Thursday, September 22, 2016

Flying to Mexico is easier now


Deep sea fishing at Los Cabos
Thinking about a vacation in Mexico? Lounging on the beaches of Cancun or Cozumel? Deep sea fishing off the coast of Puerto Vallarta or Los Cabos? If you wait until November, you’ll have an easier time booking a flight.
Since August 2016, most restrictions on flights between the United States and Mexico have been lifted. That means airlines from both countries are able to fly whatever routes they want whenever they want. Airlines can set their own prices, too, according to Thomas Engle, State Department deputy assistant secretary for transportation.

Increased competition should result in lower airfares—and especially in lower taxes that often inflate the price of a ticket up to 30 percent.
New routes and more frequent flights to Mexico
American, Delta, and Southwest will offer new flights across the border later this year. United will follow if demand proves sufficient. This follows a December agreement between U.S. and Mexico in which both countries agreed to open their aviation markets to each others’ carriers instead of limiting specific routes to two or three airlines from each country.

Mexico is a preferred destination
for U.S. travelers.
Regulations are still in place for the number of takeoffs and landings at the busy international airport in Mexico City. But that won’t impact the new routes from U. S. airlines which are mostly heading to resort towns in Mexico.
Southwest has already announced daily flights starting on December 4 from Los Angeles to Cancun, Los Cabos, and Puerto Vallarta. American Airlines will start service on November 4 From Los Angeles to Cancun and to Puerto Vallarta on November 15.


Hotel strip coastline of Cancun, on the famed
Yucatan peninsula of Mexico
The intention of the relaxed agreement is to ease travel for Americans and increase Mexican tourism to the U.S. “We think it will help drive economic growth in sectors well beyond aviation, including tourism and manufacturing,” Engle says.
Images from free photo sites.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Butchart Gardens--a blooming creation

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

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. 

Just one of the outstanding garden features in Butchart Gardens
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.

The Twelve Days of 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.
We captured our reflection in this amazing ball.
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.

When 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.

Getting there: Butchart Gardens is 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 also available from several points in Washington, or you can arrive by plane or boat. Allow at least three hours to absorb the elegance of Butchart Gardens.

Photos by Larry Burmeier
 

 

Friday, August 26, 2016

National park book: Lassoing the Sun by Mark Woods


Sometimes one’s best plans go awry. For journalist MarkWoods, his plan to visit at least one national park a month for a year turned into something very different from the winning grant proposal he had submitted for the Eugene C. Pulliam Fellowship.
In this year of celebrating the National ParkService centennial, during which a plethora of articles and books have been written about the soul and sanctity of America’s national parks, Woods’ book Lassoing the Sun follows a different path. It is a beautifully written tribute to memories, family, and the enduring power of natural surroundings to heal hurts of the heart.

After receiving the $75,000 award, Woods planned to spend his year reliving childhood summers during which his parents piled the three children of their family into a station wagon and created vivid memories of mountains, woods, and fireflies while camping in Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and other national parks. He planned to describe the present state of his chosen parks and how these special places are being cared for and adapted to the 21st century. But, as the year progressed, the book morphed into much more than reminiscing and re-exploring sights he remembered from those early years.

Shortly after starting this journey, Wood’s mother was diagnosed with cancer and given a few months to live. So, while writing about the future of national parks, Woods interwove the documentary parts with his personal saga of dealing with death and change. Feeling sad and lost often during that year, each of the 15 parks he visited helped him remember the awe he first felt in the wilderness. It’s a beautifully written story of what we miss and what remains as life and death connect in the most empowering way in nature.


Yellowstone National Park
Published by St. Martin’s Press in New York (available on Amazon for under $18), Woods’ account of his year in America’s national parks is a heartfelt memoir set against the backdrop of “America’s best idea.”  Lassoing the Sun presents unique insights into each park visited, not all of them the most spectacular or best known.



Yosemite National Park
Woods started with Acadia National Park in January and sat atop Cadillac Mountain to welcome the new year. In February he visited his mother’s favorite, Saguaro National Park. These are followed by Grand Canyon, Dry Tortugas, Yellowstone, Gateway National Recreation Area (in the throes of a big city), Yosemite, Flight 93 National Memorial, Olympic National Park, and finally Haleakala National Park in Hawaii.

Woods describes the unique challenges of each park and the stirring memories that he leaves behind for the next generation as his iPad toting daughter also learns to appreciate the emotional power of the parks.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Southwest Wyoming is home to wild horses, rare desert elk, and a national wildlife refuge


Fall is simply fabulous in Southwest Wyoming’s Sweetwater County. Grab  your camera—anything from your smartphone to a camera with interchangeable lenses-- and take off on a photo safari.
Sand dune adventure in Sweetwater County, Wyoming
Sweetwater County, located halfway between Yellowstone and Canyonlands National Parks in southwest Wyoming, is home to 10,500 square miles of pure, high desert adventure. Known as “Flaming Gorge Country” the area is characterized by the 91-square-mile Flaming Gorge Lake, the famed Green River, expansive deserts and rugged mountains.

Here are just a few of the adventures that will keep your camera clicking.
Herds of wild horses still roam in Southwest Wyoming.
Wild Horses
The wild horse herds that make their home in Sweetwater County prove that the spirit of the American West is still alive and well in this part of Wyoming. These majestic creatures wander through the high desert landscapes of Sweetwater County in search of food, water, shelter and a place to roam free. The Pilot Butte Wild Horse Scenic Loop is the best way to see the horses in their natural habitat, and early morning or dusk are prime viewing times.

Plan on at least 1.5 hours for the tour, and since there are some gravel roads to traverse, a high-clearance vehicle is recommended, along with a full tank of gas, a spare tire and plenty of drinking water. There are scenic overlooks along the way to help capture the perfect Kodak moment with these mustangs. Download the Wild Horse Brochure to learn more.

Rare Desert Elk
The Red Desert of Sweetwater County supports an abundance of wildlife, despite its scarcity of water and vegetation. The largest migratory herd of pronghorn antelope in the lower 48 states and a rare desert elk herd, said to be the world's largest, live in the desert of Sweetwater County. The best place to catch a glimpse of these elusive elk is in the area surrounding Killpecker Sand Dunes. Those who have their own ATVs can also spend extra time frolicking in the sugary sands of the second-largest active sand dune field in the world.
Fishing is a favorite sport in Sweetwater County, Wyoming.
Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge
Seedskadee encompasses more than 27,000 acres that protects a host of different varieties of wildlife. This corridor of the Green River is an important migration route and nesting area for a wide variety of migratory waterfowl and passerine bird species. The refuge is also home to big game, small mammals and tiny insects.

Formerly, this area was used by nomadic Indian tribes, fur trappers and early pioneers. In fact, the Oregon and Mormon Trails both cross the refuge, and ruts of these trails are still carved into the land today. It’s just one of the areas in Sweetwater County where visitors can view more miles of still-visible pioneer trails than anyplace else in the country.

Friends enjoy kayaking when not spotting wildlife.
More to do
The opportunity to view wildlife in their natural habitat entices many visitors to Sweetwater County, but beyond that you can choose to go camping, hiking, biking, fishing, golfing, sightseeing, hunting dinosaurs, shopping,  or just getting away.

A perfect place to explore American history, Sweetwater County is also home to petroglyphs, pioneer trails, and historical museums. The Rock Springs-Sweetwater County airport was recently ranked 37th on a list of 322 airports from around the country by Travelmath.com.

For more on planning a fall trip to Sweetwater County, visit www.tourwyoming.com.

Information and photos courtesy of Gaylene Ore, Ore Communications. gaylene@orecommunications.com



 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Trondheim, Norway celebrates royal family


Colorful warehouses line Trondheim's waterfront.
It was a drive-by, but we waved to the king and queen of Norway during our visit to Trondheim. Actually, we saw King Harald and Queen Sonja wave to the crowd through the window of a heavily guarded black sedan as they passed by the Royal Residence on the way to Nidaros Cathedral for a special service.
The Royal's car passes the royal residence in Trondheim.
The Queen was in town for the 25th anniversary of her inauguration. As expected, security was very heavy with guards marching in front of its sprawling 43,000 square feet, streets blocked off, and even a warship keeping watch in the harbor not far from where our ship was docked.

The Royal residence, called Stiftsgarden, is the largest wooden building in Europe and has been home to the royals in Trondheim since 1800. Oslo may be the capital of Norway, but Trondheim--its first capital--holds the country’s heart and soul.
Although the country is old, Norway is a young nation having just become independent in 1905. Five million people live in Norway, but the population is spread over a large area. In Trondheim 35,000 of the 190,000 people living there are university students.

Nidaros Cathedral is a well-known
landmark in Trondheim.
We had walked into Trondheim, the second oldest city in Norway, during the morning, stopping to admire colorful old warehouses along the water’s edge. The city came into power during the Viking era (more than 1,000 years ago) and is now known as a trade and technological center. It is also an international hub for jazz, film, opera, and theater festivals—embracing traditional and cosmopolitan traits in addition to natural beauty.
Sitting at the mouth of Trondheim Fjord, the area is a nature lover’s paradise. Skiing, hiking, and miles of trails entice visitors year round. Despite the fact that gray skies are common during the summer, we enjoyed a sunny day there.

Nidaros Cathedral, which was visited by the Queen, is built over the grave of Norway’s first king and saint, Olav. This former Catholic cathedral, largest in Scandinavia, became a Lutheran church during the Reformation in 1537. Massive carved images on the front of the building depict three stages of Christ’s life: crucifixion, judgment, and ascension. Inside is a beautiful rose window containing more than 10,000 pieces of stained glass. Guides, often young people, are distinguished by the flowing red robes they wear.
Next door to the cathedral is the Archbishop’s residence, the oldest secular building in Norway, built in 1170s. Original tile flooring and models depicting the architectural history of the building are worth a look.

A canon points toward the city at Kristiansen Festning fortress.
We paid a short visit to Kristiansen Festning, a fortress built on a hill east of the city as a protection from the Swedes but used strategically on many occasions. After viewing exhibits about the 14-day war with Sweden and its repercussions, we wandered the premises to view panoramas of the town.
Overview of the city built on a peninsula in Norway.
The best views came from a look-out point high on a hill, where we could distinguish landmarks including the Fortress, Nidaros, and two towers of the University of Science and Technology. Traveling though the mid-town peninsula, we could see Monk Island, a popular recreation area today. In the past people were beheaded there; then it became a monastery until the Reformation, and eventually a fortress used by Germans in World War II.

Trondheim is a charming city with much more for visitors to see and do. Even though our visit wasn’t long enough, we’ll always remember the royal cavalcade and a glimpse of the reigning monarchs.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

 

 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Best time to book a flight


Today we have a guest post from www.moneyunder30.com , a website that aims to help young adults choose financial products wisely (good advice for any age, really).
The price of a particular plane ticket will vary wildly depending on the day of the week, the month of the year, and the length of time between purchase and takeoff. When you buy your plane ticket can affect the cost.

Plane tickets can be a major expense for any getaway, often costing more than your hotel accommodations and excursions combined. Still, you can find great deals and the best rates if you plan ahead.
When to fly

In general, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays tend to be the least popular days to fly, so tickets are often less expensive. Fridays and Sundays are the most desirable days, so they will be pricier.
Be flexible: Get the lowest rates by opting for flights other people don’t want. Six a.m. departures, overnight flights, or trips with a layover can get you significant savings.

Stretch your reach: Instead of flying out of the smaller airport near your home, try looking for flights at a central hub that may be further away. Major international airports often have more options and more competitive rates. If you have multiple major airports within a two hours’ drive from you, check out fares from each location. Flights can be hundreds less just one city over.
Plan ahead. Last minute trips are exciting, but you’ll pay a premium for your spontaneity. If you book a flight less than two weeks in advance, airlines assume you’re a business traveler with a company footing the bill and charge higher rates.

Avoid holidays: Flights around the holidays tend to be the most expensive; the average domestic airfare around Thanksgiving is a staggering $408 while Christmas flights average $485. If you’re planning to travel, try to leave a few days early or on the holiday itself for lower rates.
When to buy

Be alert: Set up airline fare alerts with apps like FareCompare—you’ll get text or email notifications letting you know when prices drop or a sale is announced, giving you the opportunity to snag limited deals.

Use tools wisely: AirFareWatchDog provides advice on getting the lowest rate at your chosen destination, from telling you what airlines have sales to that particular location as well as which carriers charge baggage fees. Kayak’s Hacker tool helps locate one-way flights for every part of your journey that are cheaper than booking a round-trip flight yourself.

Time it right: According to FareCompare, the best time to book your tickets is on Tuesdays, ideally early in the morning. Many airlines launch sales late Monday night, so new fares will be available and other carriers drop their rates to match the competition.
Book early (but not too early): You might think booking in advance will get you the best prices. But that’s not always the case. Prices can fluctuate over time, so a fare bought months in advance might be more expensive than if you waited until closer to your departure date. Last year, a study was done that analyzed over 4 million trips to record the lowest airfares and when the tickets were purchased; they found that booking a flight 47 days in advance was the ideal time to get the lowest rates.

Check your flight: Before buying your tickets, check out how full the flight is. If you’re flying out at an unusual time and there are plenty of seats open, prices may drop to attract more customers.
Where to shop

Look around: It’s good to be loyal, but compare rates. No single airline has the best prices all the time. One airline might be cheaper on the way to your destination and another on the way back. Research multiple airlines for every leg of your trip to save money. Sometimes two one-way tickets may be cheaper than round trip.
Check around: Besides looking up rates with the airline directly, also view sites like Kayak or Priceline. They sometimes can find deals you wouldn’t otherwise find on your own.

 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Explore Colorado's Historic Hot Springs Loop


Colorado adventure and hot springs destinations recently formed the 720-mile Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop, which showcases a variety of hot springs pools. I’ve personally experienced Ouray, Pagosa Springs, and Steamboat Springs and heartily recommend any of Colorado’s hot springs for relaxing after a day of play and exploring.

Ouray

Home to over 500 miles of four wheel drive heaven, it is no wonder that many consider Ouray in the summer to be the “Jeeping Capital of the World.” In winter, Ouray has the ultimate climbing experience at the Ouray Ice Park, home to more than 200 ice and mixed climbs where novices and experts are all welcome to learn a new sport or master their skills.

Orvis Hot Springs, located just north of Ouray, maintains electronic-free soaking areas that encourage guests to unplug and unwind. Visitors can book a room on the property or bring along camping gear for a truly authentic night under the stars.

More hot springs:
Ouray Hot Springs Pool & Fitness Center, The Historic Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa & Lodgings, Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs and Twin Peaks Lodge & Hot Springs

Glenwood Springs

In the summer, Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park is a mountain-top theme park that offers tram and thrill rides along with cave tours. In winter, guests can make their way to Sunlight Mountain Resort’s Babbish Gulch for an afternoon of snowshoeing on a Nordic trail system.

Relax, restore and rejuvenate at Glenwood’s newest wellness destination, Iron Mountain Hot Springs where 16 soaking pools filled with pure, hot, mineral water are located on the bank of the Colorado River.

More hot springs:
Glenwood Hot Springs and Yampah Spa & Vapor Caves

Chaffee County

During the summer, the mighty Arkansas River flows through the heart of Chaffee County. For first-time rafters, families and those who enjoy canyon scenery and wildlife, Brown’s Canyon, is one of the Arkansas River’s most popular sections. Consisting of mostly Class 3 rapids, riders should be prepared for splashy, bumpy fun.

In the winter, snowmobiling to the top of Cottonwood Pass near Buena Vista, brings riders to the Continental Divide. At 12,000 feet above sea level, visitors are surrounded by numerous 14,000 foot peaks and glistening Rocky Mountain snow.

For a private experience, Creekside Hot Springs Cabin offers a vacation rental home with its own secluded soaking hot springs pool that is fed by the Mount Princeton geothermal aquifer.

More hot springs:
Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort, Salida Hot Springs Aquatic Center, Cottonwood Hot Springs, Alpine Hot Springs Hideaway and Antero Hot Springs Cabins

Pagosa Springs

Surrounded by over 3 million acres of national forest and wilderness areas, a hot air balloon ride in the summer with Rocky Mountain Balloon Adventures excursions allows guests to float peacefully while taking in the expansive views. From November to April, visitors and locals alike flock to Wolf Creek Ski Resort to ski and ride “the most snow in Colorado,” with an average of 430 inches of natural (not manmade) snowfall per season.

The Springs Resort & Spa is located on the banks of the San Juan River in downtown Pagosa Springs. Offering 23 naturally hot therapeutic mineral pools and a mineral water lap pool fed by the world's deepest geothermal hot spring.

More hot springs:
Overlook Hot Springs Spa and Healing Waters Resort & Spa

Steamboat Springs

During summer and fall, experience downhill mountain biking at the Steamboat Bike Park where a bike access ticket takes guests up the mountain via the Steamboat Resort gondola. More than 50 miles of free ride and downhill terrain for all abilities make this spot a haven for mountain biking aficionados. In the winter, spend the day Nordic skiing, tubing or fat biking at Howelsen Hill Ski Area, the oldest ski area in continuous use in Colorado, operating since 1915.

Strawberry Park Hot Springs is nestled in an aspen grove about 15 minutes from town. The natural spring water and stone pool surrounds offer a rustic and rejuvenating experience.

More hot springs:
Old Town Hot Springs

Information and photos courtesy of Carly Holbrook, Colorado Tourism Office

 
 
 

 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Take your next cruise from Galveston, Texas


Bishop's Palace and Hotel Galvez
If you haven't ever sailed on a cruise from Galveston Island, it's a port to consider. The city provides the added value of pre-and post-cruise entertainment with the island’s historic downtown district of restaurants, shops, and attractions. With 32 miles of beaches and adventure attractions like Moody Gardens and Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier amusement park, you can easily fill a day before or after your cruise.
Ships cruising from Galveston

The Disney Wonder will return to Galveston on November 10, 2016. Experience the magic only a mouse and his friends can bring to children and adults alike.  Disney offers several seven-night and four-night itineraries through the end of the year.
The Drainpipe on Carnival Breeze
Royal Caribbean will continue offering year-round sailings from Galveston, with Navigator of the Seas departing January through November and Liberty of the Seas departing in November and December 2016 to ports in the Western Caribbean.

Add to that Carnival’s newest ship, Carnival Breeze, which repositioned to Galveston in May 2016. The ship offers year-round cruises, departing every Sunday on three different seven-day itineraries: Caribbean cruises calling at either Montego Bay, Grand Cayman and Cozumel; or Belize, Mahogany Bay (Roatan), Cozumel; and a seven-day Bahamas/Florida route with stops in Nassau, Freeport and Key West.
 
Power Drencher keeps cruisers cool.
Great for families who like to have fun, Carnival Breeze offers a multi-dimensional cinema experience called Thrill Theater, the Bonsai Sushi full-service Asian restaurant, and WaterWorks, an aqua park that includes a 312-foot-long slide, a 150-gallon PowerDrencher tipping bucket, the DrainPipe funnel-style attraction, and a splash area for younger cruisers.

Explore the city
Moody Gardens is very near the cruise terminal.
If you can spend additional time in Galveston, plan to check out Galveston’s historic past. Take a tour of a Victorian mansion or walk Galveston’s charming historic downtown, where businessmen once developed this port city into “Wall Street of the South.”


Penguin exhibit at Moody Gardens
Visit sandy beaches and Schlitterbahn Galveston, a thrilling water park. Family-friendly Moody Gardens has attractions for everyone, from boat rides, to tropical gardens, to 4-D theaters. Dolphin tours and a variety of museums are also available. For a chilling ghost tour, explore 103-year-old haunted Mayfield Manor, hear stories related to the harbor, and delve into the tragic history of the 1900 storm, the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. History.
Beach fun with Pleasure Pier in background
On the Gulf Coast, Galveston’s warm climate is great for exploring its natural beauty. Bird watching, fishing, kayaking, and photography attract many visitors. More than 20 art galleries display fine art, sculptures, and photography, and attending an event at the Grand 1894 Opera House is a special experience.

Delicious seafood--what
more is there to say?
Naturally seafood is abundant, but Galveston is a melting pot of many cultures, which is reflected in the food scene. Gaido’sSeafood Restaurant has operated on the island for more than 100 years, winning many awards and serving up some of the best seafood and pecan pie in Texas.

Information and some photos courtesy of Christine Hopkins, Hotel Galvez and Spa. Other photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Olden, Norway--gateway to the glaciers


Mountains and lakes highlight the storybook setting of Olden, Norway.
Located at the north end of the Nordfjord, Olden is a popular touring base from which to explore glaciers. Resting at the base of three converging valleys, Olden was a strategically important sport on the fjord for many centuries. The quiet town, where most people make a living from agriculture and fishing, is a gateway to staggeringly beautiful vistas with epic waterfalls descending from numerous glaciers into the Oldedalen Valley.
Snow-capped peaks remind visitors that winter is never far behind.
The largest glacier on mainland Europe, Jostedal Glacier, surrounds Olden on three sides. It is spread over 300 of the 510 square miles of Jostedalsbreen National Park.


Mighty glaciers cover the mountain sides in pure snow and ice.
Formed by millions of years of rain and snow freezing and piling up, Jostedal, Kjenndalen, and Briksdalsreen glaciers are dramatic sights that attract visitors to this part of Norway. You won’t be allowed to go Ice climbing—it has been banned because ice could easily break away from the main field, but you can buy a bottle of pure Olden Water taken directly from the glaciers.
Never forget: Norway can be cold,
even in summer!
Today Olden is a popular seaport where almost 100 ships a year arrive during the short tourist season. No wonder--the landscape around this little hamlet is dotted with forest preserves, rugged mountains and coastlines that attract nature lovers to countless hiking trails, horseback riding, rafting, fishing, skiing, and even surfing. The town of 500 people is trying to keep up with the influx of visitors by slowly adding shops and restaurants to accommodate the thousands of passengers who come annually.

We took a boat ride on Oldenvatnet, a beautiful lake with miles of sparkling turquoise water gleaming in bright sunshine. Clays washing down from Kjenndalen Glacier have colored the lake an impossibly bright, clear blue-green that we couldn’t help staring at during the journey.  Panoramic scenes filled with mountains, waterfalls, cliffs, and farms tempted us to snap photos every few minutes.
Amazingly blue water--and a bridge on Oldenvatnet that our boat skimmed under.
We spent most of the first hour outside at the front of the boat despite chilly weather, watching stunning landscapes pass by. Along the shore, people had built bonfires to be lit in commemoration of the shortest day of the year. Actually, we were there in the season of the Midnight Sun, so nights never really got dark anyway.

What can I say? Views of Olden Lake were simply stunning!
Back in town, we walked through a shopping area (bought a sweater for Larry) and visited a stave church (a medieval wooden church built in the Viking tradition) constructed on foundations dating back to 1308. Flowers of all colors decorated gardens and hillsides.
We checked out this ancient church and surrounding cemetery while
walking through the town of Olden, Norway.
Our June visit highlighted the contrast of peaceful valleys and tidy farms with gleaming glaciers and towering mountains. These scenes were particularly evident during a truly extraordinary departure when the ship left the fjord to continue our journey northward along the Norwegian coast.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The best of Flam, Norway


If you have a vision in your mind of an idyllic Norwegian village you’ve probably seen pictures of Flam. This tiny fishing village (only 400 people) is tucked between the North Sea channel and imposing mountains with the Flam River between. It’s situated at the end of Aurlandfjord, a branch of Sognefjord, the world’s largest and deepest fjord and a World Heritage Site.
The dramatic scenery around Flam, Norway attracts many visitors.
In a land filled with storybook villages, Flam is one of the best-known. This beautiful paradise is the gateway to a magical land of expansive valleys, roaring waterfalls, grandiose mountains, and miles of untouched nature—a spot that even Norwegians consider perfect for a holiday.

Approaching this secluded town on a cruise ship, we saw waterfalls streaming from glaciers high in the mountains, which helped us get a sense of how the rock was carved millions of years ago. When the ice receded, the land was transformed, leaving behind expansive valleys and long fjords hemmed in by rugged cliffs. Today, bountiful waterfalls drop in thin strips like white ribbons decorating the  mountainsides.
It's a land filled with myriad waterfalls flowing down the mountains.
Flam Railway

Of course, we booked a ride on the Flamsbana, thefamous railway, often called the most beautiful train ride in the world. Along the way we were captivated by panoramic views of some of the most striking Norwegian landscapes, deep ravines, magnificent waterfalls, snow-capped mountains, and charming farms.
The Flamsbana exits one of 20 tunnels along the way to Voss.
Opened in 1944 after 20 years of construction, the track rises nearly 3000 feet in 12.5 miles—the world’s steepest rail incline (almost 80 percent of the line has a gradient of 55 percent). A major engineering feat, a challenge was building the railroad from the Myrdal Plateau down precipitous mountain sides to the bottom of the Flam Valley.

The ride from Flam to Voss, where we ended our rail journey, was just under two hours and included 20 tunnels, 18 of which were excavated by hand. Tunnels allow passage no matter what the weather is, which is important since abundant snow makes transportation challenging from October to April.
Massive, powerful waterfalls burst through the mountains.
The church is one of a few buildings
in Voss not bombed in WWII.
The journey to Myrdal took an hour, after which we changed trains and continued another 50 minutes to Voss. Here the landscape became less steep with lakes, forest, and more houses (many are summer homes). The people who live in the small towns along the way must be fairly self-reliant as the area is isolated—with the train as major access.

For the most part, the train proceeded slowly stopping at several of these villages, which provided an opportunity to soak up the magnificent countryside. We even disembarked the train at one stunning waterfall and felt the spray as we took pictures.
Scenic sites
At Voss, a charming lakeside town with a delightful array of shops and a tiny 13th century church, we enjoyed a sumptuous lunch in a hotel. This farming town, nestled between two of Norway’s most famous fjords, was the victim of massive bombing during World War II, so the center of the city has been rebuilt and looks very 1950-ish.

Larry in front of Kjosfossen Waterfall

On the return trip to Flam by bus, we stopped at magnificent Kjosfossen waterfall, a fine example of nature’s power and a highlight of the Flam train journey. This massive fall spreads in multiple streams over a large area with thunderous cascades tumbling over boulders.
The bus continued on the treacherous road down to the valley, navigating steep hairpin turns before returning us to the town and our ship.
Our bus had to navigate this extremely narrow, winding road
in the valley back to Flam
Whether you visit Flam by rail, bus, or boat, it’s a pristine and serene sanctuary, an iconic Norwegian village you won’t want to miss.

Magnificent view as our ship left the fjords around Flam.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier