Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Happy travels to all my readers during 2014.
May your lives be filled with wonderful experiences learning about new places, meeting new people, and enjoying the beauty of our planet.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Travel gifts are perfect for the holidays

Note: Although I wrote this a couple of years ago, these gift items are still on my packing list. Check them out for your own travels.

Having returned from an overseas trip in late October, I had several suggestions ready when family members asked for holiday gift suggestions. Here are some items I found under the tree on Christmas morning.
Fold-up travel slippers—packed in their own tiny case. I’ll wear
these on long flights since I usually end up untying or removing my shoes to ease any tightness that occurs while in the air for many hours. With these rubber-soled slippers from TravelSmith, I won’t have to walk on a wet bathroom floor in my socks.

  Blinks eye mask. I’ve never liked the common cloth eye masks that fit smack on your face. They don’t keep light out very well, and  they are uncomfortable pressing against my eyes. My turquoise TravelSmith molded mask fits snuggly around the edges but doesn’t mash against my eyelashes. This should work much better than cocooning under the too-small blanket provided by the airline.

        Hot Stuff floral printed bag for styling appliances. Everyone got a good laugh when I unwrapped this cute storage piece. After I explained its purpose there was no doubt it’s an essential travel piece. It is lined with a heat-resistant material, so I can pack my
curling iron even if it is still hot. (Not sure where this was from--must be Santa's secret).

Digital glovesCostco had a pair of extra-small winter gloves that fit my kid-sized hands. These warm fabric cloves have special finger tips, sot the wearer can use digital devices without removing  the gloves. I've yet to try them out, but it seems like a great idea.
Packable handbag. I needed a smallish purse that would lie flat for packing, yet be roomy enough to carry essentials for a day’s outing, including my camera. The Kipling cross-body bag from Macy's has two outside zipper pockets and two top zippered sections as well as pockets for cell phone and other small items that I’d want to access quickly. The nylon fabric will be easy to keep clean, and it’s lightweight, too. Thanks, Santa!

      Lenova laptop computer. This was a gift to myself (Best Buy's holiday sales were so tempting!). Now I’m learning how to use the touch screen and Windows 8, even though the computer is also set up to work with the familiarity of Windows 7 that’s on my desktop computer. I opted for a 14-inch screen with full keyboard because I type notes on my computer and download digital photos from my camera’s memory card when traveling. A tablet or 11-inch laptop just wouldn’t work for my needs. This one has a great processor and plenty of memory—and it’s much thinner and lighter-weight than my five-year-old laptop. Should be a lot easier to pack and carry.
Well, that was most of my Christmas. Now I can’t wait to try out these items on my next trip (Tahiti, here I come!)

Photos courtesy of merchant websites. I do not receive any remuneration for mentioning store or brand names.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Summer hiking around Telluride and Mountain Village

Mountain Lodge condos are the perfect summer getaway
One of the best things about staying in Mountain Village, a community about eight miles from Telluride, Colorado, is the free gondola system. No need to drive into town—just take the gondola, sit back, and enjoy fabulous mountain views.

Rocky Ridge Trail in Mountain Village
So, after breakfast in our MountainLodge condo (elevation 9500 feet but easily accessible), Larry and I board the gondola and ride up to St. Sophia station at 10,500 + feet where we’ll pick up the Ridge Trail. For this two-mile “moderate” downhill hike on rocky terrain the walking sticks we bought earlier in Durango get inaugurated and work very well to help with balance on the uneven path.

At the fork in the trail, we take the steeper path to the right, but it’s not so bad. Part of it is challenging, but mostly it’s a good, forest trail. Of course, we stop often to take pictures of aspen groves, distant mountains, and blooming flowers.

Later, we take gondolas to Telluride for lunch, riding the full fourteen-minute, three-segment trip that requires a change at Mountain Village station. Larry has scoped out the BrownDog Pizza Parlor on Colorado Street, and we head there after a short walk along the San Miguel River Trail. After stuffing ourselves with the meaty pizza covered in pepperoni, Italian sausage, bacon, Canadian bacon, and cheese, we understand why Brown Dog was a gold medal winner at the 2013 pizza contest in Hawaii.

Wildlife like this deer can be seen on various trails.
Since the afternoon forecast predicts 80 percent chance of rain, we know the risk for taking another hike. Still, we press on, picking up the Village Trail from the St. Sophia station. This trail, three miles of rolling terrain, is a summer favorite of advanced mountain bikers, and we see a few whiz by navigating bumpy tree roots, rocks, and tight turns with ease.

Caught in the rain in an aspen grove
Sure enough, after we walk less than a mile, rain starts-- with thunder booming and lightning flashing in the distance.  We continue walking through the shower over meadows, across ski runs, and into pine and aspen forests.

Larry likes a challenge when hiking!
Soon, however, rain is pouring down, and when we get back to the condo two hours later we are soaked and muddy. Thank goodness for ponchos, which helped protect backpacks and cameras. Chilled to the bone, we turn on the gas fireplace to dry our clothes--and settle down for wine and cheese. Later we nosh on leftover pizza and Rocky Mountain chocolates. Not a bad way to spend the evening.

Destination achieved--a beautiful waterfall
The next morning we ride the gondola into Telluride, walk eight blocks uphill to the trailhead for a waterfall hike. Deep ochre boulders guard the steep, slippery path making the quarter mile climb to the waterfall a slow, uphill slog over large rocks and rough terrain.

The waterfall emerges--a long stream of tumbling water splashing into a clear pool. It looks tempting, but we know the water is too cold for wading, so we admire expansive red canyon walls, a lovely slice of mountain beauty. On the return we detour a bit on the Jud W. Trail, to take in a quick overview of the city.

Of course, there are many paths and trails in the area, from easy to challenging. Telluride attracts visitors to many festivals in the summer because it's just a great place to enjoy fresh, crisp air and stunning mountain scenery.

Riding the gondola system between Mountain Village and Telluride
A note about the Telluride gondola: It is the only free public transportation system of its kind in the world. Completed in December, 1996, it is amazingly efficient—there was hardly any wait in mid-July, although it might be more crowded during winter ski season.  Environmentalists consider it successful since 2.25 million people ride it annually, thus lowering pollution and noise in the area.  Because the gondola is used extensively by locals as well as visitors, it saves car mileage between the towns of Telluride and Mountain Village, earning it the nickname of “the most beautiful commute.”
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier



Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Riding the Durango-Silverton narrow gauge railroad

If you visit Durango,Colorado, folks will ask if you rode the train to Silverton. It’s such an iconic excursion that I put it on our itinerary during last summer’s trip through southwestern Colorado. But I tweaked it a bit—opting for a combination jeep and rail tour with Mild to Wild outfitters.

After boarding a van in Durango, we headed to Silverton, elevation 9,500 feet, 75 minutes away by automobile. On the way we rode through Animas River Valley and  then over Coal Bank and Molas Passes, each just under 11,000 feet.
Approaching Silverton from high in the mountains

Ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, aspen, and small oaks dotted the countryside along with fields of blooming white, yellow, red, and purple flowers.  Our guide pointed out North Twilight Peak, so named because at over 13,000 feet elevation it gets the last sunlight of each day.

Homestyle cooking is a favorite at the Bent Elbow Restaurant.
Settled as a mining town in 1874, Silverton has been preserved as a typical Western town. Most buildings are on the Historic Register, and the town has even inspired several movies. Contributing to its rowdy reputation was dirt-covered Blair Street, once in the shady part of town with 37 saloons, houses of ill repute, and much ruckus-raising. Now many buildings have been transformed into tourist-pleasing candy, gift, and ice cream shops. 

Wide, dirt roads are the norm in Silverton.
Only one street is paved, Green Street, the main thoroughfare, if you can call it that.  Among the buildings I scouted in a quick overview were: Avon Hotel, Silverton Hostel, Sun House (gifts), Natalia’s Restaurant (burger place), Shady Lade Saloon, and Bent Elbow Restaurant.  Silverton still has its original courthouse and jail and a population of about 700 people in summer; just 300 folks stick out winters here.

 “Everything is still tangible historically,” explained Mace, our driver on the jeep tour. “This is new history,” he added in awe. On the East Coast, where he’s from, Mace said history seems disconnected and remote rather than alive and vibrant like it is here.

Many buildings are original to the town.
After the jeep tour, which I’ll write about in another article, we returned to Silverton and ate lunch at the Bent Elbow before boarding the narrow gauge Durango-Silverton steam train for the return journey.

Tracks follow the Animas River on the way to Durango.
The train followed the Animas River, on our right at first, then on the left side. Every time the train passed over a bridge, crossed water (Animas River), or stopped to get more water (for steam power), the horn blew—delighting children on board. We sat in an enclosed rail car (reserved seats), but some people rode in open cars where soot can be a problem.  The train burns 10 tons of coal on each round trip journey, two times as much going up as going down, and any wind can blow the residue back onto passengers’ clothing.
Boarding the steam train in Silverton
The train rolled through scenic San Juan National Forest and passed several golf courses and a horse-riding corral. We saw Baker’s Bridge, which showed up in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Parts of the 2013 Lone Ranger movie were also filmed on this train system. 

Rugged mountains provided a scenic background for the train ride. 
Rock walls, jagged geological formations that go straight up with irregular outcroppings, remind passengers of the mountainous surroundings. The train entered a deep canyon about one and a half hours out from Durango. About half way on the journey, the land opened up with trees and grazing areas.  The three-hour train ride provided a relaxing way to see the beautiful Colorado landscape while absorbing some of the history for which the area is known.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Holiday events in Gruene, Texas

One of the best places in central Texas to get in the holiday spirit is Gruene, an historic section of New Braunfels about an hour’s drive from Austin.

If you’re looking for some authentic Texas cheer, Gruene Historic District offers live music every day, specialty shopping, unique venues for dining and festive events suitable for both the young and the young at heart.  Most music shows are free Monday through Thursday evenings and Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Friday and Saturday evenings are generally ticketed or cover shows. For band schedule and availability, call (830) 606-1601.

On Dec. 14-15 and 21-22 bring the kids for photos with Cowboy Kringle, Gruene's own brand of Santa. Pictures will be taken in the breezeway between The Grapevine and Gruene General Store Stay for live music at The Grapevine from 3-6 p.m. featuring Bo Porter duo on Friday and Bret Graham on Saturday.

Jerry Jeff Walker is the scheduled headliner at Gruene Hall on Saturday, December 14, with The Kelly Willis and Bruc Robison Holiday Shindig promising to attract many visitors on December 20.  Join the fun at Two Ton Tuesday Christmas Show, December 17, when Two Tons of Steel, one of the state’s musical treasures, will rock a country music show at Gruene Hall.


On December 19, Come and Taste It, the regular third Thursday wine and brew tasting, will feature local winemakers and brew masters on the patio and garden of The Grapevine. This is a great opportunity to learn directly from the craftsmen, engage with other visitors interested in wine and beer, and enjoy the natural surroundings of Gruene Historic District. Samples of food that is offered for sale will be provided, and each event features live music and prize giveaways. For more information, visit GrapevineInGruene.com or call (830) 606-0093.

Special music at Gruene Hall during the holidays includes: Reckless Kelly, Dec 21; Cory Morrow, Dec 27; Roger Creager, Dec 28; and Casey Donahew Band, Dec 29. Kevin Fowler returns to help ring in the New Year at Texas’ Oldest Dance Hall on Dec 31. Advance tickets are recommended. Free live shows will be offered all day on New Year's Day. For details, call (830) 629-5077 or visit HolidaysInGruene.com.

Information and photos provided by Katie Molak, marketing, Gruene Historic District





Thursday, December 5, 2013

Dallas hotels that feature fine art

Some hotels claim their proximity to a city’s culture scene and art galleries to attract visitors. But several Dallas hotels have become venues themselves for displaying art. Imagine how being surrounded by beautiful things—from traditionally grand imported artifacts to thoroughly modern works by local artists—creates a different impression of your environment.

Bask in old-world European grandeur

One of the beauties of the Adolphus Hotel is its longevity. Having been in operation for more than 100 years, it qualifies as a beloved historic landmark in Dallas. For the hotel, art has been a major factor in promoting an elegant experience for multiple generations of guests. Even as the hotel has been updated with modern conveniences, interior designers have aimed to create the hotel of people’s imaginations, one whose luxurious ambience is enhanced with beautiful paintings, chandeliers, and tapestries.
The interior of the Adolphus Hotel reflects its grand'
European heritage.

Originally, St. Louis beer baron Adolphus Busch featured his private art collection in the hotel he built. But those contributions have been enhanced with the recent addition of enduring pieces of antique furniture, dateless old-world-style oil paintings, and imported hand-blown Murano crystal chandeliers.

“People love to be surrounded by fine things, such as bold Flemish tapestries in the lobby living room,” explains David Davis, Director of Public Relations for the Adolphus. Dating to 1661, the tapestries depict events in the life of Cleopatra. Another striking piece, a chandelier from the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair bought by Busch, lends a feeling of nostalgia and tranquility to the hotel.

Adolphus Hotel, 1321 Commerce St., Dallas, TX 75202

Rejuvenate with modern art

Art by contemporary Dallas artists is
displayed in The Joule Hotel.
When developer Tim Headington opened The Joule Hotel in Dallas in 2006, he created a large gallery space from which to showcase his private art collection. Every wall in the hotel has some form of art, including favorites by mixed-media artist and photographer Bram Tihany and pieces acquired from John Runyan’s Fine Art gallery in Dallas. New site-specific pieces have been commissioned from Tihany and Anthony Pearson--check out the spa, energy pool, and massage rooms to see samples of their works.

A series of 10-feet-tall mosaics representing earth, wind, and fire was rescued from the original Mercantile Bank in Dallas’s historic district. It has been restored and is now a major feature of The Joule, bringing serenity and tranquility to the hotel.

Although there is a good mix of styles, the majority of art is contemporary. Using the entire hotel as gallery space, this genre seems to create a happy mood and lifts spirits of guests.

The Joule, 1530 Main St., Dallas, TX 75201




Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Cruise the Caribbean--it's the most popular region

More ships cruise the Caribbean islands than any other region in the world, and for good reasons. When winter brings snow and cold weather in other parts of the world (notably North America, Europe, and Asia), it’s sunny and balmy in the Caribbean.
Cruise the Caribbean on a variety of ships and itineraries.
On winter cruises we’ve come across people from northern states or Canada who book back-to-back cruises, either sailing different itineraries or repeating the same one (That’s fine, as there are many different ways to enjoy each island). It’s an economical way to escape treacherous weather for a couple of weeks without worrying about meals, accommodations, and transportation.

Most islands have lovely beaches and clear, turquoise water year round.  Abundant water sports such as snorkeling, kayaking, swimming, SCUBA, sailing, and just splashing around, together with duty-free shopping, make this region an ideal getaway. (What's your weather like today?)
We’ve been to many Caribbean islands from different cruise ships and have discovered that there’s something wonderful and special about every one, especially if you take the time to travel inland. Check out available shore excursions online, and book your favorites before leaving home, so you’ll have a good variety of experiences. At least research places to go and things to see on the islands beyond the dock area.

Inviting Mahogany Beach at  Roatan, Honduras
When deciding where to go in the Caribbean, consider ports that are close to where you live (if applicable) and the destinations that are available from those ports. Travel costs are greatly reduced if you can drive to the embarkation point, although if you fly to a port, your choices may really open up.
Cruise ships sail to one of three regions: Western, Southern, or Eastern Caribbean. Destinations depend on the port, length of cruise, and the cruise line. Short getaways of 4-6 days are increasing in popularity, so cruise lines are scheduling more of these quick trips.

Western Caribbean cruises generally leave from Gulf of Mexico ports like Galveston, New Orleans, or Fort Lauderdale. Typical ports of call include Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Belize, or Honduras. Shore excursions might take you to see Mayan ruins on Mexico's Yucatan coast, snorkeling in the barrier reef off the coast of Belize, or to Grand Cayman's Seven Mile Beach and Sting Ray City.
Snorkeling among coral reefs near Belize
is a favorite activity of cruisers.
SouthernCaribbean cruises generally leave from East coast ports, especially from Florida, and take you to the beautiful beaches of Aruba, the rain forest of Martinique, or the rugged coastline of Barbados. These islands are some of the most photogenic, but because it takes longer to get there, you may dock at fewer ports unless the cruise is ten or more days.

 Eastern Caribbean cruises may call on ports in the Bahamas, San Juan, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Turks and Caicos. Beaches and water activities are the calling cards here, although history buffs will find the islands of interest, too.
Lava deposits on the beach of Barbados
Because so many people cruise the Caribbean islands, you'll likely find competitive pricing and low per-diem rates. Keep in mind that hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 1, especially if booking your cruise many months in advance. Dodging potentially stormy weather may be easier if you book a last-minute cruise during the summer, although radar can guide ships away from threatening storms.

Consider cruising the Caribbean in the fall when ships return from summer cruises in Alaska and Europe. Peak Caribbean cruise season starts in late fall and is especially robust during the winter holiday season. Spring is also a great time to sail the Caribbean, but try to avoid Spring Break time—unless you’re taking school-aged children along.
Water slides, ropes course, climbing walls, skating rinks,
and more make cruise vacations fun for families.
In summer water activities make the islands an excellent vacation option for families. The water is considerably warmer than in the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans. Most ships sailing this region have kids’ clubs designed to keep children happy and active and parents happy and relaxed.

Pleasant temperatures allow guests greater use of the ship’s outdoor amenities like water slides, rock climbing walls, surf simulators, and miniature golf. There are so many different kinds of  ships and itineraries in the Caribbean that you can return again and again and have a different vacation experience each time.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Friday, November 29, 2013

Remember the past; enjoy the present in Gruene, Texas

The water tower is one of Gruene's
most recognizable features.
Did you ever have an old metal lunchbox with Roy Rogers and his horse Trigger painted on the outside?  If you were born a generation later, you might have carried a plastic Barbie or GI Joe lunchbox with matching Thermos bottle to school. Memories like these are easy to come by in Gruene, Texas, especially when browsing around the original 1870-era mercantile store--now a nostalgic trip back in time for many visitors.
Sure, Gruene is a wonderful place to reminisce about the “good old days,” but did you know that this mid-1800s German settlement on the Guadalupe River in central Texas almost became a ghost town before being rescued from oblivion? 

Today, Gruene has developed into a major year- round entertainment center with an emphasis on families sharing good times. Named for Ernest and Antoinette Gruene, who were among the German immigrants arriving in the 1840s, Gruene is just 45 minutes from Austin and 30 minutes by car from San Antonio.
In 1872, the Gruene family set up a tenant farming system for raising cotton, and one of the sons opened the first business in the new town, a small mercantile shop and cotton gin. Henrich D. Gruene also opened Gruene Hall, which became a gathering place for the tenants. About that time, the town became known as Gruene.

Gruene Hall hosts world-famous musicians and other programs,
many free and open to the public.
When H.D. Gruene died in 1920, the small town began to decline. The original grist mill was destroyed by a fire and replaced with an electric cotton gin. A boll weevil infestation destroyed cotton crops in 1925 and with it the livelihood of most of Gruene’s residents. Then came the stock market crash, which devastated the remaining residents of Gruene. The final blow occurred when the family foreman hanged himself from the (now iconic) water tower.
The Grapevine has many Texas wines. Special events are
often held in the garden.
Fast forward to 1975, when Pat Molak discovered Gruene and decided to purchase the abandoned dance hall. After a few necessary repairs were made, the 6,000 square foot open-air dance hall continued its tradition as Texas’s oldest continually operating dance hall.

The General Store is full of items you'll
recognize from your childhood--or share
with your own children, who haven't a
clue what those things are.
In 1977, Molak and Mary Jane Nalley joined forces to purchase the original cotton gin, a three-story brick boiler room, and they created the Gristmill River Restaurantand Bar in the old building. The pair expanded their acquisitions to include the old Mercantile building, one of the Gruene family’s original homes, portions of the Gruene lumberyard, and the Greuen brothers’ garage. These building have been transformed into tourist-pleasing businesses including Gruene Antique Company, Lone Star Texas Electric, Buck Pottery, Gruene General Store, Cotton Eyed Joes, Gruene Outfitters, and The Grapevine, a wine tasting venue.
The official Historic District of Gruene, which is actually part of the city of NewBraunfels, covers a little over 15 acres. It was placed on the NationalRegister of Historic Places in 1975, and since then most of the building have been awarded a Texas Medallion from the Texas Historical Commission. A wide variety of business line the walkable streets, and this quaint area now draws more than a million visitors annually.

Texas Clay Fest attracts potters from
far and wide--great opportunity to
purchase unique pieces.
A plethora of special events fill Gruene’s calendar, including Gruene Music and Wine Festival, the Americana Music Jam, Tour de Gruene bicycle race, Gospel Brunch with a Texas Twist (held most Sundays in Gruene Hall), Texas Clay Fest (attracting artisans from all over the state), various 5K and 10K walks and runs, Old Gruene Market Days (held the third weekend each month), and more.
Tour de Gruene is a favorite event.
With so much happening in Gruene, it’s no wonder this historic district has become a major tourist attraction in Texas.

Katie Molak, Marketing Coordinator, assisted with historical information.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier (except potter and bike race, which were provided by Katie Molak).


Monday, November 25, 2013

Visit Australia and New Zealand for the holidays

With extended family members living in faraway places, holidays are often hit-or-miss regarding who’s available to spend time with us. Last year, with the prospect of celebrating on our own, Larry and I decided to head south—as in the Southern Hemisphere—during December.
Sydney Harbor Bridge
While a visit to Australia was on our bucket list, we wanted to see more of that vast country than just a couple of coastal cities. So we booked an excursion that allowed us to spend almost a week crossing the Red Desert of central Australia before boarding a ship for a cruise along the eastern coast of New Zealand. Actually, December is a good time to visit Australia and New Zealand because it’s summer there (equivalent to June in the Northern Hemisphere—sunset around 8:30 p,.m.). We left on December 6 and arrived on December 8 after crossing the international dateline.

Both land and sea experiences were combined into the same 23-day excursion, which simplified planning on our part. Our flight landed in the international city of Sydney at 8:20 a.m. on a Saturday morning, and a few hours later we enjoyed our first Australian experience by climbing the famous Harbor Bridge. After a late lunch of pizza in an outdoor café, we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the area and taking photos of the bridge, harbor, and iconic Opera House.
Brilliantly red Ayers Rock
After spending a couple of days in Sydney, we started our journey across the Australian outback by flying to Uluru to see Ayers Rock and the Olga Mountains. Late morning the plane landed in a desolate area where the dusty brown landscape transformed into dirt so red it almost glowed—our first look at the semi-arid region we would be touring. The flight took almost three hours, but some adventurers insist you haven’t seen the desert unless you drive through it (We got a good look from the plane window!)

We learned about the vital cultural and religious significance of Ayers Rock to the traditional aboriginal tribes and marveled at its ruddy beauty while walking around the enormous monolith.
The next day we drove six hours to the pioneering town of Alice Springs, an oasis at the base of the MacDonnell Mountain Ranges in central Australia. We learned more about endemic plants and animals that fill this seemingly hostile environment with life at the beautifully planned Alice Springs Desert Park. 
Coral in the Great Barrier Reef comes in many sizes and shapes.

A flight to Cairns to visit the Great Barrier Reef was the final leg of our overland tour. A full day excursion to the reef for snorkeling and other adventures was definitely a highlight of the trip. Although there are 2,904 individual reefs with 900 islands and many channels between, we were delighted to see even a portion of the spectacular coral shelf along with a variety of fish swimming there. 

Locals having Christmas fun in Marlborough Sound, New Zealand
A week after leaving Sydney, we returned and boarded our Princess ship for a 14-day cruise that included Australian destinations of Melbourne and Hobart, Tasmania as well as scenic cruising at Fjordland National Park and stops at the New Zealand ports of Dunedin, Akaroa, Wellington, Tauranga, and Auckland.

Passengers singing Christmas songs.
Following a heartwarming morning service, Christmas Day was spent sailing through Marlborough Sound. The weather was sunny, seas were calm, and our balcony was the perfect spot for viewing blue water, green hills, and coastal towns. With temperatures in the 60s, locals were out sailing and jet skiing on this glorious day.

Larry and Santa
We arrived home on December 29 from one of the most memorable holidays we’ve ever had.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier




Saturday, November 23, 2013

Granbury Opera House reopens in December

Located on the Granbury Square, the
Opera House will attract many visitors.
The 176--year-old Granbury Opera House, one of the most recognizable structures on the Granbury Square, will open with a red carpet gala on December 5, 2013. It's first production, "A Christmas Carol," by Charles Dickens, runs from December 12-23. Read more about it here:

The modernized Opera House retains its classic exterior.
The interior of the theater looks very elegant.
The new lobby utilizes original walls and features a grand stairway.
Photos provided by Brooke Traister.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Restrictions eased for using electronic devices on airplanes

If you’re one of those folks who has to be reminded several times to turn off your phone or iPad when the doors are closed on an airplane, here’s good news.

Now you won’t have to feel guilty about sneaking in a few more minutes of listening to music, reading a book, or watching a movie. And you won’t have to test your patience  waiting for the plane to reach 10,000 feet (currently the altitude above which electronic devices are allowed).

Fewer restrictions now for electronic devices in the air
The FAA has announced that the old guidelines on electronic devices will soon be relaxed during takeoff and landing for airlines that receive approval regarding their safety procedures and have the ability not to be affected by these devices. That means tablets, e-readers, DVD players and video game consoles will be allowed during these phases of flight, although they still need to be in “airplane” mode or have their cellular connection disabled.

Phone calls and texting are still banned. Heavier devices, such as large laptops, that could become projectiles or block exit paths in the event of turbulence or an accident still won’t be allowed. If the flight has installed a Wi-Fi system and allows its use, that’s also permitted. During safety briefings, passengers will still be required (expected?) to put down their devices, along with books and newspapers, and pay attention.

Smart phones and tablets
can be used for extended
times on airplanes.
Rather than set a specific timetable for when passengers will see the device restrictions eased, the FAA is leaving that up to the airlines. Delta Air Lines is among the first to complete carrier-defined PED (personal electronic device) tolerance testing and submit its plan to the FAA for approval.

An important caveat: Regional carriers used by almost all major airlines may not be certified when the affiliate company is. So, even if you book a Delta flight, for instance, if the plane actually belongs to one of its partners, the new rules may not apply.

“It’s going to become more challenging to determine whose device is okay and whose isn’t,” said Kelly Skyles, a 26-year flight attendant and national safety and security coordinator for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the union that represents cabin crews at American Airlines. “My greatest concern is that it’s going to put flight attendants at risk for more confrontations.”

You can help make their job easier by listening to and following guidelines as announced by flight attendants, especially important during the transition period when different airlines will have different restrictions.
Free internet images


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Italian government limits cruise ships docking in Venice

I’ve recently returned from Venice, Italy where I heard an ongoing discussion from locals about whether large cruise ships should be allowed to dock as close to the city as they currently are.  Now we learn that the number of large cruise ships passing through Venice will be limited by the Italian government.

The winding canals of Venice draw visitors to this unique city.
“Some people think large ships are unsightly and detract from the beauty of Venice,” said Francesca, our guide on an excursion to the islands of Murano and Burano. “But cruise ships bring new dollars to Venice. It’s the only business that does so today. Everyone’s job is related in some way to the cruise industry,” Francesca added.

That’s an important point. Tourism drives the economy of Venice. There are seven terminals for cruise ships, which is the reason the Venice airport is the third largest in Europe. For these reasons a powerful lobby in Venice supports the cruise ship trade and welcomes the economic benefits it brings.
But in recent years, environmentalists have protested against large ships saying they damage the city's fragile lagoon. For them the new restrictions--the number of cruise ships allowed through Venice will be cut by 20% beginning in January-- constitute a first step for an ongoing campaign.

These are the only man-made islands of Venice--for docking ships
Ships of more than 96,000 tons will be banned from the center of the city beginning November 2014. The BBC also reported that Prime Minister Enrico Letta's office announced plans to open up a new canal route to the city to allow big vessels to enter the city by an alternative route.
The Grand Canal remains a magical attraction in Venice
The Cruise Lines InternationalAssociation (CLIA) said: "While we believe that the passage of cruises through the Giudecca Canal [which flows into Venice's San Marco basin] is safe, we agree that any sustainable solution requires an alternative passage for our ships.  "We absolutely respect the Italian government’s decision and CLIA remains committed to working and collaborating with the Italian authorities in the development of the alternative final passage."

Hopefully, these actions will eventually result in a win-win situation for the cruise industry as well as for the city of Venice and its citizens who depend on cruise ships coming there for their livelihood.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier