Monday, September 01, 2014

Clearwater, Florida USA: Summer Camp and Family Beach Fun

There are trips that come about because of an interest in a certain culture. Other vacations start because of a picture or an article in a magazine. Others still, friends recommend. But for this past summer's holiday, our adventure began during a rainy day in Cannes, France three years ago.

My daughter (then six years old) and I had gone to the closest cinema to escape the weather. She chose a film based on a true story entitled L'incroyable Histoire de Winter, known in America as Dolphin Tale. I hadn't yet realized in that dim lit room, while watching this heart-warming story, that we were actually venturing on a new journey fuelled by the passion of a child (the best renewable energy that exists). My daughter walked out of the cinema with an empowerment, a love for dolphins, and a mission to save them.

From that moment on, in every book shop, she bought books on dolphins. At the school library, she checked out books about dolphins. And on the website of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium,, she checked up regularly on the famous dolphin Winter. But she also learned about other sea life throughout her research and about the other residents of the aquarium. Eventually, she adopted a dolphin named Hope for a year. Her older sister also got “hooked” (in a good way!) on the aquarium and adopted a sea turtle named Molly.
Not Molly because she was resting
(doctor's orders)

But the stuffed animals, adoption certificates, and monthly updates weren't enough. The whole family took an interest in the well-being of marine life. From the shores of Cornwall, UK to Mediterranean beaches, we searched and snorkelled for sea creatures. 

And finally, last month, we made the journey to Clearwater.

Not only did we visit the Clearwater Marine Aquarium every day for ten days straight (I don't think we left one inch unexplored), but both of my daughters attended the aquarium's morning day camps. My oldest daughter took part in the Junior Ecologist program while my youngest learned all about working at an aquarium during the Helping Hands program. One evening, we even had the enormous pleasure of witnessing and assisting in a sea turtle hatching on the beach. Above all, I appreciated the huge emphasis on the well-being, respect, and care of the sea life throughout the week.

The evening the turtles hatched.

Besides home to this fascinating aquarium, in 2013 Clearwater was voted the best Florida beach town in USA Today. I agree and for many reasons. To name a few: the whitest, softest sand leading into the warm water of the Gulf of Mexico. The fun atmosphere, delicious seafood, and breath-taking sunsets from numerous bars and restaurants, and along Pier 60. The friendly, accommodating, and generous people who offer boat tours, jet-ski tours, sailboat rentals, and any other activities a visitor would want to try.

So when my daughters now proclaim that they want to work at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium when they get older, I'm all for it. And, I'll be happy to join them in this family-friendly beach town. But while they work their way through elementary school first, we will continue to look out for Winter and her friends. And of course, Winter's newest film L'incroyable Histoire de Winter 2 (or Dolphin Tale 2) is already in our agenda – coming out in Europe on September 24, 2014 (September 12 in America).

My recommendations:
Rooftop views from our rental

Accommodation: VRBO

Restaurants: It seems every other place is called Frenchy's, we enjoyed (twice) Frenchy's Rockaway Grill right on the beach. But most of the eateries along the beach are fun with good food, drink, and live music.

Boat tours, parasailing, scuba diving, etc.: Just walk along the marina where all these services are literally lined up along the pier. Otherwise, we met Finn at the end of our street who took us jet-skiing and also offers paddle boarding.

Tip: While booking the children into camp, I went ahead and bought a family membership to the aquarium. Although we are too far away to visit regularly, the membership gave us a discount on the camp, in the gift shop, and the flexibility to come and go as we pleased (without a long line) every day during our vacation. It was well worth it!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Name that Place!

If you're reading this blog, chances are you travel or dream of traveling to places near and far. Sometimes when we travel, we discover places that look surprisingly like home.

When I was a student in France, I promised my grandmother I would go to Cardiff, Wales where her parents were from. She told me about Whales and Welsh traditions all my life while sitting in her living room in Zanesville, Ohio. But my dear grandmother was not one to travel by air. So, already in Europe and on a student budget, I took  buses, trains, boats, another train and bus all the way to Cardiff. My first thought walking out of the bus station was, "Wow, it looks a lot like Zanesville."

So for fun, I'm posting several photographs that I or my husband have taken during some trips to see if you can guess where they were taken. The answers are at the very bottom. I'd love to know how you did. Please leave your score in the comments section.

Have fun!












Before revealing the answers, I must admit I got the idea for this post after playing a similar game on Parkdean's website called Home or Away. Unfortunately, I'm not giving you the chance to win a holiday anywhere, but they are!

Enter to win a fantastic Parkdean Holiday worth up to £750"Know your Newquay from Nice? Take the Home or Away Quiz to be in with a chance of winning a UK family holiday worth £750 with Parkdean Holidays."

Answers to the above photos:
1) Alabama
2) Cornwall, UK
3) French Alps
4)  Greece
5) Holland
6) French Mediterranean
7) La Hulpe, Belgium
8) NYC
9) Outer Banks, NC
10) Cannes, France
11) Tuscany
12) Wallonian countryside, Belgium

Monday, March 31, 2014

Visiting Belgium, for a Day or a Lifetime

If you've ever seen the movie RV with Robin Williams, you may recall the logo on the side of the family's caravan: Rent Me for a Day or a Lifetime, and the image of the guy with open arms, convincing you to climb aboard... or run away (Sonnenfeld, 2006). Planning an international vacation or accepting an expat assignment is a bit like that. The adventure awaits with open arms to take you awaaay. Away from your “normal” and into a wilderness of expectations and surprises.

Coming and going from Brussels Airport

Whether by your own free will to live something new or by request from your or your partner's employer, it's all up to you. You ultimately choose to make it a short experience to get a taste of what's “out there” or you sit down for a gourmet, multi-course meal where your senses are excited by how unpredictable flavors work together. If you remember in that movie, many tastes (of clothes, of lifestyle, of food – the “vegetarian” meal with no meat, but all organs) come together in a whacky adventure that makes the viewer laugh, out loud, and sometimes roll off the couch. That is the attitude one needs when going abroad.

To encourage more laughter than tears, I'd like to offer a few helpful hints specific to arriving in Belgium – for a day, or a lifetime.

Assuming you've had a good flight and that you've arrived in Brussels airport, found your luggage, (swung by for one last Starbuck's coffee or, in my case, chai tea), it's time to get somewhere...

If you're driving:

Good luck! Driving in any new city, even in your native country, can be tricky. The two rules that still leave me baffled are “no turn on red” and “priority to the right.”

Turning Right on Red

When an intersection consists of five or more lanes, it is tricky to know which lane will have the next green light. Even if you think you can tell, don't chance it!

On a positive note, there are certain intersections of Brussels where acrobats and jugglers will entertain you across the street until your light turns green. They will ask for a small coin in exchange, but are really nice about it. Keep your window up and smile if you don't wish to contribute. They will smile back. So, be patient and enjoy the show. These acts are apparently a special local treat. One performer told my husband that he and his friends went to South America to do the same, but got arrested.

Giving Priority

If you are coming to a four-way stop, everyone should slow down to check that no one is arriving on his right... in theory. However, what would seem logical could turn into a very dangerous game of chicken. Don't chance it! (After a decade here, I never assume I have the priority)

city of Leuven
If you choose public transport:

Buses and trains are wonderful options and, generally, keep to the time schedule. However, certain hiccups can occur, including but not limited to strikes. And not just by the drivers. Anyone else in the country could also strike or manifest in the middle of major axis points. These events are less entertaining than the acrobats and jugglers (see above).

Now that you're here, you've got to eat!

Fast food:
“Quick” is the belgian fast food restaurant. It is good, but at the end of the day, it is fast food.

These restaurants are among my favorite because of their laid back atmospheres and because they are the easiest to experience with children. Strollers usually fit through the doors. But beware of where the restrooms are located. Older brasseries, although great for their charm, tend to still have “facilities” (nothing facile about it) up or down a very narrow and winding staircase.
A typical brasserie menu offers meals from hot sandwiches and cold salads to nice, warm belgian specialties and are really good!
Le Falstaff - restaurant/brasserie in art nouveau style

Fine Dining:
The last time I checked, there were nearly 100 restaurants in Belgium with at least one Michelin star! But don't think you have to eat only in one of them to get an exquisite taste of Belgium. Coming from the New York region, I have found that restaurants in general offer very good quality and delicious meals for the prices they ask. What's better is that the lunch menus (2-3 courses) are often the same as the dinner menus but less expensive, just because it's lunch hour and not dinner time. So, it's a great way to discover those Michelin stars!

Tips are included in your restaurant bill, even at cafés. However, I have tipped for exceptional service or when the children were quite young and we were dining at a place that wasn't necessarily destined for children. Even in these cases, the tip doesn't need to be more than 5%.

And so after a good meal, it's nice to have a cozy place to go home to...
Town if Vaulx in Wallonia

Hotels and Bread-and-Breafasts:
A simple internet search will give you the whole range of possibilities throughout Belgium. If you want familiar surroundings, there are always Holiday Inns, Radissons, Hiltons, etc.

Renting versus Buying a Home:
If you're planning on staying under five years, I would suggest renting a home. The closing costs of buying can reach 20% and wouldn't be worth it unless staying longer.

Now my family's expat assignment was for two to three years, so we rented... for ten years! All I can say, it's a gamble. The reverse also happens where expat families get called back to their native countries earlier than expected.

For more on this, please read my post: An Unexpected Expat Life.

Now that you're settled into the best housing option for your situation, it's time to meet the neighbors!

Don't know what to say?
Two words: Language school.
Language centers are abundant throughout Belgium (of course, as it has its own three official languages to learn), from private schools like Berlitz to less expensive schools with bigger class sizes to local community classes.

Luckily, I already spoke French when we arrived. And so, I took Dutch classes in a nearby Flemish community at its community center (for almost nothing). I loved it! My teacher taught us everything from the language to the culture (which I personally feel is so important). I was in a class with other adults from all over the world. Despite our initial differences, we had the one common goal of wanting to communicate with each other and that brought us together... not just as classmates, but as friends.

Take that first step...
Even with limited language, a smile is sometimes all you need, or a wave from one backyard to the next. A great tradition is “l'heure d'apéritif” or cocktail hour. Invite your neighbors for a drink. It doesn't take much to put out some juices or wines and a few snacks. It's also a great excuse for a Belgian beer tasting. Besides, who doesn't speak a foreign language better after a drink? You might even discover your guests speak a bit of your native language... you'd be surprised by how many do. About five years into one of my friendships, I was astonished to go to her house one day and hear her speaking to her other guests in English, and really well! You never know.

Tredegar House Folk Festival
I could give you a hundred more tips on your future trip or expat experience, but instead of just reading about it, go to it! Jump into a new place with wide-open eyes and ears. See the sights, listen to the people and their music whether it's a hoe-down, classical, or new jazzy beat. At the end of RV, the cast sings a great rendition of Get Your Kicks on Route 66, I think we can get our kicks just about anywhere with the right attitude.

For more personal stories of my expat life and of my experience raising Third Culture Kids, visit Good Night, Sleep Tight and click on Third Culture Stories.

For more expat tips from expats all over the globe, visit HiFX's expat page, where I have also added my two cents worth.

Have a great trip!

Monday, December 03, 2012

The Expat Guide to Having Fun in Brussels & Belgium by Doug Morris

I don't usually post anything that I have not written on this blog. However, Doug Morris is a great guy who has written a great book on Belgium. And so, I am posting his press release here for your benefit.
My only remark is that he says, "Belgium is an absolutely amazing place to spend a couple of years." 
I have been in Belgium almost 9 years and still think it's amazing. So, I suggest you buy the book and plan on staying a good long time or at least plan on coming back often... all the while checking back on Belgian Trips to know what else is happening in and around Belgium. 

Belgian trips, expats, expat guides, Doug Morris, The Expat Guide to Having Fun in Brussels and Belgium

If you are living in Belgium and want to make the most of your time while there, then The Expat Guide to Having Fun in Brussels & Belgium is the ebook for you.

The Expat Guide to Having Fun in Brussels & Belgium showcases all the best events and festivals on offer each month, along with the most enjoyable activities and places to visit for kids, families and adults, ensuring that no matter when you arrive in Belgium to live, you will not miss out on any of the most interesting, distinctly local, culturally significant, or just plain fun activities. Within its pages you will find information about great markets, playgrounds, parks, kids’ play centers, amusement parks, adrenaline pumping family activities, Christmas Markets all over Europe, unique cultural destinations, farm stays, bicycling, kayaking, paintball, land sailing, rock climbing, go-karting, a multiplicity of spectator sports to enjoy, social and expat groups to join, as well as periodicals filled with tons of great weekly events and activities all over the country.

Belgium is an absolutely amazing place to spend a couple of years. Brussels is a city of vibrant and diverse neighborhoods; Antwerp is stylish, edgy and hip; Ghent and Leuven are lively university towns; and Belgium as a whole is rich in cultural heritage, natural beauty, and fascinating history. Featuring a treasure trove of enjoyable activities, The Expat Guide to Having Fun in Brussels & Belgium takes away the guesswork about what to do, when, and where. So, if you are looking to fully enjoy your sojourn in Brussels, Belgium and beyond, this book is for you.

For more information on The Expat Guide to Having Fun in Brussels & Belgium, visit

To order a copy of The Expat Guide to Having Fun in Brussels & Belgium for Kindle, Kindle Fire, Apple iPad/iPod/iPhone, and other devices visit (Devices supported by this ebook download: Kindle, Apple iPhone/iPod/iPad, Android, Sony Reader, Blackberry Devices, Palm OS PDAs, Cybook Opus, Bebook (Endless Ideas), Papyrus (Samsung), Jetbook (Ectaco), Windows Mobile OS PDAs, Windows PC/PocketPC, Mac OS, and Linux OS.)

To order a copy of The Expat Guide to Having Fun in Brussels & Belgium for Nook readers, Apple iPad/iPod/iPhone, and other devices visit (Devices supported by this ebook download: Nook, Apple iPhone/iPod/iPad, Android, Sony Reader, Blackberry Devices, Palm OS PDAs, Cybook Opus, Bebook (Endless Ideas), Papyrus (Samsung), Jetbook (Ectaco), Windows Mobile OS PDAs, Windows PC/PocketPC, Mac OS, and Linux OS.) This version does not support Kindle. See next link for Kindle version.

Due to continuing changes in the eReader market, these lists are not inclusive of all available eReaders. If your eReader is not listed above, please refer to your device documentation for compatible file types.

Author Contact Information
About the Author
The author is a professional travel writer who has lived over 20 years in 10 countries on three continents. He has had 10 books published by four different publishers, has a travel column in Primo magazine, and regularly pens articles for a variety of periodicals. For more information about his other books visit or

Mr. Morris lived in Belgium for three amazing years, two of which he was the editor of the US Embassy news weekly, the Brussels Weekly, for which he received a number of awards for quality content and design.