Friday, May 20, 2022

Reasons to love Lake Travis


Summer is approaching rapidly. Central Texas is likely to hit a scorching 100 degrees in mid-May. So what is the best antidote to the heat? The cooling waters of Lake Travis!

Located on the western edge of Austin, Lake Travis is a reservoir formed in 1942 when the Lower Colorado River Authority constructed Mansfield Dam to contain floodwaters in a flash-flood prone region. Although the average depth is 62 feet, the deepest part of the lake extends to 210 feet. Today, the lake is popular for various recreational opportunities. And there’s a special magic in watching the sun set over glistening water.

Boating is the first activity that comes to mind, primarily because it doesn’t require any special athletic skills. Of course, knowledge of safe boating practices and lake terrain are imperative. That said, everyone can enjoy a ride on the winding 64-mile long lake. If you add in the myriad coves, the coastline stretches to 271 miles of peaceful spaces to explore or just drop anchor and enjoy a relaxing swim.


If you have a boat, there are about two dozen ramps where you can put in. If you don’t have a boat, check at any of more than 20 marinas and businesses for rentals. While you’re at it, rent a large tube and take the youngsters for a ride behind the boat. It’s a little bouncy, but they love the challenge of hanging on when the boat driver spins a few figure eights in the water.

Water sports. Once you have a boat to access Lake Travis, there are numerous water sports to try. Start with water skiing, which is probably the basis for newer sports like wakeboarding, knee boarding, or wake surfing. Water skiing is fairly easy to learn, especially with two skis. It’s such a thrill when you learn to cross the wake of the boat, then jump the wake, or just hang on for a multi-mile ride. If you become proficient you can advance to slalom skiing (one ski). 


Lake Travis is well suited for great wakeboarding since the water is generally smooth and traffic light, especially early in the morning or towards evening. There are plenty of open stretches for learning and practicing tricks, if you’re so inclined. If balance is an issue, consider knee boarding, since there’s a lower center of gravity and a tow rope to hang on to--great sport for kids who are still testing their water bravery.

Once these sports are mastered, it’s time to catch a wave. With the right boat and board, you can actually surf a wave on this inland lake, no rope needed. Yes, it takes good balance, but it’s a premier sport for those with access to the right equipment and no fear.


Fly boarding is gaining popularity with young people. Wearing a pair of boots attached to a board, the fly boarder is propelled into the air via power from thousands of gallons of water exploding through a tube. It’s like being on stilts above the water. Expert fly boarders get propelled high in the air to do amazing flips and tricks. It does take practice, but after a few lessons you may decide fly boarding is an incredible experience.


Scuba diving. Because Lake Travis is very deep, there are many hidden treasures below the surface. Grottoes, shipwrecks, old cars, even underwater trees attract scuba divers to the lake’s depths. Submerged areas such as Oasis Wall, Fiesta Haus Wall, Wreck Alley, and Starnes Island intrigue scuba divers, but you can also dive from shore at Mansfield Dam Park and Windy Point Park.


Although the lake is buttressed by tall limestone walls, if the water level is low, you might find a few spots of sandy beach at Pace Bend Park. The important thing to remember when in the water is that land can drop off suddenly, so you should wear a life jacket if you’re not a strong swimmer (required at all times for children under age 14). 

Always practice caution and common sense and you'll have hours of fun on beautiful Lake Travis.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

 

 

Thursday, May 12, 2022

How taking a vacation can make you healthier

Dreaming of taking a vacation? Counting the days until you have time off from work? Or is FOMO (fear of missing out) keeping you available 24/7?

American workers are known for not taking advantage of earned time off. According to the 2018 State of the American Vacation report from the U.S. Travel Association, more than half of workers in the country have unused paid vacation days. In fact, they are taking about one less week of vacation annually than they did in the mid-1970s.


Are Americans afraid that their co-workers will get more props for staying on the job? More raises or promotions? Better projects? Do they feel irreplaceable? Alert: No one is! So, let’s look at important reasons to take back earned time off.

Vacations are like medicine for your body, mind, and soul. For example, if you’re at risk for heart disease, skipping vacation time makes you 30 percent more likely to have a heart attack than folks who took time off during the year. Foregoing time off can also increase risk for anxiety, depression, obesity, and insomnia. Women are especially vulnerable for stress-related illnesses like these. So, vacations can improve wellness and keep you healthy long-term.


You need to give your brain a break. Instead of constantly focusing on work projects, taking time to focus on new activities, scenery, people, or cultures can provide increased motivation when you return to your job. This leads to greater job satisfaction because you’ll feel less stressed and happier—attitudes which will help you do your job even better.


Vacations can be a time to have fun and to bond with family or friends. Leaving daily distractions behind allows you to focus on enjoying the people in your life instead of harboring negative emotions from the daily frenzy that many families live in. Allow yourself to uncover a fresh sense of adventure, curiosity, and appreciation for your surroundings.

Travel can help unlock these physical and mental health benefits by engaging our bodies and minds in new activities or mindfulness. Improvement happens when you step away from routine and allow yourself to experience a different level of satisfaction. Leisure time to set a different pace, free from tension, and full of inspiration can be a healthy reset that reaps great benefits for both personal and work lives.

So, take that vacation. Whether you travel near or far is not as important as that you simply get away!

Photos from free sources

 

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Controversial policy impacts travel decisions

Even as travelers plan to spend more time and money on trips to make up for lost travel opportunities during the past two years, there is controversy over the pandemic-related requirement for negative COVID tests before returning to the U.S. from abroad.

Should testing be eliminated?

The world's most experienced travelers want this requirement eliminated, according to the Global Rescue Spring 2022 Traveler Safety and Sentiment Survey.  

A third of travelers (32%) say the U.S. government should immediately eliminate for everyone the requirement for a negative COVID test for fully vaccinated inbound international travelers to the U.S. while nearly an equal amount (34%) say the requirement should be removed for U.S. citizens but not non-citizens. 

“Unfortunately, many of today’s governmental rules are not medically indicated.  We’re hopeful that changes soon,” said Dan Richards, CEO of Global Rescue, the world’s leading provider of medical, security, evacuation and travel risk management services and a member of the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board at the U.S. Department of Commerce. 

Testing in airports is expensive and
time consuming and often too late.

The overwhelming majority of travelers (84%) are less or much less concerned about travel today compared to the beginning of the pandemic. But 15% of survey-takers report producing a negative COVID-19 test to meet U.S. re-entry requirements is their main travel concern behind being stranded away from home after testing positive for COVID-19.  Not only is there uncertainty about test results to consider, but just finding a place to accomplish the testing in ever-changing and shorter time limits a worry that many travelers have when planning a trip.

Some people choose to wear masks,
even after the requirement was lifted.

According to the survey, many travelers believe pandemic protocols, including masking and physical distancing, are no longer needed. Almost half of the respondents (42%) say there are no pandemic-related behaviors they plan to continue unless required. A third (33%) of respondents disagree and say they plan to continue masking despite easing of mask requirements. Many travelers also prefer to stay out of crowds and to keep their distance from unknown persons when possible.

Avoiding activities with large crowds
is still recommended.

“Travelers want to travel now more than ever. One–out–of four travelers (27%) will spend more time or more money – or both – on trips to make up for curtailed travel due to the pandemic. They’re going to get their travel revenge once governments allow them to move with fewer or no restrictions,” Richards said.  

And the travel industry couldn’t be happier about those sentiments. It’s the path for recovery in travel-related businesses. 

Information courtesy of Bill McIntyre at bmcintyre@globalrescue.com.

Photos from free sources.


Thursday, April 28, 2022

World's best water park

If you’re looking for a place your whole family can enjoy during summer vacation, look no further than Schlitterbahn in NewBraunfels, Texas.  With attractions ranging from water slides and tube rides that will leave the bravest among your clan thrilled and breathless to gentle heated pools and kiddie play areas, this attraction has been voted World’s Best Waterpark for 23 years in a row.


My family has been going to Schlitterbahn since it was a relatively small water park on the Comal River. Now it is enormous, with four distinct sections. Each one is as large as most regional water parks and contains a swim-up bar, not-so-lazy river, children’s area and a variety of river rides, pools, waterslides, and adventures from mild to wild. In fact, it was so perfect for all ages and activity levels that several years ago we booked a family reunion involving 29 people for a three-day stay.


What’s new

Schlitterbahn recently opened for the 2022 season, featuring upgrades and improvements totaling $4.5 million. Guest entry has been streamlined, accommodations have received upgrades, and busses have been added to the free shuttle fleet.

Darren Hill, vice president and general manager of Schlitterbahn, New Braunfels, explains, “This season we are using our 40 years of experience of providing fun for our guests as we add more shade, new food options, and important upgrades to iconic attractions.”

What to expect at Schlitterbahn


Miles of rivers in the Original Section (still a favorite area) are powered by natural spring water from the Comal River. There’s the largest and most eclectic collection of water rides in the world, making Schlitterbahn the “Hottest, Coolest Time in Texas.” Several water playgrounds are designed for the youngest guests. Even though there are numerous food options available for purchase, coolers are always welcome in the park, so you can bring drinks and snacks for your crowd and avoid resort prices, if that’s what you prefer.

Cabanas are available for rent, but if you arrive reasonably early in the morning you should be able to find a shady area with tables or chairs to use as home base for the day. If you want to stay longer, Schlitterbahn Resort includes several accommodation options such as cabins, hotel, and a lodge, as well as condos and luxury suites that are located right next to the water park. 

For our group, we rented several condos that were walking distance from the water park gates. Families could enjoy attractions in the morning, play for several hours, return to their condos for a mid-day break (especially nice with small children), and then go back for another round of thrills and spills later in the day. We were also close to pools outside the gate and a large picnic area where we had dinners together in the cooling shade of large oak trees. Staying on site also enables guests to save up to 40% on admission fees.

Ready to go

Test your mettle on tube rides like Raging River, The Falls, Black Knight, Bahnzai Pipeline, and AquaVeyer. Body slides including Back Splash, Double Look, and Soda Straw will have you screaming, smiling, and going back for more.

Little tykes and their parents will find fun and relaxation at Crystal River, Kiddie Coast, Gator Bowl Activity Pool, and Sea Creature Cove. Wave pools provide just enough challenge and cooling off opportunities for all ages.

Away from the water, take time to check out historic New Braunfels and nearby Guene with its famous dance hall. The beautiful Texas Hill Country also features other attractions including caves, wildlife park, golf courses, and nearby San Antonio. 

Schlitterbahn can be a one-stop attraction with something for everyone. 400 N. Liberty Ave, New Braunfels, Texas, 830-625-2351

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

  

Thursday, April 21, 2022

The incredible Rock Church of Helsinki

I’ve seen beautiful churches that were built into rock, but nothing so far compares to the Temppeliaukion Church in Helsinki, Finland. Built in 1969, the church has become a symbol for Finland and is one of its most important tourist sites. Because it was blasted out of solid rock, it is also called Church of the Rock or simply Rock Church.

Entrance to Church of the Rock in Helsinki, Finland

Architect brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen came up with the winning design that used the natural resources of the location. At first they feared that using rocks for walls might be too radical—a thought shared by some of the Lutherans who would be using the church for worship services. But when they learned that rocks provided natural acoustics, they decided to embed the church directly into these natural materials rather clear the rocks away.

First reactions to the design were negative. But when the church was finished and finally opened in 1969, that all changed. It was an immediate hit. Services were often full to capacity, and visitors began to flock to the picturesque church.

Massive windows and rock walls surround the pews.

The unusual design includes an interior wooden, copper-lined circular dome with a skylight. Natural light streams from above as well as from ample windows. If you visit in the morning, you’ll see light flooding in from the skylight and shining on the altar (a piece derived from an ice-age crevice) directly below.

A copper-lined dome shields the interior of the Rock Church.

A massive organ fills the church with music during open hours. Visitors can sit in the pews and reflect on the beauty of this unusual place while listening to the music provided by an organist or a talented piano player.

Plan to spend time listening to organ music in the Rock Church.

The natural acoustics and artistic significance make it popular as a concert venue and a wedding venue. Architecture enthusiasts come from all over the world to see the church. Nearly a million people visit the church annually, which attests to curiosity about and appreciation of its unique construction and beauty.

The special altar of the Rock Church

Today, Temppeliaukion is a working church as well as a tourist attraction. If you plan to visit be sure to check opening hours on the website as it will be closed during weddings, christenings, funerals, and the Sunday service. Guided tours are also available.

What a privilege it was to observe and be surrounded by the massive natural rocks that form the basis for this structure. The famous Rock Church is a must-see when visiting Helsinki.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

 

 

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Celebrate National Park Week

National Park Week starts on Saturday, April 16. Sites that charge an entrance fee will allow everyone to visit for free that day. It’s the perfect time to celebrate America’s Greatest Idea.

Grand Canyon National Park is one of our favorites.

To help you make plans I’m including photos from a few of our favorite national parks. Being there, of course, is the best way to explore, discover, and enjoy the treasures in our National Park System. https://www.nps.gov

Yellowstone National Park

While we hear about popular parks such as Great Smokey Mountains, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Glacier, there are more than 400 parks in the National Park System. So this is a great opportunity to visit a new place or revisit an old favorite. While you are there consider purchasing one of the entrance passes available through the U. S. National Park Service.

·         If you have elementary aged children, apply for the 4th Grade Pass. This is a free pass valid for the duration of the 4th grader’s school year (September to August) and includes home-schooled children. Obtain a paper pass by visiting the Every Kid Outdoors website . Exchange that for the Annual 4th Grade Pass at federal recreation sites that charge entrance or standard amenity fees (day use fee). Find a location to pick up this pass at a federal recreation site

Olympic National Park in Oregon has 3 ecosystems.

 The Senior Pass is definitely a bargain. Cost is $80 for a Lifetime Pass or $20 for an Annual Pass. It’s available to U.S. citizens age 62 or over and will include other passengers in the same vehicle.

A Military Pass is free for current U.S. military members and their dependents in any of the Armed Forces, as well as Reserve and National Guard members. Military veterans and Gold Star Family members are also eligible for this pass.

A haze on the mountains
gives Great Smokey Mountain National Park its name. 

And there are more places to see than just the well-known parks. Any of these passes will allow you to visit more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. Each pass covers entrance fees at all  national parks, wildlife refuges, forests and grasslands, and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. Search a list of all federal recreation sites and parks where the passes are issued.

Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah is spectacular.

If you can’t get to one of these areas during the week of April 16-24, consider planning a national park visit on a summer trip. You’ll not only see gorgeous scenery but will have an opportunity to discover stories of history and culture. If you’re inclined, these places welcome volunteers in many capacities as well as donations.

Half Dome at night, Yosemite National Park

Larry and I have visited more than 55 national parks and dozens of other National Park Service sites. We hope to add many more and to revisit some of our favorites. What is your favorite national park?

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Friday, April 8, 2022

Charming tales from Lithuania


A few years ago Larry and I took a cruise that stopped at ports considered Baltic states. The largest, Lithuania, lies on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea. It is surrounded by Latvia to the north, Belarus to the east, and Poland to the southwest.

Klaipeda, the capital of Lithuania, is a modern city.

Because of their strategic position on the sea and close proximity to Russia, the three Baltic countries--Latvia, Lithuania, andEstonia--are closely watching current events unfold.  Yes, our cruise was years before Russia decided to bully its way into neighboring Ukraine. Daily news updates brought back memories of our visit, so I’d like to tell you a little about what we experienced in Lithuania.

In the 14th to 16th centuries Lithuania was a powerful empire that dominated much of eastern Europe. Today it has an advanced economy and is quite prosperous. It is not part of Russia. However, in the 1940s it was occupied by the Soviet Union, a situation that was contrary to international law and not recognized by most democratic countries. Lithuania became independent in 1990 and is an active member of the European Union and NATO.

Forests are abundant.

Lithuania is famous for its landscapes, flatlands, abundant forests, and lakes. Amber is found there, along with charming seaside towns with sandy beaches. We took a forest tour showcasing the capital city of  Klaipeda’s world of fairy tales and legends and were charmed by the country’s with a magical history.

After crossing the Curonian lagoon to the CuronianSpit, we visited Witches Hill, a park that features 80 sculptures carved from oaks along the edge of a path. Seventy percent of the Curonian Spit is forest with lots of wildlife and beautiful old-growth trees and paths leading in various directions.


Our guide entertained us with tales about the giant Neringa, Egle the queen of grass snakes, a dragon slain by the prince, thunder, and witches performing their devilry. Sculptures representing these stories are a favorite attraction that we came to see in the park.

A n ongoing card game among characters.

After walking through the forest, we visited a gallery that made and sold weather vanes. During the 19th century these became artistic symbols used as a marking system by fishing boats to show that they were fishing in legal waters.
Larry stands beneath an elaborately carved arch.

 Amber is found at the bottom of the Baltic Sea and has been mined on the Spit since the late 19th century. It's beauty shines like sparkling gold. As a reminder of our visit I purchased several pieces of amber jewelry at a local store. And who could resist a hand-knitted cotton sweater made by a vendor at a local fair (not me)?

All types of jewelry make use of amber from Lituania.

At the water's edge, I tramped over dunes and through honey-colored sand on the beach. So, of course, I rolled up my pants legs and waded into the cool waters of the Baltic Sea--another fond memory of our visit to this proud country that was once the largest state in the entire continent of Europe. 

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Friday, April 1, 2022

Hiking in the Dolomite Mountains of Italy

First, I must say that the Dolomites are among the most beautiful mountains in the world, and any visit near the border with Austria must include several days exploring this remarkable region. If you are reasonably fit, I highly recommend going into the mountain range and hiking; there are numerous trails suitable for a variety of skill levels. You gain an appreciation for the towering peaks that can only be achieved when standing in their midst.

LakeBraies

We walked around gleaming Lake Braies.

Our first hike after arriving in Corvara, a village in the Alta Badia region, was at Lake Braies. Known as the “Pearl of the Dolomites,” Lake Braies is one of the deepest lakes in the Bolzan province. It is located in the Fanes-Senes-Braise Nature Park, a heavily visited area for both tourists and locals.
Lovely view as we walked around the lake

A 2.25-mile hiking trail circumvents the popular lake. Although the day we were there was somewhat overcast, we were still able to see mountain reflections (primarily of the Croda del Becco which stands at more than 9,000 feet)  in the emerald green lake. Along the way we observed an ancient church, colorful blooming flowers, and multiple limestone formations.

A strange sight to see!

We were pleasantly surprised to see cows roaming freely in the area, especially as they came down to the lake to drink or rested beside the lake, apparently unfazed by groups of humans wandering around.

CinqueTorri

Diving up the mountain to the starting point of the hike

The next day we headed out of the Tyrol region for a trek around Cinque Torri. Even though the weather was foggy and windy, we were excited to head higher up the mountains. To get to the trailhead at Rigufio degli Scoiattoli we took a chair lift above 7,000 feet. From there we hiked for 4.5 miles while circling the peaks that make up Cinque Torri.
Larry, Beverly, and Deb

This hike is named for massive rock formations composed of a combination of boulders, towers, and peaks. Located in the Nuvolau mountain group within the northern Dolomite region, the five towers are named (from largest to smallest) Torri Grande, Torri Seconda, Torri Terza, Torri Quarta, and Torri Quinta

Outstanding scenery along the trail

When the fog lifted, the scenery was magnificent. Paths wound through meadows bathed in dark and light shades of green sprinkled with a beautiful assortment of pink and white flowers. Some trails require challenging treks over rocks and boulders, but there are also meadow paths that follow a more level route for those who aren’t so nimble.
A beautiful day for a mountain hike!

During World War I Austro-Hungarian soldiers fought fierce battles among these steep mountain walls. Rugged landscapes and terrible winter weather were a huge hindrance, and more people died from the harsh conditions than died from battles.

Passo Falzarego--does it get any more magnificent than this?

The trail ended at Passo Falzarego, an enormous rock formation that sprawled over a hill making a breathtakingly perfect picture spot. So my friend Deb and I climbed to a small ledge so our guide could snap the photo. It was a fitting way to celebrate this amazing adventure in the Dolomites.

Beverly and Deb pose on the rocks

I’ll cover our hike to Tre Cime di Lavarado in an upcoming post!

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier