited Orvieto in 2012 and has some great posts about her visit. We were there for 3 hours. Read Shelley’s first post here if you want to know more about this fabulous little town.

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After our visit, Mr. D loaded us on the train; we were off to Siena. Beautiful Siena. Hilly Siena. Very hilly Siena.

My legs were still wobbling.

I absolutely LOVED our hotel, the Albergo Bernini, primarily because of the view from the hotel terrace.

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We were right next to St. Catherine’s house (sort of) and just a stones throw (maybe a couple of stones.) from the Basilica of San Domenico where Catherine’s head and thumb are in residence.

Eeewwww…

You weren’t allowed to take a picture of her head, but it was open season on her thumb.

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Her thumb is on the left in that little coffee press looking glass thing.

We enjoyed aperetivo on Siena’s huge “square” (it’s not really a square), Piazza del Campo, but it was kind of chilly.  The drinks warmed us up.  It’s hard to imagine, but the Sienese having a horse race on this square twice a year called Il Palio that sounds akin to a jalopy demolition derby.

This might have to be an addition to my bucket list!

After 2 nights in Siena, we hopped on another train.  Destination – Pisa. In AGMA’s 5 past visits to Italy, I had never been to Pisa to see “it”.  I’d heard some uncomplimentary things about Pisa and her famous tower.   “The town’s dirty, full of cheap restaurants and tacky souvenir stands selling cheap, cheesy little Leaning Towers to sucker tourists, yada, yada, yada…”

Maybe that’s why it took me 6 visits to get there.

But our 4 hours in Pisa were delightful! We walked the mile from the train station to the Field of Miracles through the town, which is full of college students.  We strolled around the tower and cathedral.  Took the obligatory “Look I’m holding the Leaning Tower of Pisa up!” photos. Ate lunch.  Walked back to the train station and hit the road…eh, tracks again.  It was a great afternoon.

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Yeah, it’s got a tower that leans, but there’s a lot more to Pisa than that!

Destination – the big tamale – the Cinque Terre

And it was just as breathtaking as I’d heard.  But hilly.  Very hilly.  Mountainous actually.

At this point in the trip, my legs had stopped wobbling.  Sadly, this was a temporary condition.

We stayed at an Agriturismo farm waaaaayyyy up on a hill in Monterosso de Mare, the most northern of the 5 towns.  We didn’t have a car so the only way into town and back again was to walk.

And that’s when the wobbling started again.

But it was worth it for the view, our congenial hosts, the delicious meals, and the wine made from the grapes grown in their vineyard.

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Early morning view of all five Cinque Terra towns from our room

OMG – the wine.

One night, after consuming two bottles, K and AGMA videoed ourselves – in our jammies – dancing to “Dancing Queen” by ABBA  and Bruno Mars “Uptown Funk”.  Then sent the video to our families.

There was much remorse and gnashing of teeth in the morning.  And a slight headache.

We hiked, ‘cuz that’s what your supposed to do when you’re in the Cinque Terre.  We hiked between Monterosso and Vernazza one day, then between Corniglia and Vernazza the next day.

There were steps.  Lot of steps.  Lots and lots of steps.

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I had nightmares about these steps!

The wobbling continued.

We used the local train to visit Manarola and Riomaggiore.  But I think we did more hiking up and down and around these towns than on the hikes between the other towns.

AGMA felt like a mountain goat.  Or a bighorn sheep.  Without the horns.

We were blessed with incredible weather which helped take some of the sting out of all the walking and climbing.  The scenery was freakin’ spectacular!

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Riomaggiore looked stunning!

After four wonderful days exploring these beautiful 5 CT towns, we sadly said goodbye to our hosts, left our goat leggings behind, and headed back to Rome for one more night before flying home.

Overall, the trip was amazing.

But please tell me how, after running a marathon, walking all around Siena, Orvieto, Pisa, and climbing up and down the cliffs & towns of the Cinque Terre, AGMA managed to gain 6 pounds?  Sure, we ate well and drank wine, but we didn’t go absolutely nuts.  As a matter of fact, I felt like we exercised great restraint at times.

And K didn’t gain an ounce.

How is that fair?

Back to rabbit food if I want to fit into my new Easter outfit next year.

Now all I need is a bonnet…

 

Ciao Bella Italy Part Uno

 

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AGMA’s baaaacccckkk!

Actually, I’ve been home for over a week.

Jet lag’s a bitch.

Italy was lovely. That’s what I’ve been telling everybody…. Italy was lovely. Not that I had a fabulous time, or that it was great or wonderful or fantastic.

It was just lovely.

I think AGMA needs to stay home a while. I think I’m starting to get blasé about traveling. I’ll have to ponder that…

It could be that I traveled with a friend I’ve never traveled with before. CB’s a lovely, delightful person who’s been a friend for 30 years.  She’s also much loved by scores and scores of people.

Seriously.

And for a very long time, AGMA wanted to be CB. I wanted to live her life. I envied her rock solid marriage, her family – 4 sons who cherish her and get along with each other, her career (one of those $150/hr consulting things) and her gracious hostessing skills.

But most of all, I envied her scores of friends and relatives who absolutely adore her. A-D-O-R-E. I mean, if she would meet an untimely end tomorrow, there would literally be 1000’s at her funeral, all wailing and weeping and gnashing their teeth.  Me included.

So I pretty much thought CB was everything that I wanted to be. I always wanted lots of adoring friends, but it’s just never happened. And probably never will. AGMA’s a bit too crusty to be adored.

CB IS a lovely person and a good friend, but….

You never truly, really know somebody until you travel with them.

We are very different people. That became pretty obvious on our trip. There weren’t any major issues or confrontations, thank God. That would’ve been miserable. But we definitely have different “styles” and ways of approaching things.

AGMA’s not going to get into specifics. But while the feeling that I wanted to be her, to live her life, has faded over the years, I came home from our trip convinced that I did not want to be her, to live her life.

As imperfect as it is, AGMA kinda likes her own skin.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

So Italy was lovely.

We were in Rome for the first 5 days. Some of CB’s adoring fans are former business associates who live near Rome, so we had dinner with them (O & V) several evenings. It was awesome to have their translation skills and culinary advice.

One evening, O advised me to order the lamb entrails for dinner. She said it was a very typical Roman dish and was served for breakfast on Easter morning in many Roman households. “Hey”, I thought, “When in Rome…eat like a local. I like lamb. Why not?”

AGMA’s face was quite expressive when the server put my order on the table.

Nothing. Like. Lamb chops.

A heaping plate of brownish gray cooked lamb guts. I mean heaping. And I swear they were staring at me.

Watching my every move…

Golly, I can’t think of anything better to serve on Easter morning!

I made a brave effort to eat some of it, but thankfully there was plenty of other more than palatable food on the table that wasn’t staring at me. I think O was disappointed I didn’t chow down on it. She took the leftovers home to her dog who I’m sure did chow down on it.

But AGMA was somewhat subdued during our time in Rome.

I was running the Rome Marathon on our last full day in Roma and was worried about passing the medical exam that I needed to actually be able to run.

It’s a long story, but Italy has some weird medical requirements for people who want to run marathons. Marathons in the US will pretty much let anybody run. They really don’t care if you keel over with a stroke or heart attack. As long as you pay your entry fee and check the little box that you won’t hold anybody liable for anything, you’re good to go.

Evidently Italy doesn’t want you stroking out.

There was one test they required that would have been very expensive to get in the US, so I opted to get my exam in Rome two days before the marathon.

On March 31, I was whisked away from the Rome Marathon expo to parts unknown in a Smartcar by an Italian gentleman who didn’t speak English. CB anxiously waited for me at the expo, ready to call the police if I didn’t return.

This was going to be an adventure.

After a twenty minute drive, I met Guido, the Sports Medicine Man.

Guido was quite good looking. And much younger than me. And he asked me to take of my shirt.

Things were getting interesting…

AGMA felt like she was in a Fellini movie….“The Cougar and the Sports Medicine Man”

But alas, it was to attach the wires for the EKG to my chest. I wished I’d worn a nicer bra.

He also took my blood pressure. When I told him it might be a little high (I was nervous about failing the exam and not running in the marathon), he said in a husky whisper, “Maybe it’s because I am so close to you.”

Seriously. Sort of. He actually used a normal voice. The husky whisper part was in the dream that AGMA had later that night.

I passed my tests (but my BP was indeed high – probably multiple reasons…) and was able to run in the marathon on April 2nd.

And I finished! And didn’t stroke out. That’s always a good thing.

Just an FYI, it was not mandatory to run naked as the picture of the medal suggests.  That’s also a good thing.

Total self acceptance, lamb guts, Guido and a clothed marathon finish in the shadow of the Coliseum….

Okay, so maybe AGMA’s trip to Italy really was fantastic.

Stay tuned for Ciao Bella Italy Part Due (pronounced doo-eh)!

The bad granny and the boys in spandex

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So my post last week was unexpected, and interrupted AGMA’s travel blog from her trip to Europe in July. I’m back in the swing of things now!

But rest easy. This is the third and last (keyword being last…) travel post. Then it’s back to the normal AGMA nonsense.

So in my last travel post, I was in Provence and had a mouth full of creeping crud from my prednisone. Remember?

From Provence, we trekked to the Principality of Andorra high up in the Pyrenees Mountains between the boarders of Spain and France.  You have to REALLY want to visit Andorra to get to Andorra. There is no easy way to get there.

And I REALLY wanted to visit Andorra. We were going to watch Stage 9 and 10 of the 2016 Tour de France.

Cyclists in spandex! My kinda creepy obsession…

I went to France in 2013 for the last week of the 100th Tour de France.  It was electrifying. I was hooked and have been trying to get back every since. Long suffering and patient Hubs agreed to take 3 days out of our trip to fuel AGMA’s creepy obsession.

What a guy.

We watched the cyclists on Stage 9 on their way up to a rain and hail filled finish from the comfort of the Andorran village of Ordino. No rain or hail 18K from the finish. My cowbell got a real workout.

And I found the perfect TdF T-shirt for my 20 month old grandson (pictured above.) Might as well get him indoctrinated early to his granny’s creepy obsession right?

The next day was a rest day. Normally, when I’m watching from home, I hate rest days. AGMA gets bored with no Tour to watch. But I loved the rest day in Andorra.

Rest day = cyclist stalking day.

The cyclists don’t really rest on rest days. They go out for a 2 to 3 hour easy ride in the morning so their bodies don’t freak out from no activity. They have to keep the engine running so to speak or it will shut down. And that’s not good.

Armed with my list of team hotels, I went in search of my favorite cyclists. Unfortunately, AGMA left our hotel too late to catch the teams going out for their rides, but I knew I had a chance of catching them when they got back.

AGMA went after Team Sky, a powerhouse cycling team based in Great Britain, and the team of two time TdF winner Chris Froome. He was also in the lead of this year’s TdF (with the yellow jersey) after Stage 9.

He went on to win the whole tamale this year and got his 3rd TdF win.

After waiting over an hour, the team finally came in from their ride. All but Chris Froome. The cell phone cameras went crazy. Mine included. Sadly, I lost most of those pictures the next day due to a smooth move on AGMA’s part.

I hate technology.

The fabulous thing about being a cycling fan is access. You get nearly unfetterd access to world class athletes like no other sport. You can just walk up and start talking to them and/or you can take a selfie with them and/or get their autograph. They looked tired so I opted for an autograph.

AGMA is a bad granny.

Instead of getting autographs on the notebook I brought, I got out my grandson’s cute TdF shirt, looked at the cyclists with pleading eyes and said, “Can you sign this for my grandson please?” How could they say no?

They couldn’t.

30 minutes later, Chris Froome finally rode in in his yellow jersey. The access thing doesn’t always apply to the yellow jersey – the teams tend to be very protective of their big “stars”. He pretty much stayed away from the small crowd of stalkers, but he was close enough for AGMA to get some great pictures. Most of which I lost.

He finally came up to the small group of remainig fans and signed a few autographs. I gave him the doe-eyed look and said, “Mr. Froome, could you sign this for my grandson please?” And he did.

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AGMA is a bad granny.

I have no intention of giving that T-shirt to my grandson. His parents have no appreciation of cycling. They might actually let him wear it. The horror!

AGMA’s going to wait until he gets older. Hopefully, with my influence and that of his uncle – my cycling crazy younger son – he’ll become a cycling fan too.

Then he can tell the story of how his crazy, cyclist stalking, spandex loving Nan met the best cyclist in the world and got his autograph for him.

It was a grrrrreat trip!

Oh yeah, after Andorra, we went to Lourdes, France which was amazing, then onto Pamplona, Spain for the Running of the Bulls which was insane. Totally insane!

We spent the last night of our trip, July 14th, in Barcelona before we flew home the next day.

July 14th is Bastille Day in France. The Tour de France went through Provence that day and up Mont Vonteux. Chris Froome actually RAN part of the way up due to a freak accident with a moto that crushed his bike. Nothing like that has ever happened in the TdF.  It was crazy.

It was also the day of the horrific attack in Nice that killed 85 innocent, peaceful people who were enjoying being out with friends and family, celebrating Bastille Day. Let’s hope that nothing like that ever happens again. It was beyond crazy.

AGMA went to bed that night incredibly sad, but determined to continue traveling. We can’t let this type of evil frighten us, and keep us from sowing the seeds of peace and understanding all over the world. If we stop traveling, the bad guys win.

And we can’t afford to let that happen.

Australia in November anybody?

And the word for the day is…charming

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Last week we left our heroine, AGMA, breathless after taking down a purse thief in Barcelona. Well, maybe I didn’t exactly take her down… But I sure showed her you can have good manners even if somebody is so rude to try to steal your purse.

Sophia, my Guardian Angel, was bracing herself for the next 10 days.

After two amazing days in Barcelona, we picked up a rental car in town and headed out on the open road. On the way out of town, we stopped to see the Sagrada Familia Basilica by Gaudi.

Crusty ol’ AGMA was floored. I had only seen pictures of the outside, never of the inside. I don’t think I’ve ever said “Wow!” so many times in my life. To say it was spectacular is an understatement.

We headed east to Provence. Neither one of us had ever been there and we wanted to see if it would live up to it’s hype.

Yup. Believe the hype.

We booked a room through Airb&b in Saint-Remy-de-Provence. It was all that you would want a charming French room in a charming French home in a charming French village to be…

What’s the word? Oh yes – charming.

And Jen, our hostess, greeted us with two glasses of French rose when we arrived. Even more charming. Jen and her husband were absolutely lovely and went ABCD (above and beyond the call of duty) as Airb&b hosts. They treated us like friends.

One evening, after we got home from a full day of sightseeing, they invited us to join them on their patio with a big group of their friends to watch the Euro Cup semi-finals. And drink French rose. Then the next night, they invited us over again to hang out with them and different friends who came over for a BBQ. And drink French rose. After we had had quite a bit of rose at dinner a couple of hours earlier in the charming village of L’isle-sur-la-Sorgue.

Do you sense a theme here…?

So it all sounds lovely right? It kinda sounds like AGAM’s Guardian Angel, Sophia, could have taken a break.

Nah baby nah.

I went on this trip taking large daily doses of prednisone to treat my “sausage pancreas”. It did all kinds of weird things to me. I was loopy (more than normal), sleep-deprived (more than normal), angry at nothing (more than normal) and had a very, very fuzzy brain (more than normal.)

But the best side effects were yet to come…

When I was in Provence – and AGMA knows this is TMI – I developed a nasty case of inflamed, swollen, bleeding gums. Ouch and gross. And got a cold sore above my upper lip. So attractive. And finally, started developing oral thrush. Yuck.

As Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say on SNL, “Mr Fader, you sound like a real delightful guy.”

AGMA was miserable in the middle of some of the most beautiful scenery, best wine and yumblyest food in the world.

Sophia to the rescue!

She sent me to a pharmacy in town. Pharmacies in Europe are quite different from pharmacies in the U.S. The pharmacists in Europe are a bit like our nurse practitioners (without the $$ they charge you.) They can assess your condition and dispense medications. No need to go to a doctor.

It was truly wonderful.

Ten minutes and 27 Euros later, we were on the road to Avignon and AGMA was on the road to recovery.

Thanks Sophia!

But between our delayed luggage, my Barcelona purse snatcher, the crazy drivers in Spain and France, and all that rose wine, I think she was already starting to get tired.

One more post to wrap the trip up.

Stay tuned…

Temporary help wanted: GA on R&R

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Sophia, my guardian angel, has been busy. Very busy. Like way too busy.

I think she’s ready to quit.

Can guardian angels quit? I hope not…

AGMA’s back! I really wanted to post something is weekend but it didn’t happen. It’s been a rough re-entry between jet lag and prednisone-induced insomnia.

But what a trip… Wow!

I normally don’t blog much about my travels, but this trip may be the exception. So many “interesting” things happened. A bit too interesting.

Our first stop was Barcelona. What a beautiful city. Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia – oh my – I don’t think I’ve ever said “Wow!” so much.  And the food and wine was yumbley.

But we spent the first 24 hours without our luggage. It decided to stay in Atlanta for an extra day. There is wisdom in packing an extra set of clothes and some basic toiletries in your backpack Grasshopper…

It was in our hotel room when we came in from sightseeing the next day. Miraculous!

Sophia was on duty.

And it wasn’t long before she was busy again.

Aside from it’s beauty and culture and beaches, Barcelona is notorious for it’s thieves and pickpockets.

Yup.

That second evening, we went on a tapas crawl booked through a local tour company. There were like 35 of us and we visited three tapas bars in different parts of the city. It was fun, but then it got “interesting.”

We struck up a conversation with a lovely young, honeymooning couple from Australia and ended up hanging out with them for most of the evening. Very fortuitous. Sophia’s doing I’m guessing.

Normally, I am very vigilant about my purse and wear it over my head across my body. It’s a special cut-proof travel purse with all kinds of latches and locks that I ordered online. However, all that is kind of worthless if the whole purse goes missing.

Yup.

At the second tapas bar we visited, in a moment of jet lagged, prednisone-induced insomnia fog, I set my purse down on the floor beside my chair. On the wrong side. Easy pickin’s for a couple of pros.

Two women walked by and bumped my chair. At that instant, Sophia stuck a pin in my rear and I shot to attention. I looked down at the now empty spot that my purse had recently occupied. AGMA knew immediately what happened.

The fog was gone, replaced by a huge shot of adrenaline. For Pete’s sake, it was only the second day of our trip…

“My purse! Those women took my purse!”

AGMA was wearing as skirt and flats. I’m a marathon runner, but I can do a decent sprint if I have to. Especially amped up on adrenaline.

I went flying out of the restaurant and down the block after them. I had no plan – I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do when I caught them. They were cool operators; they were just strolling down the block. This was not their first rodeo.

“Excuse me, but I think you have my purse and I want it back.” Excuse me??  AGMA’s Emily Post was showing.

They both walked up to me and assured me in calm voices they didn’t have my purse. They even opened up their purses to let me look inside. Smooth…

In the meantime, Trent, our new Aussie friend, followed me out of the restaurant. I guess he thought I needed back-up. I did.

All I remember is saying over and over, “You took my purse and I want it back. You have my purse, please give it back.” AGMA’s nothing if not exceedingly polite.

They were soooo concerned that I was soooo upset. They wanted me to go back into the restaurant to calm down. Sure they did.

Nah baby nah.

So while I was talking to them and keeping them occupied, Trent decided to do a little looking around. He went behind a parked car and, lo and behold, came walking back with…

MY PURSE!!!

At that point, the two women shrugged like “Oh wow – look what he found!”, turned and walked quickly away.  I shook my finger at them and said loudly, “You should be ashamed!”

Seriously? How incredibly lame. At that point AGMA had earned the right to drop numerous F bombs and do a variety of obscene hand gestures transcending any and all language barriers. But I just felt incredible relief…

A quick check back in the restaurant showed all contents present and intact. Whew.

If it wasn’t for Sophia giving me a kick in the butt activating my Spidey senses, it could have been a devastating evening and really ruined our trip. Very much a First World problem I realize, but I’m still incredibly thankful I didn’t have to deal with all the issues around a stolen purse.

Whew.

And this was just the second day of our trip.

Stay tuned for the further adventures of AGMA and Sophia in Europe…

P.S. It’s great to be back!!

Off again

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Cycling: 101th Tour de France / Stage 15 Illustration Illustratie / Peleton Peloton / Lavendel Flowers Field Champs Veld / Landscape Paysage Landschap / Tallard – Nimes (222Km)/ Ronde van Frankrijk TDF Etape Rit (c) Tim De Waele

AGMA’s off again.

Off key, off kilter and off balance. Yes all of that, but off as in so long, farewell, auf weidersehn, goodbye.

ROAD TRIP!!

Well, it’s a road trip that starts with a plane ride.

Actually it started with a plane ride. Due to the fabulous miracle of technology, I’m scheduling this post to be published after we leave. Right about now we should be ass deep in a lavender field in Provence.

Nice image.

Hubs and I are on one of our most ambitious trips yet. Ambitious not in distance traveled or mountains ascended but ambitious in the variety of experiences we’ve scheduled into less than 2 weeks.

Honestly, it didn’t seem that bad when we were planning it. Now that it’s staring us in the face, I’m sort of wondering what sort of mushroom we ate that night.

Tapas and touring in Barcelona, the markets, wine and gastronomy of Provence, the thrill of the Tour de France in Andorra, the holiness of Lourdes and the Running with the Bulls adrenaline rush in Pamplona. In 12 days.

We’re freakin’ nuts.

But as AGMA has been so clearly and soberly reminded of late, she’s far closer to the end of the race than the beginning. Might as well go for the gusto while she’s still on our feet.

Wasn’t that an old beer commercial?

And did you happen to catch the Tour de France part?

AGMA’S GOING BACK TO THE TOUR DE FRANCE!

Did I say that too loud?

It’s all part of the not Aging Gracefully schtick. A relatively normal, middle class 60+ American grandmother to 1.5 children chasing up and down mountains in Europe after world class male cyclists in their 20’s & 30’s wearing spandex.

It’s difficult to explain this late in life obsession so I’m not going to even try.

But thank God AGMA has a late in life obsession.

Something to be passionate, enthusiastic and joyful about. Something to look forward to so much that you feel like you can’t contain your excitement. Something to make you feel like you’re 8 years old again on a summer night in June chasing lighting bugs.

I’m pretty sure the lightening bugs weren’t wearing spandex.

I know plenty of folks my age who feel that, for whatever reason, that kind of joy, enthusiasm and passion is meant for those younger, and not them. And I think that’s incredibly sad because it’s absolutely not true.  Like most of what The Donald says.

My amazing younger son is continually rolling his eyes at me. When I became a massage therapist at 57. When I started my blog at 60. When I ran my first marathon at 61. When I put together my first Tour de France fantasy team last year. When I started my little eBay business a few months ago. When I asked him what kind of a tattoo I should get…

My Lucy and Ethel schemes.

He also is very proud of how AGMA is navigating the choppy waters of later life. He told me so a couple of weeks ago. That felt pretty damn good.

And, if the truth be known, he’s responsible for starting me on the cycling obsession AND the marathoning. But that’s another post.

Behind every successful AGMA is an incredibly supportive son who is also a BFF.

Don’t you love it when you can make your own best friend? It’s just that you have to wait 32 years until they blossom…

It was worth the wait.

So while Hubs and I are picking the lavender out of our crevices and enjoying the discount Euro thanks to those wacky Brits and Brexit, throw caution to the wind and do something that will get your pulse racing and give you a devilish gleam in your eyes.

Please.

Look for AGMA on the TV coverage of Stage 9 of this years Tour de France this Sunday, July 10th. I’ll be the lady in the tall red and white Cat in the Hat hat with the cowbell (gotta have more…), the yellow TdF shirt and the green, yellow and white leis around my neck.

Seriously.

With the racing pulse and gleam in her eye.

Viva la Tour!