Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Fun facts about Austin

Texas proud/ Austin proud
Austinites love the quirkiness of their hometown—but that didn’t just happen in recent times. Here are some historic fun facts about the Hill Country city that make it even more special in the minds of its residents:

  • Beginning in 1937, Austin’s new Congressman Lyndon Johnson made sure the country’s first public housing project was built here.
  • Texas has the nation’s largest herd of whitetail deer, many of them still roaming in suburbs around Austin.

Texas Capitol
by Larry Burmeier
  • The dome of the Capitol stands seven feet higher than that of the nation’s Capitol in Washington D.C.

  • Central Texas is bat heaven: More species live in Texas than in any other part of the United States.

  • Austin’s Austex Chili factory invented the tamale-making machine, and in 1911 it was the only one in the country.

  • Austin streets were first paved with brick in 1905 rather than the usual paving material of the time, creosoted wood blocks.

  • Austin enacted Blue Laws in 1879 to prohibit businesses from opening on Sundays; and while they were at it, city leaders outlawed boxing matches, bear and bull fights, and kite flying.

It’s easy to see how the city got its motto, “Keep Austin Weird.”

Read more stories about Austin at Striped Pot.
Check my web site at www.beverlyburmeier.net

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Luxury South Pacific cruise ship completes extensive renovation

Paul Gauguin Cruises (www.pgcruises.com), operator of the highest-rated and longest continually sailing luxury cruise ship in the South Pacific, the m/s Paul Gauguin, reveals the completion of a $7 million renovation, the largest in the ship's 14-year history. Extensive enhancements were made to both the interiors and exteriors of The Gauguin.

L'Etoile showcases renovations on the South Seas luxury ship
Paul Gauguin Cruises operates the 5+ star cruise ship throughout the unparalleled wonders of Tahiti, French Polynesia, and the South Pacific. The ship can accommodate 332 guests with a staff of 217.

Renovations throughout the ship include new flooring and carpeting, elegant new furniture, new window treatments and decorative wall panels, and new signage, providing a lighter, brighter feel. Additionally, all suites and staterooms feature new teak railings on the balconies and updated bathroom flooring.

On the culinary front, La Veranda offers guests a redesigned entrance, refinished indoor and outdoor furniture, and solar shades throughout. Le Grill boasts new decorative partitions and divider walls, as well as a renovated buffet area and lighting. L'Etoile also features a redesigned entrance in addition to video equipment for conferences.

Piano bar on remodeled  Paul Gaugin entices guests
Promenade Deck 5 boasts a built-in banquette and expanded casino, while Deck 6 received an integrated display case for books and art. La Palette features a decorative stone band along the front of the bar and updated lighting system, as well as new outdoor furniture. Refurbished dance floors provide the perfect venue to dance the night away.

The Gauguin has been named the 2011 Silver Magellan Award Winner in the Small Cruise Ship category by Travel Weekly and earned the "#1 ranking for Dining" in the Small Ship Category in Cruise Critic's 2011 Cruisers' Choice Awards.

Paul Gauguin Cruises also recently announced the acquisition of a second ship, which will begin sailing under the Paul Gauguin Cruises banner in December 2012. With plans to sail to the Mediterranean, Caribbean, and Latin America, this ship will be christened m/v Tere Moana and will feature 45 staterooms accommodating 90 guests, continuing the attention to guest experience for which the brand is known.

Information and photos courtesy of Vanessa Bloy, Director of Public Relations
Paul Gauguin Cruises

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Travel on a budget

Even if you’re counting pennies when you travel, you don’t have to pack a tent or sleep on a park bench (most of us would just stay home!). With a little research and planning prior to leaving, you can shave many dollars of the cost of a trip. Yes, it takes some time, but the pay-off is well worth it. Try these tips:

  • If you’re traveling to an unfamiliar region and want to do different activities, buy a good guidebook--and read it prior to going. The information will save you time and money.
  • When planning your trip, check on whether a package deal will save money. Sometimes bundling airfare, rental car, and hotel results in lower cost overall, and many add bonuses like spa treatments, meal or drink tickets, or excursions.  Check websites of airlines, cruise lines, or vacation planners to find the best deal.
  • Join loyalty programs. Special rates are often given to members of frequent flyer, hotel, cruise line associations. Avoid baggage fees and possibly receive upgrades when you belong to a specific loyalty group or have a credit card from one of these. Add miles or points to your program with purchases at restaurants and retailers, too.
  • Ask for discounts.  Use the Internet to compare prices, even if you book directly with a hotel or car rental company.  If you see a better price than you’re offered on the phone, speak up. 
  • Scout the Internet for special deals on tours, whether you’re thinking one-day or weeks.  There’s a proliferation of consolidators offering great deals, especially if you plan to visit multiple sites. Signing up early may also net a discount.  Don’t forget to look up “free things to do” at your destination.
  • Ask about free shuttle service from the airport or dock to your destination.  Many hotels provide this service, and some airports connect to public transportation options.  If possible, avoid high taxi fees.
  • Skip rental car insurance if your own insurance covers this. Also, check to see if your credit card provides car rental insurance.
  • Peanuts won’t satisfy your hunger if you miss a meal while en route, so pack your own energy bars, fruit, or tummy-filling snacks.  Not only will you feel better, but you’ll avoid high airport prices. Pack an empty water bottle to fill at the fountain after going through security –helps you avoid dehydration, too. 
    Granola bars and nuts are good snack selections.

    Thursday, February 16, 2012

    Burial towers of Sillustani, Peru reveal advanced architecture

    Good example of round tombs
    at Sillustani
    One stop on our journey through the altiplano (Highlands) of southern Peru was at Sillustani, a pre-Incan burial ground located on a peninsula of beautiful Lake Umayo. Chullpas—pre-Columbian funeral towers—were built by an Aymara-speaking tribe that dominated the Titicaca region before the Incas came in the 15th century.

    Most intact tombs are quite large
    Ancestor worship was an integral part of the Aymara culture, and the cylindrical towers were built to provide a connection between life and death. Each tower contained the remains of one important member of the tribe mummified in the fetal position to recreate birth. The person was buried with prized possessions to take to the next world, a custom still practiced by the Quechen people today.  

    The engineering involved in their construction is more complex than anything the Incas built. Ramps were needed to raise and set in place rectangular blocks and stones, a very ambitious project considering the time frame.

    Other sites with large round tombs have been found across the altiplano, but Sillustani is the largest and most significant.  Grave robbers have destroyed many tombs, and others were left unfinished.  Many are being restored under the current effort to preserve this ancient heritage.

    From the top of the hill, looking down on the village at Sillustani
    Our guide Aidee, a native Quechen now living in nearby Puno, told us that Sillustani is currently under the auspices of the National Cultural Center, which is protecting and upgrading the site. A large decorative stone plaza leading to the tombs has been built within the last two years. To access the tombs, we walked through small village of about 100 people on the one paved street. Children returning from school chased frayed balls, their only playthings.

    From the street we crossed the plaza at the foot of a high hill overlooking Lake Umayo (which ultimately flows into Lake Titicaca). Two natural islands rose in the crisp, blue water of the lagoon, creating a lovely backdrop for the perfect burial site--high on a hill and with easy water access (a laundromat for local women).

    Lizard carved into stone tomb
    We walked up the hill to the first two round tombs, built with a small entrance and double dome inside. Symbols such as a snake or lizard, considered a symbol of life because they could regrow their tails, were carved on the outside of some tombs. One large lizard tomb is beyond repair, however, because many of its rocks have fallen, and further destruction might result if it is tampered with. Speculation is that it might have been too heavy at the top, or perhaps an earthquake caused it to break.
    A visit to Sillustani previews pre-Incaculture—and (perhaps inadvertently) shows how small the contrast is between ancient days and contemporary life in the mountainous rural regions of Peru.

    Tours are available from Puno, 22 miles away, and cost about $10 per person.  www.andeantravelweb.com/peru/destinations/puno/sillustani
    Read more about Peru adventures at Striped Pot
    Check out Beverly's new website

    Saturday, February 4, 2012

    Peru's Hotel Titilaka promises more than luxury

    “I have a surprise for you,” said Julio, our brown-skinned guide at Hotel Titilaka in the Highlands region of Peru. The motor boat we were riding in was approaching Uros, a community of more than 70 floating islands, on Lake Titicaca.  The boat docked beside one of these tiny islands made from totora reeds. When we disembarked  Julio cautioned us to walk carefully on the crunchy, undulating strands.

    Titilaka Hotel at sunset, viewed from Lake Titicaca
    As he explained how the native people live, cook, work, and sleep on the ever-shifting surface, the inhabitants of this island appeared--a mature woman, two young women (one with a toddler), and an older man.  Then Julio announced, “This is my family. Until two years ago, I slept in the reed hut behind us.”
    Rooms have stunning views of Lake Titicaca
    Julio’s passion for his ancestry helped us understand why the upscale Hotel Titilaka, situated in a remote rural area overlooking the world’s highest navigable lake (12,500 feet altitude), considers sharing experiences as important as pampering guests.  

    When Peruvian developer Ignacio Masias purchased an existing hotel on a private peninsula jutting into Lake Titicaca, he decided to enlarge the rooms, add walls of windows to take advantage of spectacular scenery, and provide included excursions, airport transfers, meals, and drinks--altogether marketed as The Andean Experience. The renovated hotel, opened in May 2008, has seen remarkable success catering to families, adventure-seekers, and couples looking for a secluded, romantic destination.
    Breakfast was an event.
    Native people make up most of the staff.
    Once guests arrive at this tranquil oasis, they are catered to by gracious staff, about half of whom were hired from local communities. Eighteen large, contemporary rooms feature earthy colors that connect guests with the natural environment of Lake Titicaca. Indulgences include heated floors, spa bathrooms with oversized tubs and massage showers, indoor chaises with gorgeous lake views (perfect for napping), comfortable king-sized beds, spacious double vanities, and complimentary stocked minibar.

    A cabana on the  hotel's deck is perfect for relaxing
    In addition to views of stunning mountain and lake scenery, it was the opportunity to learn about cultures built on ancient traditions that brought us to Peru’s high plateau. Lake Titicaca is more than just a large body of water: It combines history (considered the birthplace of the Inca civilization), nature (birdwatcher’s paradise), geography (terraced farmlands running to the base of the mountains), and mountainous topography (key component of the Andes).
    Indigemous woman on Taquile Island weaving on her loom
    The day before our excursion to Uros we had spent the morning on Taquile Island visiting with indigenous Quechua people who live a traditional farming lifestyle, completely detached from the rest of the world. Excursions such as these revolve around local culture and allow the hotel to promote economic development of nearby communities. 

    Sure, guests savor breathtaking scenery and impeccable service at this intimate resort, but more important is observing living history and appreciating natural resources of the region. Blending the two is a mission that Hotel Titilaka does well.
    Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier
    Read more travel stories at Striped Pot and Austin Adventure Travel