Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Fascinating manmade marvels you can visit


The itinerary for many of
 our trips has taken Larry and me to see, explore, and marvel at the wonders of nature—steep walls of the Grand Canyon, glistening glaciers of Antarctica and Alaska, rugged mountains of Italy and Switzerland, massive water pouring over Victoria Falls, the amazing migration of wildebeests in Africa, the Great Barrier Reef, and so much more. Our world is a treasure trove of  incredible beauty and inspiration created by forces beyond human control.

But man has an incredible ability to think big, to design and engineer sites that are marvelous in their own right. Here are a few that we have enjoyed on our travels and that you might want to visit, too.

Taj Mahal—This imposing marble structure is actually much more beautiful than any picture can convey. Precious stones delicately inlaid in carvings throughout the stately edifice create possibly the world’s most outstanding tomb. Constructed by a 17th century emperor of India in memory of his beloved wife, it took 20,000 craftsmen almost 20 years to complete. Go early in the morning before crowds arrive, and you might see its reflection in the water feature in front—an absolutely stunning sight.

Colosseum
An enduring symbol of Rome and the imperial era, this structure was built almost 2,000 years ago to host different types of entertainment. It’s an enormous structure built to hold 73,000 spectators. Famously missing a small section of its fa├žade, the imposing venue has survived earthquakes and fire. Allow plenty of time to explore the many entrances, rooms, and seating spaces. A smaller, but still impressive, version is the Colosseum in Verona, Italy.

Pyramids of Giza—How exactly these pyramids near Cairo, Egypt were constructed is still a mystery. Consider that the building blocks are heavy granite and limestone boulders weighing up to 60 tons each, and the Great Pyramid stands 454 feet high. Constructed 3800 years ago, it is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one to remain largely intact. Additional pyramids and a bust of the Phoenix are nearby attractions when you visit.


Stonehenge—This is another mysterious structure since historians aren’t really sure what the purpose was for this enigmatic circle of stones. Erected in southern England around 2500 B.C., the prehistoric formation has been thought to be a religious feature, burial ground, astronomical monitoring device, and place for celebrations. Whatever the reason for its construction, the precise layout of these formidable bluestones still attracts visitors who just want to admire the skill of people who carried out this formidable task without modern tools.


Mount Rushmore—Visitors from all over the world flock to see the sculptured faces of four famous American presidents—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. More than 400 workers helped carve the creation of sculptor Gutzon Borglum during a 14 year span, often using dynamite to blast through the mountain. It’s a spectacular sight that stands as a tribute to these outstanding leaders of our country—and a welcome testament to patriotism.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Thinking about travel? Now may be a good time to go.

Travel is ramping up. And I’m certainly all for that.  Coronavirus cases, at least in my part of the country, are going down and vaccinations are going up. That’s a good combination, for sure.

Everyone has their own comfort level regarding straying away from home, so do what feels right for you.  But if you’re anxious to pack your bags and get away, don’t worry unnecessarily. Travel can be uplifting, refreshing, and safe.

To that end, I’d like to share some of our recent travel experiences in the hopes that it will help alleviate any lingering fears.

Sunset on beach at Holbox Island, a tiny fishing
village north of the Yucatan Peninsula

We made three significant trips during August and September—with no problems. First, we flew to Mexico for an adventure swimming with whale sharks. Granted, wearing masks in airports and on planes is not exactly pleasant, but we view that as a necessary layer of protection for ourselves and others.

Whale sharks can be 40 feet long. 

After our adventure on a remote island off the Yucatan peninsula, we spent several additional days at an adults-only all-inclusive resort. Larry and I decided to make that a restful part of the journey, so we spent much of the time in our private cabana by the pool (included). The point is that we were away from cities and crowds of people. We wore masks as required when indoors.

Our cabana at the Hyattl Zilara in Cancun.


One of the perks of the hotel where we stayed was providing COVID tests for guests from the U.S. (required for us to re-enter the country). The hotel also offered an insurance policy that would cover accommodations and meals if we should test positive and have to quarantine for 10 days. Since we had already been in Mexico for a week prior to checking in at the resort, we decided to purchase the $29 policy.

Hiking in the Dolomites, mountains in northern Italy

Our trip to Italy had been cancelled and scheduled three times, so when it looked okay to go late August, we said yes. Coronavirus levels have been lower in northern Italy where we were going, and our activities were mostly outdoors, which seems to be the key to traveling both internationally and domestically. Airport and airline mask mandates were a little more challenging because of the time factor, but we survived.
The dog is trained to find truffles and
bring them back to its owner.


We hiked in the Dolomites and took walking tours, as well as hunting for truffles, visiting a hazelnut farm and wineries—all outdoors. Most meals were consumed al fresco in pleasant weather and lovely surroundings. Again, we avoided crowds. Even the two train rides on our itinerary were not really crowded. At a few places we were asked to show our vaccination cards, and masks were required indoors. Complying was only a minor inconvenience for the privilege of visiting this beautiful country.

Hot springs at Lake Garda near Verona, Italy 

At the end of September, we flew (masks required again!) to Colorado to see fall colors and visit with friends. Once we got our sanitized rental car, we were felt free to come and go as we pleased. We stayed in a hotel with full kitchen and prepared many meals there. A VRBO or Airbnb would provide similar accommodations. With pleasantly cool weather we were happy to hike, take walks and drives, and enjoy colors of the season.
Golden aspens in Colorado

You get the idea: Avoid crowds, do outdoor activities, and comply with any mask rules at your destination. Plan carefully, and your trip can be just as safe as it would have been two years ago.

With the holiday season approaching quickly, consider traveling by mid-November--or wait until January. Not only will you have more options, but prices will be lower and availability better. Then start perusing catalogues and online travel sites to plan an amazing vacation in 2022!

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

 

 

 

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Why I love Big Bend National Park

The dessert landscape has many surprises.

As you approach Big Bend National Park in far west Texas, your first view might be of the desert. It is brown and dry with prickly plants everywhere. Heat and seasonal winds can bring scorching temperatures at midday. Or visit in winter when northern storms cause temperatures to plummet below freezing.
Big Bend is a unique park.

Even cacti have lovely 
blooms after rain.

If that’s your introduction to Big Bend National Park, you might stop short of actually going in the park. After all, the entrance is 80 miles from the nearest town, so you might think getting there from Marathon means you’ll likely be stuck all day in this unfriendly environment. If first impressions like this are lasting, people either lover Big Bend or hate it.

But, if you don’t venture further into the park you won’t discover the wonders of the three ecologies that define Big Bend.

There's wildlife, too!

Beyond the Chihuahuan Desert (one of North America’s four major deserts) are the Chisos Mountains. A green island in this desert sea, the mountains are responsible in part for the desert since they block rain from reaching the prairie. 

But within this green oasis are a variety of plants and animals that you might not expect to see there. White-tailed deer, bears, and coyotes range here, and leathery succulent plants of the arid landscape give way to green leafy shrubs and trees and spring wildflowers. 

Rainfall in the Chisos Basin nourishes oak and juniper trees, even becoming home to bird species that only nest in these mountains.

And then there’s the Rio Grande River, whose distinctive curve gives the park its name. The life-giving waters of this green ribbon cut across the desert and carve deep canyons.  For 118 miles the Rio Grande forms the boundary between the United States and Mexico. In fact, one of the park’s best-known features, Santa Elena Canyon, is shared by the two countries—its rugged south wall towers above Mexico while the smoother north wall lies on U. S. soil.

Sunset at The Window. 
Elevation contrasts and multiple ecologies formed by a trio of river, desert, and mountains create microclimates that enhance the diversity of plant and animal life within the park’s boundaries. Birding is a popular endeavor because many species of birds include Big Ben on their migratory routes between South, Central, and North America.

Early morning, the moon shines while the sun glows
on the mountains. 

Big Bend must be explored to be appreciated. You can find interpretive displays and easy walks to scenic or historic points on paved roads. In addition to being a spectator, hike trails (easy or challenging), raft amazing canyons, go off road on a jeep tour, ride bikes on back country roads. or inhale spectacular vistas from horseback.
Go for a hike.

Not to be overlooked is the peace and serenity that this remote area offers. Many visitors return year after year when to revel in solitude in their own happy place.

I’ve visited Big Bend National Park several times and have fallen in love with its distinctive character. Every time I go there, I discover more dimensions of its natural beauty. If you visit the park, give yourself enough time to indulge and savor all it has to offer—river, mountains, and desert. You, too, will come to love this iconic place.

Enjoy the multitude of colors.

 Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Monday, September 13, 2021

Why a travel advisor is more important than ever

With so much information readily available on the internet, is there any reason to work with a travel advisor when planning a trip?

The short answer is Yes.  Especially now.

If you’re anxious to go somewhere, anywhere, after a long dry spell due to the pandemic, you probablyrealize that that the travel landscape has changed significantly. And it changes every week. 

A travel advisor listens and suggests.
Countries like Sweden no longer allow Americans to visit. Others still require 14-day quarantine upon arrival. Quantas, the Australian airline, now requires a vaccination to fly. Italy began requiring a Covid test to enter the country just a week ago. Additional countries are regularly added to the CDC “avoid” list, meaning they are level 4 or higher. Navigating the changes can be tricky at best and devastating for your vacation if a requirement is overlooked.

Beyond Covid-related issues, a travel agent or advisor can help you get the best value for your travel dollar and help ensure your travels go smoothly. Here’s why you need the assistance of a professional.

If you don't know where you want to go,
a travel advisor can help with plans. 
Help with planning.  Travel agents can help you sort through thousands of options. Because they are familiar with the logistics of traveling to different places, they can help you avoid disappointment.


Say you want to go on a cruise. You’re fully vaccinated and the ship you’ve chosen requires a high percentage of vaccinated passengers and staff. But have you checked out the status of each port on the itinerary? If a destination is rated 3 or 4 it’s possible that the ship may not be allowed to dock, or if it docks, passengers may not be allowed to disembark.

I was anxious to cruise again,
but decided to wait. 

We recently cancelled a cruise because 4 of the 7 ports were level 4 and the others were level 3. We didn’t want to take a chance on not being able to visit the places for which we booked the cruise originally. This holds true also on land tours if museums, restaurants, and other attractions happen to be closed or operating at minimal levels. Ever-changing restrictions can result in disappointment if you are not allowed into a special place.

Help with cancellation or delay.  We just returned from a trip to Italy that had been rescheduled three times. The advisor company covered any additional expenses that resulted from the delays, rescheduled all activities and tours, and reworked parts of our itinerary as needed. We didn’t have to deal with the challenges of making everything fit together.

If you’re working with a third party, the agent can facilitate getting a refund or future credit. Also, you have someone to call if anything goes wrong while you’re on the trip.

Help with getting the best value. As travel picks up, many companies are offering low prices and incentives to attract travelers. Travel agents often know about special deals and will know how much your trip should cost. An advisor can sort through the options and find those with the best prices, best service, and most perks.

We wanted to visit northern Italy.

Help with personal requests.
Set tours may go to places you’ve already seen or that you have little interest in. A travel advisor can suggest an itinerary that fits your specific needs and desires. This can be especially helpful if you have dietary needs, accessibility issues, or just want to do something a little weird or off the beaten path. 

An advisor can arrange guides and/or drivers if needed as well as accommodations, so you don’t have to research all the details and then hope your information is good. Many have traveled extensively themselves and can make recommendations based on their insights and experiences.

We wanted to hike in the Dolomites (Alps).

Whether you need help from start to finish for your trip or just need someone to fill in the gaps, a travel professional can help assure that your vacation goes as smoothly as possible.

Photos from free sources.

 

 

 

 

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Create special moments by the sea

What’s more fun in the summer than a trip to the beach?

Even if school has started, a day or weekend at the beach is a great way for the family to beat the heat while enjoying the magic of surf sand at the ocean.

Even better, take along 50 Things to do at the Beach by Easkey Britton (Princeton Architectural Press, 2021). This handy book is chock full of tips to transform your day into a meaningful and inspiring return to nature. 

Follow along as Britton, an environmental scientist and professional surfer, shares important information about the connection humans have with the sea—its impact on our health and well-being, benefits of seaweed varieties, medicines, calming effects, ability to lower heart rate, and more.

At the same time, the sea is a powerful force that we strive to understand. Learning about tides, rip currents, waves and the creatures that live there can help preserve the ecology of our land. Knowing details like that can also help keep you safe at your chosen beach, Britton says.

Once the author has engaged readers with facts about the ocean, she delves into many fun things to do at the beach. Beachcombing (barefoot if the sand is soft) and finding seashells are popular activities which easily become part of your relaxing day or can be incorporated into a scavenger hunt for treasures like a crab shell, sea glass, something rough or something smooth, or whatever strikes your fancy. Watching sea birds and searching for dolphins or whales will also keep you occupied throughout the day.

Then make some sand art. It can be very simple or very complicated. Using a child’s sand pail and a stick you can create a wondrous selection of castles, moats, and rivers. Beautiful sea sculptures are often showcased at special festivals where artists try to build the most amazing structures; perhaps you’ll arrange your beach visit to coincide with one of these festivals.


Of course, you can head into the water to play in the waves or swim. Just be sure to follow any restrictions for the day and know where dangers might be hiding (rip tides, sharks, jellyfish, steep drop-offs, etc.) Britton recommends that vacation beach goers stay in water shallow enough to touch the bottom, use mineral-based sunscreen, and wear UPF protective clothing.

Finally, Britton encourages readers to give back to the sea: Practice conservation, eat sustainable seafood, do a quick clean up in your area, help restore coastal habitats, and leave no trace from your visit.  

Doing things like this will help ensure that our country’s beaches are safe and enjoyable for generations to come.

 Photos from free sources.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Swim in a Mexican cenote



Among the most enticing natural wonders of Mexico’sYucatan peninsula are cenotes. These underground pools are fed by subterranean rivers.
 While cenotes can be found all over the world, the Yucatan Peninsula. and especially the Riviera Maya where we were last summer, has an unusually high number. 

A cenote is actually a deep sinkhole that occurs naturally in limestone rock when an underground cave collapses in on itself and exposes water underneath.


During ancient times, cenotes were regarded as entrances to the mythical underworld, which gave them sacred status among the Mayans. In those days a number of the cenotes were used for sacrificial purposes and objects such as gold, pottery and even human and animal remains have been found at the bottom of some cenotes. Because they provided a source of fresh water in the jungle environment, they were important in the Mayans daily lives.

Larry and I enjoyed a refreshing swim in the deep pool of Cenote Siete Bocas, located about half an hour’s drive, partially on a bumpy, jiggly dirt path, from Puerto Morelos. The name comes from seven entrances to the cenote.

The cool water provided a perfect interlude as we travelled from Puerto Morelos to tiny Isla Holbox for our adventure swimming with whale sharks (more on that later!)


The main entrance of Cenote Siete Bocas leads to an open pool that is exposed to the sun. Other entrances have smaller steps or stairs that lead down to the water and the underground cave of the cenote. At some entrances, you can jump right into the water, or you can exit at any. Cenote Seven Bocas is approximately thirty to forty meters deep making it a good dive site—but only for advanced divers since the water can be murky in certain locations.


 

Although there are thousands of cenotes in the region, the one we swam in has comparatively few visitors. That means you can have a peaceful time enjoying the natural beauty and scenery. Life jackets are required which helped as we meandered through dark passages and under low-hanging eaves of limestone. The walls provided a prime example of erosion by outlining the path of water through the cave for thousands of years.


 

There are showers, bathrooms, and changing rooms, and you can even bring a picnic if you want to stay awhile. Cost is around $16 per person.

 

Photos by Larry and Beverly  Burmeier

Saturday, August 14, 2021

A photo journey through Zion National Park

Arriving in Zion National Park for our second long visit, my husband Larry and I and our friend Deb couldn’t take our eyes off the massive sandstone cliffs that soared into a brilliant blue sky. Shades of pink, red, cream, and tan gleamed in the sunlight as we began a day of hiking on several easily accessed trails.

15-mile long Zion Canyon is the most prominent feature, 
so look up to see the most amazing formations.

This followed our previous day of hiking The Narrows, a spectacular trek in the Virgin River through deep chasms. After the excitement and challenge of that water hike, we were ready to admire the beauty of Zion from dry land.

That’s the beauty of Zion—there’s something for everyone in this national park.

What follows is a selection of photos that showcase a few of the trails in this magnificent national park. 

Reflections on an early morning hike.

Walking the accessible Pa'rus trail, also good for biking.

These mountains make a gorgeous backdrop
for the bridge that crosses the Virgin River.

Rock strata visible on the Emerald Pool Trail,
great for families.

Reflections along the Lower Emerald Pool trail

The Virgin River flows through the park.

Along the River Road trail that leads to
The Narrows

                                     Beverly and Deb walking the often slippery Narrows trail.

                                    Walter's Wiggles switchbacks on the challenging trail to
                                                     Angel's Landing
                                                                 

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Is help on the way for air travelers?

If you had a flight that was cancelled or significantly changed by an airline during the pandemic, you probably know that the airline was required to provide a “prompt refund,” according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). Hopefully, you received a refund without much hoopla.

However, many Americans proactively cancelled flights at the urging of health officials or because of conditions that made them feel unsafe. Refunds were not required in those situations.

In June Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg noted that Americans who canceled flights themselves were ineligible for refunds that would have been available had they waited for airlines to cancel their flights for them. 

Instead of a refund, many passengers were offered future travel credits with expiration dates. Lawmakers are now asking the DOT to take action to eliminate expiration dates on pandemic-related travel credits entirely and to urge airlines to provide refunds.

In mid-July, the president stepped up that request. He signed an executive order that requests a report from the DOT within 45 days regarding the airlines’ failure to provide timely refunds for flights canceled due to the pandemic.

Airlines have been urged to reimburse travelers for flights that were canceled, either by the airlines or by passengers, during the COVID-19 health crisis. That applies to flights to, within, or from the United States. At this point, the order is only a request for the DOT to investigate further, not law.

Charlie Leocha of traveler advocacy non-profit Travelers United thinks that’s not enough. “Consumers do not need another study,” he says. “They need a simple statement from the president that all flight credits should not expire. That is the consumers’ money not the airlines.”

And then there’s the issue of lost or delayed baggage. The new executive order requests a proposed rule that would require airlines to refund baggage fees when a passenger’s luggage is delayed or lost. And any other added fees should also be refunded if the service paid for is not provided.


Additionally, there’s a push to prohibit hidden fees. The DOT is asked to implement rules that make sure passengers are aware of all possible charges, including baggage, seat selection, upgrades, change, and cancellation fees at the time a flight is booked.

All this sounds good and would provide enhanced protections for travelers—if and when the requests are approved and mandated. Paul Hudson, president of consumer advocacy group FlyersRights, says the order “could be a game changer.”

Having this executive order is a start, but the requests will require further action to become law. Let’s hope that happens sooner rather than later.