Friday, February 16, 2018

Spring travel trends


Destination experts at Ker and Downey, a luxury travel organizer in Katy, Texas, have identified a few locations that appear to be trending for early 2018. These include North America’s national parks, South American destinations such as Argentina and Chile; European gems like the Italian Dolomites as well as Cadiz and Santa Cruz de Tenerife in Spain; and a number of locations in Asia such as Bali, Bhutan, China and India.
Temples in Bali

“As we get further into 2018 people are realizing they haven’t finalized their travel plans for the year, and we are starting to see a lot of interest from our clients wondering what they can do to fulfill their wanderlust sooner rather than later,” said Ker & Downey Director of Marketing and Sales Nicky Brandon. “Based on whether someone wants to stay relatively close to home or check off a bucket-list trip half-way around the world, there are a number of locations travelers should be considering this spring based on travel industry trends and the new experiences Ker & Downey is offering,” Brandon adds.

Spring break often means family travel and multi-generational travel as larger family units try to make memories while kids are out of school. American travelers wanting to stay a bit closer to home might consider national parks or Alaska and Hawaii. Those looking for an extra reason to get out and discover their parks this spring need look no further than National Park Week, which begins April 21. If someone wants to discover history as well as spectacular views, Ker & Downey’s “Mid-Atlantic History Tour” sample itinerary includes private tours of the homes of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe.

Vineyards in Chile
If you want to wander south, the beautiful Chilean wine region in the CasablancaWine Valley offers optimal day trips and excursions. Guests have an opportunity to see the vineyard leaves and Patagonia foliage turn to vibrant autumn colors in April (Southern Hemisphere, remember?). Those traveling in March can raise a glass to their health and happiness during the annual wine festival season.

Thrill-seekers can spring into action with an abundance of snowy activities at the ItalianDolomites, famous for its hiking and skiing slopes. After working up an appetite, travelers can experience the area’s delicious cuisine as they taste their way through Bassano del Grappa and Asiago, then sip prosecco from a personal luxury gondola in Venice.

Offering unparalleled relaxation, the tropical beach-strewn paradise of Bali welcomes the ultimate far-flung vacationer. Ideal travel times are April and May, during dry season and before peak tourist season. Customized trips allow visitors to enjoy the Indonesian province’s beaches as well as tour temples and stroll through rice paddy walks at discounted seasonal rates.
Dolomites in Italy

Anyone who loves a good festival or cultural experience should consider visiting Asia this spring. In March, India celebrates the end of winter with street parties, during which everyone throws colored powder and water at each other in the vibrant Holi Festival. Across Southeast Asia, residents of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and southwest China ring in the New Year with the annual Water Festival. Held mid-April across the region, locals splash anyone and everyone, especially tourists, creating a fun and playful atmosphere for any visitor.

The serene, natural beauty of Bhutan blossoms in spring when the indigenous rhododendron flowers are in bloom. The three-day Rhododendron Festival, held April 20-22, 2018, highlights the region’s eco-tourism and celebrates its culture of peace and enlightenment. Combine this experience with a trip to neighboring Nepal and trek through the Himalayan Mountains, most visible during April before monsoon rains begin.

More information about Ker & Downey and its custom journeys can be found at www.kerdowney.com.

Information and photos courtesy of Liz Baker, Thompson & Co. PR 

Monday, February 5, 2018

Forget stereotypes: Cruisers cross age and income levels


Cruising remains one of the most popular vacations for all types of people, reports Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the largest cruise industry trade association in the world.
Cruise ships come in all sizes, from those that carry several hundred
passengers to those that carry many thousands.
Having cruised many times on family-friendly to luxury ships, I wholeheartedly agree. Your experience may also confirm that finding; but even if that doesn’t surprise you, some recent trends might.

One of the most telling stats is that people from all income levels and all age brackets are cruising. Although 50 percent of cruisers have a household income of at least $100,000, a third of cruisers surveyed have a household income of less than $80,000. Shorter itineraries and ships with fewer amenities are attracting people from all walks of life. “There is a cruise for every travel preference, style, and budget,” says Cindy E’Aoust, president and CEO of CLIA.
From basic inside cabins to more luxurious quarters, there are
accommodations for every budget and style of traveler.
Even more surprising is that millennials are booking luxury cruises at a record pace. Yes, 24 percent of those young things just starting their careers and families have sailed on a luxury cruise line within the past three years. Even more, 70 percent of millennials say they will definitely book a cruise for their next trip. Seems they have discovered that cruising is fun and budget-friendly at any age and not just for gray heads with canes.

Even teens enjoy the freedom and
excitement of cruising.
One reason cruises are so popular with millennials, as well as other generations, is that cruising gives them a sample of many different destinations and allows them to decide on places they want to return to later, whether on another cruise or a land-based trip. And there’s a high return quotient: Nine out of ten people say they will cruise again.
Onboard activities like miniature
golf appeal to all age groups.
Another trend: Cruisers like to travel with groups of familiar people, so a cruise can be the perfect family vacation. Although four out of 10 cruisers say they are interested in child care services onboard, only 13 percent actually use those services. Could that be because entertainment and activities are designed to be enjoyable for the whole family?

Pure relaxation in the hot tub with a cool one.
What kinds of cruises bring clients the most satisfaction? Studies put the number at 81 percent for river cruises and 73 percent for ocean cruises. Not sure what the reasons are but could have something to do with length and pace of cruises. Since a prime reason for choosing a cruise is relaxation, a slower paced river cruise fits that bill.
Travel agents are also in on the game. Knowing so many clients enjoy cruising means that travel agents are likely to recommend this vacation option. With so much variety in the cruising industry regarding destinations, length of cruise, type of ship, activities, and luxury level, it’s easy for travel agents to find something that works well for each client.

Features like ropes courses, slides, ice skating, zip lines, and more
are fun for all ages--kids not needed to try these activities!
No matter what your reason for going on a cruise, you can find one that works for you and will leave you wanting to cruise again. We have certainly found that to be true.
Information courtesy of CLIA. More information regarding the report or CLIA can be found at www.cruising.org
Photos from Larry and Beverly Burmeier
 

Monday, January 29, 2018

Another testament for travel insurance


So you still don’t buy travel insurance. But you do have car insurance, home insurance, and health insurance. Have any of these netted you a payout large enough to cover all the premiums you’ve paid throughout the years? Probably not. But you still have insurance—just in case.
Well, that ‘just in case” can happen when you are traveling, too. And the costs of a major illness or accident or weather event can be much higher than the premiums paid out.

Unexpected illness in Nepal
We recently returned from a trip to India and Nepal. After two marvelous weeks exploring wildlife parks, temples, countryside, and much more in India, we headed to Nepal. That was about the time my husband Larry started feeling bad. A hotel doctor diagnosed him with bronchitis, gave him medicine, and suggested he rest for a couple of days. We canceled our trip to Chitwan National Park and stayed in Kathmandu two extra nights before flying to Pokhara.

The night before leaving Pokhara, things started going really downhill for him. He was admitted to the local clinic which determined he needed to be at a better equipped facility in Kathmandu, where he was taken by helicopter the next morning.
Without going into specifics, suffice it to say he was in the hospital for eight days receiving treatment before he was cleared to fly back to the States. Even though the cost for medical care in Nepal is significantly less than equivalent services in the U.S., it doesn’t take long in a hospital to incur a large bill.

Most U.S. insurance companies (especially if you’re on Medicare or Medicare advantage-type program) won’t guarantee payment to a hospital in a remote location like Nepal, which means we had to pay our bills (make sure your credit card limit is fairly high) and then file claims for reimbursement. 
Add caption
The one thing our travel insurance did cover upfront was our flight home. However, they only provided economy fare, although our original, but canceled flight, was in business class. And Larry needed to be in business class as per the doctor’s recommendation because of how weak he was. So getting reimbursed for the extra fee is an issue I’m still working on. Even so, I was grateful for what the insurance did cover, which was significant since it was a last-minute booking. And I’m hoping coverage will extend to a good portion of the other expenses.

Weather event in Antarctica
That was the second time we had a large claim during travel. About two years ago we went to Antarctica with an extension to Easter Island following the icy expedition. Weather created the problem this time as we could not get back to the mainland in Chile when scheduled, which played havoc with our flights to Easter Island and later return to the U.S. In all we paid out nearly $7000 more, which the insurance company covered in full. Yes, we had paid a hefty amount for travel insurance, but we would never have gone without it because of the uncertainty of traveling in that part of the world.

Before each trip, check the credit card on which you book travel (cruises, flights, tours, hotels, etc.) to see what kind of coverage is offered for non-refundable expenditures as well as medical expenses. If it’s substantial, you may be able to lower the amount of coverage to purchase on regular travel insurance. You can consider a med-evac type of policy, too, although most regular travel insurance policies include around $150,000 for that service (which is highly unlikely to be used and does not guarantee transport back to the U.S. only to the nearest facility that can provide necessary treatment).
Even if your destination isn’t so far away as Antarctica or Nepal, travel insurance is a good investment. Many costs are incurred prior to travel, and things can disrupt your plans even before a trip as well as during. I would never book a major trip without insurance—just in case.

Photos from free sources

 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Paamiut is a secret treasure of Greenland

Brightly painted houses keep the cold winters from being so dreary.
While tourists to Greenland often prefer itineraries filled with all the famous sights of bigger towns, Paamiut naturally attracts travelers who want to go off the beaten path and gain a different perspective. Fortunately for us, it was a port stop on our Regent cruise to Iceland and Greenland.

What makes this tiny town so special? The people of Paamiut, which is located on the southwestern corner of Greenland, are very friendly. When they spot tourists they are quick to share all the good spots in the region. Sightseeing in Paamiut is about appreciating the beauty in simple experiences--hiking, skiing, and wildlife viewing.

Famous church in Paamiut
You can easily walk to the Stave Church, one of the finest churches in Greenland, and you might even get to hear a local person playing hymns on the small organ. Built in 1909 the red and green steepled church is like a work of art with its fancy Norwegian-style designs inside and outside. Imagine what it takes to build such a wooden structure in a country with no trees.

This mural on the side of a building depicts the fishing lifestyle.
A replica of a ship hangs from the ceiling in tribute to the fishing lifestyle and strong connection to the sea. For its 1500 inhabitants, 90 percent of whom are native Inuits, every aspect of life revolves around water. The town grew because the sea is free of ice during the winter. Fishing for redfish, sea salmon, and cod is the primary occupation.

Additionally, icebergs drift from the east coast and up the west coast bringing seals and a prosperous hunting season, and whales can be hunted on a quota system. 
Icebergs float in from the open sea.

Often shrouded in fog, Paamuit means “those who reside at the mouth” of Kuannersoaq Fjord. Started as a trading post for fur and whale products when founded in 1742, Paamuit has become known for its soapstone artists, too. The town is a mixture of old and new cultures and provides amazing nature experiences for those with a different perspective of life than more urban folks.

Summer flowers brighten the simple landscape in town.
In summer beautiful hiking trails attract nature-lovers; and as with everywhere in Greenland, sailing is a summertime favorite in Paamiut. If you take a boat ride through the fjord, you might see the town’s guardian, the white-tailed eagle, called Nattoralik. It is plentiful in Paamiut, and the townspeople feel a strong connection with it as with all wildlife in the area.

The Inuit culture has a long history of whaling.
The town is quite small, so we easily walked through the city center as our school teacher guide pointed out the school, fire station, hospital, fish market and museum where displays showed how women turned thousands of tiny beads and pieces of sealskin into extraordinary national costumes that are still worn today.

The green building behind the bridge is the school.
We stopped along the bright red and white bridge in the center of town and listened to the babbling river beneath. We watched children riding bikes and playing everywhere, even on the roof of a house—easily accessible because of being built on a hill. Summer flowers grew wild throughout the town and were especially lovely in the field beside the iconic whale-bone arch.

We trekked to the observation tower.
Later Larry and I set out on our own to climb the rocky coastal hill and then scale the stairs leading to the observation tower.

Despite a brisk wind at the top, we had excellent views of the entire town’s streets and buildings in one direction and the fjord in the other. Colorfully painted houses stood out in a toy-city panorama against volcanically formed, blue-black mountains. We felt we had discovered a hidden treasure in Greenland.
Volcanic rock surrounds the fjord where Paamiut is located.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Friday, January 5, 2018

More seats, less room when flying


Getting ready for an airplane trip? It’s crunch time.
Seats on airplanes are getting smaller and closer together.
That’s how it feels when you settle into your economy seat on most airplanes.

These days the average economy seat pitch (distance from any point on the seat to the corresponding point on the seat in front or back of it) is 30 to 31 inches on the three major U.S. airlines—American, Delta, and United. Low-fare airlines like Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit have scaled back as low as 28 inches, making your available legroom even more cramped.
Allegiant offers low fares but
less leg room.
Of course, these are averages, and you should keep in mind that big airline companies have many different types of planes. Pitch can change when new planes are built or when older ones are refurbished. Bottom line, every inch counts for comfort, especially if you’re making a long-haul run.

But there’s an airline you may not have even heard of that offers the most legroom in North America. Interjet is a Mexico-based, low-cost carrier that offers a generous 34 inches of seat pitch (i.e. legroom) on all its planes. However, it may not be convenient for U.S. travelers. Interjet flies to Mexico and Central and South American destinations from only a handful of U.S. cities.
Considering well-known airlines that fly most places Americans want to go, JetBlue could be the best choice. With 32 to 34 inches of seat pitch on all its planes and 37 inches on its Even More Space option, JetBlue offers more leg space that any other well-known carrier.

Virgin America is another airline that features 32 inches of seat pitch, but that may change since Alaska Airlines purchased VA. Alaska is downgrading its main cabin pitch to 31 inches—pretty much in line with most planes on the three big airlines.
Low-fare airlines like Southwest are best for short
flights since seat pitch is likely to be less.
Foreign airlines tend to be more generous, with many offering seat pitches of 33-36 inches. If you’re traveling overseas, check out the seat pitch of these international carriers: Air India, Air Tahiti Nui, Asiana, EVA, JAL, Air China, and Turkish Airlines.

The trend among airlines is to add more seats and subtract more inches from the seat pitch, and that’s not likely to change. The best advice is to put as little as possible under your seat, so you at least have that space to put your feet.
Information culled from www.smartertravel.com 

Photos from free sources.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

How to fight back against the "beyond our control" excuse from travel providers


Today’s guest post is by Christopher Elliott, author of How To Be The World's Smartest Traveler. 

It's not our fault.

You've probably heard that line a time or two, especially from an airline, hotel or cruise line. It's the old "Act of God" excuse — or to put it in less theological terms, an event "beyond our control."
 
Reasons matter. That's because under the rules of most travel bookings, a company owes you nothing if these events keep it from operating. Blame it on Mother Nature, and the company can get away with almost anything. But there's a way to counter the oldest excuse in travel.
"'Circumstances beyond our control' are hard, even impossible, to define, "says Stan Sandberg, co-founder of Travelinsurance.com.

 Consider John Thompson's recent flight from Las Vegas to Boston by way of Washington. The carrier blamed "weather or air traffic" on a brief delay of his outbound flight — both events it claims it has no control over.


But that's not how Thompson remembers it. He says his flight from Las Vegas to Washington was also held up because it was overbooked, something which the airline can control.

"The delay was extended by another 20 minutes because no one was willing to take a $1,000 voucher to give up their seat for other passengers," recalls Thompson, a project manager from Chelmsford, Mass.

In the end, he had to spend the night in Washington, which cost him $125. The airline initially refused to cover his extra costs, but after I contacted it, Thompson was reimbursed for his hotel stay.

Turns out you can fight back.

Nancy Barnby, a retired high school teacher from Menlo Park, Calif., booked a room at a La Quinta hotel in Oregon two years ago to see this summer's solar eclipse. Then the hotel was sold.

"The new owners decided not to keep any of the prior reservations," she remembers. "But they also didn’t inform us."

By the time she discovered the canceled reservation, hotel prices were astronomically high. The new owners claimed the sale was an event beyond their control. I begged to differ. I contacted the new hotel and it covered the cost of her new hotel reservation.

"When someone uses the 'circumstances are beyond my control' excuse, they are utilizing a classic negotiation technique: the abdication of authority and responsibility," says Kwame Christian, director of the American Negotiation Institute, a consulting firm. The most important step you can take toward resolving your dispute is to persuade the company to accept the responsibility, he adds.


It's also helpful to turn the tables when someone tries to feed you that line. What would happen if you were the one with a circumstance beyond your control?

"What if you got sick or injured just prior to your trip, preventing you from traveling?" adds Sandberg. "It's pretty clear that an airline or hotel, while likely sympathetic to their customer, would not have any financial obligation to you."

In other words, more often than not, it probably is their fault that they couldn't operate their flight, offer you accommodations, or a car. The cop-out is a symptom of a much bigger problem: an industry that's used to getting away with it.

How to fight the 'circumstances' excuse

• Get informed with accurate and up-to-date information. I once pushed an airline to offer meal vouchers and compensation after it claimed runway construction was an event beyond its control. I gently pointed out that the construction, which had caused my flight to be canceled, must have been announced a while back. Indeed, the event was highlighted on the airport website.

• Go positive. Rather than making demands, try telling the company how it can fix your problem. Ask for the hotel to find a way of honoring your reservation when it closes for renovations. Stay upbeat. "Tell them, 'I really appreciate you getting me on this next flight. This is incredibly helpful,'" says Christian of the American Negotiation Institute. In the end, what matters isn't their excuse, but that you got around it.

• Buy travel insurance. Most policies cover trip interruption and don't distinguish between weather or a delay caused by an airline, rail operator or bus company. Delay coverage can be considerably more generous than an airline, says Sandberg. "Travel insurance can provide reimbursement for additional expenses, including meals, accommodations, local transportation and phone calls," he notes.

Learn more about how Christopher Elliott helps travelers at  his consumer advocacy site.

Photos from free sources.
 

 

 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Spend the night with Frank Lloyd Wright


It’s a place where time stands still. Nature is the only determiner of hours passing. And time does pass quickly, even if you’re doing nothing. Which is precisely what makes the Seth Peterson cabin designed by Frank Lloyd Wright a special place.
View of Seth Peterson/FLW cabin from below
We arrived at the historic cottage on Mirror Lake in the Wisconsin Dells on a sunny September afternoon. But by nightfall serenity had taken hold and my husband mused, “It seems like a long time ago since we left our home in Austin.”

Angles highlight the entrance to the cabin.
The peaceful setting has that effect on visitors. Surrounded by huge oak, pine, and maple trees this cabin in the woods offers privacy and tranquility. Situated on a bluff 60 feet above the placid lake, the cabin was designed to meld into its surroundings, blurring the boundaries between indoors and outdoors.
The bedroom in back is surrounded by windows,
bringing nature inside.
Built of native sandstone, plywood, pine, and glass in the style first developed by the renowned architect in the 1930s, the cabin is the last Wisconsin building designed by native son Frank Lloyd Wright before his death at age 91. It was commissioned by Seth Peterson, a 24-year-old government computer operator in Madison, Wisconsin, who aspired to be an architect in the mold of the master. 

Building the cabin
Construction on the cabin started in 1959, but before it was finished Wright died, and Peterson’s personal and financial troubles led him to suicide.  Neither saw the cabin completed, but it was finished in 1960 by a second owner. Eventually coming on hard times, the cabin was neglected for nearly two decades before the Department of Natural Resources bought the cottage as part of Mirror Lake StatePark.

Built with entire walls of windows, the 880-square-foot, one-bedroom cabin seems much larger. Its open floor plan, with the main living area surrounded by glass, brings nature into the room at every angle. Floors are constructed of unpolished stone, walls are made of terra cotta bricks, and ceilings are all wood panels. No matter where I stood in the house or which way I turned, I felt that the view was planned to be in harmony with nature.
As our stay continued, I noticed details of the structure that took awhile to absorb: Recessed lights framed by natural wood, so they blend into the ceiling; a glowing fireplace that spread light and warmth throughout the living room; Wright’s signature geometric motifs decorating windows; and furniture designed by the architect to work perfectly within the spaces he created.

Glass walls, angles, and geometric decorations are well-known
architectural elements that Wright used.
We also discovered two pennies set almost invisibly into different locations on the stone floor—a mystery we have yet to unravel.
Wright’s well-known angled wall design is also incorporated into one of the cabin’s exterior glass walls. The structure is a study in classic Wright architecture--but an accessible piece that visitors can actually become part of while living briefly in this creative icon. Sitting inside looking out the window at birds approaching the feeder or sitting on the outside deck (covered with falling autumn leaves) watching an occasional squirrel scamper by, it’s easy to get lost in the timelessness of this place.

Asters and other flowers
still bloomed in September.

Restoring the cabin
Contemplation also makes the visitor grateful for the Seth Peterson Cottage Conservancy, the organization formed to restore and operate the cottage. When restoration began in 1989 much of the glass was broken or missing, and there was massive water damage to the flat roof over the bedroom and part of the slanted living room roof. Fortunately, the masonry walls and stone floor were still in good condition. Today the cabin is an inspirational memorial to the man who had an indelible influence on architecture in America.

And people like me are able to marvel at this original Wright structure because the Conservancy devised a plan to help finance the restoration—rent it out to the public. Getaways have proved so popular that it’s not uncommon for certain dates to be rented two years in advance (We booked our stay almost a year ahead).
Larry is on the dock from which we
launched the canoe. Mirror Lake
is known for gorgeous reflections.
Exploring the lake

Soon after arriving I spied a path leading from the cabin down to Mirror Lake. At the path’s end I found a bright green canoe and small wobbly dock from which we could launch the canoe. Back at the cabin I shared my find with Larry. After locating paddles, life jackets, and the key to unlock the canoe’s chain, we hustled down the leaf-covered trail to start our water adventure.
Suddenly a strong wind blew in, the kind that portends a storm (we knew rain was predicted for the next day). We decided to go anyway, and for more than an hour we paddled through the narrow channel that led into open water. Large striated limestone cliffs guarded the channel until we reached open water. Shaded by trees on both sides, the channel gifted us with glorious reflections when the sun peeped through.
Enjoying the peacefulness of Mirror Lake.
It did rain but not for long, and the wind calmed, so we didn’t have to paddle against it on the return.  We arrived back to the cabin just before sunset and vowed to explore by canoe even further the next day. But first, we wanted time to appreciate our surroundings.
An idyllic setting beautifully showcased at Mirror Lake.
With no television or internet, the cabin becomes the perfect place to soak in the ingenuity of its creator. Even better, staying there gave us back the precious commodity of time—time to relax, refresh, and reflect on our lives and our surroundings.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Holiday magic at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin


Being a Texan, there’s not much opportunity for traditional winter magic—especially if snow is part of that equation. But we found a wonderful place to get in the holiday spirit on our recent trip to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
Winter at Osthoff Resort in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin
Sure, it’s colder than our home in the South, but that’s part of the intrigue. Wind chills in single digits, followed by beautiful white snowfalls, and shops decked out in Christmas finery quickly put us in a festive mood. Lights twinkled wherever we went, and reflections on the lake were just gorgeous.

As guests of Osthoff Resort, the timing of our visit put us right in the middle of several special holiday events, including the OldWorld Christmas Market. For 20 years the Osthoff resort has offered this European-style market to reinforce the spirit of Christmas.

German vendors offer carved wooden
nativities and ornaments for sale.
While many vendors bring their wares from nearby Wisconsin towns (think cheese, wool sweaters and mittens, and homemade jams and jellies), there are also booths straight from Germany, Baltic countries, Russia, and Turkey.

After chatting with St. Nicholas, it was time for lunch. We fortified ourselves with potato pancakes topped with applesauce and sour cream, beef stew, brats, and apple strudel.
Ready to scour the booths, we wandered through the large heated tent admiring hand-painted wine glasses, blown-glass ornaments, Russian Santas, Polish pottery, Scandinavian ornaments, gourmet chocolates, and wooden nativities from Germany.
I loved these exquisite blue and silver glass
ornaments.
Yes, we bought cheese (couldn’t resist the extra sharp cheddar) and a cute woolen cap that I love but will have to travel away from Texas to wear.
During our stay, we also had time to peruse ElkhartLake village shops, all within a few blocks in the “downtown” area. Hometown shops like these always tempt me, so it’s no surprise that I bought a stunning necklace at Gina’s Fine Gifts (lots of fun items here) and wine bottle stoppers at Enchanted Florals.
Modern shops occupy vintage buildings, like this one where we
samples wine, cheese, and crackers.
At Nordic Accents we chatted a while with owner Pirkko Jarvensivu, who is from Finland, and later admired fine art at Two Fish Gallery and Sculpture Garden. Many of these shops are housed in original buildings, like Vintage Wine and Fine Food--a great place to sample excellent wines while owner Gina Borland shared her expertise with us.

Cookie decorating was a favorite of the younger set.
Dozens of families began arriving at the resort on Friday—in time to participate in hayrides, breakfast with Santa, and cookie-decorating workshops. My heart was warmed seeing multiple generations enjoying activities that have become family traditions over the years—the best examples of sharing the holiday spirit.
Snow covered the lakeside in a beautiful blanket of white.
If you’re looking for a place that truly conveys the magic and beauty of the season, Elkhart Lake would be hard to beat. Consider a holiday trip this year or next. And don’t forget to indulge in a little magic for yourself—spa treatments, a French cooking class, and dining in any of the village’s fine restaurants.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier

 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Why you should put Nuuk, Greenland on your travel bucket list


Despite weather that is often foggy and gloomy, Greenland can also be stunning in its simple Arctic beauty. As a visitor, expect to have experiences you'll find nowhere else in the world.
Icebergs are common year-round in Greenland's fjords.
Our first stop exploring the world’s largest island was at Nuuk, capital and largest city of this rugged land. Nuuk, a name given to the town in 1979, means “cape,” which reflects the its position at the end of the Nuup Kangertua fjord, At nearly 100 miles, this is the longest fjord in Greenland.  Adding to the impressive setting is Saddle Mountain which forms an 4,000 foot high backdrop for the town’s buildings.
Traditional wooden homes lie in the shadow of new, modern buildings.
Arriving there in July, we were surprised by how green and colorful the landscape was. Yellow, purple, and white flowers bloomed street side and in open fields. And the houses you see in photos of Greenland really are picturesque:.Most are painted red, blue, or green—bright enough to counter the dreariness of winter, we were told.

Tendering from our cruise ship, we docked at the historic colonial harbor with its quaint wooden buildings. Modern high rise buildings guarded multi-story coastal houses, and we walked by the  newly renovated market where local fishermen sell their daily catch.

Beautiful scenery includes hanging clouds over
Saddle Mountain in Greenland.
From that dock we boarded a small boat and cruised north through Davis Strait and into the beautiful Nuup Kangertua fjord. Hanging clouds caressed towering mountains, while sparkling white icebergs cast deep reflections in the ocean water. Shifting with the waves, the icebergs created blue-streaked whimsical sculptures floating along this unpopulated section of the fjord. Multiple streams of icy water flowed down the mountains into the fjord in a majestic display of wild nature.
Summer waterfalls flow from melting winter snow and ice.
And then there were whales. Once the boat captain spotted a particular humpback, he followed it around the fjord, giving us multiple opportunities for spectacular photos as it breached again and again. Known for a variety of wildlife including seals, reindeer, arctic foxes and hares, and ravens, Greenland attracts visitors looking for adventure on land and water. Whether you travel by boat, car, or on foot, you’ll see some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world.

Whales are an important part of Greenland's economy and culture.
After that excursion ended, Larry and I walked around town on our own, stopping to visit the famous red church and then walking up a hill to see the statue of Hans Egede, a missionary called the Apostle of Greenland.
Just imagine snow up to the windows
of Pauline's house!
Later in the day we enjoyed a visit with a local lady named Pauline. This 70-year-old former school teacher welcomed us into her bright blue house and offered our group a large spread of delicious homemade pastries, cake, biscuits, cookies, and other desserts along with coffee and tea.

Although her home was at the top of a hill, Pauline said snow gets as high as the windows in winter. But she embraced the darkness by appreciating light reflecting on snow, stars shining in the sky, and an outstanding view of the glistening ocean from her window. You can’t get more positive than that!

We enjoyed an assortment of delicious pastries that Pauline prepared.
We also enjoyed her stories about living in Greenland.
The world’s northernmost capital, Nuuk is the center for Greenland’s fishing industry and also provides good employment opportunities because it is the cultural, educational, historical, and economic center for Greenland. Yet the area is still remote, and travel to other parts of Greenland requires a very expensive trip by boat or airplane. So people don’t travel far from home but instead have adapted to the remoteness of their surroundings.
Settled by Danes, Greenland is recognized as a Danish sovereignty, yet the citizens still depend on annual subsidies from Denmark. As you can imagine, living in Greenland is very expensive, and conditions are challenging. About a quarter of Greenland’s indigenous population live in Nuuk, so perhaps that’s why most people have learned to accept hardships as their chosen way of life.

There’s a lot to admire about the hardy folks who live among the mountains and fjords of this dramatic land. Not the least of which is their appreciation for nature’s majesty.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier