This spectacular town and castle warrant a few different
pieces, starting with the gardens.
“What is Cesky Krumlov and why is it special?” I’d asked a man at the Karlstein Castle during our last visit. He asked if we’d been, I replied no, and he fervently told us that any plans we had for the Republic needed to be altered so we could take it in. He was so passionate, we followed his advice, but only had a few hours to see the castle and town before needing to leave for our next destination. For four years, we looked forward to the time we could return. That day came today.
The first level of the three-level gardens. Wide, pebble lanes with plenty of shaded areas.
Fortunately for us, we’d arrived around six p.m., the tour
buses were already gone, the grounds largely unoccupied. From our bed and
breakfast, the walk was less than ten minutes, the air cool and a little
sprinkle of rain, but not enough to justify coats.
Taking a right off the street and walking one hundred feet brought us to the moat, bridge and inspiring view of the multi-story (and multi-level walkway) that defines Cesky. Remembering our last visit, we chose a different path up (and my now long-suffering feet feeling the effects of castle steps). While it didn’t lessen the grade of the climb, our entrance was in the castle gardens area, not the courtyard.
Each level has openings to the main castle areas for easy in and out.
Size and simplicity
One word: wow. This is not the Palace in Brussels, where hundreds of thousand of flowers in perfect order exist. It’s quite the opposite. Cesky Gardens have multiple levels, several larger than football fields but modest in flowers, using color for accents. The focus is on perfectly trimmed hedges and plenty of walk room on several levels. The first is open in the center, with massive trees shading the perimeter. Grand stone steps lead to second level, this one with more flowers, as though the designer was saying: we were starting small, working our way up.
Level two has a bit more color and detail, although the length is the same, the width is much deeper.
View from the top/third level down to the second, giving you an idea of both size and also detailing of the flowers.
After this level is yet a third, and it’s twice as long is it is wide. Standing at the edge gives views of both gardens below, then turn around and it’s a maze! A one-person, wood platform exists for an observer to gave over the maze-hedge, presumably to locate the poor souls lost within.
As I went to load the photo of the maze, I couldn’t find one! I must have completely spaced it, and feel awful.
North and south are entrances, one to the fields beyond, the other to the main castle area. Next up, Cesky Castle proper.
When we were last in Cesky Krumlov, we had an amazing stay in a teeny, tiny room with a queen and twin beds near the castle. The host/owner was awesome, breakfast great and nearby river a bonus. The few downside of that particular pension, (as B & B’s are called in Europe), were lack of air conditioning, the requirement to drive to the castle and find parking. Even so, we wanted to stay there but it was full, so Rog ended up booking us at Pension Fialka.
It’s all about the location
I’m not sure it’s possible to have a better location than Pension Fialka. On a corner, Pension Fialka has full views of the Cesky Krumlov Castle from the view from the bedroom window. The street is busy during the day but dead quiet at night. Yet because Pension Fialka is set back from the road, we didn’t hear the white noise of the cars at all. Out the front gate, across the cross-walk and ten minutes later of walking in the shaded lane and you take a right and there you are.
The town of Cesky Krumlov, a ten minute walk from Pension Fialka, image taking from a bridge at the castle.
The B & B offers three units, one of which is made for families as it’s conjoined by a separate door. Two twin beds in one room with its own door, and our room which includes the bathroom. The downside is lack of a second bathroom or tub, but these are minor inconveniences. The beds were firm, pillows flat (and awful, sorry to say), but down-filled comforters compensated. A small sitting area by a flower-filled window basket and knitted throw were lovely touches.
More images are on line, but this shows the bedroom we stayed in. The girls stayed in the adjoining room with twin beds.
We’ve never stayed at a B & B with the diverse areas offered by Pension Fialka. The perimeter is gated, eliminating our fears of privacy and safety. A small swing and slide set is complimented by a more adult pastime of playing hockey. A net, pucks, sticks, slider board for practicing foot movements in your socks drew my husband’s attention to moment we arrived.
For kids and adults alike
A few steps away is a rock path where the owners of (name) created a graduated rockery overlooking the road and to the castle. At the very top of the path is a sitting area with an ever better view, privacy ensured by the curtain of trees.
Rockery with sitting areas below and above. What’s not pictured is the covered outdoor eating area with kitchen and traditional pizza oven. A nice touch.
A note on pricing
Four years ago, our three day, two-night cost for lodging was 350 Euro. For that, we had a single room with two bunks and a queen, a light breakfast included. This time around, Pension Fialka was 132 Euro, without a breakfast, but two bedrooms and the other amenities described. For what we paid and received, we were more than pleased.
What I liked most
Gracious rooms, gated home and parking, private terraces, small play area with hockey goal, rockery and covered outdoor eating, and the short walk to the castle. I’d stay here again in a heartbeat.
Private, gated parking, and the short walk to the castle. Safe and quiet road.
What I liked least
It would have been nice to have breakfast, but the home doesn’t accommodate food, nor does it offer a refrigerator.
Feature photo: taken from the opposing side of the street
As we hit the hills around Lake Como, the longer switch-backs now single-lane, curvy roads requiring a whole lot of skill to avoid either rock wall or another automobile. Now that we were officially out of the Alps, into Italy, I downloaded the photos of the Alps onto my computer and started fresh, as is my protocol, then started a new.
Shortly after crossing the border from Switzerland to Italy, this fixture on the horizon appears – and you know you’re in Italy!
The size and scope of the lake usually takes first-time visitors by surprise; Menaggio, Lugano and other inlet towns dotting the lake have their own unique vibe and attraction. We’ve gotten to know each more intimately during our travels, which changes if looking through the lens of having teen and pre-teen children in the group.
The waterfront road in Menaggio; wide, relaxed and the vibe easygoing.
Menaggio is the first town you will reach, its small waterfront area having a street or two of shops, as well as restaurants. One of the four ferries used for reaching Bellagio is in town, but be warned; the ferries only allow about eight cars, so you will be waiting an hour if you don’t get your place in line. My favorite aspect of Menaggio is taking the short walk (or drive) nearest the ferry because the waterside villas are massive, ornate and the grounds worth writing about. In my novel, A Convenient Date, Rick and Kaitlyn are in Switzerland for a business meeting, have a free day and he takes her to his childhood home in Lake Como. A few of these photos are the ones I used to inspire my descriptions. During that original trip, I neglected to take photos, but this time around, I did.
The villa directly across from the ferry in Menaggio
Lugano, further down the lake, is larger, the residents
spread in the hills and has a denser downtown area, yet because of that, it
loses a bit of the small town feel. On the upside, it has fabulous high-end
shopping at half the price of Bellagio, so unless you want to say you
specifically purchased your Hermes in Bellagio, do your pocketbook a favor and
purchase it in Lugano.
If you are a first-timer, check out Rick Steve’s commentary on which city to visit first, and how to get there from your starting point.
Notice the slight difference in road width from Menaggio vs Bellagio? The above is a typical road in Bellagio, and what my daughter is doing was what all pedestrians must do–hug the wall so as not to get clipped by a car.
The scenic route around the lake or the ferry?
Once we decided to explore the lake and drive around the southern tip in order to reach Bellagio. That was a hair-splitting four and a half journey we’ve not made since. The ferry ride for 4 in a car was 28 Euro and took ten minutes, which we learned on the return ride after we’d spent the day on the peninsula (which is how Bellagio is typically called).
Lake Como from the sky as we took the ferry ride to Bellagio.
Today, we were second in line for the ferry, allowing Rog to send the drone up and over to our intended destination, and me and the girls to chat up a wedding party of girls. Sometimes, ferry’s with short rides don’t allow auto passengers to get out. This one does, and we took advantage of no-rule rule to walk around.
This is a view of Menaggio from the air. We shot it while waiting for the fery, which you can see is docked about mid-way in the photo. the villa I used as inspiration is right behind it.
Parking and walking off the ferry all happens in the same area, providing you with options. To the right, can walk down the quarter-mile, two lane white gravel path to sit under the blossoming white and pink trees nearest the water or on the grass, the shade provided by massive beech trees. City architects have made this picture perfect, as the center islands area bunches of colorful flowers and half-circle walkway extensions over and into the lake allow for the perfect pictures of either Menaggio in the background or the Bellagio center. This ends at the entry point of the expansive Giardini di Villa Melzi, and if you want to reach the other side (where our flat was located/the market square for locals), its faster and flat. Otherwise, you are walking on the road, up and around, taking your life in your hands.
A large villa overlooking the town of Bellagio and the main square
Now that we’ve been a few times, Rog and I have a different perspective than the first time. Whereas we were overwhelmed with the quaint main center, steep paths leading through the narrow buildings, gelato and shops, we now realize something so obvious it’s a little embarrassing to admit. The “picture-taking-tourist-zone” consists of literally two roads, two steep paths and the waterfront path I just described. It’s basically a big U-turn you are going to walk. These are relatively crowded, everyone with a phone in hand, taking selfies, eating gelato and buying scarves.
The shops close at 7:30–this was taken about 8:30 p.m. The restaurants are still open, but gelato and all the other stores closed. It being July, the crowds were manageable. That won’t be the case in another month.
We watched (and then did it ourselves to revisit our first experience) tourists disembark from the ferry. Instead of turning right, you turn left of Via Lunga Lario Manzoni and begin your exploration of the inner Bellagio. If you are following a map, continue on Via Lunga Lario, and assuming you have the strength not to imbibe on pizza or gelato, take a right on Salita Serbolloni, and up you go until you reach Via Guiseppe Garibaldi. This is the only road paralleling Lunga Lario, and it’s a T. You can go right, but the shops end about fifty feet down. The only course is to turn left, enjoy the tiny wine, meat or cheese shops, pause and take a picture at the most crowded place on the peninsula (because looking down, the image offers both narrow street at the lake beyond). After that, you turn left down Salita Bento Conzi Di Cavour, the second steep steps and you are right back on Via Lunga.
Yet another villa on beautiful Lake Como.
From there, you head back on Piazza Giuseppe Manzini. This is the same road as Via Lunga; the reason for the name change is that shopping districts in Italy are have the name Piazza in the front as the designation to identify it’s about shopping. Awnings extend from the buildings which offers a welcome relief from the heat of the day. Tables are set closest to the street but still under the awnings, the pedestrians walking between the tables and heading into the shops. Yes, we’ve purchased leathers and watches in Bellagio, because some good deals and lovely items are to be had, but we know when to wait and when to purchase.
The narrow path in Bellagio less traveled. This is totally common outside the “U-turn” as I call it.
No, not really. Bellagio offers many more restaurants and shops, but the truth is that tourists are usually walking and don’t bother explore either.
With the two main hotels a hundred feet from the ferry, and waterfront restaurants, you can literally spend your entire time within about 5,000 square feet of the Hotel Excelsior’s front door and be completely satisfied with your trip to the famed Bellagio shops on Lake Como.
This building is adjacent from the marina above, one of the many hidden marinas not far from the glitzy Via Lunga, but taking a few side streets open up the gems of every day Bellagio.
Ever the contrarians, we went for the anti-Bellagio experience this time around. We rented a top floor flat in a Bellagio neighborhood full of locals about two hundred feet from the waterfront, about half a mile from Bellagio center. This required we walk through tunnels, up and over bridges, using the 700-year-old lanes so narrow I could touch the rock walls on either side when extending my arms.
Unless you want to pay 10 Euro to walk one-way through the Villa di Giardini di Villa Melzi, you will be walking on the road to Bellagio. This is about 1/4 of a mile from the center.
Butcher shops in a space no bigger than bedroom at home provided hand-cut prosciutto for our breakfast, a kitchenette size restaurant in an alley filled served diners on metal chairs and a table the size of my lap, all that was needed for two plates and lots of wine glasses. Laundry hung two and three floors above us, out of sight until we looked up, hearing the squawk of birds. Three babies in a nest were being fed by their mom, which made us wonder about the cleanliness of the clothes hung out to dry. It doesn’t get much more real than that.
One of the many inlets we found simply by wandering our neighborhood in Bellagio. The water was brisk but swimmable–the wind invariably picking up around 3 p.m.
Marinas and waterfront bathing
One of the appealing aspects of renting a unit like we did was the community “square” right down our street. We’ve found so many squares in Italy are based either right of front of, or nearby, a large church. This held true in Bellagio. Our first night was punctuated with the sounds of a big party. We unloaded then went exploring.
The community church near our flat where the party went down!
Sure enough, in front of the church was a basketball-size square, with community tables set up and a massive buffet-style offering. A band played regional music on a temporary platform, the tanging white lights straight out of a movie set. As the adults drank wine and engaged in lively discussions, teens lounged against the thick, stone perimeter of the marina below. It wasn’t exactly ideal for our girls, but was fun to take in and experience.
This lovely beach is free (as all the hidden ones are free vs for pay elsewhere in Italy), and has an eatery steps away. Another area found by walking around.
A bit more walking (about two minutes) and we discovered a connected area of sloping gravel and pavement which had a t-shaped dock attached. The following day, we returned to find the area sparsely populated, even though it was about 95 outside. Our girls jumped the dock, then followed the locals by hurling themselves off the high rock walls in to the lake.
More steps! A short cut connecting the waterfront, local road to the (only slightly) wider road used by cars above.
Later in the day, we continued our waterfront journey, discovering multiple inlets where the water from the mountains met the lake. These were usually alongside villas hidden behind dense shrubs, but we saw enough of the bamboo trees and glistening blue water to appreciate the property.
Our favorite places
In Bellagio, we’ve had gelato from every shop in the main area, and yes, we do have our favorite. It’s under the Hotel Excelsior right on Via Lunga. While it’s .50 Euro more than anywhere else in the main area, the store also offers a broader selection and bigger serving sizes. Right across from this store is a marina equivalent, owned by the same company. The portions are smaller, same price and not as firm (as in, almost runny gelato). I know this is getting in the visitor weeds, but some people pay attention to, and care, about the little things.
Our favorite eatery…
Our favorite eater isn’t one of the waterfront restaurants. It’s on the first and most popular path the tourists take, including ourselves years ago. We love it for the homemade soups, massive meat and cheese plates, bean soup, and pastas. Despite our intention to branch out and not go here, no matter what we do and where we eat, this is our version of the pilgrimage to mecca. We can’t come to Italy and not go to this little hole-in-the-wall restaurant.
Another local hangout- I shot videos of the girls jumping off the end of the rock pier. They figured if the locals could do it, they could too.
One of my favorite elements of traveling is meeting new people. This is Svetlana, who was in front of us at the gelato shop with her dog. She’s from St. Petersburg, Russia, staying in Bellagio for the summer with her boyfriend, an art dealer. She was adorable, and of course, had great skin which she covered under an enormous white hat.
My new friend Svetlana, a beautiful woman inside and out.
This other side of Lake Como
Leaving for Verona, we took the direct path, which in reality, means the single lane, lake-hugging road. And when I mean single lane, that’s not one lane both ways. It’s actually a single—one—lane. Cars going either direction share it as best they can at speeds one can only describe as uniquely Italian. Turn outs are rare, buses are common, and it was a torturous hour to reach the other side. Once there, however, the pace of traffic slowed, the buildings, while less pretty, more functional and crammed together along the waterfront, wasn’t a turn off. In fact, we thought this was the where “the real people,” of Italy lived and worked rather than on the well-known west side of Bellagio.
Important tip for parking
If you are going to drive a car and rent a place with parking, be sure to dig for details. While our flat had parking, what the owner didn’t identify is that the 800-yr. old, single lane road was barely wider than my arms spread apart (we checked this). The Fiats, Volkswagens and other mini cars could barely make it through, and at the end, the parking was in fact, plentiful. Probably is we are driving a touring wagon, and it’s as wide as a normal car. We ended up parking a quarter mile away at a park, but only after we dropped our luggage by the entry to this small lane, and hoofing it like college students on a weekend getaway down to our place. It was an unpleasant surprise, but in our lives, we’ve never encountered this before. Lesson learned; ask about the proximity of the parking to the unit, and width as well!
I just love this photo- the boat reminds me of a massive whales mouth that will absorb everything in its sight.
Feature photo: a view of Bellagio from the drone as we rode the ferry
Hohenschwangau, or Castle of the Swans, as the tour guide explained, is based in a simple fact that we’d never before heard: swans, as in a pair, male and female, dominate a single lake. Around this area of Fussen, many lakes exist, and for each lake, no matter the size, it has only a single pair, as they are very territorial. The entire valley is called “Valley of the Swans” for this reason. The knights wore embroidered patches on their arms as their insignia, and the rulers of Bavaria who inhabited this castle, have swans everywhere, from the solid silver chandelier hanging in the king’s private chambers, to the solid silver swans located on major artifacts and pieces. It’s all about the swans.
Hohenschwangau, pronounced, Hohen-shwong-gow, (say that a few times, because I did, until the tour guide stopped grimacing at my inabilities), is in the opposite direction of its sister castle, Nueschwanstein. Skipping over hundreds of years of details (sorry, I only have so much time), King Maximillian and his wife Marie of Prussia raised their two sons here. Prince Ludwig, who never married, decided to outdo this castle and built Nueschwanstein. We saw the room where he installed his telescope to watch the construction of the massive castle, which is much more imposing on the outside by far, but lacks the intricate details on the inside. He was single, he had nothing better to do than fight with his mom (tour guides off-the-cuff remarks, not mine), so why not build a castle 300,000 people from around the world would one day come see?
As you can see, the front entrance is far more familial and less imposing that the castle built by Maximillian’s son, Ludwig. The outdoor courtyard in the upper right, the view from the what’s essentially the deck to Nueschwanstein
Since I already detailed the roads, parking and walk to Nueschwanstein, I’ll skip that part and go right to the castle. Just below the castle itself is another lot available for parking, and the lake which is not actually open to swimmers, but as the tour guide said, people come (not hundreds, but dozens) and use the shoreline. No one will get fined or arrested, but it does worry the locals and tourists, because they are increasingly trying to lure the swans in and feed them. This year, the mating pair only had a single duckling, and a tourist from China was caught trying to kick it to take a selfie. Pictures were taken and she was escorted off premises. Word to the not-so-wise: don’t kick the swans.
The “back entrance” for servants, as their building is adjacent to this (not pictured)
If you are walking up from the ticket office, or down from Nueschwanstein, it’s only another 10 minutes up another pathway, this one much narrower but still paved. It’s shaded as well, and not a big deal. The first building you see is the chapel, which from the outside looks more like a hothouse. Then up to the main house, which consists of two buildings, one for the servants, storage, carriages and the like, and the other is the primary residence.
This castle is what I’d describe as a “family castle” where it was actually used like a home–or rather a nice, summer retreat. And since you don’t want to leave for church, just have your own on site.
For $28 Euro, two adults and two children receive audio-guided tours. You have an actual tour guide, which controls the flow of 20 people through the 35-minute session, ensuring you stay together, don’t take any pictures or items, although that would be hard, since everything is behind glass barriers. The rooms are cool, since each room has windows that have been left open; and the views are awe-inspiring. Built on the top of the mountain, the castle has 360-degree views of lake, mountains and valley. The Queen Marie (formerly of Prussia) had an entire floor to herself, including music, writing, waiting and bedrooms, each looking out to different parts of the territory. Just above her on the top floor is the King’s quarters. In his room, he had two secret doors with painted murals, one for the bathroom and the other for his stairs leading down to his wife’s bedroom. Love those sneaky doors.
The shield on the left was a wedding gift made of solid silver, each of the small square pieces represents the coat of arms of a wealthy family who contributed to its creation. Behind it is an ax and a sword (yes, you could touch it). To the right was a gift to Maximillian for his 80th birthday. The corners are bronze, the blue is lapiz and what you can’t see are detailed monograms made of diamonds.
The other area open for the tour is the main entryway, the reception and dining areas, as well as the what would be considered the main entertaining areas on either side of the dining hall. The unique factor of this castle is much that every wall has original, mural paintings on every wall, capturing and depicting the history of the people, the rulers and the culture significance of the area. Gold leaf is everything, it too is authentic and original. The Bavarian guides are people are rightly proud of the respect shown this castle, and its significance. We appreciated the piano made of walnut given to the Queen when she was fifteen by her parents (in her music room) and the contrast of the one made and used by the King upstairs in his bedroom (hers was nicer/more refined).
Swans everywhere! This time in the garden overlooking the lake beyond.
The town of Fussen
Below both castles is the town of Fussen, which offers a ton of hotels, but not in the traditional, American style. Most are rather hidden, are unassuming and all unique to this culture. You won’t find a single, big-name, brand hotel in the area, which is a good thing. In fact, the hotels are considered historical sites, and signs posted along the roadways show a “hotel tour” so tourists can go visit each and every one. After finished our visits, we were game, and thought, why not? After four, we stopped, but only because we were starving and needed to eat and drive the @2 hrs back home. The ones we saw were lovely (and no, I didn’t take pics. I only have so much time/blog space).
The town is lovely, quaint and also offers Fusseen Castle, but this is a completely different style. My camera battery died (shame on me) so I only got a couple of pics.
A singular pic before my camera croaked, but it the rest of it was much more majestic, although in no way comparable to either of the other two castles- this is much more basic, at least from the outside.
What I liked
The situation of the castle, the views from every window, its ornate and detailed characteristics, and the outdoors, which are incomparably nicer than Nueschwanstein. You can tell this was more of a family castle, because it has gardens, fountains, sitting areas and touches completely lacking at the grand Nueschwanstein. That’s what I’d call a man’s castle. In fact, this castle was simply deserted by comparison.
Fussen had a festival the weekend we went, which really meant more food for us!
Another day, another million calories consumed. What you don’t see is the actual “garden” in the back, past the people on the upper left. As with most beer gardens, it’s a tree-covered area where people drink beer. Rog is always incensed that sparkling water is $6 Euros a bottle, whereas a beer is about a single Euro. Porsche asked politely if he would rather she took up drinking to save him money. Snap.
What I disliked
Nothing. It was all good! The path up, the tour (size, length, tenor and information) were great. Of course, we all want to see more—which would have included the downstairs of the castle, and the other building, but life is life. Castle operations are a business, and with the volume of people and tours, I’ll have to reach another level in this life to get the private, see-it-all view.
Absolutely do this tour if you are a history buff. Like
Nueschwanstein, walking the grounds is free of charge, but the inside is not to
Today’s castle-going journey is being split in to two separate blogs because I have too many photos, and suspect WordPress will collapse on me, which happens when I push it, which means Castle Nueschwanstien in one and Hohenschwangau (Hohen is Castle) in another.
A clear shot from the paved road up, where you can walk, or have a horse-drawn carriage (like Cinderella, actually, but without the slippers).
The shout-out to my 79 mom is important because it was she
who gifted me a calendar of castles when I was twelve. On the cover was Schloss
(Castle) Nueschwanstien, which seared itself in my mind as the end-all-be-all
of castles, and places to visit. For years, I promised myself that when I “arrived”,
I’d go. Little did I know it would take me decades to arrive! In truth, it wasn’t
that I couldn’t have gone before. It was just a tad out of the way when I’d go
to Berlin, Hamburg or Hannover for business and later, with Rog and the girls, heading
to southern Germany never made the top five on our list. Today, we realized
that we were a lot closer than we realized, which made our visit that much more…how
shall I say, impactful (embarrassing would be another word). We shouldn’t have
Fun fact: this castle is conventionally known as “The Cinderella Castle,” because Walt Disney famously said he modeled the castle the animated movie on Nueschwanstien.
Cinderella lives, just like Elvis
We were north about 90 minutes, the drive was fast, per usual, the traffic nil, despite us learning it was the weekend of a fair in the nearest town of Fussen. As a side note, we later learned the family history of the three castles I mentioned, and it was sort of “I’m going to out-do-you” mentality, regardless of the fact the parties were related. That made it all the more interesting.
An incredibly beautiful journey to the region, the town just outside Fussen and a pic of the mountains as we head to our destination.
The closest major town is Munich, but it’s not too far from
Lichtenstein and Switzerland. On the Autobahn, time is always cut in half, so
that’s something to keep in mind.
Arrival and parking was a breeze. Straight off the freeway about five minutes, in town, parking nearest the castle is to the right, with a sign identifying it was full, so we turned left, took a ticket and parked, front row. Tip: make sure you have 7 Euro in coins with you because they don’t take credit cards for parking and this can’t be purchased on line (we didn’t know this).
Tickets and prices
A short walk of five minutes to the one and only ticket
counter, and another $28 Euro for two adults, as kids are free (at least 13 and
under). Because we arrived at 2, our choices were limited for tours; either the
Nueschwanstien or the Hohenschwangau Castle, but we couldn’t
do both. We asked the ticket agent for his insight, and he balked. My husband,
ever the man, leaned in, and asked, “if it were you, and it was your money,
what would you do?” At this, the agent glanced around and told us the skinny.
“Take the Hohenschwangau,” he answered in a low voice. “The Nueschwanstien tour has 60
people for a 20-minute tour, and it’s so crowded you will hate it. The Hohenschwangau
is limited to 20 people and a 35-minute tour, and it’s much better preserved.”
That was it. The translators are available in multiple languages, the most important being Mandarin from the number of visitors predominantly from China.
The view from the lot is top right and below, while the upper left is the building adjacent from the ticket office (which wasn’t nearly as pretty).
The journey up
Our time was in fact, very limited, because we were told the walk
up to the world-famous castle of my dreams, Nueschwanstien, would take
30 minutes, unless we were going to take the horse-drawn carriage. None of that
for us. Then we’d take some pictures around the external premises and inside
courtyards, because it is open and free to the public. Only the tours charge a
fee. We’d then have to go down, and walk back up the other hillside to Hohenschwangau.
Fortunately, the only sun on the way up is right at the base of the hill, the rest of the rather steep road is paved and in the shade. One shortcut on dirt stairs is available, and we watched an American couple and friend hand carry their stroller (with two kids) up the stairs—hundreds of feet. We were impressed.
By foot or carriage, the scenery is stunning
Sitting on the top step was a man drinking his bottle. He was in good spirits, inviting us to sit by him, but we thanked him and continued; stopping was not an option. I was going to reach that darn calendar destination!
Halfway up is a rest station, consisting of two restaurants and an ice cream station. Sweating profusely, we continued up, reaching the top in another 10 minutes. Once at the castle, you can turn left or right. Left will take you up and around an side of the castle that’s being restored; the west-facing side towards the valley and lake beyond. Then you read the massive entry doors, walk in (again, all of this is free). You can take pictures in the courtyard, or continue up another set of stairs which takes you to the “real” main square. This area reminds me of Robin Hood, where the King walks out on the deck to great the crowds, but without the king.
The first thing you see from the base of the castle.
Back down the stairs you go, and those taking the tour look to the electronic sign identifying the next group. Through the turnstiles you go. The rest of us walk down, then back around the other side of the castle. It does have an overhanging, metal grate with invisible decking for pictures to the east, overlooking the rushing river below. It was freaky and awesome at the same time, and I thought I was going to get crushed by the onslaught of foreigners with selfie sticks, all battling for the corner spot. And I thought us Americans were bad!
The main castle entrance
The “bottom” entry courtyard, which requires one to walk left, and up the stone stairway to the courtyard
The main courtyard on one side….
And turning around is this opposite facing…all the views are to the valley
What I liked most
The castle is all I imagined it to be and more. In both this castle and Hohenschwangau, the artifacts are original, not replicas. If you’ve not been to lots of castles (we’ve visited 15 or so thus far), it might surprise you to learn that most everything inside is a replica, because the value is high, as is the risk of damage or theft. It’s just fun seeing all the gifts from other royalty and such, knowing they are the real deal.
Coming down from the castle…
Nothing that can be changed. It was disappointing to hear from the staff that it’s overcrowded, the tours so big and fast—but even this I have to defend a bit. We learned more from the staff that tourists had taken too many liberties with the original items—from silverware to lamps, coats of arms, porcelain etc., and event destroying items on the wall. For that reason, about 90% of Nueschwanstien is closed off. What a bummer, but it proves the sad saying true: the actions of the few destroy it for the many. GRRR
Absolutely. It’s a feat of mankind for a person to have a vision for a castle perched on a hillside as well as the fortitude and engineers to design and construct the structure.
From Manchester, through Eton and Windsor Castle, eating with the locals and preparing for the Channel Train
We’d traveled down from Manchester, choosing Ashford as the
destination to spend the night, taking the channel train the following morning
at 6:55 am. Sometimes, the best laid plans go awry, and we’d not been in
Britain 24 hours when we learned that first hand, but I’ll get to that in a
Why Ashford? It was logical, pure and simple. We chose Manchester as the airport instead of Heathrow as a forcing function to see a bit of the countryside going down the country (think Leeds Castle, Windsor Castle in Slough) and the farmland. Because it has the EuroStar channel train, we planned to wake up, have breakfast at the B & B, drop off the car and walk to the terminal. On the return, it’s our intention to drive up the coast, wandering along the rocky shores, connecting with an author friend I met on Instagram and have now virtually known for four years.
Reality of driving from Manchester to Ashford
We had no clue about the traffic from Manchester all the way
down to London. Like the States, Britain chooses to use the summer months for
road construction. Instead of an easy four hours, it was more like a stop and
go six, slowing the pace of travel to 50 km per hour. It was torture for both rog
and myself, but cameras are everywhere, so we kept alongside the locals to be
So, we had pa-lenty of time to enjoy the cows, sheep and
other livestock dotting the lush, green countryside, my girls claiming they’ve
never smelled such a strong odor in their lives. Personally, I didn’t mind.
Nothing like being thrown back to memory of being on the Alberta farm where my
father grew up, in the youthful days of summer, when we thought digging in
cow-pies was fun and had no issue jumping in to the slow-moving, leach-ridden,
cow-trodden river that ran around the base of dad’s farmland.
Along with way, we stopped half a dozen times, each time
marveling at the rest-stops which are more akin to a nice park and a bit of San
Diego shopping mall experience rolled into one. I made and posted a short video
on Instagram with visuals, but think hardwood floors, curving leather and
modern couches, individual and group gathering areas under skylights have been
designed in the center of the building, with the shops on the outer rim.
As time grew short, we were in jeopardy of missing our check in time, making us take a rain check on Leeds Castle, but did do a swing by in Eton and the Slough area, which conjured images of my last visit. I spent a few days in the area, and in my free time, went for what I thought would be an easy run to Windsor Castle and back. I became woefully lost, ending up back at home in the near dark, but the next time, was determined to do better. Once again, I got myself lost. The saving grace was it ensured I saw (and re-saw) the old town, castle and backroad streets, searing the map in my mind, which helped us out.
The charm of Ashford, all off High Street (and within two blocks of the B & B)
Back on the road, we hustled to Ashford, making it by eight p.m. Rog had selected a bed and breakfast two blocks from old town. The older neighborhood is quaint and traditional, red brick stand-alone homes with attached. While Rog took care of some business, me and girls grabbed the camera and wandered about the neighborhood. During an hour’s walk, we encountered two cats and a one man, standing on his front doorstep smoking.
First time Bed & Breakfast: Hayesbank B & B
The Haysebank Bed & Breakfast is on the corner the tree lined street heading in to town, the red brick, three story building with attached cottage offering 11 bedrooms. Gabriel, the proprietor, is German, a lovely man who helped Rog guide his car in the small, parking area behind the restored home. The rooms are quaint but tidy, the mattresses perfect and like most European rooms, lack sheets. Just a bottom sheet and a comforter. First-timers to Europe are usually quite distressed by this detail, but I don’t even think of it anymore. (Rog tells me to include these finer points in my blogs in the hopes they increase the actual usefulness of the piece. What are husbands for if not continual improvement?)
L to R: Haysebank B & B, which is on the corner of this street (upper right) and bottom is the neighborhood. Lovely, quaint, quiet, safe, and just two blocks from town.
For dinner, we walked about two blocks west, across a street
and under a portico we emerged to see Old Town, instantly transported to the 17th
century. The girls remarked the buildings looked original, and most certainly
the streets and narrow passages were intact and unchanged from the forefather’s
(As I’m typing this piece as we ride the Eurostar through France, on the way to Brussels, thinking I should be looking outside—so I stop, and we are going by so stinking fast, I wouldn’t be able to take a picture if I wanted to. Oh well!)
The question of food
We searched for “authentic English” food, and you know what? Other than pubs, which aren’t the places to take our girls, instead, we found were Arab, Indian, Chinese and Mediterranean cuisine. It was a culinary melting pot, exactly what Britain has become and is. After twenty minutes of wandering, we gave up, going back to the Mediterranean, which was mix of Greek with a splash of middle eastern.
This is High Street, in Old Town, Ashford, Kent. About half-way down is The Fountain Kabob.
We were expecting Switzerland prices and serving sizes, but it was more like the outrageous portions of the Cheesecake Factory for under thirty dollars. I couldn’t eat half my meal, nor could the girls, and even Rog was hard pressed to finish his lamb and pita. The three gentleman at the Fountain Kabob on High Street, a hole in the wall eatery on the main old town street (and only establishment with a neon sign) were lovely.
Happy and full, we wandered up and down High Street, then branching off on either direction, ending up at St. Mary’s Church. It was closed to visitors but the grounds were open, and we did a full circle of the 17th century house of worship. The grounds are small but well-kept, the wrought iron fencing original.
St. Mary’s Church: straight out of a Pride & Prejudice novel
A neighborhood rap party
In bed by around ten thirty (well, they were, I was up until
midnight), the breeze picked up, which was an answer to prayers, because it
became very muggy around seven. The downside was someone, somewhere, in one of
the local homes or flats, started blasting the UK version of Wiz Khalifa, LOUD.
Now, I’m good with some wanna-be Wiz, but not at 1 a.m. on a school night. Ears
ringing, windows rattling, the punctuated swear words like a rock hitting the
wall, increasing in strength that it finally woke up Rog and Porsche, who can
usually sleep through the zombie apocalypse. He mumbles for a bit, after at 2
a.m. rises and gives me warning: It’s coming.
Standing at the window, he shouts: “Are you kidding me? Can
you turn it down please? We are trying to sleep!” Imagine Rog, yelling at the
top of his lungs, waking the entire neighborhood as he seeks to quiet the
music. Porsche jolts up right in bed, I hold my breath, wondering if we are
going to have a incident far larger than the music itself, but the music turns shuts
off immediately. The street goes dead silent. At that point, Porsche starts to
mutter that on the scale of extreme, “Dad is a twelve,” she says. I start
giggling, because I thought Rog sounded like a madman. The people upstairs,
who’d been creaking around all night, also cease all movement. In fact, it
seemed as though even the air was afraid to move because Rog might go postal.
Porsche continued wisecracking, which kept me laughing and we were up another hour. Hence, last night, I actually fell asleep at 3 a.m. and was up a bit before five.
Ashford Train station and final tips
The drop off area for rental cars at the Ashford Eurostar
station is under construction, requiring a seriously out of the way drop off.
Avis’ directions were worthless, and we spent over an hour going back and forth
on a do-loop before it became clear we were going to miss the train through
France to Belgium then on to Germany. That was $700 Euro I was not about to
throw down the toilet.
“We are leaving the car in the lot,” I mandated, dropping the keys to security at the terminal and calling Avis. I hypothesized the price we may pay was far less than screwing up our entire itinerary. The great news is this: the attendant outside the Avis station (which was closed) willingly took the car keys, then the Eurostar manager (an equally pleasant gal) accepted our tickets, learned of our plight and sent a note to management, and in five minutes we were going through French customs just in time to be led to platform 4 for boarding. The girls thought it downright Harry Potter, the only difference being the bullet-like train speeding forth minutes after we made it to the platform.
The march from the international train to the massive, city-like structure within Aachen, Germany. Marble walls, clean floors, quiet and sooth running, like most German things.
Another tip (while I’m thinking about it). We saved the money for the Ashford to Brussels leg of the trip, purchasing economy. It’s open seating (not assigned) and we lucked out with the girls getting two seats together. Me and Rog are spread out, but his mate is working and mine is sleeping, most of the occupants (as I surreptitiously glance around) are professionals heading to the city, and a few mid-twenties men clearly way too spry for this time of the morning. Quiet and comfortable, even economy is a great experience, no food or wi-fi, but plug-ins galore. The next leg is business class, assigned seating with tables and I’m hoping for a few photo opps.
Am I working at all??
For five of the nine-hour flight from Seattle to Manchester, I wrote the framework for two new books. I felt like a prisoner released on parole, because three months ago, Rog mandated I not start outlining or work on a new book, but focus on the family and travel blogs. Needless to say, the dam burst forth, but I’m telling you what. Like an explosion of water, what erupted from my mind was messy! After being out of it for that long, it felt as though my desire was cruising along in fifth but my car was struggling between first and second. It may turn out what I wrote ends up in the garbage, and that’s ok. At least I was able to get back to it, and it felt good.
Feature Image: off High Street in Ashford, an original building now housing an Indian food restaurant. A completely modern day representation of old and new worlds unified.
Tulum, Coba and Chitzen Itza are three different spots with famous ruins of the Mayan Culture. Having been to all three, I’m using this blog to point out the differences between the areas, with a specific focus on ease of the journey, what you can expect to see, and if the experience will be worth your time, particularly if you have a family. Because you have the jungle (Chitzen Itza) and the beach (Tulum) with Coba right in the middle, you have variety!
Chitzen Itza is approximately three hours outside Cancun, a mostly straight drive which allows you to speed right along. The best time to go is either before the buses head out of town (roughly nine-am) or in the early afternoon, which guarantees you’ll miss the crowds. It’s uber hot and muggy in the jungle of Chitzen Itza, with zero breeze. The area is expansive with incredible structures and lots of history, but after an hour, my girls were ready to go. The colosseum-size area where gladiators fought to the death (and if you remained alive but lost, you were beheaded anyway), weren’t enough to keep their attention. Most importantly, four years ago, the government closed off the pyramids; no longer is one allowed to climb the famous structures. The first year, we’d scheduled the trip to see Rio Secreto and climb the pyramids, but only got one out of the two done. Still, the history and area is a must-see if you are in the Cancun area.
Taken at three different locations around the city: the upper left is in the marketplace, the columns are a part of the 1,000 that were created, and the bottom visual represent enemies that were killed by the Mayans.
Since the government restricted climbing the pyramids, this is the next best thing. A view showing the incredibly steep climb.
Coba is the last pyramid in the Yucatan visitors can climb. It’s about two hours outside Cancun, offers great parking, and perhaps because it’s much smaller in terms of actual area covered, it’s about a 10th as crowded. We arrived late in the day, around 2 p.m., not realizing the entrance closed at 4 p.m. We paid the modest amount (about $7 US) and walked he 1.5 miles through the forest to the pyramid. Note that I call it a forest vs a jungle of Chitzen Itza. That’s because the jungle is hot, moist and dense, whereas in the area of Coba, the trees are sparse, the wood and type totally different and the air less humid. I pretty much suffered from heat stroke in Chitzen Itza, because I hadn’t eaten what I should have, nor did I drink as much water. At Coba, it was like being in Idaho, dry and arid. If you don’t want to walk, you can either rent a bike, or be transported (by bike) to the pyramid. The climb is a @400 steps up, and the view can’t be beat. It’s incredibly steep, with a rope to aid climbers—but the climb up isn’t that hard. It’s the way down that’s spooky. Be prepared—some of the steps are worn and slippery.
The drive to Coba was our favorite of the three. Long stretches of pavement with interesting sites along the way.
Yep, it’s as steep as it looks. You can tell the difference in building styles and structure from Chitzen Itza.
Situated on the gold coast, the ruins of Tulum appear on about every photographer or traveler’s web site, so we were uber excited to go. Well….I just want to say this: the buildings are short and modest if you compare it to Chitzen Itza. That’s not to say the history isn’t fascinating, which it is, or that the architecture isn’t worthwhile! But for children 9 and 13, after seeing CI and Coba, Tulum was a total and complete let down (for them). As an adult, I found the historical tour fascinating, marveling at the engineering prowess of the Mayan’s, their ability to identify time, the setting and rising sun, building their structures to capture the exact time and place of both for specific rituals. All this was lost on our girls. However, the private beach which is open to the public did get their attention, so note to the visitors. You can swim in the area, but the park doesn’t offer showers or changing facilities, so if you go in the water, you’ll be sticky on the way back.
About the only picture I salvaged from Tulum!
Out of the three, what do I recommend to you, the person who may have only one day to travel?
Well, I must say you have to do all three, but the order is fully dependent on your personal preference. If you want to climb the only pyramid in North America which is available (outside Belize, which was seven hours away from Cancun, and that was just too far), then you MUST to Coba. Here’s the good news: it will take you less than four hours to drive, climb and leave, and there’s really nothing else for you to see down there. With that in mind, you can hit Tulum on the way back, and then you have hit both in one shot!
If Chitzen Itza is on your bucket list, then by all means, go the other direction. Sadly, my entire folder of shots got wiped out due to my lack of backup skills, so I can only offer a few I’d sent to my Instagram account.
From the edge of the top, looking down. Definitely think twice if you are afraid of heights. We observed grown men having serious issues going down.
Safety and security
We’ve found that most of the tourists we run into are afraid to drive a car or get on a bus to most of these locations. I’ll admit my personal utility for hopping a bus is low—it extends the drive time immensely! But if you have a rental car, which we always get, we’ve never felt unsafe driving in and around Cancun. Local patrols are everywhere in the city, and once outside the limits, it’s mostly farmland, cattle, cenotes and little towns.
Feature image: taken with the wide angle iPhone from the top of Coba
When we arrived in Zurich, the drive across the bridge, then shoreline conjured visions of romance. How could it not? Glimpsing a couple walking under the trees lining the lake, I rolled down the window, feeling the breeze, watching the sailboarders zip by, wondering…what would it be like to live here, work at a high powered job, go to clubs and find love? ahh….that was the beginning of the Danielle Grant series, the last book which just released.
This was the first picture I snapped driving in to Zurich, going across the bridge to the (west) side of the lake where our place was located. Looks like just about every other lakefront strolling area….until you see the magnificent buildings on the left.
One of the elements I love about Zurich is modern convenience with trolleys and cobblestones, the metro quietly zipping through town, yogi’s on bikes navigating between Lambo’s and Ferrari’s. I also loved (and hated) the narrow paths leading up the very steep hillsides. Great for my calves but oh….hard on my fanny. Because they made (and left) such an impression, I use them to my advantage in each book of the series…up and down in the sun and snow.
The narrowed paths between the buildings in Zurich–the coolest little bars and hard to find delis were hidden in these alleys/paths.
Recall the scene where Lars and Danielle break up. right there, on that couch facing the fireplace. Imagine the fern replaced with a Christmas tree and grab a tissue.
There is was. The beginning of the three-book series on
Danielle Grant, an American trader recruited to Switzerland. Of course, Danielle
Grant, the lead character, didn’t come to mind until later, as we explored the
streets of Zurich, noting the incredible number of wealth management and
financial institutions. The owner of the unit is a physician, and while I
initially thought that was interesting, the fast-paced, secretive world of
trading appealed to me. Besides, the physician’s well-built, tattooed, very
handsome but slightly mentally underpowered boyfriend was simply not believable—or
rather, a reader would think it was cliché. The hot doctor (she was hot, and
blond, and brilliant) with an equally hot enforcer-like boyfriend was beyond
the realm of reality. I know you are thinking: but that would be cool?! Well, I
thought it cool as well, but wouldn’t sell, and as I’ve already digressed terribly,
I will tell you I raised this scenario up to my agent, who agreed with my initial
“Nope, you’re right,” he said immediately. “It is cliché and
“But I actually witnessed this!” I said with frustration. Not
that I was going to run with it anyway, but the notion that real life wasn’t
acceptable was annoying.
“Sad but true,” Peter reaffirmed.
Let’s just have a collective sigh together and move on.
As I dutifully kept my eyes off the boyfriend and paid
attention to the physician, I appreciated everything about the building, unit
and details therein—all of which made their way into Made for Me, book on. When
she slid in the card for the penthouse located on the fifth floor, I was
impressed. The two-bedroom flat with views of the lake from every room was
lovely. All glass and modern, shiny counters and cabinets, metallic tile butting
against French maple—the vision was coming together. The grand piano in the
living, the glass-enclosed dining room with sliding doors, the sauna off the second
bedroom. I wondered to myself—who lived like this, really? I asked the physician.
“I have a much smaller flat downtown closer to my office,” she said. Okay, that answered the question. Not her. She then offered she has five similar units in other cities around the country (Bern, Lucerne, St. Moritz to name a few) and this was her second business. Rog was impressed.
Office on the other side of the glass-enclosed dining room, and the right is a (pretty poor) shot of the master bathroom, built-in sauna on the left side
Not behind in the scenes. In the scenes
Volumes have been written about real life inspirations behind
a character, scene or setting, and I have fun blending fact with fiction, or
rather, improving fact when I want something a little off. Well, I will give
full credit to the unit’s owner who made it really easy for me to catalog every
detail, up to and including the 5-inch solid steel door. It also came with
five, count them five, different locks. So, imagine this: secured building,
private elevator, five-inch steel door with five locks. It’s Switzerland, as I
say in my book, the safest country in the world. Wasn’t this a little bit of
“One can never be too secure,” was the physician’s answer. Well then.
Upper left: one of the two decks opening up with views to Lake Zurich, Upper right, view from the kitchen, over modern office buildings (aka pull the blinds!) the bottom pic is on the waterfront, a ten minute walk from our rental to downtown along the waterfront
Left: Imagine this hallway where Danielle greets Andre in the foyer, and then upper right, in the second bedroom, which she transforms into a second bedroom
A little factoid in the book is the heat of the city. Few, if any, places in the city have air conditioning outside the hotels. The logic is that for the few weeks a year its unbearable, the winds gust off the lake, and up the hillside (or the reverse). In fact, our landlord told us that we were going to be liable if we left the penthouse without drawing in the awnings covering the decks. So we’d close everything up in the morning, arrive in the afternoon, open the windows and it cooled down immediately. The evenings were lovely.
Back to the door….
Guess what kind of door we have in Idaho, on a property in the middle of nowhere, which has a gate, and lots of security. Yep. That five-inch steel door. But lest you think we got crazy and had it especially installed, we didn’t. The house came this way. You see, the previous owner is a Swiss architect who built it for himself, and told us the same thing: “All good homes have doors like this.” Well then, there it is. At least he didn’t put on the five different locks.
Seriously, you just can’t make this stuff up. Five solid inches of steel in our front door, emulating just about every front door we’ve had in Zurich.
Feature image: A water Polize, who’s big task for the afternoon was saving two geese that were ensnared in a net. The crowd cheered, including us.
Three castles, one McDonald’s and lots and lots of money
One afternoon in Zurich we decided to get in the car and just drive towards the Alps. Somewhere along the way was a sign for Lichtenstein, and we had nothing better to do so we hung a left off the A1 and bingo, ended up in another country. Given that we were entering from Zurich, the first town is Vaduz, the capital.
Vaduz castle, in the capital city of Lichtenstein
My previous reference to the country was a place where the excruciatingly
wealthy of the world park their money. Funny thing is that in the US, bastions
of money means huge, ornate buildings, fancy cars and snappy suits. Here, the
environment is so understated you’d have no idea of what lurks behind the
mostly grey, mostly one-story buildings. No flashy cars, just a single
McDonald’s and corner cafes, which are themselves, nothing more than metal
tables and chairs.
Still, we arrived mostly in the company of summer road
bikers, nearly all on BMW touring bikes, their outfits not leather, but mesh,
because as we were told, they “breathe better.”
About a mile or two inside the fourth smallest country in
Europe is the town of Vaduz, pretty much the one and only city. It’s home to
the Prince who lives in a great castle which is off-limits to tours (bummer) a
few parks and lots of great shops for chocolate. As an aside, I know you are
likely sick of my fixation of chocolate by now, but some people have wine,
others coffee, me chocolate. Sorry. At least I can tell you what to purchase on
Amazon, for most of it is in fact, for sale over here.
There are two interesting castles to visit, nonetheless.
Some of which must be done on foot, because the hub is car-free on purpose. The
winy roads rival Lake Cuomo for the width (which is about arms-length wide) and
the goal (we presume) is to get visitors to spend more money on the local
The Rhine cuts through the country, and nearly every exit
off the A1 offers up a park. And keep in mind that there aren’t that many exits
and then you are out of the country.
Even though it’s not open to the public, take the path and
walk up the 150 meters to take pictures. It’s lovely and really, just standing
by all the wealth in this micro-country makes me feel good at a seriously
This is definitely my favorite castle in all of Europe-and it’s likely the smallest. First, it sits on an island of rock that juts up and out, requiring access by bridge. Second, it has a really cool ‘hunting room’ with the original pedestal the hunters would use to stand up and retell their adventures of killing the local boar with one of the original steins that line the upper molding of the room. Third, it has a “mistress” door for the Lord of the manner to sneak out and have a moment with his lady friend. The upper rooms, which are very small and off limits (though we cajoled a peek) are upstairs in the turret-area of the castle. The tour is SO worth it, you must, must, must do it. This castle has a great scene between Danielle (the American expat) and Zurich-born Andre, which is wrote specifically around this destination in the first book of the trilogy, Made for Me.
This is one of the few castles in all of Europe that offer such a glorious, unobstructed perch from which to take photos
Keep an eye out for the funky elements of the area. Rog found a side entrance for the dog, which begat my tongue-i-cheek phrases that when I get my next castle, I’m definitely going to make sure I have that bat-cave door for my four-legged companions.
The nearby armory to ward off the
The day was beautiful, crowds light and completely family-friendly. Easy parking with a bit of a walk in the heat (uphill) but no too bad. Pictures are not allowed inside the castle, as they encourage postcards, so my law-abiding self had to make do with the pics from all the angles possible.
Just a short distance away is the armory. Factoid: during WWII, the Germans tried to bomb the castle but succeeded in damaging only a fraction of the structure; the rest remained completely intact.
Two hikes are definitely worth making the effort. The first
is the Prince’s Way Hike and the Eagle’s Way Hike. One thing I seriously love
about Lichtenstein is they offer up a site detailing the location, level of
challenge and more details so you can be fully prepared. (Unlike the States
where it’s more of: you paid the park entry fee, good luck!) Check out this
link for the details for the available hikes.
When we got hungry, literally no restaurants were open
because we arrived (apparently) at an odd hour. The McDonald’s was crammed with
road bikers, but the notion of being in Europe and eating at the sole fast-food
restaurant in the country was a little offensive. So, we kept wandering up and
down the side streets (below the no-car zone) and finally found an open
restaurant. Rog had never had boar before, and I wanted authentic as well, so I
just pointed and ordered, loving the meat, potatoes and schnitzel.
A lake that’s called a swimming pool
Now this was interesting. We were boiling up and thought-
okay, we’ll see what’s around. The Grossabuent
Leisure Centre popped up, and since it is billed as a swimming facility, we
thought pool. Well, we look up the website and laughed, reading that it’s
actually a lake, but billed as a non-chemical swimming area, so it’s named a
Centre. Got all that?
The random monastery/church on the hill. We got lost, found
a church-basilica overlooking the entire town and took a look around. Honestly,
I think some of our best pictures came on that hour side-adventure, and I’m
sorry/embarrassed to say I can’t find the name of the place—one reason why I
MUST start writing these blogs real time during my travel. (and NO, this isn’t the Cathedral of Vaduz,
also known as the Cathedral of St. Florin. This is way smaller.
One of my personal favorite subjects is cemeteries or gravesites. They can be so exquisitely personal and though provoking I am always taking photos- so shame on me. I can’t recall the name of the actual destination but adore the photos! Arg!
We love churches when the architecture, grounds and vibe is different from what we’ve previously seen. The Cathedral in Vaduz offers that, but then we found another, smaller church that for the life of me, I can’t recall the name. Perhaps one of my readers can help me! The pictures speak for themselves, especially the cemeteries.
I love cemeteries. We learned that this one was/is reserved for only the most stalwart families.
Open to the public after May 1 through October, the tours are by appointment only, and relatively limited, including the gardens and the chapel specifically. It’s also available for weddings upon request. The view from the grounds, however, are awesome and should definitely be seen.
After that, the tour of the country is pretty much over,
well, unless you are there to discuss your gazillion-dollar account with a
financial advisor. Sorry, can’t give you a recommendation on that one.
Just as one moves between the towns of Hayden to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho by crossing Prairie Street, a visitor in Prague walks from Old Town to New Town by crossing the road as well. Yet each foot equals a hundred years because the two experiences couldn’t be more different.
The famous Wencelas statue
The square is named after Saint Wenceslas, the patron saint of Bohemia, and is considered the historic centre of Prague, a World Heritage Site. To pause and clarify one item that confused us American’s, the New Town is invariably referred to as a “Square,” but it’s’ really a rectangle, whereas Old Town really is a square! This super long boulevard (what the French would call it, American’s would just say Street), the parking is easy to find right on main street. On the furthest end from Old Town, is the Czech National Museum. This is a wonderfully beautiful building, boasting the Wenceslas statue front and center.
Just around the corner and down 50 feet is the Metro . Entry and exit points are on either side of the Museum because a main, super busy street dissects the area
Of all the exhibits we saw, the girls loved the Noah’s Arc most. It’s a mini-Arc, with bent wood, animals and all sorts of other items believed to be in the Arc. It’s not the full Arc, but only half and then opened on one side. The sculpted wood is soft and rounded, the animals placed around the two-story area, which is fully accessible.
Over the week we spent in the country, we learned the Czech Republic is quite a religious country with strong, outspoken and unrepentant beliefs. We were told outright that those who didn’t eat certain foods weren’t welcome, just as we were told by restaurateur’s that we weren’t welcome with our children. One thing you can be sure of, you always know where you stand in this culture, and we really enjoy. A visitor doesn’t go in to another country expecting a change in values; you accept and embrace what it is or don’t go. (And that’s my strongly held belief!)
Upper left: A (bad) photo of the Arc area. Upper right: Daddy-daughter with “Lucy,” Lower left: recreation for an actual murder scene (yikes), Lower right: mummy
I’ve already covered the Death Exhibit in another blog, so won’t repeat myself, but it’s worth seeing, especially the mock-up murder scene. That gave me chills actually.
Electronics and donuts
You won’t starve in New Town nor will you lack for electronics. We “misplaced,” computer cords, broke a phone and something else I’ve conveniently blocked from my memory, but we went to the local electronics store thrice (yeah, I went old-English for a sec).
When one needs a piece of electronic equipment, one needs a donut. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you a name because the stations of donuts are roving around, but typically on the southwest end (opposite the Museum and closest to Old Town) on a corner to get the maximum exposure.
The Metro is right below
We took the Metro all around the Prague area as much as we could, and loved the fact that the main Metro station is right below the Boulevard. Drop down in to any terminal, jump on the line you need and off you go. A single above-ground tram operates, but the distance and routes are somewhat limited and quite crowded, but we road it once, just for the heck of it.
Featured Image: The Prague National Museum (Praha)
Four step process to getting the best product & price
When we return from traveling, men ask Rog how much money we spent. The women ask what we spent it on. Notice the difference? Second to this is: “Where’s the best shopping?” I’ll tell you what I tell them, then I’m going to reveal the real truth.
Five places are failsafe. Italy first and foremost, because the goods are beautiful and inexpensive. Milan (across the from the Duomo Cathedral) has this amazing mall with lots of goods we can’t get in the States, and if we can, the price is quadruple. No kidding. Lugano, a township on Lake Cuomo, offers different brands but similar deals, then Bellagio, which is the peninsula on Lake Cuomo. Lille, France, downtown, always offers great prices on French-made goods. In Germany, if you like Porsche brand products, go to the car factory, hit the store and pick up watches, leather clothes and windbreakers also for one-fourth the cost in the States, assuming it would even be available.
Shopping rule of thumb: the brighter the street the worse the deals. The darker the streets, the more the proprietor will negotiate because they have to drive volume.
Examples? $800 Hermes belts for $250 in Bellagio. $1,750 Ferragamo purses for $400 in Lugano. Porsche jacket (unavailable in the States, but was listed at $350 on the website) for $75). Diamond and ceramic Mercedes watch in Milan (at the Mercedes clothing store—yes, that exists), not listed on-line or available in the States: $350.
Now the real truth, aka Sarah’s secret
Yes, all of the above are amazing, but there’s more. The real truth is you save your money, go to Old Town in Prague, wander up and down the narrow streets looking at the items—whatever your preference. You see which stores offer well-tailored, high-end leather goods. You walk in the store, which is on the main floor, and check out the wares. Typically, the okay stuff is in the front, the medium goods are in the middle, and near the back are the finer items. Once you identify an interest in the finer items, you ask “If they have more goods elsewhere,” which is a shameless rip-off of a similar line from Gone with 60 Seconds, and I’m happy to say, it works!
Captain Candy is a great store full of weird concoction, including candy eggs that look grossly-real but taste amazing. This is about one street away from the store I reference below for the great deals on coats.
You are then invariably led upstairs, to a warehouse-size room where you feel like Meghan Markle has just entered the private chamber for the Queen’s jewels. Stars are shining from above and every item is there, hanging by type first, then color, ordered by price.
What’s the price?
This is European-code for “whatever you can negotiate.”
Negotiation tip 1. Forget credit cards, this is all about
the dollars. The first question you will encounter is “Will this be case or
credit?” And if this isn’t raised by the salesperson, you need to raise it. This
gets you a 50% slice right off the bat, not just the 3% fee saved in the States.
Why? The transaction is unlikely to be traced on their end, because the owner
of the establishment is running that entity according to their own rules.
I’m not sure why this little fact always perplexes American’s;
probably the same reason foreigners are so annoyed they can’t negotiate the price
on a piece of clothing. It’s just the way transactions are completed. If you
think about it, negotiating isn’t all the foreign, it’s just that American’s usually
only negotiate when they go to Mexico, not Europe. When we are south America,
we dicker all the time. Then again, here in the States, both Rog and I always
offer to pay cash to get the best deal, and why not? Money is hard enough to earn;
who wants to give it away to easily?
Negotiation step 2.
Realcash dollars, or money order? Hard currency all the way. This yields
yet another discount.
A pause here for a moment. You are probably thinking we are idiots
to be carrying around lots of cash. We don’t. Because banks are open, cash is
easy to come by and we carry less than $100 on us at any given time. It’s just
not prudent; the salient point is that you can get easily get cash, which leads
me to step 3.
Negotiation step 3.
Never buy that moment. No matter what we have on hand, we say we will come
back. Did you know a sales statistic is that if you don’t get the target (e.g.
customer) to spend that day/night and they walk off the premises (lot or store),
the likelihood they will spend at all goes to below 50%? That’s quite an
incentive to get you to spend!
It’s at this point, that Rog brings up the “what kind of
deal can you give me?” e.g. buy one get the second free, or at least half off. (That
just sounds like Rog, doesn’t it?) Me? Well, I’m just the long-suffering mother
of two tired children who isn’t really sure she wants to spend the money in the
It plays really well, and you know what, half the time it’s accurate.
I’m usually vomiting about the money we are spending to feed our ravenous beasts
of children, but on the other hand, I know I simply can’t get the shoes, purses,
coats or watches at the same price anywhere near the quality, never mind the
brand mark-up us American’s pay.
Negotiation step 4.
The last-minute enticement to not back out
Rog had already committed to returning that evening, but the
man needs to make totally and completely sure we are serious. I’ll give you an
example of how it went down (and this is common).
In one store, we told the gentleman we’d be back around
eight p.m. to pick up a coat. The girls were hungry, my feet were hurting, the
coat I selected was a great deal and I loved it, but was ready to leave.
At that point, the salesman asks if we could be back by 7
pm. Nope, I tell Rog as the girls groan in the background.
“If you can be back by 7 p.m.” he starts, “I’ll give you a
mink-lined black leather baseball cap.” That was a weird enticement. I don’t
wear baseball hats of any kind because they don’t shield my face from the sun,
and the rim invariably leaves a nice long dent on my forehead which doesn’t
come out until the following day.
As I’m shaking my head no, the man lifts one off a shelf, encouraging
me to try on. “It’s perfect for you,” he says.
Actually, it looked pretty good, but I didn’t need it, and I
give Rog a gentle tug as I try to hand back the hat.
“How much?” Rog asks.
“$250 US,” the man replies.
“Seriously, I don’t need the hat,” I interject, handing it
back. “The girls need to be fed. Let’s just come back later,” giving Rog the ‘lets-get-going’
“$150,” he says, hoping to entice us. I shake my head,
already grabbing the girls. “Tell you what,” the man says, “I’ll give this to you
for free if you come back tonight by 7.”
The man really wanted the money, and must have a hot date.
Rog looks back at the guy as I pass the had to my oldest
daughter, not bothering to put it back on, and the guy goes to the next level.
“Tell you what,” he begins. “I’ll give you 75% off a second
coat if you come back by 7, plus you can have the hat for free.”
Rog looks at me. I look at him. We go back to the top floor
and try on more coats. We look at the prices and do the math. We figure out
exactly what returning one hour earlier will save us so the man can get out to
his hot date.
And that, my friends and readers, is how you end up with two
coats and a mink-lined, leather baseball hat in your closet; by getting the very
best shopping deal in Europe.
Happy shopping wherever you do it!
Feature image: a view of Old Town from one of the many entry points
Close and far, Karlstejn and Cesky are not to be missed
When we were visiting the Karlstejn Castle outside Prague, I
had roughly ten minutes of wait-time while Roger waited in the ticket line with
the girls. Me being me, I’m scoping the scene before me, immediately zoning in on
a tall man with a slobbering bull mastiff by his side. I wander over, dropping down
to my knees, asking if I can pet his beautiful male mastiff. His eyebrows
raised, and then it occurred to me I was awfully arrogant thinking the man
could speak English.
“Of course, you may,” he replied in perfect English albeit with
a Czech accent.
We get to talking because I’m an author, I ask questions, and learn the dogs name is Saffron, as in the herb. The reason he was outside the castle instead of in, was because it has a no dogs allowed policy, which he didn’t know. I learn he’s a contractor who specializes in private homes, and was a wealth of information what to see and visit.
The wonderful man who told us about Czesky and let me pet his beautiful mastiff Saffron!
“Have you been to Cesky Krumlov?” he asked me. Before I could answer, he told me I definitely need to go. “It’s the best thing you’ll see in the Republic.”
That was quite a statement, especially since we’d been in
and around Prague, but he was so fervent I told Rog about it, and after we finished
with our day at Karlstejn Castle, we cleared the deck for the next day and
This is a castle on the smaller side compared to Czesky Krumlov and the Prague Castle, but it has features we enjoyed. The 30-minute walk up on the white stones, and the tour takes less than an hour. The services are quite limited in terms of food and gifts, but the views are lovely. Because of its convenience to Prague, and it’s Gothic structure, it’s considered one of the top tourists’ destinations. You might think it would be really busy, but it wasn’t. We walked right up, and twenty minutes later we were in.
The walk up to Karlstejn almost resembles this rocky terrain–kidding–not kidding. It’s the opposite of Cesky
A few of my favorite snapshot memories are the small gardens
below the walkways connecting the two buildings that were used for the ladies
of the castle. The tour was also fantastic. We were incredibly grateful the
majority of our small group of 12 spoke English (we were with a group of
Australians) or we would have had to hear the tour in German and their rules is
The original walkways connecting the buildings and the outer gardens below
What struck us most about this building were the size of the rooms, which are all compact, but we understood why when we got to the staterooms. The original, wooden beds where the King slept was sooo small!! And the height of the doorways was also very small. Back then, the people overall, were quite a bit shorter than we are today. The paintings were amazing, and we were most struck by the room where all the portraits of the royals hung around the room. The chapel stands out, and above all, near the end of the tour, we saw the replicas of all the tiaras and jewels. The real ones had long since been replaced with fakes, but they were still pretty neat to see (boy, those real jewels are HUGE).
Cesky Krumlov and the town of Cesky
According the history, the town of Krumlov was created around the castle by the Lords of Krumlov. Over 300 medieval buildings surround the town, along with the Vltava River. The grounds are large, the river wandering around the base of the castle goes through the town and beyond. We parked probably ten minutes from the castle, and walked through the town to get to the castle. Unlike the short tour of Karlstejn, this castle and town requires a day trip.
An original lower entrance for Cesky, and the Vltava River where you can boat, canoe or swim alongside
Forty buildings reside in the castle complex, with
galleries, towers, churches, most open to the public. We thought one of the greatest
parts was walking up the long entry way used by the previous Lords of the
castle. Imagine being in a horse-drawn carriage and entering a long, stone laid
driveway that’s 100% covered, the ground treatment perfectly laid and matched
in the color of muted yellow. As I mentioned to Rog, it was the medieval
version of the Batcave entrance except above ground.
The drive for those in the carriage might have been a few minutes, but to walk, it was about twenty. You go up, and up, and up, and I regret not taking pictures, but I was working hard!
Sorry about the iPhone pics but this was the best I could do! Left: the restaurant we ended up eating at (where they were nice–keep reading), right: walking from town to the Castle.
Then the levels and options within the castle are many, as
are the perches, each providing unobstructed views down to the town. The original
Lords knew how to position the castle, but we didn’t see a single view which
Almost lost a daughter
One of the things we love about Europe is the general lack of rules, restrictions and sometimes, guardrails. If you see a dangerous animal and want to put your hand it, no second line of protection stops you. It’s more like the universal DNA test of nature; if you are dumb enough to stick your hand in, then you deserve to lose it.
Colorful and quaint is the town
So, it was with Cesky Krumlov. No long-fanged carnivores, but multiple ledges without protective rails. My precocious six-year-old jumped up on one ledge and nearly toppled over the edge, which would have been a 700-foot drop to their death. I’d been partially turned to Rog when she leapt up, turned just in time to grab her foot while my other daughter caught her waist. We were able to stop her forward momentum, my oldest daughter at nine and myself just held her tight, and then I pretty much lost it. Never before or since have I ever gotten that close to death, and all I can say is this: watch your kids because it’s Europe, and I’m pretty sure I was the one who’d have been arrested for not being mindful.
A pic of the town of Cesky through a peek-hole, and the embrace after our youngest almost fell off the ledge….still shaking.
The trip is going to take you roughly 4-5 hours, because we
kept to the speed limit and it was 4.5. We arrived around eleven, just as it
started to sprinkle, but it stopped as we were inside, and we thought the grey
clouds totally romantic. The tour we took was in English and completely worth
We then went down in to town for dinner, taking our time to
walk up and down the streets. From the small, original bridges covering the brooks
and streams to the bistros, cafes and restaurants, we were enchanted.
We had only one unfortunate experience during our time in Cesky, and this actually was relatively common in our journeys: it’s what I call kid-discrimination. The fact is that not all destinations, restaurants or eateries welcome kids, even those who are quiet and well-mannered. We entered to two restaurants—not bars, mind you, but actual eateries, and at the first, the hostess said: “We don’t serve children.” As we saw teens probably 13 and above, we were perplexed, but left. We walked a few doors down and although the male host scowled when he saw our girls, he sat us anyway, but get this, not on the main floor, next to the water, where four tables sat open (picture the windows open, the stream going by—enchanting), but he put us upstairs, in the far corner where the windows were closed and no air conditioning. Again, we were perplexed but went with it, right up until others were being served and we weren’t-water or menus. Finally, after about ten minutes, we just got up and left.
On the way out, Roger had a word with the host, and he
straight up told Roger that restaurants are for adults and we should have known
better. Well, then!
Culture is culture, and we weren’t delusional enough to think that we could change opinions and attitudes, so we adjusted our approach. Very politely, we approached the next restaurant, also by the Vltava River and still in town, asking the host if they minded children. He smiled and said “Of course! Come in!” We proceeded to have the most glorious, authentic dinner of pork, potatoes, noodles, soups and my favorite, hot chocolate that was more like thick, hazelnut mousse.
This is how happy I am when the chocolate hazelnut mousse is as thick as pudding. Yum!
Cesky was, and still is, hands down, our favorite town outside a castle, and we have another full day booked for our upcoming trip this summer.
Couldn’t help myself–I’d taken another selfie with Saffron just to show how big he was and how much he slobbered. LOVE that dawg
Feature photo: taken from one of the decks at the Karlstejn Castle
In the previous blog on hair loss, I described and showed visuals of the mystery illness that had afflicted my daughter, and to a lesser degree myself. Over the course of several years, her hair fell out in chunks, then entirely, as and a team of doctor’s tried to figure out what in the heck was going on.
Recapping where we started, went through and the beginnings of hope
In the spring of the third year, Porsche was nine, and the door
of knowledge opened up just a bit.
An acquaintance from church came over to the house and asked about Porsche. She then told me it occurred to her that we might want to have our water and food tested for metals.
How to identify “typical” alopecia and something far worse. Top left: Porsche is still thinking it’s all going to be ok. Top right: She didn’t know I started straightening her hair to cover what was happening underneath. Spots larger than a dime, then huge sections
“Our neighbor had a daughter about thirteen who lost a lot
of her hair,” the forty-five-year-old woman told me who lives on a few acres
just outside the city water district. “The doctor asked for a water sample of
the well, and it turned out it had a lot of heavy metals.”
Huh. We were, in
fact, on a community well, but it had been used for over twenty years, and
plenty of kids were raised drinking the water. With the exception of the elderly,
everyone the community had their hair. Per law, it was regularly tested and
passed all the national requirements without exception and always passed.
“Nonetheless,” my friend continued, “you should have it tested again, as well as your daughter for heavy metals.”
Near fatal numbers
Over the next 90 days, we learned that the EPA only tests a fraction of the hundreds of metals in the water (about 350), and that each additional test would be about $1,800 per test. Over 3,000 different metals and permutations exist. We didn’t have that kind of money and wasn’t sure it was going to make a difference.
Seeing huge swaths falling out can be a sign of massive metals in the system
Then Porsche’s own metal numbers came back. She was 70 times
the toxic level for heavy metals for an adult, not to mention a nine-year old.
According to Dr. Nebalski, she should have had permanent brain damage from the
levels of toxicity in her body.
It was a bittersweet moment. At first, we thought: “Yes! We
are finally getting somewhere. With a cause we can find a cure.” We were also
brought to our knees that she was spared having permanent brain damage.
At the same time, we were no closer to determining the “why” of Porsche’s hair loss started. In order to find a solution, we needed to find the cause. Surely, the well alone couldn’t the culprit, it if it was at all, because s we explained, our family of four had been drinking from the well exclusively for seven years. We were left wondering what we could eat, drink or do that wasn’t going to make her situation worse, or heaven forbid, trigger a reaction in the rest of us.
By this time, we were working with a loose team of physicians, western, holistic and natural, who were all intrigued and somewhat obsessive about figuring this out. They all started working together, from Washington, to Arizona, Italy and beyond. I was relieved to find zero competitiveness among the “types” of doctors, but a sense of comradery born of a desire for results.
As Porsche lost her hair, I lost 30 pounds. It’s not a good look. On the right: we had to adapt Porsche’s habits because while she didn’t mind being bald in public, (she got good at ignoring people), her scalp couldn’t take any sun. She wore it for 3 years when not in the house, or a hat.
They believed it was likely Roger and my younger daughter had been spared because Rog always favored protein drinks, milk or juice over water (still does). My youngest had come off nursing, and was eating mostly organic baby food, and not ingesting bottles of water. Both of them had lucked out for completely different reasons. By comparison, me and Porsche likely had very high levels of metal in our systems because we are both water hogs.
The difference between hair growth and hair loss is night and day. Even, overall growth is evident. That said, hair grows back in the order it was lost.
The doctor’s hypothesized that Porsche’s system was triggered by the incredible doses of concentrated radiation in the ocean water from that original visit to Hawaii. What was already resident in her system went on overload. I was affected as well, but as I was older, constantly eating detoxifying foods such as blueberries while maintaining my supplements, it helped my Ph balance. I suffered hair loss, but not in in big swaths, not chunks. Porsche on the other hand, was in the formative stage; her body simply couldn’t handle it.
Cleaning out the system
If you recall from the last blog, at this time, Porsche already had a regimen for keep her hair follicles open. This included applying topical steroids (liquid) every night. She was still receiving @500 shots in her head every six weeks.
Every day to the scalp to keep the hair follicles open
“You need to uses Zeolite to remove the metals from the body,” said Dr. Albert (he prefers we use his first name after Dr. instead of his last, so I’m not being disrespectful here).
Zeolite is volcanic ash. When absorbed, through liquid or capsule, it attracts the metals, and then it’s pooped out. It was so strange, because once I learned this information, suddenly others in my circle, who were well aware of my situation, admitted that they’d been taking zeolite for years because they love fish, but wanted to get rid of the mercury and other metals in the food chain. This is a natural, volcanic ash that absorbs heavy metals from the body. It’s been used for decades and comes in liquid and tablet form.
6 months after taking Zeolite and the magnesium, Porsche went from completely bald to this–the top sections first–early July 2015
We have used two different brands with equal success. The only reason for going back in forth is that they aren’t always in stock. Omica was our original, and our current is Theodosia, and it’s only because it seems to be in stock a lot more. I will say it’s a tad more convenient, because the dose is higher so we only take one per day (30 min before a meal) vs 2 a day with the Omica. But again, we notice no difference between the two.
Once or twice a day, 30 min before meals, depending on which brand you get. They both work equally well, though Thoedosia seems to be in stock more often
Our doctor likened our Porsche’s body to a tree, her hair
being the leaves. The base and insides of the tree had become infected, and the
leaves were falling off. However, the tree might be salvageable, but it would
take time (months/years) to clean it out, starting with the roots.
“It’s critical you drink at least eight glasses of water,” Dr. Albert emphasized. If we didn’t, the body wouldn’t release the heavy metals, we’d be constipated and this would negate any positive effects.
February 2016, the hair keeps coming in–but instead of being thin and fine, it’s tough and corse. We love it.
Even though we have been using Dr. Albert for 17 years and never been sick (thanks to going the natural route), we were dubious. We read quite a bit about scams of powder and pills, and all sorts of claims, but even the western physicians said: “It certainly can’t hurt.”
April 2016. We are astounded with her hair growth– and also the comments. I started getting looks and questions “Is her father African American?” looking between her skin, her hair then back at me. I took the question as a compliment.
Dr. Albert told us what products to purchase on line (not through him) and to ignore the chatter. Without fail, we (me and Porsche) started taking single zeolite pill every day, 30 minutes before eating. In one month, we didn’t see much difference. Two months in, we both had fine hairs sprouting up around our hairline. At month three however, our new hair resembled newborns, with shoots everywhere. Gradually, Porsche’s bald spots started filling in. The regrowth began in the order of hair-loss—not all over, and not all at once. Literally, we watched the spots of first loss fill in. Now, seven year later, the very last areas to go bald are finally becoming full with hair.
The stage of hair re-growth
Phase 1: Interestingly,
like a newborn, Porsche experienced something similar to cradle cap. The
surface of her scalp (the bald areas) first became white and lightly crusty,
requiring a very gentle scraping. We used the soft brushes used on a baby’s
head, then switched to a standard black men’s comb. Our physician recommended
we be sensitive, and we had to be; if we were rough, the skin would break and
bleed. It did, and over time we learned how much pressure to apply.
Phase 2: The next
step of re-growth were the fine, spikey shoots. These would grow to several
millimeters, then fall out, much like a newborn’s hair. After a few days, the
hair would then come in again, but this time, without the cradle cap. Further,
the hair itself was strong, thick and never, ever came out. The doctors tested
the strength, to be sure this was the real deal, and would tug on the hair.
Sure enough, her strands weren’t going anywhere.
Our doctors were extraordinarily pleased, and the shock of the western doctors were high. But when I started asking around to my friends who are nurses, or naturopaths or chiropractitioners, most had heard of, and were using some brand or version of Zeolite! Gah!! As one female nutritionist told me, “I’ve been using it for years because I want to eat fish, and all fish has high metals, no matter what the food companies say,” she contended. Other than metals getting out of her system, I asked if she realized any other benefits. “My hair became thick again,” she said.
Apply to scalp nightly and wash the hair in the morning
While we were thrilled with our results, Dr. Albert asked if we’d been taking Magnesium either liquid of internal. Neither, was our answer. I’d never thought of it. He counseled us to immediately get liquid Magnesium and apply it nightly to Porsche’s hair, which we did. The rate of Porsche’s hair growth markedly increased, and then I asked the Dr. Albert is she could take it internally as well. He said of course. That day, we all started taking a once a day Magnesium supplement.
The added results of the Magnesium were beyond our expectations. About 2 weeks after adding the topical and internal versions, the little fuzzy shoots appeared faster and thicker. As the doctor explained, it was accelerating the healthy hair growth that had been aided by the metal removing Zeolite.
Rog and I were beneficiaries of this newfound supplement
regimen, albeit on a smaller scale. Neither one of us have ever used the magnesium
on our heads, but decided to take it internally, along with the zeolite.
Another lesson learned: hair loss returns….
We learned if either one of us failed to take our zeolite
while continuing to eat meat, fish or other proteins that are down at the
bottom of the food chain, then our hair started to fall out again, and does so
rapidly. (It still does). Also, when the water consumption dipped below eight
glasses, the hair also started to come out. Case in point, once Porsche got
lazy and didn’t take her Zeolite and in two weeks, she showed bald spots. Those
same spots take three to six months to fill back in. For myself, I lose hair
all around, but it’s most obvious at the tip of my hair, at the crown of my
head. Not a great spot to be losing hair.
A recent example was when we went to Cancun. In theory, Atlantic-caught
fish is ‘safer’ than Pacific because it’s further from Fukashima. Wrong. It doesn’t
matter. After all these years, it’s all pretty much the same, and we learned
this first hand because Porsche had remembered her Zeolite, and I’d forgotten.
Still, I made the conscious decision to have seafood every day, my typical
indulgence tuna tacos or tuna sashimi. Seven days in, when my hair was wet, I’d
run my fingers through and they’d be covered with hair. Ten days, doing the
same thing while dry resulted it the same, awful experience. By day fourteen, I
was convinced I was going bald because of all the hair on the bottom of the
shower. My husband talked me down from the follicly-challenged edge, reiterating
it would all be ok when I got home.
He was in fact, correct, but it took another week or two
before the hair stopped falling out in droves. As I bided my time of waiting, I
just repeated to myself that the roots were infected and I needed to clean them
out. Today, about 2 months later, my hair not only rebounded, but I have hair
growing thick at the top of my forehead.
I couldn’t be happier.
In the next
installment, I’m going to go through the side effects and downsides of what I’ve
covered so far (not the supplements, but the shots). They were serious and sort
of awful, but each one temporary and ultimately rectified.
Here’s what you can start to do immediately, and as we
witnessed first-hand; the doctors were right. There were/are nothing but
positive effects from the following?
Morning and night, Porsche has used (and still uses) an over the counter steroid, known as Hydrocortisone 1% (see pic above). This is a topical steroid. All the other commentary about what it helps (itching, psoriasis etc.) are other ailments it apparently helps, but these are not our issues. This has helped the hair follicles remain open as her system became cleaned out. We have her continue to use it because her hair is not fully-grown in.
Magnesium oil (see pic above). This is topic, and is applied at night so she can wash it out in the morning. Why night? It turns white and become sticky. It’s not smelly at all, but it’s not the type of thing you want people to see in your hair either. She applies it every night. If she misses for a day or two a month, it doesn’t have an impact. However, if she misses more than that, it’s noticeable. **a note on the magnesium. If she brushes her hair/scalp vigorously prior to applying, it stings because her scalp is still sensitive. Watch out on that though—you don’t want the burning, which is akin to getting your hair bleached and the toxic chemicals hitting the scalp- it hurts.
Daily: prenatal vitamin, magnesium, collagen, flaxseed oil and a barley green pills.
Feature picture: myself and Porsche when she was three and I was pregnant with my second daughter.
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.
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.
“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
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
“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).
Don’t let your fear of signs, getting lost or wrecking stop your adventurous self
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
*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.
Isn’t it interesting to think about a world without plastic surgery, or at least one where no one would consider such a thing, because the natural face is…or was, so precious?
That was the initial concept behind this idea…years ago, thinking about the obsession to look better in all ways. I’d just finished watching a BBC series on all the things that had gone wrong and thought…what if? What if the US was a place affected by a virus that would wipe out the DNA structure for the face…and the government benevolently stepped in to help out. Then a few decades later, conspiracy theorists were put in jail for attempting to uncover the truth. Well, this coincided with visiting my husbands hometown of Ouray, just on the other side of Telluride. It’s all the is natural, sexy, rugged and remote, with the bonus of being home to one of the countries largest (and now defunct) gold mines. Ouray and the surrounding area is also famously known as “little Switzerland” because the town of @500 (goes up to 1K in the summer) literally sits in a bowl, surrounding by mountains going straight up. This territory has made it the #1 area of off-roading 4-wheel drives. What that really means is one gets is raised jeeps and tries no to puke going up and over car-sized boulders.
The concept merged with the town to form Incarnation. Really, who can make up a remote town with mine-riddled mountains; a place that has no lights or gas stations, where everyone knows (and dates) everyone, and the natural hot springs bubbling up from the ground pulls in tourists from around the world.
I based the story on a few still living towns-folks, and made up a few others. The bars, restaurants and yes, the Moose lodge, spa and mine all exist. The old miner referenced is actually a man my husband, Roger, worked with as a teenager. The two would ride the house-sized vehicles up the hill and stay in an old, wooden shack, resisting against the gail-force winds at night sucking down moonshine, and during the day, Rog would careen over deep crevases, stringing metal cables–the goal being to prevent the random skier or snowmobiler from meeting an early death.
Without giving too much more away, I will add this first book was a joy, and frankly, it was a bit painful to then transition to book 2 of the Chambers series–The Spirit Warrior. The style, flow and attitude of this book is uniquely its own. I loved it. I want to be Kyle. But then again, I want to be Billy! For a reader who hasn’t gotten in to my other books, the constant is fast-paced, no (or <5 swear words) and hot but clean. In other words, your grandma could read it and not blush, and you can leave it on the coffee table without fear that your six year old is going read something untowards. As an author, it’s a challenge to write within those parameters, but I enjoy it.
Personally, this cover ranks right up there with my fav covers…and probably because of the guy chosen and double helix, it might even edge out my other favorite covers as the best so far. (wow. do I like this one). This image in the back is actually Ouray, and I’ve uploaded a few other fav Ouray pics to the book listing just so those of you who have never been can take the virtual tour. It is about 5.5 hours drive from Denver, or a short flight into Montrose. In the winter, it’s all about ice climbing in the ravines in the center of town, and in the summer–the four-wheeling as I mentioned. (sorry for the poor quality but they were phone pics:)
Because the cover is so gorgeous, it actually comes out a bit purple in the print version.
Here are the links for all types of devices and purchased preferences.