Vienna Amusement Park

Prater & the Ferris Wheel

Not, it’s not a palace or museum, but if you ask my kids, they will tell you that Prater was not just the best part of Vienna, it’s the only destination they want to revisit within the city. Not surprising. It’s was a short walk from the apartment we rented and was nearly empty at around three in the afternoon. If you want a change of pace from restaurants and shopping for furs (off season in July of course), go visit.

Adults and kids

I’m a thrill seeker, I admit it. For those of use who want to hang up side down like a bat going 100 mph for brief spurts, at least one ride offers this experience. I’m sorry to say I’ve forgotten the name of the ride (did I black out?) but you get strapped in while upright, then it rotates you so you are literally parallel with the ground, about three feet up. From head to toe, you are horizontal, and then the fun really begins. My advice is this: build up and save all your fear, tensions, anger or angst and when the ride begins, be like Anna in Frozen and just let it go. Trust me, your screams will blend in with the others.

When you are boiling up from the heat, walk five minutes to the water rides and let your inner child go (e.g. raise your hands). The splash is worth second ride–and with the lack of lines, we just got off, walked around the end and got ride back on the ride.

A note of warning- most of the rides do have an age or height restriction, so check your kids before you pay the money. Yes, lots of rides exist for younger ones, but then you are split with the rides between older and younger children.

Best time to go

We learned after the fact that 3-5 p.m. are the best times to go, and this is what we’d done, but it was unintentional. We looked out our apartment, saw the massive Ferris wheel and said “let’s go!” Of course, it was during a heat wave and we were seriously hot, but the park was empty. Just as we were leaving, about two hours later, a breeze picked up, the sun was going down and the crowds started to clog the lines.

The giant Ferris wheel is 65 meters tall and you should take your camera, because you can take incredible pics of the Danube from the top. A Madame Tussad’s Wax Museum, a trainride and the Planetarium.

We all loved the Vienna planetarium, where we watched an Astro show. Since I didn’t take pictures within the planetarium, read more about it here. All my kids recall were the thousands of stars from the laser lights beaming all around.

Trains and bus lines stop right in front of the park, so transportation is easy. I’ll also point out that the side streets to and from the park are lined with unique restaurants, one with a banyan tree in the center. We happened upon it, had a great meal and now you will hate me because I can’t recall the name! But I will say the owner told me it had been there for 20 years, so I imagine it’s there now.

Waterloo isn’t just a song

It’s also an incredible place to visit

“At Waterloo Napoleon did surrender…oh yeah….And I have met my destiny in quite a similar way…”

ABBA was before my time, but the long-lost lyrics of Waterloo came rushing back as we drove up to “The Waterloo” in Belgium. Did you know the battle of Waterloo is actually in Belgium? Neither did we. In our ignorance, neither did we, but before I digress upon my lack of education (can I blame that on age?) let’s back up. How did we end up in Waterloo in the first place?

Blame it on the rain

Not to go Milli Vanilli on you, but it really was the rains fault. There we were, in a beautiful suburb of Brussels, looking out the home we’d rented, watching the rain hit the pool, we just couldn’t believe it. After an hour, we had consumed all the chocolate in the house (when one is in Belgium, one must consume copious amounts) and then we got on our phones. What else can we see? Ten minutes later, we had piled in to the car and were on the road.

Just off the freeway

Located 30km south of Belgium, Waterloo is off exit 25 from Ring East Road (the Butte du Lion” on the Ring O). What that means is you zip along at European speeds, see the side, take a right, flip around and bam, you have arrived. You are going to notice the craziest scene- a car on a roof, and thanks to my ever-present camera, I took the snap for proof the French have a quirky sense of humor, although Rog conjectured it was some crazy ex-pat American. There is literally no way to get lost on this journey. For new visitors who don’t have a car and trying to figure out transportation to Waterloo, use Rome2Rio for options specifically about getting to Waterloo.

The final battle

Napoleon was short. We knew that. But when you are standing next to a life-size replica of the little man, you get a full appreciation for the greatness of the miniature conqueror himself. Just behind the plexiglass covered timelines stands the grass-covered pyramid-esque monument in the background. Tip: go an hour before closing or it’s like the Coba pyramid in the Yucatan. The security guards don’t let you start because they know you’re inclination to take selfies at the top will result in the site being open another hour.

Why should you go?Why you should go?

If you aren’t a history buff (which I am) you may see Waterloo for bragging rights. How many people have you ever met who can say they’ve been to the place where the French forces, led by Napoleon Bonaparte, fought the coalition of British, Belgian, Dutch and German? A lot of people recognize the name “Duke of Wellington” but don’t always know why. It was he and Gebhard Leberecht von Blüche of the Prussian forces who led the battle and won. In all, 250K men from seven countries fought, 11K dead and approximately 33K wounded in what’s considered the largest and bloodiest pre-twentieth century battles.

Climb to the top & the Museum

The Butte de Lion, or The Lion’s Mound and panoramic painting of the Battle of Waterloo are the main sights to see on a day-trip to the battlefield (Champ de Bataille). Smaller monuments are scattered around what has been returned to predominantly grass fields. The museum has a 3D movie and lots of artifacts.

Food and parking

The parking is free and right on site, no long-distance walking. The cafeteria is modest but the food perfect as always. It never ceases to amaze (us Americans) that even the dingiest road-side stops in Europe offer fresh mozzarella, prosciutto in a panini sandwich which is better than most of the higher end restaurants in the US.

Local eateries and Monasteries

True to form, we finish up at Waterloo and decide to explore. For the next hour, we drive up and down the backstreets surrounding the battlefield and found restaurants and a monastery that weren’t even listed in our guide books (or Internet). I love that; French food and historical buildings, both hidden except to the locals.

The strange weather of Belgium

While it poured in Brussels, it only drizzled at Waterloo. As we left and decided to explore the surrounding area, the rain stopped entirely. It wasn’t until we started back to the city, the rain kicked in. When we returned, we asked a few locals of the weather. You know what we learned?”

“The weather is a lot like Seattle, Washington,” an older man said. Rog and I just stared in wonder and disbelief, because at the time, we were living just outside Seattle.

“Is it always like this in the summer?” I asked, keeping my face straight.

“Always. Raining and overcast with some sun breaks.” Huh. No wonder we’d gotten a five-bedroom house with a pool for so little! (another topic for another blog).

Rain or shine, Waterloo is a must see destination if you are anywhere near Brussels, and frankly, it’s so easy to get to from Cologne and Aachen, Germany, or a quick drive from Luxemburg and even Lille, France (great shopping! More to come on that).

Be brave & explore: rent that car

Don’t let your fear of signs, getting lost or wrecking stop your adventurous self

“What? You rented a car? You must be crazy.”

My parents just about had a heart attack when I said we’d driven from Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara, over the hills and through the desert to see the zoo, fearing we were going to be kidnapped along with our daughters. I related that we’d arrived at the zoo and ate the churros we still claim are the best in the world. We also got lost in the suburbs on the way back, found a canyon that’s larger than the Grand Canyon right off housing community and met wonderful townsfolk in an artsy enclave. That’s been our experience around the world; adventure and the unknown, merging together to give our trips meaning. It’s also made me a car advocate for seeing the most in the least amount of time.

without a car, we would have missed all these sites….
Face the fear

For the first ten of our twenty years of marriage, we took cabs out of fear and the convenience factor. We truly thought those who rented cars were, in fact, crazy. What changed our mind was our increasing desire to go places cabs wouldn’t. We were pushed over the edge when kids arrived.

Getting lost, unfamiliar road signs and parking are the top of all the concerns voiced about car rentals. Road signs can be learned easily enough (thanks Google), and taking a wrong turn is a part of the fun. In fact, this has resulted in seeing some of the most amazing destinations we’d never have located on our own. And parking? Bah. In Milan, a city that we’d been told was impossible for American’s to navigate, we used Google Maps and had no problem finding the Duomo and getting a spot two blocks from the Duomo Cathedral (that part we found on our own).

What’s the worst that can happen?

Tickets and fraud. When you don’t read German, tickets will happen. We’ve received more than a couple at castles or destinations because we didn’t properly understand the signs for permits (and didn’t bother ask). Had we used Google translate (or heaven forbid, asked someone who speaks better English than we do), we could have saved the ten bucks. Regarding fraud, our singular bad experience came about when a front desk worker at the rental office in Frankfurt decided to steal our credit card. The silly boy started making purchases about the time we drove off the lot, but was apprehended a few days later.. In 20 years however, that was the lone instance of pain, and it was rectified with a few days.

A few learnings

In Mexico, the rental policies are nuts, because you are expected to pay all sorts of premiums at the counter (even with Hertz, Avis and the others). Further, they require the credit card to be charged authorized for insurance, and security, which can increase a standard $400 for a two weeks to $3,500. No kidding. If you don’t have this kind of room on your credit card, you will be in a bind. Otherwise, here’s how the money breaks down. Tip: most credit cards cover car accidents, so we never purchase insurance. Check with your credit card company.

Yucatan Peninsula/Cancun Area

Cab from any one of the Gold Coast hotels, Isla Blanco or Punta Sam to town: $30 one way (US), round trip, $60.00. If you are going further south, tothe famous Playa del Carmen, tack on another $40 ($20/each way). For a single night in to town, it’s easily $100. Compare that to renting a car, which you can drive to Tulum (2.5 hours south), Chitzen Itza (3 hours west) or anywhere else, and you have already come out ahead.

Cabo San Lucas

This is one place where we found a car is NOT necessary, but this is because our lifestyle during our visits is….lounge lizard. We aren’t going to golf courses, visiting the dunes, or eating anywhere we can’t walk to. So the car we rented (once) stayed in the hotel except for the trip to and from the airport. A total waste.

Puerto Vallarta, Suyulita, Ixtapa, Zihuatanejo

We always get a car now, but in the early days, (pre-kids) didn’t bother when in PV, because the cab ride was 5-7 minutes to downtown. Once we started staying further from the center, we got a car. For the other three, yes, cars, always.

Europe

Of course, nothing compares to a train ride through the Alps (the journey isn’t even possible by car), and you still need to take a water taxi in Venice or a boat tour on the Danube to see the buildings from a different viewpoint, but these are not every day occurrences. Yet that leaves several dozen countries to explore with four tires. With open borders, the only thing you need to worry about is a full tank of gas, although a map is helpful.

A few tips for renting a car in Europe

The pick-up location makes all the difference in the world. The same car picking up in Calais France (for 5 weeks) is $3,400, whereas that car is $2,400 in Frankfurt, Germany, but $1,200 in Aachen, German. Guess where we are picking up our car? And it’s not a Volkswagon. It’s a four-door 5-series BMW touring model.

I’ll give you another example. One year, we picked up a Volkswagon Golf in Zurich, Switzerland for two weeks. Price tag? $1,100. The next year, we went for an Audio Quatto, but go it out of Frankfurt, Germany for 4 weeks. Total price with tax? $1,098. Are you seeing a trend here? Automobiles, for the most part, originate out of Germany. If you rent in another country, you are going to pay a LOT more. While we have used Hertz and others in the past, we find amazing deals with Sixt luxury car rental.

Last example. This year, we decided to see a bit of England, and are landing in Manchester, getting a car, driving over the channel. We are dropping the car off in France and taking the train up to Aachen. Even with the cost to rent a car for two days ($120), then the four-hour train ride ($600), we are still saving over nearly $1,500. Is a bit inconvenient? Only if you think the train ride through France  and the Black Forest of Germany is ugly.

The summary here is to not be fearful of renting a car. The benefits dramatically outweigh the risks or issues you may encounter, so on your next trip, be brave and start exploring. Your future self will thank you!

The truly happy smile of a girl with a car who is seeing a lot, including the handsome security staff at the Duomo Cathedral in Milan

*Products and services mentioned are not sponsored by the respective entities. This is an independent editorial review based upon real experiences paid for by the author.

Quick: close your eyes

Lessons from the road

“Quick! Don’t look!” Those were the words I mistakenly said to my girls, when driving alongside a river in Austria. What I meant to say was “quick, turn your heads,” but the better comment was to have kept quiet.

You see, while most Europeans are immune to nudity, not even registering a piece of uncovered flesh, us Americans are much more sensitive to those things, and thus, the necessity for writing this blog. It was this singular river-journey that I learned how to handle the unexpected with grace and a bit of education, perhaps saving another parent from making the mistake.

The hottest day

That’s where it started. On a day trip down the 56 south of Vienna, return it was over 100 degrees, the July heat practically killing the car’s air conditioning. On a lark, we went to Gloggnitz in lower Austria and started following a few motorcyclists and locals who seemed to know where they were going (we are adventurous that way). The straight road curved as the scenery changed from concrete to lush trees, the uphill climb cooling the air. We rolled down the tinted windows to get a better look and lo! There it was. A whole line if bar butts, four in a row, and male.

I uttered the now famous line, which made both girls (then 6 and 10) lean out the window. “Mom, is that a butt?” My six-year old asked. “What happened to their bathing suits?” My older daughter went silent, her shock registering in the fixed stare one has when going by a car accident.

Luckily, the rational me kicked in (as opposed to the mom-me).

“It’s Europe,” I replied. “They do this here.”

“But Mom,” my oldest started. “There are more people on the river.” I looked. “Yep, and some are even wearing bathing suits.”

It was then that Rog and I had the quiet moment parent’s share when the truth table has been pulled out. We were either going to live the European experience or eliminate half the things we could possibly see.

“We’ll do our best,” Rog said in an undertone.

“No naked men,” was my threshold. And with that, we continued up the river until we saw a place where the men were clothed, but not all of the women.

The invisible man

Kids are interesting. If you don’t make a big deal out of something, they forget it even exists. So it was that we parked the car, quickly changed roadside when it was clear, then made our way down to path. The Alpine water was freezing, the water crystal clear, and the other visitors rare. Yet a few women were topless, but they were mom’s who had clearly breastfed their young children and struck us as pragmatic instead of exhibitionistic. It was very hot: why wear more clothes than one had to?

The kids looked once, more out of interest, then moved on. It simply was a part of life, a part of nature, exactly how it should be.

The return trip

It was a good thing perspectives had changed, because two hours later we were driving back in to town.

“Mom,” my ten-year-old says from the back. “I just saw a man’s penis. Two, actually.” I can’t help myself. I look out the window. Sure enough, we were passing the spot on the river from whence we’d come, and two of the four men was now on their backs, sunning themselves.” The image was gone in the blink of an eye, my husband’s hand on my leg gripping with humor and angst combined.

“Yep,” I said. “Everyone needs to get a tan.”

“I guess,” my daughter said, already looking down at her book. “What’s for dinner?”

We did our best to shield the girl from egregious displays of nudity, but honestly, it wasn’t an issue. The rest of the trip, three weeks’ worth, were free of comments or looks about what saw, or rather, didn’t see. They came, played and were focused on having fun and the beauty around them, exactly as it should be.

Salzburg, Austria

Who didn’t grow up listening to the Sound of Music, dreaming about one day, floating along the green hillsides, twirling, arms out, singing “the hills are alive…” No? Doesn’t resonate? What about walking along the waterfront, looking at the muted, yellow mansion where the fictional Maria met her beloved Captain von Trapp? No? That’s what my husband also said

Channel my inner Maria

Thus, despite my life-long bucket list dream of seeing either hill or house, we opted for the Mozart residence and the Fortress Hohensalzburg as the two, primary destinations for our first trip to Salzburg. In our upcoming trip, we intend to take in more locations in and around the area, including Lake Mondsee, but we are going back to the two destinations because we simply can’t get enough.

Fortress Hohensalzburg

This imposing castle on the hill wasn’t one to pass up. Like Lake Mondsee, we found it by chance; the focus on Mozart and the Sound of Music tours changing the moment we caught our first glimpse of the enormous, white structure. Rog immediately started looking for street parking at the base of the Fortress, in town, and got lucky. Our walk was only five minutes to the base of the hillside entrance.

Train or tram

Rog and I were in a funny spot at this point in time, because I was realizing that with our limited time, I’d miss all the Sound of Music stuff. My fury grew as he expressed disbelief I would want to visit sites from a musical instead of a real fortress (do you see the marital tornado brewing?) Good thing that getting to this fortress offers both a tram and a thousand-plus long stairway, because we chose the stairs, sweating out our issues by the time we reached the top. Inside and out

Inside and out

Once at the Fortress, you can take several different routes to see the expansive structure. Cafes and mini-restaurants are located on multiple levels and areas. The fortress has many landings offering panoramic views of the valley’s below. Restrooms were plentiful (thankfully) but it was quite hot; the only shade was found in the restaurants. After this trip, we purchased combo water-spray bottles to keep us cool.

Even though the trams were full, the main fortress seemed almost empty because of the size of the area, reminding us of Czesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic. Yet, unlike Krumlov, Fortress Hohensalzburg has a mercantile, selling some of the best products we’ve seen. Unlike the silly shirts, hats or other items commonly sold, this mercantile had homemade soaps and honey, cream and wooden crafts. We spent nearly as much time in the store picking out items as we did the Fortress (well, almost).

Mozart

For thirteen dollars, we paid a visit to the residence of Wolfgang Mozart. While the inside is identical to the pictures on TripAdvisor or elsewhere, nothing replaces walking through the very home where Mozart created many of his masterpieces. The surrounding area is full of eateries and gardens, so one doesn’t feel obligated to rush in and out of the neighborhood. Parking was easy to find as well (right across the street).

street view of Mozart’s home

Salzburg Cathedral

Mozart was baptized in this cathedral the day after his birth, but it was historically relevant long before. The first Dom was recorded in 774, a fact completely lost on my girls because the center was hit by a single bomb during World War II, and has been largely reconstructed. Still, it’s a beautiful structure if you are in to comparing cathedrals (which we are—it’s sort of become a trivial pursuit-type family pastime…which one do you like best? Why? What do you think of the pipe organ? The tiles were better…. you get the picture).

Depending on the month and week/day, festivals about in Salzburg, but we seem to miss most of them, but fortunately, not all. Check the calendar for your trip because the local food and culture really come through during these festive times.

Parking

We had great luck with parking around the cathedral. Street parking a two blocks away made the short walk quick and easy. In fact, no matter where we went in Mondsee or Salzburg, parking was no problem. In Vienna, we didn’t bother look for street parking, we go straight for the closest garage and call it a day.

Salzburg summary

This small-ish town has much to see and experience, but these were our higlights, and the best for kids <10. And in the end, I was able to see the Mondsee Abbey where the famous wedding scene between Captain von Trapp and Maria took place, which was cool. The mansion, hills and singing at the top of my lungs will have to wait for my next trip.

Snoring solution: How we became a traveling couple (again)

Snoring solution: Who we became a traveling couple (again)We had a traveling draught lasting nearly six years; the time it took to have kids and find an anti-snoring solution that worked. For those ADD readers who don’t have the time or desire to read the context, the failsafe is Snore Guard. Less (and more) expensive options are available (see below) but this is an economical way to cease snoring and get traveling.

The backstory

All was well in my marriage for the first six years. Only later, when the soft bubbles turned into stones craping together did I realize why: we were young, the room was always a brisk 65 degrees, and I didn’t have children. Post children, my second-sense, ever-alert state came in to being, and the house was a lot warmer (72 is warm for us). Heat begat a new level of sleep restlessness, and I feel and hear every turn and bump Rog made throughout the night.

Enter the solutions

Because Rog and I always traveled for business pre-kids, we saw parts of the world, but separate, not together. When our eldest daughter turned three, I was taking her on weekly trips to Arizona, so she became a little road warrior. It was great—as long as Rog wasn’t with us, and in the same room. For seven years, he found, bought, used, and discarded every…single…snoring solution on the market, from the strips to nose sprays, along with various mouth pieces. The early products failed miserably (but some were great for cleaning out the nose pores), and the mouth guards pulled his lips or cheeks, and even some strapped around his ears. Rog thought he’d found the motherland when two fishing buddies told him they’d purchased the same “mouth-covering-oxygen-pushing,” device. The only catch with that was the size, the inconvenience (you must train yourself not to turn over during the night) and the non-sexy appeal of your husband sitting there, looking like he’s come back from the operating room table.

The ultimatum

In 2015, we’d had a sudden realization of our mortality when two friends unexpectedly die. We began to change our priorities, and that mean giving our family experiences, not things. The big catch was this: I could not, would not, travel with Rog if he didn’t fix the snoring issue. My max was three days without sleep, which limited our travels to four days. Further, I told him we needed a few shorter “test trips” before we launched off on a big journey.

Life changer

Armed with the carrot of a vacation, Rog applied his own stick: He arranged not one, but eight trips in a single year. He determined he wasn’t going to leave this life without being with himself and “his girls” as he calls us. I feared for my sleep (and my life) as he set about trying and testing the various types of snore guards, for he had shut down the oxygen-breathing-mask outright.

The Snore Guard Pro

Rog went to his vault of all wisdom: his hockey buddies. Some lacking critical teeth, many of a large girth, which makes rolling over (reducing snoring) challenging. They swore by the Snore Guard Pro. Rog goes out, buys not one, but two. They mold and meld to the teeth, holding the jaw open just enough to allow the air to pass through. This is all it takes to have a wonderful, blissful night of sleep.

The benefit is the cost. It’s about $90 bucks, easy to customize and use. The downside, according to Rog, is that it creates a soreness in the jaw muscles, which takes some time to get use to. It wasn’t uncommon for him to remove it half-way, or three-quarters of the way through the night because his jaw hurt. Nonetheless, on our 3-4 day trips from Alaska to Arizona, where the temperature varied and we were with and without kids, the result was consistent: snore-free until he removed the device. The device also comes with a small case so the notion of the guard and associated mouth juices and grunge isn’t foremost when you see it.

Avoid the non-molding versions

While cheaper, by 30-40 dollars, the versions that don’t allow molding not only hurt, according to Rog, but barely work. The size is also an issue, because the two primary versions are deeper and wider. “I threw away a hundred bucks trying to save forty,” was Rog’s conclusion.

Also, beware the “night guard,” phrase. This tends to imply a clear or colored teeth guard similar to what hockey players wear to protect their teeth. It’s designed for clenching and grinding, not snore prevention. This is another way to throw away good money (which Rog did on his search for sleeping nirvana).

Improving on Good

In search of the “ultimate” snore guard, Rog visited his dentist, convinced a better solution was available. Sure enough, for the bargain basement price of @$400, the dentist would create a custom version made for his teeth. Grateful for the advice, but unwilling to pay that type of premium, Rog did what just about every human with an Internet connect did: he went on-line and found a product for half the price, roughly $195. Once it stood the test of our next travel trip, he purchased another, “just in case.” A good thing too, because these little things are easy to make and misplace.

The key: After spending further hundreds of dollars, Rog determined that the BEST product is the one that is “upside down.” It holds the top four teeth (only) in place, resting the base on the lower teeth. Because he doesn’t want his mouth put out for public viewing, I’m willingly showing you examples in my own mouth, using his mouth piece. (Appreciate those choppers!)

The proof

Two days before we headed to Europe, sans kids, for two weeks, Rog tried out the new device. Perfection…and for two weeks, he snored not a single time. That was the beginning of emancipation from snoring purgatory. Four years later, our family is poster picture for mouth guards that work, because without them, we wouldn’t be traveling, at least not together.

Lake Mondsee, Austria

We were coming from Vienna, driving to Salzburg on the A1, looked out the window and saw this big lake. “What, another lake?” I thought to myself, but the girls immediately pointed out the waterslides, mid and high-diving platforms and sailboats. Rog looks at me. I look at him. He takes the next exit.

Where is Lake Mondsee & why should you go

It’s outside Salzburg roughly thirty minutes. Perhaps we wouldn’t have stopped had it not been nearly 100 degrees as a heat-wave had hit that part of Europe, nor had we had an extra day on our schedule. We were so glad we did. The top three reasons to make the drive are activities, food and price.

Activities

From sailing to swimming, the compact but highly fun waterpark and lakeside dining, Lake Mondsee is relaxed and casual, the antithesis of so many lakes in the area. Unlike Area 47, which is more for thrill-seekers, Lake Mondsee, especially near the waterpark, is geared for families.

The high dive platforms are fantastic. Unlike the US, no restrictions exist about age or level of sanity. My 6-year-old launched herself off the mid-platform, about 15 feet up, and my older daughter, 9 at the time went off the 25 ft high platform. Like a numbskull, I did the same, but once did a handstand, landing flat on my back. Yeah, that knocked the wind out of me, and my ribs were actually bruised, which made for some painful walking the next few days.

Waterslides are easy to moderate, not the screamers of Area 47. Even the adults were going up, down in and around. We would have rented a sailboat, but the wind was absolutely non-existent. Perhaps this upcoming trip we will get lucky and get on the water.

Contrast this to Area 47, which is all about high-impact/thrill, daredevil and adrenaline junkies. As adults, we were completely drawn to Area 47, but the limit is age 12 for all rides and in the main area, competent swimming. So, if your kids are younger, or you want a more relaxing experience, the Mondsee water park is the one to hit.

Food

Several restaurants of differing prices sit waterfront, the foot excellent (we went to two of the three). Traditional Austrian dining is mixed with hamburgers and French fries; all casual dining.

Pricing

Waterpark prices are low (less than $10 per person) for an all-day park pass, and the parking in the central area was free.

For those wary of traveling due to language

One of the most consistent questions/concerns voiced about our jaunts to Europe revolved around language, and the reality we speak a few words of several languages, but none of them good. Our German is probably the best, and even that is basic. Our response is this: most of the Europeans speak better English than most Americans. It’s never been a problem, except when we are in the very inner parts of a country and stop at a restaurant. Usually, the owner(s) are older, and don’t speak a word. In those cases where the younger generation isn’t present, we simply look at the food on a plate, point and order. Easy!

Booking a hotel or VRBO

Hotels are plentiful, about 45 in the area, but a VRBO is a bit trickier. We tried finding and booking one six months prior to our next trip, and were out of luck. In general, the area does not lend itself to rental homes. We ended up booking two nights in Salzburg at the Hotel Turnerwirt. It’s small, quaint, local and right in the heart of the town, which is what we look for when we are going to be in and out relatively quickly. The price is also awesome.

Reserve early (at least 3 months ahead)

Since we found Lake Mondsee one afternoon, we decided to spend the night. Boy, that wasn’t fun at all. It was early July, and the only available room in the entire town was at a hotel which was really more of a cross between a hostel and a hotel. In other words, the lobby and rooms were fine, but the air conditioning barely worked and the rooms claustrophobic. Even so, we got up and out of the hotel the next morning, visited Fortress Hohensalzburg and the Mozart residence and then went back to the waterpark.

Mondsee Abbey

For those familiar with the Sound of Music, the inside of the Abbey is the setting for the wedding scene of for Maria and Captain von Trapp. This was about as close as I got to fulfilling the childhood dream of singing “the hills are alive.” It was a short, but worthwhile visit–but the significance, or at least my emotional attachment) was completely lost on my husband and girls.

Mondsee Abbey was the setting for the famous wedding scene in the Sound of Music

Featured image: taken lakeside

Managing Migraines for travel and life

This piece is for anyone suffering from migraines, travelers or not. First, know that I have two proven solutions and a third possibility for you, one over the counter, the other prescription and the last involving diet. Second, this is my personal experience, and not a doctor’s recommendation. I write about what I know and what works so you can potentially benefit.

I have to state right up front I fell in to the doubting Thomas category regarding about migraines, as in, what were they, did they really exist or was it all in the person’s mind? As I write in my novel, In a Moment, Lindsey Gordon, the main character, realizes that she “mocks what she doesn’t understand, and then you get to experience it yourself.” This came from a place of knowledge, and it was migraines.

The background

In hindsight, I figured that God, in his infinite wisdom, finally decided forty years of ignorance was enough, blessing me with migraines starting at age 47. For three years, I’ve been a part of what I call the suffering club. Over this time, I’ve learned how to manage the headaches, and when I’m a really, really good girl regarding my eating, I can almost entirely eliminate them. But alas, I don’t always have that kind of discipline: I travel. I eat. I’m a slightly eccentric author, and succumb. Because of this, you, the reader, are going to get the deep dive so you can travel and potentially a life free of migraines. If this isn’t possible for whatever reason, you can manage (and ideally eliminate) your pain so you can experience all this world has to offer.

Migraine vs headache

Headaches (for me) were throbbing, dulling points of pain, which varied in location. I could always continue to work at the office, travel, sleep or exercise, and generally rid myself of the pain with a couple of Ibuprofen. (As a side note, Aspirin would make me nauseas. Ibuprofen didn’t give me that side effect). When the headaches increased in intensity, it moved to what qualifies as a migraine. Mine have always started with a jabbing point in my right eye, which progresses to a complete wash of over my forehead, left eye, then and down the base of my skull. I’d need to lay down, using cold ice packs on all areas , black out the room, then endure until it retreated.

Super fun.

Solution 1: Caffeine pills, specifically, Vivarin

The short-term, immediate and most cost-effective solution are caffeine pills. In particular, Vivarin. Now, before you shout at me that caffeine causes headaches, and that caffeine withdrawal can actually make the situation worse, I will agree with you, but only to a point, and here’s why. If you are traveling and you need to get rid of the pain, run right into the nearest grocery, convenience or drug store and pick up Vivarin. Full stop.

Vivarin strip- 8 per

This immediate solution was gifted to me by my husband on an overseas trip when I started to moan. Initially, he suggested an energy drink (which I hate), and I declined. Then he gave me a Vivrin, and within minutes, the headache eased up.

The benefit

Caffeine pills increase the size of the blood vessels and associated flow of blood to the brain. The increased circulation has an immediate effect (within 15 min). The was my solution for two years, prior to breaking down and seeing a doctor.

Why Vivarin?

I found that Vivarin worked better than any other brand available, and I’m not exactly sure why. I’d test out others when Vivarin wasn’t available, but found most made me nauseas. I have no explanation for this, only that my system wasn’t compatible with these other brands. Trust me, I’d love it if my head responded to all brands equally, but it just doesn’t. Also, it’s relatively inexpensive and over-the-counter, so you can freely travel with these pills across borders. Even today, I keep a handful of tablets in my purses and jackets just in case I run out of my prescription, haven’t been eating as healthy as I should, or both.

The downside

Sleep deprivation and “the bounce back headache.”

The first is obvious. The more caffeine you push ingest, the greater the jitters, irregular heartbeats and inability to sleep. This was intense for me because I haven’t ever consumed coffee or sodas, two primary sources of caffeine. I’d be up for hours (and hours and hours), but eventually addressed this by taking two Melatonin pills each night. After about thirty minutes, I’d start to wind down. For those unfamiliar with Melatonin, it’s a natural sleeping supplement. It’s a godsend.

The bounceback headache

This was an unfamiliar term to me until the day I filled my first migraine prescription medication. After the pharmacist heard my headache-to-migraine journey, he said, “You will really like these (the pills). All the benefits of removing the pain without the bounce back headache.” Users of caffeine pills can attest that the bounce back headache can be can be as bad, or worse than the original. Just as the caffeine pills work to immediately rid the headache, if you go off the pills just as immediately, (thereby constricting the blood vessels) the system goes into shock, and yes, the headache returns in full force.

The step-down approach

If you are going to use caffeine pills, plan on the step-down approach by gradually reducing your dependency on the pills. If you started with two pills, go to one, then a half, then a quarter. It may take a day or two (depending on the severity of what you started with), but you can still function. This is better than going cold-turkey and putting yourself in more danger (for irregular heartbeats—jacking your system sky-high, then dropping like a bomb is extremely unhealthy).

Caffeine withdrawal is akin to sugar withdrawal, which has been compared to withdrawal of serious drugs, such as heroine and meth. In fact, a dear friend who nearly died from a diabetic sugar withdrawal told me (from the hospital) that the doctors told him sugar withdrawal is 20 times greater than the closest drug. That said, I had surgery, used Oxycodone, and as soon as I could, went off it. In my haste, I ignored the doctor and went cold turkey (after about three weeks on the stuff). For two days I experienced headaches, cold sweats and fever-like symptoms. It’s the closest thing I can compare to going off caffeine.

Summary for the quick fix

If you need a quick fix, are on a budget or honestly don’t want to take the plunge with a prescription (which I don’t blame you, I resisted for over two years), then this is a solution that has worked for me, and may give you relief. Just use the pills properly and know what you are getting into.

Solution two: the prescription, Riztriptan Benzoate

The crossing point for me from Vivarin caffeine pills to prescription was when even three or four pills weren’t killing the pain. With that much caffeine in my system, I was having diarrhea (say it with me: awesome!) and I increasing worried about my irregular heart beat. Even so, I didn’t want to become “one of those people” who were dependent on a prescription. I tried every alternative I could: acupuncture, every natural remedy known to man, alternative healing…nothing worked, but even then, my obstinate, persistent self overruled my rational brain.

It was then that the Big Man pulled out the stops. One day, the migraine was so severe, I’d taken three or four caffeine pills, gone to bed, holding two ice packs, one against my eye, the other on my lower skull. It still felt like needles were going directly into my eye. All night I suffered and cried. When I woke, I was blurry, but functional, somewhat annoyed I seemed to have a dark spot on my right eye that wasn’t going away. Two days later, I finally got out of bed (this had occurred over a weekend), and the same black spot was present, everywhere I looked. My husband laid down the law: I was going to see a doctor.

The doctor listens, examines my eyes and explains the blood vessels were constricted to such extremes vessels that one literally popped in my eye. In other words, this “jelly” as it’s commonly referred to, won’t ever leave. It’s here to stay, in my vision, for the rest of my life.

Rizatriptan Benzoate
small, individual packets

This is the generic version of the brand name migraine drug Maxalt. Instead of paying $800 for Maxalt, I pay $10 for Rizatriptan with my insurance co-pay. However, when I’ve not had insurance, it’s $40 for 18 pills. Can we say massive savings?

I’ve never used another prescription, so can’t speak to alternatives. That said, I have friends who use other brand name pills but don’t seem to have the same result.

The benefit

The first benefit is the pills start to work in about fifteen minutes, almost the same as Vivrin. When I feel the onset of a migraine (again, usually over my right eye), I take one pill, which are chewable, tasting like mint. While the warning says it induces drowsiness, I’ve never experienced this side effect, nor have I noticed feelings of impairment. Sometimes, I’ve felt a little less energetic, but this hasn’t ever stopped me from exercising after an hour or two (unheard of, even with the Vivarin). For someone who went from a debilitating, two-day cycle of migraine to normalcy, this is nothing short of the Red Sea parting. Further, as promised by the pharmacist, I’ve never experienced the bounce back headache, nausea or other issues.

The downside
For international travel, this isn’t enough. You must have the prescription.

Quantity. Rizatriptan, and all drugs in this category, are in the same category as Oxycodone, so it’s regulated. That means doctors usually prescribe 8-12 pills per month, yet migraines can happen randomly, and in my case, 15-20 days per month. The pills worked great, I just needed more. The only (legal) way to do this was go back to my physician, which I did. But prior to that, I called my insurance company.

The right number

After a (long) discussion with the representative from Blue Cross Blue Shield, I learned the initial prescriptions are 8-12 is because: “Over the years, statistics have shown that if you need more than 12 pills a month, you have something seriously wrong.” It was explained to me that “seriously wrong,” meant some sort of brain ailment. Well, I wasn’t in that category, and the woman was sympathetic.

“My migraines were so bad,” she explained, “I had to get shots directly into my head once a month for three years.” Imagine my shock at hearing this. The representative told me I needed to visit with the doctor and request 18-24. If the doctor signed off, I could get my pills.

I figured 24 might be overkill, but 18 was nearly three weeks. That’s what I did, and what I’ve been doing for about 6 months now. Let me tell you this: By the end of the 30-day cycle, I am counting the pills and monitoring what I eat because I can only get the refill on the exact day noted by the doctor.

Summary for Rizatriptan

Excellent solution, has changed my life for the better, and in my case, zero side effects.


Solution three: manage your diet

While I was thrilled, overjoyed and beyond ecstatic to have my old life back, I have never been comfortable with the notion of being on pills for an extended period of time. So, for the last six months, I’ve continued to search for a way to naturally heal my body.

One day, my next door neighbor (she, a doctor, married to a doctor) asked me if I was “open-minded,” and would consider an alternative view of headache solutions. Of course I said yes, and she gave me a book that focused on healing through foods. When one is desperate, one will do pretty much anything, and I was at that point. To make a long story short, I read the book over the weekend, spending lots of time on migraines and the solutions therein. Very specific recommendations were made to reduce and/or eliminate migraines. Further, it listed the primary culprits of migraines, along with inflammatory culprits. The book is The Medical Medium by Anthony William, Chapter 10 is solely on migraines, and page 131 lists triggers.

Triggers

The list of potential triggers is long, and by process of elimination, I’ve narrowed down my personal “triggers” for migraines. This includes non-organic meats and sugar: more than a couple tablespoons, two days in a row overloads my system. Now this may sound like a lot, but it’s essentially one can of Coke, a bowl of cereal or cookie, or even some ketchup. Sugar is in pretty much everything. Regarding meats, when you are dining out, you can never, ever guarantee where/how the meat is sourced.

Nonetheless, I got culinary religion and started eating like a rabbit. While I continued to have dairy and eggs, I eliminated meat and sugar, which means most breads, unless I made it myself. Guess what? I’d still have one or two a month around my period, and that was it.

Food to kill the migraine, not just prevent it

The few times I did get a migraine, I held off taking the pill, and put a few of the recommendations to the test. I juiced up celery, cilantro, apple and cucumber. That’s all I drank/ate for the space of four hours. After the first hour, the migraine reduced to a headache. By hour three, it was a dull throbbing. Hour four, I felt like a million bucks. Seriously. That afternoon, I was walking the dog.

The downside

It’s not always possible to stop and juice up. On local trips, I take my juicer (which I purchased on sale for $125 vs $300), but honestly, it’s a real pain in the fanny to be trekking the juicer with me, going to the grocery store etc. so do my best not to eat trigger foods. Nonetheless, when I’m home, and I’m all stocked up on celery etc., this is my go-to solution.

Summary for dietary changes

A healthier lifestyle is nirvana, what we all strive to achieve. If you are searching for a natural route, I would definitely spend the money on the book 1 and 2 by Anthony William. They are worth it. For me personally, note I said “strive.” I’m not a no-sugar gal, or vegetables only, and because of this, I know that I’m making a choice to try certain foods, or live on the edge that may trigger a migraine. In the end, my lifestyle is probably 80% congruent with my body-chemistry, and 20% living on the edge. For that reason, I have my prescription handy, and as a fail-safe, the Vivarn. In addition to taking your camera and book on your next trip, include at least one of these items. Your head and traveling companions will thank you!

Ketchikan fishing at its finest

A father with his three grown sons, an older South Korean gal with her younger boy toy, me and Rog, a bit-time concert promoter from Florida with his grandson, a media guy from Los Angeles and his surfer father. These are few of the fellow men and women we encountered during our fishing trips up to Alaska. Of those I mentioned, over half had never fished if all. Worried about getting up early and bobbing up and down on an ocean inlet? Don’t be. If land-loving cowboys from Montana can do this, and I, a sun-seeking, fair weather fisherman who prefers lake trolling, so can you.

Casting a new rod

Rog is a die-hard, life long fisherman, preferring fly-fishing, floating on the river at 4 a.m. in the ice and deep sea tuna in the “blue water,” (if you know what that even means, congratulations). Me? I’m a straight up, trolling on the lake at sunset-while-talking-all-the-while girl. I started with my grandfather as a kid, and never changed—or evolved, as Rog likes to say.

Still, I’d heard the romantic retelling of flying to Alaska, watching the shimmering fish jump from the water against a glimmering sunset while in the comfort of the hot tub on a deck before having a gourmet dinner and retiring to a cozy lodge. It was with this ideal in my mind that I bid up the price for a fishing trip to Alaska at a school-sponsored auction. Two months later, we were on our way.T

The overview

Alaska, the fishing mecca for anyone with a pole, instills religion-like feelings about what place is the best and why. Some want the 5-star luxury experience, replete with the spa-like atmosphere, or a 10,000 square foot home and private chef. What’s important to me is one thing: the fish. I don’t want a plush, four-day spa vacation if I’m paying for fishing. If I wanted that, I’d hit Sonoma or Arizona and save the extra two grand. At the same time, I want great food and an authentic lodge experience—along with lots and lots of fish. After looking at the Sportsman’s Cove website, I believed this was right in the middle, authentic yet cozy, guaranteed to bring me home with lots of fish and great pictures. Rog had been fishing in Alaska before, but never at Sportsman’s Cove, and I was excited about this factoid. We would have a firstie—an experience unique to both of us at once, which, Rick Santos, the lead male in A Convenient Date, says, is hard to do.G

Getting there

From Seattle, Ketchikan was a 3-hour flight. With bags in hand, you take the short walk under a covered ramp to a pier where the float plane awaits. Sportsman’s Cove owns their own fleet of float planes which seat six. The flight is a short 25 minute during which you can take pictures of Ketchikan, the islands below, along with the cruise ships which come to Ketchikan daily. On every flight, I’ve seen bear as we near the island where Sportsman’s Cove is located.

the float plane arrives

Once landed, an assigned host greets guests, takes the bags up the landing, and guests are shown their assigned cabin. Depending on the package and requests, guests have a single or double (with a guest). Nestled into the mountain side, the cabins are an adult version of a tree house, the wooden steps leading up to the private rooms. Rustic but comfortable, the beds have flannel sheets, views of the lake, and incredible water pressure with plenty of hot water. 

The schedule

Dinner is set at 6 p.m., where guests meet one another and sit with their assigned captain. Over dinner, guests meet those assigned to their (limit of 6 guests). What I like about this is the administration works really hard at putting compatible groups together, and we’ve never been disappointed. During dinner, the boat Captain provides the daily schedule, preferences for fishing, how he determines the areas to fish, and options for taking the fish home.

The fishing days are simple: full breakfast at 6 a.m. (varies every day, but can be stuffed sour dough French toast, steel cut oats, biscuits and gravy etc.), on the boat by 6:30, fishing until 3 pm then return to the dock. After breakfast (or before, if you wake early) you make your own sack lunch with snacks).

Once back at the lodge, dinner is at 5:30, allowing time to hike, walk the beach, nap or hang out on the covered deck or living room, which has a guitar if a guest has the desire. Around 8:00 p.m., homemade cookies and milk are set out for the guests in the living room. A hot tub is located on a lower deck, which is much desired after a long day fishing.T

The food

The Cove has a master chef, who produces gourmet meals for breakfast and dinner. My fear of eating fish morning, noon and night was unfounded. Fish is only served one evening—the other nights includes every other meat available (beef, pork, chicken). If you have food sensitivities, the opportunity to do this is when the office sends a pre-arrival questionnaire. Dinner is a casual affair, jeans and the coziest top you want. The dining room consists of five round tables– nor more than 5 groups- or 30 in the session total. It’s large enough to have fun, while small enough to be intimate

The rooms

TRustic would fit the description, but it’s not much different than home rentals we have had in Austria, Germany or Switzerland. Think lots of pine wood, small bathroom, shower, sink in the bedroom, a well-loved bed (they are soft, not hard) and a great view of the lake. On my first trip, when I went in, I thought—really? Then I put it in perspective. This is a true lodge, not a 5-star resort, and any disappointment I initially had about the room left at the end of the first day, when I took a long, hot shower, ate an amazing dinner and fell asleep, nestled in the warm flannel sheets as the cool breeze came through the opened window.

The fishing- what to expect

Right after dinner, groups are led to the dock, where chest-high, one-piece yellow rubber waders, jacket and books are provided. You need to bring/wear your own gloves, hat etc., wearing your choice of jeans/pants, tops etc. I always bring my waterproof bag for my camera, but nothing else is required.

The boats leave the cove around 6:45 and then you are out on the water, the mist coming off the water, the Captain determining the location. A roll call of guests determines what will be fished—halibut, salmon, cod, you name it. The majority vote guests wins, but if certain fish are biting more in one area than another, plans change. Also, some types of fishing are more challenging than others. As an example, fishing halibut can test skills and patience, as the hook needs to be bounced along the bottom, then reeling up a 300-foot line can take some time and effort. I personally love halibut, because I’m like a goat. I’ll just keep going and going until I hook a fish. On the other hand, salmon fishing is fast and exciting—you throw the line in, get the hook (fish on!) is what you cry, and then it’s a race to bring in the fish. This can be a nice change of pace if the day is slow.

Throughout the day, you have flexibility to fish, relax, eat or warm up in the cabin, where the heater is blazing, offering comfort and relaxing when you need a break. On the ride back to the cove, the deck hand guts and cleans the fish, throwing the entails off the back. Overized eagles scream and dive for the innards, making for great photo shots.

Weather- the best times for fishing

We have gone every other year for six years running, starting the summer Rog got his snore guard! Why the two-year break? That’s how long it takes to eat all the fish we got.

We have had June, July and August. It was cold and rainy in late June/early July, and a good haul, which was 250 pounds of fish (pre-packaged). Mid-July offered two days of great weather, two days clouds, and almost 300 pounds of fish. August was incredible weather, but only about 230 pounds of fish. That’s because the week we arrived, the commercial fishing season started. Every other day, the larger vessels would chase our fleet when they saw the fish were jumping. Within an hour, four-to five boats would surround us and string their nets, forcing us out.

