Friday, June 21, 2013

Mt. Pilatus and Lucerne create Swiss memories

While visiting family living in Wadenswil, Switzerland last spring, Larry and I took a day trip to Lucerne, about an hour’s drive away.
Our first adventure was a trip up Mount Pilatus, which can be accomplished by aerial cable car or on the world’s steepest cog railway, with grades up to 48 degrees. Since it was a beautiful sunny day, we decided to take the cable car up and the railway down.

Visitor Center and Research facility at Mt. Pilatus, Switzerland

We drove to nearby Krienz, where the cable car up Mount Pilatus started. Only after we had paid for four hours parking did we realize that another option was a boat ride on the lake back to Lucerne. But parking is monitored very carefully in Switzerland, and we didn’t want to get a ticket, so we stuck with trains, which are the main means of transportation in Switzerland, as a quicker option.
Switzerland is truly a land of exquisite mountain scenery
Even so, the train down from Mount Pilatus stopped in Alpenstadt, a nearby town, so we had to take another 20-minute train ride to Lucerne and then a city bus back to Krienz where our car was parked. Public transportation is the norm, and it’s easy to get confused in a country where you don’t speak the language. Fortunately, compassionate people are usually eager to help--as was the young man who graciously alerted us when to get off the bus to return to our car.

But there’s hardly a more beautiful and captivating city in Europe than Lucerne, so even those hiccups couldn’t dampen our delight in being there.  To ascend Mount Pilatus we rode in a four-person cable car with amazing views overlooking the city and Lake Lucerne. Then we switched to large 40-person cable car that took us to the top of Mount Pilatus.
What gorgeous scenery! It’s everything you imagine about mountains and lakes in Switzerland—and even better. Cows in the meadows, isolated churches nestled in mountains, and clouds drifting over snow-covered peak. 
Mellow music from this horn

Despite the chilly air, we wandered outside of the research/visitor building for photos. We walked foot paths, including one that looped through a tunnel. A10-minute uphill path to the highest peak of Pilatus offered more breathtaking picture-book scenes.
Along the path, a Swiss man entertained visitors playing songs like Amazing Grace and Edelweiss on his super-long horn. Back inside the visitor center, we had a snack, sitting by windows to soak in the view.

For the return trip on the cog railroad, we sat in the first car directly behind the driver. Going downhill at such a steep grade was quite an experience, but we had an excellent vantage point to appreciate the ride.  At one point the track ended, and the train came to a quick stop.  When another train approaches from the opposite direction, the tracks flip over to prevent two trains colliding. After the other train went by, the tracks flipped back, making a transition that allowed our train to continue.

Wonderful refreshments with wine
After finding our way back to our car, we drove into Lucerne to visit the historic and shopping districts. Lucerne's location along the River Reuss at the end of Lake Lucerne has made it a popular tourist destination. We arrived in Lucerne mid-afternoon, perfect time for a glass of wine and brochette at an outdoor Italian restaurant.

Historic Jesuit church with twin turrets
beside Lake Lucerne
Seated beside the lake, we watched swans swimming in the water and many tourists wandering around. Refreshed, we walked across the famous Chapel Bridge, a wooden bridge first build in 1333 and rebuilt after the original burned in the 1970s. It's 669 feet long, covered, and filled with frescos depicting historic events in Swiss history.
One of the notable sights is the Church of St. Leodegar, with its two needles pointing to the sky. Originally built in 734, the present structure, on the other side of the lake, was constructed in 1633.Other ancient buildings in the historic area provided great photo opportunities and a peek into the city's past--and contrasted with high end. modern shops that catered to visitors.
Despite our tourist-induced glitches, the day turned out just fine.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Monday, June 17, 2013

Statue of Liberty to Re-Open on July 4, 2013

Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island

The famed Statue of Liberty will reopen on July 4, 201, according to Interior Secretary ken Salazar and New York Senator Charles Schumer. The Statue of Liberty National Monument and the Ellis Island Immigration Museum are important pieces of American history and icons of freedom around the world.

Statue Cruises takes visitors to see the Statue of Liberty
Liberty Island closed on October 29, 2012 due toHurricane Sandy, but it will open again symbolically on the day the America declared its independence. “We are looking forward to putting our crew back to work carrying visitors to the world’s greatest symbol of liberty—with an enhanced visitor experience and reduced wait times. Until that date, we offer a great cruise to Lady Liberty, with uniformed rangers on board,” says Statue Cruises CEO/Founder Terry MacRae. Statue Cruises, the official concessioner to the National Park Service, is the premier harbor cruise operator in New York harbor.
In anticipation of the reopening, Statue Cruises is expanding its daily Statue of Liberty Harbor Tours, giving visitors more opportunities to enjoy the closest views of the statue until the official opening date. With up to 20 departures a day, the tours provide flexibility for visitors.

More than four million visitors from around the world experience the closest possible views of famed New York City landmarks annually. Hour-long tours depart from Battery Park at the foot of Manhattan every 30 minutes, seven days a week, according to Elizabeth Carmody of Statue Cruises.

Tickets for the narrated sightseeing tours are $24 for adults, $17 for seniors and $12 for children. Prior to embarking, passengers can purchase tickets online, by phone at 201-604-2800, or at the seawall in Battery Park. For more information, visit

Fun facts about the Statue of Liberty:

·         The statue was dedicated on October 28, 1886, with a restoration project completed in 1986.

·         The entire statue is 305.5 feet tall, with Lady Liberty reaching 111.5 feet high.

·         The seven rays on her crown represent the seven continents

·         The torch is covered in thin sheets of 24 karat gold

·         The green color comes from natural weathering of copper from which it is constructed

Friday, June 14, 2013

Grand View Lodge in Minnesota takes summer camp to a new level

  GrandView Lodge on the shores of Gull Lake in Northern Minnesota provides a perfect opportunity to drop the kids off—boys at Camp Lincoln and girls at Camp Lake Hubert—and settle in for some well-deserved rest and relaxation of your own.
Lake between Camp Lincoln and Camp Lake Hubert in northern Minnesota

When it’s time for the kids to go to summer camp, why not leave work behind and enjoy a grown-up style of camp sans bunkhouse and mess hall?

Soon after the camps were established in 1909, in what was then a remote part of the state, the owners recognized that a place was needed to serve families who brought their kids to camp and wanted to stay in the area.  While children from second through 11th grades keep busy with dozens of land and water activities, parents can spend quality time at adjacent Grand View Lodge (You can bring the kids, too). 

Main lodge at Grand View Lodge in Minnesota
A National HistoricLandmark, Grand View Lodge has evolved from simple camp stop to a major resort. It qualifies as a member of Historic Hotels of America because it has maintained the historic architecture and ambience of the original lodge building for more than 95 years.  Easy to get to now, Grand View Lodge is located in the scenic North Woods/ BrainerdLakes region.

About the camps: Sam Cote and his son Rex are carrying on traditions started by Sam’s grandfather Brownie Cote more than a hundred years ago. “We’re in the youth development business,” he says, noting that kids have come to the camps from 26 states and seven countries.  “Kids learn skills for living together—something the world needs today,” Sam adds.
Sailing is a primary activity at the camps.

The camps accommodate several hundred children during each two-week session.  More than 30 land activities such as horseback riding, golf, tennis, rifle range, and climbing wall are available. Sailing, canoeing, windsurfing, fishing and other activities make use of the 1300 acre lake which forms the center space for the two camps.

 “We’ve maintained the original values of God, others, and self set by my grandfather, although our expectations for a quality program keep growing. We provide a higher level of experience now, as we aim to correct nature-deficit disorder,” Sam says. Kids must be unplugged when they come here.  “We focus on building community, which means talking with each other,” he adds.

Kids stretch their skills on the climbing wall.
A special option is the week-long family camp during which members of a family live in a cabin and do activities together.  

If that sounds too rustic, you’ll love the amenities at Grand View Lodge. It has grown from the original lakeside cottages, which are still in use, into a quality destination with 72 holes of golf, spa, a variety of high-end rental properties, outstanding restaurants and shops, and a conference center.  Still, it retains the comforting ambience of a family-run camp.

What to do at Grand View Lodge? Take a fishing excursion on Gull Lake, either guided or on your own. Cast your line for wall eye and bass in the clear glacial waters. Swing your golf clubs at Arnold Palmer’s Deacon’s Lodge, The Preserve, or one of three nine-hole courses. Go sailing, horseback riding, swim in the covered pool or lake, or walk along paths on the property. 

Take a bike ride along the Paul Bunyan Trail, a converted rail trail that extends for 100 miles (much of it paved) through 14 towns. One of the longest and most scenic trails in Minnesota, it meanders beside meadows with views of Gull Lake and through stands of pine, fir, birch trees.
Beautiful, green golf courses provide fun and challenging play.

When you feel the need for pampering, head to the Glacial Waters Spa for a massage, manicure, pedicure, or the heavenly Vichney shower with streams of water massaging your back from seven ceiling-mounted shower heads. Enjoy a lip-smacking good meal at the Italian Garden Restaurant, or sample fine dining at Sherwood Forest Restaurant, set in an historic log cabin. 

Finish the evening on the beach watching the sunset, sitting on the dock, or roasting s’mores over a campfire.  Or, if you feel like singing, join guests at the Northwoods Bar for Karaoke night. Kids can play ping pong, checkers, and other games in the adjacent rec room.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Would you book a cruise on a Carnival ship?

We took a chance and were pleasantly surprised.

Since the engine room fire totally disabled the Triumph and left the ship adrift in the Caribbean for eight days last February, Carnival ships have been plagued with an assortment of troubles. Within a three month period several Carnival ships reported problems severe enough to interfere with their scheduled journeys.

The Elation suffered a steering system malfunction, and Carnival Dream lost power causing some toilets to stop working. Then the Legend had technical difficulties that affected sailing speed. Not a fun time for guests looking forward to a special vacation.

Carnival Magic docked at Cozumel, Mexico
With all these ominous signs, I was very hesitant to cruise on any Carnival ship. But we had promised to take two grandchildren on a cruise this summer, and I’m happy to report that the Carnival Magic, sailing from Galveston, Texas, turned out to be a fine venue for sailing with children.

Inside the Carnival Magic gleams in
bright lights
Attracting families is what Carnival does well. Activities and amenities aboard the Magic are set up to keep all ages happy. Clubs for children and teens are grouped by age to provide special events and activities throughout the day—even parties lasting till 3:00 a.m. From age 12 on, kids can sign themselves in and out, which makes the program especially flexible. Decor is bright and colorful (sometimes a bit gaudy), but it works for this ship.

Kids love the Waterpark on the Carnival Magic
Several swimming pools and hot tubs are scattered around the ship, including one for adults only. There’s a large onboard water park filled with multiple squirty ways to get wet and stay cool, including a giant bucket that fills with water and dumps every so often. Two giant slides whirl guests who are at least 48 inches tall through twisty tubes and spinning saucers. Small fry have their own right-sized water slides.

A ropes course challenges balance and agility (only open when winds are calm). Mini-golf, pool tables, ping-pong. Foosball, a basketball court, and modified outdoor gym area give young muscles a workout and burn excess energy.

An indoor gym and full service spa keep adults fit and relaxed.  But don’t let the kids have all the fun—go ahead and try the slides and ropes. Take a dance class or participate in trivia and other games. If you’re really a sport, join the hairy chest contest.

Mini-golf was a favorite activity on the ship
Dress is more casual on Carnival ships than on other lines whose clientele is more mature. Our grandsons wore nice shorts and collared knit shirts to the dining room each evening, changing to long khakis for the two “elegant” nights. Although some people still cling to the “formal” designation, dressing up simply isn’t necessary.

Sure, you can just graze at the buffet or nosh on pizza and hamburgers, but dinner time was a good opportunity for the boys to put manners they already knew into practice in a more civilized setting. And they had plenty of pizza and ice cream during the day.

There’s such variety of shore excursions that adults traveling with or without children can find something that fits their interests and abilities. Getting out and exploring the destinations (the Magic docked at Roatan, Belize, and Cozumel) is one of the best parts about a cruise. It’s a great time to try activities you ordinarily wouldn’t do like snorkeling, ziplining, or kayaking. In fact, our grandkids were ready for a rest after returning to the ship each port day.

The ropes course is a recent addition to newer Carnival ships.
So I’m giving the Carnival Magic thumbs up for family travel. If you’re on a budget, check current prices as previous problems and publicity that followed have lowered costs of certain sailings. This may be a good year to book a cruise vacation.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier
Check out Striped Pot and Austin Adventure Travel


Saturday, June 8, 2013

Melbourne, Australia--a blend of modern and traditional

Downtown Melbourne across the Yarra River
When the Diamond Princess, our ship on a cruise along the coasts of Australia and New Zealand, docked at Melbourne, we decided to visit Fitzroy Gardens and cruise down the Yarra River. The day was perfect for these adventures—sunny with clear skies.

Old and new buildings are joined by the arched bridge in Melbourne
For 45 minutes we rode in a boat on the Yarra River, which goes through city. Although we headed away from downtown, we had good views of the skyline with its modern office buildings and ancient cathedrals. Many people were using the river area on this glorious day for jogging, skulling, sunning, or strolling. While enjoying the scenery, we sampled tea and cookies provided by our cruise.
Colorful sculptures add a bit of whimsy
 to the art scene in Melbourne
The ride down river was very pleasant. It would have been nice to go into the central business district, but we passed by the modernistic spire shaped at the bottom like a ballerina’s tu-tu. And we got at a great look at the sports complex, including Rod Laver Stadium, where the Australian Tennis Open was held in January. In 1956 Melbourne became the first Australian city to host the Olympic Games.

After the river cruise, we boarded a bus and drove through the business district on wide, tree-lined streets that engineer Robert Huddle designed with foresight many years ago. Collins Street, a main thoroughfare, is an influential part of the city filled with government offices, high-end shops, and townhouses owned by very wealthy residents. In the legal district barristers still wear traditional robes and wigs as they walk down the street to their offices. We also traveled through the precinct with art, music, ballet, broadcasting, and photography located in one area.
Capt. Cook's cottage at Fitzroy Gardens
At Fitzroy Gardens, we toured Captain James Cook’s cottage, where his parents lived during the time he was sailing away to explore Australia and discover other ocean destinations. The two-story house was bought elsewhere, de-constructed with all bricks carefully numbered, and brought to Melbourne where it was painstakingly re-assembled in its original form. It’s furnished much as it would have been in early 1800s, and ivy growing on the side of the house is from original plants. Rock steps are also original. A name and date plate on the front of the house confirms its authenticity.

Growing conditions for plants are controlled in
the Conservatory
The best part was strolling through the park and its exquisite gardens. Large expanses of foliage and flowering plants, including hedges of giant hydrangeas and many enormous, majestic trees, just begged us spend the day there with a picnic and a good book. But we only had about 45 minutes to wander, which was barely enough to scratch the surface. A fairy tree, several fountains, conservatory with indoor plants, and elm trees planted in the shape of Union Jack (as seen from the air) were some of the main attractions.
Rainbow-hued hydrangeas were stunning.
We returned to our ship, which was docked at Station Pier, Melbourne’s second port, built in the 1860s. Prior to serving cruise ships, the port was the main place for immigrants to come from 1863 to 1964, and especially after World War I. Prior to that, the Gold Rush of 1852-1854 brought in many people to Victoria via Melbourne, and the city grew rapidly.

Spring flowers bloomed
throughtout the gardens.
Unlike other Australian cities, Melbourne wasn’t settled as a convict colony. When Tasmanian John Batman travelled up the river in 1835, he knew he had found the perfect place for a city. The first European colony, Melbourne was established as a “free colony.”
The city was Australia’s first capital after the Federation in 1901 and until 1927 when Canberra became the capital. More than three million people live in Melbourne, and it is home to almost 70 percent of the state’s population. It has the largest Greek community in the world outside of Greece, as well as many other ethnic communities.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier
Read more travel stories at Striped Pot and Austin Adventure Travel



Thursday, June 6, 2013

Snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Fish swim around coral formations of Great Barrier Reef, Australia
 I’m floating face down above the Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest coral reef, off the coast of Australia. Through my snorkel mask I see butterfly fish, brilliantly yellow with multi-colored stripes, skitter by. Bright blue parrot fish scrape algae from coral that comprises the reef. I stay clear of the surgeon fish’s sharp snout as I kick my way over the reef.  I don’t see large schools of fish, but several big blue fish, small ones withblack and white stripes, and large gray striped fishes catch my attention.
Coral and fish gleam in bright colors at Great Barrier Reef.

Anemone fish (the species of Disney’s Nemo) flutter their orange and white bodies in the sunny water; and a friendly hump-headed fish named Big Willy, who is familiar with snorkelers, eagerly approaches our guides to wait for handouts of food. I’m glad we don’t see predators such as reef sharks, which stay on the bottom and feed at night.

More varieties of fish and coral at Great Barrier Reef
The coral is spectacular. Hubby and I maneuver over a huge shelf with dozens of varieties, being careful not to stand on the coral as this destroys it (and can leave nasty cuts and scrapes). We see varieties in the shapes of artichokes, cauliflowers, flowers, mushrooms, stems, branches, boulders, and more. And the colors are astounding: blue, pink, yellow—as well as standard brown and gray.
We’re on a tour out of Cairns (pronounced Cans) on the eastern coast of Australia. Early in the morning we boarded a 100-foot-long boat called Reef Magic to motor to Marine World, a platform in the ocean from which we can engage in several different activities at the reef.

There’s indoor seating on the Reef Magic on two levels and outdoor seating, too, but it’s quite hot and humid, even at 8 a.m. Rain in the distance blows showers on deck, and winds up to 19 mph make the ride a bit bumpy.  Waves wash over the outside seating, and we’re urged to stay seated during a rough patch.
This floating platform is anchored in the middle of the ocean.
Once on the platform, which is anchored 31 miles out to sea on the outer reef wall, we can snorkel and view fish in a glass bottom boat or semi-submersible vessel during our five-hour stay. A generous buffet lunch and environmental management fees are also included in the tour price of $190. For additional fees, guests can participate in scuba diving, beginner dive, helmet dive, guided snorkeling, or take a helicopter ride to view the reef from above.

Because we were there during jelly fish season, we decided to wear offered Lycra suits for protection from the cold and possible jelly fish stings (actually, we didn’t see any while snorkeling but did later from the boat).
Snorkelers jump into the water from the platform.
Muffins and cake are offered for morning tea, and later in the afternoon we snack on cheese, meat slices, dried fruit, crackers, and fresh watermelon and oranges. After cleaning up from our second half-hour snorkel session, hubby and I share a two-dip dish of macadamia caramel and strawberry ice cream.
Sections of Great Barrier Reef spread out in the ocean (as seen from above).

The Great Barrier Reef is enormous, so you just have to know where you are and appreciate the small slice of history and nature you’re viewing. After snorkeling we took pictures of multiple sections of the reef from upper decks of the boat. The boat ride back to the city, which took more than an hour, was sunny but windy. The tour provided a full day of interesting and fun activities—a not-to-be-missed event when visiting Cairns and Australia.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier