Wednesday, August 31, 2011

San Antonio features art exhibits during fall and winter

San Antonio Museum of Art
San Antonio is a fun city to visit any time of year, but if you enjoy art, be sure to schedule a visit this fall. Exhibits are in full swing during the coming months making the city an especially good place to visit during the fall and winter holidays. Celebrating everything from the traditions of Día de los Muertos to the most modern interpretations, San Antonio’s arts reflect the city’s colorful cultural heritage.

During the month of September FOTOSEPTIEMBRE USA showcases original photography at restaurants, galleries and other venues across the city. Exhibits highlight all forms of photographic art including traditional, digital, documentary and creative. For example:

§  Blue Star Contemporary Art Center, the first and longest-running venue for contemporary art in San Antonio, opens September 2 with an exhibition featuring works of Chuck Ramirez, Rodolfo Choperena, Carlos Betancourt and Debra Sugerman.

§  The San Antonio Museum of Art, within the reclaimed historic Lone Star Brewery, features Animal Instinct: The Photographs of Daniel Lee on September 3 – February 19. Lee’s work uses digital technology to portray the idea that people often exhibit behavioral, personality and physical characteristics resembling those of animals.

§  The River of No Return exhibit by respected photographer Laura McPhee is a series of 6-by-8 foot photographs of the land and people of rural Idaho displayed at the Southwest School of Art on September 1 – November 1.

McNay Art Museum
Just in time for the holiday season, the McNay Art Museum, home of medieval and Renaissance art and the only public collection of its kind in South Texas, will house artifacts and sets used in the making of Tim Burton’s stop-action film, The Nightmare Before Christmas. This exhibit runs September 14 – January 1.

Additional exhibits at the McNay that visitors might find interesting are The Orient Expressed: Japan’s Influence on Western Art, 1854 – 1918, Cassatt and the Orient: Japan’s Influence on Printmaking and Art + Present: Gifts from the Peter Nortan Family, all open from October 5 – January 15.

 Photos and information courtesy of Visit San Antonio

Read more travel stories at Striped Pot and Austin Adventure Travel

Monday, August 29, 2011

Feel like royalty at Ashford Castle in Northern Ireland

If you love visiting castles while traveling in Ireland, Ashford Castle is the perfect getaway.

Last owned by the Guiness family (of beer fame) as a private home, Ashford Castle in County Mayo near the western coast of Northern Ireland is steeped in history. Every family that lived there put its own stamp and design on the estate.  Today it’s one of the top 50 resort properties in Europe, a five-star hotel featuring a host of on-site activities for guests.

Located on the shores of Lough Corrib and River Cong, the castle opened to the public in 2008 with 83 luxurious, individually furnished guest rooms. Its opulent old-world décor includes sculpted brocade fabrics, voluminous floor-to-ceiling draperies; geometric and floral embroidered chairs and sofas, heavy carved dark wood furniture, and massive gold rimmed mirrors with intricately carved frames.  There’s no mistaking its elegant Anglo-Norman heritage, and the royal feeling that envelopes guests staying there.

Larry and I were escorted by Catherine to our junior suite filled with mirrors--three large vertical mirrors in the bathroom, a mirror above the desk and another above the dressing table, and several more strategically placed on the walls. We appreciated the American electrical outlets (no adapters needed) and free wi-fi.  Throughout our stay, the level of service was superb (clothes left on the bed were hung in the closet during turn-down service later in the evening).

Our room was spacious and comfortable
Our room looked out over the surrounding lake where a man fished on the bank, ducks swam in the water, and a private tour boat slowly cruised through wavy reflections.  In the evening we dined at Cullen’s Restaurant, a little less formal than the main castle restaurant but still excellent.

Dressing table in our room
Soon after arrival, we set about exploring the exquisitely manicured grounds.  We walked shaded woodland paths lined with thick stands of trees, which created the dark, ominous ambience Irish forests are known for.  We followed paths meandering through the 300 acres currently in the Ashford Castle grounds. The remainder of the original 3000 acre estate is now government-owned forest land.

Road leading to Ashford Castle grounds
Golfers enjoy the nine-hole course outfitted with double tee boxes that allow it to play as an 18-hole course. Other activities guests may participate in are spa treatments, horseback riding, and the falconry school. Ashford Castle provides plentiful sitting rooms for card games, conversation, or sipping a glass of wine.

Browse at the Castle gift shop, view art displays in the Castle, or watch complimentary movies in-room such as The Quiet Man, the classic 1952 film starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara which was partly filmed here. Best of all is the opportunity to absorb serenity, beauty and history of the setting.

The Abbey at Cong
Soon after our arrival, Larry and I needed to stretch our legs, so we took a five-minute walk into the tiny village of Cong to see the abbey built on the site of a sixth century monastery. Cong also has a museum commemorating The Quiet Man film, local shops featuring gorgeous woolen sweaters, and the friendliest people.

Immaculate grounds around Ashford Castle
Ashford Castle recently took over management of Lodge at Ashford Castle. Formerly home of the estate manager, it has been converted to an additional 50 rooms with a price point 40 percent lower than Castle accommodations. Lovely garden rooms provide a quieter feel suitable for families, although children might find the entire estate a bit too quiet (no arcades!)  

My advice: Leave the kiddos at home and enjoy a romantic, relaxing adult retreat. 

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier
Read more stories about our adventures in Ireland at

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Explore Tennessee's Pie in the Sky Trail

Discover Tennessee Trails and Byways program offers a new way to travel the backroads and byways of Tennessee.  Recently launched is the Pie in the Sky Trail, the seventh of 16 self-guided driving tours. The Pie in the Sky Trail spans 363 miles throughout East and portions of Middle Tennessee, guiding tourists through communities brimming with attractions and outdoor adventure from Chattanooga to Monteagle, McMinnville to Crossville and returning to the Sequatchie Valley.
Tennessee Aquarium is among the
world's best.

The trail officially begins at the Chattanooga Visitors Center where guests can pick up brochures, maps and coupons before heading out to discover Tennessee’s back roads. However, visitors can choose to begin their journey at any site along the path. Guides and information on food and lodging along the way are available online. Once on the trail, guests can explore rock gardens and farms, revitalized downtown areas and historic places commemorating the American Civil War, the Holocaust and African American heritage.The trail leads travelers to iconic destinations such as Lookout Mountain, the CumberlandPlateau in Monteagle and to Fall Creek Falls State Park and the SequatchieValley.

Watch hang-gliders soar from Lookout Mountain--or try
this exciting experience yourself.
There are 129 cultural gems along the Pie in the Sky: Visit the hometown of Lodge Cast Iron and the National Cornbread Festival, or tour historic Falcon Rest Mansion and explore the site of the 1925 Scopes Trial that inspired the classic film Inherit the Wind. Sample pastries from Tennessee’s oldest family-owned bakery – the Dutchmaid Bakery in Tracy City - and fill up on comfort food at a working farm.

Sculptures decorate park in Bluff View Arts District
Packed with outdoor adventure, trail explorers can visit three Tennessee state parks and hikers of all skill levels will find picturesque views on this mountainous trail at every turn. The history of the area unfolds at more than 30 Civil War sites along the trail and at county museums. Visitors will observe some of Earth’s most interesting creatures at the world-renown TennesseeAquarium, tap into their artistic side in the Bluff View Arts District of Chattanooga, and sample a Chattanooga original, The MoonPie®.

Information courtesy of Cindy Dupree, Learn more about The Pie in the Sky Trail at

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Read more travel stories at Striped Pot and Austin Adventure Travel

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Ride like a cowboy at Texas guest ranch

What happens when rodeo riders no longer want to rough up their bodies on the competitive circuit?  John and Taunia Ellick bought a ranch so they could continue to ride—and teach others appreciation for the cowboy way of life.  Attorneys by vocation, they also raise cutting horses and run Texas Ranch Life, their working ranch and luxury bed and breakfast near Brenham, Texas.

When guests are on premises, John loves to mount his favorite steed Tommy and give visitors a demonstration of true cowboy riding skill in his corral.  Deftly leading his horse near a group of heifers, he cuts back and forth through the dust, separating calves from the herd.  A good cutting horse has a “big stop,” meaning he can rein in quickly and change direction on a dime, John says.  “I try to anticipate moves, but the horse makes many moves on his own,” he adds.  “Then I try to reinforce what the horse has already done.” Stop.  Go straight.  Turn around. Go the other way.  “It’s all about communicating with the horse,” John explains.

I’m sitting on the bleachers watching the presentation with other guests.  Although it’s for fun this time, the techniques are really about business. The skills demonstrated were a necessary part of life on a ranch in Old West days.  “Cutting” is how certain calves were culled for branding, breeding, medical care, and other reasons.

The next day John saddles up several horses, so our group can ride on the open range with him. “Horsemanship is a partnership between horse and rider, but the rider is the leader,” he emphasizes.  He teaches us how to mount properly and to sit in the saddle with shoulders, hips, and heels all aligned.  “The horse feels every move you make. If the person riding is unbalanced, the horse feels it,” he says.

I sit tall on a tan horse named Pal as we ride around a portion of the 250 acres that comprise this part of Texas Ranch Life.  We traverse streams, dodge low hanging branches, and try to keep our distance from the horse in front so we won’t get splattered with mud.  And we learn a bit of cowboy etiquette: Never ask how many head of cattle or how many acres a rancher has.

If guests are game, they can participate in actual ranch activities. Other options are hiking, fishing, or relaxing in actual 1800s cabins restored and renovated in authentic Texas style. Contact Texas Ranch Life to set up your Old West getaway.
Photos by Larry Burmeier

Monday, August 22, 2011

Tips for healthy eating when traveling

Adapted from Fit Soul, Fit Body by Brant Secunda and Mark Allen

Is fast food your fall-back plan when eating on the road? It’s best to avoid foods that leave you feeling depleted, bloated, and tired. As athletes know, healthy food and plenty of water sustain your energy levels, fuel your muscles, and help you recover quickly. The food you eat on the road will serve as your traveling repair kit.

Healthy eating starts where you stop.

Instead of stopping at a fast-food joint, stop at a grocery store that offers whole or healthy foods -- fruits, bagged carrots, nuts, hummus -- or a supermarket that features a salad bar. You’ll expand your choices (and reduce junk-food temptations).

Eat frequently and in smaller amounts.

Eating small amounts of healthy foods throughout the day tells your brain that the food supply is plentiful, so it's okay to burn through those calories quickly—plus you’ll have more energy. Eating too many calories in one meal -- even if they're healthy calories -- sends your brain the message that leaner times must be around the corner, so those calories get stored as fat. Eating too much at one sitting also makes you sluggish and sleepy.

Eat plenty of protein.

Eating the right amount of complete protein for your weight and activity level stabilizes blood sugar (preventing energy lags), enhances concentration, and keeps you lean and strong. A complete protein is any animal and dairy product or a grain plus a legume (such as whole grain bread with nut butter or corn tortilla with beans). Protein gives you energy for a long hike, a long drive, or a day at the beach.

Photo of pears by Beverly Burmeier
Pack snacks so you're not skipping meals.

When traveling, we may not have access to food at regular intervals. Or we skip meals so we can have that big piece of chocolate cake later. But your body responds as if it's facing a food shortage, and your metabolism slows down to prevent you from starving. Pack healthy snacks in your car or backpack such as almonds, raw vegetables and hummus, yogurt and berries, fresh and dried fruit, and hard-boiled eggs.

Avoid "feel bad" foods.

When you're on the road, it's particularly essential to avoid foods that drain your energy and deflate your mood. Foods to avoid: (1) simple carbohydrates or high glycemic foods, such as fruit juices, sodas, refined grain products, or sugary snacks; (2) anything deep fried; (3) nonfat desserts and sweeteners, which are loaded with chemicals that your body can't easily metabolize; (4) anything partially hydrogenated (this includes nondairy creamer, Jiffy-style peanut butter, margarine, and most packaged baked goods); and (5) excess alcohol.

Drink lots of water.

The body needs water for virtually all of its functions. Drinking plenty of water will flush your body of toxins, keep your skin fresh, and help you eat less. It will also help you avoid travel lag, symptoms of overexposure to the heat or sun, and junk-food cravings. Many of the unhealthy cravings we experience on the road can be satisfied with a refreshing drink of pure water.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Visit the beaches of Florida's Gulf coast

If a tropical vacation is your idea of pure relaxation, head to western Florida’s Gulf ofMexico coastline where fall is still perfect beach weather. With 590 miles of shoreline and warm Gulf waters, you might decide to island-hop. The area’s many islands offer gorgeous sunsets, shelling, great dining and picnicking, water sports, boating, biking and exploring. Best known are Sanibel and Captiva islands, connected to the mainland by a three-mile causeway and connected to each other by a bridge.

Chasing gulls on Sanibel beach
Sanibel is known worldwide for its abundant shelling - more than 400 varieties of shells. Collectors enjoy hours of sun along some of North America’s best shoreline. “Must-see” sites include the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge and the 1884 Sanibel Lighthouse. Plentiful bike paths allow exploration of the island at your own pace.

Quieter and more remote than Sanibel, Captiva Island’s main attractions are its laid back pace, several great restaurants, sunset views and beautiful beaches.

Bicycles are a great way to get around
Visitors also enjoy exploring barrier islands off this southwest Florida paradise by land or by boat. Some of the 100 coastal islands are uninhabited mangrove clusters while others impress with their beautiful beaches.

Other beach destinations include Estero Island, Pine Island, and Gasparilla Island. Estero Island, home of Fort Myers Beach, offers soft, white sand. During the winter, Estero Bay is home to an extensive shrimp and fishing fleet. Don’t miss Lovers Key State Park, just south of Fort Myers Beach.

Step back to old-time Florida on Pine Island. Accessible by land via "the fishingest bridge in the USA," entertain yourself with several eclectic art galleries, while the Calusa Heritage Trail offers insight into the 2,000-year-old Indian tribe.

Accessible by boat and car via a causeway, Gasparilla Island’s charming, turn-of-the-century harbor town, Boca Grande, was founded in the late 1800s. This sleepy, upscale town features small shops, cozy restaurants, waterside accommodations and beautiful beaches. Check out the legendary, 1911 Gasparilla Inn & Club, known for celebrity visits.
Kayaking along Captiva's shoreline

More adventurous? Hop on a water taxi, rent a boat, or take one of the scheduled services to the outer islands, such as Cabbage Key, North Captiva, and Cayo Costa. Narrated boat or guided kayak/canoe tours provide sightseeing, shelling, sealife encounters, dolphin watch cruises, nature and heritage cruises, and more.

Check out these vendors for excursions: Adventures in Paradise Cruises take you throughout the waters surrounding Sanibel & Captiva Islands, or hop on the company's trolley for the Historical Trolley Tour of Sanibel Island. Captiva Cruises and TropicStar of Pine Island will guide you on those islands.To explore on your own, area marinas offer private boat rentals with or without guides.  A popular way to see the area and its wildlife is the GreatCalusa Blueway Paddling Trail, with launch sites and landings around the 190-mile marked trail, as well as easy access to rental kayaks and canoes.
Photos by Beverly Burmeier

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Hanger dance in Fredericksburg, Texas scheduled for Labor Day weekend

Drive your car or fly your plane right up to the Hangar Hotel
Photo by Beverly Burmeier

Dance to the sounds of a 1940s style big band this Labor Day weekend and reminisce about a bygone era. The HangarHotel and Conference Center in Fredericksburg, Texas will host a swinging USO Style Hangar Dance on Saturday September 3, 2011. A percentage of the event proceeds will be donated to USO Ft. Hood, which delivers programs and services to more than 40,000 service members and their families.

A little rusty on your dance skills?  Don't fret; you'll be swinging in no time. Show up early for swing dance lessons from 7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. before local talent, Bill Smallwood and the Lonestar Swing Orchestra takes the stage at 8:00 p.m. They'll take you back to the 1940s with their 18 piece big band, playing until 11:00 p.m. The Pacific Showroom’s Tiki Bar will be staffed and available for patrons to quench their thirst after all that dancing. Concession items will be served from the Airport Diner.

Grab a light meal or snack at the Airport Diner
Photo by Larry Burmeier
Attendees are encouraged to wear their best 1940s inspired outfit and participate in the costume contest. So ladies, slap on some red lipstick and pin up your hair to help set the scene for the event. Winners will receive prizes including a gift certificate to the Hangar Hotel and gift items from the Fredericksburg Brewing Company and Fredericksburg Herb Farm. Those donning a military uniform will receive a coupon for a free drink at the front door.

Tickets are $20 per person. To purchase tickets in advance or to make room reservations (hurry they’ll go fast) contact the Hangar Hotel at 830-997-9990. Get a $5 discount on your dance ticket with the purchase of two nights at the Hotel.
If you can’t make it out Labor Day weekend make plans to attend the USO Style Hangar Dance scheduled for December 31, 2011 (New Years Eve).

The Hangar Hotel, located adjacent to the Gillespie County Airport, was designed to mimic the look of a WWII airplane hangar, providing the perfect setting for a USO style dance. The hotel is decorated in South Pacific/WWII style complete with palm trees and tiki bar.

Information courtesy of:
Kelly Ayers, Marketing & Events Manager
Hangar Hotel and Conference Center
(830) 997-9990

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Peruvian Amazon--the rainforest experience of a lifetime

Mike Langford, a South African living in Cusco, Peru, writes today’s guest blog. He’s a photographer, environmentalist, and owner of Tambopata Travel tour company which promotes responsible travel to the Tambopata rainforest region.

Rainforest Experience in Peru

Many travellers to South America don’t realize that the unspoilt Peruvian Amazon is within a few hours travel from Cusco, heart of the Inca Empire & the gateway to Machu Picchu.

Forest tree giants over fifty metres (164 feet) in height, world records for the numbers of birds, butterflies and dragonflies amongst others, seven species of monkeys, intact populations of endangered species such as the giant river otter, jaguar, black caiman and harpy eagle – they’re all here.

We’re not talking about roughing it either. Comfortable award-winning lodges are on hand to take care of you with amazing food, a range of activities and quality of guiding all contributing to making your trip unforgettable.

The Tambopata River opens up before you and adventure beckons. As you enjoy wonderful river journeys the stress of modern living diminishes with each meander until you are one with nature in all its splendour and your soul is invigorated. Floating on a tranquil lake you breathe in and realise you have fulfilled a lifelong ambition to go to the rainforest. Standing atop a canopy-high tower the panorama takes your breath away. Walking along jungle trails your senses are awakened as you observe incredible wildlife.

All this is good enough, but today’s environmentally conscious traveller does not simply want to experience unspoilt nature; they need to know that their trip is actually making a contribution to local conservation efforts and making a contribution towards local communities that value their natural and cultural heritage.

Making a travel decision can be difficult and complex because there’s a bewildering array of tour offerings with both reliable and unreliable operators plus a range of service levels not always reflected in the pricing. How do you find the ideal, good value rainforest trip while being confident that you will contribute towards local conservation and cultural awareness efforts at the same time?

With my experience in the region I decided to address this need and Tambopata Travel was born to cater to independent, group or family travellers. The idea was to offer personalised service and no automated booking forms, but a discussion of your needs and expectations. You can use the suggested itineraries on the website as an end in themselves or as a starting point to be tailored to your requirements or special interests.

So there you have it, the ideal addition to any Cusco trip – fly to Puerto Maldonado only thirty minutes away, and be prepared for the rainforest experience of a lifetime beginning on arrival.
Flight from Peruvian Amazon to the Andes

My aim through Tambopata Travel and through my photography is to share the wonders of nature with as many interested and like-minded people as possible in the hope of spreading the word on the need for conservation, cultural respect and local economy support. Sustainable development is a phrase often over-utilised and not understood, but it is the only way forward, and you can be a part of it by simply travelling to the Peruvian Amazon.  

Photos by Mike Langford
Visit Mike at or see his photography at

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Northern Ireland's Slieve League--highest and finest marine cliffs in Europe

Rugged rocky cliffs rise straight out of the sea at Slieve League
in Northern Ireland..
The cliffs of Slieve League are the highest sea cliffs in all of Europe—a breath-taking sight that’s not to be missed if you are traveling in Donegal County on the west coast of Northern Ireland. The gray, chalky limestone cliffs rise steeply from the Atlantic Ocean—nearly 2,000 feet at the highest point. These spectacular cliffs overhang the ocean in a panorama of jagged coastline and cliff face scenes.

Unlike the popular Cliffs of Moher in southwest Ireland, Slieve League (Sliabh Liag in Irish) is relatively unspoiled. It’s off the main tourist routes, so many visitors don’t make the effort to follow the winding, bumpy road to get there.
After arriving at the main parking lot, you can take a shuttle bus along the 1.5 mile path (which we did because we were short on time), or drive your car if you don’t mind driving along a mountainous road without guardrails. Just be careful to watch out for walking tourists. Actually, I’d recommend walking so you can take advantage of terrific views—and photo ops--of the Atlantic Ocean, Sligo Mountains, and Donegal Bay.
At the end of the road, you’ll find a platform for safely viewing the vertical rise of the cliffs and the ocean waves crashing against boulders 2,000 feet below (The boulders look really tiny from this distance). For an even better view of the cliffs from all sides, you can walk up an uneven rock path and look back down the mountain. Or venture closer to the sea over a grassy section near the parking areas for a better look at the extreme ruggedness of the cliffs.

Hiking along the upper ledge takes the better part of a day
and requires careful attention along the 10-mile path.
Experienced hikers might choose to tackle the ridge known as One Man’s Pass. It’s slow-going but one of the most memorable walks in Ireland if you have the time. Be sure to arrange transportation at Malinbeg at the other end of the 10-mile route as back-tracking isn’t a plausible option. During the summer, hire a boat owner from Teelin to take you on a less strenuous but safer and equally rewarding excursion to see the cliffs from the sea.

Plans are for the government to take over the site and make the Slieve League cliffs a major tourist destination.  Additional regulation will hopefully limit tacky key chain and ice cream vendors that were hawking their wares when we visited.
Despite that minor glitch, we definitely recommend a visit to Slieve League, a relatively uncrowded place to experience one of Mother Nature’s outstanding landscapes—and for now it’s free. 

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Read more stories about my Irish adventure at the travelzine Striped Pot