Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Pure enjoyment at Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater

If you’re ever in the Denver area, you must go see Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater, a 25-minute drive west on I-70. Perhaps you’ve seen broadcasts of concerts from this beautiful, natural, world-famous venue that sits at an elevation of 6,450 feet.
Natural rock is used for auxiliary buildings, too.
Even if you’re not familiar with Red Rock, you’ll be smitten by the magnificent rock formations that were created around 65 million years ago when uplifts changed the landscape from flat plains to rocky mounds of sandstone, siltstone, and shale. The three largest rocks—Creation Rock, Ship Rock, and Stage Rock (where dressing rooms for performers are located)—form an exquisite backdrop for the theater.
The amphitheater is set in an exquisitely beautiful landscape.
People arriving for the first concert in 1910 had to drive their Model T’s almost four hours and then sit on wooden platforms. But that didn’t deter them from coming to the Garden of the Titans, as it was called then. In 1928 the city purchased the land from John Walken, and construction by Denver parks took place between 1938 and 1941. Revered artifacts from the Ute Indians, who occupied the land during the 1800s, were discovered when CCC workers began building the park.

Ample seating and nature's amazing handiwork bring people in to
hundreds of events every year.
Opened in 1941, the modern Red Rock Amphitheater, which can seat almost 10,000 people, is recognized for its star-studded concert roster, naturally perfect acoustics, and ambience. 125 concerts were held there in 2015, and even more are expected as the park celebrates 75 years in 2016.
The Visitor Center and Trading Post features interactive educational displays, a short film on its geologic and musical history, a Performer’s Hall of Fame, and the Ship Rock Grille. Special events like Easter Sunday services draw 12,000 people, and it’s a very popular site for weddings.

In addition to musical performances, yoga classes are held on the rocks, and schools hold gym classes there. For anyone wanted exercise or a fitness challenge, to walk all the rows of seats in the amphitheater (in back and forth manner) is a 4.7 mile trek.
This dramatic entrance greets visitors arriving at Red Rocks
Park and Amphitheater.
Red Rocks Park, which is open year-round, also offers an array of outdoor recreational opportunities amidst dramatic natural beauty. Biking and hiking trails are available, such as the Jefferson CountyOpen Space Red Rocks Trail. Picnic facilities are available, and a doable walking tour is highlighted on the park map. Even drive-through sightseers will enjoy the immense and brilliantly red rock formations.

Daily tours are held at 10:00 a.m. June 1-October 1 or by appointment. $6 for adults; $3 for children.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Saturday, December 26, 2015

A quick visit to Denver, Colorado

Historic Larimer Square at night
Last September we arrived in downtown Denver,Colorado at 6 p.m., just in time to walk to famous Larimer Square for dinner. Larimer Square is where Denver started, and today older buildings have been repurposed into modern shops, restaurants, and boutiques that appeal to the urban crowd. It’s easy to love this historic block, which looks especially festive with lights strung across the street each night.

Hotel Teatro, one of Denver's finest,
is conveniently located downtown.
Fortunately Hotel Teatro, where we stayed, was located in the heart of downtown, an easy walk to Larimer Square. Not only was it elegantly appointed, but service was excellent, and we enjoyed skimming historic artifacts in the lobby.
Hotel Teatro was also right across the street from Denver’s Performing Arts Center. Since we only stayed one night, we didn’t have an opportunity to see a performance there, but we marveled at the glass domes and the fact five different theaters are under one roof.

Beverly's halibut was delicious.
Dinner at Milk and Honey Bar and Restaurant, one of the newest on Denver’s historic block, introduced us to some novel menu items. The choices were upscale and gourmet (no burgers), but the flavors of my halibut and Larry’s steak were fabulous. We noticed other patrons asking for descriptions of some of the dishes, but there was no confusion about the dessert we shared—cheesecake brulee with cherry sauce and mascarpone cream. Yummy!
Denver's Union Station has evolved into an all-purpose
hub with an eclectic array of businesses inside.
The next morning we visited Union Station, often called “Denver’s Living Room” because so many events and meetings take place there. Owned by the city, it’s still a working train station—but much more. Privately owned businesses lease space from the city, including Snooze, the eatery where we had specialty pancakes for breakfast. We also checked out Mercantile, a farm to table restaurant where guests can watch chefs prepare the food; and Tattered CoverBook Store, Denver’s largest indie bookstore and cafe, a landmark since 1971. Rooms of the Crawford Hotel, which occupies the top two floors of Union Station, overlook a public lounge and the recently renovated Great Hall.
Looking down on the main lobby of Union Station in Denver.

The pleasant September weather encouraged us to stroll awhile on the mile-long, pedestrian- friendly marketplace called 16th Street Mall. The only vehicles allowed are shuttle buses that transport people to designated stops along the street.
One of my favorite shops in the area was RockmountRanchwear on Wazee Street, started by Jack. A. Weil in 1946 and now run by the third generation. We admired the fine fabrics, detailed embroidery, and lovely designs of western wear and more. Yes, Larry and I each bought a shirt there.

Don't miss Denver's iconic, 40-foot tall Big Blue Bear.
Be sure to mosey by the Colorado Convention Center if you like quirky photo opps. Big Blue Bear, an oversized sculpture that has become a fun icon of the city, quickly catches your attention. Supposedly the bear, which is peeking into the Convention Center, symbolizes the natural beauty of Denver’s location and the curiosity of its residents and visitors.
Street sculptures harken to Denver's western roots.
Although we spent less than 24 hours in the mile-high city before driving to other Colorado destinations, we came to appreciate its charming downtown area and decided that we should come back and get to know it better.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Gatlinburg, TN named #1 Destination on the Rise

Gatlinburg at twilight
TripAdvisor announced in early December that Gatlinburg, Tennessee has been named the #1 Destination on the Rise in the United States and #4 in the world. The recognition comes as TripAdvisor released the Travelers’ Choice Awards for 2015.

Gondolas offer overviews of
the beautiful landscape.
“This is such a great recognition for Gatlinburg,” said Robert Montgomery, Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau Board President. “TripAdvisor is internationally known as a trusted source for top travel information, and this recognition further affirms the positive experience our guests receive when they visit Gatlinburg.”

Gatlinburg is one of America's great mountain resort destinations, with accommodations of every kind, dozens of local-to-national restaurants, and attractions galore –all surrounded on three sides by the natural beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Space needle in Gatlinburg
Gatlinburg prides itself on its walkability amidst mountain heritage and the arts, crafts and shops that reflect that tradition.  Home to 3,944 residents, this little town is dedicated to welcoming millions of visitors each year with a taste of Appalachian hospitality at its best.  People come from all over the world for vacations, outdoor adventures, family fun and memory making. 

 For the fourth year, TripAdvisor has highlighted the world’s top destinations that have seen the greatest increase in positive feedback and interest from the TripAdvisor community. “Our well-traveled community has helped us identify the destinations around the world that are gaining in interest and popularity,” said Barbara Messing, Chief Marketing Officer for TripAdvisor. “We hope these destinations inspire those planning their travel for 2016 to book trips to these locales that feature excellent hotels, restaurants and attractions, and also provide a great vacation value.”
Getting married? Gatlinburg is a popular
wedding destination.

Read another story from Beverly about Gatlinburg at http://stripedpot.com/2012/03/03/gatlinburg-tennessee-courts-couples-as-well-as-families/ 


For a complete list of Destinations on the Rise, go to www.TripAdvisor.com/TravelersChoice.  For more information about Gatlinburg or to make reservations, visit www.Gatlinburg.com or call (800) 588-1817.

Information courtesy of Marci Claude, PR Manager, Gatlinburg CVB.
Photos from Gatlinburg CVB and free sources.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Take great family photos at holiday celebrations

High-end cameras or smartphones
are all good for taking photos.
Many people visit relatives or have guests during the holiday season. When the clan gets together is the perfect time for family photos. There’s usually one person who likes to be the designated photographer, but with these tips, anyone with even a simple camera or smartphone can take frame-worthy pictures.

Tickle their funny bones. Don’t ask everyone to say cheese—you’ll end up with a bunch of fake, plastered smiles (or some crazy faces from mischievous kids). Instead tell a joke or burst out with your own belly laugh. That should get people laughing honestly—or at least cracking a smile.
Early morning is a good time for outdoor photos.
Avoid bright sun.  Shadows—they’re the bane of people pictures and especially hard to avoid with groups. Opt for photo sessions early in the morning or late afternoon, if you’re shooting outdoors. Clouds can be your friends as they provide more even lighting and eliminate harsh shadows. Using fill flash can also dim the shadows.

Stay indoors. If the weather isn’t right for outdoor pictures, stay indoors—but be wary of backgrounds that are too “busy.” A good way to solve the problem of “where should we stand?” is to purchase a white foam board at a craft store or tape white butcher paper on a wall or door for a backdrop. White reflects and diffuses light, which is helpful in rooms without natural light.
Choose any type of camera for
recording family get togethers.
Get down low. Posed (is that possible?), squirming kids don’t make good photo subjects, so try to capture a moment in time when they are unaware of your photographic intents. Find them at play and aim for images that show them having fun. Getting down on their level often improves the angle and makes a better photo than shooting downwards.

Move in. When you’ve finished taking the inevitable group shots, try focusing tight shots on one or two subjects. Get close with the camera to snap cute expressions. Close-ups are often the best and most memorable images, even if the subject isn’t perfectly centered or part of the subject is slightly cut off--techniques even professional photographers often use. Notice bright colors, interesting faces, and good lighting--then zoom in.

Does your family look like this when they all get together?
Play the numbers game.  Take lots of pictures! You never know when specific family members may be together again, and you’ll want plenty of images to choose from when sharing the best holiday memories later. And who wouldn’t like a framed remembrance of good times for the next gift-giving occasion.

Photos from free sources.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Colorado celebrates National Park Service centennial

In 2016 the National Park Service will celebrate 100 years of protecting the many beautiful and unique national parks across the country. From fishing in one of the deepest canyons in the Western Hemisphere to surfing down the highest sand dunes in North America, Colorado’s four national parks offer vastly diverse and unique experiences. The state is also home to eight national monuments, four national historic trails, a national recreation area, two national historic sites and a river corridor.

Below is a sampling of experiences for those hoping to get outdoors to celebrate the National Park Service’s centennial throughout 2016 and beyond. For more information on Colorado’s national parks, visit http://www.colorado.com/national-parks-colorado. For more information on Colorado's national monuments, visit http://www.colorado.com/articles/quick-guide-colorados-national-monuments.

Colorado’s Four National Parks

Gunnison River flows through the steep
Black Canyon in Colorado
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park —The drama of 2,700 feet of sheer black walls falling into the Gunnison River highlights one of the deepest canyons in the Western Hemisphere. Located in the Southwestern part of the state, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park features a multitude of activities offering year-round fun. When snow blankets the ground in winter, snowshoe trekking, cross country skiing and winter backcountry camping allow for views of the snowy canyon and pure white overlooks. During warmer months rafting, fishing and stargazing are popular ways to enjoy the canyon. Expert rock climbers can put their skills to the test on Painted Wall, the tallest vertical wall in the state at a height of 2,250 feet.

Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve—Mountains of sand stand higher in the San Luis Valley than anywhere else in North America at this unique landscape that was created over one million years ago. In late spring, visitors can soak in Medano Creek, a popular stream at the foot of the dunes and one of Colorado’s best beaches. Guests can even bring flat inflatables to use as they float down the waves. Sandboards feature a special design and slick bases for prime sliding during summer on any size dune. Late September and early October provide opportunities for photography with unusual contrasts of colorful trees, dunes and snowcapped mountains. The dunes are also great for sledding or cross country skiing in the snowy winter months.

Mesa Verde, the largest cliff dwelling in
North America, illustrates history of our first settlers.
Mesa Verde National Park —As the first park to be established in efforts to "preserve the works of man," Southwest Colorado’s Mesa Verde takes visitors back in time to showcase more than 700 years of Ancestral Puebloan history. Mesa Verde is also the largest archeological preserve in the U.S. In summer take a ranger-guided tour throughout the largest cliff dwellings in North America, including Cliff Palace, the park’s biggest cliff dwelling. The abundant winter ecology allows for snowy hikes. Because of Mesa Verde’s bare trees, wildlife is more visible in the winter. Nordic skiing and snowshoeing are perfect opportunities to find animal tracks in the snow. 

Driving beautiful and accessible Trail Ridge Road in
Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
Rocky Mountain National Park—Nestled between the towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake, 415-square-miles encompass and protect spectacular mountain environments located in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. Trail Ridge Road takes visitors up to 12,183 feet in elevation on the highest continuous paved road in the U.S. A variety of ranger-led programs teach visitors about the park, wildlife and flowers.  Hikes for all ability levels can be found throughout the park, or ride a bicycle down Trail Ridge Road. During the fall, visitors watch the annual elk rut when bull elk gather in meadows. In winter, cross-country skiing, sledding and snowshoeing are all popular diversions for those wanting to play in the snow.

Colorado’s Eight National Monuments

Browns Canyon, Colorado, Canyons of the Ancients, Chimney Rock, Florissant Fossil Beds, Dinosaur, Hovenweep and Yucca House are Colorado’s eight national monuments dedicated to protecting the state’s history and culture. These monuments include the highest density of archaeological sites in the country. Unique learning experiences can be enjoyed at any of these, including one of the most diverse insect fossil sites in the world and prime white water rafting and stone towers built by the Ancestral Puebloan people.

For more information visit www.COLORADO.com 
Photos by Burmeiers and www.Colorado.com  




Friday, December 11, 2015

Welcome to Vilshofen, Germany

Beautiful reflections on the Vils River in Vilshofen, Germany
One of the most delightful stops on our Danube River cruise on AmaSerena was Vilshofen, Germany. The town lies on the edge of the southern Bavarian Forest where the rivers Vils and Woffach flow into the Danube. That location has given it the name of “three-river city.”Another claim to fame is that Vilshofen is where beer was first brewed using the “pilsner” method.
Reflections of the church and city
buildings in Vilshofen.
Note the date of 1376 on an
original building in Vilshofen.
Walking to the rivers and the old town is easy because it’s located just steps from the dock. Take time to stroll in the historical center, noting sculptures and the tall 17th century tower of City Hall. Look for dates on buildings and consider stopping to see the gallery at City Hall and ornate St. John the Baptist Catholic Church.

The most imposing structure is the Benedictine abbey of Schweikberg, with its twin towers overlooking the town, although we didn't go there. Located above town on a hill, today 40 monks live in the monastic community.
"Jazz" sculpture in Vilshoften, Germany.
What we found most fascinating were the many pieces of art scattered in the city center (accessed by walking down the main street), and along the Danube River (accessed by a broad waterfront path).

As avid photographers, we searched for “The Frame Project,” a popular spot on the right bank of the Vils River (across the bridge) for snapping beautiful pictures of the church and clear images of colorful reflections from across the river.

"The Frame Project" is a popular picture spot.
Among the sculptures we saw in the old town were: St. Sebastian in front of the Catholic Center, St. Florian in front of the City Tower, the well in front of City Hall, “The Book of Wisdom” in front of the Parish Church, “Meeting” in front of the bank, and a modernistic piece called “Jazz” on Vilsvorstadt, a side street.
"Wave of the Danube meets wave of the Vils River" is one of
the sculptures for which Vilshofen is noted.
Once our interest was piqued, we decided to find additional art pieces pictured in our city brochure. These included “Wave of the Danube meets wave of the Vils River” and “Danube Tree,” a striking piece that represents the Danube from the beginning to the end in the Black Sea with all its side rivers.

Larry enjoying his Oktoberfest treats.
Having enjoyed a delightful “Oktoberfest” celebration (with umpah music, pretzels, and beer) provided the previous night by the friendly folks in Vilshofen, we were glad for the opportunity to spend a pleasant morning wandering through this quaint town before sailing on to Passau.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Monday, December 7, 2015

New small-ship cruises for adventure travelers

International Expeditions has announced four new small-ship cruise offerings led by knowledgeable expedition leaders and guides, adding options in Ecuador, Cuba, Patagonia's Northern Archipelago and Raja Ampat for 2016.
“Each IE journey is carefully planned to let curious, adventurous travelers delve deep into nature, history and culture,” said Bill Robison, Director of Program Development. “The new small-ship cruises we are introducing allow our guests a chance to discover natural wonders in a really personal, authentic manner, while enjoying extraordinary accommodations aboard well-appointed yachts.”
Sunset on the Amazon
International Expeditions' new 10-day Ecuador: Andes & Amazon tour combines boutique accommodations — including a 17th century hacienda — in the Andean countryside with a four-night cruise deep into the Amazon aboard the all-suite M/V Anakonda for a comprehensive immersion into nature! This active adventure allows for almost daily nature walks and boating excursions, along with opportunities to stroll through famed Quito, Otavalo and quaint villages.
Trekking in the Amazon jungle
IE's 12-day Northern Archipelago & Chiloe Island tour was crafted to help travelers discover a seldom-visited region connecting the Andes and Pacific with daily excursions surveying volcanoes, forests and glacial lakes interspersed along the Andean foothills. From the temperate rainforests of Tepuhueico Park to the enormous, 30,000-year-old San Rafael Glacier, northern Patagonia blends extraordinary wildlife and natural beauty with the charming culture of the Chilotes. Under the guidance of local guides, guests discover distinct ChiloĆ© Island, a small isle populated by scattered villages where homes, boats and the famed churches — a collective UNESCO World Heritage Site — are still built using the techniques taught by generations past. Serving as a delightful base for five nights is the family-owned Skorpios II.

The Square in Old Town Havana
Travelers cruise from French-influenced Cienfuegos to Havana aboard the 48-guest Panorama or 46-guest Panorama II on IE's new 10-day Cuba Voyage, anchoring for four nights in Old Havana. In addition to a walking tour of 500-year-old Trinidad, along the way, guests stop on the remote western Guanahacibes Peninsula, venture into the ViƱales Valley, and explore Cuba's Cayo Largo with a local naturalist. Other highlights of this people-to-people itinerary include learning about Cuban medicine, dance lessons, local choir and theater performances, pottery workshops, visits to museums, and calling on artists in their studios.
1950s vintage cars still attract attention in Cuba.
The four isolated islands of Raja Ampat — Misoool, Salawati, Batanta, and Wiageo — are surrounded by over 1,500 small islands and cays, as well as the world's most biodiverse marine region. During International Expeditions' new 17-day Raja Ampat adventure, featuring a cruise aboard the nine-cabin WAOW, guests enjoy naturalist-guided snorkeling, diving, kayaking, and stand-up paddle boarding excursions among waters boasting more recorded fish, coral (75 percent of all known coral species) and mollusk species than anywhere else on Earth.
International Expeditions has specialized in small-group nature journeys to Earth’s most exhilarating destinations.
A pioneer of environmentally responsible travel, IE is committed to preserving natural habitats and improving the welfare of the people and communities it visits.  

International Expeditions has been named to Travel + Leisure's list of “World's Best” tour operators & safari outfitters seven times and to National Geographic ADVENTURE magazine's list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”
Information courtesy of Emily Harley, International

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier



Thursday, December 3, 2015

See why Budapest is the "City of Baths"

The main indoor pool at Gellert Bath and Spa in Budapest, Hungary.
Stepping into the warm, swirling water of Gellert Bath, my muscles immediately began to relax, and a soothing aura surrounded me. Was it really therapeutic or just my imagination from hearing so much about the healing effects of mineral hot springs in Budapest, Hungary?

No matter, the thermal pool into which I immersed my body felt heavenly. 
The hotel and spa are located at the bottom of
scenic Gellert Hill in Budapest.
Thermal springs are found throughout Hungary, and with more than 120 hot springs in the capital city, Budapest has earned the title “City of Baths.”

Whether or not the calcium, magnesium, hydrocarbonate, alkalis, chloride, sulfate, and fluoride (yes, all those minerals are in the thermal pool waters) actually alleviate aching joints, improve circulation, or cure a variety of ailments doesn’t matter to most people visiting the thermal springs today. The baths have become a social gathering place for fun and entertainment as well as relaxation and healing.
Locals and tourists wait for the huge manmade waves
that roll though this pool.
Celtic tribes, the first settlers in the area, discovered and used the healing waters in the first century B.C. Romans and Hungarians followed and used the baths for centuries. The Turks were the first to recognize the importance of Budapest’s thermal springs and turn them into bathhouses. 

While it’s still possible to experience traditional Turkish baths in Budapest, Gellert and Szechenyi, the two largest and best known public baths, have been modernized for today’s clients. I was able to experience both of these during my August visit to Budapest.
Lavish decorations inside Gellert Bath.
Built in the early 1900s as a women’s thermal bath, Gellert has only been co-ed since 2013. Located in the same building as the Hotel Gellert at the bottom of Gellert Hill, one of the most photographed sights in Budapest, it is perhaps the most architecturally beautiful with wall mosaics and stained glass windows reflecting the Art Nouveau style of its reconstruction after World War II. Today it includes saunas, several indoor pools, and an outdoor swimming and manmade wave pool. You can even have a massage while there (Yes, I did!)

Spring-fed Szecheny Bath is located in Budapest City Park.
The spring waters of Szechenyi Baths were discovered in the 1880s, and by 1913 millions of people were immersing themselves in the therapeutic powers of the baths. Szechenyi is a huge public coed bath located in City Park, the largest green space in Budapest. The Neo-baroque palace was specifically built for hosting Szechenyi Baths, which includes a total of 18 indoor and outdoor pools, some fed by hot springs and others featuring cooler temperatures.  Ten saunas and steam baths are also available for guests, as are aroma therapy massages and other spa services.

Buildings surrounding Szechney Baths are also ornate.
Both complexes are built around huge palaces and include a maze of pools to explore, so plan to spend at least half a day sampling the different areas. It’s easy to get lost in the long corridors of lockers and changing facilities on multiple levels (don’t rely on the map you’re handed), so don’t hesitate to ask for directions when trying to find where you stashed your belongings.

Bathers enjoy the warm, therapeutic waters indoors year round.
Bring towels, flip-flops, and a swim cap if you fancy a swim indoors, as caps are required in the swimming pool but not in the lounging pools. Rentals are available as are modest food and drink options. Since the baths feature both indoor and outdoor facilities, they’re able to operate year round.

If you're into wellness and spas, don’t miss this iconic experience when visiting Budapest.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier