Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Turkish carpets make home feel like a palace

You may have read my article in the travel section of Austin American-Statesman on Sunday, April 10 about buying a hand-made Turkish rug during a visit to Istanbul.  Since my decorating style tends to be more contemporary, I had no intention of purchasing a traditional rug with an intricate pattern, but I was drawn in by the workmanship and beauty of individual pieces and purchased a small runner for the entry of my home.

But that’s not the end of the story.

Recently I received a call from an employee of Hereke, the place in Istanbul where I bought the rug.  Representatives of the company were in Austin calling on previous customers of the Istanbul store (Amazingly, they had a list of more than 150 names). Would I be interested in seeing some of their rugs?
While I love the piece I purchased, there didn’t seem to be a good place for another rug in my home. But I couldn’t resist the opportunity to look, especially since they were bringing the selection to me. (Yes, those Turkish rug guys know how to set up for a sale).

As a result, I now have three Turkish rugs—my two new carpets are much larger and even more beautiful than the small runner I started with.  I also learned more about Turkish rugs and gained greater appreciation for these pieces.

Checking out rugs in Istanbul
The runner I originally bought is from Hereke, a unique weaving center located southeast of Istanbul.  The village is recognized for producing the finest hand-knotted carpets in the world; the Imperial factory established there in 1843 supplied rugs for sultans’ palaces.

Hereke carpets are woven in either pure silk or cotton and wool (as mine is) and double knotted, so the knots cannot be undone or removed, making the rug more durable. The number of knots per square centimeter is an important criterion in determining the quality of a carpet, and Hereke carpets are among the best. The knots are tightly squeezed together using an iron comb once each knotted row is completed on the loom, which increases density and strength of the carpet. That’s just a small part of the process that often requires years of skilled labor to complete.

Flowers of the Fields design on runner and large rug
in dining area
Because it takes so long to train weavers, they cannot easily be relieved of their duties during economic slumps nor replaced when business picks up. In an effort to keep its 17 loom locations busy and productive, representatives traveled to the States with a large truckload of carpets.

Murat, our Turkish rug guy, had a large Hereke carpet with the same Flowers of the Fields design featured in my runner.Still, the pattern and colors are unique to that specific rug.  And it fits perfectly under my dining table.

Then there’s my favorite, the thick and luxurious rug from Kayseri, also known for its quality carpets. The moment I saw it, I was smitten. The weave is exceptionally tight and the pile thicker (the Ferrari of rugs, according to Murat). Since Kayseri is located on the once-famous Silk Road trade route, rugs from this region offer great variety of designs and color combinations. Rugs from Kayseri, which is considered the second most famous rug center in Turkey after Hereke, are also found in palaces. 

It’s good to know I’m walking on carpets fit for royalty.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Read more travel stories at Striped Pot and Austin Adventure Travel

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Win a copy of A Cup of Comfort for Mother

Give your Mom a gift she will enjoy reading again and again.  I’m giving away two copies of A Cup of Comfort for Mothers, which was published about this time last year.  This book is a collection of “stories that celebrate the women who give us everything.”  I happen to be one of the authors with a story called “Growing Wise.”

If you’d like a book, just write a comment after any of the blog posts published in April, and you’ll be entered in the drawing. Winners will be notified Monday, May 2 and books sent out as soon as addresses are received.

Thanks for reading my travel articles.  I look forward to seeing many comments.

Hydrobikes make a splash around Austin

You don’t have to be a gung-ho Lance Armstrong athlete to enjoy the benefits of riding a bicycle around Austin, Texas. 

Hop on a hydrobike for a fun experience that lets you burn calories and stay cool at the same time. World-renown Lake Austin Resort Spa provides hydrobikes as an optional activity for guests, and you can rent hydrobikes on Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin.

