Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How do you relax on vacation?

Do you spend vacations chilling out or maximizing your fun time? If you’re like most Americans, you get up early and get going rather than sleeping in. That’s a surprising fact uncovered by a survey recently commissioned by Princess Cruises.

The so-called “Relaxation Report” revealed that 55 percent of Americans put a priority on pursuing leisure activities versus sleeping late. Even so, 60 percent preferred a go-with-the-flow itinerary rather than a set schedule of activities (I’m among the 40 percent that prefers having a plan).

Where do vacationers like to unwind? The beach, according to two-thirds of respondents--with a good book (unless you’re from the Midwest, then bring a magazine), a drink (beer for men, wine for women), or music (country music won out in this contest). Of course, for Texans, the music choice isn’t surprising.

Watching television and exercising as ways to aid relaxation received votes from a scant 15 percent of men and fewer women. Contrary to popular belief, mindlessly surfing the Internet (nixed by 97 percent) or flipping from one television channel to another (opposed by 87 percent) are not great ways to relax on vacation. I’ll give props to anyone who can stay unplugged the whole time they’re gone.

Would you rather view a lovely sunrise or sunset? If you’re from the Northeast, you’re likely to rise and shine to see the sun appear, but vacationers from the Midwest or South prefer sunsets. Watching the sun go down can be the perfect mood-setter after a rejuvenating day.

How do you know when it’s time to get away? It’s a toss-up between being tired (30 %), cranky (28 %) and restless (22 %). If you’re feeling any of those emotions, just planning your next excursion can relieve some of the stress. If you’re looking for some R and R during the upcoming holiday season, consider booking a cruise (but do it now!).

As the survey shows, relaxation means different things to different people. As all-inclusive vacation spots, modern ships can provide exactly what you need, whether that means doing as little as possible onboard or creating an adventurous trip with active shore excursions.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier--taken on Mexican Riviera cruise, February, 2010.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Traveling as a single

Thanks to April Trent for this guest post. She is a part time radio announcer,master's student, and travel writer.She is the National Youth Travel Examiner for Examiner.com as well as the owner of www.survivebeingsingle.com and www.amtrent.com

Feeding goats at Grant's Farm in Missouri
  When you're young and single is a great time to travel.

Instead of doing something small—such as traveling for a few days to Canada—I decided that my first international travel experience would be to study abroad for six months in England without any fellow schoolmates. I was so excited because people within my major and within the newspaper I worked for had gone to this particular university in England as a pilgrimage. So, it was a way for me to feel like I belonged.

I did suffer from a minor case of culture shock when I landed in Manchester. I traveled across northern England to my university via coach and stayed with a local friend until it was time to attend university. I made new friends while I was there and I kept in touch with my friends at home via online. One of my new friends wanted to travel across Europe during spring break. At first, I thought traveling to seven cities in eleven days was going to be a headache. That was until I talked to my friends, who envied my ability to take such a trip.

While many people see being single as a lonely curse filled with agony and woe, I discovered singles have the freedom to do things that couples cannot do. Single people, can backpack through Europe, see what they want to see, do what they want to do, and travel when and how they please. They don’t have to worry about making someone else happy.

Actually, I only traveled through four of the seven cities, but I had more fun studying abroad than I had during my entire domestic college experience. I visited the Louvre in Paris (for free), climbed to the top of Edinburgh Castle, saw a Scottish wedding, celebrated Easter in Barcelona, and rode rollercoasters at Flamingo Land in Yorkshire. Because of that experience, I now love to travel!

As for tips to make the most of your journeys:

• You don't have to be alone. Stay in a hostel, talk to people, and you're bound to find a few fellow travelers who want to see the same things.

• Join the fun! Ask a knowledgeable friend, hostel staffer, etc. for locations where singles have fun. Better yet, find a hostel that has group nights for residents to go to clubs, tours, and activities.

If you are single, you have one of the best gifts available: freedom. Having a partner who loves to travel with you to the same places is even better. However, if you are single, do not underestimate your potential for creating enduring happiness.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

What is camping like in the Grand Canyon?

Typical camp for Beverly and Larry
Rafting on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon means camping out in the open every night. Many people have asked what that’s like on a 10-day trip such as the one we took in September with Arizona Raft Adventures, so here’s a quick overview.

Amazing view from inside the tent
 First of all, be assured that the Grand Canyon is so amazing that it’s worth any inconveniences. The scenery is outstanding and constantly changing; if you take time prior to the trip (or during by reading the provided guide) to learn a bit about the geology, you’ll have an even greater appreciation of what two million years of wind, water, and internal heat can create.

Dinner--time to socialize
 Sunrise (yes, you’ll be awake) and sunset are both incredible sights--watching shadows creep over canyon walls. Stars shine brightly at night, and shooting stars are a common occurrence. Camp fires are not permitted, so when it gets dark, everyone goes to their tents (gotta have a headlamp or flashlight).

At the end of each day when the guides have decided where to stop, everyone in the group pitches in to help unload the rafts. We formed lines to hand off our blue bags (personal waterproof bags that contained everything we’d brought), folding chairs for our friendship circles, tents, pads, and sleeping kits, kitchen supplies and toilets (one pot for each thing you do).

The groover
 The bathroom or “groover” was set up in a discreet spot but often required navigating through sand, rocks, or shrubs to get there. It usually had a lovely view of the river, so we waved if another raft came by while using the facilities. Unlike some camping situations, you can’t go behind a bush. All urine goes in the river during the day, but you can use the pee pot when in camp. Solid waste must be carried out, as is all garbage. Hand-washing is mandatory, with a station always nearby.

While we set up our personal camping spots, the guides set up the kitchen area containing pots, plates, and utensils, a stove table and prep table, and a dish washing line. Water from the river was filtered and Clorox added to kill any viruses (no one got sick, so it works). Although meal preparation was a task for the guides, guests were encouraged to help. And the meals were really delicious—not dehydrated camp food, but gourmet meals like steaks, pork chops, and salmon plus fresh salads, fruits, and vegetables.

Campsites in the Grand Canyon are primitive, usually sandy beaches with plenty of natural beauty all around. Speaking of sand—it’s everywhere. Once you’ve found your personal camp area and set up your tent, you won’t want to get inside unless absolutely necessary, or you’ll be sleeping in sand. Rocks are everywhere. Big rocks, toe-stumblers, and boulders. Only one night did we camp on pure rock—at Ledges Campsite—and there were no soft spots to be found.

Each person was assigned a life jacket that we strapped onto a tree each evening (to keep from blowing away). Wet clothing was strung out on large rocks or tree limbs to dry. Some brave folks actually bathed in the 45 degree water, at least until it turned muddy on day three.

Loading the rafts
 Early each morning (usually around 5:15 a.m.) the conch shell horn signaled that coffee was ready—time to rise and shine. Breakfast followed, and then we broke camp and began the process of repacking the boats. Again we formed a line to ferry items back onto the rafts. Then we filled water bottles, loaded our white dry bags with things we wanted access to during the day such as cameras and hiking shoes, and put on our life jackets and hats. We were on the river between 7:30 and 8:00 a.m. ready to tackle more rapids and hike to scenic waterfalls.

Each day brought wonderful new adventures, many quite challenging. But it’s a trip you’ll look back on with fond memories and pride in your accomplishments.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier and Deb Delaney

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Go Dutch in Holland (Michigan)

With a cup of steaming java from JP’s Coffee and Espresso Bar—the house blend created by owner Jack Groot--and homemade pastries baked by his sister, we sit at a street side table and wait for the Firetruck Parade to begin. Soon sirens break the reverie, and our heads turn toward Main Street to watch gleaming red trucks make their way noisily through town. It’s October in Holland, and although Main Street has a decidedly European flavor, we haven’t been magically transported across the ocean. We are near the shore of Lake Michigan enjoying crisp autumn air in a town with unmistakable Dutch influence.

More than two and a half million visitors come to Holland each year. Named an All American City and one of America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations, Holland embraces the quaint charm of old Europe and the blustering excitement of a modern city. Of the city’s 35,000 residents, 40 percent have Dutch roots.

Authentic windmill from the Netherlands
 Carved from the wilderness by Dutch immigrants in 1847, Holland settlers recognized that access to the outside world via Lake Michigan was essential to their survival. Ten years after petitioning the U. S. government for help in creating a channel, the farmers turned loggers took matters into their own hands and dug a channel deep enough for barges to pass. Still, it would be several more decades before the channel and harbor were substantially completed.

As the town prospered, churches and stores were built. The railroad and steamboats came, along with a post office, newspaper, and quarry business. Tragedy struck when the Great Fire of 1871 destroyed 80 percent of the town. Determined to rebuild, city leaders rose above adversity to establish an even better and well-planned community.

Hotels and resorts sprang up and flourished, an amusement park was added, and by the turn of the century, visitors had discovered Holland. Today Holland boasts a growing reputation for exceptional shopping, churches (170 representing 49 denominations), three colleges, and more than 1,500 acres of public parks.

Downtown was revitalized during the 1990’s when a mall built on the outskirts of town threatened to overshadow the district. Now it’s a unique mix of mostly locally owned businesses. More than 85 shops, boutiques, restaurants and cafes offer something for everyone.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, downtown Holland has been named a Great American Main Street for its ability to attract visitors year round--even in winter thanks to the underground snowmelt system that heats streets and sidewalks.

Don’t miss the Farmer’s Market, an institution so popular that the city built a permanent facility to house the market. A bustling assemblage of people and produce, the market swarms with hometown folks and visitors alike looking for fresh tomatoes, corn on the cob, pumpkins, peppers, and myriad varieties of blooming flowers.

As you’d expect, there are many decidedly Dutch attractions. At Windmill Island, you can climb up the last authentic windmill to leave the Netherlands—a working structure built in 1625. From the top of DeZwaan Windmill, we had a panoramic view of manicured gardens, dikes and canals. Children and adults enjoy the Dutch Village Theme Park, where we heard the beautifully carved street organ play melodies derived from brown punched paper.

