Brussels is known as a political hot center, home to 19 police forces, each using a different language, a great botanical garden and shopping downtown, but what’s not publicized across the Atlantic is the municipality of Tervuren, located in the Flemish Brabant province of Belgium. It’s a shame too, because history, aristocracy and nature–along with inexpensive accommodations–make this town a must-see in our travel itinerary.
Tervuren: What and where
But don’t let that little factoid scare you off. It’s perfect for travelers who want the proximity of the nearby cities in the summer, (a category in which we belong). The town butts against the Tervuren Park, also known as the Empress’s Park, a multi-kilometer destination so big it’s easy to get lost. Yet, it’s so safe, we feel like it’s Idaho. People walking the streets at night, taking strolls on the neighborhood and of course, crossing in to the Park that stretches for miles.
Another park? Really?
If it was “just a park,” I wouldn’t bother writing about it. But this is something to behold. Sun-lit gravel paths stretching for miles are separated by long, rectangular waterways, home to multiple varieties of waterfowl. On the other side of the water, the trails are paved, drawing bikers who race along the paths at a training clip. Shooting off these manicured lanes are dirt trails through the woods. It’s downright “shire-like,’ because only in the Hobbit movies have I seen trees to high and dense in a forest. It’s actually rather spooky, and one of my girls (6 at the time) asked if an Orc was going to come out. “No, Robin Hood lives here,” was my reply, thinking the analogy a little happier than a blood-thirty human-killing fictional character. The downtown of Tervuren lines one side of the park, allowing for waterside dining, strolls down the paths and a little (not much) local shopping.
The Empress’s Palace in Tervuren
As we were making our way in and around the park over a period of our ten day stay, we frequently walked by the Empress’s Palace. The story itself (Emperor builds massive structure for favorite daughter) and size of the park just makes any parent say: wow. Daddy really loved that girl.
Africa in Belgium
Indeed. The massive Royal Museum for Central Africa, simply known as the Africa Museum, is located right in the park. In the 1800’s, the museum was opened by a King Leopold II, who had conducted on a years long effort for colonization. What originally focused on the Congo gradually expanded over the decades (yes, this is a dramatic simplification. Read more here), the museum and research functions of the museum attracted scientists and researchers, contributing to the initial prosperity of the region.
Note: It was closed for a 5 year renovation and reopened in 2018, so you are good to go. Where to stay? I address that in a separate blog on our accommodations. Think two-story, five bedroom house, pool, ten days, $1,000. Yep. Love Tervuren.
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.
“Quick! Don’t look!” Those were the words I mistakenly said
to my girls, when driving alongside a river in Austria. What I meant to say was
“quick, turn your heads,” but the better comment was to have kept quiet.
You see, while most Europeans are immune to nudity, not even registering a piece of uncovered flesh, us Americans are much more sensitive to those things, and thus, the necessity for writing this blog. It was this singular river-journey that I learned how to handle the unexpected with grace and a bit of education, perhaps saving another parent from making the mistake.
The hottest day
That’s where it started. On a day trip down the 56 south of Vienna, return it was over 100 degrees, the July heat practically killing the car’s air conditioning. On a lark, we went to Gloggnitz in lower Austria and started following a few motorcyclists and locals who seemed to know where they were going (we are adventurous that way). The straight road curved as the scenery changed from concrete to lush trees, the uphill climb cooling the air. We rolled down the tinted windows to get a better look and lo! There it was. A whole line if bar butts, four in a row, and male.
I uttered the now famous line, which made both girls (then 6
and 10) lean out the window. “Mom, is that a butt?” My six-year old asked. “What
happened to their bathing suits?” My older daughter went silent, her shock registering
in the fixed stare one has when going by a car accident.
Luckily, the rational me kicked in (as opposed to the mom-me).
“It’s Europe,” I replied. “They do this here.”
“But Mom,” my oldest started. “There are more people on the river.”
I looked. “Yep, and some are even wearing bathing suits.”
It was then that Rog and I had the quiet moment parent’s
share when the truth table has been pulled out. We were either going to live
the European experience or eliminate half the things we could possibly see.
“We’ll do our best,” Rog said in an undertone.
“No naked men,” was my threshold. And with that, we continued up the river until we saw a place where the men were clothed, but not all of the women.
The invisible man
Kids are interesting. If you don’t make a big deal out of
something, they forget it even exists. So it was that we parked the car, quickly
changed roadside when it was clear, then made our way down to path. The Alpine
water was freezing, the water crystal clear, and the other visitors rare. Yet a
few women were topless, but they were mom’s who had clearly breastfed their young
children and struck us as pragmatic instead of exhibitionistic. It was very hot:
why wear more clothes than one had to?
The kids looked once, more out of interest, then moved on. It simply was a part of life, a part of nature, exactly how it should be.
The return trip
It was a good thing perspectives had changed, because two
hours later we were driving back in to town.
“Mom,” my ten-year-old says from the back. “I just saw a man’s
penis. Two, actually.” I can’t help myself. I look out the window. Sure enough,
we were passing the spot on the river from whence we’d come, and two of the four
men was now on their backs, sunning themselves.” The image was gone in the blink
of an eye, my husband’s hand on my leg gripping with humor and angst combined.
“Yep,” I said. “Everyone needs to get a tan.”
“I guess,” my daughter said, already looking down at her book.
“What’s for dinner?”
We did our best to shield the girl from egregious displays
of nudity, but honestly, it wasn’t an issue. The rest of the trip, three weeks’
worth, were free of comments or looks about what saw, or rather, didn’t see.
They came, played and were focused on having fun and the beauty around them, exactly
as it should be.
My readers know that the works I create are based on the people I meet, the experiences I’ve enjoyed and the places I’ve traveled. Therein lies the essence of the Traveling Author, for that’s what I am. Where some sit and write book after book, my lifestyle is one where I take a break, traveling to rejuvenate my mind, body and soul, absorbing all that I’ve encountered, then I return to my home and produce a novel.
From reading to reality
It’s always been fun for me, as a reader, to visit a place that’s been well described by an author. The first book in the Danielle Grant series, Made for Me, set in Switzerland, takes readers to Zurich, through the Alps, to St. Moritz and the world-famous gondola in book one. Book two, Destined for You, continues through Prague and Lake Cuomo. The last book, Meant to Be, includes the jazz clubs and famous eateries that you’ll want to be sure to visit when in Zurich and the surrounding areas. By complete contrast, the Lava Bed National Monument and Captain Jack’s stronghold is the setting for Chambers: The Spirit Warrior (book 2 of the series) which blends history and fiction, while Ouray/Telluride is the home for the Incarnation, a series revolving around DNA manipulation. I’m always wondering what I’m going to find on my next trip that will be delivered up to the masses when I turn it into a book? It lends itself to a completely new level of excitement for each new adventure.
Travel with Me
In the past, I’ve posted my journeys real time on Instagram and then a novel comes out. Going forward, I’ll publish a general itinerary on my refreshed web site, adding details as the date nears. Through Instagram, I will offer up cool details before, during and after. If a reader wants to/show up and have me sign a book, great! In Destinations, my upcoming five-week journey through 12 countries is published. You electronically Travel with Me as I search out new experiences for my next novels.
In addition to the Destinations page, you will also find my Essentialsfor traveling. Also in this section are my top-of-mind issues, such as how to cope with migraines while traveling, note taking for novels or and other real-life subjects.
Countmeinsarah@gmail.com is the best place to send messages, but I manage my own Instagram (sarahgerdes_author). If you have a suggestion for travel sites, locations, scenes and people for books or other inspirational comments, feel free to share either in email or for fastest response, Instagram.
Kissing a rockstar was never on my bucket list of things to do. Still isn’t. Yet, when the opportunity presents itself, one must take it, mustn’t one?
It all started when Rog said that ‘we needed a break’ and he wanted to spoil me. I don’t recall the order of those two comments, but when one is offered a Mexican vacation, the standard response should invariably be ‘yes.’ When he asks about where I want to stay, I didn’t have an opinion (when you’ve been going to Mexico for as long as I have, you’ve pretty much seen it all–or so I thought).
A day later he tells me he has mixed it up and booked the Hard Rock Hotel in Puerto Vallarta. Yes, I’d seen the ads for the one in Las Vegas (in case you have missed the MTV-like commercials, everyone has seemingly stepped from the pages of a magazine, the music is all that is hot and sexy and the food heaven sent), and yes, they were offering a special ($1,500 worth of hotel credit). Thus, I checked out the spa, read the reviews (mixed on all aspects) and said ‘why not?’
So it was that the plane ride down was all about introspection. That ended the second we pulled up to the hotel and was assaulted with You give love a bad name by Bon Jovi. I turned to Rog. “You made sure to order up all the sexy people right?” He nods, humoring me.
At the counter, we are informed we can rent any one of 22 Fender guitars, along with headsets and amplifiers to we can practice without disturbing anyone. I don’t catch his last comments because A Whitesnake song comes at me from above, like a demon from hell, piped down in overhead speakers (and I only know its Whitesnake because Rog tells me). As we walk through the lobby (with looping videos of Pitbull and past a stream of authentic rockstar items), I’m suddenly face to face with a lifesize picture of the Guns-N-Roses band members. I realize that Slash has bigger hair than me (I feel a twinge of jealously) and Axl Rose was so skinny his entire waist was the size of one of my thighs.
post Tom Petty and pre Spinal Tap
It’s about four pm, and as we head into the elevator, I’m starting to snicker. No sexy people. The original flag from Woodstock (it’s of big lips btw) hangs just below the arch of the hallway is the line “Love in an elevator,” by Steven Tyler, nicely called out in subdued, foot-size silver lettering. Are you getting a visual yet?
Blessedly, the room has no music, but I can hear the blasting from the pool area. It’s Back in Black and I start to fantasize about earphones and my favorite Sesto Sento Moby remix–really loud.
You can do this, I tell myself. It’s only a week. I keep hope alive that poolside will feature people in my decade and those that evidently chose the music. But first, I want to work out. The sun is setting, the breeze is coming in. The music in the gym has got to match the vibe. Steel, modern, pool front with the ocean in the background. Rog even takes a picture (the smile is genuine. I’m in a warm place, not much clothing and am positive the gym will be rocking).
Spinal Tap is alive…every day at the gym
It is. To Tom Petty. Who. In. The. H**l works out to Tom Petty? He’s a great writer of lyrics, of course, but I certainly don’t feel like having my heart drug around.
That’s quite alright I repeat to myself, smiling falsely at Rog. I don’t want him to feel bad for booking this place nor do I want to appear an ungrateful shrew for hating the music. I walk forward with fortitude. Right into a life-size picture of Spinal Tap. For my dear readers who are as cool as I am, do you know who Spinal Tap is? I didn’t. Rog did (his Colorado roots are starting to seep through, don’t you think?). Now folks. When working out, isn’t it more appropriate to see images of beach bodies–or no images at all, rather than be forced to look at a skinny man poured into a lycra outfit that should only be worn by downhill skiiers racing at 100MPH? My thoughts exactly.
I know at this point, you really don’t believe me (I could barely believe it myself), so I started taking pictures as evidence. I made it through the workout, thanking Steve Jobs once again (may he rest in peace) for the iPhone that saved my ears, changed for dinner and walked to the elevator.
Two things then happened at once. The first is I was struck by Bon Jovi everywhere singing Living on a Prayer.
my air guitar
The second thing was I had (somehow) missed the image of Pete Townsend in front of me, doing the air guitar movement. (I call it this because most men who insist on doing the air guitar never, ever, actually have a guitar. They just think it’s cool to whip their arm around as though they were, are or in their fantasy, will be, Pete Townsend. But I digress).
I can’t take it anymore. I lose myself to the notion of being a product of the seventies, channeling my inner flower-child-meets-bic-lighter-groupie and stand by Pete. In a single moment of rock-star-ness, I swirl my arm like every seventeen year old wanna-be guitarist and I become one with the picture. Of course it would only be fitting that in my moment of anonymous greatness than a woman walks by. She offers to take a photo and I do what I’ve never previously wanted to do. I kissed the rock star. Or at least his picture. That’s as close as I’m ever gonna get. And as the final notes of Bon Jovi fades, I’m thinking about my prayer. One that includes music from the 90’s, 00’s, 10’s and maybe, just maybe if I’m really lucky, 2019. That is, if my prayers are answered.
Over the holiday, yet another layer of my rose-colored classes were scratched. I recently learned that many of the women in my circle have been using products for years, and I had no clue.
Sorry to do this-but you had to see the skin results–no injections etc etc. a’course, I’ve since gone back to blond, but the skin remains the same…43 yrs old
“No one reveals beauty secrets,” I was told by a female relative as she listened to my story, her voice including a bit of humor for my denseness. When I left San Fran for the netherlands of civilization, I didn’t have a need to apply facial products. Now that I’m older and have gotten a clue, that has all changed. A good moisturizer no longer suffices. From the articles on what men do for their faces, they’ve figured it out as well. Products help, especially those that get rid of the top layers of dead skin. Like every other non-sacred topic in my life, figure I might as well share what I’ve learned about facial products. Heck, I share everything else, so why hold back on the most important–or rather–most visible line of learning I’ve had??
Like other women, I paid a Dr a visit, got a slew of products, handed over my credit card, closed my eyes and followed this regimine precisely.
For the 6 week regime, the routine was different than the one I am now on. During the 6 wk period, where I had dramatic results, I didn’t use the night cream (#7) nor did I use the Bio Crème at night (#4). The whole point of the intensive regime is to dramatically tighten and lift the skin, which it did. I noticed a huge difference after just 2 days. That’s because of the twice a day application of the smooth gel, and then retinol every 2nd evening. For my face now, I am on a maintenance program, and it’s a bit more laid back, and includes the moisturizer.
Here’s the starter program.
1.Herbal wash (w/luke warm water), pat dry face 2.Apply glycolic smoothing gel and leave on for 3 minutes 3.Rinse off w/herbal wash. Apply the #3, skin lightener (if you have dark spots). Leave on. 4.Apply #4 (restorative crème) then #5 (SPF 60). 5.Put on make-up as desired.
For the evening: 1.Herbal wash (w/luke warm water), pat dry face 2.Apply glycolic smoothing gel and leave on for 3 minutes 3.Rinse off with herbal wash. 4.Apply retinol (avoiding the corner of the eyes and the corner of the mouth. It will burn and make wrinkles worse. Also, not on eyelids). Leave on overnight. Remember to rinse off first thing in the morning, as the skin will be ruined if the sun hits the skin and you have it on (burned red permanently).
When you are done w/the 6 wk routine, you modify by: 1.Cutting back on the retinol to once a week (Saturday is best, since it leaves the skin a bit reddish). And replace with: 2.#4 restorative lotion followed by 3.Vivite night cream.
A few tips:
1.when you use the smoothing gel, you also can put on the eyelids and around the eyes. It’s makes a huge difference.
2.Go all the way down to mid-neck. If you limit it to just the jawline, it looks freaky. A smoother transition to the neckline is natural.