Hydrobikes at Lake Austin Spa Resort
Photo by Beverly Burmeier
This is not your granny’s paddleboat but a real bike frame perched on pontoon-like floats and powered by your pedaling action.  Hydrobiking allows you to enjoy the scenery and perhaps catch a glimpse of shoreline wild life because you sit higher than in a kayak.  The bike is also more stable than a paddleboard, and you control the speed of your journey (and the intensity of your workout).

Pedaling a hydrobike rivals the cardio benefits of aerobics without the required energy expenditure. At Lake Austin Spa Resort in Austin, Texas, instructors guide participants through a half hour cycling workout. Hydrobiking at a moderate level of exertion--50 to 60 percent of your maximum effort—burns more calories than high impact aerobics, swimming, or kayaking.

Because of added resistance from the water, your workout is similar to biking up an incline or against a head wind.  But there’s no jarring sensation in the spine because you sit in a comfortable upright position, and water cushions the ride.  Overall, it’s a low impact exercise that is easy on the body and soothing for the mind. 

Since there’s no motor on hydrobikes, there’s no noise, and you can easily have a conversation when a friend rides along.  The pontoon-like floats keep you high above the water, so you don’t even get wet. 

Hydrobikes are safe for all ages (it’s a really cool family activity) since the flotation factor makes them easy to ride, and they won’t tip over.  They are lightweight with ergonomically correct handlebars and adjustable seats. 

Rent hydrobikes from Austin Water Bikes on Lady Bird Lake. 512-200-6555. Cost is $22 per hour or $13 per half hours. For information about Lake Austin Spa Resort call 800-847-5637 or click If you have ridden a hydrobike, tell us about your experience in Comments below.

Read about more travel destinations at Striped Pot and Austin Adventure Travel

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Disney Cruise Line adds new home ports and itineraries

If you’ve fallen under the spell of all things Disney—and aren’t ashamed to admit it even if you don’t have children or grandchildren of the usually infatuated ages—you’ll be delighted to know that Disney Cruise Line is extending its reach in 2012. Disney announced earlier this month that it is adding three port cities and new itineraries.

See fish from glass bottom boat off the coast of
Best of all for Texans, Disney will sail to the Western Caribbean from Galveston beginning in September 22, 2012. Six-night cruises on December 15 and 29 will dock at Grand Cayman and Cozumel with three days at sea.  An even dozen seven-night sailings are scheduled with stops at Grand Cayman, Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico. For the holidays, one eight-night voyage will leave Galveston on December 21 and add the port of Key West, Florida.

Your family can enjoy a tropical getaway with all the entertainment, characters, and magic that Disney is famous for.  In fact, the ship that sails from Galveston is called the Disney Magic.  Sea days allow plenty of time to enjoy festivities onboard while ports of call offer sunny beaches and locales to swim, snorkel, or shop. If you’re a fan of Disney theme parks, you’ll love all the Disney-related activities.

Disney Magic will also sail 20 cruises from New York City prior to coming to Galveston. Beginning May 25, 2012, short two-night cruises will offer a quick getaway, while five-night cruises sailing up the New England coast and into Canada call at scenic and historic ports.  Eight-night Bahama cruises from New York include a day at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay at Nassau. These longer trips include a one-day pass to Walt Disney World, which you can take advantage of during the stop at Port Canaveral, Florida.
Sting Ray City at Grand Cayman provides an unusual
experience--great fun  for kids and grown-ups
Another ship, Disney Wonder, will sail during the summer season from Seattle on seven-night cruises to Alaska, showcasing Tracy Arm, Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan, Alaska and Victoria, British Columbia. Shore excursions provide opportunities for all ages to experience Alaska’s natural beauty and wildlife. Family-friendly adventures help make a voyage to Alaska an unforgettable vacation.

Afraid little bodies will be a big distraction? Escape to the adults-only pool and restaurant.  Onboard camps for kids not only keep them entertained but also give parents time for some grown-up relaxation.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tip for hedging your bets on airfare

With unrest in Middle East countries resulting in frequent increases in the price of oil, booking flights for trips several months in the future can feel like playing the lottery. Do you book way out and hope you’re not paying hundreds of dollars more than current fares when you actually take the trip? Or do you wait and take a chance that fares will drop before your scheduled travel?

Yapta, the Internet site that will track a flight before before purchase and alert you when fares drop, has added a service that lets you take advantage of last-minute deals that may show up after you’ve booked your flight.  Yapta will send an email alert for any flight registered at the site if the price drops enough for the carrier to refund the difference to you.

Of course, some airlines charge a processing or rebooking fee, but if the savings is substantial it may still be worthwhile.  JetBlue and Alaska Airlines will issue a refund without any fee.  AirTran and Virgin America charge $75 while Hawaiian Airlines asseses $100 for ticket changes. Continental, United, Delta, and U.S. Airways charge $150 for domestic flights and $250 for some international flights.  Generally the refund is issued in the form of a voucher that can be used for future travel--can’t hurt to register and see what happens.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Texas highway rest stops are among the best

Need to stretch your legs, walk the dog, eat lunch, or take a bathroom break while traveling?  Be glad you’re driving Texas highways.

Long recognized for its many rest stops and travel centers, Texas Department of Transportation (TXDoT) is constantly improving facilities with more services for visitors. “We have a lot of long, isolated roadways in Texas where there’s really nothing else available,” says Andy Keith, director of the rest-area safety program for TXDoT.  “We believe that these rest areas are needed for safety,” he adds.

He has a point.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, fatigue-related crashes kill 1500 people a year and are implicated in more than 100,000 accidents. Benefitting from the national stimulus program of 2010, TXDoT has applied funds to rest areas in the hope of preventing motor accidents on lonely roads across open prairies as well as alleviating problems from truckers not having adequate places to take a break.

Brooks County rest area invites travelers to stop
Photo courtesy TxDOT
Each Safety Rest Area is designed to incorporate natural and historical features unique to its location, as well as native landscaping elements.  For example the new rest area on I-10 in Chambers Country, built on property once owned by Texas pioneer and cattle baron James Taylor White, will display artifacts from the mid-1800s to give visitors on this popular route some historical perspective.

To satisfy needs of today’s travelers, each of the state’s 92 safety rest areas and travel centers have been updated to include free Wi-fi access—some even have Internet kiosks.  Other features include:
·       Larger parking areas, with separated areas for cars and commercial trucks
·       Information areas for weather and road conditions, maps, traffic-safety and upcoming regional events
·       Office space for law-enforcement personnel
·       Enhanced security, including surveillance cameras
·       Tornado shelters
·       Walking and interpretive trails
·       Play areas for kids

Read more travel at Striped Pot and Austin Adventure Travel

Friday, April 15, 2011

Tips for making family road trips enjoyable

Sometimes traveling with another family can
add to the fun and spread out responsibilities.
If your family is planning a summer journey, whether you’re visiting relatives or taking a vacation, disaster may be just one exit away when everyone piles into the car for a long road trip.  Stress from the flurry of activity before leaving, bodies trapped immobile for hours in a moving vehicle, and uncertainty about what you’ll find on arriving at your destination can all add tension to the trip.

Here are tips for staying sane, embracing the excursion, and keeping it fun for all. 

Before you go
  • Choose destinations with something for everyone: Include educational opportunities, shopping, outdoor activities, and sports.
  • Budget extra time, so you can enjoy the journey without feeling rushed.
  • Be open to spur-of-the moment stops if you see something interesting along the way.
  • Use the planning process as a way to bond with family members.
  • Let older children scope out things to see and do along the way and at your destination by using the Internet. 
  • Provide everyone who is old enough with their own camera, even if it’s a disposable model.
    Taking turns at the wheel can
    give drivers a break.

  • Leave work at the office—clear your calendar and your mind. 
  • Turn off electronic devices that demand attention.
  • Stay in the moment so distractions won’t zap family time.
  • Ditch your watch and slow down; go with the flow.

  • Stash the DVDs and talk to each other in the car.
  • Share thoughts about the day’s activities during meal times.
  • Approach activities and see things from a child’s point of view.
Space City Houston is a great
family destination.
At your destination

  • Stay in a bed and breakfast or family-friendly hotel to lessen the stress of imposing on friends and relatives.
  • Build in time for young travelers to adapt to new surroundings.
  • Stick to familiar sleep and eating routines.
  • Avoid cramming too much activity into each day (schedule in naps, if necessary).
  • Savor quiet moments, and treasure private time with children or spouse.
  • Get a fresh outlook on your life and family while away from normal activities.
  • Chill.  Time passes too quickly to get uptight about anything
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier and free sources

Legacy of the Alamo is honored in 2011

Legacy of the Alamo is honored in 2011

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Royal Caribbean offers credit to families booking summer cruises

Families have discovered the joys of cruising—unpack only once, activities available for all ages and abilities, special programs for children, and plenty of included food and entertainment.  Royal Caribbean’s newest mega-ships, Oasis and Allure of the Seas, have proved extremely popular with families, in part because each is like an all-inclusive resort itself. The scenery and activities on onboard rival that of ports-of-call.

Balcony staterooms line the Boardwalk area on
Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas.
But booking accommodations that work for both parents and children can be tricky, especially since larger rooms and suites are limited. To ease the situation this summer, Royal Caribbean is offering a family-friendly deal for the Oasis and Allure of the Seas, ships that sail alternating Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries. But you need to hurry.  Until April 13 vacationers booking two or more Central Park- or Boardwalk-view balcony staterooms that are grouped together will receive a $200 onboard credit per stateroom, up to a maximum of three staterooms for a total of $600 onboard credits per group.

Rooms are spacious and comfortable
 “With triple- and quad-occupancy staterooms on both ships filling up quickly, this offer provides families with an affordable alternative for a memorable cruise vacation,” says Betsy O’Rourke, senior vice president of Marketing, Royal Caribbean International, in a press release.
The offer is only valid for new U.S. and Canada individual bookings and is limited to availability. Onboard credits are valid only during the booked sailing.

The Oasis and Allure of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ships, sail year-round and round-trip from Port Everglades. They each span 16 decks and can carry 5,400 guests in 2,700 staterooms. They feature Royal Caribbean’s neighborhood concept of seven themed areas--Central Park, Boardwalk, the Royal Promenade, the Pool and Sports Zone, Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center, Entertainment Place and Youth Zone. All the included amenities on these beautiful ships make cruising a budget-friendly vacation option.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier.

Read more about Allure of the Seas:

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Nature shines at Westcave Preserve in Texas Hill Country

You don’t have to go far out of Austin to view the stars at night.  Westcave Preserve, located about 40 miles from downtown in southwestern Travis County, is a 75-acre gem managed by the non-profit Westcave Preserve Corporation.  Go west on Hwy 71 and then about 14 miles on Hamilton Pool Road. Cross the Pedernales River, and you’ll find the perfect dark spot for viewing night skies without interference from city lights.

If you’re an amateur astronomer—or just fascinated by heavenly bodies—don’t miss upcoming “Star Nights” on Saturday, April 16 and May 14, weather permitting.  Call 830-825-3442 to register, or email

The guided tour takes you to a
grotto and waterfall.
Westcave Preserve is an ecological treasure of the Texas Hill Country.  On guided tours held every Saturday and Sunday, visitors traverse a diverse environment—dry grasslands, limestone crevice, and spectacular sheltered canyon filled with lush plant life.  Westcave stands at the head of the canyon which features a waterfall tumbling 40 feet over fern-covered travertine to an emerald pool below. The hike covers less than one mile round trip and takes about one hour and 45 minutes.  Tours are scheduled at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m., and 4 p.m. Reservations are not accepted on weekends, so plan to be among the first 30 people arriving for your preferred tour time.

During the 1960s and 1970s, when Westcave Preserve was privately held, picnickers and trespassers trampled the site damaging fragile flora and breaking stalagmites and stalactites in the cave.  Since 1983, the site has been owned by the Lower Colorado River Authority, which leases the preserve for $1 per year to the corporation for management purposes. Allowing guests to visit the grotto area only on a tour helps minimize human impact on the sensitive site.

In addition to daytime nature hikes and nighttime astronomy events, the Preserve also offers an array of natural science and interdisciplinary educational programs for children and adults at the Warren Skaaren Environmental Learning Center.  Exhibits illustrate how the forces and cycles of nature have interacted to create and sustain this unique sanctuary.

The Dark Sky exhibit explains the importance of and ways to protect the unlit sky as a natural resource.  Star nights are an ideal opportunity for families to recognize this declining feature while gazing at the heavens through a high-quality telescope. 

Other reasons to visit: grasslands sprout wildflowers in the spring, and the sheltered limestone canyon is filled with rare plants and cypress trees.  The site is nationally recognized as one of the region’s premier places to view the endangered golden-cheeked warbler.
Tours: $5 adult, $2 children under 12, $15 per family

Monday, April 4, 2011

Golfing at La Cantera Resort in San Antonio

Resort Course at La Canters Resort in San Antonio

Only once in my golfing life—which is relatively short—have I played on a course that was prepped for a major professional tournament.  That really increases the challenge factor, not just because those courses are generally more difficult than a run-of-the-mill course, but also because maintenance takes a different path.

In this case, the course was Westin La Cantera Resort Course in San Antonio, and the occasion was prior to the Valero Texas Golf Tournament in September 2009, the 15th and final year La Cantera hosted this PGA event.  Normal mowing of the roughs had been suspended, leaving grass tall enough to bury a ball that missed the fairway. 

Roller coaster at Six Flags Fiesta Texas in background
On a recent visit to La Cantera Resort, I played the Resort Course again. This time the roughs had been mowed, so I didn’t have to dig any errant balls out of tall grass.  Having an easier time with golf shots allowed me to enjoy the beauty of this Texas Hill Country course more fully.

Known for outstanding views of the countryside surrounding San Antonio—as well as roller coasters at nearby Six Flags Fiesta Texas--the course has six natural water features, huge live oak trees, and limestone outcroppings.  There are no out-of-bounds; if your ball is unplayable, you simply take a stroke and place the ball at a playable location.

The 18-hole, par 72, 7001-yard course was designed by course architect Jay Moorish and pro golfer Tom Weiskopf.  Five sets of tees accommodate every skill level, so I drove the cart right past the “pro” black tees to the ladies’ jade markers—still enough challenge for my abilities.  Several holes drive from an upper level, over ravines, to lower fairways, and generally roll left to right. Well-groomed Bermuda grass makes fast greens that seemed hard to read. A total of 75 bunkers guard the course, and it’s well-known that sand has a magnetic attraction for golf balls.

Signature hole at Palmer Course
Still, it’s a very playable course for any golfer, and the scenic panoramas make a splendid outing. Take time before your round to hit a few warm-up balls on the range and putting green, both available for guests of the resort to use. Pay special attention to hole #7, the signature hole of the Resort Course, and see if you can match my husband’s hole-in-one on # 13, a 120-yard par three.

Barbeque dinner at The Palmer Grille
La Cantera Resort also features the Palmer Course, designed by the golf legend himself, with signature hole #4 that requires a long carry over a lake, waterfalls along the front of the green, and nostalgic Winnie’s Bridge, Palmer’s memorial to his wife. This is a more challenging course with a final hole that requires blind shots over a hill. It ends just in front of the club house, so take time to celebrate your round with a delicious lunch or dinner (or at least a drink) at The Palmer Grille.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

More travel stories at Striped Pot and Austin Adventure Travel