We also visited Big Red, Michigan’s most photographed lighthouse. The small, square, wooden structure situated at Holland Harbor overlooking Lake Michigan was erected in 1872. After a short tour, we stopped to savor bayside seafood stew and black pearl salmon served at nearby Piper Restaurant overlooking the harbor.

Photos by Larry Burmeier

Read more of Beverly's travel articles at http://www.stripedpot.com/ and http://tinyurl.com/bevtrvl

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A grand adventure--rafting on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon

The Colorado River at Nankoweap
During a visit to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon many years ago, I looked down on a tiny ribbon of water flowing between the enormous rock walls and vowed to be on the river one day.

That dream actually happened when we took a 10- day rafting and hiking trip with Arizona Raft Adventures on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. What an exciting adventure it turned out to be! Gorgeous, ever-changing scenery, fascinating geological history, and challenging excursions made this one of my all-time favorite trips.
Leaving Lee's Ferry and starting our raft adventure.
Our first day on the Colorado River, really a half day, we covered 18 miles past the put-in at Lee’s Ferry, Arizona. Day 2 was full of rapids--thrilling and wet--and put us 30 miles further downstream.

The granaries

The next day included a challenging hike with a 700 foot incline to some Puebloan granaries. This was just past large, white-water Nankoweap Rapid at mile 53 and provided spectacular views of the river from the top. The hike took most of the morning, about two and a half hours, after which we piled back on the rafts and headed through several more rapids.
The river suddenly changed colors
We stopped for lunch above the junction with the Little Colorado River, never expecting the tremendous change we’d soon see in the water. Our guide Randy suggested we all get into the river and bathe right then (actually we were ordered to do so!), so we soaped up the best we could with what was available--hand washing soap. Thank goodness we followed his instructions as the water quickly turned an ugly butterscotch color, the result of recent rains filling the tributary with silt when the Little Colorado merged with the main river.
Beautiful scenery was all around

A few rapids followed, and a long stretch of flat water allowed us to look around and admire the changing rock formations. We made camp at Cardenas at mile 72, and Randy led a group up the canyon wall to overlook the river and Unkar Rapid, which we would tackle early the next morning. With a 16 foot drop Unkar provided us with plenty of splashes the next day. Again, views of the river far below and colorful rock strata of the canyon walls were simply amazing.
Looking down on Unkar Rapid it was hard to imagine the 16-foot
drop we would experience the next day.
Photos by Beverly Burmeier

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Blown Away in Paradise (Mykonos, Greece)

Mykonos, Greece entices visitors with old-world charm.

White stucco buildings are a hallmark of many Greek Isles like Mykonos.
“I’d like tell you that I don’t always look like this, but I do,” said Amaryllis, our lovely 20-something guide on the Greek island of Mykonos, whose long dark hair kept whipping across her face. It didn’t take long to understand what she meant as we struggled to keep our own demeanor during gale-force gusts that blew almost constantly across the island.

Still, wind from the Aegean Sea helps keep the climate moderate—and it adds a distinctive appeal to this old port town located five hours from Athens by ferry but only 40 minutes by plane.

Narrow, winding streets were designed
to thwart pirates.
Tourists discovered Mykonos in the 1950s and 1960s and currently expand its population of 11,000 up to a million during the summer months. Yet it has steadfastly avoided common traps of overpopulated destinations. You’ll find no fast food restaurants, no Starbucks, not even a lighted sign on the island. Streets are narrow and curvy—to confuse pirates and protect homeowners in the old days—so it’s easy to lose your bearings. Since we opted for a guided walking tour, life-long resident Amaryllis (think Sophie in Mama Mia!) led us safely through the maze.

Mykonos strikes a captivating scene with its closely spaced white-washed buildings, all sporting flat roofs—conditions originally meant to keep homes cool and clean but now required by law on all new construction. Shutters and doors are allowed to add specks of color, mostly blue and red.

Ancient chapels and the Orthodox Christian Monastery founded in the 1500s are jewels of the island. Additionally, almost every family has a small private chapel dedicated to a specific saint. Families traditionally host large feasts and celebrations—open to the public--on their designated saint’s holy day. Old-fashioned windmills and Little Venice, a community built on the ocean’s edge, are other sites worth seeing.

Churches are prominent on the island of Mykonos.
With dry, windy, salt-infused air, the climate isn’t good for growing plants or animals, which means the economy depends on tourism—not difficult to achieve since the island is graced with beautiful scenery and numerous organized festivals.

The Little Venice section of Mykonos comes complete
with windmills.
Southern beaches sport golden sand and crystal clear water, calm and sheltered from the winds. These may be family-oriented or cater to those looking for less--clothing optional. Gusty northern beaches tend to attract adventurous types like wind surfers or folks who prefer peaceful, unoccupied beaches. Plentiful quaint shops and restaurants accommodate tourists and have helped build the island’s reputation for nightlife and partying.

Mykonos can be paradise whether you love soothing, old-world tradition or seek exciting contemporary fun.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier