Saturday, April 26, 2014

Dubai is a city made for shopping

No visit to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates would be complete without a Shopping Day!  So we set out to experience several different types of shopping venues.
Madinat Jumeirah Souk combines traditional architecture and items
with features of modern malls.
First, we took the bus to Madinat Jumeirah Souk, a vibrant Arabian market with a great selection of traditional clothing and decorative items. Although the market had a traditional ambience, today's shoppers have a wide selection of items in this pseudo-modern mall.  From the grounds we had an excellent view of Burj Al Arab, the hotel that resembles a sailboat and the only 7-star hotel in the world. No wonder it was named the world's leading hotel in 2013. 

Soon after we wandered inside, I found a lovely patchwork pillow cover and a beaded runner for my dining table. Purchases one and two.

Burj Al Arab is a famous landmark
in Dubai.

Many lovely items like this
traditionally patterned rug
were for sale in Madinat.
Next we went to the Mall of the Emirates, the largest mall outside North America and a premier shopping experience that could take all day. More than 500 stores range from economical H and M to Italian boutiques offering designer fashions. Other shops featured children’s items, sports, home furnishings, jewelry, electronics, sports equipment, and more. 

Overall the mall was very clean, well lit, attractive, spacious, and relatively free of noise and hubbub—and there are no taxes. Serious shoppers might want to stay in the five-star 400-room Kempinski Hotel on premises. During the hour and a half spent there I bought a notebook at Carrefour (Dubai’s Wal-Mart equivalent) and a party dress to wear to dinner that evening.  Purchases three and four.

Of course, what this mall is most famous for isn’t hanging on the racks. There’s an indoor ski area filled with real snow—quite a layout, although during our visit only a few snowboarders glided down the slope, while a couple of young children played in the only snow found in the desert.

Outside Mall of the Emirates. The large white structure
is the indoor ski slope.
Dubai is known as the city of gold, so shopping for jewelry was a must. The gold souk (market) is filled with up to 400 small shops with flashy electric signs attracting shoppers looking for bargains—and with plenty of cash to spend on gleaming gold and diamonds.  
Children accustomed to desert sand
enjoy playing in the snow at Mall
of the Emirates.
Gold, which is sold by weight according to the market price of the day, is cheaper in Dubai than in most other cities of the world (plus no taxes). Streets around the market are hives of activity with many nationalities crowding into the shops, especially after siesta time, when it’s cooler--around 4 p.m. or later.

If the market atmosphere of the gold souk, where haggling hard is part of the game, isn’t for you, or you can’t find a unique piece, go to the Gold and Diamond Park.  That was our choice.  There we found more than 80 jewelry shops and manufacturers offering distinct collections.  Take time to browse the shops for artisans whose style appeals to you, and dine in the outdoor courtyard. 
We sought out Cara Jewelry, a shop patronized by celebrities and recommended for service and quality. Sure enough, it was crowded while most other stores had few customers. As I window shopped outside, a clerk inside mirrored my steps—moving from one display case to the next as I shuffled along. I almost didn’t go in, but when I did, he was right there to help.

Find unusual gold jewelry--or have a piece custom-
made at stores like Cara in the Gold and Diamond Park.
Most jewelry pieces are yellow gold (18, 22, or 24 carats), but white and pink gold, which are mixtures with other metals, are also available. I fell in love with glittering dangle earrings constructed of all three types of gold, and Larry found a ring in a unique design that also incorporated yellow, white, and pink gold. Purchases five and six.
Textiles are a big draw in the souks or
traditional markets of Dubai.
Whether you’re looking for traditional items, bargain hunting, choosing quality jewelry, or tackling a ski slope in a land of sand, Dubai is a shopper’s delight.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Friday, April 25, 2014

Don't forget National Park Week, which extends through April 27. Pay no entrance fee if you visit this weekend. The National Park Foundation shares this infographic to encourage more people to participate in America's Best Idea--establishment of the national park system.

Did You Know...
  • Sequoias, the largest trees in the world, can be as tall as a 26-story building.
  • There are more than 4,900 caves in our national parks.
  • Black bears eat up to 20,000 calories a day.
Information provided by National Park Foundation

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Vancouver to Whistler by floatplane

Taking off from the water
The plane leaves Harbour Terminal in Vancouver.
Thick cloud banks hung in the sky the  morning we took off from Harbour Terminal on the waterfront of Vancouver, British Columbia. Reggie, our Harbour Air pilot, wasn’t sure if he could fly the floatplane through the dense clouds or if we would have to go around. But it was our lucky day—Reggie managed to find enough openings to give us a spectacular ride.

Incredible sight flying over mountains covered in snow and ice
We were headed to Whistler for a day of golf at The Fairmont Chateau Whistler course. Since there were only three passengers (and Reggie’s bicycle) in the small plane, he invited me to ride in the co-pilot seat. From this front row vantage point I had excellent views of the mountains, trees, and rivers below.

Amazing scenery below the plane
We fly above clouds and close to the mountains.
Flying over steep Girabaldi Mountain, an inactive volcano with occasional small lava flows, provided spectacular scenery. Reggie pointed out the Lions, two mountain peaks that protruded through the clouds even though we were flying at almost 8,000 feet altitude. Ice from glaciers and packed snow on the mountains reminded us of a winter wonderland on this warm August day.

And then there was Girabaldi Lake, a beautiful creamy blue-green alpine lake whose color is a result of rock flour (pieces of rock and dirt) moved by the glacier into the lake. Other colors of the prism are absorbed by the water and air, leaving only blue and green reflected.
Giralbaldi Lake forms a spectacular scene from the air.
Started in 1982, Harbor Float Planes take guests to remote spots for fishing, camping, or on sightseeing excursions. Flights to Vancouver Island, whale watching, along the west coast, and other scenic routes are available. Guests going to Whistler can fly round trip or combine the sea plane experience with a train or bus ride one way. Included is a shuttle to Whistler’s famous Village, packed with shops and restaurants, or bike rental so you can meander on your own.

Reflections from our landing on Green Lake at Whister.
Our flight was thrilling despite the thick clouds (or because of them). Stunning panoramas floated just under the plane’s wings almost the entire journey. As we approached Whistler, Reggie expertly guided the plane into a smooth landing on Green Lake, a short ride from the golf course.
Beverly poses with the pilot Reggie after landing at Whistler.
Golf in the mountains

Although it’s not such a long course, mountainous conditions made playing golf at Fairmont Chateau Whistler quite challenging. Many bunkers guard fairways as well as greens. If your ball goes into the forest, down a hill, or in a gulley, it likely won’t be found again.  So the course has instituted a one-minute rule to search for a lost ball.
Majestic mountains guard lush, green fairways of the Fairmont
Chateau Whistler golf course. Who cares how well you play?
Bears had been spotted on the course in May, when they came out of hibernation, but the mid-70s temperature that day was too warm for bears to be roaming around. Despite the bunkers, fast greens, and numerous gulleys to hit over, the course was in excellent condition with gorgeous mountain scenery all around. It was the kind of day everyone dreams of--just perfect.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Why a cruise could be your best family vacation

Disembarking the Carnival Magic at port.
If you’ve never been on a cruise you might envision a ship full of gray heads lounging by the pool in overstuffed bathing suits and overindulging in ever-available food and drink the rest of the time. And you’d be very wrong!
Cruising has become a vacation of choice for families and multi-generational gatherings. Here are some reasons sailing the seas could become your perfect family getaway.
Get a little daring on the ropes course!

Book once and done: A cruise ship is the ultimate all-inclusive vacation spot. Once you’re on the ship there’s no more schlepping luggage onto planes or taxis or checking into multiple hotels when driving on the road. You have control over any extra expenses, too.
Miniature golf is a favorite activity for all ages.
No time to get bored: From age-appropriate children’s programs that entertain the kiddos to adults-only sections of a ship, there are so many activities onboard that choosing what to do next will be the hardest part. Climbing walls, ice skating rinks, surf simulators, miniature golf, water slides, ropes courses, and much more are fun for all ages. Broadway-style shows, bingo, casinos, and art auctions will keep grown-ups entertained, while kids do arts and crafts, play sports, or have pizza parties.

Try something new onshore: One of the best things about cruising is that the ship stops at a variety of ports, and each features a plethora of excursions to help you explore and discover the uniqueness and beauty of each place. Think of all the memories you’ll make while kayaking, zip lining, snorkeling, or just strolling the streets of an exotic tropical island or historic city. These one-day stops provide glimpses of destinations that you might want to come back and visit again.

Exploring a cave in Belize.
Suit your style: If your idea of a vacation is sipping a cool drink while catching up on the romance novel you’ve had on the nightstand for months, there’s plenty of opportunity to do that. Let older kiddos roam on their own (walkie-talkies can keep you in touch) while younger ones participate in supervised activities at kids’ camps.  Then sit back and relax.

Together or not--your choice: Adjacent cabins and family-friendly rooms and suites are convenient—keeping everyone together while allowing for some separation, if needed. More cruise lines are catering to families, so cabins sleep more people and there’s more bathroom space. Onboard you won’t have to worry about getting lost or separated as you’re all on the same ship. Because some of the new mega-ships can carry 5,000 passengers, you might need to set up occasional meeting places. Smaller ships may be able to custom-tailor excursions for your family.
Water slides attract young and old--who doesn't like zooming
through a water-filled tube?
Cruising is a great value: Increased demand and larger fleets of ships have brought prices down as cruise lines try to fill all their itineraries. Packages are often available that include onboard credits that can be applied to shore excursions, spas, and shopping or free Wi-Fi (a good deal because connecting online can be quite expensive onboard). With a large inventory of cruise options, including destinations, length of cruise, type of cabin, and more, finding one that fits your family’s needs and budget should be easy. If you need help, check with a travel agent or an online cruise consolidator whose experts can find the perfect vacation for your family.

Learn about Mayan ruins and other cultural attractions on a
Western Caribbean cruise.

 Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier




Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Visit U.S. national parks during fee-free week in April

Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
If you love nature and the beauty of God-created landscapes, don’t let the week of April 19-27, 2014 go by without a visit to one of America’s national parks.  The National Park Service and the National Park Foundation have designated that time as National Park Week. To entice visitors even further (as if you needed enticement to enjoy any of these national treasures), there will be no entrance fees on Saturday, April 19 and Sunday, April 20. Yes, you can visit any of the more than 4,000 areas within the national park system free of charge.
Wrangell St. Elias is a true wilderness area
The theme for National Park Week this year is Go Wild. A perfect place to start—a park that exemplifies the theme better than any other--would be the country’s largest national park, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, which covers an astounding 13.2 million acres in Alaska.
 Bears and berries perfectly represent the Go Wild theme
for April 2014 National Park Week

Alaska too far away to visit this weekend? In addition to the 13 well-known attractions such as Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Glacier, there are 20 National Natural Landmarks, 46 National Historic Landmarks, and more than 3,000 National Register of Historic Places. From diverse wildlife and iconic landscapes to vibrant culture and rich history, the National Park System has something for everyone.
Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
Also, this year the National Park Foundation has teamed with Disney, which is premiering the new Disneynature film “Bears” on Friday, April 18. If you see the film during opening week, Disneynature will make a donation to the National Park Foundation on your behalf to help protect wildlife and wild places in the park system.

Our national parks have been called America’s Best Idea, and if you’ve visited any of these extraordinary places, I’m sure you’ll agree. As a bonus, many will feature special programs for discovering history and exploring nature during National Park Week, so check online to see what’s offered at your nearest national park.
Great Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee
Whether you like to hike, learn about history, entertain the kids, join crowds of fellow sight-seers, or seek out peace and solitude, there’s a park experience to fit your needs. National parks belong to all of us, so take advantage of these special places during the fee-free week. Look online for the National Park Foundation’s free Owner’s Guide series for a plethora of ideas to help you plan your next adventure, either during National Park Week or any time throughout the year.
Glacier National Park in Montana
Do you have a favorite national park? Tell us which one and why you’d recommend it to readers.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Celebrating the cotton gin

Anyone who has ancestors from the South has probably heard stories about the days when King Cotton ruled the fields, a phenomenon that occurred after Eli Whitney’s cotton gin came into common use. One version of this remarkable machine, which marks its centennial in 2014, forms the core of the Texas Cotton Gin Museum in Burton, Texas, 77 miles from Austin on SH 290.
Visitors tour the Texas Cotton Gin Museum in Burton, TX
To commemorate this event, the 25th Annual Cotton Gin Festival will kick off with an All You Can Eat shrimp boil ($30 per person) and live auction Friday evening, April 25. On Saturday, April 26, the free festival features a parade at 10:00 followed by a bubble gum blowing contest, pie eating contest, tractor pull, and cotton seed pulling contest. Bands and singers will provide entertainment throughout the day along with folk life demonstrations and arts and crafts booths.

Not fancy, the Texas Cotton Gin Museum reflects the
small farming community in Washington County where it is located.
Built in 1914, the Burton gin is the last surviving turn-of-the century air system gin on the original site with the original equipment in the United States. The gin will once again be put into operation on April 26 when two bales of cotton will be ginned there to commemorate a century of agricultural change and the impact of the cotton gin on the U. S. economy in the early 20th century.
Early 1900s farmers brought their
cotton to the gin in wagons.
In the 19th century, separating cotton fibers from its seeds was very labor intensive and unprofitable because all the work was done by hand. With the advent of Whitney’s cotton gin, processing cotton became much easier and resulted in greater availability and cheaper cloth. Increased demand, standardized machine work, and better maintenance techniques fed the growing factory system that changed production of goods across America and jump-started the Industrial Revolution.

During the days when cotton was king, even small farming communities had one or more gins. Today the process of putting cotton into bales is so mechanized and streamlined that very few gins remain. That makes the Texas Cotton Gin Museum unique, the only one of its kind in the country, according to museum curator Jerry Moore.
Curator Jerry Moore demonstrates how
seed is removed from the cotton.
Originally operated by steam, the Burton gin began its first run with the Bessemer engine, called Lady B, on June 6, 1925. This oil-burning engine, a National Engineering Landmark, still operates the gin on occasion and will make the commemorative cotton bales in April. Asked who would run the gin, Moore replied that they have no problem getting a crew as so many people with engine knowledge want the experience.

A bale weighs approximately 500 pounds.
From that amount of cotton the textile
industry can produce 1217 men's T shirts,
 896 women's blouses,
300 pairs of men's jeans, or 210 sheets.
Officially closed in 1974, a year only seven bales were ginned, the Burton property was purchased by a couple from Ohio who came to realize the historical significance of the building and subsequently contacted the Smithsonian. Agents from the national museum spent two weeks checking out the authenticity of the gin—and in the process found the entire stash of record books left by the German immigrants who ran the Washington County gin during the early years.
The story of the Burton gin, now recognized as a National Historic Register site, and its place in the development of cotton as a major agricultural crop, are told by Moore in an hour-long tour he gives visitors to the Texas Cotton Gin Museum. Relating the story from the farmer’s point of view, Moore has developed an entertaining and educational presentation enjoyed by all ages.

307 N. Main St.
Burton, TX 77835

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Friday, April 11, 2014

The Grand Canyon's grandest adventure--rafting on the Colorado River

One of the greatest adventures you can have in the U.S. is rafting on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. Click the link below to read about my experiences camping and running rapids in this wonder of the world--and get inspired to do this yourself!
Beginning our 10-day excursion on the Colorado River
in the Grand Canyon. The first of many spectacular sights.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch in central Texas opens expansion

Seven new animal species and  a growing giraffe population call the new, 50-acre preserve home.

Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch’s 100-year legacy in land heritage continues with the opening of Tower Creek, the Ranch’s largest expansion to its 400-acre preserve in 15 years.
Tower Creek, the newest expansion at the Wildlife Ranch, opened this spring.

“It’s been a labor of love,” says Tiffany Soechting, Natural Bridge WildlifeRanch marketing director and animal specialist. “Since 2010, we have carefully planned—repurposing untouched Texas Hill Country ranch land that has been in our family for over 150 years. It was our duty and honor to protect it, to provide more space for visitors to learn about the wild and endangered animals that share our earth.”

 The 50-acre expansion traverses Cibolo Creek and is home to seven animal species new to the ranch, including Impala, Zebu, Grant’s Gazelles, Sable Antelope, as well as African endangered species Nile Lechwe, Arabian Oryx, Dama Gazelle, and Bongo Antelope.
Get a close-up look at zebras at
Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch

Reticulated Giraffes roam in an open enclosure environment in the center of Tower Creek. It’s the first time in the ranch’s history where visitors are able to feed the Reticulated Giraffes from their vehicles.

“After the birth of the twin Reticulated Giraffes last year, we knew it was time to bring visitors a bit closer to these amazing creatures,” Soechting says. “It’s the reason we named the expansion Tower Creek. Tower is a herd of giraffe—and that’s what visitors will see at as they descend onto the property.” 

The one-year old twin Reticulated Giraffes, Nakato and Wasswa, born in 2013, are thriving and have proved to be a big attraction at the Wildlife Ranch. Their enclosure remains at the entrance of the ranch for their safety, allowing ranch personnel easier access for feeding and care.

This fellow checks out passengers in a car driving
on the Wildlife Ranch's road.
Over 31,000 cubic feet of limestone was milled from the bluff over Tower Creek, which was used to build the 2-mile road through the expansion. Visitors are able to see the depth of the limestone rock wall, which is exposed at the expansion’s entrance.  “It’s a unique opportunity to see the geology of the Texas Hill Country,” said Soechting.

The Safari Sweet Spot, the Ranch’s new eatery that offers ice cream, fudge, and candy, is located under a grove of oak trees in Tower Creek, providing visitors a unique perch to watch the giraffes roam. “It just brings people closer to the giraffes and gives them  a comfortable space to see the giraffes  frolic, run, and play,” Soechting says.

 Touring the Wildlife Ranch give visitors
an appreciation for unique animals.
Opened in 1984, Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch has become one of Texas’ most recognized entertainment attractions. The Ranch covers 450 acres of Texas hill country terrain and provides 6 miles of paved roads where guests drive through and witness the natural animal behaviors of over 500 animals from 40 exotic, native, and endangered animal species worldwide.  The natural, free-roaming environment is home to many unique animals, including Southern White Rhinoceros’, North American Buffalo, Reticulated Giraffes, as well as many zebras, emus, ostriches, elk, gazelle and wildebeests.

While there, plan to spend time touring the caves and enjoying Discovery Village, the newest addition at adjacent Natural Bridge Caverns. Located near New Braunfels, the Natural Bridge attractions are conveniently situated between San Antonio and Austin.

Read more here:

Information courtesy of Melissa Welch, PR. Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Colorful Burano, Italy is all about lace--but it's not too frilly

Imagine being a fisherman from the small island of Burano, Italy, near Venice, many centuries ago. You return late at night after a hard day dragging nets through ocean waves, and when you leave your boat to walk home, all the houses look the same.
Colorful buildings are a hallmark of Burano, Italy.
Local residents (i.e. wives and families) found a solution, so their men would return to the right home: Paint the buildings in vivid, can’t-miss colors of red, yellow, orange, green, purple, and pink. If two families shared the same building, half would be painted one color and the other half a different color, so there’s no mistaking property lines and proper addresses. Today these brightly colored buildings are a main attraction for visitors to the island where many of the 3,000 inhabitants are still fishermen or farmers.

Visitors enjoy dining beside the narrow canals of Burano.
This antique lace dress is on display at
Lidia Merletto linen store in Burano.
In recent years Burano has also become a paradise for artists and photographers. Its seaward location, colorful buildings, and numerous bridges provide inspirations for creative endeavors. Another claim to fame for the island is the beautiful laces made by skilled women in time-honored traditions that were once called “making a stitch in the air.”
During our visit to Burano, we wandered into several stores featuring beautiful handmade lace and embroidered items. At Lidia Merletto, a charming boutique selling quality linens and lace, we watched a 71-year-old lady demonstrate the skills she learned at age 10 and later developed at a lace-making school. An expert in the craft, her fingers moved deftly over the cloth, weaving in and out to form a variety of artistic designs.
One of many shops featuring exquisite handmade lace items.
The store also featured a delightful little gallery displaying lace handcrafts dating back to the 16th century. Actual antique laces with stunningly intricate patterns hung on walls along with photos of notable lace garments. Of course, I couldn’t leave without a reminder of our visit. So I bought a lovely circular handmade piece in a classic ecru color.

If it's pizza, it's gotta be good.
After shopping and walking beside canals and over bridges, we satisfied our Italian hunger with pizza purchased from a street-side stand—dining al fresco while enjoying the warm weather and pleasant people-watching. Before long, it was time to board our boat to return to Venice.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier
Read more of Beverly's travel articles at Austin Adventure Travel and Striped Pot.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Texas wildflower season has begun

Bluebonnets and Indian paint brushes
decorate roadsides in Central Texas.
Plan your wildflower drive now.

As we approach the end of March wildflowers have really begun bursting into color on central Texas roadsides. The next two or three weeks should provide the best opportunities for seeing bluebonnets, red Indian paint brushes, and numerous varieties of pink, white, yellow, orange, and purple flowers that decorate the Texas Hill Country landscape each spring.
If you love wildflowers, now is the time to plan a leisurely drive through the Texas Hill Country. Thanks to winter rains, bluebonnets are reaching their peak earlier this year, although the striking red Indian paint brushes seem to be a bit later. Roadsides and occasional fields will soon be bursting with color.  

If you decide to take wildflower viewing day trip, keep a few guidelines in mind. Be vigilant of traffic when stopping beside the road, and be mindful not to trespass on private property. Enjoy the sights, and don't forget your camera!

Indian blanket

In past years, we have headed out from Austin for a wildflower drive, turning west on Hwy 71 towards Marble Falls. We stopped along the highway at several thick patches of bluebonnets—the perfect backdrop for photos of kids and dogs. Thanks to seeding by TXDOT, roadsides have sprouted with thick carpets of bluebonnets in many locations. Just be sure there’s ample space to pull off the road and take photos without trampling the flowers.
Bright orange claret cups decorated a roadside patch.
If you drive by Horseshoe Bay on FM 2147 there’s a long white wooden fence with bluebonnets in front which makes a lovely photo. A gorgeous patch of orange flowers, dotted with blue, pink, red, and purple caught our attention further on.  Plentiful bluebonnets lined the hilly, curvy Park Road 4, one of our favorite routes.  Several groups of bikers sped by, also enjoying this springtime ritual.  Later we traveled on FM 2341 near Burnet towards Canyon of the Eagles.

Bluebonnets and huisache daisies cover a roadside field.
If you get to Llano, look for beautiful bluebonnet displays on Hwy 16 and south of Llano.  You might see a large field of prairie verbena near Johnson City on the south side of U.S. 290. The old school yard at Prairie Mountain, which you'll pass on the way to Fredericksburg, is generally filled with pink and yellow flowers that make a lovely photo.

As usual, Willow City Loop will likely be gorgeous. If you chose to drive the Loop, remember that it’s a private road through private property, and it’s against the law to trespass (but there's no law against picking wildflowers). Take care and leave the seasonal show for others to enjoy, too.

We couldn't resist posing among the bluebonnets!
Another area within day trip distance from Austin includes fields and roadsides around Brenham and Chappell Hill. If you head that way, be sure to stop for some Blue Bell ice cream in the city where it was created.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier