Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Your feet were made for walking--pain free

Hiking on rough terrain in Yosemite National Park
requires good, supportive shoes
Traveling generally means extra walking—through airports, to exotic sights, while shopping, or just exploring a new city. Almost everyone experiences aches in toes, heels, or arches at some point in life, whether you’re an active athlete or sedentary person. But traveling can bring on new pains or increase existing aches.
It’s important to know the impact that footwear has on your body from head to toe—and to choose the best footwear to prevent problems like these.
Colorful running shoes
can double as walking shoes.
Heel pain: Plantar fasciitis, the most common foot problem, results when the fascial band, which connects the heel to the ball of the foot, detaches from improper positioning of the foot in a shoe. Women who choose high heels may be setting the stage for plantar fasciitis or joint pain in the ball of the foot.   Flat-soled sandals and flip-flops lack support to cushion the foot, and repetitive stress can also inflame the heel bone and cause tenderness, especially if you walk on hard or uneven surfaces (like cobblestones in many European cities) a lot.

Knee pain: “One-inch heels can increase the pressure on your feet by 22 percent, and three inches adds a whopping 76 percent,” says Steven Raikin, M.D., of the Rothman Institute in Philadelphia.  As a result, high heels alter a woman’s posture and increase risk for degeneration and development of arthritis. A lot of patients go to the doctor for knee pain, but it really starts from the foot. Comfortable, supportive low-heeled shoes are a must for travelers. Save high heels for a few special occasions, or just leave them at home and wear fancy flats.
Shoes don't have to be
bulky to provide support.
Lower back pain: Internal rotation at the hip from wearing high heeled shoes causes the pelvis to tilt forward and increases compression in the low back area. The resulting poor posture is often the root of low back pain. Same advice as above to relieve this pain.

Leg pain: A flattened arch and associated leg rotation can increase forces on muscles in the lower leg. Orthotics may help reduce soft tissue stress and improve postural alignment, thus relieving achy legs. Check with your foot doctor or a specialty store with personnel trained in fitting orthotics properly.
Hiking requires a
different kind of sole.
Athletic shoes come in a variety of colors and styles these days. With proper fit, they provide support and comfort to eliminate most problems caused by faulty footwear. Choose from major manufacturers like Nike, Asics, New Balance, and Wilson.
You can also buy stylish walking shoes with padded soles and low heels that provide all-day comfort. Brands to check out include Aerosoles, Ecco, Clarks, and Naot. For hiking shoes, Merrill and Keen offer options from sturdy shoes to high-top boots.

Even fashionable sandals
can provide all-day comfort.
When planning your travel wardrobe, footwear is not the place to skimp. Good shoes may cost a few dollars more, but they will wear better and longer, and your whole body will appreciate the difference.

If you're a female traveler of "boomer" age, check out this article from Irene Levine for more footwear suggestions:
 Photos by Larry Burmeier and from free sources.


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Derinkuyu--underground city in Cappadocia, Turkey

Can you imagine living underground for six months, never coming above ground to see daylight or breathe fresh air?

Entrance to the underground city of Derinjuyu.
During a prolonged period of invasions, takeovers, and different civilizations inhabiting the Cappadocia region of Turkey, perhaps starting as early as the 8th century B.C., the people sought respite from their enemies by building massive living complexes beneath the surface.  As various marauding armies traversed the area in search of captives and plunder, the Indo-European people who inhabited Cappadocia kept digging lower underground and expanding these troglodyte cave-cities.  

Derinkuyu (which means "deep well") is the deepest of the 36 underground cities in Cappadocia. This defensive hideout extends downward for four stories and has 53 airshafts carved at least 300 feet into rock formations left by ancient volcanic eruptions. Amazingly, the original ventilation system still functions, enabling visitors to go underground and marvel at what the early Turks had accomplished. The underground city includes churches, stables, wineries, and storage rooms and was capable of safely housing 10,000 people for many months.  

Cave houses were common in the Cappadoccia region
of Turkey. Volcanic ash was easy to carve into liveable spaces.
Giant rock formations in this area are composed of volcanic ash, which is fairly soft and easily carved. Throughout Cappadocia, these weird formations, called fairy chimneys, have been carved into cave houses where people lived for centuries. In some areas, people still live in these primitive structures.

On our recent visit to Cappadocia we were able to tour the underground city of Derinkuyu. In ancient times, the first two floors under the surface housed a missionary school. Two long tables carved from rock and probably used for communal meals are still standing. We could see where the people had created a baptismal, kitchens, storehouses, living quarters, wine cellars, and stables for their livestock. Extensive networks of passages, stepped pits and inclined corridors link family rooms and communal spaces where people would meet, work and worship.

Inside the underground city rooms were created with
specific functions for everyday living.
The third and fourth floors consisted of tunnels, some created as dead-ends and others that simply went in circles to confuse any errant invaders. There were also secret places to hide and armories for their weapons. Water wells, hidden passages ways, a church and graves, and a confessional occupied the last floor.

Passageways are small for people
today, but some were designed to
fool invaders.
Approximately 600 doors lead into the underground city, all of them hidden in courtyards on the surface. Passages are mostly short and narrow; I even had to stoop over to walk through--and I'm short!

In times of peace, the people did not live underground but used the spaces for storage of crops and stables for their horses. Whenever conflicts arose, which continued into the early 20th century when Cappadocian Greeks sought to escape persecution by the Ottomans, they could go and live there.

As we explored the underground city, we learned that it is connected to other towns by tunnels that run for miles underground. When the Christian inhabitants of the region were expelled in 1923 the tunnels were abandoned but were rediscovered in 1963, after a resident of the area found a mysterious room behind a wall in his home. Further digging revealed access to the tunnel network.  Although the temperature was mildly cool inside, our guide said that it was quite hot when she took an excursion to walk from Derinkuyu to another town via one of these tunnel.
This large room was probably a communal area.
Since local citizens were used to living in cave houses, most were not very happy when the Turkish government began converting underground cities to museums in the 1960s. But we were grateful for improvements such as steps, lights, and signs during our tour.

Seeing how ancient people created these cave cities--with primitive tools, no less--and imagining how they lived and worked there is experience you don't want to miss.  

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Ziplining in Texas: exercise and great views

Getting a birds’ eye view of the Texas Hill Country is easy if you book a thrilling zip line tour. Central Texas has caught the craze with several places to experience the ultimate adventure. And it’s perfect for families (even your teen will want to do this with you).

Zipping over Lake Travis near Austin.
It’s okay to let out a couple of whoops and hollers; in fact, it’s expected.  Just don’t forget to appreciate the scenery while soaring through a canopy of old growth oak trees, whizzing high above Lake Travis, or swooping among trees over scenic ravines. If you have yet to experience flying through the air while harnessed to a steel cable, it’s time to check out these popular zip line locations.

Wimberley  Zipline Adventures

Wimberley Zipline Adventures
Soar between mountains (okay, large Texas hills) on ten lines ranging from 50 to 900 feet in length. More than three-fourths mile of wire cables cross canyons, creeks, and valleys of true Hill Country geography. Guides provide entertaining information about history of the Winn Ranch just south of Winberley, where the zip line is located, as well as plants in the area.

Views take in a 15-mile panorama, so be sure to look out instead of down (forget that you’re 100 feet above the ground). Instruction includes zipping on a short practice line so guests build confidence before tackling longer lines.  Length of each line is determined by the natural topography, and the last line is “blind,” as trees obscure the landing spot.

Wimberley Ziplines has an added element of excitement because participants must learn to stop themselves using its active braking system.  

Wimberley, Texas
Open year-round; closed on Tuesdays
Located on Winn Ranch between Austin and San Antonio (directions on website)

Cypress Valley Canopy Tours

Not just the first zip line in Texas, it’s the only canopy zip line with participants flying from tree top to tree top. Located 30 miles west of Austin, the tour takes guests over old-growth cypress trees and springs, traversing a ravine on six zip lines and three sky bridges. Take a leap of faith for an amazing view of nature with minimal impact on the environment. Add in a bit of rappelling for more fun.

Cypress Valley Canopy Tour
Stay at Juniper or Willow, secluded tree houses where guests can spend the night and enjoy sunset and sunrise accompanied by songbirds. After the canopy tour, guests may stay and have a picnic, including zipping to a dam-created lake for a cool dip. It’s an excellent family bonding experience.

1223 Paleface Ranch Road
Spicewood, Texas
Open every day except Monday in summer

Lake Travis Zipline Adventure

Experience the longest and fastest zipline in Texas at Volente Beach near Austin. Zip across incredible canyons and Lake Travis inlets on five zip lines ranging from 250 feet to more than 2000 feet. An automatic braking system leaves your hands free for waving to friends. For an absolutely thrilling finish, you’ll walk uphill to the 20-story high launch platform and whiz along on a screaming half-mile ride.  Even better, it’s a dual line, so you can race your buddy to the end.

Having fun at Lake Travis
Zipline Adventure
Guides relate nature facts as you walk to each platform, and you’ll have access to a private beach where you can swim in the lake or relax in lounge chairs. Coolers and picnic baskets are delivered via boat.

For the truly adventurous, schedule a two-and-half hour moonlight excursion featuring seven zips and views of the sparkling lake.

14529 Pocohontas Trail
Volente, Texas

Safety first for all zip line experiences:                                          

  • Trust the equipment. Harness, helmet, and gloves (when needed for braking) are provided and double checked by the guides for proper fit.
  • Wear sturdy shoes for walking on rocky paths
  • Listen carefully to instructions and follow them explicitly (each place and line is slightly different according to the particular set-up).
  • Drink plenty of water (provided).
  • Check age and weight restrictions before making reservations.
This article was first published in the Dallas Morning News in June 2012; it has been updated. Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Friday, July 17, 2015

Tips to help you stay on a budget when traveling

I’m not a hard-core backpacker carrying everything for my travels on my back. Most of my readers don’t stay in hostels and wash the few clothing items they bring on trips only when absolutely necessary.
Although you can definitely save money traveling like that, there are other ways to stay within your budget—some should be considered before leaving--and still travel comfortably.

Try to fit everything into a suitcase you can carry on a plane.
Pack lightly so you don’t have to check a bag (unless it’s free because you belong to a loyalty program or have racked up a ton of miles).
Plan ahead for best selection, whether you’re considering a flight, cruise, excursion, or other activity. Last minute deals may be good, but choices are usually limited and may sell out quickly.

Granola bars are filling and tasty.
Take healthy snacks like fruit or nuts so you can avoid fatty, overpriced items in the airport or tempting sweets at convenience stores along the way.

Purchase fresh fruits and
vegetables at the market.
At your destination purchase food at farmers’ markets or local stores so you can prepare meals and eat in. Dining in restaurants every day can be expensive.

Skip the hotel movie and stream entertainment on free wi-fi (You did check to be sure the hotel offers connectivity at no charge, didn’t you?)

Attend a local festival or outdoor event instead of purchasing expensive tickets for entertainment.

Local festivals like the Pony Express ride in
Gruene, Texas provide inexpensive entertainment.
Water is the best
Wander off the beaten path to discover little-known, perhaps quirky places, for people watching, chatting with locals, or trying new activities.

Drink water—in refillable bottles—instead of pricey sodas or cocktails at dinner. When you do eat out, share a main course with a companion, if possible. These are usually large enough for two anyway.

Taking a bus can keep
transportation costs low.
Use public transportation instead of taxis. Walk when feasible.

Photos provide lasting
memories of your
Skip souvenir purchases. Let photos remind you of your wonderful experiences.
Photos from free sources.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Crafting handmade rugs in Goerme, Turkey

Knotting silk into carpets is extremely
difficult and tedious.
In ancient times, the Turkish people migrated from Mongolia in northern Asia. The Mongols were a nomadic people who lived in yurts, round tent-like structures that are easily moveable.

The people needed something to keep the yurt warm, so they knotted carpets. (The oldest carpet discovered is thought to be around 1000 years old.) Once they settled down instead of moving constantly, the Turks started producing finer carpets.

Turkey produces fine-quality silk to use in making rugs.
The first carpets were wool, then cotton was added. Later silk arrived from China, and eventually Turkey began producing its own silk. Today Turkish carpets, along with those from Persia (Iran) are considered the most prestigious carpets in the world.

Younger women are learning to knot
and preserve this ancient skill.
The problem is that knotting carpets is a dying art. Few young women are willing to learn the delicate and tedious skills, which must be done without error. Since beautifully crafted rugs are the pride of Turkey, the government began opening schools to teach ancient weaving techniques to willing learners.

On our visit to the Cappadocia region of Turkey, we learned more about how these rugs are made at the Matis Turkish Rug School in Goerme. We saw silkworm cocoons in a tub (shake them to hear the rattle of a live silkworm inside) and saw how a strand comes out of each. Raw silk has 300 filaments per strand; in fact, it is so strong it will cut granite. To complete the workmanship, only natural dyes only are used for coloration.

Schools become factories producing handmade rugs.
To start, rugs have 10 knots per centimeter. Finer rugs may have up to 450 knots per inch on both front and back of the rug. Angora is the best wool, and 300 knots per square inch is the maximum number that can be done on wool.  Rug makers work from a pattern and must have nimble fingers to tie the tiny knots in the precise locations and colors. If a mistake is made, the work must be completely undone and then repeated to perfection.
A myriad of designs, sizes, and
materials can be found in prized
Turkish rugs.

Dozens of beautiful rugs in a variety of styles, colors and designs were spread on the floor, and we were invited to touch them, even walk on them. So, of course, I did, including a purple rug just like one custom-made for Elton John. Meanwhile, I sipped on raki, a strong, anise-flavored milky-looking alcoholic drink which I diluted with water.

Of course, the school/factory has plenty of carpets, large and small, for sale. Depending on complexity of design, fabric, and number of knots per square inch, even wall-hanging sizes can be museum-quality collector's items.

Because I love and admire handmade things, it’s not surprising that I found a beautiful rug I could love, but I did not buy another one. Since I already have three Turkish rugs it seems I have enough heirloom pieces.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Beautiful pottery from Cappadocia, Turkey

Avanos, a Hitite city in the World Heritage region of Cappadocia in Turkey, is an ancient town where people still live in rock houses carved into the famous basalt formations.

Its other claim to fame is that Turkey’s famous pottery is made here, so I really enjoyed our visit to Omurlu Ceramics on our recent trip to Turkey. Kizilirmak River, the longest in Turkey, starts at Mt. Arafat, flows through the town of Avanos, then makes a U-turn and goes back to the Black Sea. On the banks of this river is a red-hued clay used in making the pottery.

Different styles of pottery made at Omurlu
The Omurlu family has been making pottery for 200 years—that’s seven generations—and we met with Hassan, the oldest son who is now in charge. Pottery display and reception rooms are built into a cave, as is often the procedure in this region. Hassan explained that two artists work on each piece of pottery—one crafts the piece and another paints the designs. Creating one piece can take several months depending on complexity of the design.

Omurlu is one of only two places that can produce the Iznik tiles used in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. Red clay from the river is an important component, and artists demonstrated their incomparable skill in creating collector items as well as functional pieces that are dishwasher safe.
The business is seven generations strong.

Hassan explained that there are different kinds of clay: Ceramic clay has chemicals, but Omurlu uses a quartz clay that is lead-free and absorbs higher heat resulting in more brilliant colors. A combination of 80% quartz and 20% red clay is used for many pieces.

A potter works intently to create
a new piece.
We watched as one of the potters created a piece on his wheel. Afterwards, Hassan played a traditional mandolin-type instrument called saz and sang Turkish songs while we waited for drinks—wine, tea, colas, or coffee-- to be brought in.

Later we learned that three types of designs are generally used on Turkish pottery:

Iznik has flowers, including tulip designs, the national flower of Turkey. Iznik type flowers can also be found on carpets, bowls, walls, and painted items. The Omurlu family style features intricate geometric patterns in vivid colors. The designs are creative and ornate and made of 80 percent quartz and 20 percent clay. Hitite style pottery uses primarily animal designs.
Each piece is handmade and unique, and the company can custom make a pattern in any size a client might want. Plates take anywhere from 10 days to one month to make, but the Omurlu family style designs are the most difficult and many take even longer.

Painting the intricate designs takes weeks, even months.
Since pottery of any kind is my weakness, I felt the need to bring home an example of the finest, most detailed pottery I had ever seen. I bought a bowl painted in family style, a brightly colored geometric pattern with raised dots that added to design difficulty, a piece that Hassan said took two months to complete. I received it a few weeks after our return and was once again struck by its beauty.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier