Sunday, January 20, 2019

Choosing your next piece of luggage

Suitcases come in a variety
of sizes and materials.
Luggage used to be almost a lifetime purchase where you looked for the best quality bags you could afford. But that’s not necessarily the best approach these days. Sure, quality matters, but styles and features change so quickly that it might make better sense to replace luggage every five or so years.
Besides choosing a distinctive and good-looking piece of luggage (not black!) think about function, packing space, airline requirements, and value in addition to quality. Whether you are looking for something rugged, luxurious, or high-tech, many choices are out there no matter what your style of travel may be.

The largest bag may not be the most
practical.Only buy what you need.
First, you have a couple of basic options, mainly whether to buy soft-sided or hard-sided luggage (which has made a comeback after being out of fashion for many years). Assuming any luggage you buy should be made of durable material with good handles and wheels, here are some points to consider when making the choice between soft or hard:
Soft-side luggage:

It is lightweight, flexible, and can adapt to tight spaces such as overhead bins and under seats of airplanes. It may actually hold more because the sides are not rigid, although soft sides may not be as sturdy and protective of the contents.  Be sure the fabric is made of a strong and durable material such as ballistic nylon.  
Hard-side luggage:

Carryon sizes are strict, especially
for hard-side suitcases
It offers more protection for your precious cargo, but it may scratch and scuff more easily. It probably weighs more, and it can’t be squeezed into fixed storage spaces (forget about under the plane seat). There’s a greater chance you’ll have to check your bag if storage space is short on a flight. Be sure the bag’s frame, which should be made of aluminum or polycarbonate, is strong and sturdy.
Shopping for luggage:

Take along a tape measure to be sure the size you purchase meets airline guidelines, especially if you plan to carry it on rather than checking. Even if you plan to check a large bag, remember that the larger it is, the more it will weigh when packed full. You might not want a 32 or 35- inch piece that could be dinged a steep fee for exceeding allowable weight limits.
Check that the handle has a solid and comfortable grip. Open and close zippers to be sure they flow smoothly. Interior compartments should work for the way you pack items. (While you’re at it, pick up several of those zippered, mesh packing cubes. They make packing and finding things later much easier).
Gotta have wheels, preferably four!  You’ll be considered a dinosaur and given dirty looks if wrangling your duffle bag creates inconveniences for other travelers—not to mention the back and shoulder pain you might get from lifting and hauling un-wheeled bags around an airport or train station. (I speak from experience on a recent journey to Africa that required bags without wheels--ugh). Practice wheeling luggage around to be sure it will travel smoothly over different surfaces, including mild bumps (a gravel road or cobblestones will come your way at some time in your travels).
Suitcases continue to get “smarter.” Newer features that may be important to you include built-in weight indicators, location trackers, fingerprint locks, and battery chargers (but be careful of certain items that may be banned on flights). Warranties—if you plan to keep the luggage for many years--should offer extensive coverage without exclusions for airline damage.

Cost will depend on the quality and size bag, but you don’t have to spend a fortune for a serviceable and dependable bag. Read reviews for major, well-known brands like American Tourister, Samsonite, Travelpro, Delsey, Eagle Creek, Victorinox, and others. And check major retailers for frequent sales.
One of the newer luggage styles that I like is Biaggi, a series of frame-less soft-side bags that each fold into a small, neat package for storage. These can be stuffed to accommodate all those “extras” you inevitably bring home, and they are incredibly lightweight, which is important when traveling to remote destinations that have weight limits below those imposed by large airlines.

Photos from free sites.


Sunday, January 13, 2019

The beauty of Point Lobos State Reserve

Spring flowers add a gentle touch to the rugged coastline
along Highway One near Carmel, California.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve was a mere five-minute drive from our Carmel, California Hyatt resort. Dedicated to preserving native relationships of the unique animal and plant life, geologic features, and scenic qualities found in their natural state along Highway One, the Reserve is a wonderland of ocean, trails, coves, and meadows.
The coastline along South Shore Trail at Point Lobos State Reserve
in California
Although we anticipated a quick stop, the Reserve was so fascinating that we spent three and a half hours exploring this bountiful landscape. That’s because the beautiful scenery--a mosaic of ecologies was shaped when rocks formed below the earth’s surface, later uplifted, exposed, and then eroded into a variety of forms by waves and weather—was far more enticing than we had expected to find in a reserve.
Coastal scene along the Cypress Cove Trail at Point Lobos State
Reserve near Carmel, California

To see all that Point Lobos offered, Larry and I walked several trails, starting with the South Shore Trail near the parking lot between Sea Lion Point and Bird Island. The accessible one-mile trail took us along cliffs with a magnificent ocean view and through one of nature’s lovely seaside gardens filled with dunes, rocks, splashing surf, caves, and driftwood. Sea Lion Point and Sand Hill Trail include cove overlooks and easy views of sea lions resting on rocks offshore or basking on the beach--moms tending their young as our visit was during ‘pup” season.
Monterey cypress trees frame the ocean on Cypress Grove Trail.
The Cypress Grove Trail, a loop from Sea Lion Point parking area through coastal scrub and woods and cliffs, serves up dramatic and spectacular ocean views. It winds through one of only two naturally growing stands of Monterey cypress trees remaining on Earth (The other grove is across Carmel Bay at Cypress Point). In fact, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve was originally acquired by the government to protect these trees.

Old Veteran cypress tree is estimated to be at least 300 years old.
These cypresses formerly extended over a much wider range but withdrew to the fog-shrouded headlands as the climate changed 15,000 years ago. The outermost trees reflect the forces of nature and time—they survived salt spray and wind with their roots seeking nourishment in whatever cracks and crevices could be found. A short side trail led to “Old Veteran,” a cypress tree about 300-350 years old. Even though it has split (possibly from lightning) it is still growing and sports a leafy canopy.
Deer can be seen in the meadows of Point Lobos State Reserve.
Our last trail was to Bird Island. To get to the trailhead we drove to the southernmost parking area, passing by two white, sandy beaches—China Beach and Gibson Beach. We then hiked the path highlighting pine forest, coastal scrub, rocky shores, and beautiful wildflower displays.
Trail marker

Notable were the huge boulders where thousands of sea birds roost during spring and summer. Cormorants nest close together on the flat part of the island, while sea otters rest in kelp offshore.

Mother seal tending to her pup at the beach below Bird Island Trail.
From the upper-level trail, we also had a great view of harbor seal moms tending their pups in the cold water and on the beach. Their actions resembled mothers everywhere!
Birds come by the thousands to roost on the rocks, which have a
distinctive white covering--and smell!
To get to Gibson Beach later, we walked down a sandy incline and a 56-step staircase. Wading is allowed there, but the water is very cold year-round, and with a cool breeze blowing, we decided a short look around was all we needed.
Beachcombers enjoy relatively secluded Gibson Beach at the
southernmost end of Point Lobos State Reserve
Bottom line, we were very glad we had time to wander around the trails and learn more about the multiple terrains and beautiful environments of Point Lobos State Reserve. So plan enough time for discovery when visiting this interesting place.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Sunday, January 6, 2019

Why travel?

People sometimes ask my husband Larry and me why we like to travel so much. Well, we love a good adventure and the opportunity to create lasting memories with each other and friends.
Parasailing in Kauai, Hawaii
But the most important reason is that learning and travel go hand in hand.  Travel provides interactive opportunities to try new things, see new places, meet new people, and have new experiences. Learning becomes an integral part of travel—and it stays with you for the rest of your life.

Looking into the crater at Volcanoes National Park, Big Island, Hawaii

It follows that travel helps keep us young in mind and spirit. It gives us increased satisfaction and appreciation for our lives, enrichment from understanding more about other cultures (especially when talking with locals in other countries), and the chance to delve into the history of countries far older than our own. We agree with the playwright Henry Miller who said,” One’s destination is never a place but a new way of seeing things.”
Magnificent red sand dunes at Sossusviel, Namibia
Make planning easier

We use the “bucket list” approach to deciding where to go next. Our bucket list includes destinations in our home state of Texas as well as destinations in remote locations across the globe. From years of writing travel articles for magazines, newspapers, and online venues, I have learned that there is something interesting in every place we visit. We’ve never been to any place that we  were in a hurry to leave. In fact, we almost always wish we could stay longer.
Sunset on Lake Travis near Austin, Texas
You don’t have to take long trips to have amazing experiences. Day trips can be just as unforgettable as a month-long journey. Road trips allow for flexibility. You can stop whenever you want (another photo moment coming up!), adjust the itinerary along the way, and not have to worry about how much stuff you tossed in the back of the car.
Zip lines can be found in many
outstanding locations.

Cruises are an excellent way to see the world. One of the best perks is that you only have to unpack one time. And it’s easy to stay within your budget because you know ahead of time what most expenses will be. True, cruises dock at seaside ports, so exploring inland may take extra planning or extra days. However, many cruise lines now spend one or two nights in selected ports, allowing for additional exploration that further enriches your experience.

What if travel makes you anxious?
Travel—under any circumstances—is best done with an open mind. Here’s another learning opportunity: Develop a positive mindset to appreciate all that is good about travel and minimize perceived effects of bumps along the way.

Crater Lake National Park

The best way to overcome travel fears, such as flying in an airplane, is to do it anyway. Accept that things can go wrong, but don’t wallow in it. Plus, there’s a certain pride to moving outside one’s comfort zone and finding that you can be okay. Not just okay, but excited about discovering unexpected pleasures of travel. 
One of many tiger sightings in India
We have survived illness and hospitalization in a foreign country, hurricane-force winds that broke our ship from its moorings, and numerous delayed or canceled flights. But the benefits of travel still far outweigh the possible negatives—most of which are more perception and fear of the unknown than reality.
Incredible beauty of icebergs in Antarctica
Think about this: Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Monday, December 31, 2018

A look at 2018 in pictures

Elephants leaving water hole in Etosha National Park, Namibia
As a new year arrives and we start planning travel adventures for 2019, it’s a good time to look back over the past year at the places and activities we experienced. There was a good mixture of domestic and international travel and even a little time off between trips. This is what 2018 looked like for Larry and me.  

View of Fishtail Mountain from our resort in Pokhara, Nepal
January:  We arrived in Nepal after spending two weeks, including Christmas and New Year’s Eve in India. As many of you know Larry became ill and spent eight days in a hospital in Kathmandu, but before that happened, we traveled to the beautiful resort town of Pokhara.
Walk trails beside water and through these lovely gardens in
San Antonio, Texas.
February: This was a month for recovery, but later we took a few days to visit San Antonio, a favorite city of ours that (fortunately) is just a little more than an hour away. Early spring blooms added color to the Chinese Garden near the San Antonio Zoo.
Climbing Enchanted Rock
March: During Spring Break we took a grandson to several notable sights in Central Texas including Enchanted Rock near Fredericksburg and scenic Pedernales State Park where rocks and water combine for a perfectly scenic romp.
Limestone formations along the Pedernales River
April: We spent a glorious week in Carmel, California exploring beaches, parks, and forests of Big Sur along Highway One. This is one of America’s most spectacular road trips, with plenty of trails to hike and new sights to see around every bend of the coastline.
Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur can be hard to find, but it's totally worth a visit

May: We finished that driving trip in San Francisco with adventures including a round of golf, wine tasting at a vineyard, climbing the tiled steps on 16th Avenue, and wandering around Golden Gate Park.

Spring blooms at Golden Gate State Park in California

June: Disneyworld may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s certainly fun when treating a granddaughter to the experience. If you go early enough in the summer before it gets too hot and crowded, you’ll come to understand the Disney magic that makes this place so well liked.
Night time in Epcot just prior to the fireworks show.

July: It was time for a trip to a less-traveled destination. We headed to the exotic country of Namibia, where we would not only see many species of African wildlife but would also have the opportunity to witness—and climb--the world's highest sand dunes, the red dunes of Sossusviel.
Climbing the magnificent red sand dunes in Namibia
August: Our African journey continued into Botswana, a growing destination for incredible wildlife safaris. We stayed in multiple remote camps and were able to observe activities aimed to conserve Africa’s resources and preserve wildlife species like lions, elephants, and leopards.
We watched this leopard stalking prey in Botswana.
September: Although we had been to Ireland and London, England several times, we wanted to see more of the United Kingdom, so we booked a cruise that sailed around the UK and Ireland. Despite the hurricane that interrupted our trip in Scotland, it was a pleasant journey that ended with a day in Bath and the Cotswolds.

Incredible Giant's Causeway in Ireland
October: We had booked a cruise on the magnificent Rhine River that started in Basel, Switzerland. Since we had five days between cruises, we spent that interlude in Geneva and went paragliding off a mountain in the Alps of France. Then we enjoyed the towns, castles, and vineyards as the ship sailed to Amsterdam.
All along the Rhine River are picturesque vineyards and castles
November: Most of the month was spent visiting children and grandchildren in various stateside locations, but one excellent Texas day trip we recommend is to Lost Maples State Natural Area. Fall colors made hiking on trails in the park an event to remember.

Autumn leaves are especially beautiful in this rare Texas stand of maples.

December: Back in Central Texas, we celebrated the holiday season with an evening drive to Johnson City for its Festival of Lights. We also walked down Austin’s iconic 37th Street and reminisced about visiting to the famous Trail of Lights at Zilker Park. This annual event never ceases to amaze as it grows better every year.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Beaches along California's Big Sur Coast

Beaches along Big Sur are very different from the sandy, surfer-enticing waves found on southern California’s coast. For starters, some can be hard to find or access, but when you get there, you’ll realize—as we did during our April visit-- they are worth the effort.

Rather than a vision of fun in the sun and splashing among curling waves, early morning may see fog hugging the coastline. Big Sur beaches can be cool even in summer, so don’t forget a jacket. And bring sturdy shoes since reaching the beach might require a hike from the parking area.
Garrapata State Park in Big Sur
Garrapata Beach: Located in Garrapata State Park—the only free park along Highway 1—the beach in the southern part of this 3,000-acre park is reached from trails leading down to the coast. With no headquarters or parking lot, we parked our car beside the highway and walked along a path to the ocean. It was lined with compact white flowers and other colorful blossoms in April, and it’s not uncommon to see artists with their easels capturing this gorgeous sight on canvas. This beautiful combination of water, rocks, surf, and blue skies attracts people for beach activities, even though the water is not really swimming temperature.

SandDollar Beach: The largest unbroken stretch of sand in Big Sur, this crescent-shaped beach is protected from wind by large bluffs, so the weather is milder. One of the few accessible beaches in southern Big Sur, it is located 14 miles north of the San Luis Obispo County line. That means it was a fairly long drive from our hotel in Carmel.

An inclined path and 99 steps on a well-built stairway lead to down to the beach. A plethora of rocks at the southern end of the beach entice gem-hunters looking for jade and serpentine. Beachcombers scan the sand for washed-up sand dollars when the tide is out (we didn’t find any), and surfers often find this a good place to hang ten.
Stunning rock formations at Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur
PfeifferBeach:  Hard to find on first try, stunning scenery makes this Big Sur’s most popular coastal access point. To find this beach, managed by the U.S. Forest Service, we had to locate the unmarked Sycamore Canyon Road. Hint: It’s the only paved, ungated road west of Highway 1 between Big Sur post office and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. After we found it, we turn sharply and followed the narrow, winding road for two miles. At the end was a large parking area and a short path to the beach.

Feeling the wind at Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur
Cliffs tower above this breathtaking stretch of purple-tinted sand, and a large arch-shaped rock formation called Keyhole Rock just off shore makes for spectacular photo opportunities, especially at sunset. At low tide people can wade through the water to observe surrounding tide pools.  Covered by towering, vegetation-heavy bluffs and striking rock formations, the beach’s expansive shoreline feels secluded from  so many people streaming down Highway 1. Despite a cold, powerful wind blowing during our April visit, we spent an hour mesmerized by water crashing against the rocks.
Beach at Andrew Molera State Park is smooth in some sections
and rocky in others. At times the sand has a purple tint, too.
Andrew Molera Beach: Although we stopped at Andrew MoleraState Park, 23 miles south of Carmel, we did not walk the scenic, mile-long path to the sheltered beach. The path meanders through a meadow filled with wildflowers and sycamore trees and provides fine views of the coastal mountain range to the east. The path parallels Big Sur River, which enters the sea adjacent to Molera’s beach. A bridge covers the river in summer, but otherwise you’ll have to wade across the cold water. Take a picnic and enjoy watching surfers or horse-back riders in the park.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier and free sources


Thursday, December 20, 2018

Take to the air for new adventures

Ready for a new adventure? Think up—as in zip lining, sky diving, flying on a trapeze, or flyboarding.  Get your thrills—with feet off the ground. 

Zip lining is fun for all ages.

Each of these activities can take you out of your usual comfort zone--with minimum risk by people of average fitness. Just bring a sense of adventure and a willingness to try something new. The best part: You’ll gain self-confidence—and bragging rights--for your accomplishments.

Zip lines: This popular activity can be found in almost any tourist location. Although every zip line offers a little different experience, all guarantee an exciting, rather than scary, ride along a metal cable through outstanding natural landscapes.

Soar over canyons, streams, hills, or lakes or through a forest of old-growth cypress trees or over a national park. Take in scenic panoramas (be sure to look out instead of down) while whizzing along wire cables of various lengths—up to a half mile long. Some zip lines feature an automatic braking system while others require you to apply pressure to the cable for stopping as you approach the landing. Either way, this may be the perfect family adventure if children are at least eight years old (Some have weight restrictions, so check beforehand).

Leaving the airplane to start descent.
Sky diving:  This is the ultimate exhilaration! Many people fear this activity, but it’s more a matter of anticipation and perception than actual danger. For your first time, you’ll go on a tandem skydive, so you can enjoy the flight while leaving technicalities (when to pull the parachute cord, for example) to the expert strapped on your back.

As you flow through cool air above the clouds there’s really no sound; it’s eerily quiet and peaceful.  Although sky divers free fall around 5,000 feet in 40 seconds, there’s little awareness of downward movement.
Exhilaration in the air.

If the outfitter you jump with provides a videographer, as many do, you’ll be distracted by waving at the camera. All too soon, you’ll feel a gentle tug as the jump master deploys the parachute—and you begin drifting slowly to the landing zone. Catch your breath during this relaxing time and survey the open landscape below. If you’re at least age 16, rev up your sense of adventure and go.

Strapping on flyboard boots prior to entering the water
Flyboarding: Strap a board on your feet, and rise on a stream of propelled water in a beautiful lake. Flyboards are platforms with boots, which you put on before being towed by a personal water craft (like a wave runner) from dock out into the lake. The PWC provides propulsion through a long flexible hose attached to the Flyboard jets. The instructor controls the amount of thrust while the rider controls direction that he goes.

From a prone position you must bend at the waist and lift
your body out of the water to ride the stream.
Once you get the knack of lifting your body from a prone position out of the water, you can soar above the surface. Learning how to maneuver turns before plunging back into the water does take a bit of practice. When you’ve mastered that skill, you can start propelling yourself high enough to perform flips and other tricks. There’s no age limit for this brand of fun, but there’s a minimum weight requirement of 80 pounds.

Getting last minute instruction before swinging out on the trapeze.
Trapeze: If you’ve ever admired aerial circus performers flying through the air in their sparkling costumes, you might enjoy sampling the excitement in a trapeze class. There’s no age limit, but some flexibility is helpful. You can go all out and learn some tricks or limit your activity to swinging from the trapeze, if that’s enough excitement.

This was the achievement of my dream!
During a two-hour class you’ll practice first on a floor-anchored bar. Each participant wears a safety belt that is tethered to the apparatus, and there’s a large net into which you’ll drop after performing tricks on the trapeze. The class culminates with participants (some of them, anyway) actually flying from a trapeze and getting caught by a hunky acrobat on another trapeze at the opposite end of the apparatus. What a thrill!