Top castles around Prague

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 went.

KarlstejnCastle

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 majority rules.

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 wasn’t magnificent.

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 it.

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

Hair loss and restoration Part 2

Breakthrough! The metal connection

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.

Doctors united

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

To this, our holistic physician, Dr. Albert Alyshmerni recommended we (all of us) start taking Zeolite.

“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

I will go in to much more detail during the May 30th event on Hair Loss and Restoration at the Athleta Spokane store, but for those of you suffering from any stage of hair loss, I want to get this information out.

Overview of Zeolite

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.

July 2016
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.

Adult benefits

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?

Topical medicine & treatments

  • 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.

Internal supplements

  • 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.

Mini-Europe Park in Belgium

Absolute cool for the whole family>> kids-grandparents

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

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

Not just replicas

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

Best time to visit, prices and more

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

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

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

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

From renters to homeowners: transferring your bees

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

Getting your money back: one reason to transfer

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

Step one- don the right underclothing

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

Step two-Zip the suit

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

Step three- smoke the bees

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

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

Step four-transferring the bees

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

Step five- adding the pollen pack

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

Bee back in 30 days to check the honey

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

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

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

Waterloo isn’t just a song

It’s also an incredible place to visit

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

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

Blame it on the rain

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

Just off the freeway

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

The final battle

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

Why should you go?Why you should go?

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

Climb to the top & the Museum

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

Food and parking

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

Local eateries and Monasteries

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

The strange weather of Belgium

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

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

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

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

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

Be brave & explore: rent that car

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the worst that can happen?

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

A few learnings

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

Yucatan Peninsula/Cancun Area

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

Cabo San Lucas

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

Puerto Vallarta, Suyulita, Ixtapa, Zihuatanejo

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

Europe

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

A few tips for renting a car in Europe

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

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

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

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

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

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

Incarnation setting….Ouray/Telluride

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.

Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Nobles, Kobo, Scrbd, 24Symbols, Playster, Smashwords

The book is also available at all the major on-line bookstores in ebook version. You can request a library stock order if that’s your preference. I can’t wait to finish the 2nd book.