Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Eeyore's birthday party--helping keep Austin weird for 50 years

If you’re anywhere near Austin, Texas on Saturday, April 27, 2013 come to Pease Park in central Austin and celebrate Eeyore’s 50th AnnualBirthday Party. It’s a free and noncommercial event and open to everyone, according to organizer Scott Sexton, president of the Forest Foundation that puts on the party.

This legendary spring jubilee honoring Eeyore, Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh’s sad but sweet donkey friend, is one of the events that prompted Austin City Council to formally adopt “Keep Austin Weird” as the city slogan.

Begun in 1963 by several University of Texas students (no surprise!), this unique celebration flourished during the 1960s and 1970s, when the drinking age in Texas was temporarily lowered to 18.  The funky affair—outlandish costumes encouraged--has survived as one of Austin’s first signs of spring by retaining its original hippie flavor.

Today it has evolved into a fun family event that provides a venue for non-profit groups to raise funds by selling drinks and food, including vegetarian items. There is no paid staff; everyone working there is a volunteer. The party starts at 11 a.m. and continues till dark.

Old-fashioned maypole dancing is still a prime attraction with costume contests, live entertainment, face painting, and, of course, birthday cake to make it a fun occasion for both adults and children.  The special children’s area is open from 11 a.m. till 4 p.m. Live music starts at noon and continues till 6 p.m.
Costumed partiers show off jump rope skills.

Oh, and bring the dog; there is plenty of romping room in Pease Park. If you like entertainment that is a little weird, you’re an Austinite at heart, and you’ll love this bohemian celebration. “It’s fulfilling to know we’re doing something that helps retain the spirit of Austin, Sexton says. The park is a smoke-free environment.

Rather than trying to drive to Pease Park, located at 1100 Kingsbury St., get there by riding a bicycle, walking, or taking a bus. Shuttles are provided all day from free parking areas, so check the website for location and schedule information.
Photos courtesy of

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Bells and music commemorate Notre Dame Cathedral's 850 years

Nine new bells top the list of major projects as Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris celebrates its 850th anniversary through December 11, 2013. Many commemorative activities are planned throughout the year including World Organ Day on May 6, which promises to be the most outstanding international music event this spring.
Many people visit Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris every day.

Consecrated in 1163, Notre Dame is the center of Catholicism in France and a recognized symbol of the faith for Catholics throughout the world. The Cathedral is visited by more than 14 million tourists per year, and admission is still free.

About the bells: Eight bells will replace those installed in 1856 after the original bells were destroyed during the French Revolution. One bell, called Emanuel, survived that war, and the new bells, which no longer live up to the Cathedral’s reputation, will emulate the sound of this 17th century bell. A ninth bell in the south tower will be a back-up for Emanuel in order to preserve this beautiful bell for future generations.

About the organ: Sacred music has been integral to the cathedral since its construction, and the organ has been there since the beginning. Built on the gallery in 1401 the Great Organ has become, after many restorations and reconstructions, one of the most famous organs in the world. During this year of celebration, the Great Organ will be renovated and its 12,000 pipes, some from medieval times, cleaned.

The magnificent cathedral will get upgrades during 2013.
About the music: The organ’s glorious sound will be a focus of World Organ Day on Monday, May 6, 2013 when 850 organ concerts will be presented in places of worship and concert halls on five continents. Due to time differences in locations as diverse as Mexico, Nigeria, Australia, China, Russia, and the U.S., the worldwide concerts will stretch over more than 24 hours. Each concert will include at least one piece of organ music representing the heritage of Notre Dame in Paris. See at list of concert locations here.

Additional projects: Thanks to almost $8.5 million in donations other notable improvements include upgrades to the interior lighting system for the main Cathedral and the Treasury of the Cathedral, creation of a Jubilee Trail on the square in front of Notre Dame, publication of an in-depth book on the history of the Cathedral, and composition of new musical works. People from around the world are encouraged to make pilgrimages to the Cathedral in Paris and record these visits with the Archbishop of Paris.

Photos by Larry Burmeier

Read more travel stories from Beverly at Striped Pot and Austin Adventure Travel.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

No admission fees during National Park Week

Glacier National Park
What better time to show your love and appreciation for America’s national parks than during National Park Week, April 20-28, 2013. Admission is free Monday through Friday of that week to all of our nation’s 401 national parks.
Yellowstone National Park
The National Park Service and the National ParkFoundation, official charity of American’s national parks, invite you to discover history, explore nature, and just have fun. Since there’s a national park in every state—and every American is less than 100 miles from a national park-- there’s no reason not to visit for a day or more during this special week.

Take your pick from a variety of seashores, battlefields, historic homes, archeological sites, or spectacular natural areas. Each of these destinations in some way helps celebrate our national heritage, and most have recreational facilities for visitors to use.
You can plan your visit by choosing a park near where you live or checking out special programs offered during the week at various parks. It’s a great time to get to know a national park you’ve never visited before or to explore new areas of a familiar park.

Great Smokey Mountain National Park
If you have children, a great time to schedule a park visit is Saturday, April 20, which is National Junior Ranger Day. Young visitors are encouraged to explore, learn, and protect park resources, and they can be sworn in as Junior Rangers. Many parks will welcome anyone willing to help with projects on April 27, Volunteer Day.
Grand Teton National Park

To whet your appetite for a park excursion, here are some statistics on what you can find in our national parks: 84 million acres of spectacular scenery, historic landmarks and cultural treasures; 17,000 miles of trails; 43,000 miles of shoreline; 27,000 historic and prehistoric structures; 100 million museum items; and 12,000 campsites. National parks belong to the public, so we should support and protect these resources—and you’ll get so much pleasure from exploring these amazing places.

Utah’s Fab Five

Arches National Park
 Here’s more inspiration: One of my favorite destinations is Southern Utah, an absolute wonderland of stunning mountain scenery, archeological formations, and cool rivers. Five of the country’s most outstanding parks are located in a relatively compact region, and you could visit all of them during April’s Fee Free Week. You’ll get a lot of bang for your buck by taking a road trip or guided tour that encompasses several of these beautiful parks: Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands National Parks.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier
Read more travel stories at Striped Pot and Austin Adventure Travel


Thursday, April 11, 2013

The old-world glamour of Bellagio, Italy

Every time I look out of our hotel room at Bellagio, Italy I’m amazed at the beauty of the area. From our balcony we see a large expanse of blue lake, guarded by mountains across the water, and several small villages nestled along the shoreline.
View of lakes from Punta Spartivento
We walk uphill to Punta Spartivento, “point where wind divides,” as it marks the conjunction of three lakes—Lecco branch is southeast, Como branch is southwest, and Colico branch is straight ahead. This distinctive spot stands in my memory as a highlight of Bellagio because it affords exceptional views of Lake Como splitting and flowing in three directions.

Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni

To see how the super-rich spend their vacations, we walk to the entrance of Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni, originally a private villa when it was built in 1852. Today the hotel is owned by the Rockefeller Foundation of New York.
Beach at the Grand Villa
In the upper part of town is the church square where we first parked, the Piazza San Giacomo. St. James Basilica is located there. Built at the end of the 11th century, it was decreed a National Monument in 1904. A granite fountain in the middle of the square was created in 1897 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s reign. The statue of Madonna on top was added in 1947. Streets are very narrow and lined with shops where tourist are filling up their bags.

St. James Basilica attracts tourists
Hungarian musician and composer Franz Liszt arrived in Bellagio in the summer of 1837 with his lover Madame d’Agoult. No one recognized him, and he appreciated the solitude—until a friend decided to sell one of Liszt’s compositions. After people realized he was here, his service improved noticeably. Liszt loved Lake Como and thought it a superb place for people in love.
Mark Twain came with friends in 1867. A page of his book Innocents Abroad describes the hotel we’re staying in. He tells of days wandering, admiring the Alps, and of evenings playing billards, dining, and smoking on the porch overlooking the lake.

Right beside Hotel Metropole, where we're staying, is the “borgo,” Bellagio’s historic center and one of the first areas in the town to be inhabited and developed. The Tourist Office in Piazza Mazzini is located here, so you can easily book excursions including boat rides on the lake. Many shops, cafes, and galleries also cater to visitors.
Gelateria in front of Hotel Metropole
in the "borgo," or historic center of Bellagio
It doesn’t take long to feel the romantic ambience and unique character of the town. The tempo of life is slower here. Tourists—even Americans—seem to stroll rather than power-walk. We don’t see anyone jogging on the streets.

Bellagio is a great place to relax and recharge, especially with a favorite person. After just one night there, the spirit of the town captures our imaginations. It’s one of those rare places I could return to in a heartbeat.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier
Read more travel stories at Striped Pot.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Roatan's reef is a snorkeler's dream

Beautiful beach at Mahogany Bay, Roatan 
In recent years cruise ships in the Western Caribbean have begun docking at Roatan, an island about 30 miles off the northern coast of mainland Honduras. It may not have the exotic cache of Belize or Cozumel, but it’s every bit as fine a place to spend a day. Turquoise waters, emerald green hills, and sparkling white beaches provide plenty of natural attractions for today’s tourists.

During our mid-winter cruise from Galveston on the Crown Princess, we looked forward to sampling this new-to-us port. We chose to snorkel there and weren’t disappointed. Roatan is surrounded by a barrier reef that lies approximately 300 feet from the shoreline. More than 130 accessible dive sites make the island a diver’s or snorkeler’s paradise. An underwater museum of sunken treasures, shipwrecks, and Mayan artifacts offers additional spots to scout for fish.
Magic Flying Beach Chairs go to Mahogony Bay
Near the dock, the Magic Flying Beach Chair will take visitors on a cable car ride 1,200 feet above the canopy of trees to Mahogany Beach, a 10-acre private island featuring 825-foot long white-sand beach. We were scheduled on a Jolly Roger catamaran that was docked at Mahogany Bay, but since it was only a short distance from the ship, we chose to walk.

In many places the reef crest is very shallow, just a foot underwater, but our excursion went to deeper water which allowed for extended exploration around a variety of coral species. A school of small blue fish swam by as well as many individual fish. This was my first opportunity to try out a new waterproof camera case, and I was relieved that it worked very well. After snorkeling in the warm water (temperature varies from 78 to 84 degrees), lunch was served: roasted chicken, pasta, cabbage salad, rice—and rum punch, of course.
A world of underwater surprises

The largest of the Bay Islands, Roatan is 37 miles long and less than five miles wide at its broadest point. English is the main language, which is another selling point for visiting Roatan.

A colorful history full of pirates, Indians, English settlers, descendants of African slaves, and Spanish conquerors makes for a very diverse population. Treasure hunters still come looking for bounty stashed on the island by more than 5,000 pirates during the 16th and 17th centuries.  
Larry has this snorkeling thing down pat.
In 1797 the British defeated the Black Carib tribe for control of St Vincent Island and deported many of the native Indians to Roatan. That was the beginning of the island’s rich Garifuna heritage that descendents in tribal villages still maintain through native language, customs, and ancestral dances.

Modern seaside villages dot the shoreline. Tropical oak and evergreen palms grow in abundance, and you'll have many photography opportunities when scouting various indigenous flora and fauna along jungle trails in the 30 acres at Carambola Botanical Gardens. Mangrove forests protect the coastal areas and support diverse marine life.
Local vendors sell colorful handicrafts, and I couldn’t resist buying a beautiful ice bucket and trivet, both constructed of a dozen different kinds of wood found on the island. Useful items like these are the best remembrances of a fun trip.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier
Read more travel articles at Striped Pot and Austin Adventure Travel