Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Fine dining at Apis Restaurant near Austin, Texas

A new restaurant in the Austin area is garnering rave reviews, and after dining there recently, I can see why. Apis Restaurant and Aviary is hitting the five star mark with delicious food and superb service.
A large outdoor patio adjacent to the stone building of Apis
allows patrons to enjoy pleasant central Texas weather..
Located on a six-acre plot on the banks of the Pedernales River in Spicewood (less than an hour by car from downtown Austin, west on Hwy 71) Apis opened in early February 2015 and has wowed the foodie crowd since then. 

Owners Casie and Taylor Hall have lived in Spicewood since 2008 and kept bees at their home. So, when they found the perfect spot to build their restaurant, it was natural to place hives there and to infuse the honeycomb theme into the building’s interior design (for starters, check out the ceiling, wall décor, and light fixtures) as well as using honey in many of the dishes they serve.
Honey from their 20 hives has become an important ingredient in the restaurant, and they plan to bottle and sell the excess. In keeping with their natural theme, they hope to add a small chicken coop and a garden with edible flowers and vegetables. Local farms provide much of the produce used in the restaurant.
Beverage director Jose Sapien has created a variety of
craft cocktails for Apis.
A cocktail at the bar is a great way to start your meal. I ordered the Aviary ($12), a signature honey-infused whiskey cocktail. Beverage director Jose Sapien has created all the craft cocktails on the menu including Texas-inspired drinks like the Wildflower (with Waterloo gin and grapefruit) and Hill Country (featuring vodka in a martini-style drink). “Part of my job is to be a chemist while I play with alcohol,” Sapien said regarding his novel drink creations.  Wines by the glass range from $10-13. The bar menu offers appetizers like fried cauliflower ($6) and roasted chicken thighs ($18).
Apis.Restaurant in Spicewood, Texas features
an elegant seasonal menu.
We sampled a variety of dishes in the dining room, starting with one of my favorites: warm buttermilk biscuits served with whipped honey butter and bee pollen. They really do melt in your mouth. Appetizers included innovative dishes featuring oysters, salmon belly, wild pork, egg toast, and crispy chicken skin. Just listing the main ingredient doesn’t do it justice, however, as the preparation renders each item unique and delicious.  Flounder crudo, tuna, foie gras Terrine, and spring pea soup are other beautifully plated offerings from Taylor and the kitchen staff.

Owner/chef Taylor Hall supervises
a talented kitchen staff.
Small plates with seasonal Louisiana crawfish, salmon, chicken breast, Colorado lamb, turbot (a mild white fish) and 40-day aged beef further tempted our palates. Even though we were fully satisfied by this time, desserts were too tempting to pass up. Fresh fruits were the basis for roasted pineapple and poteet strawberry dishes, but the absolute piece d’ resistance was the house-made honey bun with horchata ice cream. It’s to-die-for!
Now, all that kitchen expertise and style doesn’t come cheap, but if you’re celebrating a special occasion, want to impress visitors, or just appreciate fine food, this is the place to go.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Docking at Roatan, Honduras

Azure water, white beaches, and green forests attract visitors to Roatan.
Roatan, Honduras is one of our favorite ports when cruising in the Western Caribbean. Docks built by major cruise lines are only about seven years old, which means the tourist shopping area is also relatively new. Best of all, it is clean, attractive, and spacious—with locally-made items reasonably priced.
Located about 36 miles off the northern coast of mainland Honduras, Roatan’s appeal comes from its turquoise waters, emerald green hills, and sparkling white beaches. It is 37 miles long and less than five miles wide at its broadest point. Houses are clustered along the shore; inland the landscape is hilly and forested. Transportation is easy--Roatan has a small airport, and a highway goes around the island.

Lush green countryside makes a beautiful landscape in 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 to modern seaside villages and look for bounty stashed on the island by more than 5,000 pirates during the 16th and 17th centuries.  English is the main language, perhaps one reason why 25 percent of the 75,000 population is retired Americans (only 45 percent are natives).

Many varieties of coral are easily seen when snorkeling.
Snorkeling with Jolly Roger: 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.

A fun ride on the Jolly Roger catamaran.

In many places the reef crest is very shallow, just a foot underwater, but boat excursions travel to deeper water allowing for extended exploration around a variety of coral species. The opportunity to see beautiful coral enticed us to the Jolly Roger Marina, a short distance from where the Emerald Princess ship docked on our recent cruise. From there we took an hour-long catamaran ride to the west side of the island for enhanced reef snorkeling. It was the perfect Caribbean shore excursion—a sunny day and a pleasant boat ride with the wind behind us.
Because beaches are generally more attractive on the western end of the island (Tabyana Beach is considered one of the finest in the Caribbean), that’s where most hotels and resorts are located.  It’s also convenient for scuba divers or avid snorkelers.

Stunning coral species along the reef off the coast of Roatan.
When the boat docked, we swam in water that was often 15 to 20 feet deep and could see beyond the reef where drop-offs approached double that depth. In order not to touch potentially dangerous coral species, we followed the channels and had no trouble viewing dozens of stunning coral species and interesting formations in the crystal clear water.

Although we saw a few colorful fish and a sea turtle swimming, this experience was really about the coral. Indeed, it was one of our better reef snorkeling experiences. After an hour in the water, we climbed back on board and enjoyed a delicious lunch of chicken, rice, slaw, pasta salad, and watermelon. Oh, there was plenty of rum punch, too. Following lunch, a bus ride back to the ship gave us an opportunity to see more of the lush and verdant countryside of Roatan.

Ride the Magic Flying Beach Chair to Mahogany Beach,
walking distance from the cruise ship dock.
On land: Not into snorkeling? Near the dock, the Magic Flying Beach Chair takes 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 pristine white-sand beach. If you chose to keep your feet on land, it’s an easy walk to the beach.
Cruise passengers walk from the dock
to the shopping area in Roatan.
If water activities are not your thing, you can see monkeys, exotic birds, pirate caves, and colorful gardens at Gumbalimba Preservation Park on the west end of Roatan. Tropical oak and evergreen palms grow in abundance, and you can observe many types of indigenous flora and fauna (iguanas are the unofficial mascot of Roatan) while walking jungle trails at Carambola Botanical Gardens. Or watch an ancestral dance performed by costumed natives who are descendents of the Back Carib Indians.  

There's so much to do that you'll probably want to schedule a future cruise to further explore this beautiful island.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier. Copyright protected.





Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Texas wildflowers are in full bloom

Here are additional wildflower pictures taken earlier in April as we drove west from Austin on SH 71, hitting spots around Lakeway, Marble Falls, Park Road 4 towards Inks Lake, Llano, and back on SH 71. If you haven't been out to see the colorful displays, go soon. In some central Texas locations the flowers have already hit their peak, but there are still many gorgeous roadsides and fields to fill your heart and soul with the beauty of spring.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Monday, April 20, 2015

Bluebonnets blooming at Muleshoe Bend near Austin

Beautiful setting bordering on Lake Travis.
One of the most spectacular displays of bluebonnets in the Austin area can be seen at Muleshoe Bend Recreation Area. Located on the banks of Lake Travis, fields of blue spread out over several acres of open, flat terrain, creating one of the most stunning wildflower displays we’ve ever seen.
Fields of bluebonnets at Muleshoe Bend Recreation Area.
If you haven’t been there, now is the time to go to see the state flower of Texas in all its glory. Of course, we went prior to the hail storm, so it’s possible there may have been some damage, but I think the blanket of blue will still be amazing. As the guy at the entrance station told us, “You won’t be disappointed.”

Color contrasts really set off the bluebonnets.
Owned and managed by LCRA (Lower Colorado River Authority), the park has year-round recreational options including primitive campsites (many were being used during our visit), trails for horseback riding (which cars can drive on, too), and a 6.5-mile bike trail (not open when we were there). Call LCRA for more information regarding these activities and fees: 512-473-3366.
A member of the lupine family, bluebonnets in central Texas
 typically bloom in April.
Larry in the field.
MuleshoeBend is located in Spicewood, Texas, northwest of Austin and south of Marble Falls. From Austin, take Hwy. 71 west, turn right on CR 413, then CR 404, then CR 414, which goes directly into Muleshoe Bend.

I hope you enjoy this small selection of photos from our visit.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier.
Trails made it easy to meander among the fields of flowers.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Choosing the best time to take a cruise

When should you cruise? That depends on where you want to go and what you plan to do.
Caribbean beaches are popular destinations for cruisers.
 Families generally plan vacations around school schedules—summer and holidays. Because there is little wiggle room with dates, they should book as early as possible. Summer is high season for almost all destinations because the weather is pleasant and there’s a large variety of destinations available. Because demand is strong, you should book months in advance to get the best price and itinerary options.
Couples with more flexibility may choose to skip those busy times and cruise in the fall or spring while school is still in session. You might even snag a bargain in the shoulder or low season, although the increasing popularity of cruising has minimized price differences.
Snorkeling at beautiful reefs and other water activities
are plentiful in the Caribbean. 
 If you like to swim, snorkel, or do other water activities, the Caribbean is ideal. The weather is almost always warm, Caribbean ports have activities year-round, and ships sail throughout the year. The only time you might choose to avoid is hurricane season from June 1 to November 1, but if no storms are on the horizon, summer is a great time to enjoy Caribbean islands.
Emerald Princess sails from Houston to Western
Caribbean ports.
Of course, cruise ships in the Caribbean can be packed with kids and teens on spring break and in early summer, so keep that in mind (It's a great  thing if you're traveling with kids or grandkids). If you’re flying into Florida around spring break time, flights and hotels may be hard to come by or expensive.

During late April to May and September to early January (except for holidays), prices are lower and crowds smaller on Caribbean sailings. Sailings longer than seven days generally attract mature cruisers because kids can’t be out of school and parents usually can’t take so much time off work.
Glaciers in Alaska are simply spectacular.
Some destinations such as Alaska have limited sail dates. Sail to Alaska in May or September for the best rates and smaller crowds, although it’s not uncommon for helicopter or boat tours to be canceled due to weather conditions in those months, and Denali National Park may close if there’s snow. Early June or late August are other good options for an Alaska cruise, which should be on everyone's bucket list.
Special itineraries
If you want to see colorful foliage in New England or Canada, you’ll cruise in the fall, generally late September or early October. For some travelers, the Christmas markets in Europe are a big attraction even though the weather may be cold and the markets crowded. Even so, the festivities and beautiful sights, fragrant smells, and melodic sounds can really ramp up one's holiday spirit.
Don't miss the Sydney Opera House when cruising in Australia.
If you're looking for a tour during the winter holiday season, think south--as in Southern Hemisphere. When it's winter in the U.S. it's summer in Australia and New Zealand, so that's a delightful time to visit. Sure, Aussies are also on holiday and traveling, but that's generally not a problem on cruises.
 If you’re looking for a real bargain and not too choosey about cabin type or location, last-minute bookings (within a few weeks of sailing) may be offered at significant savings. Just realize you may hear engine noises, feel vibrations, or be awakened by the anchor being lowered early in the morning. However, if you don’t spend much time in your cabin, waiting for prices to drop could provide an inexpensive cruise vacation. Repeat cruisers on most lines receive additional amenities such as private receptions, free internet, and onboard credits.
Overall, cruising--no matter when you go--is one of the least expensive and most convenient ways to travel--a good value for your vacation dollars.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Monday, April 13, 2015

Keeping Belize a natural paradise

Belize continues to gain attention as a destination for U.S. travelers. No wonder—its coral reef, second largest barrier reef in the world, is a favorite location for divers and snorkelers, and everyone enjoys its sandy beaches and lush jungle landscapes.
The coral reef is spectacular in crystal clear waters of the
coast of Belize.
But vacationing in Belize means more than just luxuriating in a beautiful setting. If you like to see conservation at work consider traveling to the MayflowerBocawina National Park in Belize. Consisting of more than 7,000 acres of pristine lowland broadleaf forest at the base of the Maya Mountains, this national park is the perfect setting for ecotourism. Not only does it offer visitors refreshing waterfalls, ancient Mayan ruins, excellent bird watching, and verdant hiking trails, but its goal is to improve the environment as well as lives of local people.

White sand beaches attract visitors to Belize.
While visitors may enjoy a variety of outdoor activities in this unspoiled paradise such as rappelling waterfalls, swimming in natural pools, exploring archeological sites, and zipping on the longest line in Central America, it’s not all rough and tumble.  When the national park was created in 2001, it completely surrounded the 50-acre Mama Noots Resort, an ecological project that runs entirely on alternative energy generated by solar panels and hydroelectric power. As a resort that is completely “off the grid,” Mama Noots utilizes a variety of sustainable practices including growing food items used in the on-site restaurant, covering buildings with thatched roofs made from locally sourced materials, and using exterior lights with motion detection to minimize light pollution that affects normal patterns of nocturnal animals.
Jungle landscape and peaceful rivers entice visitors
to the interior of Belize.
The national park and private resort have a unique symbiotic connection: Without the resort and accompanying Bocawina Adventures Company (which maps and maintains trails and provides ecotours both onsite and off site), the park wouldn’t have money to keep it safe from hunters and loggers. With limited funds available, there are only two rangers for the entire national park. But, as more people come to enjoy the beauty of this amazing ecosystem, the chances of vanishing illegal hunting and logging in the area increase.

A local documentary has been created by Duarte Dellarole to educate people about the conservation needs of the national park and efforts to keep this place as beautiful as nature created it.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Friday, April 10, 2015

CroisiEurope taps U.S. river cruise market

CroisiEurope, the largest and most experienced river cruise operator in Europe, has announced the addition of four new ships to its fleet for the 2016-2017 season, including two new river ships and two new canal barges.
MS Carmargue has been relaunched; it sails on the Rhone River.
Although many Americans are not really familiar with this line, it’s worth checking into. CroisiEurope has provided affordable European river cruises for nearly 40 years. Two years ago it decided to go after the American market in earnest, since there is high demand in the U.S. for European river cruises. CroisiEurope opened a U.S. call center in 2013 and has exponentially increased sales since then. In 2014, the company carried 200,000 cruise passengers, more than 8,000 of them Americans.
Based in Strasbourg, France, this family owned company operates almost 50 vessels that sail along Europe’s most famous rivers, canals and coasts. Guests are treated to an on-board gastronomic dining experience designed alongside Michelin-starred chefs, unlimited beverages, and free Wi-Fi. The line appeals to many nationalities, so most ships have an international atmosphere with an English-speaking crew.
MS Symphonie offers popular Danube River cruises.
CroisiEurope hopes to attract cruisers with lower prices (all services are handled in-house rather than contracting with third parties) and by offering different destinations than some of the larger, more well-known lines like Viking, Uniworld, and AMA Waterways.

CroisiEurope will have 39 vessels in its 2015 fleet following the additions of the Loire Princesse and the 132-passenger Gil Eanes on Portugal’s Douro River and the relaunch of the 104-passenger Camargue on the Rhone. 2016 will see the addition of four new vessels described below.
Elbe Princesse: This 80 passenger, innovative paddle wheeler will sail on the Elbe and the Moldau between Berlin and Prague beginning in Spring 2016. This ship will visit Berlin, Magdeburg, Wittenberg, Meissen, Dresden, Litoměřice and Prague; 

Apsara Princesse: This colonial-style boat will join the four other vessels already sailing along the Mekong. With a capacity of 60 passengers in 30 cabins, this ship will sail on the Mekong from Angkor to Ho Chi Minh City. This ship will visit Siem Reap, Angkor, Tonle Sap, Kampong Chhnang, Kampong Tralach, Koh Chen, Phnom Penh, Châu Đốc, Sa Đéc, Cái Bè, Mỹ Tho and Ho-Chi-Minh City; 
Daniele Barge: Sailing along the Briare Canal between Burgundy and the Loire Valley, this ship boasts 12 contemporary cabins that can accommodate 24 people. This ship will visit Briare, Léré, Ménétréol-sous-Sancerre, La Chapelle-Montlinard, Marseilles-Les-Aubigny and Nevers; 

Dining room of MS Symphonie
 Deborah Barge: With 12 cabins and a capacity of 24 passengers, this modern ship will take an unprecedented route on the Garonne Canal. The ship will visit Toulouse, Castelsarrasin, Moissac, Valence-d’Agen, Agen, Serignac-Sur-Garonne and Damazan.
If you’re looking for a cruise in Europe, Mediterranean, Russia, Vietnam or Cambodia, one of the new ships may be just what you’re looking for. For more information about CroisiEurope, visit, www.croisieuroperivercruises.com or call (800) 768-7232.

Photos from croisieuroperivercruises.com


Sunday, April 5, 2015

Tips for women traveling on their own

Women are traveling on their own more often now, but often their motivation for going alone is different from when they travel with friends or family.

When traveling solo women seek to change routines, pamper themselves, and explore new scenes and cultures on their own schedule. Whether single or married with children, women find relaxation and inspiration when they travel alone and feel more refreshed and rested than when traveling with friends or family.
It's easy to get lost in your thoughts when there are no distractions.
Social media allows women to stay connected when they set out on their own. Still, security is a big issue that shouldn’t be overlooked. Consider these tips, so you can truly enjoy your “me” time.

Plan your trip well. Research the destination, especially if traveling abroad and you’re seeking adventure. Religious beliefs and culture of a region can directly affect how you dress and interact with locals. If relaxation is your goal, an all-inclusive resort may be the best choice.
Maps or a GPS are invaluable for planning your route in a new area.
Choose your hotel wisely.  Do not accept a room if the hotel staff says your name or room number out loud. Request a room near the elevator, but away from the emergency door, stairs, and any construction work. Be sure the room has a deadbolt and chains. If arriving at the hotel at night, ask if staff will accompany you to your room.

Pack smart.  Pack only what you can handle yourself. Lock suitcases, and put your office address on tags instead of home address. Leave expensive-looking clothes and jewelry at home. Bring a credit card, and stash your cash in multiple places.
Pack lightly--and save room for souvenirs.
Research transportation. Before leaving home, find out what transportation options are available at your destination, especially if you arrive at night. If you rent a car to drive yourself, be familiar with maps and routes you plan to take, so you won’t become a lost tourist. Always travel with your cell phone.

For safety’s sake, use common sense, be alert to your surroundings, and don’t take unnecessary chances. Then have the best vacation ever!
Photos from free sources