Tag Archives: travel

Bumbling Through Belgium

While I consider myself a seasoned world traveler, Carol Skipper had only been out of the country once before, but it seemed like I was the one making all the mistakes.  I arranged to meet Carol’s flight at the Amsterdam airport, a destination I’d flown into the week before.

Debi and Carol
Debi and Carol in Bruges


Carol arrived in the morning and we transferred our belongings to the airport hotel. Then we returned to get a bus for Keukenhof, Holland’s premier tulip garden covering 80 acres.  But when I reached to get my cell phone out of my zippered pocket, it was gone. I’d been pick-pocketed in those few moments.





Feeling naked and without my link to the world, I tried to forget about it. I struggled feeling like someone had violated my personal space and I kept kicking myself for not being more attentive. Nonetheless, we bought our tickets and then missed hearing our group being called. I was so frazzled and Carol was in that haze of an overnight flight, so neither of us had even been aware. Fortunately, another bus left in a half hour and we redeemed the mistake.


Keukenhof Tulip
Keukenhof Tulip



The sprawling gardens and the day were spectacular and we got down to using our macro and telephotos lenses trying to isolate flowers. We meandered through the greenhouses, around a lake and up a windmill. When the hungries hit, we bought a waffle, a typical afternoon snack for Dutch and Belgians. That may seem like a boring statement to include, but not when it was the best waffle you’d ever eaten. We became hooked and these dense, sugar crusted gems became once-a-day treats for the rest of the trip.


We lost track of time and when we arrived at the bus loading area, it was mobbed as thick as the pregame swarm waiting to enter the Florida/Georgia game. Where had all of these people come from and where was the line we needed? We hoped for the best and got in a queue among the orderly mass (quite civilized compared to US crowds). Eventually we made it back to the airport, then took the hotel shuttle and ended our first day together- exhausted and happy.





The next morning we wanted to catch the hi-speed train for Brussels. Another snag – our EuRail passes required an extra fee for this direct train.  We were okay with paying more, but there were no open reservations. Lesson learned. Instead, we boarded the train requiring us to makes transfers. “No problem,” said the conductor, just cross the platform.”


We did just that, lugging our suitcases and camera gear and got on the next train across the platform.  Except the next train was not the 10:12, it was the 10:07. Who knew trains were so exact.  We soon realized we were on the wrong train and would have to get off and transfer once again.  Whew!


Brussels Grand Place Illumination
Brussels Grand Place Illumination

Alas we made it to Brussels and immediately discovered a waffle vendor. One bite and our troubles were over. We checked into the wonderful Royal Windsor Hotel which was within walking distance (thanks Belgium Tourism). This place was gorgeous, one of the perks of my being a travel writer even if just for one night. But, we were not here to relax in a hotel room, no matter how nice.


We had pre-paid for a city tour including a stop at a chocolate factory. Off we went with our cameras and met the group; toured the Grand Place, which was indeed a grand collection of Gothic, Baroque and Flemish architectural wonders including city hall. We saw much of the newer districts – the capitol of the European Union, the royal palace and visited the former site of the 1958 World’s Fair to capture the Atomium – a very cool immense statue of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times.




Our chocolate class ended up more of a demonstration; however we had a lot of laughs with the chocolate replicas of the famous Brussels statue, Manneken Pis. Need we say more?

Chocolate Class Mannenken Pis
Chocolate Clas Mannenken Pis

We dined at an outdoor cafe near the Grand Place and then photographed the buildings as super cool recessed neon lightening came on.  As much as we wanted to stay until it got really dark (sunset doesn’t arrive until 10 pm), we were just too tired. We walked back to the hotel and almost went to bed. But whoa!  I looked out and ended up climbing on top of the desk to open the window to get this shot!!

Grand Place Window View
Grand Place Window View
Mannenken Pis
Mannenken Pis






We left enough time in the morning to see the real Manneken Pis.  He is just a tiny statue, barely two feet high, and was dressed in a military outfit, but if you are in Brussels, you must visit him! Then we schlepped all our bags back to the train station and took off for Ghent. Big change from a bustling major city, however, Ghent is large enough that we needed a taxi to get us to our historic district hotel.




That afternoon we took a canal cruise and strolled the streets- and ate another waffle.  Ghent is a charming Flemish town, full of canal houses, cafes, cathedrals and a castle. It’s also a university town.


When Carol went to upload her photos to her laptop, the thing crashed. Great- now she was without her computer and me without my phone. Annoying and frustrating, but not enough to stop us from having a good time.


I might also add that Carol was big on ordering water, while I sampled Belgian beer- some of the best in the world.  When the bill would arrive, Carol always owed more for her water than me drinking brewskies. Hmmm.


Ghent Canal
Ghent Canal

We were staying in Ghent two nights, but the next morning we needed to get back to the train station in order to make a day trip to Bruges. We felt proud of ourselves as we bought tickets from a machine and rode the public tram.


We wandered into Bruges passing house after house with a door, or window, or roofline we wanted to photograph. The medieval town of winding streets and canals is justifiably one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. It’s totally charismatic, with a large market square, horse and buggies to ride and even a swan lake.


We waited in line to climb the Belfort or bell tower, 366 steps up a 272 foot tower built between the 13th and 15th centuries. After huffing and puffing, the view was fantastic but the window grating made photography difficult.


We sat outdoors for lunch, me indulging in a big bowl of mussels, a local specialty. We shopped back alleys, went into the Gothic town hall, saw a relic of the blood of Christ, got turned around several times and finally made it to the church to see Michelangelo’s statue of Madonna and Child– at the exact moment the priest was closing the door.  “Come back tomorrow morning,” he said.  How sad, we wouldn’t be in Bruges again. We did discover a marvelous photo op bridge and the tallest ever brick steeple on the church.  And we did indulge in Belgian chocolate on the way back. Bruges is definitely a destination that calls for at least two days if not longer.


Ghent Cathedral
Ghent Cathedral



Once back in Ghent we hopped on the tram, debating if we needed to purchase another ticket. Our real trouble was that we couldn’t remember exactly where we had gotten on in the morning!  Needless to say, we walked a very long way back to our hotel.


The next morning we stopped in St. Bavo’s Cathedral before leaving town, we couldn’t miss another artistic masterpiece. The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb is 12 famous altar panels by Jan van Eyck and his brother, completed in 1432.  All except one panel are original and each is exquisitely painted in great detail except for the two end panels of Adam and Eve which are very stark. Very memorable.


Then off for Amsterdam. Again I goofed and got us on a local train with many stops. But one of the funniest moments came as we checked into our lodging- I had unknowingly booked us into a gay and lesbian hotel. The place was a throw back to the early 70’s, with “mod” decor.  We laughed and felt a little strange, but dropped our luggage and took off to see the sights.


We waited in a long line to see the Anne Frank house, again well worth the time and effort. We dined along the canal and wished we had another week instead of a morning flight. Sadly, the sun began to sink and gas lights came on and we vowed we’d just have to bumble through another adventure next year.


Disclosure:  My trip to Holland and Belgium was entirely self-funded except for the one night’s lodging in the Royal Windsor Hotel, Brussels, compliments of Belgium Tourism.  My thanks.

A Luxury Houseboat on Lake Powell

A Luxury Houseboat on Lake Powell

Spending a week aboard a posh houseboat off the shores of Lake Powell is an exceptionally distinctive vacation option. My temporary “ownership” of a luxurious floating-condo made me feel like Leonardo DiCaprio stretching out on the Titanic as “king of the world.”

The jagged shoreline of the massive 186 mile-long reservoir, adjacent to Utah/Arizona border, exceeds that of  the entire western coast of the continental United States. Imagine sailing on brilliant turquoise water surrounded by shimmering red rocks, layered terracotta cliffs, salmon colored beaches and postcard views from every angle. The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area epitomizes the desert southwest– bursting with hundreds of side trails, Indian ruins and awe-inspiring natural wonders.

Lake Powell came into existence following years of bitter controversy. In 1956 workers began pouring concrete for the arch dam and didn’t stop the round the clock labors for more than three years. Seven years after groundbreaking, Lake Powell was generating power and opened its gates for recreational activities.  However, it would be seventeen years before the reservoirs water-level reached “full pool.” Today some three million people visit annually for memorable boating, skiing, kayaking and fishing adventures.

During the off-season, five-star air-conditioned houseboats can be rented by the night, throughout the summertime a minimum weekly contract is required.  Extended families or multiple couples adopt the immense, up to 75 feet long, boats as extraordinary floating-homes. Each of the four or five generously appointed bedrooms is fitted with double sized, lavish bedding and a flat screen TV positioned at the foot of the bed. Granite and chrome kitchens, worthy of Bobby Flay, sit adjacent to the combination family room/dining room –anchored around a theatre-style entertainment hub.

Complimentary transport along with a driving lesson for guests who desire assistance is provided by Forever Resorts, the premier firm offering the opulent aquatic-abodes. Many houseboats set their mooring lines in a romantic cove serving as home base for the duration. Others prefer to pull up anchor and cruise to a new beach or cove every day. Adult vacationers enjoy setting up folding tables and chairs for sunset al fresco dining while kids beg for beach campfires to share marshmallows and stories under starry skies.

Let the self-indulgence continue: lounging in a hotel-sized hot tub, playing bartender on the upper deck or slipping onto the curved sliding board and make a grand entrance into the crisp cool water.

Renting a smaller powerboat offers added mobility and swift exploration of the waterways– think bobbing through the pages of National Geographic. Dawn and dusk outings challenge photographers with dramatic dancing shadows. Surrounding canyons shrink sinuously, the soaring walls caressing the bold adventurer.

Poweboating on Lake Powell

My one-night stay aboard a luxury houseboat on this jet-set playground could fill an entire episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Powell’s saffron colored landscapes with their stunning and dramatic formations contrast sharply with my East Coast background, where trees boldly border the shoreline. The simplicity and sereneness of the wind-swept southwest was tranquilizing to my eye. The forces of nature etched into my soul like grooves in the canyon floor.

Rainbow Bridge, Utah

In the afternoon, a rocket-fast speedboat journey to Rainbow Bridge interrupted my tranquility only to give way to an inland excursion ashore and the chance to peer at the vast natural archway– eternity personified. The stone bridge powerfully rises, draws a bold arc across the sky, then descends earthward with grace–a glorious natural wonder worth a once in a lifetime wander.

Next morning, I rose before dawn to watch the glinting sunrays dabble and paint the sandstone temples. While the ritual has repeated over millions of years, for me, this sunrise was profound. I ran back and forth around the top deck not knowing where to look because every direction was equally tantalizing. It would be unimaginable to ever tire of this sunsational way to start a day, truly life on Golden Pond.

Golden Pond

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Wine Seeker’s Guide to Livermore Valley

A Book Review

The Wine Seekers’ Guide to Livermore Valley, by my friend Tom Wilmer, was not written for the wine snob. The book is aimed at those of us who don’t understand the intricacies of the grape. He says the wine tasting experience has more to do with the social interactions and having a fun time, rather than the subjective, critical tasting experience. Therefore, this is truly my kind of guide– one with clear and helpful information in an easy to read format.

The book serves as the first exclusive guide to this little-known wine region located in northern California about a half-hour from San Francisco in the East Bay. Tom introduces more than forty wineries, the owners and winemakers, and their superb wines. The paperback makes it easy to plan a tour as it provides a map of the region, directions, operating hours, and contact information for each winery. As a seasoned travel writer (travel editor of Las Vegas Magazine from 1998 through 2003 and Central Coast Magazine from 2003 through 2008) Tom has also included recommendations on where to stay and a detailed restaurant guide plus bookstores, theater, festivals and parks. Now, all I need is time to visit each one.

Continue reading Wine Seeker’s Guide to Livermore Valley