Of pelotons, echelons and musettes

pont du gard

Stage 16 of the Tour today went over the Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct built in around 60AD.  AGMA was there in May as part of the Grand Tour of France!

It’s the time of year that all AGMA followers (with a few exceptions..) dread.

It’s TOUR DE FRANCE baby!!

Once again I’ve been transformed from a graying, dignified village elder to a giggling tweeter.  And I have 5, count ’em, 5 Tour de France fantasy teams.

AGMA loves her men in spandex!

It’s all Son#2’s fault.

My son really got into watching Le Tour in the mid 2000’s.  It actually inspired him to become a serious cyclist, health nut and nature enthusiast.  Waaaayyyy better than sitting in his bedroom playing video games…

He was a pretty good cyclist and considered going semi-pro until a “series of unfortunate events” occurred.   A shattered wrist here, a broken femur there…it all convinced him that maybe this was not a wise career choice.

He still cycles, but for fun now.

And he sort of dragged me along for the ride as far as watching the Tour de France goes.

(Get it??  Dragged me along for the “ride”?? OMG – I crack myself up!)

People always assume that because I love men’s professional cycling, I must love riding a bike.

Uh…no.

AGMA never learned how to ride as a child.   I honestly don’t know why, but it just wasn’t part of what I did.

“Learn to ride now!” people say too me all the time.  Easy for them to say.  They won’t break their collarbones when they fall.

Truth is that I’ve tried to learn.  AGMA’s okay on a straightaway, but add some hills or dips or curves, and my palms start sweating.  The reality is that it’s really hard to learn to ride a bike as an adult.  All that balance “stuff” gets hardwired in kid’s brains when they learn young, but it doesn’t work the same with adults.

I made sure both of my kids learned to ride a bike when they were young not realizing that it would indirectly lead me to a late in life odd passion.

The 2019 edition of the Tour de France is turning out to be the best AGMA’s seen in my 11 years of being a spandex groupie.

The pre-Tour favorite, Chris Froome, who has won 4 previous Tours, had a horrific crash during the 8 day Criterium du Dauphine which is a pre-Tour warm up race.  And just in case he reads AGMA (ha ha ha), heal fast Chris!  All of us miss watching you ride!

Or some of us.

Last year’s winner, Geraint Thomas, crashed out during the Tour de Suisse (another pre-Tour warm up race.) And with very few racing days in his legs, he’s still an unknown for the Tour de France in terms of his conditioning and form.  And the tumble he took from his bike today didn’t help.

Ouch.

That’s all to say that for the first time in a long time, there is no clear favorite to win this year’s Tour.

That makes it especially exciting to watch as a fan!

I can hear you now…ZZZZzzzz….

But really, it IS incredibly exciting.

For the first time in like a kazillion years, a Frenchman, Julian Alaphilippe, is leading the Tour after 16 stages and wearing the Yellow leader’s jersey.  The French press and public are going WILD!!   It’s been 34 years since a Frenchman won the Tour.  Will this be the year?

Who the hell knows??

Alaphilippe wasn’t supposed to be in the Yellow jersey after 16 stages.  He’s a Classics rider (1 day races) and a puncheur (a rider who is specializes in rolling, hilly terrain with short, steep climbs.)

He’s not a GC rider.

GC stands for general classification (as opposed to sprinters , puncheurs, climbers and time trialists). A GC rider is a rider who, at the end of a 7, 8, 9 or 21 day stage race has the fastest times, so he’s sort of a jack of all trades.  They are the riders groomed to win stage races.  ALL Tour de France winners are GC riders.

But maybe not this year??

Who the hell knows??

And that’s what makes it all so exciting!

It’s going to be a knockout, drag out fight the next 4 days.  Tomorrow’s stage moves into the foothills of the Alps.  Then all hell breaks loose on Thursday, Friday and Saturday with 3 brutal Alpine stages that will push the riders to their physical and mental limits.

Even if you’ve never watched the Tour before, I urge you to tune in later this week.  AGMA promises that you will not be bored.  It’s going to be a battle royal between some of the best male athletes in the world in some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.

Then on Sunday, what is left of the 176 riders that originally started the Tour on July 6th, will ride, battered and bruised, into Paris, and finish up with a sprint on the Champs-Elysees.

What’s not to love???

And the winner of the 2019 Tour de France will be…

Who the hell knows??

OMG – I can’t wait!!

(Peloton – The main field of cyclists in a race.  Sort of like a swam of cyclists. NOT the exercise bike/program called Peloton…  (but now you know where the name came from!)

Echelon – The staggered, diagonal line that cyclists form to deal with crosswinds.  Each rider is slightly downwind from the previous rider.  Kinda like one side of the V when geese to their thing.  

Musette – bags that carry food and drinks for cyclists on long races.  Basically it’s a cyclist lunch bag.  And like kids, they throw away the stuff they don’t want to eat.)  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peek-a-boo 2

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

Yikes.

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

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

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

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

France was awesome!

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

Impressive.

And it was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pictures soon.

 

 

 

 

Wars and wines (minus cycles)

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Our Epernay AirB&B host’s champagne brand! Just the thing to help make packing up to go home a bit more tolerable.

WARS:

Four years ago, AGMA borrowed a friend’s DVD set of Steven Speilburg/Tom Hank’s WWII HBO miniseries Band of Brothers (some 13 years after it aired.) It follows Easy Company of the US Army 101st Airbourne Division from their training in Toccoa, Georgia (right up the road from us!) to D-Day through V-E Day.

Then we saw George Clooney’s 2014 movie, Monuments Men. Based on the book of the same name, it’s the story of a group of museum directors, curators and art historians who, toward the end of WWII, were tasked by the US Government with trying to recover art treasures stolen by the Nazi’s.

We got hooked. Now I know we’re came late to the game, but Hubs and I got hooked on WWII history in Europe. And some WWI history as well.

Soon after, Hubs and I went to Belgium and France. Sound familiar?

To make a long story short, we visited a number of WWII and WWI sites on our 2014 trip. It was eye opening, heart wrenching and incredibly memorable, moving experience.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago.

Return visit to Belgium and France. Here we go…

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The Cloth Hall in Ypres, Belgium. It looks old doesn’t it? It’s not… The Ypres Salient was the scene of intense fighting in WWI with some 450,000 lives lost on both sides.. The entire town of Ypres was destroyed as was everything else in the area. It all became a No Man’s Land. Every building in Ypres dates from after 1916. The rebuilt Cloth Hall is the sight of the In Flanders Fields Museum which is excellent in explaining the WWI history of the area.

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WWI recruitment posters in the In Flanders Fields Museum. Anybody who thinks the rise in Nationalism is a good thing needs to learn more about the causes of WWI, and the devastation that the Nationalist passions back then wrought to Europe. And 16 million people died as a result.

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In driving from Paris to Ypres we passed probably 25 small WWI cemeteries. And there were dozens of small WWI cemeteries around Ypres as well. They just buried the soldiers as they fell in skirmishes and came back after the war to formally mark the graves. The past is very much present and in people’s minds in this part of Europe.

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In Bastogne in the Ardennes where the Battle of the Bulge took place. The 101st was surrounded on three sides by the Germans during the brutal winter of 1944/1945. Supplies had to be air dropped to them and they prevailed until Patton’s Third Army advanced.

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A display of Patton memorabilia in the 101st Airborne Museum in Bastogne.

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Just outside of Bastogne is the Mardasson Memorial honoring the memory of 76,890 American soldiers wounded or killed during the Battle of the Bulge. The memorial itself is a huge 5 pointed star (one of the points can be seen in the distance) Each state name is carved in the parapet, the insignias of each participating battalion on the outside walls and carved in the inside walls are 10 passages describing the battle. They still remember…

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An uncentered photo (sorry…) of Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna in the Church of Our Lady. In Bruges, Belgium. It is breathtaking (AGMA’s photography isn’t!) It was stolen by the Nazi’s in 1944, and was found a year later by the Monuments Men in a salt mine in Austria.

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A view of Saint Bavo Cathedral in Gent, Belgium. The Gent Altarpiece (Adoration of the Mystic Lamb) done in 1432 is located in Saint Bavo. This was another priceless work of art stolen by the Nazi’s and recovered by The Monuments Men. We saw the Altarpiece in 2014, but got to Saint Bavos too late in the day to see it this time. Dang…

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We’re at the Verdun Memorial in Verdun, France. Verdun was the scene for some of the fiercest fighting in WWI. There were anywhere from 700,000 to 1,200,000 casualties in the nearly year long battle. Again, the museum inside the memorial did an excellent job explaining the battle and its aftermath.

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Our rental car’s passenger side mirror and the Douaumont ossuary memorial (around the phallic looking thing…) that contains the bones of 130,000 unidentified French and German soldiers. It’s surrounded by a cemetery of soldiers who were identified. War sucks.

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Like Ypres, the area around Verdun was obliterated by the fighting and the bombing. The chapel at the end of the walkway stands where the church in the village of Fluery once stood. The entire village along with several others was completely destroyed, and was never rebuilt. The craters from the bombs (they look like ski moguls) are still visible all over the landscape over 100 years after the end of the war.

WINES:

Yeah we did!

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The most charming, ancient town of Trier, Germany on the Mosel River. Trier is considered the oldest town in Germany. The Romans moved in back in 30 BC and things have never been the same since! Mosel River = Mosel wines! Cheers!

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No – this is not something in Disney World or Epcot although it looks like it. It’s Colmar, France in The Alsace. And our AirB&B was the white home on the right (NOT the pay toilet…) Our hosts started our visit off right by leaving a bottle of Pinot Blanc in our fridge!

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A canal runs through it…. This section of Colmar is called Little Venice!

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Some of the delicious Alsatian white wine from the Paul Schneider vineyards tasting room in Eguisheim, France. It’s exhausting work, but somebody has to do it….

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The enchanting town of Riquewihr, France. NOT Disney World. We did the Alsatian self guided ‘wine tour’ suggested by Rick Steves and it was nothing but one stinkin’ charming wine producing half timbered house village after another…

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More wine tasting in the tiny village of Hunawihr. We’d never heard of the Sylvaner grape variety, but it make some pretty nice wine!

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Our last stop on our trip was the Champagne region. We stayed in a charming AirB&B in Epernay hosted by the charming Michele who just happened to have her own small champagne house. This meant our fridge was stocked with 4 bottles of her champagne. AGMA did not want to be awakened from this lovely dream…. We had to pay for what we drank but at 14 Euros a bottle, it was an amazing bargain. And yes – Epernay has a glitzy Avenue de Champagne where all the YUGE, bougie producers have locations and you get to pay a premium for a tasting.

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This is ground zero for champagne lovers! This is the Abbey Church in Hautvillers, France where Dom Perignon sang hymns and did Benedictine Monk stuff. Legend says that after he got the fermentation process right for his sparking wine, he ran into the church and said, “Brothers, come quickly! I’m drinking stars…!” Yeah he was! He’s buried in front of the alter of the church.

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The big producers have vineyards everywhere!!

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AGMA and Hubs were very relieved that our precious cargo made it back to the US unbroken and unconfiscated. Four bottles in each of our suitcases. We pack pretty light when we travel so we have room to bring our booty home! There is always the wearing of sackcloth and gnashing of teeth when we drink the last bottle.

So there you have it…the good (wine), the bad (war), the ugly (my pictures) and the ‘makes AGMA’s heart sing’ (cycling!) It was an eventful 2 weeks with a lot of ground covered, great food consumed and fabulous wines tasted.

I’m so blessed.

But AGMA’s glad I’m home and staying home for the foreseeable future. Other than the 5 days in Chicago starting tomorrow…

Yeah we are!

