Monday, May 29, 2023

Does Bali live up to its reputation of island paradise?

After returning from a visit to Bali, Indonesia, several people asked me if the island was as pretty and desirable to visit as it seems from pictures. Certainly, we didn’t see every part of the island, but over the course of several days, Larry and I did enjoy different and distinct areas ranging from south to north.

Beach at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Bali

Bali often ranks among the best island destinations in the world, according to numerous travel sites. It’s a province of Indonesia and part of the largest archipelago in the world (although one of the smallest islands). It’s part of the Coral Triangle, an area with the highest biodiversity of marine species. In addition to beaches and an idyllic setting most people expect to see, icons of the culture and a topography that ranges from sea level to mountains make Bali a desirable place to visit.

Beautiful scenery along cliff paths

Nusa Dua district is located at the southern tip of the island. It is home to many high-end hotels built on land that was not suitable for growing rice or other agriculture. Driving around this district one sees beautiful sandy beaches—I decided to wade in to feel the warm, welcoming waves--lush vegetation, Hindu temples, and monkeys. 

Beverly splashing in the ocean

Away from the seaside hotels, the land is very rugged with rocky ledges and emerald cliffs. Uluwatu Temple, which is built on a cliff, captured that scene well.

After a lunch of chicken satay and Bintong beer, the local brew, we drove to Padang Padang beach, a secluded but popular spot that has been featured in movies.

Larry wades into
Padang Padang beach.
Getting down to the water required walking down steep steps through a cave, but plenty of people had found their way.

Late afternoon we visted the GWK (Garuda Wisnu Kencana) Cultural Park, where we watched an outdoor music and dance program honoring Garuda, an eagle-like creature in Hindu mythology with human features. 

Garuda transported the god Wisnu
of Hindu mythology.

Garuda transported the god Wisnu who descended to earth in different manifestations. Garuda symbolizes the virtues of knowledge, power, bravery, loyalty and discipline and is honored with a statue that is 248 feet high.

Our cultural journey from south to north began with a performance of traditional dance and music at Barong Tanah Kilap. Bali is renowned for its strong belief in keeping traditions alive, so children are taught to play ancient instruments and perform dances that tell stories of the culture.

Dancers represent mythical figures in Bali's culture. 
The temple at Tanah Lot on the southwestern coast of Bali is remarkable because it is built on rocks in the sea. Here we saw the first of many “gate” structures, which have become popular picture spots for tourists. Driving northward towards the middle of the island, we came to Jatiluwuh, an area famous for massive rice fields terraced on hillsides. Fortunately, the rice was green and lush, so we marveled at beautiful scenes while enjoying a typical Indonesian lunch there.
Terraced rice fields at Jatiluwuh
Gate structures are common.

We were headed to the mountains for a waterfall hike next, but heavy rain changed those plans. Instead, we stopped at the Floating Temple on Lake Bratan. The temple is only accessible at low tide when boulders leading to it are exposed. This lake is fresh water in what once was a volcanic crater. There is a lovely garden and park surrounding Lake Bratan and plenty of things for families to do. Three worship centers—Hindu and Buddhist temples and a Mosque—are located in the park.

Temple at Tanah Lot is built on ricks in the sea.

On the way back to our hotel in Nusa Dua, we stopped at Tegal Sari, a coffee plantation where we sampled many different teas, all made from natural ingredients grown there. I also drank a cup of Kopi Luwak, the world’s most expensive coffee  that is made from the poop of the cat-like civit.

You can find almost everything at the Badung Market
Badung Market, a traditional open-air market in Bali, is a different concept from supermarkets in the U.S. There is no air conditioning or refrigeration for meat or fish, fruits or vegetables, or even prepared foods that are sold by individuals. But it’s a very busy place since locals shop daily. In Denpasar, the capital of Bali, we visited the Bajra Sandhi Monument, Museum Bali, and Jagatnatha Temple.
Bajra Sandhi Monument in Denpasar, Bali

Lastly, we ended up at Singaraja, a provincial capital that was once under Dutch colonial rule, on the northwest shore of the Bali Sea. In the countryside we visited a farm near Bengkel village. Here the fertile volcanic soil is great for growing organic produce and medicinal herbs, as well as rice, a staple that has been harvested from terraces for 2,000 years. 

Larry samples an herbal tea and
medicinal herbs

From an elevated outlook, we gazed out over Tamblingen and Danau Buyan lakes, had lunch in the Munduk area, and made friends with a couple we’ve since visited with in Texas.

All of these sights helped us understand the allure of Bali for tourists and a new breed of digital nomads, young people who chose to live and work there for months or years because the cost of living is relatively cheap.

Lakes near the northwest shore of the Bali Sea.

Is Bali worth visiting? Yes, just as every place on earth is worth visiting for its own unique characteristics. We’re glad to had had the opportunity to spend several days there.

 Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Monday, May 22, 2023

Largest Texas cavern expands with Hidden Wonders experience

After years of careful development and millions of dollars invested in design, engineering, technology, construction, and guest experience, Natural Bridge Caverns will open its latest and most ambitious tour: Hidden Wonders. Already the largest and most visited commercial cave in Texas, this new multi-million-dollar tour experience features state-of-the-art lighting, a sound and light show, and expansion into never before toured areas of the property's Hidden Cavern. Development of the new tour experience and careful development of new areas of the cavern has been underway since 2017 and will open. It opened to the public on May 12, 2023. As a frequent visitor to Natural Bridge Caverns, I'm really excited to view this new, state-of-the-art expansion.

The large Ballroom in Hidden Cavern

An exceptional experience

Natural Bridge Caverns is one of the world's premier show caverns. Discovered in 1960 by local cavers, this family owned and operated natural wonder is the largest cavern in Texas. In addition to multiple tour experiences through two distinct caverns, the property features above-ground adventures of a different kind including a ropes course, zip rails, a 5,000 square foot outdoor maze, and even an interactive “gem panning” activity.

Ropes course is a fun challenge.

The Hidden Cavern is a second cavern at Natural Bridge Caverns and part of the same geologic system. This distinct and unique environment never had a natural opening to the surface. As a result, incredibly delicate and beautiful formations were able to grow in a completely sealed environment. A Stewardship and technological advances were the main focus when creating this new tour experience.

“In developing this area of the cavern system, we have both pursued and established best case practices for working in this delicate environment. Our goal is to give visitors a stunning view of the cavern like never before, without impacting its beauty,” said Brad Wuest, President of Natural Bridge Caverns.

“Developing this tour has been challenging due to many things, including the depth of the new public tour area. This expansion required the construction of a 710-foot exit tunnel, double the length of anything done before – and to do so with minimal impact on the cavern. We used best in class techniques and developed new ones to make it work. We took the time to do it right. The result speaks for itself.”

Fully programmable state-of-the-art lighting is one of the dramatic changes in the cavern as well as a 1100 foot long expansion of the public passageways beginning with a stainless steel bridge across the cavern's deepest point. Now guests will tour through an area that was only previously accessible by cavers. This addition will showcase an underground canyon, more formations, and a large 5700 square foot dome chamber called the Ballroom which serves as an event space. A new viewing area overlooking a massive passage called the Box Canyon is now a natural theater for a unique sound and light show finale.

Unique light show finale in Hidden Cavern 

Exiting the Hidden Wonders tour will also be a one-of-a-kind experience as guests effortlessly ride from underground to the surface on the 700-foot long BAT (Belt Assisted Transport) through the newly constructed exit tunnel. The Bat is the world's first conveyor system ride out of a cavern. All in all, these innovative features will combine to deliver a completely new experience.

“We plan to showcase the science behind the beauty of this once hidden cavern on our tour,” said Wuest. “With Hidden Wonders' many enhancements we have an opportunity to both educate and entertain.” Guests will be given new interpretation and insights into the natural processes that led to the creation of the passage and its formations that date back millions of years.

More of the cavern system itself is still being discovered; the Wuest family along with their caving team are still actively exploring new areas in the massive cavern. Natural Bridge Caverns is a designated State Historical Site, National Natural Landmark, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.   

For more information about the history of the cave visit About Us For general information about the new tour and future expansion efforts visit   

 Information and photos courtesy of  Trav
Media and Natural Bridge Caverns press release.


Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Be a responsible park visitor

Grand Canyon National Park

Whether you’re a local or enjoy visiting the United States, some of the most recommended places to see are the country’s 62 national parks. These sites have unique features or ecosystems, recreational opportunities, and natural beauty that attract people from all over the world. As summer approaches, national parks will be busier than ever.

Yellowstone became the world’s first national park in 1872. Now there are more than 400 separate areas designated as national parks, forests, seashores, preserves, monuments, recreation areas, lakeshores, parkways, scenic trails, battlefields, and historical sites.

Old Faithful in Yellowstone

Conservation as a guiding principle

The US National Park Service was created in 1916 to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

That mission is still the driving force behind conservation efforts and decisions regarding our national parks. If you’ve ever visited one of these outstanding places, you probably shared your experience with others, maybe even recommending that they also take a trip there. With Instagram, Facebook, and other social media sites so popular for sharing images and experiences, the parks have become increasingly popular destinations, resulting in many more people than some of the parks can reasonably handle.

It’s a paradox that the parks often depend on tourism for their maintenance, which also keeps people intrigued and wanting to visit. Yet preservation of nature and wildlife depends on minimal interruption.

Is there a solution?

Taft Point in Yosemite NP
In parks like Yellowstone and Glacier National Park in Montana where visitors can still drive their vehicles (reservations are needed for Going to the Sun Road), limited parking spaces come at a premium. Other parks like Zion and Grand Canyon have developed a shuttle system to alleviate disappointed, even angry, responses when people get frustrated by the limitations. Rapid modernization including WiFi service, makes visiting Yosemite more convenient but creates other struggles as the park tries to cope with the changes the come with growing numbers.
Check for reservations on Going
to the Sun Road, Glacier NP

Zion National Park, Arches NP, Rocky Mountain NP, and others either have or may start limiting the number of people who can visit each day. Visitors may have to sign up for a certain time slot in which they are allowed to enter the park, obtain a parking space in advance, hike on a specific trail, or book a seat on the park’s shuttle bus.

While these requirements may be viewed as restrictive, it’s imperative to find a balance between visitor numbers and park preservation. If that means your visit requires preplanning for a parking spot or getting on a shuttle, then realize that action is necessary to ensure continued enjoyment of scenery, wildlife, and activities for all. 

Timed reservations are needed to visit Arches NP

As visitors, we should appreciate that responsible behavior (including keeping the park clean and exercising civil behavior) is the only way to keep these places available and as wonderful and magical as they truly are.

Information courtesy of Amanda CroweConsultant | Researcher, Digital Content &

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Friday, May 5, 2023

Texas Living History Week

 As part of the upcoming National Travel and Tourism Week, Texas Historical ommCission (THC) is hosting Texas Living History Week to encourage people to travel back in time at any of the 36 state historic sites operated by the agency. 

At these historic sites across the state, travelers can step back into history. During Texas Living History Week, May 7-13, tours and hands-on activities will demonstrate how earlyTexans spent their daily lives. 

From ornate Victorian mansions to everyday inns, frontier forts to 20th-century leaders’ homes, there’s a state historic site to fit every interest. See the full range of programs on the THC’s Texas Time Travel website: Anyone planning a day trip is encouraged to call in advance.  

Kreische house

On May 6, plan a visit to Kreische Brewery and Monument Hill State Historic Site for “In the Kreische Kitchen,” a tasty event dedicated to cooking traditional German Texas recipes of the 19th century directly from the site’s historic wood-burning stove. Guided house tours will also be available. 

On May 6-7, Barrington Plantation State Historic Site, located at Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site, will host an event focusing on a woman’s daily duties in the 1800s. Follow our educators and lend a hand watering, planting, or weeding to help prepare the gardens for summer.  

National Museum of the Pacific War
Fredricksburg, Texas

The National Museum of the Pacific War is hosting a free living-history event on May 6 called “Outpost: Tales from the Home Front.” This short program will allow visitors to get up close and personal with details about life during the Pacific War and have the opportunity to interact with (and possibly handle) a few artifacts.  

Goodnight house

Visit Charles and Mary Ann Goodnight Ranch State Historic Site during the entire week where interpreters will provide an in-depth look at the Goodnights’ true personalities and particularities. Take a dive into larger-than-life insights of these legendary figures in Texas history.  

Fulton House

If you’re along the Gulf Coast, you can’t miss the opportunity to explore "Oakhurst,” the Fulton home at Fulton Mansion State Historic Site, May 9-13. The home was considered incredibly advanced during the 1880s due to its innovative features like central heating, gas lighting, and indoor plumbing.  

Fort McKavett

Fort McKavett State Historic Site
 is hosting living history days from May 11 to 13. Visitors can explore the remains of a 150-year-old West Texas fort, which is now considered one of the best preserved and most intact examples of a Texas military post of the era.  

Visit Starr Family Home State Historic Site on May 13 to experience historic food being prepared in a period kitchen. Starr Family Home staff will prepare homemade strawberry ice cream using a recipe from the 1887 White House cookbook. 

THC preserves and operates 36 state historic sites including American Indian sites, frontier forts and the homes of leaders and statesmen who lived in them. Many state historic sites and other heritage travel destinations are near historic downtown districts, where visitors can dine or shop at local businesses that make their communities unique.  

Information courtesy of Justin Minsker

Photos from free sites



Saturday, April 29, 2023

This might be the best coffee in the world

If your day doesn’t start until after you’ve downed a steamy cup of coffee, you might be interested in a tasting we recently had the privilege of doing in Bali, Indonesia. I actually drank a cup of Luwak coffee, often called the world’s finest and most exclusive coffee.

It’s also called “bucket list coffee,” a reference to the 2007 movie Bucket List in which procuring a cup of this special brew is one of the items that drives stars Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson to accomplish before they die.

Larry surrounded by flavorful plants

On a day tour of the island one stop was at Tegal Sari, an amazing coffee and tea plantation. After walking down paths surrounded by coffee beans, vanilla leaves, ginger root, cocoa, lemongrass, hibiscus, and cinnamon (ingredients used in making all-natural coffee and tea flavors) we were treated to a tasting of a dozen tea flavors and, optionally, Luwak coffee.

Why is it so special?

A cup of kopi luwak coffee (kopi refers to the process) generally costs $35 to $80. The high price reflects the traditional, hands-on process for producing the coffee--no machines are used.

The civit at the plantation

The coffee is made from beans retrieved from the droppings of a small local mammal called the Asian palm civit, which is found in Southeast Asia. Production takes a lot of time and energy.

This is a three-month supply of poop.

Ripe coffee berries are ingested by a civit, either in the wild or in captivity. The poop is then collected, every day at Tegal Sari since they have their own civit. When dry, the uncrushed beans are harvested from the droppings, washed and sterilized. Then they are roasted and ground for 20 minutes with a mortar and pestle. It’s a slow process.
Beans taken from civit poop

The flavor is said to be smoother and less bitter than regular coffee. The reason is believed to be because the luwak only eats the ripest coffee fruit, and the fermentation process, along with acidic enzymes and gastric juices in its stomach, alter the composition of amino acids and impact the aroma of the coffee. This gives the beans a richer flavor. Some people say it has hints of caramel and chocolate. Unfortunately, I’m not enough of a coffee connoisseur to detect those subtle tastes.

Is it worth trying?

Sure. It’s a unique coffee, and you might decide the flavor is worth the cost. Anyway, it’s a good cup of joe and a fun experiment. Like regular coffee, it has antioxidants that help protect the body against inflammation and chronic diseases. It also has antibacterial properties and is relatively low in caffeine.

Stirring coffee beans over heat is a tough job.

Beverly drinks luwak coffee, and 
Larry samples different tea flavors.
The coffee we tasted in Bali is not imported but can only be purchased there. While I declined bringing home a bag, we did purchase three different kinds of tea from the 12 in our tasting.

At the very least we had an interesting excursion, and we now have our favorite teas to remind us of the experience.

Photos by Larry and  Beverly Burmeier


Monday, April 17, 2023

Take a gondola ride when in Venice

A visit to Venice, Italy isn’t complete without a gondola ride down the Grand Canal and a couple of side canals that substitute for streets.  So after spending a several hours walking around St. Mark’s Square (overrun with tourists and souvenir vendors on a Sunday afternoon), strolling through a maze of narrow alleys and streets to the famous Rialta Bridge (great photo opportunity), and bypassing long lines of people waiting to enter Doges Cathedral (admiring the outside architecture sufficed), we splurged for an evening on the water.

Gondola ride is the quintessential adventure in Venice.

My husband Larry and I shared our gondola—and a bottle of champagne—with a young couple from New York, skimming the water’s surface to a serenade of Italian love songs.  Romance filled the air as dark embers of a summer sun flickered into the shadows of night, softly illuminating the unmistakable architecture of Venice.
Goldolier paddling

Gondoliers dressed in red and white striped shirts deftly maneuvered their water crafts through the narrow canals with a single long-handled paddle.  

Wine adds to any experience!

Shops lining the water were mostly closed at this point, and the crowds had thinned noticeably.  Cool night breezes felt refreshing after our mid-afternoon wanderings in the August heat. 

Looking at the city from less-crowded evening waterways provided a different perspective from our earlier foray among the crowds of tourists. Two hour gondola tours may be booked with or without music, but I would miss those deep, smooth Italian vocals.

Venice is actually a series of 20 islands connected by bridges.  The city is built on supports placed in the ground and surrounded with mud that eventually becomes hard as concrete.  During the winter months, ample rains cause water to rise and flood the streets, so people wear hip-length rubber boots for sloshing through town.  When the water level is so high, boats are not able to pass under many bridges, so alternate route are taken. 

Gondolas ready to go in the Grand Canal

Still, Venetians take advantage of their watery situation.  Boat races are held on the first Sunday of each month, and fireworks celebrate construction of the Doges Cathedral every third week of the month.

These days the Italian government has banned all but the smallest cruise ships from central Venice. Cruise ships sail up the 2.5 mile Giudecca canal, before turning right to dock at the “Marittima” port on the western edge of Venice's historic center. You can walk from the cruise port exit to Piazzale Roma in about 20 minutes.

Skimming a small canal inVenice

Venice looks just like all those pictures you’ve seen of the city—ancient buildings on the water’s edge, water taxis churning a constant path from one point to another, and omnipresent shops and bridges.  Only as we sailed away from Venice on our cruise ship and observed the city from a more distant vantage point, did we begin to fully appreciate its beauty and unique character.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Saturday, April 8, 2023

National Park Week starts soon--plan your free visit

Grand Canyon National Park

America’s national parks have been called our country’s greatest idea. As an ardent fan of these beautiful natural treasures, I certainly agree, and there’s no better time to visit than National Park Week, a nine-day celebration that starts of April 22, 2023.
Bryce Canyon National Park

It’s not a coincidence that this special week starts on Earth Day. Entrance fees will be waived  on April 22 to encourage folks to enjoy a national park in person. While you may be familiar with the most famous ones that actually have “National Park” in their names, keep in mind that there are more than 400 national parks, many with different naming designations. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and types, so there may be a national park closer to where you live than you realize.

Zion National Park

With an extended time frame for this year’s celebration, each of the nine days has been given a special theme around which events and information are focused. Sunday, April 22 kicks off the week with a theme of Connection. April 23 is Discovery, April 24—Accomplishment, April 25—Tradition, April 26—Gratitude, April 27—Ingenuity, April 28—Inspiration, April 29—Fun, and April 30—Love.

Big Bend National Park

Saturday, April 29 is also National Junior Ranger Day, so it’s a perfect time to introduce children to the magic of our parks. They can earn a Junior Ranger Badge while learning to explore, learn, and protect each park visited. Even better, this will encourage them to leave the screens at home and to focus on the great outdoors.
Yellowstone National Park

Following the themes, people are invited to share their own stories about national parks using #MyParkStory or follow others’ stories at #YourParkStory. You can tell what a particular park has meant for you or describe adventures you have had in a national park.

Yosemite National Park

To find a park near you or special events that are taking place in different facilities go to You can also find out more regarding what the National Park Service does through programs and partners to preserve natural and cultural heritages and provide recreational opportunities in places across the U.S. 

Enjoy the photos of some of our favorite national parks that I've shared in this post.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Grand Canyon National Park from the Colorado River

Everglades National Park

Glacier National Park

Great Smokey Mountain National Park

Volcano National Park, Hawaii