Sunday, November 29, 2015

Castle Hill is the best spot in Budapest, Hungary for photos

View of both sides of Budapest from Castle Hill
Budapest, Hungary is one of Europe’s prettiest cities. And that accolade will be reinforced when you visit Castle Hill, a high point on the Buda side that is visible from almost anywhere in the city.

Matthias Church on Castle Hill

This World Heritage Site has many must-see attractions including the two most imposing structures, Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion. For the best photos, especially overviews of the city below, this is the place to go.
The Gothic style church, beloved by locals, was built during the 13th to 15th centuries. The most striking feature of the church is the 72-metre high Matthias tower on the south side. The Bale tower on the north side is covered with intricately-patterned glazed tiles, which make it a perfectly gorgeous building that is also known for its excellent organ and outstanding acoustics.
Brightly colored tiles form an
intricate pattern on the roof of
Matthias Church in Budapest.

Fisherman’s Bastion is a system of stairs, turrets, and terraces at the eastern side of Castle Hill.  Erected between 1895 and 1902 at the place where the fish market existed in the Middle Ages,  it’s made for wandering and exploring. Although the bastions serve a decorative rather than defense function, arches on the walkways provide perfect frames for buildings and Matthias Church. Looking out from the terraces you’ll have a magnificent view of mountains, Margaret Island, several Danube bridges, Gellert Hill, and the Pest side of the city.

Fisherman's Bastion is a fun place
to check out on Castle Hill

The golden age of Castle Hill was in the 15th century, when many Italian artists and craftsmen arrived and Buda was an important European city. After the Turkish occupation (during which time Matthias Church was converted into a mosque), Buda was in ruins, and Castle Hill soon became the district of government. During World War II, Buda was bombed to the ground and had to be rebuilt.
Today, the streets of the Castle Hill district still follow their medieval paths with some houses dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries. In addition to many shops, restaurants, and museums, Castle Hill is also a residential area. Cars have been banned; only people who live and work there are allowed to drive. Visitors must use public transportation.
Castle Hill is also home to a large interconnected cellar system that consists of natural caves created by thermal waters and man-made passageways. Part of the cellar system can be toured at the Buda Castle Labyrinth and at the Hospital in the Rock Museum.

View of the city from Fisherman's Bastion
You can take the Funicular from Chain Bridge; the public bus, or walk one of many paths leading up to Castle Hill. Walking tours include all the major sights and allow time to stop at a café for refreshments.
But the best way to see the area is to spend a couple of hours strolling along the cobblestone streets and exploring at your own pace. See the statue at Trinity Square, Matthias Church, and Fishermen’s Bastion for sure, and then check out shops, galleries, historic landmarks, and museums--Pharmacy Museum, Hospital in the Rock, and Budapest History—according to your interests and available time.
Trinity Square is a gathering place for visitors to Castle Hill
There are many dining options from high end to casual, even picnicking, and it’s fun to take a rest break at an outdoor venue so you can watch people passing by. Quality handcrafted items like pottery (my favorite) can be found in numerous shops, so allow time for browsing.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier



Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Estes Park, Colorado: perfect mountain getaway

Fall is a glorious time around the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
You could say Estes Park, Colorado, grew up in the shadow of Rocky Mountain National Park. With four roads and two entrances leading visitors from Estes Park to Rocky Mountain National Park, it’s natural to assume that’s the reason most people find themselves in town. Yet, that’s just part of the picture.
Surrounded on three sides by spectacular mountain scenery, the town embraces its location near RMNP while also evolving into a charming and friendly destination in its own right.

Bugling calls are frequent as elk roam the meadows during mating season.
Larry and I visited Estes Park in late September, which we consider the perfect time: Trees are glowing with yellow and red leaves, summer crowds have dwindled, weather is cool in the morning and shirt-sleeve warm in the afternoon, and most outdoor activities not requiring snow are still available. We were there during elk mating season called the Elk Rut, when meadows are full of wildlife as tour companies lead excursions to see--and hear the bugling--from this fascinating event.
As winter approaches, visitors seek activities related to snow. While Trail Ridge Road in the park is closed to through traffic, it’s still possible to access sections for outdoor activities. Snowshoeing is popular on numerous amazing trails; either go on your own or a guided tour. Hundreds of trails in RMNP provide beautiful landscapes for cross-country skiing, and Hidden Valley a well-known sledding spot.

Estes Park is becoming known
for wineries (Snowy Peaks here),
craft breweries, and liqueurs
and whiskey.
Not into snow? Go shopping: There are plenty of opportunities, with more than 300 shops in a walkable downtown. Whether you’re looking for antiques, collectibles, handcrafted southwestern arts and crafts, or just window shopping, you’ll enjoy the casual ambience of the Elkhorn and Moraine Avenue area.
Even in the 1800s, Estes Park was known for its wildlife and breathtaking panoramas, and you can learn about wildlife and history of the region at several local museums. Whether you’re a foodie or prefer comfort food, there’s a wide range of places to dine in Estes Park. Some eateries specialize in regional cuisine like elk chops or pecan-encrusted trout, and don’t be surprised if your burger is made from elk or bison. Of course, it’s great paired with a locally brewed ale or liqueur.

Notice the private hot tub on the patio of our Estes Park Condo.
The Fall River is just behind the condo.
One of our favorite places to stay is Estes ParkCondos, comfortably rustic cabins on the banks of the Fall River. But take your choice from luxury suites, historic lodges, B and B’s, or RV spots, most open year-round.
Take a ghost tour, dine, or stay at the historic Stanley Hotel in Estes Park.
Estes Park is already planning for its centennial in 2017 with many special activities. It’s a 90-minutes drive from Denver and easily accessible any time of the year by three stunning scenic routes. Gorgeous views inspire visitors in every season and in every direction, including snowcapped peaks of the Continental Divide on the horizon. Let the majesty of the mountains around Estes Park invigorate you and fill your soul with nature’s wonder!

Sunset over the mountains is the perfect way to end your day in
Estes Park, Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park.
 Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier



Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Golfer's alert--Tapatio Springs in central Texas is open for play

The golf course at Tapatio Springs Resort invites golfers to play a round.
Matt Reams, PGA Director of Golf Operations, is excited about all the changes on the golf course at Tapatio Springs Hill Country Resort. And golfers who have played the course since it officially reopened on October 1, 2015 have praised improvements in multiple areas.

When development partners decided to renovate the resort, the golf course was the place they wanted to start. The 18-hole course is a prime reason visitors come to the upscale central Texas destination, so it was important to revitalize and improve this amenity. And that’s just what they did—at a cost of two million dollars.
Larry prepares to hit his drive at Tapatio Springs golf course.
The course is in fine shape after months of work spearheaded by course architect Trip Davis. The master plan included redoing tee boxes and bunkers, restoring greens, and upgrading the driving range and chipping range. At first the course was open during constructions, but when it suffered extensive damage from floods in May 2015, the scope of the project accelerated.

The driving range at Tapatio Springs can accommodate many
players for practice sessions.
The course was closed for several weeks at a time—even during prime playing season—but loyal golfers continued to play when possible during the construction process. “Completing the work during a low visitation season has been a challenge,” Reams said, referring to late fall and winter. But within the first month of resumed operations, the resort has hosted several tournaments and groups as well as individual golfers. “I expect next year to be a banner year,” he added.
Larry and I were guests of the resort in late October, so we had an opportunity to see what the excitement was all about. It’s a pretty course set amid limestone cliffs and rolling hills of central Texas. Golfers of all skill levels will find holes that require their best game.  As moderate duffers, we knew our shots needed to be accurate to avoid abundant bunkers on the fairways and in front of greens. Trees that added to the beauty of the course gave us additional obstacles to play around.

Water features add to the beauty of Tapatio Springs golf course.
Frederick’s Creek meanders through the course, providing rustic water features on several holes. Additional work is planned to improve the creek’s ability to hold water (for irrigation purposes) and to create banks that are more aesthetically pleasing, Reams said.  When this is done, Tapatio Springs will take its place among premier golf courses in Texas.
Finish with views of this pleasing waterfall on the golf course.
Visitors should check out winter rates that begin in December and ask about golf packages. With recently renovated dining and swimming facilities, attractive outdoor gathering spaces, and a commitment to excellent service, Tapatio Springs would be a fine choice for a guys or gals golf weekend or a couples’ golf outing.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Scenic drives in the Black Hills of South Dakota

We’re forever finding new places to explore on our travels, and some of the best are right here in the United States. Last summer we drove across South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore National Monument and then head to Badlands National Park. Along the way we discovered an absolute gem—CusterState Park.

Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park
Although it’s a state park, we decided Custer could easily have been named a national park. It has so much to offer—an abundance of wildlife that can be seen in their natural habitat; plenty of hiking trails for all skill levels; lakes and streams for swimming, boating, and fishing; on-site lodging, and three stunning drives that I’ll describe here. There are six tunnels, some with no by-pass, so visitors in large vehicles should check clearance before starting the drives.
Cathedral Spires near the end of the hike.

Named for the needle-like granite formations that reach for the sky, this 14-mile road winds through pine and spruce forests and meadows surrounded by birch and aspen. Plan to spend at least an hour driving the road because you’ll want to stop often and take photos. It’s also very curvy; a safe driving speed is no more than 25 mph with signs often posting limits of 10 or 5 mph.
One spot to look for is the Needle’s Eye, a tall rock with an oblong opening created by the forces of wind, rain, freezing, and thawing. Tunnels have been cut through the mountains in many places, and you’ll find two of these on the Needle’s Highway. Our first stop was Sylvan Lake, a beautiful lake surrounded by many large rock formations. A mile-long hike, which we walked the first evening, takes visitors around the lake.
Rock formations surround Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park.
Rugged granite mountains form the backdrop for this drive, and when we came to the Cathedral Spires trailhead, we decided to come back the next day since it was almost dark and hike three miles round trip to see the namesake spires.
You might miss the Needle's Eye
if you don't look up!
Needle's Tunnel was blasted through solid
rock walls. It's one of six such tunnels in
Custer State Park in South Dakota.
At the Visitor’s Center named for Peter Norbeck, we learned that he was responsible for creation of this spectacular highway. Norbeck marked the entire course traveling on foot and horseback, making sure to choose the most scenic turns.  Construction, including two no-pass tunnels, was completed in 1922.

We purposely drove to Mount Rushmore from the south on US 16A because exiting a tunnel on Iron Mountain Road provides the first glimpse of the carved presidents’ faces. The day was hazy when we drove this way, but it truly was exciting to see the carved mountain framed by the rock tunnel.

Only a portion of this 18-mile road lies within Custer State Park, but it’s definitely worth driving (again allow plenty of time) for incredible Black Hills scenery and several tunnels blasted through the mountains. Don’t miss this magnificent highway, which was constructed in 1933.
We're still far away, but seeing the famous faces as we exited
the tunnel on Iron Mountain Road was a thrill.
WildlifeLoop Road

Custer State Park is one of the few places in the world where you can see bison, white-tailed and mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, and prairie dogs and other species in their natural habitat. The main road winds for 18 miles through grasslands and pine-speckled hills with numerous gravel side-paths taking adventurous visitors to more remote parts of the park. Curvy roads serve to keep speeds under 35 mph.
Hundreds of prairie dogs were scattered in the grasslands.
We started our drive shortly after 8:00 a.m. since the best times to see wildlife are early morning and evening. We passed a prairie dog town, stopping to watch the critters scamper in and out of their mounds. They nibbled on flowers and seeds and churned up the dirt, which keeps the grasslands healthy.
Here's looking at you! A bison stares me down
on the Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park.
When we took a side road called Oak Draw Road through the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, we passed many jeeps with guests on buffalo safaris. But it wasn’t necessary to have a guide as we came upon several large herds. Near the Wildlife Station Visitor Center in the southeast part of the wildlife loop, we saw hundreds of bison, so we stopped and observed them for quite a while. From a ranger we learned that family groups are determined by the grandmother, and the park keeps the herd at a manageable number as determined by rainfall amount. Currently the herd numbers about 1300.
Herds of bison/buffalo roamed the Wildlife Preserve. 

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier



Thursday, November 5, 2015

Tapatio Springs Hill Country Resort has new look

If you’re looking for a family vacation spot, romantic getaway, golf getaway, or meeting destination for your business, be sure to check out Tapatio Springs near Boerne in the Texas Hill Country.

The upscale resort recently completed multi-million dollar enhancements and has more renovations planned for 2016. The 18-hole golf course, the resort’s primary amenity, received most of the initial transformation. Two million dollars were spent for new bunkers, tee boxes, restored greens, and updated driving range and putting green. Next year improvements are on the docket for meeting spaces, guest rooms, and the fitness center.
Improved amenities

One of several outdoor entertainment spaces--perfect for families,
weddings, business meetings, or other events.
Outdoor patios with fire pits--lit every night for a dreamy ambience--and live entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights were a hit last summer. Locals can join guests for dining on delicious Texas fare at La Cascada Table and Bar and then stay to enjoy complimentary music by local songwriters and storytellers. You’ll also see a display about George Strait, co-owner of Vaqueros Del Mar Development, a partner in the resort.
The resort pool features shallow play spaces with fountains,
cabanas, and a slide--great place for families to splash around.
The resort has improved its two swimming pools—a family pool with shaded cabanas and a twisty tunnel slide and an adults-only pool, both with seasonal food service. And then there’s the PureSol Spa. In addition to massages, facials, and other healing therapies, its most unique feature is a healing Salt Cave with walls made of salt bricks from Poland. Guests partake of inhalation sessions especially beneficial for people with allergies, asthma, or respiratory issues.

Relax at the Pure Sol Spa
Hill Country lifestyle
Located amid rolling hills and limestone cliffs of central Texas, Tapatio Springs Resort and Spa allows guests to escape the hustle and bustle of urban areas. It is 35 minutes from San Antonio and only five minutes from the charming historic town of Boerne. Known for craft and antique shops, Boerne also has fun activities and festivals throughout the year. “It’s a town that loves its roots,’ says Mike DiLeone, Director of Sales for Northview, the development company overseeing the renovations.

View from La Cascada dining room of golf course and waterfall
Currently the resort utilizes 220 acres. It includes 111 rooms and 13,000 total square feet of meeting space. A multi-use conference center containing 6,000 square feet faces an open green space that can is perfect for outdoor gatherings in the mild Texas climate.
“The resort has a genuine and intimate feeling,” Collins says, adding that there’s no noise or traffic to intrude on visitors’ serenity. Of course, guests can spend all their vacation time at the resort, but those who want to explore the Texas Hill Country will find state parks and the Frio River for kayaking or fishing nearby.

Rooms are spacious and comfortable, many with
private balconies.
Lower winter rates start in December and run through March 1. Check out golf packages and special rates for Texas residents at Tapatio Springs, or call 855-421-0211.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Monday, November 2, 2015

Moab is gateway to national parks and adventure in Utah

For adventure and family fun, it’s hard to beat Moab, Utah. It was the country’s first EPA Green Power Community with five percent of its electricity coming from renewable energy. It is surrounded by some of the most spectacular scenery in the U.S., including several national parks, state parks, the Colorado River, and the beautiful La Sal Mountains. Whether you like hiking, biking, four-wheeling, fishing, or just admiring breathtaking canyons and rock formations, Moab has something you’ll enjoy.
Incredibly gorgeous red rocks near Moab, Utah
The Legend of Dead Horse Point

Dead Horse Point is a peninsula of rock atop sheer sandstone cliffs. The peninsula is connected to the mesa by a narrow strip of land called the neck. There are many stories about how this high promontory of land received its name. 

State parks offer also  provide outstanding scenery in Utah.
According to one legend, around the turn of the century the point was used as a corral for wild mustangs roaming the mesa top. Cowboys rounded up these horses, herded them across the narrow neck of land and onto the point. The neck, which is only 30 yards wide, was then fenced off with branches and brush. This created a natural corral surrounded by precipitous cliffs, affording no escape.

Cowboys then chose the horses they wanted and let the culls or broomtails go free. One time, for some unknown reason, horses were left corralled on the waterless point where they died of thirst within view of the Colorado River, 2,000 feet below. Today camping facilities and three new yurts are situated for easy access to the various mountain bike trail loops which have been built in Dead Horse Point State Park.

 Outstanding national parks

There's such an array of amazing arches to capture your imagination.
Arches National Park contains the world's largest concentration of natural sandstone arches with over 2,000 arches located within the park's 76,518 acres. Colossal sandstone fins, massive balanced rocks, soaring pinnacles and spires dwarf visitors as they explore the park's viewpoints and hiking trails. .A paved scenic drive takes visitors to many of the major viewpoints within this red rock fairyland. Don’t miss photo opportunities of Delicate Arch, Balanced Rock, and many other natural  arches.
Canyonlands is the largest national park in Utah, and its diversity staggers the imagination.  It is divided into three districts by the Green and Colorado Rivers--the Island in the Sky, the Needles and the Maze.   Named for their most prominent geologic characteristics, these districts are quite varied in what offer. From lofty viewpoints visitors can see nearly 100 miles in any given direction, panoramic views that encompass thousands of square miles of canyon country. Take a short day-hike or spend a relaxing late afternoon enjoying the sunset. If you’re not familiar with Canyonlands you might be pleasantly surprised by the incredible landscapes available in the park.

Powerful forces of nature created deep canyons that are showstoppers
in Canyonlands National Park.
Movies and stars
Since 1949 the Moab area has been a popular location for Hollywood movies.  Movies filmed in our area range from the old John Wayne classics to more recent hits such as Geronimo, Mission Impossible II, and Transformers: Age of Extinction.  Thelma and Louise took their final leap into the Colorado River from along the Shafer Trail under Dead Horse Point near Moab. 

Southeastern Utah contains some of the darkest skies in the contiguous 48 United States. A moonless night spent under the stars in southeastern Utah will amaze visitors with the volume of stars visible to the naked eye. Paying attention to the moon phase and when it will rise and set can really enhance your visit.
 Delicate Arch is an icon, so don't miss hiking to see it up close
in Arches National Park.
When you need time to let your mind absorb the area’s natural beauty, head to downtown Moab to shop, browse, eat and enjoy the charm and hospitality of this small resort town.

Information courtesy of Elaine Gizler, Moab Travel Council
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier