Monday, November 28, 2011

An unforgettable family RV adventure in Central Texas

Stroll along the River Walk in San Antonio.
Planning an RV vacation in central Texas? You can't go wrong by visiting the Alamo or natural wonders like Enchanted Rock. Start in the San Antonio area and work your way north to Waco, or take the route from the other end.

·       San Antonio is surrounded by comfortable RV parks and campgrounds. While there, enjoy strolling downtown's beautiful River Walk, which is fully ADA accessible. If you'd prefer a long walk or a bike ride, San Antonio has 23 miles of Greenway trails, all open to the public. San Antonio also offers a plethora of cultural events: the city has many theaters, galleries, musical groups, and dance ensembles. If you’re interested in history, visit the Alamo and the area's five historic missions. At San Antonio Missions National Historic Park, children can become Junior Rangers, complete several activities, and receive their Ranger's badge. At the end of April and beginning of May, you can also visit the annual Mexican Folk Art Show & Sale with pottery-making and woodcarving demonstrations.
San Juan Capistrano is part of Missions National Park

·       Out of San Antonio, go west on I-10, eventually merging  onto US-87-N, which takes you into Fredericksburg. But don't be in a hurry. Take some time to get comfortable in Comfort, Texas, which is along the way. Comfort is a wonderful place to go shopping for antiques, go golfing at the Buckhorn Golf Course or head out to Flat Rock Ranch for mountain biking (unless you’re in the mood for relaxing).

·       When you arrive in Fredericksburg, you may wonder what that pink dome on the horizon is. It's a batholith - an exposed underground rock formation made from cooled volcanic magma. The Tonkawa Nation of Native Americans called it Enchanted Rock, believing that it was at one time enchanted by a Spanish conquistador and that ghostly fires could be seen at the top. Today, it is a protected state of Texas natural area (Enchanted Rock State Natural Area). It’s a great spot for hiking or rock-climbing.

            Explore farms, orchards, vineyards, and a living history farmstead, as well as music, museums, and a historic district around Fredericksburg, which was founded in 1846 by German settlers. Don't miss the National Museum of the Pacific War, the Pioneer Museum, Wildseed Farms, Fredericksburg Herb Farm, or any of Fredericksburg's unique restaurants, bakeries, and shops (FYI: some of them specialize in chocolate!). Fredericksburg is also surrounded by RV sites and campgrounds.

·       Fredericksburg to Waco is a three-hour drive, but take your time and enjoy the scenery. Start on US-290-E, turn onto US-281-N, jog onto TX-29-E (W. Polk St.), and then get onto I-35 and follow the signs to Waco. This part of Texas seems made for RV exploration.

Don’t miss Waco's historic suspension bridge, which was built in the mid-1800s. Although now it is closed to all but pedestrian traffic, the bridge was, at the time, the first bridge to span the Brazos River and the longest bridge of any kind in the U.S. west of the Mississippi. Once the Waco suspension bridge was completed, its makers headed east to build the Brooklyn Bridge. From the bridge you can walk west into Indian Spring Park or east into Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park. In the same area, you'll find the Waco Tourism Information Center and the Texas Ranger Museum. In late April you can enjoy the annual Cotton Palace Pageant, celebrating Waco's history as a former world-class cotton producer. In September attend the Waco Cultural Arts Fest in Indian Spring Park.
Leaving Waco, head north for the Dallas-Fort Worth area on I-35. Allow plenty of time for family activities as you cruise through central Texas on this RV adventure.

Joe Laing,  Marketing Director for El Monte RV Rentals, provided this guest post.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

San Antonio's Holiday River Parade and Lighting Ceremony make the season festive

Stay at Hilton Palacio del Rio Hotel
in San Antonio during the holidays.
San Antonio loves to show off its fancy decorations during the holidays, and there is much to enjoy in the Alamo city at this special time of year. The Holiday River Parade and Lighting Ceremony has been a cherished tradition for more than 27 years and is one of the most highly-anticipated events of the year. It’s something you’ll remember for many years.

On November 25th, 150,000 parade-goers along San Antonio’s River Walk will be treated to illuminated floats, live music, and lots of holiday cheer. At 7:00 p.m., 1.4 million LED lights will illuminate, officially ushering in the winter holiday season and casting a brilliant glow over the entire River Walk. The twinkling lights are on display through New Year’s Day, so visitors to the Riverwalk will  be able to enjoy the festive atmosphere throughout the holidays.

Holiday lights make a boat ride on the
River Walk even more festive.
New this year - San Antonio’s most iconic hotel, Hilton Palacio del Rio, is offering 2 special packages for residents and visitors alike to join in this merry tradition. Hilton Palacio del Rio is the only hotel located along the River Walk with private balconies in every room – perfect for viewing the lights from above.

River Lighting Parade Package (November 25th only)

  • 7-day advance purchase
  • Deluxe river-view room/double occupancy
  • Two reserved chairs along the River Walk for parade viewing
  • Two insulated mugs of hot chocolate or coffee while watching parade
  • Two warm fleece blankets to keep warm during parade.
  • Complimentary valet parking
  • Breakfast for two in Ibiza Patio Bar & Restaurant
Rates start at $284

Holiday Lights Package (November 26th – December 28th)

  • 2-night stay required
  • 2-day advance purchase required
  • Complimentary self-parking
  • Wine, cheese & fruit welcome platter
  • Daily complimentary breakfast for two
  • Two River Boat Tour tickets
Rates start at $249

For more information about holiday rates or to book one of these packages, click on

Information and photos provided by Jaclyn Slifer, Murphy O’Brien Public Relations.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thanksgiving and Christmas Airfare and hotel prices down in U.S.

Holiday travel is just around the corner. To help you plan your trips, the Fareologists at Bing Travel have issued a preliminary forecast for the 2011 holiday travel season.

Good news for travelers flying
home for the holidays
Travelers in the U.S. can expect holiday cheer as airfare and hotel prices are expected to drop slightly. Compared with last year, domestic airfare should be down 1.4 percent overall, with tickets averaging $302, as opposed to $306 last holiday. Holiday hotel costs are staying virtually flat for three- and-four- star hotels, but five-star hotels are down 8 percent from last year—making luxury more affordable this season.While the U.S. forecast is turning up, spending the holidays abroad will come at a premium this year. Overall, holiday flights to Asia have increased 15 percent from last year’s average. Routes to Europe have increased nearly 9 percent. Madrid has the lowest fare at $780, but that’s still a 12 percent increase from last year.  This may be the year to enjoy destinations closer to home.

Celebrate in the sun

Those willing to let the destination and date dictate their holiday travel plans will see the biggest savings, so be flexible and follow the deals. Warm weather destinations are extra cheap this holiday season, with airfares to Ft. Lauderdale down 21 percent from last year and hotels in Las Vegas down almost 16 percent. For travelers willing to skip a white Christmas, here are five low-priced warm-weather routes to consider:
Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale: $185 in 2010; $165 in 2011
Dallas Fort Worth to Houston: $148 in 2010; to 168 in 2011
Arlington to Fort Lauderdale: $232 in 2010; $184 in 2011
New York (LGA) to Fort Lauderdale: $192 in 2010; $194 in 2011
New York (JFK) to Miami: $234 in 2010; $195 in 2011

Affordable hotel stays

The biggest savings were found on luxury hotels in Cancun, Las Vegas, Washington D.C., and New York City. Across 3, 4 and 5 star hotels, the best hotel values can be found in the following destinations (average rates quoted):
Las Vegas: $189.65 in 2010; $159.82 in 2011
New York: $489.14 in 2010; $417.98 in 2011
Cancun: $142.66 in 2010; $125.27 in 2011
Washington, DC: $382.10 in 2010; $339.85 in 2011

Bing Travel can help
Bing Travel helps people make smart travel decisions with Price Predictor, a tool that shows whether the lowest fares appear to be rising or dropping, and provides recommendations on whether to buy immediately or wait. The Hotel Rate Indicator helps consumers know quickly if the offered rate is a good deal based on historical rates. Rate Indicator is available for more than 5,000 hotels in 30 major cities across the country for reservations up to 90 days in the future.

Bing’s Flexible Search option helps travelers with some wiggle room, visually laying out the cheapest times and destinations for upcoming travel and allowing you to filter search results based upon your specific preferences. Sometimes, saving money is as simple as adjusting departure dates or flying into an unexpected connection city. For example, Thanksgiving is traditionally a busy travel week, but leaving the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and returning the Sunday after could save you 8 percent compared to a Tuesday to Sunday trip.

Information provided by Kari Dilloo, Bing

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Lone Star Christmas at Gaylord Texan Resort

Gaylord Texan Resort celebrated Christmas the
Lone Star Way
Looking for something special to entertain your family during the holidays? Gaylord Texan Resort at Grapevine (in the Fort-Worth/Dallas area) promises all the fun you’re looking for.  

Its annual holiday events include the awe-inspiring ICE! attraction —carved from 2 million pounds of ice. Additionally, Lone Star Christmas at Gaylord Texan will provide a winter wonderland including 1.5 million holiday lights, a 52-foot rotating Christmas tree, a life-sized Gingerbread House, 12,000 ornaments, and Santa Claus himself. Kids and adults will both enjoy a magical holiday this year.
Holiday getaway features ICE!

Holiday lightsdecorate the bell tower
inside the Gaylord Texas
Resort at Grapevine
Gaylord Texan’s popular ICE! winter holiday attraction returns with an all-new, hilarious theme. From November 11 to January 1, you’ll see DreamWorks’ Shrek the Halls. The DreamWorks animated holiday TV special will be brought to life in an interactive world of colorful ice sculptures.
Relive the heartwarming story as you stroll through this amazing attraction featuring favorite characters: Shrek, Fiona, Donkey, Gingy and Puss in Boots as they celebrate Christmas in their special way.
Kung Fu Panda Snow Tubing

It's going to snow again at Gaylord Texan, but this year the experience will feature an eight-lane, downhill plunge that's filled with dragon-warrior awesomeness. Grab a tube (single or double riding tubes for parents with small children) and speed down our extreme hill covered in real snow.
Gingy’s gingerbread decorating

At this fun, sticky decorating tradition hosted by Gingy, the most famous of all Gingerbread men, kids can choose from two different design options to create either a delectable gingerbread cookie family or a complete gingerbread house. After the decorating activity, Gingy is hanging around to give heartwarming hugs that make perfect photo opportunities.
DreamWorks 3D theater experience

Enjoy great food while viewing the brand-new 2011 holiday movie release, Puss in Boots, on the Gaylord’s 35-foot 3D screen.
These special events are available from November 11, 2011 - January 1, 2012. The Christmassy DreamWorks Experience Package is available from $199, while other packages start at just $114. See all Christmas Packages.

Information and photos provided by Martha Neibling of Gaylord Texas Resort

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Kissing the Blarney Stone in Ireland

Sure, it’s a touristy thing to do—but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to kiss the Blarney Stone. So I joined the millions of people who have contorted themselves to follow this ancient ritual--in exchange for a measure of good luck.

Blarney Castle--Blarney Stone is in the small
opening at the top
On a warm, sunny day in June, we arrived at Blarney Castle and Gardens in County Cork in southern Ireland.  From the entrance we walked about 10 minutes to the Castle, where the world-famous Blarney Stone is located.
The iconic stone is at the very top, which means you’ll climb about 100 stone steps to reach it. We passed various rooms in the Castle—the ladies’ room (a place of seclusion and respite, not a restroom), Priest’s room, kitchen, and other rooms once in use that you can stop and explore on the way up (you exit by means of a different stairway). Built nearly six hundred years ago by one of Ireland's greatest chieftains, Cormac MacCarthy, Blarney Castle is arguably Ireland's best known landmark. The spiral staircase was fairly dark, with only a few narrow window openings through which to view the surroundings—and the Blarney Stone.
I'm just about to take the
backwards plunge to kiss the Stone.
It requires lying on your back.
At the top, we got in line to kiss the stone.  My husband Larry decided to be photographer after watching others lean precariously backwards, but I’m usually game for a challenge. An attendant holds onto your legs for stability, but you must lean back and stick your head through an open area while gripping two black iron poles. The procedure requires a bit of flexibility and a whole lot of trust. Nevermind that millions of people have smooched the stone before you, go ahead and pucker up with a big smack—so everyone knows you really did the deed.

If you’re inclined you can purchase official photos and certificates later at the shop in the Castle—wonderful souvenirs  to document your experience. Once back on the ground, we looked up towards the opening and snapped photos of the Castle and Blarney Stone from below.
Spend time enjoying the grounds.

View of the coutryside and grounds from one of the
windows in the Castle.
After admiring my courage, we wandered around the gardens and paths of the castle grounds for almost an hour. More than 60 acres of sprawling vistas include blooming flowers, avenues, arboretums, and waterways. Our summer scene included a splendid display of color from rose beds and herbaceous borders. Otters and a family of swans have taken up residence on Blarney Lake, and you might see squirrels and jays in the surrounding woodlands.

There’s even a Poison Garden, an educational collection of poisonous plants from around the world, behind the Castle battlements. The trail to the Rock Close and Water Garden leads to the “Wishing Steps.” Legend says if you walk down the steps backwards with your eyes shut, all your wishes will come true. Of course, falling down takes away the magic.  Because of its reputation, Blarney Castle and Gardens evoke a bit of mystery, but it’s a captivating place to spend a couple of hours.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Fall color on the Natchez Trace Parkway

The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444-mile drive filled with history through beautiful scenery, even more exceptional now that leaves are turning red, orange and yellow all along the road. Visitors can enjoy a scenic drive or view leaves while biking, hiking, horseback riding, and camping.

More than 50 roads access the Parkway in Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. A new detour is in place at Tennessee Hwy. 412 (near milepost 391). The quarter-mile detour is expected to remain in place until fall of 2012. For specific questions concerning how to get to a certain portion of the Parkway, call the Visitor Center at 800-305-7417 or check maps online.

Beginning middle to late October, maple, hickory, oak and other hardwood trees begin to change colors. Beautiful fall foliage should still be attracting visitors to the Parkway in early November.  The National Park Service has provided this information on great places to see fall foliage along the Natchez Trace Parkway this year.

See fall colors on The Old Trace Drive (milepost 3758)
Photo courtesy of National Park Service
Locations to Enjoy the Fall Color in Tennessee:

The Old Trace Drive (milepost 375.8) provides spectacular overlooks of a hardwood forest.

Metal Ford (milepost 382.8) and Swan View Overlook (milepost 392.5) provide quick stops to view fall colors.

Leisurely walks at Meriwether Lewis (milepost 385.9) or Fall Hollow (milepost 391.9) are great locations to enjoy the colors.

A day hike along the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail from the Garrison Creek Trailhead (milepost 427.6), or the Old Trace Trailhead (milepost 426.3) can be a colorful experience.

Locations to Enjoy the Fall Color in Alabama and Mississippi:

The Freedom Hills Overlook (milepost 317.0) provides a spectacular overlook of a hardwood forest.

A short leisurely walk on the Rock Spring Nature Trail is an easy way to get out and see the colors more closely.

The view from Little Mountain Overlook in the Jeff Busby Campground (milepost 193.1), provides a wonderful quick stop to view the fall colors.

Take a day hike along the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail from the Old Town Overlook Trailhead (milepost 263.9), or the Beech Springs Trailhead (milepost 266.0) a rewarding experience.

**Many special events are scheduled during the holiday season in different towns along the Parkway, so check out what's happening on the date of your choice.

Read more of Beverly's travel stories at Striped Pot

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Learn to make Danish pastries

Love your morning coffee and Danish? If you’d like to know how to make the delicious pastries, here’s your chance (Home-baked goodies make wonderful holiday or hostess gifts!).

A Danish Pastry Demonstration will be held at the Danish Heritage Museum in Danevang, Texas on Saturday, November 12. Peggy Bram Schomberg, who grew up in the small Danish farming community south of Houston, will show participants how to create special items such as braided coffee cake, apple crumb cake, and cookies from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon.

A $25 donation is recommended, which includes an Historic Danevang Cookbook valued at $17.50. Space is limited, so contact Suzan Berndt at the Museum, or 979-578-0808 to reserve your place at this event.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Top tips for International travel

If your bucket list of places to visit includes any countries outside the United States, here are some tips to help make your trip more manageable and enjoyable—wherever you go.

·       Pack light. You can check one bag free on most airlines for international flights and still take a bag onboard.  Just be sure you can easily handle everything going and coming. 

·       Take even less. If you can, pack everything in your carry-on and supplement with a large purse or backpack.

·       Pack extra batteries for cameras and other tech equipment unless you know for sure that outlets for charging are available.

·       Remember to take appropriate adapters for the region you’re visiting.

·       As for cameras, smaller is usually better—unless photography is a big part of your travel experience and you’re willing to deal with heavy cameras and bulky lenses. Today's smartphones rival traditional cameras for picture quality, but skip selfie sticks and iPads--they are often obnoxious to other travelers.

·       Spread out any cash you’re taking; don’t pack it all in the same place.

·       Take plenty of bills in small denominations. Even if a shop takes U.S. dollars (and many do), you’ll likely receive change in the local currency.

·       Take a hat, and don’t leave home without sunglasses.

·       Eat local—it’s usually cheaper and tastier. In most cases cooked foods from vendors will be okay. Restaurants that cater to tourists generally have food that’s acceptable to American stomachs, but it may not be “authentic.”

·       Drink plenty of water. Travel is dehydrating regardless of climate.

·       Keep your passport with you at all times, and have a copy of the photo page in a separate location or on your smartphone.

·       Take a small flashlight or headlamp in case your surroundings are dark at night.

·       Always carry tissues; not all bathrooms are as well supplied as those in the U.S.

·       Learn how to bargain for items you want to purchase, especially in small markets.

·       If something goes wrong, smile; you’ll solve the problem faster than if you get frustrated or angry.

·       Make friends with local people. Stop and talk—and listen. They can point you to some interesting places tour guides might not know about.

·       Go with an open mind; toss out any expectations or pre-conceived notions. Let serendipity take over, and you may be surprised at what you discover about new destinations and cultures.

Photos from free sources