Volcanoes, Hobbits and glowworms

AGMA’s back!

And I’m still fighting jet lag. Even after a 2 night stopover in LA on Thursday and Friday before we flew home on Saturday.

So sorry I didn’t get anything posted other than the stinky haiku. The days were full and this AGMA needs a full 8 at night.

And I really can’t do a proper post on my phone.

Fat fingers….

I missed you all!

Here’s the Readers Digest of our escapades:

  • 1 night in LA (fun and hot!)
  • 2 nights in Fiji (yes – Fiji!)
  • 7 nights on the North Island of New Zealand
  • 7 nights on the South Island of New Zealand
  • 2 nights in LA (cool and rainy – WTF??)

All good?

We were in New Zealand for a week in 2014 and went to Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown.

This trip, our stops were Hamilton, Taupo, Rotorua, Auckland (all on North Island) and Blenheim, Greymouth, Lake Tekapo, Oamaru and Cass Bay (all on South Island)

We had AMAZING weather pretty much the whole trip. And it was far warmer than we had anticipated or that Weather.com had predicted for New Zealand. AGMA had a “feeling” so I took out some long sleeved shirts and threw in some t-shirts, an extra pair of capris, and sandals in my suitcase like an hour we left!

Maybe I could get my own 800 number as a weather psychic?

I’ve said before, I’m not very good at the travel blog thing. AGMA would end up droning on about boring stuff that you really couldn’t care less about. ZZZzzz…

So let’s just do highlights with pictures (some pictures have captions that will pop up if you hover over them.) And of course some words. You know me…

1. Fiji. It’s a country made up of 330 islands, 100 of which are inhabited. We were there for 2 nights. Guess how many islands we visited? Yup – one…Viti Levu (location of the international airport.) AGMA’s not too much of a tropical island/beach gal so what impressed me most about Fiji was the people. Gracious, friendly and charming. And the orchids at the Garden of the Sleeping Giant (land that used to belong to Raymond Burr of all people!!)

2. The Ruakuri Cave and Waitomo Glowworm Cave (North Island). Most people don’t do Ruakuri because the glowworms are the big draw at Waitomo. But since hubs uses a mobility scooter and Waitomo isn’t accessible, but Ruakuri is, I did both caves. It’s very cool that Raukuri is only one of two fully accessible caves in the world. And honestly, Ruakuri was more interesting than Waitomo! And it had glowworms (but not nearly as many as Waitomo.) And you could take pictures in it.

3. The awesome and plentiful geothermal features of the Taupo/Rotorua area (North Island.) Yes – AGMA’s a geology nerd! This is one of the most geologically active areas of the world – the Pacific plate is moving under the Indo-Australian plate right underneath this area!! It’s called the Taupo Volcanic Zone and is a super volcano like Yellowstone in the US. Lake Taupo is the largest lake in NZ and it is part of an enormous caldera formed from a volcanic eruption some 26,500 years ago. The last eruption way back in 180 AD was the LARGEST volcanic eruption EVER! EVER! The effects of this massive eruption were seen and documented in Rome and China. Just this morning, there was a volcanic eruption on White Island (the red dot at the top right of the first picture) in the Bay of Plenty (in this Taupo Volcanic Zone) which unfortunately took 5 lives with 8 people missing.

4. Hobbiton in Middle Earth (North Island) And yes, I’m a LOTR geek as well!

Okay…there’s a bit more – we aren’t even on South Island yet! But I’m still jet lagged (I think I said that already, but hey, I’m jet lagged!) and AGMA needs to get started on Christmas stuff. We’ve been home almost 48 hours now I have done nothing that is holiday oriented.

One more travel post so hang with me.

Maybe only one…

Easy peasy, stress free travel planning – Part 4 (the finale)

 

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So it’s been so long since the Part 3 post, AGMA forgot where I was…

I think I was lecturing everybody about not sleeping with bed bugs.

Not a hard sell (I hope…)

The lodging piece is such a very important part of your travel experience.  It can make or break a trip.  And of course, you want it to make the trip…

…absolutely fabulous, darling!

For our upcoming trip to France (coming up really fast for an unprepared AGMA), we have booked a combination of small hotels and AirB&B’s.  It just all depends on the location, the cost and the parking situation as to what I booked.

We’re going to be traveling with another couple, so getting a two bedroom apartment through AirB&B in several cases was MUCH cheaper than booking two hotel rooms.

AGMA has had wonderful AirB&B experiences and would not hesitate to recommend using them if they make sense for your trip.  I truly believe that 99.9% of AirB&B hosts are NOT going to have a hidden camera in your room.  And if they do, they will be horribly disappointed with AGMA staying there.

Like watching paint dry…

IMPORTANT: ALWAYS read the reviews on any AirB&B’s you are considering.  A-L-W-A-Y-S.  And stay with a Super Host if you can.  These are folks who are…Super Hosts. Very smilier to Super Heros (can you tell I spent last weekend with the grands?), they give you a fantastic, heroic AirB&B exprience.

Our AirB&B host in Epernay, France last year had our fridge stocked with her own brand of champagne!

Eddie and Patsy, com’on over!

AGMA is a “thrifty” traveler. And I generally don’t like to pay for 100% of my lodging up front, which is how AirB&B used to work.  Booking with AirB&B all depended on the host’s cancellation policy (which you need to read and understand.).  With a flexible    policy, you can generally cancel several days before your trip and get a full refund minus the service fee.  Those are the ones AGMA liked to book.

Now, AirB&B has an option to pay 50% of the cost at the time of booking.  Yes please!  The balance is due something like 7 to 10 days before your stay.  Again, you need to pay attention to the date you will be charged for the balance.  It’ll automatically be put on your credit card.

But you still need to be aware of the host’s cancellation policy.  And AGMA still wants to only book the flexible ones!

Check in procedures for AirB&Bs can vary widely.  They will be posted by the host on your reservation which is why you need to have the AirB&B app on your phone so you can refer to them when you’re driving into town!

If you booked an entire apartment or studio, some hosts want to meet you to see how many tattoos and piercings you have (just kidding…sort of) and show you around the property.  This can make coordinating schedules a bit tricky between your travel and their schedule.   But we’ve always been able to make it work and actually enjoy meeting our hosts.

Other hosts give you a code and you get the key out of a lockbox so you can arrive at any time.

If you are renting a room in a home (which I have done on numerous occasions), you will always have to coordinate your schedule with your hosts.

On rare occasions, I have also booked lodging through Priceline or Hotwire.  If you haven’t used these two booking sites yet, they can offer incredibly cheap lodging at your destination, however you don’t know exactly where you’ll be staying until after you pay 100% in advance and book.  And the booking is non-refundable if you cancel.

Ugh.

With Priceline, you can “name your own price” for hotel.  If they accept your bid, again, you don’t know where you’ll be staying until AFTER you pay for your non-refundable booking.  There are bidding strategies to use in order to increase your chances of getting your bid accepted, but that is out of scope for this post.  Sorry…

Google “How to bid on Priceline” and you will get bidding strategies out the wazoo…

Clearly, this is a risky venture if you want to stay in a specific location at your destination or in a certain class of hotel.  Or both.  Both sites show you a radius of the area their hotels are located in, but it’s usually a pretty big radius.  And I’ve also found out that their hotel rating system doesn’t exactly agree with AGMA’s rating system.  Their 3 star hotel might be my 2 star hotel.  Bummer.

There’s a “helper” website called Betterbidding.com that can give you insights from other travelers on they hotels that Priceline and Hotwire are using in specific cities. Many times Better Bidding also has discount coupons for both sites.

AGMA used the Better Bidding site for researching bidding on a hotel in New Orleans because it’s such as walkable/scooterable city.  We got a killer deal at the Royal Sonesta  Hotel on Bourbon Street which would normally be waaaayyyy out of our price range.  It was a gorgeous hotel and we had a spectacular time!

I know that there are many more options for budget travel lodging like house swapping, house sitting, hospitality clubs, friends of friends of friends, Couchsurfing.com, but AGMA hasn’t done any of those so you don’t get to hear about them.

Sorry.

But if you’ve had any experiences with any of those, please comment – we’d love to hear about your adventures!

Every day’s a school day.

Happy travel ya’ll!!

P.S.  Can’t sign off without mentioning the devestating fire in Notre Dame.  I still can’t believe it.  USA tax deductible donations for her restoration can be made at www.notredamedeparis.fr or just Google “Friends of Notre Dame”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bad granny and the boys in spandex

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

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

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

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

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

Cyclists in spandex! My kinda creepy obsession…

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

What a guy.

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

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

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

Rest day = cyclist stalking day.

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

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

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

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

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

I hate technology.

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

AGMA is a bad granny.

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

They couldn’t.

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

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

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AGMA is a bad granny.

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

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

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

It was a grrrrreat trip!

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

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

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

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

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

And we can’t afford to let that happen.

Australia in November anybody?

And the word for the day is…charming

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

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

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

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

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

Yup. Believe the hype.

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

What’s the word? Oh yes – charming.

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

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

Do you sense a theme here…?

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

Nah baby nah.

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

But the best side effects were yet to come…

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

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

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

Sophia to the rescue!

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

It was truly wonderful.

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

Thanks Sophia!

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

One more post to wrap the trip up.

Stay tuned…

Temporary help wanted: GA on R&R

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

I think she’s ready to quit.

Can guardian angels quit? I hope not…

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

But what a trip… Wow!

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

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

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

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

Sophia was on duty.

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

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

Yup.

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

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

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

Yup.

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

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

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

“My purse! Those women took my purse!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nah baby nah.

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

MY PURSE!!!

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

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

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

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

Whew.

And this was just the second day of our trip.

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

P.S. It’s great to be back!!