Sunday, February 28, 2010

Adobe Rose Inn Reflects Friendly Spirit of Marathon, Texas

It looks rustic on the outside, but the inside of Adobe Rose Inn is very genteel. Light, airy rooms are furnished with antique furniture, and the upstairs sitting room invites folks to sit, read, or just enjoy conversation.

Floral print chairs on the porch provide ample seating for relaxing and escaping pressures of every day life—the reason most guests come to tiny Marathon (population 800) in far west Texas. It’s a serene setting, repeated on the upstairs veranda, the ideal place to view town happenings and gorgeous purple sunsets over the Chisos Mountains.

That’s just the ambience Houston transplant Lisa Branum tried to create when she purchased an adobe home built over 120 years ago by one of Marathon’s early merchants and occupied by his family for 92 years. Restoration began when Branum bought the home in 1998, and now three gracious upstairs rooms with balcony access, an additional suite that opens onto a courtyard, and a detached space with dual beds provide accommodations for guests. Each guest room has a private bath, ceiling fans and air conditioners, and high-speed wireless Internet access. Recognizing that a visit to Marathon usually requires a long drive, the owners offer guests a five-minute shoulder massage for only $5.00.

A highlight is the walled garden courtyard framed by massive doors from an Irish prison. Soothing water sounds flow from the fountain, designed with green glass found in the Big Bend region. Guests may lounge in the secluded hot tub under a clear, star-filled Western sky. Shaded seating and a koi pond create a favorite retreat where peacefulness is guaranteed.

Branum’s daughter Carrie and her husband Mark Hannan, a British transport, took over management of the B and B. Hannan at first seems oddly out of place in the remote desert surroundings, but he obviously relishes host duties and takes pride in the inn. He directs guests to local art galleries and sends them down the road to Big Bend National Park and an adventurous day of hiking, canoeing, or birding. The McDonald Observatory at Fort Davis is another popular day trip.

Adobe Rose, a member of Historic and Hospitality Accommodations of Texas, combines the best of historical memories and pleasant modern surroundings. Rates range from $120 to $135 per night.

Photos by Larry Burmeier

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Marquis Los Cabos Resort and Spa Is the Epitome of Luxury

Pools and ocean provide a relaxing water scenes.
Sunshine and cool ocean breezes. Sandy beaches and splashing waves. An attendant dropping by my lounge chair every half hour ready to bring whatever I desire: diet cola, pina coloda, or chips and salsa. Yes, I really am working, checking out the Marquis Los Cabos Resort and Spa in Mexico for future visitors.

Testing the temperature of the negative edge pool is actually research, even if it looks like pleasure. A stroll on the beach to check out rock formations that break powerful waves rolling onto shore is a fact-finding mission. How high is the tide? How far inland will the water spray?
Amazing sculptures decorate the grounds of
Marquis Los Cabos Resort and Spa
After four days at this luxury resort located on the Lower Baja coast between San Jose and Cabo San Lucas, I understand why it’s tagged “A resort for all senses.”

Arriving by car from the airport, I experience my first sensory image, a huge archway framing the artistic angel statues for which the resort is known. Open to the infinite sea, the reception area provides a beautiful introduction to this slice of paradise. Immaculately landscaped grounds, more than 40 pools, a spectacular 36 foot waterfall, and original Mexican artwork in every room and public area are additional feasts for the eyes.

Then there are the sounds, waves rolling up to the beach and crashing onto shore in a display of power. Yet, the regularity of a rising and falling sea manages to calm the soul as a variety of water features on the property add soothing background sounds.

Salt spray perfumes the air; and that slight fishy smell is explained to me as the ocean cleaning itself. Then there are flowers, some sweet and dainty, others (like society garlic) faintly pungent.

Beautiful setting for a serene getaway
Walking barefoot in the sand, stretching out for a nap in the rope chair hanging beside my casita, or dipping toes into the private plunge pool provide tactile experiences. You can splurge on a massage or become one with the sea during an early morning open-air Yoga class. And, of course, there is water—pool or ocean—to wash over you and tantalize your sense of touch.

Sink into this rope swing and be lulled
by its motion.
Your taste buds are in for an exquisite treat when dining at Canto Del Mar, the resort’s intimate gourmet restaurant. The menu changes daily—according to whatever fresh ingredients are available—and the sommelier pairs Mexican wines you’ve probably never tasted before with the day’s offerings.

While stirring up your senses provides grand memories, it’s not the only way to enjoy Marquis Los Cabos Resort. It only takes a few hours to transition from work mode to relaxation, especially with the incredible level of service from staff. It’s simply the perfect venue for the perfect vacation.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Whale Watching at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

As our ship, Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas, approached the marina at Cabo San Lucas, we passed by the most recognizable symbol of the resort city, Los Arcos, the arch at the point where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortes. From our balcony we watched Playa Amour (Lovers’ Beach) come into view between several large boulders. This scenic plot of sand is reached only by water, so the area was filled with kayaks, zodiacs, wave runners, and sightseeing boats. Sea lions and pelicans sunning on nearby rocks provide company for beach goers.

Since humpback whales swim these waters from mid-December to mid-February (our visit was the first week of February), this seemed a great opportunity for a whale watching excursion. We boarded a large catamaran (about 150 feet) to cruise along the coast and into the bay in style.

Zodiacs also take people into the ocean, if you don’t mind rocking and rolling and getting wet—with the advantage of getting closer, if you spot whales. While watching these inflatable crafts and small boats bounce on the waves, we had the perfect vantage point from comfortable chairs set around a table on the back deck of the yacht—and no worries about choppy water.

At first we cruised slowly and spied several whales in the distance. We took photos, but mostly the whales were in and out of the water too quickly. When strong winds began to blow, we balanced ourselves against the railing and watched for a spray of water—indication that a whale was about to surface.

Beer, tequila sunrises, rum punches, sodas, and water were offered non-stop as well as chips and salsa, which made our first Mexican adventure of the cruise enjoyable despite somewhat cool, windy weather. We saw enough whales to feel that part of the trip was successful, too.

Cabo San Lucas is a vacationer’s paradise. Located on the southernmost tip of the Baja California peninsula, this once quiet fishing village is now among Mexico’s most stylish destinations. Sport fishing, kayaking, parasailing, surfing, snorkeling, and shopping are among visitors’ favored pastimes. Cabo is also known as Mexico’s golfing capital—no wonder with 350 days of sunshine annually and year-round daytime temperatures between 80 and 94 degrees. Sundrenched beaches and stunning sunsets add to the glamour of this resort town.

Whale watching tours range in price from about $49 to $69 per person and last 2-3 hours.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Art Blooms in Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids, Michigan is a city built on philanthropy, and nowhere is it more evident than at the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park.  Opened in 1995, the botanical and artistic complex encompasses 125 acres of natural wetlands, woodlands, meadows, and gardens designed by world-renown landscape artists.  Supported by Frederik and Lena Meijer, it's also home for many sculptures from their own collection as well as commissioned pieces created for display in this natural setting.

The Lena Meijer Children's Garden makes this a mecca for children, too.  Designed as a fun and imaginative experience for children of all ages--including grown-ups, it's a place where families may come for a few hours or stay all day.  Preschoolers to parents enjoy a multitude of interactive activities.

The Kid-Sense Garden allows children to explore plants through all five senses: stroke a lamb's ear, pinch a mint, or rattle a gourd.  For all kinds of water plan, three-dimensional geographic replicas are featured in the Great Lakes Garden.  There's a Story-Telling Garden introduced by a touching sculpture of Grandparent and child, and children may search for fossils in the quarry.

The Treehouse Village consists of five tree houses linked by boardwalks, each allowing exploration of different botanical and woodland happenings.  Children scurry through the 50-foot wide hedge boundaries of the Butterfly Maze while parents keep a watchful eye and snap photos from one of several overlooks.  Sculptures here are whimsical and often use found items like golf balls and buckets for creative inspiration.

Take a peaceful stroll along maincured paths where more than 100 bronze and steel sculptures bloom among trees, waterfalls, and prairies.  Artists like Rodin, Maillol, Lipchitz, Nevelson, and Henry Moore inspire emotions of awe, laughter, or memory with their work.  The world's largest equine sculpture, The American Horse, provides a great photo opportunity.  Completed on 19999 from drawings by Leonardo de Vinci, Nina Akamu's imposing sculpture stands 24 feet high.

Walk through the indoor tropical rain forest, jush with greenery, pink orchids, and soothing waterfall.  Breathe gentle floral scents from the delicate Victorian garden, admire rugged desert cacti, and marvel at the display of spooky carnivorous plants.  Nature trails, bridges, and walkways invite everyone, even those not connoisseurs of art or botany, to love and relish this place.

Photos by Larry Burmeier

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Cruising Mexican Riviera on Radiance of the Seas

Despite the name, the Mexican Riviera is really quite distinct from the Riviera region on the Mediterranean Ocean. Mexico is not Europe, after all. And that’s a good thing.

I’ve just returned from an 11-night cruise to six ports on the Pacific coast of Mexico, sailing on Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas. Most cruise lines now sail this area for only seven nights, but because my husband and I wanted to visit more ports on a longer cruise, we chose this one.

Radiance of the Seas is a lovely ship with glass walls and elevators throughout giving passengers a close up look at each destination. In fact, half the ship’s exterior is glass, a feature that lends beauty and class to this mid-size ship. With almost three-fourths of the cabins sporting balconies, keeping up with the itinerary was easy. The Radiance is celebrating almost nine years of service, carrying 2500 passengers and a crew of more than 800. As with most longer cruises, this one attracted a primarily 55 + crowd, although Royal Caribbean generally caters to families as well as couples and singles.

Food in the dining rooms was excellent, although most dining venues closed too early for late night snacks—the exception being the Mexican buffet held one night at 11:00 p.m. Along with themed bars and lounges, the ship offers two specialty restaurants, Chops Grille and Portofino Italian Restaurant.

Another plus was the outstanding entertainment, from pianist and musician Glen Smith to a magician, a juggler, Buenos Aires tango dancing team, two production shows, and comedian Marty Allen (he’s surprisingly bright and agile for almost 88 years old!) with his talented wife, singer-song writer and pianist Karon Kate.

The rock climbing wall is a special feature of all Royal Caribbean ships—and we both sprinted (at times struggled) to reach the top and ring the bell. The Colony Club, a British colonial-style lounge features two self-leveling pool tables, first on a cruise ship. Miniature golf, ping-pong, basketball, bingo, ice carving, pool activities, and a variety of trivia and name-that-tune style games joined art auctions and casino gambling for additional entertainment. Of course, lounging, reading, card-playing, and sleeping were popular ways to loll away the time, and the indoor pool was especially inviting on two cool sea days. Being the middle of winter, it was no surprise that more than a fourth of the travelers were from Canada.

Music filled most areas of the ship, especially the Centrum, each afternoon and evening. The Spa beckoned those looking for super relaxation, and the Fitness Center encouraged cruisers to burn off extra calories. Plenty of public spaces kept the ship from feeling crowded.

Best of all, was the opportunity to soak up sun on beautiful beaches, snorkel among dazzling tropical fish and multi-hued coral, swim with dolphins, kayak around small islands, spot whales in the ocean, and gasp as cliff divers plunged into the water from unthinkable heights. Mexico is casual, lively, and colorful--a destination full of fun for everyone—and the Radiance of the Seas was perfect for transporting us to this magical land.

Photos by Beverly and Larry Burmeier