Intermission (Raisinet time!)

guinness-collage

I know ya’ll are just sitting on the edge of your La-Z-Boy with your electronic device by your side just waiting for the 4th (and mercifully, the last) installment of AGMA’s travel advice.

You might want to get up, stretch, visit the loo and get a snack.

It’s gonna be a few weeks because AGMA is going to be….

(wait for it…)

TRAVELING!

Yes – I’m taking my own advice and getting outta Dodge.

And unlike so many of you who write lovely posts and share your beautiful travel photos while you’re on the road, AGMA will not be sharing anything while I’m gone.

Nothing personal.

It’s just that I’ve left on many a trip with the best of intentions of posting while on the road only to go into stealth mode on WP for 2 weeks.

Posting while AGMA’s traveling is about as realistic for me as taking my running gear so I can get some runs in while I’m gone.

Ain’t.Gonna.Happen.

My travel days normally start early and are usually so full and busy that I fall into bed each night exhausted by 9 PM.

Nothing says “Party Girl” like (in the summer) going to bed while it’s still light out…

AGMA will be making another appearance on the Emerald Isle to cavort with leprechauns and fairies!  And maybe visit a few pubs.

Maybe.

This time I’m going with a friend.  Hubs is staying home with the “boyz” (Gus and Max, our cats.).

He might be getting the long straw.

The friend I’m going with, M, is the same friend I went to Spain, Portugal and on a Mediterranean cruise in early 2018.  The one who got ill twice this 14 day trip.  And was kinda nasty with me when AGMA suggested she see a doctor after she spent 72 hours in bed while we were on the cruise.  I thought it was a sensible suggestion.

The good news is that she recovered in time to have a wonderful time in Portugal. For 3 days.

She’s also prone to tripping and hitting her face/head.  The first time I met her was on a trip to Croatia, and she had a black eye.  She had fallen a few days before on the island of Hvar.  She has fallen several times since then on trips (more black eyes.)   The last fall was last Fall, and caused her to stay on Mykonos (and miss Santorini) to recover from a slight concussion.

She is also really bad about drinking water while traveling and has fainted twice because of dehydration.  This past January when we were in Mexico together, she was once again feeling very lightheaded.  She hadn’t had any water since the day before.  Once she had a big glass of water, she felt much better.  Oh my.

And she is a retired nurse.

Say a prayer for AGMA and M!

As an FYI, I booked this trip through Great Value Vacations.  It’s one of those package deals – it includes air, hotels and rental car (upgraded for more $$ to an automatic and we paid the extra $$ for CDW).  We set our own itinerary between/in hotel cities.

And yes…we are renting a car.  AGMA will be driving on the left side of the road while I’m sitting in the “wrong” side the car holding a steering wheel on the “wrong” side of the car for 8 days.  OMG.

Say a prayer for the good people of the Republic of Ireland!

See everybody in a couple of weeks.

Ya’ll behave!

Let stealth mode begin and the Guinness flow…

P.S.  Just for the record, Great Value Vacations has pretty mediocre customer service.  As I mentioned in a previous post, when you call them, you stay on hold for for 30 to 40 minutes before somebody picks up.  Also, when you contact them via their contact form, it takes them a week to get back to you.  This does not make AGMA happy.

 

 

 

 

Keeping my day job

HS7401-001

AGMA loves to travel; ya’ll know that.

At some point last year, I declared on AGMA that I was done traveling for a spell.  I’d lost the joy of the planning to the stress of the planning.

Bummer…

Hubs and I used to take overseas tours that didn’t involve any planning with a value tour company.   They were normally no brainer, whirlwind tours with mornings often staring at 6 AM, but you got to see a whole lot of wherever you were.  And while the tour groups were larger (38 to 42 people), 98% of the folks were delightful and fun to be around.  The hotels were lovely and we found the tour guides excellent.  And we ALWAYS bought the tours when they were “on sale”.

Interesting factoid…did you know that travel goes on sale on Black Friday like everything else?  Sometimes you can snag an amazing travel bargain.

But alas…we can go on these types of value tours no longer.  Hubs genetic condition in his legs is slowly progressing and, although he can still walk slowly with a cane, he’s at the point where he needs a wheelchair or scooter to go any distance.

Bummer…

We have this awesome portable electric scooter (Ralph) that Hubs uses to get from here to there when we travel.  The seat comes off and the handle folds down to make it incredibly easy to stow and gate check.  And at 39 pounds, even a weakling like AGMA can lift and carry it.

It turns out that Ralph or a portable wheelchair are not welcome on traditional tour company tours.  WTF??

They say it’s because there isn’t room on the tour bus for mobility devices, but with a portable wheel chair that folds up flat and our offer to only take one suitcase between the two of us, we kinda figured out that “room” wasn’t the issue.

And tour companies that cater to those with mobility issues are priced way out of our price range.

Sooooooo…..

Most of our trips since 2016 have been AGMA planned and executed.

And they have been good.  Real good.

Because AGMA is an excellent travel planner.

Yeah – I said it.

I’m a left brained, ADHD, OCD detail oriented person who, despite having no Scottish ancestry, is as thrifty as they come.

So of course I plan fabulous trips that won’t break the bank!

But it is precisely because I’m a left brained, ADHD, OCD, detail oriented person who LOVES a great bargain that it takes many, many days to plan a 2 week trip.  Which is fine if you have nothing else to do…

That isn’t normally the case in my or most everybody’s life, so sometimes – most of the time – trip planning ends up being kinda stressful.

Total first world problem.

AGMA’s become a bit famous with her family, friends and acquaintances for her travel planning acumen.

I’ve had quite a few offers to “come along” on trips with friends/acquaintances to destinations I’ve already visited.  Seriously?

AGMA didn’t fall off the cotton truck yesterday…

I know the “come along” offer translates to “we expect you do all the planning and then be our tour guide when we get there.”  In the case of folks who are normally delightful, but would be absolute nightmares to travel with, I politely decline and offer to give some ideas for their trip.

With a smile.

They say you never really know anybody until you travel with them.  But with some people, AGMA knows absolutely for sure, for certain, even before setting one foot on a plane, that we would NOT be good travel companions.  Like oil and water.

Or more like gasoline and a flame thrower.

Some have suggested that I should hang a shingle out and help others plan their travel for a fee.

But honestly, AGMA can’t think if anything more nightmarish than travel planning for paying clients.  Well – I probably can, but this would be a close second.

It’s one thing to give friends and family pointers and tips on planning the perfect trip, and even some booking help now and then.  But when $$ gets involved, people tend to get a little cray cray.  They become unreasonable, demanding and just plain nuts.

Honestly, they couldn’t pay me enough.

With today’s technology, I’m sure I could figure out some way to leverage what I’ve learned so far about travel planning into some sort of business in the future.  That doesn’t involve dealing with the general public.

(shivers run down AGMA’s spine)

Right now, I think I’ll be keeping my day job.

There are 4 international jaunts AGMA’s trip hopper for 2019.  My head is spinning like the pea soup girl in The Exorcist.

So much for not traveling…

Two trips are easy peasy – short, and hotel/airfare/car pre-booked through an independent trip package.  These are packages booked through a travel operator but are not tours – the book your airfare, hotel and car (if you need one), but you are on your own for day to day activities.  And both are revisits to familiar places so we pretty much know what we’re going to be doing.

The other two trips are more challenging.

So while AGMA is in the throes of planning these two trips, I thought it might be fun to give you a view into the convoluted, demented and intensely OCD time consuming process I go through to end up with a fantabulous travel experience.

Not sure fun is really the word.

Tune in next week…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Airport essentials

toilet

AGMA is crazy.

More crazy than usual that is.  Perish the thought…

And no matter how crazy I said I was in the past, this is way worse. I’m still in that season of incredibly busyness that I wrote about a few months ago. Only it’s gotten busier.

For reasons that will slowly unfold like the delicate petals of a miniature rose (such a pedestrian image, I know…) over my next several blog posts, AGMA will not be stationary for most of the month of November.

What’s up with that?

Long story that I won’t bore you with now. But you just know that it’s coming…

Travel. Lots of travel. Not a bad thing at all.  Just a busy thing.

Which leads me into a topic that I have touched on earlier in several posts. “Touched down on”, may be the more accurate phrase.

The wonderful invention of John Harrington in 1596, brought to the masses by Thomas Crapper in the 1860’s…

The remarkable, incredible indoor toilet.

One of the fascinating aspects of travel, both domestically and internationally, is the large variety of toilets you come in contact with. Literally. And some you regret coming in contact with…

AGMA’s been known to carry a small packet of toilet seat covers in my travel purse to prevent any buyers remorse.

Men don’t really have the same appreciation for the vast depth and breadth of toilet types as women . Or the mystery involved. Much of men’s ‘business’ is conducted at the porcelain pseudo-potty – the urinal – out in the open for the world to see. They really don’t enter into the adventure that is ‘the stall’ unless they need to get serious about things.

And if other men are anything like Hubs, they will do as much as possible to prevent the stall ‘experience’ in public bathrooms. Hubs likes to have his library close by to wile away the hours… When we’re on the road, he’s been known to physically elbow me out of the way when we get back to our hotel room after a day of sightseeing and makes a beeline for the throne room. I guess he leaves his scent there or something.

AGMA could get quite poetic about all of the different toilets she’s adorned, but I’m not sure any of your are quite ready for that.

So today, we’ll confine our examination to toilets found in airport bathrooms.

I’d be willing to bet that 99.9% of people who fly either use an airport bathroom before taking off or after landing. Especially after landing. I know this for a fact from the huge lines outside of the ladies restrooms after any flight I’ve ever been on lands.

AGMA’s a double dipper – I gotta go both ways. That might be TMI…

Since Atlanta is my home, I’m not particularly proud of the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport women’s toilets. It’s a mixed bag. Sometimes they will be really clean, but other times, you have to survey a couple of stalls before you find one that’s acceptable.

Slightly embarrassing since the Hartsfield-Jackson is the busiest airport in the world for passenger volume. Yes, I said the WORLD.

W-O-R-L-D.

I can’t even wrap my head around the fact that millions and millions of people from all over the world are using my airport’s toilets. Many are coming to the U.S.A. for the first time from countries with spotless airport restrooms and toilets. It’s saddens AGMA that their first impression of the U.S. could be an empty toilet paper holder and a non-working flusher.

Oh, the humanity.

AGMA’s favorite airport toilets are at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport (pictured above). Simple, clean and easy to use. They have those magic built-in toilet seat covers.  With a wave of my hand, I have a fresh parking pad.  It’s exhilarating.

I’ve never been to a Japanese airport. But I hear the toilets in Japan are amazing. Very high tech with all kinds of fancy options. Each one has a master control panel that gives you a curated, personalized ‘elimination’ experience second to none. From heated seats to jets of water for ‘personal cleansing‘ to automatic sanitizing and deodorizing, they are supposed to be the ultimate in bathroom comfort.

Plus I think they might even bake cookies for you to enjoy afterward.

Over the next month, I’m going to have the opportunity to try out many different toilets in both domestic and international airports. Stay tuned for the further adventures of “AGMA on the Road.”

But I’ll probably pass on any cookies…

Temporary help wanted: GA on R&R

guardianangel

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!!

The Hostess City

Savannah

AGMA’s been on the road. Again.

This time it was a long weekend in Savannah, Georgia. It’s an easy, albeit boring, drive from Atlanta, so AGMA’s had the chance to visit there lots of times in the past 10 years.

There’s no place quite like Savannah.

For those of you who’ve been to there or read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – referred to in Savannah as “the book” – you know how beautiful and interesting and unique it is. Exquisitely restored Federal and Georgian homes, ancient giant oaks draped with Spanish moss, 22 beautiful shady public squares (each one different), Forsyth Park, and lots and lots of Southern charm. Quirky Southern charm. Savannah style.

I read a great description of Savannah that’s meant to be a joke, but is pretty much true.

In Atlanta, they ask you, “What you do for a living?”

In Macon, they ask you, “What church do you attend?”

In Charleston, they ask you, “To what family you belong?”

In Savannah, they ask you, “What you want to drink?”

Yup – that’s Savannah. It’s nicknamed the Hostess City for good reason.

It’s one of the few cities in the U.S. where you can openly, legally drink while walking around the city. With this crazy ass election coming up in November, maybe every city needs an open container law to help us all through the trauma of the next six months…

It’s a city that has the second largest St. Patrick’s Day blow-out in the U.S., innumerable stag and hen parties, and is one of the most haunted cities in the U.S. according to paranormal investigators from the Travel, History and Discovery channels.

