Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Try one of these family-friendly getaways

Multi-generational travel is a great way to celebrate a special occasion or a family reunion.  But if cruising on a mega-ship or visiting large theme parks with thousands of other people doesn’t meet your idea of quality togetherness, there are other options. 

Houseboat for rent at Grider Hill Marina on
Cumberland Lake in Kentucky

Love water activities—but hate sticky saltwater at the beach?  Rent a houseboat on Cumberland Lake in southeastern Kentucky.  Either Grider Hill Marina on the northern end of the lake or Water Way Adventures to the south is a prime location for renting houseboats. Cruise on your private resort, and park in a secluded cove.  Large, luxurious houseboats easily sleep 12, and several boats can be moored together to accommodate larger groups.

Larry enjoys driving the boat.
Simple to operate, rented boats come with hands-on learning time and two-way radios for help if you have questions later.  With fully equipped kitchens, TV’s, back-end slides, hot tubs, and gas grills, houseboats offer ready-made entertainment literally right outside the door.  Kids, parents, and grandparents will enjoy relaxing or whiling away the hours swimming and fishing—then cooking up the day’s catch.  Go ashore for to discover natural areas that aren’t accessible from land.

Advantages of vacationing on a houseboat include only unpacking once (bedrooms have more storage than a typical cruise ship cabin), warm water and sunshine during the day, and star-lit skies at night.  Beautiful scenery is unspoiled by development at Cumberland Lake since the U. S.  Corps of Engineers owns surrounding shore lands.  There is no better place to build or maintain family relationships than in your own aquatic paradise. 


For families who love nature and outdoor activities—and that includes anything from leisurely strolling along the Tennessee River Trail to bravely hang gliding off a mountain—there’s no better place than Chattanooga.  It’s a great vacation spot whether family members choose to simply savor the scenery or challenge their muscles to the max. 

Lovely bridge at Rock City
Gently kayak through downtown on the Tennessee River, walk a cave trail to Ruby Falls, or visit Rock City. This family attraction provides trails through beautifully landscaped gardens, unusual rock formations, an observation point where seven states are visible on a clear day, and live music and shows. 

For indoor nature fun follow the path of a raindrop from the Appalachian Forest to the Gulf of Mexico through visitor friendly exhibits in Tennessee Aquarium’s River Journey.  Ocean Journey takes that story under the waves for a look at saltwater creatures and habitats. 

Fountain near the Trail of Tears in Chattanooga, Tennessee
More to do: Ride the carousel at Coolidge Park, bike or walk along downtown trails and by the Trail of Tears fountain. Want more challenge? Try white water rafting on the Ocoee River, hang gliding at Lookout Mountain FlightPark, or rock climbing under the Walnut Street Bridge.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier 

From the Andes to the Amazon on Motorcycle

Today's post is written by Willa Ahlschwede and sponsored by Tucan Travel.

When I decided to buy a motorcycle in Peru, I thought it best to not tell my parents. I didn’t know how to ride it, and I was planning on taking it from Cusco, perched high in the Andes, all the way to the town of Puerto Maldonado nestled in the humid, vast jungle below. It seemed pointless to cause them inevitable worry, even though my plan wasn’t quite as reckless as it seemed.

Willa taking a break from the bike
My route would be the newly finished Carretera Transoceanica Sur, the transcontinental South American highway connecting the oceans via Brazil and Peru.  My boyfriend and I spent a few months working up our skills and nerves on the bike until finally we hit the trail.  Though the new highway was smooth and paved, the journey was anything but easy.

Leaving Cusco, we rode past ruins in Raqchi and stopped to see the painted church of Andahuylillas. The road curved through the valley, all green hills and fields in flower, and the bike hummed along toward the looming peaks. We hung a left after Urcos and passed the new banner for the Transoceanica Sur, with its pictures of jaguars and toucans promising to deliver us to the selva, jungle, safe and sound. 

The air thinned as we climbed over the first pass, engine putt-putting on the steep grade.  Finally on the other side, the snowcapped peak of Ausungate welcomed us and reminded us we weren't out of the hills yet. We slept, exhausted and saddle-sore, as the biggest pass towering at 4,750 meters awaited us.

The next morning we rose early, put on every layer we had and started the ascent. In the brilliant sun, dogs chased us and llamas scattered as we chugged past. After an age of crawling slowly up the steep incline, we suddenly hit the top, then immediately coasted back down again, almost crashing into a herd of sheep in our excitement.

As we descended the air became more humid, and the cold began to drain from my frozen fingers. We wound further down the mountain. On the bike in the open air, I noticed more of our surroundings. We stopped in places that tourists never stop and everyone wanted to chat with us unusual outsiders. 

By lunchtime in the gold-mining town of Quince Mil the air was hot and sticky and the river wide and languid. The road straightened out in the lowlands and we sped on toward bustling Puerto Maldonado, arriving after ten long hours.

The young guys that ran our hostel thought we were more than a bit crazy. They explained that the very next day the road was going to be closed indefinitely by a strike.  As the feeling started to return to my backside, we laughed and looked forward to slow days drinking fruit juice and waiting for the road to open. Thankfully, we were in no hurry.

If you want to go on your own motorcycle adventure in Peru, several companies in Cusco can help you live your dream.  Cusco Moto Tours, Eric Adventures and Peru Explorers are all agencies which offer motorcycle rentals for experienced riders and high-quality guided and custom tours along various routes.  Some also allow you to pick-up and drop-off your bike in different cities.

If you’re looking for a Peru adventure of your own, contact a specialist in tours in South America.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Breakfast at Schlithorn is a great introduction to the Swiss Alps

On arriving in Switzerland we drove to Lauterbrunnen, a delightful town in the Jungfrau region of the Swiss Alps. We checked into Hotel Silberhorn, and with no elevators, carried luggage to our fourth floor room. Actually, parking in back of the hotel is on the third level, so it wasn’t really too hard. The hotel is located on a hill, so I’m glad we were used to walking around Austin (central Texas is known as The Hill Country).

Approaching Schlithorn and the restaurant from a gondola
Although it was small by American standards, the room was comfortable, featuring a private balcony and bath and free wi-fi. A/C isn’t needed—just open windows. Public spaces in the hotel are filled with interesting antiques, but our room had modern furnishings—clean lines to fit small spaces. There was a large banquet room and two dining rooms with reserved tables for all guests (same table each evening). Included dinner at the hotel was a massive five-course affair (salad, soup, cheese, fish, and dessert, for example), with great service and beautiful table settings.

The next morning I woke to sounds of birds singing, the perfect start to our outdoor excursion to Schlithorn for breakfast at the world’s first revolving mountain restaurant, Piz (Peak) Gloria. We met Romy Thommen, our guide from Jungfrau Region Marketing, at 6:45 a.m. for a ride on the large cable car to Grutschalp (4875 feet  elevation). We then took the train to Murren and changed to a gondola at Brig, which we rode up to Schilthorn.  Thank goodness we had Romy to show the way.
Snow-covered mountains surrounded the gondola as we approached Schlithorn and a seemingly small building set on the peak. It was chilly but not cold, with patches of sunshine providing bursts of warmth. Only about a dozen people were at the top early on this May morning, although it’s typically packed in July and August.

Piz Gloria, revolving restaurant on the peak
The restaurant was started in 1968, but developers ran out of money and needed investors. Luckily, Hollywood came calling—looking for a location for the James Bond movie, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” The movie people finished the restaurant in 1969, blew it up, and then rebuilt it. It’s now a popular tourist attraction that uses the number 007 in many ways to get visitors’ attention.  A video from the movie shows scenes of actors skiing down Schlithorn from its 10,000 foot peak.

Breakfast was a glorious affair: a champagne toast, then hot tea, scrambled eggs and bacon, breads and pastries, waffles, dried meats, and canned fruit and jams. As we consumed this hearty meal, we stopped occasionally to look at the ever-changing view outside our windows. On a clear day, 200 mountain peaks are visible from the restaurant—from Mt. Titlis south of Lucerne along the Bernese Alps to Mont Blanc and across the lowland plains to the Black Forest of Germany. 

Mountain adventures

After breakfast, we bundled up and walked outdoors onto the terrace to see a spectacular 360 degree panorama of the alpine scenery.  Patches of snow and ice remained—it wasn’t quite summer—but overall we had remarkable views of the mountainous region.
Larry enjoyed the view from the terrace.
On our return, we stopped at Murren and watched people paragliding—sailing off the side of the mountain with their oval parachutes catching wind drifts to keep them afloat. Built on a rock ledge, Murren is a perfect spot for launching into the wind. After a quick lunch of cheeses, dried meats, and garlic bread we took an hour-long hike to Grundswalt. Hiking trails for all abilities criss-cross the region, providing the perfect way to appreciate crisp, clean natural scenery that’s a hallmark of the Swiss Alps—in any season.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Read more travel stories at Striped Pot and Austin Adventure Travel

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Staubbachfalls symbolizes Lauterbrunnen in Swiss Alps

The waterfall catches your attention on arrival in Lauterbrunnen,Switzerland.  A 974-foot stream of water gushing forcefully down a cliff in the middle of town, just yards from shops, restaurants and hotels, isn’t your usual scene.  But it’s a common occurrence in a valley known for its 72 waterfalls.
First measured at “900 barn stories” in 1776, Staubbachfalls is the iconic landmark of Lauterbrunnen, a cozy town in the Jungfrau region of the Swiss Alps (elevation 5,300 feet). It doesn’t take long to realize the impact of mountains and water on this region, especially during the season of snowmelt. Staubbachfalls disperses glacial melt from Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau mountains, all outstanding ski destinations that bring tourists here in winter.
But spring and summer provide an incredible palate of colors and textures with wildflowers blooming and the sounds of rushing water irrigating the valley always in the background. Each time we walked to Staubbachfalls from Hotel Silberhorn, our Lauterbrunnen home for three days in May, brought a different view. One windy day, the usual strong vertical stream of water dispersed into a heavy sideways spray dampening a wide expanse of rocky mountain face. 

Access to the waterfall is open from June through October. You can walk up steps, sometimes wet and slippery, and get close enough on a breezy day for the cooling spray to drench your body. When the air is still, you’ll have an amazing view of water plunging downward almost 1,000 feet into the river below. But, even from the ground, Stabbachfalls is a special attraction for visitors.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Read more travel stories at Striped Pot and Austin Adventure Travel

Friday, August 3, 2012

McDonald's to the rescue in Switzerland

I don’t generally look for a McDonald’s restaurant when traveling. Without kids in tow, fast food places don’t hold much appeal. But when you’re lost in a foreign country, the Golden Arches can be a very welcome sight.

After arriving in Zurich on our recent trip to Switzerland, we immediately got our rental car and began driving to the Jungfrau region, with Lauterbrunnen as our destination. But somewhere south of Lucerne we took a wrong turn on the highway, and our Google map, printed out in the States, just added to the confusion with place names and road numbers we couldn’t seem to decipher.
Although it soon became apparent that we were not on the intended road, we  really didn’t know where we were or how to get back on track.  Finally, Larry exited the highway and pulled into a small Swiss town—name still unknown. Tired after an overnight flight and hungry since it was almost 2:00 p.m, we quickly spotted the McDonald’s and decided it was a good place to stop.

We ordered burgers by pointing at pictures (no English speakers in small towns) and eagerly devoured our food. Then Larry took our Swiss map to the young man sweeping the floor and motioned for him to point to where we were. It was good enough for us to find our bearings and get back on the right highway.
Except for the delay, it was a lovely diversion, a side trip into beautiful landscapes for which Switzerland is known—turquoise lakes with snow-capped mountains in the background. Occasionally a stray boat or ferry glided across the water, and wind surfers clung fiercely to their sails while skimming icy water.

After six days in the Alps region, we headed to Wadenswil, a small town about 10 miles south of Zurich where my son’s family lives. Again McDonald’s came to the rescue. Driving by the seat of our pants, we knew we were getting close. Again, we had passed the usual lunch time and needed a break as well as time to look over our maps to determine where we needed to go. And there were the Golden Arches.
As we pulled into the McD’s (which we later found out is the only one in a 50 mile radius), I suddenly realized that we were, in fact, already in Wadenswil. What relief to find something familiar when everything else is strange.

I still don’t search out McDonald’s in the States, but I won’t ever disparage the ubiquitous eatery when traveling in foreign countries.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier; also free image of McDonald's logo.