Thursday, February 26, 2015

Wacky Museums: If You Collect It, They Will Come

What happens when a personal collection outgrows its simple beginnings? Some morph into museums that continue to reflect the public's infatuation with specific — often quirky — items.Once an idea catches on, either because it's unusual, nostalgic or just plain wacky, there's no stopping it.

My article in NowU, “Unusual Museums with Their Own Kind of Charm,” profiles three such museums: National Mustard Museum in Middleton, Wisconsin; Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas; and Museum of Bad Art near Boston, Massachusettes.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Malta is a wondeful holiday destination

Malta's stunning architecture
Malta is a small island in the Mediterranean Sea, and the people are a mixture of many Mediterranean Cultures. Throughout history its strategic location between the North Africa coast and the island of Sicily has resulted in different countrymen building fortresses and bunkers to guard the protected port area. Arriving by ship, it has one of the most outstanding entries you’ll see on a cruise.
Built along the sea, Malta is a busy port
Its history is speckled with invasions dating back to 800 B.C. when the Phoenicians colonized the islands. The North African colony of Carthage ruled for awhile; then Malta became part of the Roman Empire. Arabs arrived in 870 and were later expelled by the Normans. A series of European rulers and pirates from Turkey and Asian countries ravaged the island.  Crusaders from the Knights of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem protected the islands from 1530 until Napoleon conquered Malta in 1798.

Clear, turquoise water at the Blue Lagoon
After the Maltese defeated the French in 1800 the islands officially became part of the British Empire, so many natives speak English. Malta again found itself under siege during WWII as a key port in the battle for the Mediterranean Sea. Malta gained independence in 1965 and joined the European Union in 1992. Today most tourists to Malta come from the United Kingdom, but U.S. visitors are discovering its many charms.
With 300 days of sunshine and warm summer temperatures, it’s easy to see why the sea and sandy beaches are so popular. Be sure to stop at the Blue Lagoon (or take a boat ride there).When you’re tired of sifting your toes through the sand, take a drive to see more rugged areas of the coastline. Don’t forget to sample some of the seafood dishes and pasta for which Malta is known as well as the rabbit stew.
Golden sand beaches were so tempting

Spend some time wandering around Valletta, the capital city of Malta and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Winding alleyways lead to museums, monuments, baroque architecture, churches, restaurants, and shops. It’s a city built on two levels, with the more modern options on the upper level (a lift/elevator will take you up, if you choose not to walk).
Designated as the European Capital of Culture for 2018, Valletta is a wonderful blend of old and new.  It’s a 16th century architectural masterpiece known as the “city built by gentlemen for gentlemen”

Barrakka Gardens on the upper level of Valletta
It’s an easily walkable city, so in addition to sea, sun, and sand, plan time to enjoy Upper Barrakka Gardens, Palace of the Grand Masters, and Fort St. Elmo. Take in an overview of the memorable port area from land or ship and imagine pirates or invading countries trying to penetrate the massive stone walls and fortresses.
The historic “Old Town,” Mdina, is located at the geographical center of the island and is a functioning walled city with narrow cobblestone streets. The Mdina Cathedral, is known for its fine collection of paintings and wood carvings.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Friday, February 20, 2015

Have wine--will travel


Nuvine Chardonnay
Is wine a favorite component of your travel plans? Transporting glass bottles in your checked luggage can be risky, even if they are well-padded. No one wants red wine stains on their entire vacation wardrobe should the rough handling result in a broken bottle. And boxed wine is…well, not very practical to travel with—and usually not very good.
Now there’s a new option for wine-on-the-go. Nuvino is billed as wine without excess baggage. It’s individual servings of wine in a lightweight, unbreakable pouch. No corkscrew needed to open and no bulky glasses needed for serving. Nuvino is perfect for the beach or an outdoor concert, too.
What about taste? Nuvino wines come from four internationally renowned wine regions. There’s a Sauvignon Blanc from the dry-farmed vineyards of Chile’s Maule Valley. Fresh aromas of white flowers, crisp citrus, green apples, and white peaches pair perfectly with salmon, salad, or lighter fare.
The zesty un-oaked Chardonnay comes from two of South Africa’s wine regions and features a balance of vanilla, pineapple, and ripe peach flavors.
Nuvino Malbec
The Red Blend hails from South Eastern Australia’s Swan Hill wine region. Smooth flavors of plums, mulberries, and oak flavor this soft, juicy wine.
Produced in the eastern foothills of the majestic Andes mountains in the Mendoza’s MaipĂș wine region, the fruity Malbec is perfect with your favorite steak, barbecue ribs, or spicy-sweet dishes.
Check out current offerings at
Information and images courtesy of Louis R. Barbarini, Illumination PR
(I have no connection and have not received anything from Nuvino)


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Now is the best time to visit Cuba

Iconic 1950s cars are still running on the streets of
Cuban towns and cities.
Thinking of visiting Cuba now that restrictions for U.S. travelers have been loosened? Read my article in NowU, a publication of USA Today.

You'll read about my visit to Cuba in 2013, regulations still in place and those that have changed, and tips for getting the most out of travel there in the near future.

Organic farmers are a new breed in Cuban agriculture.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Best ways to exchange dollars for foreign currency when traveling

Cash is king when you travel. And if your journey takes you to another country, you’ll need to acquire cash in the proper currency upon arrival. Exchange rates and foreign transactions fees can take a big bite out of your money, so it’s important to think about this before you go.
You can often get the more common foreign currencies at U.S. banks, but it’s a good idea to check the exchange rate online before doing this. While it’s convenient for you, the bank may take an extra cut, meaning your dollars are worth less. If you do opt to travel with the currency of your destination already in your wallet, exchange just enough to get you by the couple of days.

Check on whether your credit cards still charge foreign transaction fees, which can be as high as three percent for charges made on the card. Fortunately, many cards, including those from major airlines like Delta and United, have eliminated these fees, so you save a bunch and still have the safety of using a credit card. Credit cards from hotel companies like Holiday Inn, Hilton, Marriott, Fairmont, IHG, and Hyatt are also free of foreign transaction fees. Discover, Capital One, and some Chase cards are usually good choices for travelers (check the small print). Many of these credit cards also offer different levels of travel insurance, which can be a bonus if something goes amiss on your trip.

Be sure to inform your bank or credit card company prior to travel that you’ll be charging items on the card in a foreign country (or just across the country, if you're in the U.S.). If unexplained charges suddenly appear, your next charge may be denied or the card could be frozen, and you wouldn’t be able to use it at all. Which brings up another point: I travel with two credit cards, so that one can always be accessed.

Another place to exchange money when traveling is at a foreign ATM, although check for fees here, too. Some banks require that you use specific ATMs, but if yours doesn’t charge a fee, this can be your best bet for withdrawing reasonable amounts of cash quickly and easily. Just be sure your bank account at home can cover the amount and your bank is aware that you’ll be using your debit card in another country for this purpose.

Airports generally have booths for currency exchange, but they charge high commissions, so avoid them unless you just have to have taxi fare in cash to get to your hotel. Exchanging currency for cash at the hotel will probably also hit you with high fees, although it’s certainly more convenient than searching for a local bank. Yet, that’s where you’re likely to find the most favorable rates.

So, when you’re settled in, find the nearest bank to exchange dollars for pesos, euros, pounds, francs, lira, or another exotic currency. Hopefully, you’ll get a rate that’s close to the actual exchange rate.

Photos from Bing


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

5 tips to ease the stress of flying with kids

Traveling by air these days is challenging enough without the added strain of having kids along for the ride. But, of course, sometimes a family trip is in order. Still, who appreciates grumpy stares of other travelers when the kids are being…well, kids?
These tips can help you—and other passengers--have as pleasant a flight as possible.

Explain what to expect. Talk about your adventure and destination with your kids prior to the trip. Children are more likely to cooperate if they know what the procedure will be and what to expect when they get there. If you’re happy and excited about your journey, they will be, too.
Schedule flights during off-peak times. Holidays and spring break can be chaos with crowded airports and a higher likelihood of delays. If possible, schedule your flights mid-day and mid-week. Avoid the last flight of the day, or you could be stuck in the airport if anything goes amiss. During take-off and landing, protect ears with breast or bottle feeding, gum, or a lollipop.

Arrive at the airport early. Allow plenty of time for checking in, going through security, and finding the right gate. It’s nearly impossible to jog through the terminal with kids in tow if you’re running late. Allow time to put fresh diapers on little ones and to take older children to the bathroom before boarding. Many airports have play areas, so the kids can expend some energy during extra waiting time.
Bring a stroller. Leave the heavy-duty, pack-it-all-in model at home, and opt for a stroller that folds easily because you’ll need to do that at security and before boarding the plane (gate-check the stroller so you have it during layovers). When toddlers get tired of traipsing through the terminal, you can let them ride awhile (It’s easier for you if they are contained and not lollygagging behind). If kiddos prefer to walk, the stroller can hold backpacks and small luggage.

Be prepared for glitches.  Bring along enough healthy snacks that your kids like for the entire trip and possible delays. Skip candy and anything loaded with sugar. Finger foods like granola bars, pretzels, and fruit pieces work well and avoid big messes. For infants, include juice and baby food (Can you imagine taking an international flight without an extra bottle? Just listened to a poor baby cry all night because mom didn't prepare).
Have plenty of items for entertainment easily accessible in your carryon. Late or cancelled flights can mean hours of waiting, so have a back-up plan in case this happens. You might even pack a couple of “surprise” items that can magically appear when a child is on the verge of a melt-down. Shop the dollar store for crayons, stickers, and small books to slip in your bag. If you have a DVD player bring it along (fully charged!)  Hours of screen time don’t count during a flight.
Head off potential mishaps by planning ahead and being calm and courteous to fellow travelers, flight attendants, and your children as well.  Relax and keep a smile on your face, and hopefully everyone will have a good experience in the air.

Find more information about traveling with infants or unaccompanied minors from this 2018 guide at

All images provided free of charge.