That said, we still came home with 230 pounds of fish for fishing 4 days. That incident proved that no “bad time” to go exists. The timing comes down to preference of weather (which is never guaranteed) and price.

Best deals

The July spots book fast, but cancellations occur. We are on a “call” list, which means we are alerted if a spot opens up, and you can be too. Call reception and ask to for your name to be added, but be prepared sometimes the notice is only a week or two out. You are always going to get the best deals through last-minute.

December is a good time to sign up because it’s slow, and of course, August slots and early June are often the least expensive, because it’s pre-season or commercial fishing.

Below are a few of my favorite photos from our trips.

Overcoming fear of the water: Scuba certification

I’ve always loved the water, as long as I was on top of it, as in, on a boat, a water ski or a jetski. But get me in anything other than a pool or a foot of water in a stream so clear I could see the sandy bottom and I’d start hyperventilating.
This revelation came as a surprise to my family, because I grew up swimming in a lake with a sandy shore and murky bottom, going to and from the dock (or walking when the water was low). Once on the dock, I’d wait until I felt like a lick of heat on the surface of the sun before I’d jump in. Far be it from me to avoid participation in the ‘night swim’ where’d we take the boat out at eleven pm, turn off all the lights and test our courage by jumping in the frigid water, all for the reward of enjoying a hot shower and hot chocolate afterward.

It was all a front. The water freaked me out. Yes, I know, this coming from the dare-devil she, but it’s true. As a child, I knew that the Loch Ness monster was fiction and I’d never seen a freshwater lake-dwelling shark. Still. Anything below two feet was the great unknown, and it freaked me out.  I’d close my eyes, swim as fast as humanly possible, spending as little time in the water as I could manage so no one was the wiser. When it came to water skiing, I wasn’t the dare devil without a cause. I’d just found the way to spend the least amount of time in the water. When it came my turn to ski, I’d jump off the end of the boat, my ski boot on and strapped tightly, I’d gather the rope up as quickly as possible, scream ‘hit it’ and start to relax the moment I rose out of the water. I didn’t want that ever-elusive man-eating trout to snap off my leg.

It was irrational, and I knew it at the time. Didn’t matter. I wasn’t about to let on that it scared me to go underwater. Then fate intervened.

The Accidental, Glorious Cure: Scuba training

“Please will you come???” My younger brother was fourteen, I was 17, and he was begging me to accompany him to scuba diving lessons. Dad had signed up but couldn’t make it and the class was…that night.

No, ocean, no way. Not in a lake. I couldn’t even handle looking at the mushy bottom. “Where’s it at?” I asked.

He scrunched his eyebrows and cocked his head. “A pool, of course.”

Oh. Two hours later, we were learning the basics of scuba diving. The course was an accelerated two week course, the first five lessons all in the classroom (sooo boring until I started to appreciate the value of gauges that regulated oxygen flow whilst underwater), and then the last five lessons in the pool. We started in the shallow end, and couldn’t go below more than a foot of water. That was so inconceivably boring for a 17 year old, but it served a purpose. The steps of checking out the gear, testing and retesting, then staring at a little bit of water made me want more. We graduated to moving around in our little circle, and then were finally allowed to go in the deep end. All six feet of it. A 20×30 pool is awfully small when that’s all you have to explore.

Yet here again, it served a purpose. My fear of the unknown dissipated as I gained confidence in my equipment, and the power and confidence that came with knowing I controlled my time underneath the water. By the time we went on our certification dive, out in the Sound as it is known, I was ready.

The dive itself would be considered awful by the scuba-purist. The Sound is a body of water that is very cold (we wore wetsuits but the smart divers wore dry suits), it was cloudy (visibility 10 feet) and not full of exotic life. Rather, it was rocks and a few shellfish, except for….

The wall of death. But before I get to that, I’ll say that the first dive removed any and all fear of the water I’d ever had. There we were, diving along at 20 feet, and I was so comfortable the instructor was worried. “Aren’t you breathing?” he asked, worry clear on his face.

“Of course I’m breathing,” I said in my 17 year old trying-to-be-nice sort of way.

He lifted up my gauges to make sure they worked. “This shows you are hardly breathing. Are you stressed? Having anxiety?”

It was then I tried my best to explain to him I felt like I was floating on air, flying underneath with a quiet world all around me. The murky, freezing grey didn’t bother me at all. I was completely and utterly free. Diving was the most wonderful sensation I’d ever experienced.

He nodded and put my gauge down. “You must be relaxed. I’ve never seen a diver with such low figures for a gauge before.” I took that as a compliment, a sign that I’d overcome my issues.

“Time to get you to the wall,” he said, his eyes glinting. I had no idea what he was talking about. He told us that a wall of rock had a sheer drop off down several hundred feet. It would be the “underwater equivalent of looking over a 50 story building, straight down, and then stepping off.” It sounded freaky, and I figured this was going to be my make or break, poop in my pants moment.

The reality was nearly what I expected. We swam along at 30 feet and then came to the edge. Sure enough, we peered over it and look down in to the Abyss. Unfortunately, I’d actually seen “The Abyss,” and those of you who have as well, understand the nature of a huge drop off like the one in the movie (over a mile of straight down). In any case, my heart caught in my throat and I thought I was going to get dizzy. Yet, he swam out over it (and didn’t fall or get sucked in to the great vortex), my brother didn’t hesitate and swam over, so I had to follow. Then….we started to swim down the wall. That too, was altogether like the Matrix, running down the Empire State Building.

Then it happened. We stopped, and the instructor pointed to a dark crevice within the surface of the wall.  I gave him a look like “over my dead body.” I could just image an eel taking a chunk of my hand. He saw my fear and inserted his own hand. Out came a tentacle. It cautiously wrapped it’s limb around my instructors hand, reaching, retracting then extending again. I definitely wanted to try that, so I did. It was the first time I’d ever touched a sea animal.

I was hooked.

I went on to dive all over the place, Australia, the Cook Islands, Oregon, California and Mexico. These aren’t places that the ‘real’ divers I know even bother to mention. They go cave diving, ship diving (all require different certifications), night diving etc. I’m still happy to get under the water. In fact, being underneath the surface is the most relaxing place for me.

It’s not often that someone will voice a fear of the water, and I know why. It’s embarrassing and, speaking for myself, I never wanted to admit to a fear I considered completely irrational. I’m glad I got the opportunity to dive, and for the few hundred dollars it is to learn, it’s definitely worth the price of picking a new hobby (and probably a lot cheaper than a therapist).