P.S. After I published this, WP informed me that this was my 200th post! Where’s the champagne…???

Cycles, Wars & Wines

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

AGMA loves to travel.

But then you knew that.

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

WTF? Yes…

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

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

It was a beautiful wedding by the way…

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

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

And I’m pooped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just kidding.  Not really.

Wars and Wine shortly…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh my…

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Yeah I did!!

That was fun.  I think.

AGMA’s not sure that I’ve ever thought of a marathon as fun, but this was probably as close to being fun as one can get.

No – it was definately fun!

To relieve the burning question you all have – I did finish.  Barely.

But let’s start from the beginning….

We arrived in Pauillac on September 7.  Pauillac is in the Haut-Medoc region of Bourdeux.  The wine in this area is spectacular.  But since AGMA was going to attempt to run/walk 26.2 miles (42KM) in two days, I needed some restraint.

I was semi-successful.

It was difficult.  There was/is wine everywhere.  Everywhere.  Good wine for very little $$. Great wine for very little $$.

There was wine at the little Expo.

Every marathon has an expo the day before (or sometimes two days) the run.  The runners pick up their running “bibs” (with their number on them and timing chips on back) and get a goodie bag (ususally).  There are also booths and displays from vendors trying to sell you running “stuff”.

This one had wine.  Lots of it.

Then there was the pasta “dinner” the night before the marathon at Chateau Livran.  For 1500 close friends.  That started – started mind you – at 8:30 P.M.

It was beyond description so I’ll just post a few pictures.

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The calm before the storm…  Because of Hubs mobility issue, they let us into the dining area early.

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This was a man who was dressed like a woman who evidently decided that undergarments were for the weak.  This was evident when he lifted his arms to dance or bent over, which he did frequently.  Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore!

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Each time a new wine was served, the wine stewards marched out to music each carrying 6 to 8 bottles.

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The first of 4 bottles of wine – all from different wine Chateau’s – they brought for Hubs and I, and a couple from England we were sitting with!

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And then everybody danced.  And danced.  And danced!

OMG – the French sure know how to have a pasta dinner!

AGMA tried to be restrained.  I only sampled each wine and probably had 2 glasses total. Others were not quite so restrained.

Ah, to be young again.

I felt it was a poor decision for others to dance when they were going to run a marathon the next day.  Tut, tut…

That is until the band played Pharrell’s song, Happy.  And Earth, Wind and Fire’s song September.

Yup.  AGMA joined in the party.

Hubs and I tore ourselves away from the party and headed back to Pauillac at 10:15 P.M.  This was BEFORE they served dessert.   At that point, we’d been served 4 bottles of wine between 4 of us.  Who know how much was served after we left…

Every party needs a pooper right?  An AGMA pooper.

Thankfully, the marathon didn’t start until 9:30 A.M.  And AGMA was stealth in planning this trip – we were in an AirB&B in Pauillac, about a 10 minute walk to the start of the run.  And the finish.

So I got a good night’s sleep.

Thank God.

I’m not going to go into details about the run.  AGMA will just say it with pictures….

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Vikings!

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1st of 20 wine stops

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I saw this guy finish!  He ran 26.2 mile wearing an Eiffel Tower.  Yikes!

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The theme was 33 RPM because it was the 33rd running running of the marathon.  Lots of hippies, rockers and, especially Elvis’.

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Lots and lots and lots of men dressed as women.  tRump would have a fit.  Or try to pick one up…

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The guys in red had inflatable dinosaurs on them!  Normal for a marathon really… NOT!

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OMG – I got behind the sweep wagon!  If you are behind these guys at the finish, you don’t get a medal.  AGMA hauled butt after I snapped this!

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Just another Chateau to drink at!

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Caught guys (again, dressed as women…) peeing in the vineyards while I snapped a picture of one of several beautiful rainbows during the run.

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AGMA stems afterward!

There was a naked guy who had nothing but his bib in front of his twig and berries who threw up at one of the wine stops.  That picture might be TMI…

So AGMA finished.  I got the medal.  I got the backpack.  I got the bottle of wine.

Official time…slow.  Let’s just say I beat the sweepers, but I’m pretty sure they slowed down along the way.

This was a good thing since I was over 6 hours and 30 minutes…

I’m sore.  And still tired.

But boy, was it fun!

Next year?

 

Parlez-vous bucket list?

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AGMA’s getting ready for a bucket list experience.

Okay – it wasn’t really on my bucket list, but then again, I don’t really have a bucket list.

Well, I do, but it’s a dynamic list. Most things get added after I’ve done them.

It’s also a mental list. God forbid I writing/type anything down. That would be a bit too ‘restrictive’. And concrete.

AGMA likes flexiblity.

It’s just soooooo satisfying to add things to my mental bucket list after I’ve done them, then mentally check them off the list.

I think there might be a diagnosis for that.

Hubs and I leave on Sunday for 23 days in France.

What?? 23 days?? Are you crazy?? Are you rich??

23 days in France. Yes. Maybe. No.

We made the airline reservations way back in January right before the inauguration. Getting out of the country for an extended period seemed like a really good idea at the time.

Still does.

And we caught an amazing sale. $394 RT per person from ATL to CDG.

Yeah we did!

And we were heady at the prospects of Hubs impending retirement and no restrictions on vacation length anymore. We really didn’t think through the budget restrictions we would have after retirement…

But AGMA’s a ‘value’ travel planner so I think we’ll be okay.

Lots of Airbnb’s and budget hotels. But they all have good reviews, so no bed bugs. Hopefully.

And lots of ‘value’ meals. We need to cut back on calories anyway.

AGMA’s going to try to post while we are gone. ‘Try’ being the operative word. I might just post a “Hello, we are in ______. Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here.”

We’ll see how things go.

Getting back to the bucket list experience that I didn’t know was on my bucket list until February…

Since I was planning on running the Rome marathon in April, I figured AGMA would make 2017 the year of the international marathon. I started looking for a marathon to run in Europe during this trip.

And boy, did I find one!

It’s called the Marathon du Medoc and is unlike any other marathon in the world.

Turns out, it’s on many runner’s bucket lists. Who knew?

It’s in the Bordeaux region of France where some of the best wines in the the universe are produced.

So it would be natural that instead of water stops for runners, there are wine stops right?

Twenty (20) to be exact, from some of the top wine Chateau’s in the world. Actually, you can get water at the wine stops too, but seriously?

Wimps.

Aside from the wine, there are ‘nutrition’ stops. But instead of the orange slices and bananas and energy gels you get at a normal marathon, they will have breads and sweets and meats and cheeses.

BONUS – at mile 20…oysters!

Finally, all the runners dress up. Well – the fun ones dress up. Which is about 90% of the 8500 runners.

Hey, AGMA’s fun.

But AGMA has to schlep my costume across the Atlantic in my little suitcase. So I opted for compact, easy to run in and cheap so I can pitch it all afterwards.

And nothing says compact, easy to run in and cheap like HULA GIRL!!

Yes – AGMA is going to be a hula girl. But don’t expect any pictures. Nah baby nah.

I don’t mind exposing my chubby arms and midriff to a bunch of crazy, drunk French strangers, but to post a picture of Hula AGMA for the rest of the world to see…

Oh, the humanity!

The marathon time limit is 6 hours and 30 minutes. My fastest marathon was 6 hours and 10 minutes. And I thought I was going to die afterwards.

This does not bode well. Especially since there’s wine involved.

But then again, maybe the wine will help.

So AGMA’s decided not to stress about it and just enjoy what is sure to be a once in a lifetime experience. If I end up swimming in the pond at Chateau Lafite Rothschild for the afternoon, so be it.

Two things I know for sure. It’s going to be unlike anything I’ve ever done. And I’m gonna come back with some pretty good stories.

Aging Gracefully My Ass!

Catch you on the other side of the Pond.

P.S. If you are in the US and haven’t yet donated towards the relief efforts of the historic, devastating Texas floods, please consider donating today to the charity of your choice. Just make sure it’s legit… Love you all for your generous hearts and spirits!

Moveable feast, here I come

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I really wanted to write about making Thanksgiving dinner this past Saturday.  This was unusual because the “official” Thanksgiving Day here in the U.S. is not until November 26th.  It was made even more unusual because I prepared the entire meal by myself.   Alone.  Yikes!

Unusual and, of course, amusing as only AGMA cooking adventures can be.

But I’m having a hard time.  I can’t seem to muster up any funny words. My heart continues to be heavy for the people of Paris.

Adventures with the undercooked turkey will have to wait.

Many, many words have been written since evil took flight against innocents in Paris last week.  People far more intelligent and gifted have eloquently written about the events of this real life, nightmarish Friday the 13th.  I can add no new insights or analysis.

My response is totally from the heart and gut.

I love Paris.  I really can’t explain why.  Or maybe I can try.

I’ve been fortunate enough to visit the City of Lights five times in my life.  Five times, I’ve been thoroughly enchanted.

One of my favorite movies is Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.  It totally captures the magical nature of this amazing city.  I really want to hang out with Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Cole Porter…  I want to be part of the great Moveable Feast that was/is Paris.

The last time I went to Paris, I sat on the steps that Owen Wilson sat on when he got picked up by the limo at midnight.  I waited for about an hour.  Nothing.  Crap.

But that’s what Paris does to you.  It makes you believe that anything is possible and totally captivates your heart.

Granted, some Parisians can be brusk to non-French speakers.  But I just flutter my eyelashes and say in my very broken French, “Parlez-vous anglais?”  And when they say “No”, I turn on the big Bambi doe eyes and say “Un petit peu?” at which point they shrug and say “A lee-ttle”.  They then proceed to speak in flawless English.  And become very friendly.

Gotta love Paris.

The people, the food, the history, the wine, the gardens, the beauty… a lifestyle of joy and the celebration of living.

The French have been allies of the U.S. since the beginning of the U.S.  They are our oldest friends as a nation and fought along side us in our bid for independence.  And many of our finest young men are laid to rest in French cemetaries in Normandy.  There is a deep, deep connection between us.  A blood bond if you will.

I mean, they gave us the freaking Statue of Liberty for Pete’s sake…  That’s like the best BFF gift ever.

So I mourn for Paris, and our French brothers and sisters as only family can mourn.  And based on our experience here in the U.S. with 9/11, I know that they will never quite be the same.

But they will endure.  And not only endure, but I have a feeling they will not let this evil fundamentally change their love and zest for life.  It may even deepen and get more intense.

Gotta love the French.

And I do.  So in less than three weeks, I’ll once again be in my mostest favoritest city in the world.

Paris – AGMA’s coming and she can’t wait!

Some of my friends and family think I’m out of my mind.  Perhaps, but I wouldn’t dream of changing my plans out of fear or concern for personal safety.  If I do that, the bad guys win.  In my own small way, I can’t, I won’t, let them win.  I think being a tourist in Paris right now is an act of defiance in the face of those who seek to destroy and who know nothing of joy and love and light.

Reality check…  Okay – so with terrorists still floating back and forth across boarders, I won’t deny that there is risk.  The experts say there will be more attacks.  But I think we risk even more if we cower in fear.

AGMA’s getting crusty in her old age.

So I’m getting ready to eat and drink in cafe’s, go to museums, do some running in the Tuileries, and visit the beautiful Christmas Markets.  And show my French “family” that this diminutive American AGMA has their back.

Viva la France!

Racking up the Skymiles!

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Big trip coming up tomorrow.  Again.  Whoo Hoo!  My husband and I are in a season of travel right now.  I like this season. Travel is one of my passions.  Don’t tell the Tea Partiers, but seeing the world can expand your thinking.  I know – I’m a Socialist…

We’re very fortunate to have the means. But only because we are “value” travelers.  Bargain airfares (mostly offseason), bargain accommodations (sans bed bugs!), bargain tours, bargain car rentals, bargain food.  I do get a bit tired of the doner kababs sometimes.  But they’re cheap and filling if the sodium content doesn’t cause a stroke…

We have the time.  Remember, I’ve been on hiatus.  And my husband has been working for the same organization for nearly 40 years.  He has something like 10 weeks of vacation every year.  You’d think we were French, right?  And because he’s the boss where he works, with a few exceptions, he can go when he wants.  Mel Brooks is right – it’s good to be the king.

We have the physical ability.  For now.  My husband has a neurological condition that’s robbing him of the use of his right leg. He can walk, but only very slowly and with a cane.  He can’t walk very far – about a half a mile in a day is it.  So I have to plan our trips carefully for easy accessibility to sights and transport. Sometime that ratchets up the cost of our lodging.  But, it’s still possible to get value digs without having bed bugs as your bunkmates.  It just takes a little extra time to research.  Okay – a lot of extra time.  Trip Advisor has become my travel BFF.

The upside of his condition – if there is one – is that flying is easier. Back in the day, flying used to be easy for everybody.  Now it sucks. Too many people, too few flights, too little space, too much customer “no-service” from the airlines…  S-U-C-K-S.

We get to board first because we need “extra time”.  Translation – guaranteed overhead bin space!  I look back at the teeming humanity in the gate area all pushing and shoving to get near the front so they can dash on when their zone is called to find a space for their roller-boards, and I think, “Suckers!”  But payback’s a bitch… When I’m flying alone, I’m part of that teeming humanity.  I imagine I’m a lioness getting ready to take down a wildebeest.  Zone 2 may now board – take no prisoners!!

We always need a wheelchair to meet us at our destination.  When you’re traveling to another country, this is handy.  Very handy. Actually, unbelievably handy.  You get to skip all of the immigration and customs lines.  Like totally.  They whisk you past all of the cranky people with whining children who have been up all night in the 12 inch economy seats.  Right to the front of the line.

Now I’m also cranky after an international flight.  And whiny.  And I look like sh*t because I’ve been up all night in my 12 inch economy seat.  But my mood improves significantly as we pass go and collect our passport stamps before the last person on our flight has deplaned.  Score!

After every trip, my husband says it’s his last.  He would gladly trade early boarding and our speedy trips through immigration and customs for the ability to walk normally again.  So would I.  He thinks I should travel alone.  He thinks he holds me back.  If I was honest, I’d say sometimes he does.  But I also think I see with wider eyes when I go slower.  I see things that I’d have missed going my “normal” breakneck speed.  A cat behind a lace curtain in a window in Dingle or a beautiful wrought iron doorway in a courtyard on Rhodes…  Poetic moments that you don’t normally notice when you rush by.

He really doesn’t do so bad.  He’s been able to climb the Acropolis in Greece, walk through the Alhambra in Spain, cross the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge in Northern Ireland, walk through the Valley of the Kings in Egypt and most recently, hiked the Grampians National Park in South Australia.  All very, very slowly.  But he did it.

So I continue to plan trips for us to new places to see new things. This time it’s the beaches of Normandy and the poppy fields of Flanders.  We love history.  We can’t wait.  It’s supposed to rain in Belgium.  The cobblestones in Bruges could get interesting…

How long this season or travel will last, I can’t say.  Maybe the means will run out before we anticipate.  These days it seems like no retirement income or lifetime of savings is a guarantee of financial independence.  Maybe our time will be taken up by other things like my restarted business.  Or aging parent care.  OR OUR FIRST GRANDCHILD WHO IS DUE IN DECEMBER!!

Oh – did I say that too loud?

Maybe in a few years he’ll not be able to walk at all.  I think we’ll still be able to travel, but it will look much different than it does now.  So I just continue to plan one trip at a time.  And we both continue to enjoy the hell out of each one!

I’m not taking my laptop with me this time.  I think I’ll go old school with a notebook and a pen.   How quaint…

See y’all in September!