In other words, it’s a real party town whether you’re alive or dead or any where in between!

And, sadly, AGMA and her 60 something friend fell in that “any where in between” category…

We took afternoon nappettes every day we were there. The first night, we watched the first two episodes of Downton Abbey in our lovely AirB&B townhouse apartment circa 1885. Then went to bed. The next two nights we enjoyed the pianists at the Planters Inn Tavern. We listened to the music of Cole Porter, Rogers & Hammerstein, Savannah’s own Johnny Mercer and…well…you get the idea. I had two adult beverages the entire weekend. My friend doesn’t drink.

AGMA n friend gone wild! Out of control. Not.

I’m worried. It was definitely an aging gracefully weekend which you know I really don’t approve of…

But I guess we’d be pretty pathetic if we tried to act like we were crazy kids in our 40’s. There’s nothing worse than 60 somethings on faux Spring Break fishing for Mardi Gras beads. And I really don’t need to get up more often at night to pee than I already do. Plus the hangovers are far more wicked at this stage of life.

So. Much. More.

Still, in a strange way, I sort of miss, a tiny bit, those semi-lost weekends of my youth. Or maybe I just miss being able to semi-successfully “pull off” those semi-lost weekends without being like the Walking Dead the next day.

AGMA was never a huge party animal, but I did have my moments.

I bet you did too.

And maybe you haven’t wimped out quite as much as AGMA and you still do.  Lucky you.  I think.

I’m holding out hope that I’ll have a active social calender in the after-life. Then I can party with all the rest of the ghosts of Savannah without having to worry about extra safaris to the bathroom or the horrible hammering in my head the next day.

Prince and I’ll be partying like it’s 1999.

Lion porn

alice&Ralph

We left our hotel for the O. R. Tambo International airport in Johannesburg, South Africa last week on Tuesday at 7 PM. We walked into our Atlanta home exactly 32 hours later and were greeted by two very surly cats. They don’t appreciate it when we travel.

But our trip was totally worth this past week of feeling like the floor of the girls bathroom after a Justin Bieber concert.

What an amazing journey!

We started out in Cape Town which was stunning. Ancient Table Mountain presides over this glittering, modern city on a peninsula surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. But on the other hand, there were also the townships. Thousands of Cape Town residents crowded in corrugated metal shanties with shared walls and shared outdoor facilities. We found this stark contrast of wealth and poverty throughout our travels in South Africa.

We learned early in our visit that South Africa is a country with a pretty complicated present but an even more complicated past. However, despite the hardships people have endured, we were always greeted with a smile, a kind word and a hopeful, positive attitude.

“Things are turning around!” We heard that over and over. And we believe them!

Confession time… AGMA doesn’t know the first thing about writing a travel blog, so I won’t even attempt to give you a full summary of our trip. That would probably be as interesting as my batsh*t crazy Tour de France posts. And we all know how much you love them.

ZZZZzzzz…

I will tell you that, if you want to eat fabulous food and drink amazing wine for the price of a Happy Meal, go to South Africa! A strong dollar + a weak rand = massive meat/seafood consumption and many wine buzzed nights. A honkin’ huge steak in a really nice, upscale restaurant was about $10 (included sides). And a great bottle of pinotage (made from a unique SA varietal grape) to go with the steak was about $8.

It was hard coming back and paying $25 for a pepperoni pizza and two beers.

The great exchange rate also allowed for AGMA basic essentials shopping. But that might have to be a separate post. Let’s just say that, despite mocking others who do the same thing, I took a half-empty extra big suitcase in anticipation of the need to purchase quite a few “incidentals”. This was a wise move.

And we saw all kinds of critters. The Big Five – Cape buffalo, rhino, leopard, lion and elephant. Baboons, zebras, giraffe, warthogs, monkeys, wildebeests, hippos, and crocodiles too. And lots and lots and lots of antelope/deer kind of animals.  Lion chow as I called them.

We did a game drive in the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve.  My hubs, who watched too many episodes of Dakari in the 60’s, thought we were going on a safari. I told him it couldn’t be a safari unless he had a pith helmut. He looked sad.

To understand this next part, you need to know that, at home, when hubs is watching a nature show on TV, I make him change the channel if it looks like something is going to kill/eat something else. I know it’s Elton John’s Circle of Life, but I’d rather watch Big Bang reruns.

Well, my worst nightmare almost came true with no option to change channels. We saw a lioness stalking a group of zebras. Close up. For like 20 minutes.

It was mesmerizing.

She got within 25 feet of these really stupid zebras (seriously, nobody noticed her or smelled the warthog on her breath?) and hid in a clump of bushes to get ready for the kill. But a big herd of Cape buffalo came tromping by right next to her hiding place and spoiled her surprise. I had no idea, but it turns out that Cape buffalo are the gangsta’s of Africa. They weren’t going to put up with any this stalking nonsense and chased her away. Then the zebras noticed. And ran away. Idiots.

The narration of the video I shot of this whole scene is quite compelling.  Lots of gasping and “oh my God’s” and “run away zebras” and “stupid zebras” and “oh no’s”.  And everybody else in the jeep laughing at me.

AGMA is no Marlin Perkins.

On our Kruger National Park game drive (hubs still insisted on calling it a safari sans pith helmet…), we were treated to lion entertainment of a different sort.

Cue Barry White and Marvin Gaye.

At one point, the ranger pointed out two lions sleeping behind a rock. All we could see was the rock. The park ranger assured us there indeed was a male and a female behind the rock. He said they were on their “honeymoon”. We named them Alice and Ralph.

After ten minutes of staring at the rock, Alice started to stir.   She got up and walked behind some bushes. Ralph dutifully trotted after her.

To get a better, unobstructed view of these magnificent creatures for our pictures, the ranger pulled the jeep up beyond the bushes.

And there in front of us were Alice and Ralph shagging like a couple of kids at Woodstock.  There was an awkward silence in the jeep. Then the camera’s started clicking.

Nothing like a little lion porn for the iCloud slideshow.

And as quickly as it started, it was over. The ranger said it only takes 7 seconds or so.  Alice bared her teeth, growled at Ralph and he walked away. He probably went to get a cigarette.

AGMA wants to be a lioness in her next life…

It was really difficult to come back home from this wonderful trip. We didn’t turn on the TV or check the news on our phones at all while we were gone.

Blissfully, we had nearly two Donald Trump-free weeks.

I think maybe we need to send some Cape buffalo to one of his rallies.  They won’t put up with his nonsense either.

Run away zebras!

 

 

Sky contagion

sneezing1

This won’t get posted until after I’m home, but as I write this, I’m flying home from our trip.  It was great.  Germany was fun, but hard on the liver & waistline.  Paris was – well – Paris.  Wonderful.  And the cafes, stores and streets were full of people.  Viva la Paris!

But now I’m hoping I don’t spend the holidays in the hospital.

I’m pretty sure this flight is actually one of those mercy flights.  France is sending it’s sickest people to the CDC in Atlanta to be tested and treated for multiple unknown viral conditions.  That has to be the explanation.

I’ve never heard more coughing and sneezing in my life.  Seriously.

Yuck.

And it’s just not coughing.  It’s COUGHING.  There’s some guy two rows up who has been “juicy” coughing/sneezing for the past three hours.  He’s the worst, but by far not the only one.  It’s a veritable cacophony of respiratory expectorant.

And from the sounds of it, they’re just letting it fly.  No hankies (do people use these anymore?) or tissues or even coughing/sneezing into their jacket.  Double yuck.

The juicy guy just started hacking again.  I expect a hairball any minute.

Small enclosed space.  Recycled air.  Dehydrated nasal passages.  There’s a book in Vegas as to when AGMA starts hitting the Nyquil.

On the positive side, I am blessed with the rarest of rare treats in modern aviation.  I have – hold on to your biscuits  – a row, an entire row, to myself.  All by my lonesome.  Just me.

No passive aggressive fights over the arm rest.  No balancing act to keep you food tray from upending when the guy in the window seat wants to use the toilet.  No derrière encroachment on my seat.  Three seats that are all mine.  My own little AGMA fiefdom.  All hail Queen AGMA!

This is not an random accident. “Airplane seat” musical chairs is a favorite activity before I fly.  I’ve been know to change my seat several times in the months and weeks leading up to a fight.  The ultimate goal is always a solo row.  It rarely happens.

I changed our seats on this flight right before online check-in and hit the jackpot. Bazinga!

My hub and I both like aisle seats on long flights so we always have our own turf.  But he’s one of those freaks of nature who can sleep most anywhere under any conditions.  Screaming children, juicy coughers, teeth rattling turbulence, people sitting on either side of him in Economy being passive aggressive with the arm rest.  ZZZzzzz…

I’d give him the stink eye, but he’s asleep.

But I stretched out over my row, MY three empty seats, and actually took a nap earlier.  And right now I’m sitting with my back against the window, propped up by three fluffy airplane pillows, a rolled up down jacket and a squishy neck pillow. My legs stretched out over three empty seats.  While this may be an oxymoron considering the state of comfort on airplanes for the average Joe, I’m extremely comfortable.  And happy.  Except for all the coughing.

Bonus – we’re flying Air France.  That means champagne is on the beverage cart.  And decent wine.  And brandy with your coffee.  And yummy rolls, a beautiful cold veggie salad, a huge hunk of Camembert and a very chocolaty fudgey brownie.  It’s probably the best food you’ll find on this side of budget economy.

And the flight attendants are really nice too.  They gave me a second brownie.

Ick. The juicy guy is at it again.  I hold my breath when he coughs.  Yeah, that’ll work…

I’ve already sneezed six times and have coughed a few times in my sleeve.

But my son, DIL and the most adorable grandson in the world are coming to visit this weekend.   We’re having an early Christmas dinner this Saturday for eight.  I need to get ready for that.  And I need to get the tree and house decorated.  And make sure the little critter has plenty of toys and books to keep him busy for the grand total of 48 hours he’ll be at our house.

So tomorrow, I’m going to stock up on vitamin C, Umcka cold care, elderberry syrup, and start neti-potting.  I have an AGMA Christmas to put on – there’s no getting sick allowed.  Das is verboten.

I’m holding out hope that all the alcohol still swirling around in my system will kill the germs.

Where’s that beverage cart?

How I lived with an Irish family for a week and they survived – Part 2

irish+dancing+peep+parade

Continued from Part 1…  (duh)

6.  If Soibhán and her family ever came to visit, I could never, ever feed them enough food.  I know this for a fact.  Every meal I had at her house was enormous.  Seriously humongous.  She fixed a plate for me one evening that would have fed both my husband and myself with leftovers.  Piles of roast beef, mashed potatoes, home fries, parsnips, mashed carrots and cauliflower & cheese.  All covered in gravy.  Plus dessert. I have never seen people eat so much food on a regular basis.  Ever.   And they’re not fat at all.  At all.  I want to know how that works…

7.  Unlike the Vikings and the English, Peeps have yet to invade Ireland.  I brought three packages of Easter Peeps with me in the new flavors – sour watermelon, birthday cake and blue raspberry.  Yuck.  But her three kids devoured them.  Naturally.   Mr. Soibhán loved the Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs…  I guess he doesn’t object to peanut butter and chocolate.  Just jam.

8.  People who live in Ireland can fly to the U.S. way cheaper that I can fly to Ireland.  We checked out the Aer Lingus’ website at Soibhán’s house.  The round trip airfare is 40% less to book in Ireland than I can book from the US.  Whaaaat?  Isn’t that illegal or something?  Isn’t there some sort of international airfare equity law?  But it’s probably a good thing.  I’d be eating Soibhán’s ginormous meals more often.

9.  Soibhán’s lives near a Gaeltacht area of Ireland.  That is, the primary language of the area is Irish.  And don’t call it Gaelic.  Gaelic is what they speak in Scotland.  But sometimes Irish is called Irish Gaelic.  Confused?  I still am… Anyway, her three younger kids go to Gaeltacht schools.  These schools are dedicated to keeping the Irish culture and language alive, and the teachers and students speaking Irish exclusively.  Soibhán’s Irish isn’t too good since she didn’t attend a Gaeltacht school. Her kids are starting to talk Irish in front of her.  Gotta love those kids.  Her eight year old daughter sang Uptown Funk to me in Irish.  It was cool.

10. Sadly U.S. reality TV knows no boarders.  Unfortunately.  We spent two hours one evening watching “Say Yes to the Dress”.  Doesn’t really put the best face on U.S. matrimonial rituals does it?  But like a car wreck, we couldn’t not watch.  Or stop watching.  At least she hasn’t seen “Bridezillas”.  Yet.

So yeah – there were some differences – mostly involving the roll of jelly/jam in the Irish diet vs. the American diet.   But I also found out that we had much, much more in common.   And that’s the gift you receive from travel if you “live like the locals” as my hero Rick Steve’s says.

You see with eyes wide open.

So today I went shopping and got the ingredients for a “thank you” goodie box…  A jar of peanut butter and grape jelly swirled, a can of Disney Princess chicken noodle soup, a box of Lucky Charms (her six year old loves them – go figure…), Neosporin spray (can’t get it in Irleand), Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs and a pack of Peeps.

They’re going to love it!  But possibly hate the peanut butter and jelly.  I’m willing to take the risk.

The Irish have two categories of people who come to their country.  You are either a tourist or a visitor.

The tourist comes to see the sights, snap pictures, listen to some traditional music and drink Guinness.  They complain about the weather and how long it takes to drive from place to place and about how you can’t get a short answer when you ask a question. Short of St. Patrick and the Great Famine, they really don’t know much about Irish history.  And they’re really not interested in learning that much more.

The visitor comes to see the sights, snap pictures, listen to some traditional music and drink Guinness. They also don’t care if it’s cold and/or raining (not much at least…)  And they love the long drives and exploring small villages and getting stopped by sheep in the road.  Multiple times.  Visitors think the twenty minutes of craic that they exchange on a street corner with the person they stopped to ask directions from is a highlight of their day.  They know something about the incredible history of both ancient and modern Ireland.  A visitor admires the irrepressible Irish spirit that would not be conquered by the Vikings, the Normans, the Scots or the English despite hundreds and hundreds of years of occupation.

And they like nothing better than to spend an evening by a coal and peat fire with new friends laughing about putting jam on toast.

Éirinn go Brách!

All hail High King AGMA

kings-head-afc-web

Hot diggty dog… I’m home!

It was wonderful trip to Ireland.  But then again, I think you’d have to really try hard not to have a wonderful trip to Ireland.  Just sayin’…

And miracle of miracles, the weather the last six days of my stay was spectacularicious! Blue skies, sunshine, mild temps… The kind of weather that you always dream about when visiting Ireland but know you’ll never, ever get.  Ever.

Pinch me.

The kind of weather that sends the “Visit Ireland” photographers frantically running around the country as fast as they can go to take breathtaking photos of a stunning land of azure skies, white sheep in emerald green pastures, dramatic ocean cliffs, ancient ruins and bright sunshine before the normal weather returns.  And it always does return.

Rain, mist, wind, coolish temps.  That’s the norm.  But in my seven trips to Ireland, I’ve learned the weather is just secondary to the “Irish experience”.  Yes – I said seven trips.

Don’t judge me.

On this trip, I stayed with a lovely Irish family in County Waterford for nearly a week.   I mean, after that many visits, AGMA’s managed to make a friend or two.  Clearly their character judgement is suspect…

This was an eye-opening experience.  Just like you never know a friend until you travel with them (trust me, I have personal experience with this… ), you never really know a country until you’ve lived in a home with a family for a week.

I’m very jealous of my Irish friends.  Because they’re Irish.

There are 4.6 million people living in Ireland.  And there are over 35 million people around the world who can claim Irish heritage.  Despite their prolific reproductive abilities, I am not one of them.

I hate that.

Thanks (or no thanks) to my husband who’s into genealogy research, I was in my 40’s when I found out that my Irish great great grandfather was actually German.  Crap.  It was a sad day when I had to put away my “Kiss Me I’m Irish Button”.  I blame my husband every St. Patrick’s day when I feel like a sham and a wannabe wearing my green “Guinness Is Good For You” shirt.

It’s just all so humiliating…

However I feel strongly that I may have been Celtic Irish chieftain in a past life. Possibly a High King.  I’ve absolutely nothing to base that on other than I feel I have to come up with some explanation as to why I keep going back to Ireland.  The “I love to drink fresh Guinness” excuse is getting pretty thin.  Being Túathal Máelgarb in a former life just makes so much more sense.

So stay tuned for AGMA’s Irish travel blog post, “How I lived with an Irish family for a week and they survived” in a few days.

‘Cause it ain’t easy having a crazy AGMA living with you.

So happy to be back on WordPress!

To go or not to go; that is the question

VaticanToilet

With many apologies to my man, WillieS, the “go” refers to…you know…going.  As in going to the bathroom.

Yes – it’s the long awaited toilet post.

Last month, my husband and I hopped over to Rome for a week.  It was a “Black Friday” travel deal.  Yes, travel also is on sale on “Black Friday” along with the big screen TV’s and Dr. Dre Beats headphones.  And it was pretty darned inexpensive.  For Rome.

I just love those “it’s just too good of a deal not to go” deals!

Our tour company upgrade our hotel at the last minute.  This was a delightful surprise based on the reviews of the original hotel.  Seems as if they were being threatened with multiple lawsuits from people with bedbugitis from that hotel.  Good call.

The replacement hotel was lovely.  Good location – near the Termini train station and all kinds of public transit.  Helpful, friendly staff.  Small but clean room.  A large bed with no unwanted microscopic bedmates.  And most importantly, a spic-n-span bathroom.

I’m not really a very fussy person.  You’d know that if you saw my car.  Or my house.  Or read my blog.  But I do like a clean bathroom when I travel.  Just makes me feel better about spending time in there.  You know, it helps me “relax”.

The bonus was we had a lovely squeaky clean bidet as well!  I’ve played with bidets many times trying to figure out how they work and why they exist.  Hey – I’m American…  We’re really not interest in being THAT clean.

I decided several years ago to use them to store for my bathroom stuff.  I line it with a towel of course – squeaky clean looks can be deceiving.  Fussy.  I have a friend who does her laundry in them.

I love Europe.

But I noticed on this trip that 95% of the bathrooms I visited (not in our hotel), were missing their toilet seat covers.  What’s up with that?  I get that maybe (and that’s a doubtful maybe) it’s okay in the summer, but it was January.  That porcelain was freakin’ cold.

At first I thought that it was just that we frequented out of the way establishments. We do like to get off the beaten path.  Value travel, you know?

But then we went to St. Peter’s in the Vatican.  I’ve been there twice before, but it still takes my breath away.  So dramatic.  So majestic.  Bernini’s columned courtyard. Michelangelo’s dome.  The Pieta.  The Sistine Chapel.  And the Vatican Museums containing some of the finest art from the ancient world through the Renaissance.

In the middle of gaping and manic picture taking, I suddenly got the “urge”.  I smiled, feeling confident as I headed toward the facilities.  Certainly, amidst all of this splendor and priceless art and holy artifacts, the bathrooms have to be outstanding with deep, plush toilet seats that give you visions of the heavenly realm when you set your bottom on it.  It’s built on top of St. Peter’s tomb for goodness sake.  This is holy ground.

I snapped a picture (above) of what I found.  Huh?  I heard no angel songs.

My husband thinks they don’t put seats on the toilets because people steal them. Seriously?  How does somebody not notice that you are walking out with a toilet seat under your arm?  They would notice at the Vatican.

I think it’s just a “thing” in Rome not to have toilets seats.  Go figure…

But it’s okay.  Really it is.  Because it’s all relative.

In 2012 I traveled through Trieste, Italy on the way to Croatia.  The Trieste train station, built in 1857 and renovated in 2007 looked brand, sparkling new inside. Modern cafe, newish looking small grocery store and Euro-modern waiting room.

I was tired after flying all night from the US to Venice.  It seemed like a long train ride from Venice to Trieste.  I was cranky.  I had to go but I hate Italian train bathrooms. They’re definitely not spic-n-span clean.  Yuck.

Seeing the refurbished station got me hopeful.  I hurried through the waiting area following the restroom signs.  I swept into the ladies room and opened the stall door. Ta-da…

TriesteToilet

“You’ve to be kidding me.”  I actually said it out loud.

In my 20’s I used these toilets in Greece.  I’m not in my 20’s anymore.  I seriously doubt my knees would support me.  I decided I didn’t have to go that bad.  That mind-body connection is amazing.

So it’s all relative.  A little one-on-one with cold porcelain isn’t so bad from time to time.

When in Rome…