Mini-Europe Park in Belgium

Absolute cool for the whole family>> kids-grandparents

In my piece on the Antomium, I referenced the Mini-Europe Park and promised to delve into magical, miniature wonderland. The creators must have concluded that most humans can’t possibly visit every major landmark in the European countries, so they decided to build it for all to see. The path isn’t restrictive, which means you can go up and around to the country of your choice, as opposed to being required to go in one direction. Even as an adult, I seriously enjoyed this, because let’s face it, even with as much as I travel, there are places that I haven’t been—or may not ever get to see in person.

350 buildings from 80 countries are represented, so keep your phone handy, because you my look at a replica and wonder “Huh, why is this here?” After you realize the importance of the replica, take a pic and see how many friends you can fool back home. I got away with a three on Instagram before some of my Euro friends busted me!

Not just replicas

The park also has live action models, like trains, working mills, cable cars and an erupting Mount Vesuvius. When I think of a family friendly place to visit, this is it. As an adult, I loved learning the history of the building, listening to my girls tell what they knew (or didn’t) and sparing with Roger over the details (as us type-A’s are apt to do).

Best time to visit, prices and more

I’d definitely recommend the morning or a cloudy day. There’s little/no shade as you are walking around. If you’re a lightweight (like me) you may seriously wait for the afternoon/evening, or bring a water-spray bottle as we had. Fortunately, on the day we visited, it became overcast by the time we’d finished up at the Antomium, and at the Mini-Euro Park it sprinkled, which was a nice break from the heat of July.

Prices: you have lots of ticket options. The Park only, the Park+Antomium or Park+Planetarium or all three combined.

Don’t scrimp on buying the catalog. We still have ours from the trip and its dog-tagged on the corners where me made notes. It’s been a constant reference.

Lots of exhibits are active–such as the windmills. They turn, water moves, lights go on.

Best parks for Trailering

Today the topic was to be Bruges, Belgium, but I can’t do it. I have camping on my mind, and specifically, trailering. In America, “trailering” has been converted into a verb, and now is the time to book before all the good spots are gone. This is a short compilation of our top stops we go to time and again, and you need to book now because they are worth it. PS- if the spots below are booked on your dates, make sure you check around midnight because cancellations take effect when the clock turns over. We have skated in several days before thx to cancellations. In no particular order, our favorites are:

Cape Disappointment State Park, (south of Oceanside, Longview, Seaside) Washington

The reason it’s so named is because of all the shipwrecks that occurred off the coast. This unique location offers Yurts that can be rented (rounded, tent like structures but are permanent), beachside slots for all sizes of RV’s and the inner “suburbs” for more trailers which are walking distance to the coast. Like most state parks, it offers showers among the amenities, and lots and lots of biking trails. We go annually for clamming—a task so easy even our then-four-year-old could do it. Beware, the top temperature is high sixties unless you go in August, and the clamming isn’t so great at that time, but the weather is better. Less rain, more sun.

This is the site to make reservations for ALL Washington State public parks.

This is rush hour at Cape Disappointment. Strangely, some of the warmest days are in June
RimRock Lake Resort, Naches, Washington

Located on the opposite side of Washington (locally known as the Eastern side of Washington), this lake is large, rather remote while at the same time easily accessible. We have been going nine years in a row now, booking our spot at the RimRock Lake Resort a full year in advance. At this particular resort, the property has a pinnacle setting, wherein it’s located on two jutties. One has a 280-degree view of the lake, wherein trailers can be positioned all around the point. The resort also features a peninsula that only allows for a handful of trailers. You walk out of your trailer, and can jump off the rocks into the clear, cold lake below. We have rented three spots, one at the very end, and either one beside us for friends (or just for the privacy). The Resort has a small shop and tackle, and a restaurant but the hours are limited. We just usually drive down to Yakama, which is about 45 min east of the lake. Trails with soft dirt circumference the resort, leading down to a swimming area that’s naturally protected from the rest of the lake. The dock is a short swim, and thankfully, the bottom of the lake in this area is both rock and hard sand, not soft and gooey, which is a plus. The facilities include an indoor showering area which is known for the incredible water pressure and length of hot water (most showers are on a timer and go cold after a few minutes to force one out. Lastly, the Resort also has its own boat launch, and requirement for lakeside!

My friends served as models for these shots:) I chose both of these because they show how close the trailer is parked to the edge of the peninsula at RimRock Lake Resort. Walk out a few feet and jump off into the cold water. It’s glorious.

If RimRock isn’t available, a number of small, lake side resorts exist, some with cabins and other with the option for trailers, but I can’t recommend one in particular, as we’ve always stayed at RimRock Resort.

Lincoln Rock State Park, Wenatchee, Washington

If lakes or the ocean isn’t your thing, try a river. Our local favorite is the Columbia River, staying at the State Park. It’s always hot (think 90-100 degrees July-September), the river very cold and the park itself is laid out really well. For the premier spots, try for “the bluff.” This is limited to trailers and the massive diesel pushers. If you score a sport on the ride of the plateau the spots offer unobstructed views of the dam, river and valley below. You can take your dog for walks down the short hill, to the other areas of the park, which are segregated into tent-only areas, RV trailer areas and the like. For non-trailering folks, the loudest areas area always the tent-only locations. The reason should be obvious—they aren’t inside being boisterous, it’s right out there! The park has a boat launch and shore line where you can ride your jet ski up and park beachside.  

When your pitbull thinks she’s a lapdog, but conveniently keeps you warm as the campfire gets going.

If this Park is sold out, Wenatchee Confluence State Park is our second favorite. The downside is that the layout, which makes it seem far more crowded, and it’s not as easily accessible. This also has a marina and a rocky beach area but easy enough for jetskiiers to ride up to the short.

While many lakes have banned stand-ups, most of the State Parks have not, nor have the rivers. Hurray!
Mt. Rushmore KOA at Palmer Gulch Resort in South Dakota

This is the mother-of-all trailering parks, and the reason is fascinating—it’s the second oldest KOA in the country, and it’s located on the spot of a former golf course that went bust. From the glorious entrance and center (which is well-managed by through-lanes when you arrive), to the portioned areas.

As my husband says, “This is a camping Disneyland.” From the miniature golf course, outdoor theatre, three pools (at last count) horses back riding, rental bikes and an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast every morning for $4.00. One can even rent a guest house, which were a part of the golf course and were included in the sale. Some of the bigger homes are 5-6 bedrooms overlooking the entire valley. Quite lovely!

It’s right around the corner from Mt. Rushmore, no more than 15 minutes. We went mid-June, when the reservations were open (and we booked about this time, early May), and were pleasantly surprised to find the lines at Mt. Rushmore were non-existent. We went on a Friday morning, found front-row underground parking and had a great two hours. More on Mt. Rushmore in another blog, but for a visitor wanting the premier location to stay, this is it.

Medicine Lake, California

This region is prominently featured in Chambers: The Spirit Warrior, which is book two in the series. As I mention in the back of the book, it’s because I grew up spending every summer here as a child with my family. The lake is a long-dormant volcano, and the places visited by the characters are real: Glass Mountain, the undergound catacomb tunnels, which can be explored for miles, as well as Captain Jack National Monument.

Dozens of other wonderful destinations exist within the State Parks, to say nothing of private resorts, but time is short and I had to pick my favorites.

Tip: for booking on-line, each state has its own state park website. This is the one for the State of Washington. The reservations for booking is here.

Book away, and we might see you there!

Feature image: this was taken at Cape Disappointment. The ecology is so amazing- from the coastal waters to this almost rainforest-like area. the Yurts are located within these spooky woods–beautiful and sheltered from the blowing wind.

From renters to homeowners: transferring your bees

Once you have your new set of bees (either purchased on line, or better yet, from a local beekeeper), it’s time to transfer the renters from their temporary home to the permanent one. To see the entire 3.5 min video (condensing 30 min) click here.

Getting your money back: one reason to transfer

Why not leave them in the one provided by the bee keeper you ask? It might surprise you to know that most bee keepers put about $50 into their “temp bee homes,” and this is included in purchase price. So, if you don’t car about the money, it’s a non-issue, but most bee keepers want the hive back. So once transferred, you go back for your $50. Second to this is a consistent look and function. Specifically, Roger reduced the size of the front. This means the guardian bees have a smaller opening to protect from the wasps, who want to raid the hive for honey (a common issue).

Step one- don the right underclothing

I’m not into getting stung, so I wear a bee suit, and no, I don’t go commando. I wear my lightweight, Athleta gear, which is breathable, wicks, and above all, it’s made from 85% recyclable material. I could go on about doing my part for the environment, but I’d lose you at “the,” so I’ll leave it at this: I’m not going to work hard to live sustainably if I then turn around and don’t try my best to do the same with my clothes. The long sleeve, zip up top I’m wearing in high teal is this one. The pants aren’t sold on-line but you can go to your local Athleta store- the closest to me is Spokane, and your items can be ordered by phone, same price.

Step two-Zip the suit

You’d not believe how many friends (fellow bee-hivers) don’t zip all the way, missing that last, little spot on the back of your neck! Can you imagine how awful it would be to have a really pissed off bee inside your suit? It’s like that old Star Trek film where Sulu gets the worm put in his ear by Kahn. Gerrr—rose.

Step three- smoke the bees

The first year, I went smokeless. I rationalized that it would be akin to giving my bees drugs. (I was told that the bees go slightly dizzy and that just felt wrong). When the bees swarmed me, it was like a bad, B-movie, a thousand hunter bees all attacking my head. It was a good thing I’m not claustrophobic and had faith in my outfit because I was a little on the edge when this swarm attacked my face. Fortunately, I made it through 100% unscathed, but learned a lesson. There’s a reason bee keepers use smoke. This time around, I purchased a smoker, and inside, stuffed a bunch of needles and lit it up.

As you can see in the video, I had less than a dozen bees even approach me. They were preoccupied.In the year since, I learned that the bees actually think the hive is on fire, they “swarm” inside the hive, flapping their wings like mad, trying to put out the fire. This, scientists hypothesize, makes them slightly dizzy. Whatever the case, the bees were perhaps twenty-percent as crazy as last year. I only had a few land on me then buzz away. Contrast this with last year, when I literally had a probably a hundred landing on my face mask. It was downright spooky.

Step four-transferring the bees

Already in the permanent hive (set on two level, cement blocks) was a 2-gallon container full of equal parts water and sugar which I had made. This gives the bees the boost they need if the area doesn’t have enough sources of pollen. (most pre-assembled hives come with the plastic, 2-gallon container. All you need to do is make the mixture). When transferring the trays, the trick is to gently separate the trays and locate the queen. Ours came with a green dot on her back, placed by the originating bee keeper. Once you can see she’s alive and healthy, down the tray goes into the middle of the stack.

Step five- adding the pollen pack

This is another way to boost production. In our area, spring was a little late in coming this year, and our area doesn’t have a ton of sources of pollen. That’s one reason to get the bees in the first place! This pack goes on the top of the trays, then the two upper lids are replaced.

Bee back in 30 days to check the honey

Last year, we had a good amount of honey after a month. Because we started so late in the summer, we didn’t harvest it. Instead, we left it for the winter. When we checked it at the end of fall, we had approximately forty pounds. That was only from a single hive. This year, we are doubling down, so I’ll be back in thirty with a report on the yield.

If you never thought you could own bees, take heart. Neither did I, thereby once again justifying my motto: if I can do you, you can do it too!

Feature image: a top picture of 20K bees happily hovering in their new abode.

Luxury for less: finding the best accomodations

Call me crazy, but I love a good deal, and for those who know me, a good deal doesn’t equate to going on the cheap. When I say I got a good deal, that’s code for “I got the luxury I want without paying triple.” In other words, I want the Four Seasons experience without the overhead, both financial and mental. (Can you hear the glee in my voice as I type this?)

This article is the first of what will be an on-going, detailed account of our accommodations. I do realize that by exposing our secrets, they will be secrets no more, but that’s my gift to you, the reader, traveler and explorer. If more people know travel can be both luxurious and economical, they’d do it more!

Our criteria: location, cost and convenience

When we travel for two weeks, we find a “home base” from which we can drive to lots of destinations. This allows us to get a major cost break for staying more than five days. We have found one pays a lot more when the stays are minimum, such as 2-3 days. Anything over five days can usually be negotiated down quite dramatically. 7-10 days is optimum.

For instance, during a four-week vacation, we picked Belgium, and specifically, Tervuren, for eight days. From this location, we visited many destinations in Brussels, the Netherlands and France. Using VRBO, we found a 5-bedroom, four bath, two story home with an in-ground pool. It was road off Park Tervuren, also known as the Empress’s Park. That meant it was also a ten-minute walk from the quaint downtown. It had garage parking for two spaces, and all the facilities one expects in a lovely home.

Luxury on Lake Cuomo: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, private elevator and rooftop terrace. Every door opening to a private terrace

The price? $1,200 US. That’s right. All that for $150/night. A comparable location in Brussels central (twenty minutes away) first off, wasn’t even available. Homes don’t have pools, and aren’t for rent unless you are paying diplomat fees, which are about $10K/month, or $2,500 a week. Hotel rooms are about $400/night, and a family needs two. (Our family does anyway. Don’t know about you, but we believe in intimacy while on vaca).

To provide another example, in Vienna, we found a 2-story, 3-bedroom downtown apartment near the Palace. It was $1,400 for a week. In Prague, it was a 2-story, 3-bedroom modern apartment about three blocks from old town for $800. Both places were penthouses, with decks, by the way. Where did we find such deals? VRBO. Don’t worry, I’ll be posting more in-depth reviews with more pics on each in that country section.

Two-story penthouse in Prague, modern, private decks and triple security (inner/outer doors)
VRBO and Airbnb

Generally speaking, hate mail doesn’t resonate with my soul, but on this topic, I’m going there, no matter what comes. In our experience (underline, bold and with emphasis), VRBO is the only way to go for travel, for the following reasons, each one vital to the safety and security of our family.

  1. Vetting. VRBO seems to have a process for background checks/screening, credit/reputation, management of the property and overall, quality listings. Compare this to Airbnb, where anyone looking to sublet out a room, couch or whatever can just throw it up and list it. It’s sort of like buyer-be-ware.
  2. Quality. Along the lines of the above, you can rent chalets, mansions, apartments, flats and just about everything in between. The next time I want to entertain 40 of my best friends, I’ll snap up that lakeside mansion on Lake Cuomo for $10K for 2 weeks, but until then, I’m super happy I got the two-story, 3-bedroom penthouse with it’s private elevator on the waterfront of Bellagio (which sits on a peninsula Lake Cuomo) for $1,100 for eight days. The accommodations, whatever they may be, must be true to representation, or risk getting a bad review, which results in the owner (and associated location) being banned from VRBO. This accountability really is fantastic for us travelers.
  3. Management and payment. On VRBO, most of the locations have an on-line calendar for direct booking. Depending on the location, direct communication is required with the owner and/or manager of the site. A small deposit is usually required, but we have learned over the years that negotiation is always possible—e.g. small deposit, part cash when we arrive if all is in order, and then the remainder of the cash when we check out. This makes it a 1/3, 1/3, 1/3, reducing the risk of the site being awful and us getting stiffed.

    On that note, we have read horror stories about travelers paying half and showing up to find that the place doesn’t exist, the reviews were fake and someone took their money and ran. These were 100% Airbnb, never VRBO. Still, one can never take chances. If the owner/manager doesn’t get back promptly, the dates show up then disappear on the calendar, or other anomalies, they are red flags. Nothing is worth the risk of standing on foreign land without a place to stay
View off the deck of the 5th story penthouse on Lake Zurich. Most buildings are modern with natural treatment for roofs. Down the cobblestone lane (beside this building) is the waterfront. The apartment, waterfront and surrounding yoga studio and eateries are all featured in the Danielle Grant trilogy.
More on Parking

It’s not always possible to get a place with its own parking spot, so in those cases, we use a local garage. In Vienna and Prague both, the $10 daily fee (for a week rate) was nominal. Day rates can be higher, but we never paid more than $20/day. If your location doesn’t offer parking, ask your contact about local parking availability so you come prepared.

Final notes on rentals

When locating a home base for our travels, we look for laundry facilities and air conditioning. For Americans, many are shocked to learn that the majority of non-hotel accommodations (and even quite a few hotels) around Europe lack air conditioning. One must look, double and triple check these things or else you will be in for a nasty surprise. It’s usually in the ‘details’ section of the listing, along with things not allowed—think dogs, and quite a few places don’t allow children. On that note, we’ve found that if we identify the ages of our children, and that they are girls, we’ve had pretty good luck. Sorry to say that discrimination against young boys does exist, and there’s not a darn thing you can do about it but look elsewhere.

Feature image: taken from the balcony of the penthouse villa in Lake Cuomo

Antomium: inside the world’s largest cell

A silver ball, shaped like an atom, so large that it takes several escalators to reach the center, in the middle of Brussels. Sounds like the mother-of-all tourists traps, doesn’t it? That’s what we thought, but our inner science-geeks fell for it anyway, and we are so glad we did. It was a one-of-a-kind hands-on experience for our girls who literally learned from the inside out.

Walking up to the Antomium
What’s the fuss about?

The Antomium is a single iron cell magnified 165 billion times. That alone will get your kids to pause a split second. Enjoy the silence, because then the questions are going to come so rapidly, you might as well leave the office Brussels info site up and running. Nine individual pods (or spheres) are connected through escalators and lifts. For the claustrophobe in you, each pod is the size of a large apartment. In fact, the Antomium has pods for sleepovers available to schools and private parties. That’s almost enough to make me want to move to Brussels. Can you imagine getting the invite for a kid’s 6th birthday party, up five stories looking over the entire valley?

What you will experience and see

In addition to the amazing views of the area from the pods, inside are fascinatingly detailed exhibitions on permanent display about the World Fair of 1958 wherein it was created, and then rotating exhibitions on other feats of man. Four of the pods are open to the public full-time, but only accessible via escalators, so those with limited mobility or in wheelchairs will be disappointed. Other than the pods reserved for students or sleepover areas, the rest of open and accessible.

View of Brussels from one of the pods, and the inside of a pod–which hovers above the ground–available for sleepovers! You just have to get there.
Best times to go

We lucked out, going in the dinner hour, between 4-6. It was still crowded, but the line wait was only about 20 minutes, and it was quite open inside, not jammed packed. Even on the website, which we looked at briefly before going, it identified the best times are between 12-2 p.m. and 4-6 p.m.

Location

The Antomium is located in the Heysel district of Brussels. It’s the last stop on the metro, line 6 (and you wonder why I incorporate the metro in my contemporary romance series set in Europe. The metro is the way to get around within a city. The tram line 7 is the other way to reach the Antomium, or of course, you can drive or take a cab. It’s a short walk, and you simply can’t miss it.

Since you are there, you must stop at the Mini-Europe Theme Park, which allows you to see all the major sites from around Europe in miniature. I’ll like the blog when it’s up.

We’ll get to the Mini-Europe Theme Park next
Prices

Reasonable. Kids under 6 are free, and from there it’s 8-12 Euros with discounts for seniors. A note to Americans, the Antomium includes a price for the “teen” category, as is the norm with most Euro parks. Travelers from Europe who come to the States are always in for a shock, unaccustomed to either kid or adult.

Pictures and trinkets

We never, ever purchase souvenirs because it goes against our basic philosophy of living in the present. If and when we do buy an item, it tends to be “useful,” which I put in quotes because that definition, in our family, is constantly up for debate (what’s useful for one person is a ridiculous spend to another). Still, when we were at the Antomium, we couldn’t threw rules out the proverbial window and purchased three sets of pictures—teeny tiny ones- 1×1 inches, and then a larger one with a silly mascot. We are quite thankful we did, because it’s one of the only pictures we have the girls together at that age. Additionally, we bit the bullet and purchased, not one or two, but three Antomium replicas. Two, 2×2 inch size for the girls and then a larger one for us which sits on our glass stand at home. It’s side beside a handful of other items representing our best times together. That pretty much says it all: this was an incredibly fun experience and family day (again, we combined that day with the Euro Park). Eve if you are by yourself or with a friend, make the time to drop by. It’s so unique and off the radar of major sites, you’ll be glad you did.

Can you spot the Antomium? Just in front of other items that will explained in another blog

Avoiding weight gain while traveling

Traveling is a great thing, but it does have its consequences, weight gain being first and most obvious. I’m like that person who is stuck on an all-you-can-eat inclusive cruise line, except there’s nary a boat or ocean in sight. The world is my culinary oyster and I want the all-in, shooter version. No messing around with me and my food.

Straight up, I’ll confess my desire to maintain my weight while traveling is all rooted in vanity and money. First, I want to wear what I’ve brought on the trip, which is hard to do if my thighs increase like Christmas sausage being stuffed in casings. Second, I want to spend my hard earned (or saved) money on frivolous things, like purses that are meant to bulge, unlike my bathing suit. So, from my shameless-yet-helpful self to you, here’s how I keep my weight within 5 pounds of my starting point.

How I eat tiramisu…with two spoons…don’t come near me or I will spoon you!
Eat breakfast, every day, without fail

I’ll confess. After high school, I stopped eating breakfast. It wasn’t until the weight started to pile on did I look back in wonder at those glory-days and connected the dots. Mom would rise early, make oatmeal, eggs or some variation thereof. I’d be stuffed until lunch, and even then, not that hungry. In my late twenties, I worked out in the same Oakland Gym as a Mr. Olympian runner-up, who trained folks from all walks of life. I couldn’t afford him, so I did what any smart girl does, I chatted him up. He put it this way:

“I’d be out of business if everyone did one thing without fail: eat breakfast. Eggs and oatmeal.” The other thing he said is: “Eat every two hours to keep your metabolism cranking.”

2 eggs (anyway you like), whole, not just whites (“Only hard core body builders who don’t want a lick of skin skip the yolks,” continued Mr. Runner Up. “It’s just not healthy.”

1 cup steel cut oatmeal. I add a dollop of butter and either honey or natural (grainy) brown sugar and a little milk (or whipping cream. Real women use cream).

On the egg

The yellow is the fatty part, which actually keeps you full. My doctor repeatedly says: “God, or nature, whichever you prefer, created the perfect food in the egg. Why would anyone want to strip away one part?” I never knew bodybuilders and doctors had so much in common, but I digress.

As for the oatmeal, the steel cut oats are coarser and I’m a texture girl, so this works for me. Also, I completely fail at any food plan when I strip away the good stuff in life such as milk, butter etc. So I use the age-old “moderation-in-all-things” approach to life. I am full, satisfied and don’t have a bit of craving.

I was actually pleased to read that Patrick Vellner, the “second fittest person on Earth,” has eggs and oatmeal as well for breakfast. Read more about his diet here. It’s not just us lowly Authors and Olympians!

Steel cut oats in the U.S. but variations of this exist everywhere overeas
No fail lunch routine

Is lunch the biggest meal of the day, or a pitstop on the way to the finish-line called dinner? I’ve vacillated back and forth on this philosophical quandary until my brain hurts. The reality for my family and traveling is this: we are seriously starved between 12-2 p.m., and invariably end up eating a really late, robust lunch. Then we have the afternoon activities.

The golden rule: Salad with protein, eating off the plates of others

I love starting a fuss, so let’s get right into it, shall we? Mom raised me right: “Do not lower yourself to eating off the plates of others.” Yeah, I abided by that until I had kids. My two girls are eating demons, because they devour everything in site and look for more, usually going for what’s left on my plate (because every well-mannered female eats and chews, to slow down the actual consumption size, thereby eating less, and losing weight, right? I think that’s right out of a 1960’s Miss Manners. Oops. I’ve digressed again.

The consequence of spawning two voracious rats is that they always order off the adult menu. That means three adult meals, giving me the opportunity to have my salad of choice and take a couple of bits of three other dishes (hence eating off plates). The financial hawk in me loves the $20 I’ve just saved as well, and the others barely notice my fork dipping into their food as their culinary fever takes hold.

Dinner

This is sort of the forgotten meal when we travel because my body chemistry is unlike my husband or girls. Whereas they sleep better on a full stomach, I’m the inverse. I sleep terribly after a heavy dinner. Sugar throws me to the ceiling, bread just makes me bloaty (so attractive the next day) and water…well, let’s just say I like to sleep through the night.

What do I do? If we go out for dinner or make something, I stick to whole foods, but I’m not militant about raw or cooked. A raw food, for those who have no clue what that means, is simply defined as a food product in its essence, without being changed around by the cooking process. All fruits and vegetables, streamed, broiled, baked cooked or raw, all count. My husband will look at me and say “I feel so bad for you,” to which I retort “why? I have an entire world of food to choose from and be happy.”

The details…what to eat and avoid

My doctor has always said this: “Red is worst, white is better, fish is best and pure vegetarian is perfection.” Well, clearly, God knew that I wasn’t gonna reach perfection in any form, so I tend to bop between the three. Still, here are few things I’ve learned.

Meat and headaches

Now, far be it from me to gross you out, but I subscribe to the idea that knowledge is power, and when it comes to my body, and specifically, why I was getting headaches I had to get knowledgeable. I realized that I was getting migraines about 15 minutes after eating. Through the process of elimination, I realized the culprit was meat. Yet the type and severity was inconsistent. Through more trial and error (and lots of journaling) I sorted through meat types (red, white, fish etc) and organic vs farm raised vs fresh for all the above.

Eating boar…as in the pig…in Lichtenstein….no headache issues there!

Guess what? Any meat, regardless of color, with fins or legs, that was inorganic, was triggering migraines. It was then that I learned about the US processing requirements and usage of…get ready for it, chlorine washes for chicken, ammonia for meat processing, carbon monoxide to keep the color of the meat an even red (because really, would you want to eat a steak with uneven coloring?) were all contributing to the issue. Read more in this article from a reporter who covers the food processing industry, and this doesn’t even get into all the nitrates that are used in the US. More on nitrateshere.

U.S. versus Europe

When traveling (and living) in the U.S., I avoid eating meat at any restaurant because I hate to hurt. Contrast with Europe. Due to their wonderfully militant stance on anything mutated or chemically processed, I can pretty much eat any thing I want without so much as a twinkle of pain. It’s divine. But that doesn’t mean I won’t gain weight or spend a crazy amount of money on food. As such, I apply my lunch rules, with a slight modification. I will have protein on my salad, fish or any kind of meat that’s local.

Oh! and the chocolate. Don’t get me started. I can barely eat any chocolate made in the U.S., but I’m in heaven overseas because it lacks all the bad stuff that’s filling up our stores here. Translation: I can literally eat 2 huge chocolate bars of any kind–Swiss, Belgian, Czech- you name it- and a) I don’t get headaches and b) I don’t gain weight!!! I kid you not. It’s unreal.

What to avoid

Soups. Soups usually have a lot of salt. If you want your face and body thin the next day, avoid the soups unless the server can guarantee the chef isn’t using a salt-laden bullion base.

Breads. What’s the point of working out and crunching sit-ups if you look like a four-five month pregnant woman the next day (regardless of your gender)? The note here is the same with chocolate. I can eat breads galor in Europe without headaches or bloating, but not in the U.S.

Note: Breads turn into simple carbs, which means sugar. Often, a woman will get a UTI on a trip and wail “but I haven’t been eating lots of sugar.” When I ask about break, she’d admit that yes, lots of breads, pastries and the like. Think of that as poison to the system, and running to the bathroom in pain is not what anyone wants or needs on a trip.

Tip: If you do get a bladder infection and don’t have access to a natural remedy, prescription or doctor, do two things. Drop the sugar in all forms immediately (breads, alcohol and deserts). Get a couple of lemons and use half, or a whole, in 8 oz of water. Drink as much as you can…16 oz, 32 oz with as much lemon as you have or can stand. It will push the evil out of urinary tract and out of your system. This simple, home remedy has saved my little self on many occasions.

Overload of dairy. Puffy face and bloaty belly. Two things that should not be in the same sentence, or on your body. I read a piece on the actress Eva Longoria a year before she actually was pregnant, the magazine proclaiming her bulging belly was the result of becoming pregnant by her new husband. She laughed and said “No! I just ate a lot of cheese the night before.” You and I may not be globally famous, but that doesn’t mean we want to be bloated in all the wrong places.

Absolute Must do: Flush that body

Drink water. Lots and lots of water. This doesn’t mean you risk your sodium levels collapsing, but you seriously need to have a gallon a day. It will wash out and wash away a lot of culinary evils. Plus, if you are downing lots of sugar, either by sodas, alcohol or desert, it will lower the risk of you getting a bladder infection, which is most often triggered by too much sugar in the system.

The mother-of-all aids: Sleep

How many times do we need to read that 8 hours of sleep is critical for metabolism and weight loss or maintenance? The only thing I will add is that in my experience, it’s not only the length of sleep. When I got to bed is at least as critical is the length of sleep. For example, when I sleep from midnight to 8 a.m. I’m groggy and feel terrible. When I get to bed 10 p.m. or early, I wake up and feel energic, happy and full of life. For most of the week, 6 our of 7 days, that’s what I do. Yeah, I might have a late Saturday night here and there, but I value productivity and joy; without getting to bed at a good time, I’m not either of those, which makes for a less than happy homelife. It’s exacerbated when traveling.

Note on the cover photo: that was shot at a convenience store in Prague, Czech Republic. Entire rows of chocolate….bliss.

Tervuren, Belgium

Africa, an Empress and a Park

Brussels is known as a political hot center, home to 19 police forces, each using a different language, a great botanical garden and shopping downtown, but what’s not publicized across the Atlantic is the municipality of Tervuren, located in the Flemish Brabant province of Belgium. It’s a shame too, because history, aristocracy and nature–along with inexpensive accommodations–make this town a must-see in our travel itinerary.

Tervuren: What and where

But don’t let that little factoid scare you off. It’s perfect for travelers who want the proximity of the nearby cities in the summer, (a category in which we belong). The town butts against the Tervuren Park, also known as the Empress’s Park, a multi-kilometer destination so big it’s easy to get lost. Yet, it’s so safe, we feel like it’s Idaho. People walking the streets at night, taking strolls on the neighborhood and of course, crossing in to the Park that stretches for miles.

Another park? Really?

If it was “just a park,” I wouldn’t bother writing about it. But this is something to behold. Sun-lit gravel paths stretching for miles are separated by long, rectangular waterways, home to multiple varieties of waterfowl. On the other side of the water, the trails are paved, drawing bikers who race along the paths at a training clip. Shooting off these manicured lanes are dirt trails through the woods. It’s downright “shire-like,’ because only in the Hobbit movies have I seen trees to high and dense in a forest. It’s actually rather spooky, and one of my girls (6 at the time) asked if an Orc was going to come out. “No, Robin Hood lives here,” was my reply, thinking the analogy a little happier than a blood-thirty human-killing fictional character. The downtown of Tervuren lines one side of the park, allowing for waterside dining, strolls down the paths and a little (not much) local shopping.

The Empress’s Palace in Tervuren

As we were making our way in and around the park over a period of our ten day stay, we frequently walked by the Empress’s Palace. The story itself (Emperor builds massive structure for favorite daughter) and size of the park just makes any parent say: wow. Daddy really loved that girl.

Africa in Belgium

Indeed. The massive Royal Museum for Central Africa, simply known as the Africa Museum, is located right in the park. In the 1800’s, the museum was opened by a King Leopold II, who had conducted on a years long effort for colonization. What originally focused on the Congo gradually expanded over the decades (yes, this is a dramatic simplification. Read more here), the museum and research functions of the museum attracted scientists and researchers, contributing to the initial prosperity of the region. 

Note: It was closed for a 5 year renovation and reopened in 2018, so you are good to go. Where to stay? I address that in a separate blog on our accommodations. Think two-story, five bedroom house, pool, ten days, $1,000. Yep. Love Tervuren.

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).

Best of Seattle-Snoqualmie Falls walking tour

If you are taking a trip to Seattle, budget in 2 hours to drive east and see Snoqualmie Falls. It is heralded as the most majestic & largest drop in North America, second only to Niagara Falls. It’s free, it’s easy, and it’s gorgeous. For travelers, the site has another feature–a 4-star rated hotel that sits on the edge of the cliff. The yoga room actually overhangs over the river leading up to the fall, and the spa is a Japanese/northwest theme. This small-ish resort is sought after for weddings and other special events.

So, since I’m a big believe pictures are better than words on this type of blog, I’ll give you the details.

Parking: Free. lot up top by the lodge (unless you valet) and a bridge connects to the falls. You can also park in a lower parking lot if you want to swim in the river. I highly recommend this if you have food or anything else you need to bring in.

Trail quality: superior. crushed gravel and wide. Some steep areas, but kids of most ages can make it up and down no problem.

Time: about 15 minutes down with children, about 20-25 minutes up depending on your level of fitness.

Travel time: about 30 minutes (no traffic) from Seattle -downtown about 40 min (no traffic).

Food: a small deli/ice cream and gift shop is also located on the site, so you have options if you don’t want to go into the lodge.

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A natural swimming area on the river- 5 min from parking

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the view to the west- downstream. perfect for swimming or fishing

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the lodge entrance

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the west face of the lodge–most of the rooms, restaurant and spa all look over the falls and the river

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the path is lined with signs of plants

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this area actual tubes used inside the concrete pipes that carry the water to the city

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the top of the falls, shot from below

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a view from the bottom of the falls

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the area offers a lot of grassy spots to take a rest

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the bridge connecting the upper parking lot- note- bikes aren’t allowed on the actual trail going down to the falls-

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the road from the lower parking lot to the water is paved

Ancestor’s in the vault: the making of a book

Last year, I’m in Ouray, Colorado, a place fondly known as the “little Switzerland of America,” due to it being in the center of high mountains, itself a teeny, 500 person town (give or take in the summer). The hills are riddled with closed down mine shafts, once upon a time producing streams of gold that eventually ran dry. On the other side of the hill adjacent to Rog’s parent’s (my in-laws) home sits Telluride, thirty minutes by car (right past Ralph Lauren’s 3,000 acre farm), but 12 min my truck if one takes the internal mountain road available to the miners.

An idea for a book struck me: what if all the records of the citizens of the United States were plunked right in the mountain caverns, and through some dastardly deeds of the government (who else), that information was used to hurt the population.

This novel is Incarnation, and the mines are mentioned in the book–you can even hike, or hitch a ride to see the caverns.vault pics

Another series of mountain caves exist in Utah,  the creators of the repository not the government, but the Mormon church. Furthermore, the data doesn’t include just citizens of the US, but of over 150 countries–and alas, no misdeeds or ill intent. It’s all available and free, provided on-line through Familysearch.org. (and yes, these caverns are so cool, they got a mention in the book as well).

You see, anyone who does research on family members, ancestors or also in my case, people I want to know more about for my books, ends up in ancestry.com which now has partnered with familysearch.org. When I came across this video on Youtube talking about Granite Mountain Vault, I was impressed, slightly awed and sort-of pissy that my idea was, oh, 30+ years out of date/taken.

Now, if you are wondering what this means to you- other than peace of mind, you can actually go, for free, to any one of the 4,000 family history centers built by the LDS (Mormon) church around the world. Some are stand-alone buildings, others are within a church building. The volunteers are all LDS geneology-trained-range in ages and are not allowed to preach to you about the faith. If you ask, you will be referred to a missionary, so you can go in, ask your questions and get started.

Granite Mt. Vault

Granite Mt Vault

The good news here (and I’m always in search of good news) is that if the world falls apart, trillions of records will be saved on microfiche, and I’ll always be able to find my ancestor’s records in a vault.

The traveling author


My readers know that the works I create are based on the people I meet, the experiences I’ve enjoyed and the places I’ve traveled. Therein lies the essence of the Traveling Author, for that’s what I am. Where some sit and write book after book, my lifestyle is one where I take a break, traveling to rejuvenate my mind, body and soul, absorbing all that I’ve encountered, then I return to my home and produce a novel.

From reading to reality

It’s always been fun for me, as a reader, to visit a place that’s been well described by an author. The first book in the Danielle Grant series, Made for Me, set in Switzerland, takes readers to Zurich, through the Alps, to St. Moritz and the world-famous gondola in book one. Book two, Destined for You, continues through Prague and Lake Cuomo. The last book, Meant to Be, includes the jazz clubs and famous eateries that you’ll want to be sure to visit when in Zurich and the surrounding areas. By complete contrast, the Lava Bed National Monument and Captain Jack’s stronghold is the setting for Chambers: The Spirit Warrior (book 2 of the series) which blends history and fiction, while Ouray/Telluride is the home for the Incarnation, a series revolving around DNA manipulation. I’m always wondering what I’m going to find on my next trip that will be delivered up to the masses when I turn it into a book? It lends itself to a completely new level of excitement for each new adventure.

This local jumps in front of me and shouts “You need this!”

Travel with Me

In the past, I’ve posted my journeys real time on Instagram and then a novel comes out. Going forward, I’ll publish a general itinerary on my refreshed web site, adding details as the date nears. Through Instagram, I will offer up cool details before, during and after. If a reader wants to/show up and have me sign a book, great! In Destinations, my upcoming five-week journey through 12 countries is published. You electronically Travel with Me as I search out new experiences for my next novels.

Refreshed site

In addition to the Destinations page, you will also find my Essentials for traveling. Also in this section are my top-of-mind issues, such as how to cope with migraines while traveling, note taking for novels or and other real-life subjects.

Feedback

Countmeinsarah@gmail.com is the best place to send messages, but I manage my own Instagram (sarahgerdes_author). If you have a suggestion for travel sites, locations, scenes and people for books or other inspirational comments, feel free to share either in email or for fastest response, Instagram.