Monday, December 5, 2022

An ancient monument to democracy

The Parthenon
It’s hard to imagine a city more important to the history of Western civilization than Athens, Greece. Because history has been recorded there since 11 B.C., we know that in addition to being the historical capital of Europe, Athens is recognized as the birthplace of democracy, arts, science, and philosophy. Plato, Socrates, Pericles, Euripides, and Sophocles all called Athens home during their lifetimes. It is referred to as an educational center focused on the Trilogy of Knowledge—Academy, University, and Library.

With such a long and interesting history, visitors like Larry and me find Athens fascinating. Constructed between seven hills, the city of Parthenon has a promenade around the Acropolis for folks to walk or bike on. (Actually, the term acropolis refers to any large hill, and many cities in Greece have their own Acropolis).

Olympic stadium in Athens

We decided to check out one of the most famous sites of Athens, the Parthenon and the Acropolis on which it is built (The last time we were there it was so windy we couldn’t enjoy the views). After stopping briefly at Panathenaic Stadium where the first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896—and held there again in 2004--we saw the Temple of Zeus, a building that was completed by Emperor Hadrian in the second century A.D. 

The Parthenon is often regarded as a monument to democracy, as well as a tribute to the Athenians' victory in the Greco-Persian Wars.

Entering the temple through sacred gates

After walking up approximately 100 slick marble and stone steps to ascend the Acropolis, we entered through sacred gates guarding what began as a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena Parthenon (Athena the Virgin). Built more than 2,500 years ago, the Parthenon has become one of the world’s most significant cultural monuments. It is an enduring symbol of Ancient Greece and the most recognized icon of the country today.

Olive tree beside the temple of Athena

Constructed during the High Classical period, it is considered to be the culmination of the Doric order, the simplest of the three Classical Greek architectural orders (others are Ionic and Corinthian). The white marble temple has suffered damage over the centuries, but its basic structure remains intact. Eight columns support the main buildings. An explosion in 1687 during the Ottoman occupation resulted in irreparable damage until restoration efforts began in the late 19th century.

Reconstruction continues

Reconstruction is an ongoing process, but even scaffolding and cranes can’t diminish the wonder of this magnificent structure. We learned that the massive columns that appear to be standing straight, really aren’t. Even in those early centuries engineers knew slanting the columns slightly inward and curving the steps slightly would give the illusion of straight lines.

Carved maidens 

We wandered among the ruins, being careful not to trip on rocks and rubble that indicate the work of rebuilding.  We stopped for photos at the Erechitheion Temple and admired the six lovely maidens delicately carved into columns supporting the Porch of the Caryatids. We marveled at the enormous size of the Temple of Athena (who is now a symbol of Nike) and the ancient olive tree that grows nearby. 

Overlooking the city

Looking down, two ancient theaters come into view, and we gaze over the thriving city below. Then it’s time to carefully descend those same marble and stone steps as we leave this majestic and historic place.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

 

Monday, November 28, 2022

Best scenic drive at the Grand Canyon's south rim

One of the highlights of a visit to the Grand Canyon is following the Desert View Drive, which runs along the canyon rim for 23 miles. This is the only scenic drive open to private cars on the South Rim. With one breathtaking overlook and pull-out after another, this portion of SR 64 offers some of the most stunning panoramas of the canyon.

The majestic Grand Canyon!

Print out a guide which provides mile markers for each noteworthy stop. There is parking at every viewpoint; just be sure to allow plenty of time (at least two hours) to appreciate the marvelous scenery. 

Here is a visual tour of our journey:

Pipe Creek Vista at mile marker 242.5 is the first pullout from the Grand Canyon Visitor Center.

Colorful rock formations at Pipe Creek Vista

Duck on a Rock at mile marker 246 is the next canyon viewpoint after Pipe Creek. Visitors have imagined formations like castles and temples in the rocks. Do you see a duck?
People see different things in the Grand Canyon formations.

Grandview Point, a popular viewpoint at mile marker 251, offers panoramic views of Grand Canyon from east to west, including several bends of the Colorado River to the east.

The Colorado River sneaks into view.

Incredibly beautiful formations take shape at Grandview Point.

Moran Point, at mile marker 258, highlights three main rock groups of the Grand Canyon—Layered Paleozoic sedimentary rocks, Grand Canyon Supergroup, and Basement Rocks (oldest at the canyon).

A variety of rock groups make up the Grand Canyon.

Lipan Point, at mile marker 263.5, offers views of Hance whitewater rapid; Unkar Delta, home of ancestral Puebloan people; and the Supergroup, a unique rock strata that is visible from only a few places on the South Rim.

There are many whitewater rapids on the Colorado River.


Desert View,
mile marker 264.5. From the Point you have excellent views of the Colorado River as it makes a big bend to the west.
 

The Colorado River winds among the walls of the Grand Canyon.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Tips to avoid stress on winter flights

In previous years, giving advice for winter travel usually meant suggesting ways to avoid germs and staying well. While that’s still important, this year advice tends more toward alleviating stress if you have to cancel or rebook a flight for any reason.

Weather, which is unpredictable when flights have been booked weeks or months in advance, is a huge culprit for causing flight delays or cancellations. That can be especially troublesome if a flight has multiple stops, which means more opportunities for something to go wrong. Combine that with fewer flights routed through many airports, and you can be faced with a huge hassle to get to your destination—or to get home after your visit.

I actually booked and later cancelled a flight with multiple stops and ungodly travel times to Michigan in early December because I didn’t want to take a chance, and that was even before the holiday travel season officially began. Airlines are still not fully staffed and may not have adequate resources to service increased travel demands.


If you are scheduled to fly during winter months (and especially around the holidays) here are some tips that might help if your flight is delayed, cancelled, or rerouted.

--If your flight isn’t booked yet, use a credit card that provides travel insurance. Check your card to be sure of coverage, including for flights affected by severe weather. Additional costs incurred during a delay, such as meals or accommodations, may also be covered. If your credit card does not provide travel insurance, major airlines generally offer insurance coverage at the time of booking. Either that or purchasing separate travel insurance could be a good investment for getting a refund if a storm interrupts your trip.

--Book a direct flight, if possible. If not, are there stops at destinations less likely to be affected by bad weather? Of course, that’s not always possible to predict, but it’s still good to think about when scheduling.

--For help rebooking during travel, tools like Google Flights allow you to compare routes across multiple airlines. If replicating your chosen route won’t work, you might have to broaden your search and look at nearby airports to find alternate flights. Also consider booking a one-way flight rather than round trip. You can book the return after arriving at your destination.

--Because most airlines have a social media platform, you might get help from a customer service representative by posting about your dilemma on social media. But this tip is still iffy, especially if airline employees are overwhelmed with requests, so I’d use it as a last resort.

Now for some good tips whenever you travel—but more important during the winter season:


--Check in online, and set up flight alerts. An early status report that alerts you to a delayed or cancelled flight before you arrive at the airport could allow you to start making changes more quickly.

--Be prepared to stay longer. Pack medications and other necessities to last at least several days longer than your planned stay. You might even check out accommodations near the airport in case there’s a last-minute change to your plans.

--Take only carryon luggage. Traveling light gives you more flexibility to hop on another flight without worrying where you checked luggage might be or when it might arrive at your destination.


Be prepared so you can avoid inconveniences and the hectic scramble and stress that drives passengers crazy if the worst does happen. And it often does.

 Photos from free sources. 

 

 

Monday, November 14, 2022

Travelers are staying longer and spending more

 According to several global tour companies that service thousands of travelers, TrafalgarBrendan Vacations and Insight Vacations, travelers are spending more and traveling more compared to pre-pandemic times.

Beautiful Ireland

The tour companies report a surge in spending (no, it’s not from inflation ) which is up over 20 percent compared to 2019. Travelers are also staying longer, with more than a 35 percent increase in people traveling for three weeks or longer.  This reflects a desire to embrace the trend of slow travel. The pent up demand is translating to travelers seizing the opportunity to splurge on trips they’ve been dreaming about and using those PTO days and retirement funds to stay longer and delve into the core of a destination and its culture.


Countryside of Ireland--40 shades of green

Travelers are increasingly shifting their interests towards longer trips where they can leisurely explore a destination at their own pace. There’s a clear demand for more in-depth and cultural travel experiences that give travelers the opportunity to take time to learn, explore and feel at ease outside of their everyday lives. This insight encourages us to keep offering our guests the travel opportunities that they crave.” says Melissa DaSilva, President of Trafalgar, Brendan Vacations and Insight Vacations, North America.

Lake Orta in northern Italy

Trafalgar, a global guided vacation company, reports that travelers are eager to get back to Italy, splurging on longer trips to more deeply immerse themselves in the destination. Trafalgar’s Best of Italy, a 13-day adventure is currently the most booked trip for this year and next. On this trip, guests travel almost the entire length of the country—as far north as Lake Como and as far south as Sorrento.
Bellagio on Lake Como

Travelers continue to spend more to get the most out of their time across the pond. For Celtic tour company, Brendan Vacations, the 15-day classic Best of Ireland and Scotland is the most popular trip. Guests can explore the highlights of both countries plus Northern Ireland in one trip hitting all the iconic cities including Dublin, Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow and more. Brendan Vacations also makes it possible to travel with a private chauffeur or via locally
hosted rail in addition to their guided trips.

Unmistakably Scottish

Insight Vacations’ Best of Spain & Portugal is up 600% from 2019, as travelers flock to the cultural wine regions. The 15-day trip around the Iberian Peninsula brings travelers on an all-encompassing tour of Spain and Portugal with a visit to an art museum with art historians in Madrid, a dance lesson at a school that teaches and conserves flamenco dancing in Seville, wine tasting in Porto, and more.

Charming Lisbon, Portugal

Trafalgar, Brendan Vacations and Insight Vacations primarily service the 55+ demographic as well as solo travelers and multi-generational family travelers.

 I have no connection to any of the companies mentioned. Photos are from Burmeier's travels.

Information courtesy of Melannie Arolick, melannie@deckerroyal.com

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

44 nights of holiday magic in Marble Falls, Texas

Community partners in Marble Falls have announced the lineup for 44 nights of events, which will take place from November 18 to December 31, 2022 in celebration of the Christmas season.

Perched on the banks of the Colorado River, Marble Falls, Texas is a gateway to the Highland Lakes region of the Texas Hill Country. Marble Falls is a premier Hill Country destination, offering gorgeous scenery, appealing attractions and surprising amenities to keep travelers returning again and again, while also remaining uniquely situated as a hub to the surrounding region’s natural beauty and connection to neighboring towns.

The City of Marble Falls, along with Visit Marble Falls, will kick off Christmas celebrations with the annual Downtown Christmas Tree Lighting on November 11 at 6 p.m. The Walkway of Lights, celebrating its 32nd year, will feature more than two million lights. Along with the family favorite Winter Ice Skating Rink, these attractions will be open to the public from Nov. 18 through Dec. 31st from 6 p.m. - 10 p.m. This year, the annual Christmas Parade will be held on Friday, December 2 at 6 p.m. Additional holiday activities this year include Breakfast with Santa, Christmas Market on Main, Downtown Sip N’ Shops, Music on Main, and more. 

“We are so excited for the upcoming season full of holiday magic,” said Mike Hodge, City Manager of Marble Falls. “This annual celebration represents the ongoing joint effort between the City’s community, Chamber of Commerce, local businesses, nonprofits, and volunteers who continue to make Marble Falls a wonderful place to enjoy the holiday season.”

Presented by the Marble Falls Chamber of Commerce, the Walkway of Lights will be open nightly from Nov. 18 to Dec. 31. The walkway gates open at 6 p.m. and while there is no cost to attend, visitors are encouraged to give monetary donations to help support the event and local nonprofits. The paved path is dog-friendly and ADA compliant as well as offering ease to those with strollers. On Dec. 3 and Dec. 21, the Walkway of Lights and Winter Ice Skating Rink will open at 5 p.m. for accessibility hour, which is reserved for members of the disabled community and their families. 

Complimentary street parking will be available in downtown Marble Falls, and a trolley will run from Main & 5th Street to the Walkway of Lights. The Winter Ice Skating Rink will be located at Harmony Park in downtown Marble Falls, a new location this year. Ice skating is $10 in advance and $12 for an hour on the rink, with skate rentals included in the price of admission. Tickets can be purchased in advance at VisitMarbleFalls.org/Christmas. Private parties are also available.

With so many activities on the schedule, visitors should consider a weekend trip this holiday season. After the official lighting of the downtown Christmas tree on Nov. 11th has taken place., stick around for a post-sunset screening of The Grinch on the lawn at Harmony Park. Music on Main with The Jesse Stratton Band will entertain guests in Old Oak Square from 6-9 p.m. on November 17.

Christmas Market on Main, a yearly favorite tradition, will be held on Saturday, Dec. 3rd from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Shop more than 50 local vendors to grab the perfect holiday gifts and stroll downtown where boutiques, breweries, and sugary treats are all within walking distance.

To extend the holiday fun, reserve a room at the McKenzie Guest House or the La Quinta Inn & Suites for an overnight stay.  Learn more about Christmas in Marble Falls at VisitMarbleFalls.org/Christmas. Full event listings of all 44 nights of Christmas events with details and dates can be found here.

Information courtesy of Lauren Fritz, publicist of LookThinkMake publicity. www.lookthinkmake.com

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

 

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

No fee to visit national parks on Veterans Day

Take advantage of the last fee-free day to visit America’s national parks in 2022 on November 11, Veteran’s Day.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Many national parks showcase battlefields, military parks, and historic sites that commemorate and honor the service of American veterans. In addition, every national park is part of our collective identity that defines who we are and where we came from as a nation. They remind visitors of the values, ideals, and freedoms that our veterans protect.

Especially on Veterans Day you can honor those who have served and sacrificed for our country with a visit to a national park.
“Whether you go to a natural, historical, or recreational site, or an urban, suburban, or rural park, every national park provides a place to exercise both the body and the mind,” says National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.

Grand Canyon NP

Here are 10 great ways to get some exercise and enjoy a beloved park or experience a new one—for free:

Take a Hike

There are 18,600 miles of trails in national parks. Hit the trail for a short hike or a day-long expedition. Cross the Continental Divide on the High Line Trail in Glacier, go vertical on the Moro Rock Trail in Sequoia & Kings Canyon, or tackle a section of the Appalachian Trail. If you’d like to hike with an expert, many parks offer daily ranger-led guided tours, including the Everglades, Jean Lafitte, and Hot Springs.

Dive In

Historical missions in San Antonio, Texas

Enjoy 43,000 miles of national park shoreline. Walk on the beach, go for a swim, snorkel an underwater trail in the Virgin Islands, or dive the aquamarine water and fish-bejeweled coral reefs of Biscayne or the kelp forests and sea caves of Channel Islands. Or, take a canoe or kayak ride through Big Cypress to observe manatees and birds.

Go Underground

Travel below the surface and discover the dazzling sights found along more than 900 miles of passageways in caves. Check out Mammoth Cave – the longest cave in the world or the 14-acre Big Room in Carlsbad Caverns. If you are really adventurous, sign up for a spelunking trip.

Sleep Under the Stars

Moose in Glacier National Park

Experience the simple pleasure of an evening campfire, sleep in the great outdoors, and wake up in some of the most beautiful surroundings in the world. Choose your setting – mountain view, ocean view, or even city view. The 12,000 campsites in national parks include spots in New York City and in Boston.

Go For a Ride

Some of the prettiest scenery you’ll ever see is along the 5,450 miles of paved road in national parks. In fact, 1,100 miles are designated parkways designed especially for sightseeing. Just be sure to get out of the car at overlooks or trailheads and stretch your legs. It’s amazing what you will find not far off the road. Wander to a waterfall at Shenandoah or meander through a meadow at Rocky Mountain.

View Wildlife

National parks are the best places to view wildlife in their natural habitats. Don’t get too close but enjoy seeing everything from baby birds to two-ton bison in a park. Watch the strutting age grouse perform its annual courtship dance in Grand Teton or the spring migration of grey whales at Point Reyes. Or, encounter prehistoric wildlife such as a saber tooth cat at Badlands or a Stegosaurus at Dinosaur. There are 233 national parks with preserved fossils, some which date back two billion years.

Go Green

Half Dome in Yosemite NP

Take part in Earth Day activities at many national parks. There will 50 exhibiters, food, music, and family activities at John Muir’s birthday celebration at John Muir National Historic Site. Saratoga will host exhibits and an art show featuring pieces made from natural and recycled material. The Grand Canyon will have a variety of interactive exhibits at its largest ever Earth Day event. Perry’s Victory & International Peace Memorial will host an Earth Day Jamboree.

Explore, Learn, Protect

Kids five to 12 years old are encouraged to take part in free Junior Ranger programs in almost every national park. Ask for a Junior Ranger booklet at the visitor center and earn a badge by completing different activities.

Take to Two Wheels

Ride bikes in Yosemite

One of the most popular things to do in a park is ride a bike. Set your own pace and stop to relax or take in the view when and where you want. One of the newest bike trails was recently built in New River Gorge. More than 1,400 Boy Scouts and leaders volunteered 78,544 hours to construct a 12.8-mile mountain bike trail. Other popular parks for biking include Acadia which has 45 miles of old carriage roads, Canyonlands, home of the 103-mile White Rim Road loop, and the C&O Canal and its 184-mile long towpath.

Information courtesy of NPF, mhall@nationalparks.org  www.nps.gov

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

 
 

Monday, October 17, 2022

Put this Peruvian city on your South American itinerary

Arches overlooking the city of Arequipa, Pery

We arrived in Arequipa in southern Peru and were met at the airport by our guide Beatrice, native of the city, and driver Roberto. We soon saw why Peru’s second largest city is called “white city.” Many buildings (homes, palaces, churches, convents) were built with sillar, white volcanic rock found in abundance in the area. As the historic center, it contains many colonial-era buildings, primarily churches and convents, built during the 400-years of Spanish domination from 1452 through the 1800s. 

Volcanoes nearby

Arequipa means “behind the mountains,” an apt name since the city is located at the foot of volcano Misti, a city icon. It’s near the Valley of the Volcanoes, which contains more than 80, some still active. In fact, the topography is very dry and rocky, resembling what I think the moon’s surface must look like.

Mountains and volcanoes surround Arequipa.

There’s great variety in the climate, geology, and ecology. Although it’s located in the middle of the Peruvian desert at 7800 feet, ash from volcanoes makes it a fertile agriculture center for crops like onions, garlic, and grains. 

Arequipa encompasses centuries of history of the Peruvian Highlands. Its archeological heritage, Inca legacy, and older cultures have left an indelible mark on culture, customs, art, and the city’s development. Industries include alpaca wool factories, cement factories, and copper mines.

White volcanic rock used for buildings

Convent reveals city’s history


Santa Catalina Convent, founded in 1579, is one of Arequipa’s most visited sights. Beautiful chapels, squares, and streets that retain original styles and vibrant colors of orange, blue, and red make this a must-see. Calle Sevilla, the oldest and longest street, retains the look of Arequipa from the 16th century, when the convent was essentially an entire city.

Carmen, our guide, explained that the Dominican convent was populated by many second daughters, who were expected to become nuns while oldest daughters married. The nuns lived on one side of the wall, and the public (town) was on the other side. They took vows for silence, work, and prayer, coming at age 12 and training till age 16.

There were 80 different apartments; wealthier nuns had better places, and poorer nuns might be their servants trying to work off their dowry. In addition to other duties, nuns embroidered robes and other finery for priests.

Santa Catalina Convent 

Tiles on the floor of the convent were in the original Santa Catalina church. Faith-based artwork from the 18th century was restored in 2006, and 100 paintings are displayed in the art gallery. Today entrance fees go to the nuns for upkeep of the property, which is now a museum and tourist attraction. The nearby square is a busy commercial area where arches along the streets add charm to the trees, paths, and fountain in Plaza de Armas.

Tourism is growing

We visited the main square in Arequipa where arches, each decorated with quotes from important people, look over the city.  The first cathedral in the region is here, indicating an important transition from Inca to Catholic religion. The ancient Grau Bridge is a famous landmark over the Chile River. Peru just became a democracy 30 years ago, but with more than a million people living in the country, tourism is actively pursued.

A fun fact: It’s cheaper to take a taxi than to drive around the city, so there’s plenty of business for its 48,000 taxis.

Exterior of Hotel Casa Andina in Arequipa

While in Arequipa, we stayed at Hotel Casa Andina Private Collection, a restored colonial-era house with original stone flooring. Rooms in the old section have stone walls two feet thick, small windows, alpaca blanket, 10-light chandelier, and flat-screen television.  A new part of the hotel was built behind the former Spanish mansion.  Wicker sofas and chairs invite guests to lounge in an open sitting area. A full buffet breakfast was served outdoors by the main courtyard of this charming hotel located within walking distance of many attractions.

 Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Saturday, October 1, 2022

New proposals to protect air travelers

If you have flown in commercial airplane in recent months you may have had a flight cancelled or significantly delayed. Vouchers that are good for only a year have been the standard way airlines compensated travelers—and we all know that is far from equitable. The voucher can only be used towards a future flight on that airline and the amount must be used on one flight, essentially giving the airline an interest-free loan and leaving the customer without their cash or any recourse. Getting a refund from an airline is practically impossible.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has recently proposed new rules for airlines that could work for the benefit of fliers. The public has until November 21 to offer comments that will hopefully bring about changes to protect the rights of travelers and help ensure they get timely refunds they deserve. If you wish to contribute to the discussion please do so at https://www.regulations.gov/  docket number DOT-OST-2022-0089


The proposals include four key objectives:

1.      Require airlines to provide refunds if the departure or arrival time changes by three or more hours for a domestic flight or six or more hours for an international flight.

2.      Require airlines to provide refunds when the airline changes the passenger’s departure or arrival airport or adds stops to an itinerary.

3.      Require airlines to provide refunds when the airlines cause “a significant downgrade” in the travel experience by switching to a different type of plane.

4.      Require airlines to provide future travel credits that never expire when passengers can’t travel for health and safety reasons during a pandemic or because borders are closed.

The rules would also apply to tickets that are typically non-refundable, including lower-priced basic economy fares.


If enacted, the new regulations “would be the largest boost to traveler protections in years,” said Scott Keyes, founder of flight deal tracking service Scott’s Cheap Flights. After the 90-day public comment period, the DOT will consider feedback and decide how to proceed. 

Of course, airlines and their lobbyists will have plenty of opinions, which might lessen the impact for some of the proposals, so any public comments supporting the proposals should be extremely helpful in ensuring a good outcome for fliers.


Still, airlines would not be required to compensate passengers when the passenger initiates a cancellation or flight change for uncovered reasons. The only case where airlines are required to provide assistance is when a passenger is “bumped” from a flight due to it being oversold.

“Americans expect when they purchase an airline ticket they will arrive at their destination safely, reliably, and affordably,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg wrote in a letter sent to heads of the major U.S. airlines in August.

These proposed rules come on the heels of a 34.9 percent increase from May to June in air travel service complaints from passengers to the DOT.  In fact, complaints are nearly 270% above pre-pandemic levels, not surprising considering the number of flight cancellations and disruptions in recent months. Passengers were often severely inconvenienced when airlines sold flights they did not have pilots, staff, and ground crew to properly operate.

Buttigieg even suggested that airlines should provide meal vouchers for delays of three hours or more and lodging accommodations for passengers who must wait overnight because of disruptions within the carrier's control. Didn't that used to be the norm?

For information about airline passenger rights, as well as DOT’s rules, guidance and orders, visit the Department’s aviation consumer website at https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer.

Photos from free sources.