Sunday, August 4, 2019

A garden wonderland for your bucket list

 It’s Fantasyland for the horticulturist and Wonderworld for the masses. Famed Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, is a blue-ribbon showplace in one of the loveliest corners of the world.
Every path leads to another spectacular view.

Visitors marvel at the variety and harmony achieved by co-mingling easily recognizable flowers like dainty purple daisies and ruffled pink geraniums with unusual specimens such as teardrop fuchsia and delicate drooping trout lily.  Since passing the century mark in 2004, privately owned Butchart Gardens has featured more spectacular scenes than ever within its 55 acres. 

Never-ending vision

With different plants in bloom 46 weeks of the year, each season (The Gardens counts five seasons—spring, summer, autumn, Christmas, and winter) brings new items of beauty and interest for the public’s pleasure.  Fifty full time gardeners and additional part time staff work in 26 greenhouses year round to supply The Gardens with the best possible plant specimens.
Twelve thousand tulip bulbs are imported annually from Holland to provide a dramatic prelude to spring. One and a half million annuals grown on-site plus flowering trees and shrubs fill beds and lawns with a brilliant display of shapes, textures, and colors. 

Summer is nirvana for plant lovers.  Not only are flowers blooming in myriad hues, but also thousands of colored lights transform each night into a glowing floral delight, casting shadows and a magical luster on trees and shrubs. On Saturday evenings fireworks light up the sky, and guest artists perform on the Concert Lawn. 

Colors peak in mid-October with flaming red and russet maples and 53 varieties of chrysanthemums leading the autumn parade.  As the blooming season winds down, guests enjoy greenhouse tours in November.
Christmas displays are crowd pleasers every year, and visitors enjoy ice skating on the outdoor rink during the winter.  Background shrubs take center stage while flowering plants are dormant. The family home on the estate was christened “Benvenuto,” Italian for “Welcome,” and during the winter it is open for tours showcasing memorabilia that chronicle development of The Gardens. 

In the beginning

In 1904 Jennie Butchart, wife of successful cement manufacturer Robert Butchart, began to beautify an abandoned limestone quarry near the family home. Originally, the quarry was expected to support the cement factory Butchart built in 1898 on Tod Inlet. However, the quarry was soon exhausted, leaving an ugly, empty gravel pit.
As a diversion, Jennie set about transforming this bleak sight.  Under her personal supervision, top soil was brought in by horse and cart, and other improvements were made.  Trees, shrubs, and flowers planted under her watchful eye eventually took shape as the Sunken Garden.
Friends and neighbors flocked to see Jennie’s beautiful gardens, and visitors traveling to Vancouver Island spread the word about the floral displays.  During the 1920’s more than fifty thousand people admired Jennie’s creation, and it began to take on a life of its own.  As the concrete business declined, Jennie established a viable business by offering guided tours with a cup of tea, an idea that proved popular with both locals and visitors.
Since Jennie’s husband Robert collected ornamental birds from all over the world and kept live ducks and peacocks, many elaborate birdhouses were stationed throughout the gardens.  The Butcharts incorporated landscaping visions from their world travels in the form of a Japanese Garden on the sea-side of their home and later an Italian Garden and a Rose Garden. 
Traditional hospitality is still evident during High Tea in The Dining Room Restaurant when fruit and yogurt as well as a generous selection of tea sandwiches and homemade sweets are served.

Whether you stroll on well-maintained paths meandering through several distinct garden sections and expansive lawns or rest beside one of the many cooling water features, you’re experiencing the result of more than a century of pride and caring from Butchart family members. Memories of this spectacular wonderland will stay with you a very long time.

Getting there: The Butchart Gardens are located on Vancouver Island, 14 miles north of Victoria and 12.5 miles south of the Vancouver-Victoria ferry terminal at Swartz Bay. Ferries are available from several points in Vancouver and Washington state, or you can arrive by plane or boat. Allow at least three hours to absorb the elegance of Butchart Gardens.


Thursday, July 25, 2019

How to leave your hotel room with everything you brought

Today’s guest post is by Christopher Elliott, author of “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic). This column originally appeared in USA Today.

If you've ever left something behind on vacation, then you probably know how Jerry Rothstein feels. 
Chargers are among the items most often left in hotel rooms.
He's forgotten his shoes (in Caracas, Venezuela), a sportcoat (in Inverness, Scotland), toiletries (in Hong Kong), and, "most serious of all, my passport in the room safe at the Mandarin Hyde Park," says Rothstein, a retired equity research analyst. Fortunately, he recovered all of the items.

A survey by the research firm Kelton Global showed that 29% of Americans are more likely to accidentally leave a belonging behind in a hotel room than take a hotel item.
Take home all the toiletries you brought with you.

The most commonly left-behind items according to Kelton’s poll:
Brushes, combs, clips, and
curling irons are often
 left in hotel bathrooms.
1. Clothing (42%)
2. Toiletries (42%)
3. Electronic devices/chargers (40%)
4. Jewelry, including watches (15%)
5. Underwear (13%)
6. Hair styling tools (13%)

Tips from travel pros

Check night stands
for small pieces of jewelry.
A few pre-departure tips will ensure you leave with everything you brought. They include understanding what you could leave behind and strategies for remembering not to forget them. 

1. Don't hide items during short hotel stays

Graham Denio, the director of loss prevention and guest services at Atlanta’s Westin Peachtree Plaza says guests should forget about trying to hide items. "Items tucked away are the ones that we frequently find," he says. "Leave them out and visible on counters during short stays."

2. Don't stash all your valuables in one spot

Always double-check every drawer and cabinet in your room (and the safe) before checking out. Make sure you have your passport, phone, chargers, computer and wallet. Store backup cash in a different pocket or billfold, and keep bank cards in separate places.

3. Embrace brightly-colored baggage
Eye-catching colors help
you remember luggage
or cubes when packing


Colors matter, too, as Rita Coomler, a retired nurse from Tucson, Ariz., discovered. She recently returned from a trip to New Zealand, but when she unpacked her luggage, she found a dark purple luggage cube with her clothes was absent. She'd left it in her room at the Barclay Suites in Auckland. Coomler contacted the property, which eventually mailed her the cube.

"My recommendation?" she says. "Cubes are excellent for the organization of, clothes, toiletries, and shoes. But choose a very bright color that stands out such as lime green, vibrant red, or bright orange."

When it comes to packing or luggage cubes, the more obnoxious the color, the less likely you are to overlook it when gathering up your belongings.

4. Remember the three B's: bed, bath, balcony
Be sure to check the balcony
at your hotel or cruise ship
when packing to leave.

Patricia Hajifotiou is an expert on losing things on the road. While she rarely leaves things behind, she has dealt with many customers who abandoned their belongings in hotel rooms, terminals and taxis.

Her strategy is simple. Before checking out, check the three 'B's or spots where travelers are most likely to leave items: the bed, bath and balcony.

The bathroom is one of the three hotel room Bs where you're most likely to leave items. So check behind shower curtains for toiletries and behind doors for clothes you may have hung up and forgotten about.

Don't forget your
cell phone!
"Look at and under your bed and check under the sheets," says Hajifotiou, who runs a tour company in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. "In the bathroom, check behind the curtain to see if you left your shampoo or your shaving device. And on the balcony, make sure you didn't hang anything out to dry."

My best advice: Listen to the inner voice, the one that says, "Did you forget something in your room?" If you hear it, chances are the answer is "yes."

Photos from free sources.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Rafting on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon

When Major John Wesley Powell’s curiosity led to his 1869 expedition down the Colorado River as it flows through the Grand Canyon, he was an experienced explorer. When I decided to follow his path, I was clueless about what the adventure would entail.
A visit to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim many years ago left me fascinated with its natural beauty and magnificence.  I vowed to return and traverse the Colorado River from the depths of the canyon, to see the massive walls from the bottom up instead of top down.

But I didn’t know a thing about camping.
Amazing colors indicate archeological activity millions of years ago.
Still I was determined to try. So Larry and I embarked on a 225-mile raft trip from Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek, Arizona.  I couldn’t resist the challenge—and I was willing to travel out of my comfort zone for the experience.

Hiking could be challenging, but it was a great way to explore land in the canyon.

 For 10 days my companions and I camped on the banks of the dam-fed river, hiked on narrow ledges and scrambled over jagged rocks, splashed through 160 rapids, bathed in 45 degree water (or  held-out for frolicking in waterfalls), and brushed away blowing sand.

Beautiful reflections in the morning mist
I learned skills I’d never needed before--pitch a tent, go potty in the river, brush my teeth in the dark--put up with daily hat-hair and wet feet, and listened to unfamiliar sounds while trying to snooze.
More interesting rock formations tell stories about ancient weather.
But I discovered, as did the other 14 people traveling in our group, that stretching one’s boundaries in order to view spectacularly beautiful and ever-changing vistas of canyon walls while learning history and geology of the region were worth any inconveniences.

It's impossible to describe the immense beauty all around.

If you have any inclination to take this life-changing rafting trip, I hope these photos will encourage you to do so. There are a variety of options such as different length in days, miles covered, type of raft, and whether you want to hike as well as paddle the river and the rapids. Only certain outfitters are approved to take visitors on rafting trips in the national park.

There's a new and exciting landscape to view around every bend.
Because we wanted time to explore the fascinating landscapes yet cover the most distance possible, we chose to go on a motorized raft with Arizona Raft Company.

Appropriate dress for the raft included hat, sunglasses, shirt, and life jacket.

Our days were filled with adventures and new discoveries while soaking up the incredible ever-changing views. Enjoy this small sample of photos that Larry and I took. Despite no way to recharge batteries or use cell phones, we tried to capture the grandeur of the Grand Canyon.
More magnificence of nature in the ever-changing canyon.

Our group of 14 loaded and unloaded the two rafts each day.

After making camp, we set up chairs in a circle to visit and enjoy
a sumptuous dinner prepared by the guides. When it got dark
we went to bed--no campfires allowed.
Colors of sunset captured our imaginations.

Best to keep feet (and sand) out of the tent as much as possible.

Several hikes led us to refreshing waterfalls.
Waterfalls provided an easy way to get clean,
since the river water became muddy after a few days.

Our rafts followed the river as it flowed between large rock formations.

Fun activities like jumping into a waterfall!

Everyday we packed our dry bags (our only "luggage,")
and retrieved them when we camped for the evening.

Magnificent and varied scenery kept us in awe during
our many hikes.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Read the fine print before you travel

Today’s guest post is by Christopher Elliott, author of “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic). This column originally appeared in the Washington Post.

Before you embark on your summer vacation, take a few minutes to read the fine print on your airline ticket, car rental contract, vacation rental contract — or any other contract the travel industry pushes in front of you.
Cruising to Alaska is a great summer vacation.

It’s no exaggeration to say that many, if not most, travel problems start with a failure to read the terms and conditions. After years of advocating travel cases, I think I know the reason for the fine-print illiteracy. No one even knows where to find the fine print, let alone how to make sense of it. It’s so frustrating that travelers, and at least one travel insurance company, are doing something about it.

“Travelers inevitably encounter fine print,” says Karina Saranovic, a lawyer with the firm Delman Vukmanovic in Los Angeles. “The mile stretch of ink at the bottom of agreements can seem intimidating.” Saranovic remarked on how easy it is to click “accept” and finish a booking without understanding what you’re getting.

Her advice: “Comb through the terms with a magnifying glass, because you can’t always predict what you’ll find.”

For example:
You want to fly on time!

• Airline contracts, also known as “contracts of carriage,” say the airline is not required to keep its flight schedule. But you’re expected to check in on time. Otherwise, the airline will cancel your ticket and keep your money.

• Car rental agreements stipulate that if you damage a vehicle, you owe the company for repairs, plus “loss of use” — or what the car rental company would have earned had the car not been in the shop.
Car rental agreements vary widely, so
know what you are getting.

• Cruise contracts say the staff may search your cabin for any reason at any time. The cruise line can also use your image for any purpose without compensation.

“While it’s a good idea to read the entire contract, you’d be forgiven if you don’t,” says Tanner Callais, the founder of, a cruise site. “After all, if you want to cruise, then you have to agree to their terms.”

It’s that way for virtually all travel purchases. The agreement, known as an “adhesion” contract, is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. If you don’t click “accept,” you’re not traveling.
Check for extra fees with hotel stays.

So how do you read the contract? And what do you do when you find something objectionable?

Knowing that there is a contract is the first step. And even if they are aware of it, they have no idea how to find it.

Sometimes, knowing the terminology is useful. An airline contract, for example, can be called a “contract of carriage” or “conditions of carriage,” depending on the company. Hotels are a little trickier. Technically, your reservation is your contract, although you may find additional terms and conditions on the hotel site. Knowing the lingo can help you quickly find the contract when you’re doing your due diligence.

Once you’ve found the contract, experts say you should take your time reviewing it. Contracts typically outline deadlines for cancellation refunds, rescheduling or promotional qualifications. If you’re buying travel insurance, you should read the contract twice. Travel insurance policies are written in gibberish. Even if you think you understand what you’ve read, you might want to read it again.

Almost every contract you read will be one-sided and nonnegotiable. Which is to say, you can’t ask the airline or hotel for a revision — it doesn’t work that way. If you press the “book” button, you agree to the terms. (Oh, and the terms can change at any time, for any reason, to which you also agree.)

Reading the fine print
takes time and persistence.
But you can say no, and if you don’t like what you read, you should say no. This is particularly true when buying products for which you have many options, such as travel insurance or vacation rentals. If your policy doesn’t look right, walk away.

For some travel companies, the fine print is part of the business model. As they teach you in consumer advocacy school, the large print giveth and the small print taketh away. (Tom Waits sang about it, too.) Simply put, travel companies make more money when they slip a term into the fine print that makes your airfare nonrefundable or add a mandatory tip to your cruise ticket.

But some travel businesses — the ones caught between the consumers and the companies — are tired of the confusion. So earlier this year, the travel insurance website decided to do something about it. The company inserted a notification at the end of its contracts, giving $10,000 to the first person to read to the end.

Squaremouth estimates that fewer than 1 percent of travelers who buy travel insurance read all of their policy information. “We’re working to change that,” Squaremouth CEO Chris Harvey told me.

Harvey expected the contest to last a year. But Donna Andrews, a high school teacher from Thomaston, Ga., discovered the contest in less than 24 hours and won. I asked her why, and she said it was a habit. A self-described “nerd” who keeps a file with all of her contracts, she says she’s done that since studying consumer economics at the University of Georgia.

“I always fully read contracts before signing to ensure I know what is covered and what is not,” she adds.

Maybe there’s a lesson in there for the rest of us. “Gotchas” infest virtually all travel contracts. If you don’t want to get ripped off, you have to follow Andrews’ example. Make a habit of reading the entire contract — unless you like surprises.


Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Amazing tiger sighting in India

One of the main reasons Larry and I decided to go to India was to see tigers in the wild. We chose a tour that allowed us to have eight different wildlife safaris in two of India’s fifty-plus national parks. Protecting this powerful and beautiful animal is a main effort of the Indian government, and these efforts have been significant in improving the count of Bengal tigers in the country from around 1400 in 2006 to 2226 in 2018.
One cub cautiously came out of the bush.
During the trip we had many sightings of this legendary species, both males and females. One of our greatest thrills was watching a mother tiger and her four cubs interacting while we were on a safari drive in Khana Reserve and National Park.

Look closely to spot all four cubs.
The mother tiger, whom we had seen alone the previous day, was lying nonchantly at the edge of the brush until the cubs come out of the thicket to play. Estimated by our guide to be about 7-8 months old, the cubs climbed on the tigress, jumped at each other, scampered away, and teased—just like children at play.
Play time for the cubs
As you can imagine, we felt very privileged to have that remarkable experience and wish to share it with others. I hope you enjoy this photo essay.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier