Monday, September 29, 2014

5 reasons to visit Albuquerque in autumn

Autumn is a “magical” season in Albuquerque, New Mexico; it’s the time of year that locals look forward to and welcome visitors for a variety of special occasions. Here are five reasons why autumn in Albuquerque is amazing:

Balloon glow attracts visitors during the fiesta.
Albuquerque International BalloonFiesta. More than 500 hot air balloons dot the skies during this annual event. Early risers can witness the mass ascension events, eat world-famous breakfast burritos, and see the sun rise over the Sandia Mountains. In the evenings, balloons stay on the ground for “glow” events, allowing visitors to see these beauties up close. There will also be concerts, competitions and new special shapes, including an orca and a snail. This year’s event runs October 4-12.

Chile Roasting Season Snap, crackle and pop! It’s what you’ll hear when visiting dozens of locations throughout the city where chiles are roasting. Fall is chile harvest season, and visitors will see roasters set up everywhere, from the grocery store to farmers’ markets and restaurants Go to a local restaurant that incorporates them into dishes, from donuts to stuffed sopapillas.
You don't have to look far to find chiles in Albuquerque.

Fall colors from many angles  Albuquerque’s location in a river valley and its altitude – more than a mile high – mean that the city has many deciduous trees, from cottonwood to aspen. To see the trees up close, take a bike tour along the Rio Grande River on the city’s well-known Bosque Trail, a paddling tour on the river, or a breathtaking tram ride to the top of 10,000-foot-high Sandia Mountains. A drive on the Sandia Crest National Scenic Byway to the range’s highest point will provide spectacular fall color.

Perfect weather for a mountain hike
Spectacular weather. Most October days are clear and sunny, with highs in the 70s and lows around 50. Humidity is nearly nonexistent, meaning conditions are ideal for spending time outside. If you’re up early to take in a balloon ride or hike, dress in warm layers for the cool mornings; then peel them off as the sun comes up. Don’t miss the sunsets – some of the most stunning in the world, due to big skies, beautiful clouds, and a landscape featuring mountains that turn watermelon pink as the sun goes down.

Take the tram to the top if Sandia Mountain.
Special Events From pumpkin patches to corn mazes and ghost hunts, Albuquerque is a great city for fall traditions. There are several arts and cultural festivals, including events with a Native American focus and a Greek-inspired celebration. One of the most colorful events in fall is Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, which is used to honor deceased loved ones. Brightly decorated skulls can be seen everywhere including jewelry, art, and even as face painting!
Information courtesy of Heather Briganti, Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Friday, September 26, 2014

4 days, 4 events: Gruene Music and Wine Festival

Mark your calendars for October 9-12, 2014 and raise your glass. The 28th Annual Gruene Music & Wine Festival, presented by Gruene Hall and KNBT 92.1 FM, is right around the corner.  It’s just a quick hour’s drive from Austin in a historic section of the Lone Star state near New Braunfels. Come for a weekend full of Texas music, wine and food, all to benefit the United Way of Comal County. Tickets may be purchased at    

Events Schedule
That’s Right, It’s Not From Texas - Thursday, October 9th
5:30 - 7:30pm: The Grapevine – Kick-off event featuring New World & German wines, live jazz music and, best of all, spectacular “Not From Texas” vacation package door prizes including trips to Savannah, GA; Orlando, FL; Kansas City, KS and more.
8:00pm: Gruene Hall – Uncle Lucius
Rockin’ With Texas Wine & Food – Friday, October 10th
5:30 - 8:30pm: Gruene Hall – Private show and meet ‘n’ greet with Robert Earl Keen, catered dinner by Gristmill River Restaurant and a wine tasting with McPherson Cellars, Texas Southwind Winery and Texas Hills Wineries. Silent auction and The Great Guitar Auction with autographed guitars by George Strait, Willie Nelson, Robert Earl Keen, The Mavericks, Lyle Lovett, Patty Griffin, Joe Ely, Lisa Marie Presley, Jerry Jeff Walker, Joe Ely, The Old 97’s, Stoney LaRue, Chris Isaak, Kim Wilson of the Fabulous Thunderbirds and The Departed with Cody Canada and Seth James.
9:30pm: Gruene Hall – Robert Earl Keen
Texas Tastings & Tunes – Saturday, October 11th
Noon – 6:00pm: The Grapevine Grounds – Taste over 90 different Texas wines from over 30 different wineries, grab a snack in Le Cordon Gruene Food Alley and shop the craft market all to the beat of live, original Texas music.
9:00pm: Gruene Hall – Cory Morrow
Texas-Style Music Fest – Sunday, October 12th
10:30am – Noon: Gruene Hall – Gospel Brunch with a Texas Twist catered by the Gristmill River Restaurant
1:00 – 6:00pm: The Grapevine Grounds – Brew-n-Que with the very best in beer and Texas BBQ. Original Texas tunes showcased live throughout the day.
2:00 – 10:00pm: Gruene Hall – Eight full hours of the very best in Americana music on two stages.
Among the 32 confirmed wineries that will have tastings and bottles for sale are Bell Springs, Fall Creek, Georgetown, Grape Creek, Pedernales Cellars, Pleasant Hill, Stone House Vineyard, Three Dudes, Val Verde, Westcave, and many more. For complete listings of all vendors, please visit
Information and photos courtesy of Katie Molack, marketing consultant for Gruene Historic District.






Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Looking ahead for air travel

If you were an airline passenger during the past year, you’d  probably agree that flying has become more tedious and less pleasant all around.  There really is less room between seats, not to mention that the seats themselves are smaller. Airlines have reconfigured cabins to accommodate more seats, even taking space from bathrooms to allow for more seats.  Road rage has given way to seat rage as travelers battle over whether to recline or not.

Overhead storage? It’s diminishing, too, and passengers must scramble to find a spot for their carry-on bag. Adding to the frustration, some airlines are now imposing fees for gate checking bags that don’t fit.
Add in additional fees for extra leg room, checking baggage, purchasing food items in transit, and additional security fees, and it’s no wonder many travelers are grumpy before they even board the plane.

Despite all that, Dean Headley, Airline Quality Rating co-author and associate professor of marketing at Wichita State University, says industry airline performance quality has generally improved each year since 2007. In 2013 airline performance was steady, with improvement trends during the first five months (December had the worst monthly ratings, however).
Recent airline consolidations will require time before it can be determined whether these mega-carriers provide better service for travelers—historically, that’s questionable.

In the meantime, the following ratings by the Airline Quality Rating system might prove helpful for booking your next flight: In 2013, the best performing airlines across the combined AQR categories were Virgin America, Jet Blue, Hawaiian, Delta, and Alaska. Hawaiian was best in on-time performance. Jet Blue and Virgin America were best in avoiding denied boardings. Virgin America was best in baggage handling. Southwest had the lowest rate of customer complaints.

The worst performing airlines across the combined AQR categories in 2013 were American Eagle, SkyWest, Express Jet, United, and Frontier. American Eagle, ExpressJet, and Frontier had the worst on-time performances. SkyWest had the worst rate of denied boardings. American Eagle had the highest rate of mishandled baggage. Frontier had the highest rate of customer complaints.

The best things you can do as a traveler are plan ahead and then bring your most patient attitude to the terminal.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Living on the edge at Taft Point in Yosemite National Park

Sometimes the only way to believe in forever is to see it firsthand.

I read this quote in a magazine ad on the wild and wonderful charms of  West Virginia, a state I've never visited. It reminded me of  another wild and wonderful sight from my travels.

Looking 3,000 feet down into Yosemite Valley
from Taft Point
At the end of the Taft Point Trail in Yosemite National Park is a spot that perfectly fits the quote: You can see forever. In fact, you’ll have heart-thumping views of the Yosemite Valley 3000 feet below while roaming among huge granite boulders overlooking sheer drop-offs.

The hike starts out on a forested path.
This 2.2-mile round-trip hike starts from the same trailhead as Sentinel Dome Trail on Glacier Point Road. It meanders in the opposite direction through a thick green forest (shady and cool despite warm afternoon temperatures) and briefly climbs up a granite rock face to the top of Taft Point's cliff.

Only one small guardrail keeps
visitors back from the edge.
From about 8,000 feet elevation you have sweeping vistas of the Valley, ElCapitan, and Yosemite's north rim. But what is most striking is the incredible sense of awe you feel at the vastness stretching out in front of and below you. With a strong wind blowing--and only one small guardrail--you also need a healthy respect for the potential danger of the site. In fact, a couple fell to their deaths from this spot in October 2018.

Boulders have been stuck in
rock fissures for centuries.
Among the features of this hike are the fissures or cracks created by centuries of geologic upheaval--some trapping huge boulders between the rock walls—just waiting for an earthquake to shake them loose.

Amazingly, our party of three had this entire scene to ourselves. We wandered over the rock  surface, and I tempted the fates a bit bydangling  my feet over the edge (I looked out not down!).  We lingered awhile on elevated rocks just soaking  in the serenity and peacefulness of this immense, isolated spot. Even in a national park visited by four million people annually, it’s possible to feel alone and at one with nature.

Sharp, jagged rocks form sheer cliffs
at Taft Point in Yosemite.
Taft Point Trail  isn’t a difficult hike; but if you take children, be sure to keep an eye on them at the top! There’s plenty of room to roam, which is fine as long as they don’t lose their footing or get close to the edge.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier




Sunday, September 14, 2014

Atlas V rocket launches at Kennedy Space Center

The U.S. space program is still active, even if we don't hear about it so often these days. If you’re fascinated by space exploration, its challenges and triumphs, and all the innovations that have come about as a result, you might enjoy attending this special opportunity to view a live rocket launch.

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex guests can experience the breathtaking sights and sounds of the launch of an Atlas V rocket as it lifts off on Tuesday, September 16, 2014. Visitors may enjoy a front row seat to view the launch from the Apollo/Saturn V Center, the closest possible public viewing area, and from viewing areas at the Visitor Complex. Launch viewing is included in daily admission.

Scheduled to blast off at 5:44 p.m. EST, the rocket will launch from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station United Launch Alliance is launching an Atlas V rocket carrying a classified CLIO satellite for the U.S. Government.

Rocket launches capture the viewer's imagination.
The last bus taking guests to the Apollo/Saturn V Center for Atlas V launch viewing will depart at 4 p.m. Be sure to check in advance as launch date and time are always subject to change.

Located along the Banana River and only three miles from the launch pad, the Apollo/Saturn V viewing area offers the closest public viewing opportunity in Brevard County. This viewing area will feature live launch countdown commentary. Space for launch viewing at the Apollo/Saturn V Center is limited and available on a first come, first served basis. Launch viewing from select areas at the Visitor Complex also will feature live mission control commentary.

Plan to spend a day of fun and educational activities including interactive exhibits and 3D IMAX space film at the Visitor Complex, which will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sept. 16.  Admission also includes the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Admission tickets ($50 for adults and $40 for children ages 3-11) may be purchased at or by calling 877-313-2610.

Information courtesy of Alina Quintana, Bitman Goodman PR


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Book holiday flights early

Planning a trip to visit family or friends for the holidays? If you’re flying to your destination, hopefully you booked flights before several airlines raised rates last week. No? Then book now.
Travel volumes have been strong all year, which means higher demand during the holiday season is likely. Ticket prices will be higher (lower fuel costs notwithstanding) and seats harder to find.

Plans far ahead for air travel during the holidays.
"During the past several years, the holiday travel period has continued to be a challenging time for travelers, and with industry-wide seat capacity reduction, it will remain a stressful travel experience," said Dean Headley, Airline Quality Rating co-author and associate professor of marketing at Wichita State University.

"December typically has one of the worst industry performance scores of any month, so it’s no surprise that December 2013 was the worst month for the entire year. The best bet for the consumer is to travel as early before the actual holiday or as late as possible afterward, and always leave room for schedule changes," Headley adds.

Airline mergers continue to shrink consumer choices. Unfortunately, larger airlines don’t necessarily result in improved performance, Headley says. Also, add-on fees are increasing and travel is becoming more stressful in general. (Remember the recent confrontations over reclining seats?)

The Atlanta airport is one of the busiest in the U.S. Allow
additional  time during the holidays to check in and find your correct gate.
If you do decide to travel by air, be sure to allow enough time to make connecting flights. I’d recommend no less than an hour for domestic flights, and that’s still risky because flights could be delayed for weather reasons--common during the winter. Or flight schedules could change; getting crews to the airport in a timely manner seems to be an increasing problem for some airlines. One year I even got caught in the unfortunate situation where baggage handlers went on strike at Christmas, bringing travel to a halt.

Consider shipping packages ahead of time, or leave presents unwrapped in your bags. Pack light to avoid checking luggage, if possible. No sense putting your belongings at additional risk of getting lost.

Check-in online the day before travel, and check flight status prior to leaving for the airport. Then bring your most cheerful holiday attitude, and try to be considerate of others wherever you’re flying.

Photos from free sources.


Monday, September 8, 2014

Try the drift snorkel experience at Taha'a in the South Pacific

The Taha'a motu from which we did our drift snorkel.
After our cruise ship docked at the South Pacific island of Raiatea, Larry and I boarded a covered motor boat for a 30-minute ride along the west coast of Taha’a, sister island to Raiatea. We arrived at a small sandy beach on an uninhabited motu (small island) and disembarked with just our snorkeling gear to begin our Taha’a Coral Garden Snorkeling excursion.
Taha’a is an idyllic island north of Raiatea, only accessible by boat (shuttles run regularly). It is shaped like a hibiscus flower with four long bays cutting into its rugged south shore.  Taha’a shares a lagoon with Raiatea, but it’s a quieter island with few tourists. A beautiful beach and clear water made it a lovely place to snorkel.
Our guide, Matt, picked a hibiscus flower
to rub inside our snorkel masks to
prevent fogging.

We disembarked from the boat and walked on a path containing sharp coral to the place where we would begin our drift experience. “Drift” is a misnomer, since the strong current moved everyone along rather swiftly. That current and the coral underfoot made for a challenge as we removed shoes and put on fins in the water. It’s this current that will carry us snorkelers back to the beach and boat.
Larry makes his way around coral formations.
Although we’re advised to keep 10 feet of space between each other, the fast current moved us along quite rapidly. The idea is to stay prone with your face in the water for the entire 15-minute ride, but that was easier said than done, especially if you bumped into the person in front or had to dodge a pair of flipping fins.

The lagoon is somewhat shallow with low clearance over much of the coral, so we really had to pay attention to the channels and use our fins and swimming skills to avoid collisions with the hard, sharp coral. Stopping was not an option.

Colorful fish and coral were definitely worth going to see.
Still, we saw many kinds of coral--round, bumpy lumps; tube-like flowers; jagged, irregular shapes; purple, yellow, brown, tan, gray, and white—and a variety of fish close by. Underwater photography was hit-or-miss. After reaching the beach, we set out to do it again. The second run went more smoothly, partly because I didn’t try to take as many photos.
Our reward for a job well done--fresh tropical fruits
Back at the boat, our guide prepared a lovely plate of fresh fruit (bananas, grapefruit, coconut, papaya) that everyone enjoyed. We had free time to snorkel or swim, but most people were content to rest and reflect on the unique drift snorkeling experience just completed.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Raiatea: heavenly island in the South Pacific

Raiatea means “faraway heaven,” and “sky with soft light,” and it’s easy to see why this South Pacific island was reported to be the legendary Captain James Cook’s favorite.  It’s a great place to visit if you want to get away from the beach crowd and explore off the beaten path.
Port of Uturoa with mountains in background
We docked early morning at Uturoa—one of the few South Pacific ports where cruise ships do not have to tender. In the distance we saw mighty Mt. Temehani, a revered mountain, thought to be the birthplace of the Polynesian god Oro. This mountain shelters a unique plant, the fragrant Tiare apetahi, a white gardenia-like flower shaped like an open hand with petals that open with a slight crackling sound at dawn. Legend says it’s the sound of a broken heart of a common woman who was not allowed to marry the son of the Tahitian king. The protected emblem of the island, this flower grows nowhere else on earth.

Tropical flowers glorify
the island.
Beautiful waterfalls can be seen in south Raiatea, and you can kayak on Faaroa River, gateway to the ocean and the only navigable river in Polynesia. With an abundance of flora such as wild hibiscus, bamboo groves, chestnut trees, and ginger flowers, the island is utopia for nature and garden lovers.

The second largest of Society Islands, after Tahiti, Raiatea is regarded as sacred, the center of Polynesian religion and culture more than 1,000 years ago. Historians say it’s likely that migrations to Hawaii, New Zealand, and other parts of East Polynesia originated from Raiatea. Because of its spiritual nature, marae (sacred rocks with inscriptions) scattered across the South Pacific, each contain a rock from the original marae on Raiatea.

Huts in Uturoa provide shade for shoppers.
You can visit one of these historical and cultural sites on the southeast coast. Taputauatea marae is a stone structures where priests and sailors offered sacrifices to the gods--and a place where people worked together to solve challenges of navigating South Pacific waters. Many enchanting legends still give the island an atmosphere of mystery.

Even large cruise ships must enter and leave the Raiatea lagoon
through narrow passages like this.
Although Raiatea has a population of more than 12,000, villages are tiny.  Shops and markets line a newly renovated waterfront area in Utoroa, the only town of any size on either Raiatea or its sister island Taha’a. Large cruise ships call here several times a week, which is an economic boon for the small towns.

Raiatea is a paradise for snorkeling or scuba diving
We learned that the islands of Raiatea and Taha’a are unique because both are enclosed by the same coral reef and may have once been one island. Even though Raiatea doesn’t have beaches, the lagoon is perfect for scuba diving and snorkeling with its coral gardens, caves, and drift diving in the passes. Surfing is also possible at the 10 passes that open from the ocean into the Raiatea-Taha’a Lagoon. Primitive motus (small islands) in the lagoon can be reached by boat, and picnickers or campers, both locals and visitors, often come for the day or weekend.
Camping on motus is a favorite getaway for locals and visitors.
If you’re looking for relaxation, beautiful scenery, or a great place to explore under water, Raiatea might just become your slice of heaven.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Marrakesh--a touch of magical Morocco

As the third largest city in Morocco with nearly 1 million people, Marrakesh is a fantastic travel introduction to the African continent. Sauntering through its many souks and bazaars, taking in the cacophony of drums and dances, and enjoying your first Berber tea is only one part of what this city offers. There is also a wealth of historic mosques andmonuments dotted around the Medina, or Old City, which contrasts with its more urbane Ville Nouvelle and its connecting parks. This provides the ideal opportunity to take in the African experience in all its traditional glory.

Be Prepared

As ever, being prepared is of utmost importance. Sweltering  summer temperatures can reach above 100  degrees in Marrakesh, and the accompanying humidity can make temperatures feel even hotter. Always drink bottled water to rehydrate. Also, be aware you’re visiting a new continent and therefore are more susceptible to particular diseases; always ensure you have the appropriate vaccinations and medical coverage.
Remember to keep a diligent eye on your belongings, and don’t pay a price for goods that you think is too high. Always haggle--don’t be fooled by pleasant smiles and tones from salesmen.

Explore the Medina

Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakesh, Morocco
The charming Old City has much to offer. The main square, Djemaa El-Fna, is a chaotic bustling arena packed with musicians, snake charmers, story tellers, shops, restaurants and more. Its vibrancy is contagious as you wander around almost aimlessly trying to take in the enthralling atmosphere. Connected to the main square, you’ll find the narrow cobbled alleyways of the souks where you can pretty much find everything at very reasonable prices. As before, always haggle, as once the shopkeepers realize you’re a tourist, the cost hikes up. Occasionally, you’ll have to move to the side as a cargo donkey passes by, but this adds to the unique charm of this commercial environment.

See the Sights

Take the time to visit some of the spectacular sights: The Koutoubia Mosque is right in the immediate vicinity of the Medina and hosts a wonderful towering minaret that illuminates at night. It’ll probably strike you at this stage how sanguine everything appears, including Koutoubia, which explains why the city is nicknamed the “Red City”. As you stroll down these crimson paths, don’t miss the ornate El Bahia Palace with its tranquil gardens. This palace was originally used by noblemen in the 19th century and for only 10 Dirhams (1.20 USD), it’s well worth a visit.

Marrakesh has a stunning variety of gardens and parks that are well worth exploring. Luscious gardens such as the Palmeraie, Majorelle and Menara are oases that add a touch of nature to your travels. 

Article and photo contributed by Susie Jones.