Sunday, September 23, 2018

Tips for less stress when traveling by air

You’ve heard people say flying isn’t fun anymore. It’s not the exciting event of several decades ago. Nowadays, when you arrive at the airport you’re likely to feel like the airline is testing your patience, trying to wear you down so you won’t argue with additional charges that seem to be cropping up anew every time you plan a flight. The fact is, flying isn’t going to get any easier, so it’s up to you to manage the experience as best you can. Here are some tips to help the process goes as smoothly as possible.
Plan ahead: Make sure you have all necessary documents before leaving home. That might include passports, flight information and phone numbers for the airline and anyone you might need to call upon arrival or during your trip.

Arrive early: Recommendations are that you arrive at the airport 90 minutes prior to a domestic flight and two hours before an international flight. Allow extra time enroute for traffic or construction delays. Also consider the time to park your car and take a shuttle to the airport. If you’re returning a rental car, allow time to find a gas station and fill the car before returning it. Whatever time you think you’ll need, add at least half an hour.

Pack light: Schlepping a heavy suitcase is tiring, even if it has wheels. Add in a carryon bag, backpack, or large tote bag, and you’ve got a lot of weight to maneuver through the airport. Most people don’t use everything they bring on a trip anyway, so leave at least a fourth of what you first plan to take at home. Remember, if you take it, you should be able to handle it yourself, and that includes lifting bags into the storage bins in the plane.

Check in online: Most domestic flights allow you to check in and print your boarding pass online. You’ll still have to use the kiosk at the airport if you’re checking luggage, but the whole process will be much smoother if you have already checked in. You should receive an email reminding you to do this around 24 hours prior to your flight.
Be prepared for security: Finish that soda or bottle of water before getting in line. Pack your quart baggie with liquids in containers of three-ounce or less. Slip-on shoes, belts with plastic buckles, and computers you can access easily help the process go faster. Clear your pockets of change, even that tissue for blowing your nose, before reaching the scanning machines.

Or skip the long security line: These days you can apply for TSA pre-check or Trusted Traveler Program (which also works for immigration when returning from an international flights). There’s a cost and interview process to get preferred clearance, but if you travel often, it’s definitely worth it.
Pack your own care package: Make sure you have items at your seat that make flying more comfortable for you. That could include reading material, glasses, disinfectant wipes or hand sanitizer, paper, pencil, snacks, and medications (both prescription and over-the-counter) that you’ll need in-flight. For longer flights, you might include a pillow or blanket, eye mask, slippers, toothbrush, or bottled water. Keep these items in your under-seat bag, so you won’t have to rummage through luggage in the overhead compartment, possibly disturbing passengers nearby.

Sit back and enjoy the flight: Here’s hoping the passenger in front of you doesn’t recline his seat the entire trip, you aren’t sitting near the crying baby, and no one around is coughing and sneezing in your direction.
Photos from free sources.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Best places to enjoy the Swiss Alps

Sure, Americans know about the majestic Swiss Alps and the many glittering lakes that weave around snowy mountain peaks and settle into fertile valleys. But they don’t go there very much. Only a small percentage of visitors to the Jungfrau Region of Switzerland, which encompasses the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau mountains, are from the United States.
Swiss scenery is a collage of ountains and lakes.
And yet, my husband Larry and I discovered that the Jungfrau Region provides some of the best opportunities to appreciate these stunning landscapes.  Interlaken is one of the most visited towns because it can be a hub from which to explore nearby attractions. Take a train--Switzerland’s train system is efficient and extensive throughout the country.
Staubbachfalls, the signature
waterfall of Lauterbrunnen.

If you prefer serenity to sociability, travel beyond Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen or the nearby car-free villages of Muren or Wengen. It doesn’t take long to understand why the Swiss themselves choose to vacation in this gorgeous, less crowded area.

Whether you travel via rail, cable car, gondola, bicycle, on foot—or a combination of methods-- spring and summer are ideal times to wander through this splendid natural playground. Fresh mountain air keeps you cool when hiking, wildflowers bloom in bright hues, and waterfalls flow freely from high ridges into clear rivers and lakes.

One of the highlights of our late spring trip to Switzerland was a train ride to Europe’s highest railway station, the Jungfraujoch. Running every day of the year, the railway leaves Grindelwald or Lauterbrunnen for Kleine Scheidegg, the railway station at the foot of the famous Eiger Mountain’s north face. 
Ice carvings at Jungfraujoch, the Top of Europe
On the two-and-a-half-hour journey, we traveled through the Eiger and Monch mountains to the station, which is called Top of Europe because it’s located at an altitude of more than 13,000 feet. Ice sculptures, mountain climbing exhibits, snow sledding, and a grand view of the pristine white landscape made this a spectacular experience.

Approaching Schlithorn by
cable car
Another day we rode a cable car to Schlithorn, a mountain peak almost 10,000 feet tall, for breakfast at Piz Gloria, the first revolving restaurant in the mountains. This setting gained fame in a ski chase scene during filming of the 1960s James Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The restaurant was built, blown up for the movie, and rebuilt as a tourist attraction.

Today visitors enjoy a delicious buffet as the restaurant rotates 360 degrees. On a clear day you’ll have a panoramic view from the outdoor terrace of more than 200 alpine peaks.

The Lauterbrunnen Valley, called Valley of 72 Waterfalls for good reason, offers an impressive landscape of steep rock walls carved by flowing glacial water. Just down the road from our hotel in Lauterbrunnen was Staubbachfalls, the town’s signature waterfall. Wander the trails, and you'll see many more waterfalls, especially flowing well in early spring.

Hundreds of miles of designated footpaths offer outdoor enthusiasts a variety of options, from paths suitable for strollers and wheelchairs to challenging overnight hikes and the incredible experience of Via Ferrata (walking along a narrow mountain cliff).  We sampled one well-maintained path on a trek from Murren to Gundswait before catching the train back to Lauterbrunnen.
Take the train or bike to car-free Muren, a beautiful,
intimate towns in the Swiss Alps.
If the valley waterfalls aren’t enough, drive or walk a few miles outside Lauterbrunnen to Trummelbach Mountain, the only place to see snowmelt crashing down into 10 interior waterfalls.  Corkscrew Falls is one of the most unusual, as it winds through a convoluted rock formation deep in the cavern. The waterfalls carry away up to 20,000 liters of glacial melt per second from the three regional mountains.
Corkscrew Falls in Trummelbach Mtn.

Another good way to see the countryside is on a boat ride on Breinz Lake. The passenger boat functions like a ferry, criss-crossing the lake and stopping at tiny villages along the way.

We got off at Giesbach and stopped briefly to admire the sumptuous hilltop Grand Hotel before walking up to Giesbach Falls.  Water plows down the mountainside eventually splashing in a wide cascade into Brienz Lake.

Hanging clouds over a mountain as seen on Breinz River cruise
The promise of fresh air and beautiful scenery prompted us to hike on a wooded path, then along the road into the town of Breinz where we ate a hamburger and fries (the Swiss love their fritas papas!) before reboarding the boat back to Interlaken.

Hiking trails can take you to small towns like car-free Wengen.
Mountain bike trails extend over the Jungfrau Region with tours suitable for all ability levels, including families.  Experienced guides can lead you to remote, yet beautiful, spots in the region. For an easy ride around town, rent an electric bike, and take off on your own.

If you’re truly adventurous, try paragliding—sailing off the side of a mountain, then floating along as your parachute catches wind drifts (It’s on my bucket list!).

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier





Friday, September 7, 2018

The way to Montana's autumn wonders

Montana Office of Tourism shares how to take a scenic route to exquisite landscapes this fall.

From cooler temperatures to changing colors, autumn is the perfect time to slow down and see Montana from a different perspective by taking a scenic road, bike or canoe trip.

Road Trips
Landscapes along King's Hill Scenic Byway

Imagine winding down a road with little traffic, through brilliant colors of gold, red and orange, and taking in mountain landscapes and prairies. That’s what you get when you take a road trip in Montana. Looking for golden foliage reflected on crystal-clear waters? Take a scenic drive along Montana Highway 35 and U.S. Highway 93 around Flathead Lake. As you follow this route around the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi, you’ll feel transported by the beauty of its mystifying depths.

Take part in the Flathead Lake Wakeboard Academy

Head east for an unspoiled oasis of rivers and sweeping landscapes sprinkled with orange and red. Here you can take the road less traveled, and venture along Kings Hill Scenic Byway to experience the rugged beauty of the Lewis and Clark National Forest.
Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail is part of USDA Forest Service

If you’re looking for a road trip through towering mountain peaks to spectacular vistas, you don’t want to miss the Beartooth Highway. 
Drive Beartooth Highway for outstanding scenes.
Here, drivers climb to striking views from heights of over 10,000 feet above sea level. From Red Lodge, follow the highway west to Yellowstone National Park for abundant opportunities to view bison, elk and other wildlife.

Bike Trips
There's much to see on the Bitterroot Trail, either by bike or car.
Fewer crowds, perfect temperatures and breathtaking landscapes are just a few reasons Montana is the perfect place to explore in autumn. One of the best ways to take in the sights of the season is biking. Soak up Montana’s fresh mountain air and fall colors by setting out on theBitterroot Trail. The paved biking trail is located in the Bitterroot Valley, framed by the Bitterroot Mountains to the west and the Sapphire Mountains to the east. As you follow its mesmerizing path, you’ll enjoy spectacular views of snowcapped peaks, brilliant fall foliage and charming small towns.

Bike in Paradise Valley along the Yellowstone River.
Prefer biking with riverside views? Set out to explore Paradise Valley and peddle up to 24 miles  along the winding path of the mighty Yellowstone River in between the towering Gallatin and Absaroka Mountain Ranges. From sun-kissed stands of golden aspen and cottonwood trees to the majestic peaks in the distance, this valley is true to its name in the fall.

For the perfect variety of autumn scenery, embark on a biking journey along the Backbone of the Rockies from Choteau to Augusta. Between the wild mountains and forests to the west and the ranch and farm country to the east, this route gives you the best of both worlds and will leave you with unforgettable memories.

Canoe Trips
Paddle your way past mountains on the Clearwater Canoe Trail.
Imagine gliding through calm waters as one of the few people around and enjoying only the sounds of nature as you paddle. Add autumn colors splashed against the landscapes to that image, and you have a perfect Montana getaway. Follow the Clearwater River Canoe Trail in the Seeley-Swan Valley for a quiet two-hour paddle on a stretch of river closed to motorized boats. As you float, you’ll enjoy spectacular views of the valley, and pass through a dense willow marsh that turns a brilliant shade of yellow in the fall.
There's nothing quite as spectacular as watching a moose
cross a river in Glacier National Park.
Adventure north to Glacier National Park and float the pristine waters of Lake McDonald.
This glacial lake is stunning any time of year, but exploring its miles of shoreline in the fall is truly breathtaking. With the striking contrast of vibrant yellow larch trees dotting the cedar and pine forests, paddling the lake in this season offers no shortage of magnificent views and opportunities to sight wildlife.

Information and photos courtesy of Montana Office of Tourism andBusiness Development.

Friday, August 31, 2018

U.S. waterfalls that offer extra thrills

Niagara Falls, New York
Powerful Niagara Falls
NiagaraFalls is actually a combination of three waterfalls that lie on the border between United States and Canada. The largest, Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side, is the most powerful waterfall in North America. It is separated from the American Falls by Goat Island. Also on the American side is smaller Bridal Veil Falls. Watching torrents of water pour over the wide ledge leaves no doubt in your mind that the combined falls, 165 feet high, form the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world—750,000 gallons each second.

Maid of the Mist goes close to Niagara Falls
Located in Niagara Falls State Park on the Niagara River 17 miles northwest of Buffalo, New York, this is the oldest state park in the nation. In addition to Niagara Falls, the park includes 400 acres of lush landscape and famous attractions like Maid of the Mist and Cave of the Winds.
Maidof the Mist offers a boat ride that ventures close enough to feel the forceful spray of Niagara’s tumbling waters—so a waterproof jacket helps keep clothing and cameras dry. Cave of the Winds provides a close up view of American and Bridal Veil Falls—amid forceful winds as you descent 175 feet into the Niagara Gorge while walking along wooden decks through the foaming water. Even though you’ll be given booties and ponchos, expect to get wet. Both adventures provide thrilling ways to experience this American icon, which has lured visitors to its thundering roar and powerful elegance for generations.

Visitors walk below Niagara Falls on wooden decks.
Fun Fact: Decks at Cave of the Winds are torn down and re-built every year. Because the water is still frigid in spring, park employees work for only 20 minutes at a time re-building the famous decks.

Cumberland Falls, Kentucky
Cumberland Falls has the same basic formation as Niagara.
CumberlandFalls lies in the state park of the same name. This 68 foot tall waterfall is often called Niagara of the South because, like the famous falls, it spreads over an extensive ledge rather than gushing in a single stream. Its 125-foot wide curtain of water flows into a wide gorge, splashing dramatically over boulders in the Cumberland River.

During the day, sunshine glistens through the spray as it bounces off the rocks. But when night falls, visitors are enthralled by colorful moon bows, which happen when the moon’s light is reflected and refracted off water droplets in the air. Because this atmospheric phenomenon is rare in the Western Hemisphere, each month it attracts legions of people hoping to glimpse this unusual sight.
After soaking in the serenity of this lovely waterfall, visitors can participate in other Cumberland State Park activities such as hiking on 20 miles of trails, mountain biking, fishing, horseback riding, and white water rafting. Although cabins and camping are available, consider staying at the historic DuPontLodge.

Fun fact: The best opportunities to see a moon bow occur two days before and two days after a full moon on clear nights. Plan your visit according to full moon appearances during the rest of 2018: September 24, October 24, November 23, December 22.
Photos from free sources and Beverly Burmeier

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Spectacular side trips along Utah's Scenic Byway 12

Grosvenor's Arch
The guidebook said Grosvenor’s Arch was only 11 miles off Utah’sHighway 12.  It didn’t mention that Cottonwood Canyon Road, the way to get there, was just a primitive gravel road with sharp turns, steep edges, and deep drop-offs. It didn’t mention that the white-knuckle drive (for me, at least) would take more than half an hour.
But just as I wondered why in the world we thought taking this detour was a good idea, magnificent Grosvenor Arch came into view. This back road destination actually features two sandstone arches jutting out of a soaring cliff in an Instagram perfect setting.  After exploring and photographing the stunning rock formations, we had the perfect backdrop for enjoying our picnic lunch.
A short trail leads to the arches.

Even better, at Grosvenor’s Arch we encountered a couple who convinced us to stop at Kodachrome Basin State Park as we returned to Hwy 12.  If not for their suggestion, we probably would have passed it by as just another local park. But it was definitely worth another detour.
While there, we hiked Panorama Point Trail, a three-and-a half-mile loop that concluded at an elevated observation point overlooking multicolored rock formations throughout the area. Along the trail we enjoyed a wonderful spectacle of 67 red-tinged monolithic pillars jutting up from the canyon floor against a clear blue sky.
One of the many spires in Kodachrome Basin State Park
While on a road trip to visit different national parks in southern Utah, my husband and I discovered beauty in unexpected spots.

Follow Scenic Byway 12—but take a few detours.

Wildflowers decorate rock formations
in Kodachrome Basin State Park.
Recently designated an All America Highway, Scenic Byway 12 (between Capital Reef and Bryce Canyon National Parks) features several lesser known, but equally worthy, attractions like Grosvenor’s Arch, Kodachrome Basin State Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, and Red Canyon.
If you’re planning a road trip to see national parks in Utah such as Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, and Arches, add in extra time to visit other attractions along scenic Byway 12.
Hoodoos in Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah.
Cedar Breaks is a fairyland of painted cliffs and colorful rock spires.  Arriving on a blustery day, we felt the cool September temperatures typical of its10,000-foot elevation. 
We hiked Spectra Point Trail along the canyon rim and got our first glimpses of hoodoos, breathtaking formations that are the hallmark of Bryce Canyon National Park. As we looked down into a half-mile deep geologic amphitheater, we were surrounded by the richness of the subalpine forest of bristlecone pines.
Pines and the deep amphitheater in Cedar Breaks National Monument
The turn-off for Bryce Canyon passes through Red Canyon, a destination popular with mountain bikers because it’s open to biking and ATV riding.  If you are a bike rider then this is a place you do not want to miss. Unique vermilion-colored rock formation and stands of Ponderosa pines make the canyon exceptionally scenic.
Paths to walk or bike in Red Canyon

There are also several short hiking paths that are maintained by the U.S. Forest Service.  We walked the one-mile Pink Ledges Trail that loops past intriguing and brilliantly colored geological formations. It’s a great trail for getting close enough to explore and examine the rocks. Rather than viewing giant spires from a distance, you can walk up and touch them—and feel dwarfed against their bulk. The 3-mile Losee Canyon Trail provides a more rugged look at some of the Red Canyon area "crown jewels.”
Stunning formations just off Utah's Scenic Byway 12.
Southern Utah is a wonderland of stratified rock formations, sandstone cliffs, and towering spires.  If you’re willing to stray a bit off the main path there are plenty of naturally beautiful landscapes waiting to be discovered. The region is especially striking during the fall when maples, oaks, and aspens are ablaze in vibrant reds and golds. 

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Friday, August 17, 2018

Tranquility and views at Fish Tail Lodge in Pokhara, Nepal

After spending several days in Kathmandu, Nepal, touring temples in the UNESCO district (many of which were damaged in an earthquake in 2015) and learning about Stupas, Kumaris, and other Buddhists symbols, Larry and I flew with our guide to Pokhara on a small 10-row Jetstream plane.
FishTail Mountain as seen from Fish Tail Lodge
Soon after take-off glistening snow-covered mountains capture my attention as I gaze outside the plane’s window. The Himalayas and Annapurna Range are among the largest mountains in the world, and the sight is simply spectacular. Peaks pointing straight to heaven sparkle in the sun. Dividing India from its northern neighbor Nepal, these elegant crowning glories provide an almost impenetrable landscape with passes that are scarce and difficult. Perpetually covered with snow, these mountains crown the world as we know it.

Flying over Himalaya Mountains
When it comes into view, I snap photos of Fish Tail Mountain (Machhapuchre), namesake for the lodge where we will stay. Located on a peninsula across from Fewa Lake in a beautiful tourist area, it is only a five-minute drive from the airport. We are shuttled to the resort across the lake on a rope-drawn raft. Views are breathtaking, and it’s easy to see why the Lodge has been included in Patricia Schultz’s book 1000 Places to See Before You Die.
Raft that shuttles guests to Fish Tail Lodge
Built in the late 1960s with unique round cottages that are set amidst a lush garden, rooms are perfect for a romantic getaway or just a tranquil sojourn. The tropical environment is filled with plants and flowers, a spa is available, and our cottage is just a few steps away from the lake and mountain views. Fish Tail Lodge is endowed to the Jayanti Memorial Trust, and all profits generated by the property help promote prevention of cardiac disease and help heart patients.

A resort with a purpose
It was almost noon when we arrived, so we sat on the deck by the lake enjoying a drink and light lunch—a welcome change from the crowded, noisy cities we had visited in India and Nepal.
As testimony to the exclusive service and comfort offered, the Fish Tail Lodge has hosted many world leaders (including President Jimmy Carter), royalty (Prince of Wales), heads of governments (Prince Narihito of Japan) and celebrities. Indeed, a dignitary from Africa arrived with her entourage shortly after we did. Seven military guys with guns took tables on either side of us, so we decided it was time to move on from the outside deck.
Larry and Beverly on the deck overlooking Fewa Lake
Later we returned to enjoy crystal clear reflections of the Annapurna range and Fish Tail Mountain on the lake. Canoes are provided for gentle escapades, either self-rowing or with a guide. Although many people come to Pokhara for relaxation, adventurous travelers find plenty of hiking, hang gliding, and other challenging activities to get their adrenalin flowing.
Beautiful reflections on mountains and city on Fewa Lake
I enjoyed relaxing on the window seat in our room, exploring the property before dinner, and then chilling out for the rest of the day.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier


Sunday, August 12, 2018

Travel insurance--don't leave home without it

To buy or not to buy. That is the question.
But for us, this is never a dilemma. We always purchase travel insurance.

You wouldn’t drive a car or live in your home without insurance, even though chances are you’ll never get back in claims anywhere near what you’ve paid in premiums over the years. Yet you have it in case that one catastrophic incident might happen.
So think about travel insurance the same way. Because travel can be expensive, and the unthinkable can happen.

Our trip to India and Nepal last winter ended with my husband Larry in the hospital in Kathmandu for eight days. Even though medical expenses are less in Nepal than in the United States, we still racked up considerable claims, not to mention canceling flights and rebooking last minute later on.
One thing to remember is that if there’s a medical situation in a foreign country that requires prompt attention, you won’t be able to get preapproval from your insurance company. So you may be required to pay upfront (charge cards are generally accepted) and then receive reimbursement from the insurance company after filing a claim when you get home. Just be sure you have high enough limits to cover expenses.

What does travel insurance cover?
The main reason to have it is to protect you from financial losses if you must cancel or interrupt your trip for covered reasons or you have legitimate medical expenses. It can also cover lost or stolen items and provide financial assistance if flights are delayed or canceled or your baggage is lost or delayed.

Cost is based on the age of the traveler, type of coverage you choose, and cost of the trip. Generally the cost is around seven percent of the amount of insurance you decide to purchase. It’s not always necessary to purchase for the full amount since you only want to include non-refundable expenses when calculating the trip cost (hotel or car rentals may be cancellable, for example).
Policies are available that allow you to cancel for any reason or that cover pre-existing conditions. These typically must be purchased soon after your initial payment and will cost more than a standard policy which can be purchased any time up until travel begins.

What is not covered?
Some policies will warrant against default by the tour operator, but not all do. Also, there are restrictions on covered reasons for canceling or interrupting the trip unless you purchased an all-inclusive policy. When choosing a policy keep in mind the dollar limits for covered expenses.

One amount to look for is at least $150,000 for emergency medical evacuation. With sufficient coverage on a regular travel insurance policy, you don’t need to purchase a separate policy for this type of emergency event.
Do you have insurance from other sources?

Some home owner’s policies will cover lost items, including luggage, although payment may not happen while you are traveling and need to replace items missing. And your health insurance might pay for illness or accident expenses although Medicare usually won’t cover expenses when traveling out of the country. Some credit cards offer travel insurance as a perk if you use the card to book certain expenses, or you might have purchased insurance from the airline when booking your flights. Be sure to check all possibilities, so you can then purchase only what is needed in excess of what you already have.
Bottom line is that—like any insurance—a travel policy can provide valuable peace of mind. And reimbursement if unfortunate circumstances happen.

Images from free sites.