Saturday, April 21, 2018

Which airports do you love (or hate)?


Is there an airport you love? Or hate? What airports do you try to book flights to whenever possible—or avoid at all costs?
Playing the waiting game in airport terminal
We know that airports are typically busy. (Lounge access, if you have it, makes hanging out in an airport tolerable) Most travelers just want to get on a plane and get out of the airport, so the easiest thing to do is just use whatever airport is closest to our destination and then deal with any inconveniences.

Most passengers just want to get on their way.
But some airports do try to please travelers. Skytrax has surveyed millions of flyers to determine the best and worst airports in the world—and also rankings in the United States. Ratings are based on check-in, arrivals, transfers, shopping, security, immigration, and departures. Of course, not all of these criteria are important to everyone or every trip.
For 2018, Singapore Changi Airport has received honors as the best airport in the world. If you haven’t been there, perhaps a trip to Asia including this airport, which could be a destination itself,  should be planned.

Ease of collecting luggage is one criteria for airports.
Other notable airports include Incheon International (Seoul), Tokyo International (Haneda), Hong Kong International Airport, Doha Hamad international Airport, Munich Airport, and Chubu Centrair Nagoya. Did you notice that many of these are Asian airports? And that none of them are in the U.S.
Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson is very busy, but it still
scored better than most U.S. airports.
It’s true--no U.S. airports made the top 10. The highest ranking is Denver, which is number 29 on the list. Others in the top 100 include Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky (34), Houston George Bush (48), Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta (50), San Francisco (51) Dallas/Ft. Worth (56), Seattle-Tacoma (62), Los Angeles (72), and Minneapolis-St. Paul (79).

I’ve traveled through all of those airports except one, but rarely do more there than what the facility is built for—check in and board an airplane—so I can’t say one stands out in my memory over another. Since Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta (one I use frequently) is the world’s busiest airport, ranking #50 deserves kudos.
Local restaurants have a presence in the Austin airport.
Personally, I love Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (my home airport) because of its clearly local flavor. You won’t find chain restaurants or stores, only local favorites in this airport. You can get great barbeque and Mexican food from the original eateries in Austin. Music, including live music on weekends and holidays, entertains as you walk through the corridors. Since it’s a medium-sized airport, it’s easy to navigate and reasonably quick to enter or exit.

Amy's ice creams are an Austin tradition.
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What are your favorite airports? Which airports do you actively try to avoid?
Photos by Beverly Burmeier and free sources.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Norwegian Airline's new service from Austin and Chicago


If you live in Chicago or Austin, you now have a reasonable way to get to Europe without spending a fortune. Forget about air fares in the thousands and think in terms of hundreds (dollars, that is).
New guy in town

Named the World's Best Low-Cost Long-Haul Airline and Value Airline of the Year 2018, Norwegian recently launched two new routes from Chicago and Austin to London. These flights began March 25 and March 27 respectively. Norwegian is the first low-cost airline to offer transatlantic service from both cities.
“When we initially announced our new Chicago service back in July 2017, we did so with four weekly flights. However, due to high demand, we increased our offering to daily service. In Austin, we're only the second airline to offer year-round transatlantic service, and our goal is to increase frequency in the near future. Both of these cities have great growth opportunities,” said Thomas Ramdahl, Norwegian's Chief Commercial Officer.

Low prices
One-way economy fares from Austin and Chicago start as low as $194.90 and $159.50, respectively, and include all taxes. The lowest one-way fares in Norwegian's Premium Cabin to London from Austin and Chicago start at $689.90 and $579.90, respectively, including taxes. Premium service includes dedicated check-in, additional luggage allowance, fast track security, lounge access where available, priority boarding, wide recliner seats, all meals and drinks.

Norwegian now offers nonstop flights to London from 11 U.S. cities. Flights from both Austin and Chicago also connect well with Norwegian's flights to Denmark, Finland, Norway, Spain and Sweden. Norwegian operates one of the world's youngest fleets, and flights from Austin and Chicago will be operated by brand-new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft.
All flights are now available for sale at Norwegian.com/us. Additionally, the website's low fare calendar displays the lowest available fares to all of Norwegian's destinations. Passengers on all of Norwegian's routes are eligible to join Norwegian Reward, the airline's loyalty program and can earn CashPoints every time they fly, stay at a hotel or rent a car.

Additional 2018 European launches from the U.S. include: Denver to Paris (April 9); Oakland/San Francisco to Paris (April 10), Boston to Paris (May 2); New York/JFK to Amsterdam (May 7); Los Angeles to Milan (June 17); Los Angeles to Madrid (July 15); and New York/JFK to Madrid (July 18).
About Norwegian

Norwegian is the world's sixth largest low-cost airline and carried around 33 million passengers in 2017. The airline offers 40 nonstop routes from the U.S. to London, Paris, Scandinavia and the Caribbean. 
Norwegian was named the Most Fuel-Efficient Airline on Transatlantic Routes by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), and it has been voted 'Europe's best low-cost carrier' by passengers for five consecutive years at SkyTrax World Airline Awards. Find out more at www.norwegian.com.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Cathedrals tell history of St. Petersburg


After taking the high-speed train to Moscow for a long day of touring there, we returned to St. Petersburg, Russia. For the next day’s tour we visited three cathedrals which gave us a rich introduction to the city’s culture, architecture, and history.
Spilled Blood

The Church of Spilled Blood is one of the most beautiful in St. Petersburg.
Church of Spilled Blood is actually the Church of Resurrection of Our Savior. The blood referred to is Alexander’s—he was assassinated at that spot in 1881. The cathedral was built as a monument to freedom, since he abolished slavery and allowed people to practice Christianity undisturbed. Modeled after a cathedral in Moscow, it is a filled with color. The exterior features nine onion-dome cupolas covered in gold, enamel, and some of the most incredible mosaics anywhere.
Gilded walls and beautiful mosaics decorate the cathedral.
During the oppression of Stalin’s rule, many churches were torn down. Scheduled for demolition in 1941, Stalin claimed the Cathedral of Spilled Blood was too colorful and its fancy domes stood out from the dull, drab style common in St. Petersburg at the time. Instead treasures were put there for safekeeping in World War II, and it was protected from any aircraft damage.

Thank goodness this gorgeous
building and its domes were not
destroyed as planned.
Khruschev decided to restore it as a beautiful museum rather than a church in 1957. Restoration to its previous glorious state took 24 years. Today Sunday services are held there amid tiers of Russian icons that tell stories of Bible characters. While this is a positive return to the religion represented by the church, Russian Orthodox churches do not have pews, so people are obligated to stand throughout the hours-long services.
St. Issac’s

St. Issac Square in the center of the city is dominated by magnificent St. Isaac Cathedral, built between 1818 and 1858. The cathedral is named after a monk of Dalmatian descent whose Saint’s Day is the same as Peter the Great’s birthday (May 20). Its gorgeous conical gold dome makes the cathedral the fourth highest in the world.
St. Isaac's Cathedral is decorated
with 14 colored marbles and 43
types of semiprecious stones.
Peter married Catherine I at this cathedral. Originally made of wood, Catherine wanted it rebuilt in granite and marble, but her son Paul took the marble and used it for another palace. So the cathedral  is built in a classical style of brick—not as impressive as Catherine had intended.

Granite intended for ancient cathedral
was used for another palace. 
Still, it is filled with hundreds of impressive 19th century works of art. White marble with gilding and mosaic icons decorate the cathedral. There’s a glimmering sculpture of Christ of Glory, and many pieces where the stones were laid out so smoothly that mosaics appear as paintings. 
Kazan

Corinthian columns of Kazan Cathedral were inspired by St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome.
Named for a city in Russia in the 16th century, Kazan Cathedral is known for its elegant dome, marble mosaic floor, and 56 granite monolithic columns inspired by St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. Its unique bronze sculptures and doors were compared by Michelangelo to Heaven’s doors.
Another view of the cathedral
Kazan Cathedral was built as a monument of joy after the victory over Napoleon in 1812 and became a pantheon of Russian glory.

Its iconic feature is a famous, ornate, “miracle-making” representation of Our Lady of Kazan. People still line up to make requests of Our Lady of Kazan. I don’t doubt that many miracles have happened because of these supplications.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Highlights from Russia's gilded age in St. Petersburg


Architecture, history, and heritage have given St.Petersburg, Russia the title of “Grand City of the Czars.” Lavish residences, opulent palaces filled with beautifully intricate tile work, magnificent inlaid wood flooring, gilded walls, and glorious paintings give today’s visitors a look at the extravagant lives of the Russian rulers that eventually led to the revolution.
Catherine's Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia
The best way I know to share these reminders of the glittering days of Russian imperialism is through pictures. Wrapped within the walls of several cathedrals are historic stories of czars, religion, and wars. Topped by traditional onion-style domes, these buildings have been an integral part of Russian life and culture from ancient to modern times.

Gilded room and exquisite tile work inside Catherine's Palace
Considered the most European of Russian cities, a real downside is that there are fewer than 60 days of sun a year. True to form, rain was a constant companion during our eight-hour tour. Our guide said they can tell who the tourists are because they smile--they haven’t succumbed to the dreariness that often plagues natives of the city.
One of many canals in St. Petersburg
Although we spent two full days exploring St. Petersburg, situated on the banks of Neva River, it’s a city that can be overwhelming. It is the largest seaport in the country, a maritime center built on a series of islands spread over a wide area. A network of 60 canals and rivers criss-cross the city, which is spanned by 400 bridges. Its large squares, parks, and boulevards seem to be best consumed in small bites.

Rain is a constant companion when visiting St. Petersburg, Russia

Intricate designs in blue tiles
As we explored classical St. Petersburg our first stop was at Catherine’s Palace, summer home of the imperials. Catherine the First was actually named Martha. She lived in Latvia and worked as a servant in the home of a priest. When the Russians invaded, she was taken as a military prize and worked as a laundress in a nobleman’s home. She became a mistress of the Czar, who eventually married her in 1711 because he could recognize her children as his own. After Peter’s death in 1725, she ran the country for two more years.
Formal garden in front of Catherine's Palace, St. Petersburg
The palace and gardens were a gift to her. Because of this “rags to riches” story she is called the Russian Cinderella.
Cavalier's Dining Room in Catherine's Palace was spectacular.
Next we visited the fabulous Peter and PaulCathedral, which was completed in 1733 as part of the fortress built by Peter the Great to protect the area from attack by the Swedes. Gilded walls and murals are simply breathtaking. Many Czars and members of the royal family are buried in that cathedral.
The gilded age is also represented in Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg.

Ceilings are also gorgeous in
Peter and Paul Cathedral.
My first impression was that Russia still seems somehow undiscovered and not well understood despite the fact many cruise ships dock at St. Petersburg and there are plentiful tours throughout the country. With dissolution of the Soviet Union in December, 1991, visitors have been allowed to explore this large and diverse country. I’m glad we had the opportunity to go to St. Petersburg and Moscow—and I expect many changes to take place in coming years.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Exploring the gutsy city of Tallinn, Estonia


Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is one of the prettiest cities around the Baltic Sea, so it attracts many visitors. It’s a popular port for cruise ships, which is how we came to spend a day there exploring many sights.
Did you know that Skype originated in Tallinn? It is a very tech oriented city today—people vote and pay taxes via cell phones. That’s a great change from the 1940s and 50s when the Soviet Union ruled most of the Baltic region. Estonia was poverty-stricken when it declared independence as the Soviet Union broke up in 1991.

Preserved wall and towers of Tallin
The northern-most and smallest of the Baltic States, Estonia is also the most Westernized. It lies on the shores of the Gulf of Finland between Russia in the east and Latvia in the south. Its population of 1.5 million people is a mixture of Hungarians, Finns, and Estonians who enjoy a landscape dotted with 1500 lakes and numerous marshes and islands. Forests cover 51 percent of the land, so it’s no surprise that lumber is a big industry for the country.

Summer residence of Peter the Great
Old Town Tallinn features walls and towers dating back to the Middle Ages, many of which have been preserved and are now designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The winding cobblestone streets of Old Town are lined with fascinating wooden architecture, which has regained popularity.

The Rotermann Quarter is an award-winning architectural gem right in the heart of Tallinn, next to the harbor and Old Town. This quarter has emerged from dilapidation of the Soviet Era into a bustling commercial and cultural center of this dynamic city.
St. Brigit's Convent is an outstanding monument of 15th century limestone architecture.
Among sights you can see are the summer residence of Peter the Great as well as the pink-tinted tea house that he frequented. To enjoy panoramic views from up high, go to one of the viewing platforms on hills above the city or look out from the tower of St. Olav’s Church (once the tallest building in the world).

Tallin's amphitheater where the music festival is held every five years
Once every five years (next in 2019) a song festival is held in the city’s renowned amphitheater. The festival attracts 30,000 people who sing and wear national costumes. It is claimed that the collapse of the Soviet Union started here in 1987 when, in a gutsy move, the choir refused to sing required “Red” songs that didn’t reflect their true feelings.
Choosing my favorite piece of amber
Shopping in Estonia is a familiar experience combining old and new offerings. Since the country is known for beautiful amber, I decided to help the economy and buy and piece of jewelry while there. After all, wearing my glistening pendant is a lovely reminder of our visit to this historic yet progressive city.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

 

 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Why your kids will love Abilene, Texas


For family fun that will entertain and engage the kids without breaking the bank, Abilene, Texas is the perfect destination. 
Known as “The Storybook Capital of Texas,” this charming Western town offers a mix of activities that range from family-friendly boot scootin’ to feeding giraffes and turtles to experiencing frontier life with the help of holographic “spirit guides.”  Here are a few ideas and tips for an affordable family vacation in Abilene.

Abilene has one of the best small zoos in Texas.  Admission is $8 for adults and $5.50 for children, but families who present their hotel room key will receive free kids’ admission with paid adult tickets.  Don’t miss the new Giraffe Safari or feeding fish and bobbing turtles who live in Zoo Lake. Parking is free and there’s even a kids playground.  www.abilenezoo.org

Abilene Round Up Pass provides savings on admissions to the area’s six most popular attractions. $17 for adults, $8 for children ages 16 and younger. It covers admission to Frontier Texas!, the comprehensive WWII artifact collection at the 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum, The Grace Museum, Abilene Zoo, the expansive grounds of the Taylor County History Center, and the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature.
 

Get artistic at the free Come-n-Go Family Fun sessions every Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. at the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature.  Participants create artworks taking inspiration from the work of such prominent authors and illustrators as Eric Carle, William Joyce, David Shannon and Mark Teague.
 

The Storybook Capital of Texas has two dozen whimsical sculptures of favorite childhood storybook characters throughout downtown. Turn viewing the pieces into a scavenger hunt by downloading the free GooseChase app for iphone or Android and submitting photos of your children or groups to the actual app.
 

Another way to make touring Abilene an adventure for little ones is to look for a colorful character named Seymour. This wooden toy from Walter Wick’s “Can You See What I See” book series is hidden in locations throughout town. When children spot the Seymour embedded at each of several locations, they can get their special passports stamped and later turn them in at the Depot for a prize.

 

Looking for a fun family evening out on the town?  On select Saturday evenings, Eller Hall hosts “pop up” boot scootin’ nights with a live band.  Tickets to this family-friendly, no alcohol evenings are $10 for adults, $5 for youth 12 to 17 and free for kids under $12.  For upcoming dates, visit www.ellerhall.com.

 

For a unique family adventure, stay in a yurt at Abilene State Park.  Yurts can be rented for $50 to $75 nightly (plus park entrance fees.)https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/abilene/fees-facilities/yurts

Information courtesy of Brian Briscoe, Tucker and Associates.
Photos from free sources

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Got the blues? Take a trip


Feeling depressed? Rather than trying to hide from the painful feelings, think outside yourself. One great solution to chase away those blah or even deep blue feelings is to plan a vacation.
Yes, travel can be the best potion to treat the melancholy or bad memories that take you to a place you don’t want to be. Travel has the potential to help you escape those feelings of sadness and inspire you to be a better you.


If you’re bogged down with a bad job, unhappy social life, or poor relationships, travel can take you mentally and physically away from those situations. Forget the hustle and bustle of your everyday life and ease into the serenity of a natural environment. Escape to the mountains, beach, or a secluded rural setting and let the calmness tame the misery in your mind.

Once that happens you’ll be open to discovering another aspect of the world—a real and brilliant world--not the one in which you feel depressed or sad. Sure, travel is enjoyable, but it also introduces you to beautiful scenery, different cultures, tasty foods, and new friends.
Challenge yourself—try something new. Go rock climbing, ziplining, or snorkeling in a new and fascinating place. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone builds confidence, so you’ll be able tackle whatever comes your way after you return home.

Travel helps you see yourself and others in a new light. It can help you find a purpose, gain new skills, and discover qualities about yourself you were unaware of. It teaches you to be responsible and enables you to gain independence. It’s easier to make new friends, stimulate your brain, and soothe your soul when traveling away from home. And it’s so much fun!

When you move out of the daily grind, you’ll make so many wonderful memories that will lift you up just by recounting your adventures to yourself or others afterwards. To make sharing easier, be sure to take plenty of photos, write in a journal, or record your thoughts and feelings as you go.
Travel simply makes us better people by helping us understand ourselves and the people we meet along the way more completely. Rather than hiding from the world, we embrace it—and leave depression behind.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Unique ways to experience Colorado's public lands


Nearly 40 percent of Colorado is comprised of federal public land. That includes four National Parks and eight National Monuments, 41 state parks, as well as hundreds of regional parks and open spaces. Public land provides outdoor recreation, wildlife habitats, clean air and water. All of that makes the state’s landscape breathtaking and lifestyle appealing. www.COLORADO.com
Outstanding landscape of Colorado National Monument
by Beverly Burmeier
 
Colorado Public LandsDay is May 19, 2018, a perfect opportunity to experience outdoor recreational activities or check out different voluntourism events.

Regardless of your skill level or experience, there are plenty of recreational opportunities for everyone in Colorado's public lands.

Experience a canyoneering adventure in the Uncompahgre National Forest.  Local outfitter, Canyoning Colorado, offers canyoning/canyoneering descents and trainings in the quaint mountain town of Ouray, where there is an abundance of canyons and waterfalls. Adventurers can explore eight canyons in the Uncompahgre National Forest outside of Ouray on these expeditions. Tours and trainings are available to persons with no prior experience. Experienced climbers can take on more challenging tours or learn to canyoneer on their own.

Wildflowers growing near Boulder's flatirons
by Matt Inden
Catch a glimpse of wildlife on the Colorado Birding Trail. The Colorado Birding Trail is comprised of outdoor recreation sites, hiking or walking paths, both public and private, along a designated driving route across the state. Each driving route offers unique trail names and is composed of several watchable wildlife sites including the Bobolink Trailhead in Boulder, a reliable nesting site for species along the Front Range or the Prairie Canyons Trail just south of La Junta, where visitors can see horned lizards, Cassin’s Kingbirds, roadrunners and more.

The Great Sand Dunes with the Sangre de Cristo mountains in the background
by Matt Inden
Cool off in the brisk water at Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve. Medano Creek in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is something of a mystery. Each spring it emerges from the mountains behind the sand dunes to form a wide, shallow and gently flowing stream. Visitors wade into it to cool hot feet after tromping around the dunes, build sandcastles, or boogie board and splash around in its rhythmic waves before it retreats into the mountains just as quickly. The ideal combination of sultry desert and refreshing water is not the Alamosa-area park’s only charm — the dunes themselves are quite bewitching as well.


Marvel at the masonry of Colorado’s ancient people at Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. So adept were the construction skills of the ancient Ancestral Puebloans who lived in southwest Colorado, that parts of their structures still stand more than 700 years later. Those who tour the area’s mesas and canyons today are left to speculate about the purpose of the multistory brick towers. Archeologists think they could have been homes, storage silos for crops, defensive forts or ceremonial structures. Canyons of the Ancients National Monument near Cortez, contains the highest known archaeological site density in the United States, with rich, well-preserved evidence of native cultures.


Whitewater froth on the Cache La
Poudre River
by Andrea Golod
Raft the tumbling rapids of the Cache la Poudre River. Located west of Fort Collins, Colorado’s only nationally designated Wild and Scenic River, the Cache la Poudre, carves through Poudre Canyon flanked by alpine mountainsides and natural rock cliffs. The triumph of paddling over a rapid named Devil’s Staircase is second only to the views and the chance to spot bighorn sheep and deer scampering along its rocky hills. Rafting outfitters guide groups to rapids of all difficulty levels, so everyone gets the right amount of adventure. 


Walk in dinosaur footprints in Comanche National Grassland. Standing in Picketwire Canyon with your foot swallowed by a three-toed impression left in the bedrock by a brontosaurus 150 million years ago, one can imagine what it might have looked like when dinosaurs inhabited the area. The canyon was home to a lake during the Jurassic period, and the brontosaurus you’re tracking now used to frolic along its shores. The footprints are reached after a flat five-mile hike, bike or horse ride.
Comanche National Grassland is one of the last short-grass
prairies in the world
by Matt Inden


Information and photos courtesy of Kirstin Koszorus, Colorado Tourism Office

 



Sunday, March 4, 2018

Schlotsky's launches Austin Eatery restaurant design


You can’t miss the big lighted sign on the wall. “Austin Born and Bread” is the mantra of Schlotzsky’s Austin Eatery, a new concept rolled out recently in Central Texas.
Started in 1971 in downtown Austin, the casual restaurant offered just one sandwich, known as The Original. Made with sourdough buns baked fresh in the store daily, that sandwich launched a franchise that is now more than 370 restaurants strong. 

Located in Bee Cave, the concept is the first of Schlotzsky’s to add local favorites inspired by the food truck culture. There’s a happy, comfortable hometown feel to the restaurant that replicates the eclectic vibe of Austin with bold graphics on the walls and use of reclaimed wood and found objects in the decorative motif. Colorful murals remind one of the brand’s Austin roots.

“The Schlotzsky’s brand and culture was built on our Austin heritage, and we are thrilled to pioneer the new restaurant evolution in the city where our story started nearly 47 years ago,” said Kelly Roddy, President of Schlotzsky’s.

The goal is to appeal to all ages, from youngsters to millennials to seniors. Many of the new menu items are sharable, a concept that is growing especially among young adult customers and families. The restaurant also sells beer and wine and provides seating options including booths, tables, and outdoor dining.

I was invited to preview new menu items prior to the grand opening at the Bee Cave location and left with some new favorites. Created by Corporate Chef Maira Isabel Morales, the menu now includes sliders, macs, and tacos in addition to traditional fan favorites like sandwiches, pizza, soups, and salads. Popular with Texas diners, the regionally-based selections—all made with the freshest ingredients--will likely be added to other Schlotzsky’s in the future.

When you go to Schlotzsky’s be sure to expand your taste palate, whether you prefer mild or spicy, with scrumptious offerings like Sweet n’ Sassy Slider, Aloha Brisket Slider, or Chipotle Steak Slider. Taco varieties include Saucy Chick (loaded with hot sauce), Smokin’ Hawaiian, and My Jam Brisket (with a secret ingredient for a unique taste combination).

Baked in a tin are two new dishes—Brisketeer Mac (yummy mac and cheese combo) and Cheesy Bacon Tots, each enough for a meal. Left Coast Flatbread is a tasty combination of chicken, bacon, and avocado (yeah!) and Margherita Flatbread works for those who prefer vegetarian fare.

Don’t forget to order The Original once you’ve sampled the new items. Its 13 ingredients will melt in your mouth and soothe your tummy with familiar warm goodness.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier