Monday, May 10, 2021

Cycle Ireland for a green adventure

 There is no better way to see the beautiful Irish landscapes than on your own two feet, on the seat of a bike and on a jaunt along one of the country’s fantastic collection of off-road greenway trails.

Travel on two wheels

Top of the list must be the Waterford Greenway in Ireland’s Ancient East. At 46km, this is the island’s longest off-road cycling and walking trail, though it is flat and easy to travel on.
 
Stretching from the Viking city of Waterford to the port of Dungarvan along a gorgeous coastline known as the Copper Coast, it offers not only stunning views but also a peak into Ireland’s past. The route  passes a number of historic sites including Woodstown Viking Site, Kilmeadan Castle, Kilmacthomas Workhouse and the gardens of Mount Congreve.
 

Book a cycle tour or travel on your own.

One of the longest traffic-free greenway routes in Northern Ireland is the 37km Newry Canal Way. Packed with things to see and do along the way, it runs from the town of Portadown to Newry city. Walkers and cyclists can explore the linen history of the villages en route, the museum at Moneypenny’s Lock and stop for something to eat at Scarva Visitor Centre.
 
For a traffic-free journey along Ireland’s famous Wild Atlantic Way, head to the 42km 
Great Western Greenway in County Mayo. This greenway brings spectacular views around Clew Bay and Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s holy mountain, as well as heritage towns, the stately Westport House, archaeological artefacts and golden beaches.
 
The 
Connemara Greenway
Connemara Greenway is fine for
a family adventure.
 in nearby County Galway is also one to look out for. With some sections open, it will eventually become a 76km route through the stunning Connemara National Park.
 
Handy for those looking to a Belfast city break when the time is right, the 11km 
Comber Greenway steers out through the east of the city starting from the famous Big Fish sculpture in the Titanic Quarter. Alternatively, the 17 km Lagan Towpath takes walkers and cyclists along the River Lagan and a canal system running from Belfast to Lisburn.
 
Elsewhere on the island, some may prefer to explore the quieter 40km 
Limerick Greenway which offers a spectacular ride or walk through time, heritage and nature. Along this route you will find Norman castles, abbeys, medieval ruins, old railway stations, a viaduct, the Barnagh Tunnel and breath-taking scenery.
Royal Canal Greenway, Ireland's newest,
traverses lush landscapes of Ireland's
Ancient East toward River Shannon in
Ireland's Hidden Highlands. 


 
There are many more greenways to be found around the island of Ireland and there plans afoot for lots more. So whatever your fitness level and wherever corner of the country you fancy exploring, there will be a greenway through Ireland’s lush green landscapes to suit you, your family or group as soon as it is safe to travel again.
 
E-bikes make the journey even easier.

And if any journey seems too daunting, you can always go electric and rent an e-bike to make the hills a breeze.

Information and photos courtesy of Tourism Ireland.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Plan ahead for safe, healthy travel


Now that most people considered “seniors” have been vaccinated against COVID, many are anxious to start traveling again. Whether you long to visit family from which you’ve been separated more than a year or you seek the adventure of visiting “bucket list” places that was put on hold, take some time to prepare for a safe and healthy trip.

Actually everyone, no matter your age, will have a better, healthier trip with these planning tips:

Consider your health

If you have a medical condition, the first thing you should do is check with your doctor about precautions to take and to be sure you have adequate prescriptions for the duration. If you’re traveling outside the U.S. check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the health conditions of the country you’re visiting and find out if any vaccinations are recommended or required. If you have a chronic condition, check out health care facilities in the areas you’re visiting before you leave.

Most Medicare policies do not cover health expenses outside of the U.S. (some Medicare Advantage plans do), so check your coverage carefully. Just don’t leave home without travel insurance that also provides medical benefits. I often use www.quotewright.com or www.insuremytrip.com to compare prices and coverage of different policies. Remember, the older you are, the higher your premiums will be.


Pack medicines in your carry-on bag, not the checked one. And include enough medication to last at least a week past your planned vacation time. It’s best to bring medicines in original containers, with your name on the labels. Make a list of all your prescriptions and dosages or download the information onto your smartphone, so you’ll have it available wherever you might be. 

Continue healthy habits

When traveling, follow the same protocols you have been doing during the pandemic: Wash hands often, use anti-bacterial wipes on airplane, bus or car surfaces, keep hands away from your mouth, and keep your distance from other people as much as possible.


Plan activities according to your physical abilities. Know beforehand how strenuous or demanding the trip will be, and plan each day so you don’t overextend yourself. Allow for jet lag the first day or two if your journey requires a long flight. If you require adaptations in your room or on tours, be sure to arrange those before you leave.

A final piece of advice that is good for every traveler to remember: Pack lightly so you won’t have to haul heavy bags around, possibly up stairs, and risk injury.

If you have prepared well, there’s no reason not to enjoy the trip—so have a great time!

Photos from free sources

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Magic in the Mist

Beautiful layers of the Smoky Mountains

Overlapping layers of misty blue mountains fill the landscape between dense green forests and pastel skies. A persistent haze threatens to blend valleys and ridges as it hovers over the Smoky Mountains, softening rough edges into a dreamy, Money-like ambience.

 Not a gloomy fog, this magical Appalachian mist lends a calming quality to the scene, which drifts back into memory from my first visit years ago. It reaffirms what I learned then: Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an excellent place to come face to face with nature—and leave inspired by the distinctively beautiful and rich natural environment.

Overlooking the gateway town of Gatlinburg.

Called Appalachia’s Front Porch, the park is America’s most visited national park, not surprising considering it’s within a day’s drive of one-third of the country’s population.

Encompassing a scenic trio of mountains, forests, and streams on 800 square miles between Tennessee and North Carolina, the park provides plenty of opportunities for hiking, fishing, camping, and exploring with rangers or on your own.

Larry and I sough soothing sounds of abundant waterfalls like Cataract Falls, a brief walk from the Sugarlands Visitors Center. Juney Wank, Tom Branch, and Indian Creek Falls are easily accessible a short drive from Oconaluftee Visitor Center on the southern border of the park, as is Mingo Falls on Big Cover road. We drove towards Townsend to view Meigs Falls and the Sinks, a popular swimming and diving spot. 

Cascades and waterfalls are plentiful in Great Smoky Mountains NP.

Along the roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail we stopped to see new erosion cutting through rock at Place of a Thousand Drips, and we took turns slipping behind the cascading stream of Grotto Falls. Multiple rocky layers define Laurel Falls, one of the most popular in the Smokies, while brilliant yellow fungi growing on fallen trees brightens the narrow trail to Spruce Flats Falls.

Becoming a national park

The unique ecosystem of the park began during the Ice Age.  As temperatures changed, plants and animals were forced to migrate south. The convergence of northern and southern species resulted in and estimated 100,000 different life forms, giving the park diversity second only to the Amazon. It’s the leading park in tree varieties—130 native species. Over 600 new species have been discovered, yet rangers believe they only know a third of what is there.

Historic cabin of an early settler 

In the early 1900s logging companies rapidly cut away the thick primeval forests in the Smoky Mountains. Without trees, topsoil washed away, and the region’s unique biological diversity was in danger of disappearing.

The devastation alarmed local citizens who started a grassroots effort to establish a national park to preserve the unique character and wilderness resources of the region, Authorized in 1925, created in 1934, the park was dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940.

During the 11-mile one-2ay loop through Cade’s Cove, one of the most popular locations in the park, we began to understand how this rural community encouraged connections necessary for farmers isolated in the valley. Aided by a park service booklet, we stopped at settler homes, barns, churches, cemeteries, and a grist mill—all preserved as they were generations ago. Today this historic area provides an important representation of Southern Appalachian mountain culture.

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies
is a great place for family fun.
You can rent bicycles to pedal the route or even take a hayride along the trail and scout for wild turkeys, deer, and bears.

A different kind of fun nearby


When you’re ready to exchange nature for civilization, there’s plenty to keep you busy, including Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg and the South’s largest Christmas village and shop in Pigeon Forge. There’s a nightly show—yes, family entertainment—on almost every corner in Pigeon Forge. Don’t miss Dolly’s Dixie Stampede—dinner is a hit because you eat everything with your fingers.

Don't miss this zip line
adventure.

A day in Dollywood isn’t complete without riding Thund
erhead, the classic wooden roller coaster, or zooming over modern metal loops of Tennessee Tornado. Get more thrills rafting class three and four rapids on the Upper Pigeon River or zipping over forests at Wahoo Zip Lines.


Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Monday, April 19, 2021

National Park Week sets theme days

A familiar sign
at all parks.
If you love America’s national parks as much as we do, you’ll be excited to learn about different ways the National Park Service, National Park Foundation, and other groups plan to celebrate National Park Week, April 17-25, 2021. Here are the theme days that the National Park Foundation—the official charity of America’s national parks--has planned to encourage you to visit, explore, and perhaps volunteer during that week:

April 17: Park Rx Day--Being outdoors supports wellness in a number of ways, making you stronger, happier, healthier, and more productive.   Discover NPF programs that are helping parks be more resilient and sustainable, as well as those that contribute to landscape and wildlife conservation.  

April 18:  Volunteers in Parks--From clearing trails to planting trees to assisting

Keeping trails in good order is
a task of National Park Service.

archaeologists, volunteers are critical in providing support for NPS.  Explore NPF communities and workforce programs that help grow the capacity of NPS and our partners. 

April 19: Military Monday-- For active-duty military and veterans, as well as their families, national parks can provide a place of solitude, beauty, reflection, and recreation. Discover the stories of military history, veterans and military members that are preserved in parks across the country. 

April 20: Transformation Tuesday-- NPS has been protecting and preserving lands and historic structures for over 100 years. Discover NPF’s work in landscape and wildlife conservation, to preserving history and culture, and investments we’re making in parks of the future for future generations.  

April 21: Wayback Wednesday—Be inspired by NPF’s continued work in history and culture to support the preservation of historic sites, collections, and artifacts in parks that share these stories, and our support to  ensure such treasures will be accessible for centuries to come. 

History is on display at Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota.

April 22: Earth Day—Celebrate this day by learning about the NPF’s innovative strategies that make our parks environmentally friendly and sustainable work in landscape and wildlife conservation.

April 23: Friendship Friday—Working within communities, NPF helps expand the capacity of parks nationwide, leading to stronger, healthier parks.

Protecting and conserving wildlife such as this moose in
Montana's Glacier National Park.

April 24: Junior Ranger Day--NPS’s Junior Ranger programs help young park visitors connect with our shared history, heritage, and national parks. Find a Junior Ranger program in a park near you or earn a digital Junior Ranger badge from home. Young visitors are encouraged to establish meaningful connections in our parks through education, engagement,  and outdoor exploration.

April 25: B.A.R.K. Day--Learn the B.A.R.K. Ranger principles for when you bring Fido on a trip to a pet-friendly park and discover the many roles dogs play in parks, especially by encouraging multicultural and multigenerational families to spend time outdoors together.

Information courtesy of National Park Service.

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Scarborough festival showcases artisans

This weekend, April 17th & 18th, 2021, Scarborough Renaissance Festival® sponsored by T-MobileTM, puts the spotlight on its amazing artisan’s during the seventh annual Artisan’s Showcase Weekend. Located near Dallas, Texas, Scarborough Renaissance Festival® is proud to host one of the largest outdoor juried craft shows in the country with some of the most unique handmade treasures and works of art found anywhere in North Texas. 

In the hundreds of Festival shoppes you will discover handblown glass and pottery, hand dipped candles, soaps, and bath products, along with hats, leather goods, apparel, footwear and even fairy wings. There’s jewelry, bronze and stone sculptures, and hand forged cutlery, knives, and swords. You can also find wooden mugs, boxes and carvings, home goods (or as they call it castle adornments), games and toys, and so much more. 

Throughout each Festival day, you can also watch as many of the Artisans’ demonstrate their age-old crafts such as glass blowing, leatherworks, candle carving, metalworks, hammock weaving, stone carving, jewelry making, and woodworking, just to name a few. 

 As part of the Artisan’s Showcase, now through April 20, patrons can participate in Scarborough’s virtual best-in-show contest at www.srfestival.com/artisans-weekend where they can vote for their favorite Artisan/shoppe and have the chance to win a great Scarborough prize pack. 

Plus, this weekend only, you can shop ‘til you drop and get two free 2021 single day tickets to Scarborough Renaissance Festival® when you bring $250 worth of receipts from the Festival shoppes to the redemption tents outside the main gates between 12:00 noon and 8:00 pm each day. 

 “We are extremely proud of the outstanding artisans of Scarborough Renaissance Festival, and the Artisans Showcase weekend allows us to show them off,” says Doug Keller, General Manager. “Our artisans have some of the most fantastic artwork and crafts you will ever see, plus most of their works can’t be found anywhere else. Visitors can also watch how many of these crafts are made as the artisans demonstrate age-old techniques every day of the Festival season. It really makes you appreciate their hard work and artistry.” 

This festival provides a full day of 16th Century fun for everyone, and it’s all outdoors. In addition to the shoppes and artisan demonstrations, visitors will enjoy full combat armored jousting, Birds of Prey exhibitions, the Mermaid Lagoon, Knighting ceremonies, and 25+ stages of interactive and unique entertainment. There are also Renaissance rides, games of skill, food fit for a king, and so much more. The full schedule of non-stop entertainment and list of shoppes can be found at www.SRFestival.com. 
Jousting is always an attraction at the Renaissance Festival

Wines featured this weekend at the Daily Wine Tasting Events will be from Italy, and the Daily Beer Tasting Events will feature Beers of Belgium. Tasting Events have limited seating available and require a separate ticket. You must be 21 or older to attend. 

Upcoming themed weekends are Royal Ale Festival Weekend (4/24 & 4/25), Live the Fantasy & Spring Celebration (5/1 & 5/2), and Celebrating Chivalry (5/8 & 5/9). All CDC safety guidelines and protocols will be followed, including a mask requirement, social distancing, and temperature checks. 

Scarborough Renaissance Festival is open Saturdays, Sundays, and Memorial Day Monday, now through May 31, 2021 from 10 AM to 7 PM rain or shine. Located in Waxahachie, Texas, the festival is 30 minutes south of the downtowns of Dallas and Fort Worth on FM 66 off of I-35E. 

 Admission is $37 for adults and $17 for children, ages 5-12. Children age 4 and under are free. Tickets are available on-line and discount tickets can be purchased at North Texas Tom Thumb & Albertsons stores, and North Texas T-Mobile stores. Scarborough Renaissance Festival® is also sponsored by Dr Pepper. 

 Information courtesy of Helaine Thompson, Publicrelations@srfestival.com

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

New film series recreates key moments of Battle of San Jacinto

April 21 is recognized as
 Texas Independence Day.
Join the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site of Texas virtually to celebrate the 185th San Jacinto Day with the premiere of San Jacinto: A Lone Star Shines video series. Every day between April 19 – 22, the site will release a short digital film depicting four pivotal scenes from the Battle of San Jacinto and the fight for freedom. The film series was produced by Avila Productions and was directed and edited by Roman Avila. 

The videos will premiere at 11:00 am, with encore presentations at 3:30 pm and 7:00 pm, on the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site's Facebook page and will also be available on the Texas Historical Commission YouTube channel. The film will be free to view.   


In April 1836, the future of Texas hung in a balance. Since independence had been declared on March 2, the Texian Army had suffered two crushing defeats at the Alamo and Goliad, and the government, along with most of the population, was fleeing east.  

The star on top of the monument honors the Lone Star 
state's revolutionary battle.
The fate of the young Republic rested in the hands of General Sam Houston and his small army. On April 21, 1836, in an abandoned cattle ranch on the eastern edge of Stephen F. Austin’s newly established colony, that fate was decided. Houston and his forces defeated the larger Mexican army, captured the infamous General Santa Anna, and changed the fate of Texas forever.  

Visit the battleground and San Jacinto monument

The San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site and Monument and the San Jacinto Museum are open for visitors; please go to visitsanjacinto.com for hours and requirements.      

April 21 commemorates this important battle.

The San Jacinto Monument is a 567.31-foot-high column topped with a 220-ton star that commemorates the site of the Battle of San Jacinto, the decisive battle of the Texas Revolution. It is located on the Houston Ship Channel in Harris County, Texas, near the city of Houston. Guests can take an elevator almost 500 feet to the top observation deck that overlooks the sprawling battlegrounds.

Information courtesy of Cait Johnson, Texas Historical Commission

Photos from free sources

Friday, April 9, 2021

National Park Week sets theme days and no-fee day

Rocky Mountain National Park is a favorite for visitors.

If you love America’s national parks as much as we do, you’ll be excited to learn about different ways the National Park Service, National Park Foundation, and other groups plan to celebrate National Park Week, April 17-25, 2021. Here are the theme days that the National Park Foundation—the official charity of America’s national parks--has planned to encourage you to visit, explore, and perhaps volunteer during that week:

April 17: Park Rx Day--

Hiking in Bryce Canyon National Park
Being outdoors supports wellness in a number of ways, making you stronger, happier, healthier, and more productive.   Discover NPF programs that are helping parks be more resilient and sustainable, as well as those that contribute to landscape and wildlife conservation.  As a bonus, this is a “fee free” day for parks that charge to visit.

April 18:  Volunteers in Parks--From clearing trails to planting trees to assisting archaeologists, volunteers are critical in providing support for NPS.  Explore NPF communities and workforce programs that help grow the capacity of NPS and our partners. 

April 19: Military Monday-- For active-duty military and veterans, as well as their families, national parks can provide a place of solitude, beauty, reflection, and recreation. Discover the stories of military history, veterans and military members that are preserved in parks across the country. 

Lake Helen in Lassen Volcanic National Park

April 20: Transformation Tuesday-- NPS has been protecting and preserving lands and historic structures for over 100 years. Discover NPF’s work in landscape and wildlife conservation, to preserving history and culture, and investments we’re making in parks of the future for future generations.  

Rafting in Big Bend National Park in Texas

April 21: Wayback Wednesday—Be inspired by NPF’s continued work in history and culture to support the preservation of historic sites, collections, and artifacts in parks that share these stories, and our support to  ensure such treasures will be accessible for centuries to come. 

Old Faithful in Yellowstone
National Park
April 22: Earth Day—Celebrate this day by learning about the NPF’s innovative strategies that make our parks environmentally friendly and sustainable work in landscape and wildlife conservation.

April 23: Friendship Friday—Working within communities, NPF helps expand the capacity of parks nationwide, leading to stronger, healthier parks.

April 24: Junior Ranger Day--NPS’s Junior Ranger programs help young park visitors connect with our shared history, heritage, and national parks. Find a Junior Ranger program in a park near you or earn a digital Junior Ranger badge from home. Young visitors are encouraged to establish meaningful connections in our parks through education, engagement,  and outdoor exploration.

Hiking in the rainforest of
Olympic National Park

April 25: B.A.R.K. Day--Learn the B.A.R.K. Ranger principles for when you bring Fido on a trip to a pet-friendly park and discover the many roles dogs play in parks, especially by encouraging multicultural and multigenerational families to spend time outdoors together.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

 

 

 

 

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Vaccinated travelers can start packing their bags

A toast to more travel!

 Good news for folks who can’t wait to travel again!

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have given the green light for Americans to travel if they are vaccinated against COVID-19.

In an update on April 2, 2021, the CDC stated, “Fully vaccinated people can resume domestic travel and do not need to get tested before or after travel or self-quarantine after travel.”

However, there are two caveats: Some destinations still require testing within a short time frame before visitors can enter, and travelers who go abroad are still required to have a negative COVID test to board international flights back to the United States. The CDC also advises, but does not require, getting tested for COVID three to five days after returning.

Start packing your bags.
Despite the new guidelines, the CDC maintains it is not reversing its advice to avoid nonessential travel as a precaution against a possible new surge in cases.

But in the real world people are anxious to start traveling again and may decide that the low risk is worth taking if they are fully vaccinated, in good health, and continue to practice safe measures such as wearing a mask when around other people, social distancing, and washing hands often.

Take plenty of hand sanitizer.

For example, Larry and I took a road trip to Colorado in September, visited family in Michigan in November, and spent a week in Florida in early March (before spring break!) We planned those trips carefully and chose activities with a minimum of contact with others—and felt as safe as we would have been staying home. Now we are fully vaccinated and ready to consider international travel within the next four to six months.

Costa Rica is among countries that
welcome vaccinated travelers.

When making a personal decision about whether to travel, consider a research report released on March 29 by the CDC that indicates the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are highly effective at preventing infections. The data indicates that a single dose of either vaccine prevented 80 percent of infections, and two doses prevented 90 percent of infections. The study also found that the vaccines resulted in a high unlikelihood of asymptomatic infection—a common source of transmission.
Staying closer to home,
plan a trip to one of
America's fantastic
 national parks.

For unvaccinated travelers, the CDC’s previous recommendations continue to apply: Get tested one to three days before a trip and three to five days after you return home. Also self-quarantine for seven days after travel, even with a negative test, or stay home for 10 days after travel if you do not get tested. These precautions help protect not only the unvaccinated traveler but others with whom they might have contact.

As more and more Americans are vaccinated, the travel industry is hoping to return to a semblance of pre-COVID times. And many people are starting to plan travel for later in the year, even into 2022 and 2023.  That’s a winning situation for everyone!

Photos from free sources.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Best places for a family reunion

YMCA of the Rockies is an excellent place to set up a
 family reunion. Plenty of activities in neighboring Estes Park.

Time to get the clan together? It’s not always easy to find a place that’s suitable for a variety of ages and interests. If you’re planning a reunion that encompasses several generations, one of these locations might be just what you’re looking for.

Branson truly has something for 
everyone.
Branson, Missouri                                        


Known as the “Live Music Show Capital of the World,” Branson can provide world-class entertainment (it’s not all music) for the whole family. With 52 live performance theaters, the hardest part will be choosing which shows to attend.
 


Nestled in the Ozark Mountains, this all-American vacation destination also has three pristine lakes for fishing and relaxing, 12 championship golf courses, an award-winning theme park (Silver Dollar City), and dozens of attractions and museums including the acclaimed Titanic Museum. 

Nightly light shows of the river are pure delight.
There’s a full range of shopping on The Branson Landing in the heart of downtown on Lake Taneycomo, with waterfront dining and whimsical light shows at night.

New Braunfels, Texas                                  


The wave pool is fun for all ages--with plenty of funky rides for the brave.

Home of Schlitterbahn, the largest and most creative water park in the world, New Braunfels is the perfect destination for families that crave excitement. From toddler wade pools to simple water slides inside a castle-like tower to some of the fastest, scariest, and funest (yes, that’s a word) rides, there’s something exciting for every member of the family.
Try the ropes challenge, a zipline, and cave visit when visiting New Braunfels.

When not blasting down a variety of water rides, you can visit Natural Bridge Caverns, a family-friendly experience with incredible views of underground formations plus a ropes course, zipline, and mining adventure keep kids busy for hours. Enjoy delicious German food and dance to polka bands scattered throughout New Braunfels.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee                                 


A visit to the aquarium is fun for all.
Weddings are wonderful occasions for families to get together, why not plan an extended vacation at Gatlinburg, Wedding Capital of the South? Scenic mountains, whitewater rafting, ziplining, golf, and fishing—not to mention proximity to Great Smokey Mountain National Park, the most visited national park in the country—make Gatlinburg as excellent destination for special events. Its small town charm belies amenities like a world-class aquarium and a Space Needle observation tower.

Gatlinburg is a gateway to Great Smokey Mountain National Park.
 
Other destinations that multiple generations would enjoy include Gulf Shores, Alabama and Rosemary Beach, Florida—ideal places to dig your toes into soft sand. Both are located on the protected waters of the Gulf of Mexico. If your group prefers mountains, head west to Rocky Mountain National Park. YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado specializes in accommodating large family groups.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier