Monday, June 27, 2016

Tips to make packing your suitcase a snap

Even if you love where you live, everyone needs time away occasionally.  For many travelers, packing is the least favorite part of taking a trip. Of course, making a list—and referring to it often—can help assure that you remember the important items, but here are some tips to make sure everything you want to take actually fits in your suitcase.

First, take the smallest size suitcase that works for the length trip you’re going on. If you’re flying and can fit everything into a carry-on bag, you’ll avoid extra fees and save time by not having to wait to claim a checked bag on arrival.

To conserve packable space, wear the bulkiest items you’ll need at your destination such as boots or a heavy coat. Don’t try to cram these into your suitcase because these add weight as well as take up too much space.
As you begin to pack, place heavy or odd-sized items like shoes, hair dryer, or mask and fins (going snorkeling?) on the bottom. Stuff socks and underwear into shoes and crevices. Some people like to use special packing folders for shirts to keep them clean and help prevent wrinkles.  Two-gallon zipper bags can also be used to hold items like multiple pairs of socks or underwear. Before sealing, compress all the air out, and you’ll be surprised at how much space is saved.

Then place long items like pants or dresses across the bag. Fold jackets facedown, placing arms on top. Fold excess length back in a criss-cross pattern, alternating directions. Some people put tissue paper between layers to protect fancy clothing and lessen the chance of wrinkling. Knit or polyester items such as t-shirts or sleepwear can be rolled up and placed on top or along the sides of the bag.
Tuck belts, jewelry bag, hair brush, and other small items into empty niches.  Finally, use the straps on your suitcase to hold items in place. If you’re only taking a carry-on bag, keep in mind that liquids and sharp items are not allowed through security, and you’ll be limited to the amounts that fit in your quart-sized baggie. Consider using solids for make-up remover, perfume, and deodorant.

In addition to your carry-on luggage, remember that you are also allowed a purse, backpack, or tote bag. I usually take a sturdy shoulder bag that contains everything I’ll need while on the flight, so I don’t have to scavenge through my carry-on after it is stored in the overhead bin.
I also try to leave some free space in the suitcase when departing on a trip, so there’s room to bring home any purchases I make. By planning ahead, you’ll be able to take what you need and keep it organized while you travel.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A Knight in an Irish Castle

This article originally appeared in Arizona Highroads, March/April 2013

Steeped in tradition and outfitted with charming amenities, turreted Irish towers stretch to the sky, offering visitors a fairytale experience. Ireland is home to hundreds of castles, constructed in ancient times as a symbol of status as well as a safe retreat. Today, many remain in the form of overgrown ruins on windswept hills, but some have been restored to their former glory and provide a full slate of activities for guests.
Here’s a brief introduction to five of Ireland’s most notable castles that welcome visitors today. Click on the link above to read the full article with more complete descriptions of these elegant properties.

Ashford Castle is a grand and opulent Victorian castle.

Ashford Castle

Last owned by the Guinness family (yes, of beer fame) as a private home, Ashford Castle bears the stamp of every family that lived there. From ownership by the O’Connors, whose abbey remains an attraction in nearby Cong, to its reopening as a hotel in 2008, the castle’s history is an important part of its appeal.

Multiple paths meander through the 300 acres currently on the Ashford Castle grounds, which are surrounded by government-owned forestland. A nine-hole golf course, horseback riding, falconry school, spa, and plentiful areas for games and conversation will keep any Lord and Lady occupied.
Gorgeous fitness area at Ballyfin Castle

Ballyfin Castle

 After eight years of restoration, this lavish Regency mansion opened in spring 2011. It’s a grand country house with the feel of a family home. Service is impeccable — butlers will unpack your luggage, hang up your clothes, shine your shoes, and do your laundry — all complimentary.
Luxurious furnishings in Ballyfin Castle
Fifteen guest rooms reflect the home’s original purpose as a place for entertainment. Lord Charles and Lady Catherine Coote started building the house in 1820, the same year he entered Parliament. During the six months spent each year on this 614-acre estate 35 miles from Kilkenny, they exemplified the finest Irish society.
Ballygally Castle
This scenic 17th century castle is perched on the tip of the Causeway Coastal Route in Northern Ireland. Sheep grazing on the hillside beside the Irish Sea add a touch of comfort to the grandiose landscape — and fishing is especially good off the coast.

Ballygally dates back to 1625 and is the only 17th-century building still used as a residence in Northern Ireland. Built by James Shaw and his wife Isobella during a time of political turmoil, it was designated as a place of defense as well as a home.
Towering cliffs by the Atlantic Ocean overlook an extraordinary promontory with 40,000 dark basalt columns and spires (the result of ancient volcanic activity) jutting up and out to sea — a spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The 17th century classic manor house Castlemartyr is adjacent to the ruins of an 800-year-old castle. Located 20 minutes from Cork city, the family-friendly five-star resort is nestled in a natural woodland area with horse pastures, bike paths, and a golf course on premises. It was first built in 1210 by the Knights Templar, one of the most famous of the Christian military orders, under the leadership of Richard Earl de Clare (commonly known as Strongbow).

Many Irish castles now welcome visitors for an exquisite stay.
More so than some of the other once-royal properties, Castlemartyr welcomes families. Among the amenities geared to this clientele are a Kid’s Club, special children’s meals, and family activities, including biking, picnics, croquet, coastal walks, pony rides, swimming, and even a Wii.

Lough Eske Castle
Just outside Donegal in Northern Ireland, this historic building is in a fantasy destination. Dating back to the 1400s, Lough Eske Castle was exquisitely refurbished and opened to the public in 2007.
Beautiful gardens at Lough Eske Castle
Noted for superb service, this Tudor castle is situated on 43 acres of forest woodland hugging the shores of Lough Eske. With the Bluestack Mountains in the background, there are plentiful hiking trails surrounding the castle.

When you travel in Ireland, you'll come to understand why
it's said to have 40 shades of green.
After living in the lap of luxury of these converted Irish castles, it wasn’t an easy transition back to ordinary hotels.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Spend a weekend in Durango, Colorado

This article originally appeared in American Way, the magazine of American Airlines, February 2014.

Durango is well-known as the starting point for the historic narrow gauge railroad to Silverton. But with the free-flowing Animas River running through town and the rugged San Juan Mountains within view, it has become a gateway for outdoor activities in Southwestern Colorado. In addition to the beauty of its natural setting, Durango’s Old West history, Southwest-inspired shopping, and newly creative cuisine make it a top travel destination.


Durango's most famous accommodation is the iconic, and
perhaps haunted, Strater Hotel.
Built in 1887, the purportedly haunted Strater Hotel is a prominent landmark in downtown Durango. Within the hotel you’ll find the world’s largest collection of American Victorian antiques, many of which decorate the 93 rooms. Enjoy cocktails at the hotel’s Diamond Belle Saloon, fine dining at Mahogany Grill, and a show at the historical Henry Strater Theater.

The luxurious four-star General Palmer Hotel, also a renovated 19th century building, is conveniently located next to the railroad depot. Prefer something smaller and quieter? Go a few blocks off Main Avenue to the Rochester Hotel and Leland House where you’ll be treated to a daily gourmet breakfast in a flower-filled courtyard. This boutique hotel features 15 rooms with décor inspired by Western movies filmed in the area.
Take a relaxing ride on the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
for splendid scenery.

Combine a ride on the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad with a jeep tour over 13,000-foot passes in the San Juan Mountains, or get your adrenaline flowing with a white-water rafting trip. Play golf on a hillside overlooking Durango at Hillcrest, a public course just past Fort Lewis College on Rim Drive. On your return to town, stop to visit the Center of Southwest Studies at the college and admire a glorious overview of the city below.
Ride bicycles through Durango's older residential areas or
along the River Trail.

In town, ride bicycles along the River Trail (rent cruisers at the Rochester Hotel), then raft or float in a tube down the Animas River.   Explore downtown, a nationally registered historic district, stopping at Durango DiscoveryMuseum and art galleries like SorrelSky and Toh-Atin for Native American treasures.
Hillcrest is a public golf course with outstanding views.

Strike out on one of many hiking trails: The 500 mile Colorado Trail starts in Durango and ends in Denver, but even a short jaunt provides a taste of nature including views of the Rockies.  Prime hiking is also available during the summer in the San Juan Mountains, and in winter the slopes of Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort attract skiers of all levels.  

Just an hour’s drive away you can see original cliff dwellings and learn about culture of the Pueblo Indians at Mesa Verde National Park, an UNESCO World Heritage site.


Raft or tube on the popular, refreshing Animas River.
A plethora of talented chefs celebrate Durango’s culinary passion at numerous festivals, craft breweries, and fine restaurants. Steamworks Brewery Co. is a Durango favorite where guests trash peanut shells on the floor while enjoying pizza, sandwiches, or New Mexico style foods. Anything you can roll into a tortilla you can find at RGP’s Flame Grilled Wraps, a popular lunch spot. Even if you’re from Texas and think Coloradans don’t have a clue, give the ribs, steak, and brisket at Serious Texas Barbeque a try—might make you humble.  Growing in popularity are innovative, independent restaurants such as Chimayo, which offers eclectic selections.


Aptly named, Main Avenue is a shopper’s delight—no matter what kind of goods you’re looking for. Jewelry Works offers beautiful Southwestern designed turquoise and coral pieces.  Get everything you need for outdoor activities at Gardenswartz, a locally-owned sporting goods store. Find fashionable and unique clothing and accessories at Silk Sparrow. After dinner, choose delectable morsels at the original—yes, the very first--Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.
Enjoy the beautiful San Juan Mountains on a drive or hike.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Lonely Planet's guidebook commemorates park service centennial

A new guide book by the leading travel media company Lonely Planet has been released to commemorate the National Park Service’scentennial. USA’s National Parks is an ambitious book, covering all 59 of the designated national parks as well as special features such as presidential memorials, other protected spots like national seashores, monuments, and recreational area.
With such a lengthy itinerary, the book hits the highlights of each park such as size, entrance fees, and the types of people that the park would appeal to. It provides an overview of top experiences and scenic destinations that visitors should not miss.

General information about where to stay and eat, best hiking trails and drives, of-the-path secrets, and nearby attractions are also packed into this handy 5 x 7.5 inch book. Hundreds of full color photos, many full-page, help readers visualize landscapes and available activities in each location. A pull-out map pinpoints location of each park, so you can see if several are close enough to visit in one vacation.
Plan the perfect destination using the book’s information regarding best parks for hiking, wildlife watching, amazing adventures, families, scenery, and winter time. Check out the list of top 10 experiences and tips on the best times to visit.

A section that includes history, conservation, wildlife, and geology provides need-to-know background that allows visitors to more fully appreciate America’s national parks.
Other Lonely Planet books on national parks

In addition to the general guidebook, Lonely Planet has published five updated guidebooks that include 11 of the most popular national parks in North America. Comprehensive coverage and practical information for exploring each park (such as clothing and equipment for hiking, best drives, and cycling tours) are also included in these full-color, detailed editions.
If you love beautiful coffee table books, Lonely Planet recently released a hardback version called Lonely Planet’s National Parks of America: Experience America’s 59 National Parks. This edition is a breathtaking, illustrated tour through every park in the U.S. and its territories, from Acadia to Zion. Stunning panoramic photography leads the reader through recommended itineraries. In addition to inspiring photos, it includes background, practical information, facts, and advice for exploring each park.

Photos courtesy of Lonely Planet

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Discovering Easter Island from Explora Rapa Nui

Easter Island is so far from any mainland that it almost seems out of touch with the rest of the world. And, in fact, it is. Born from three volcanoes, surrounded by some of the clearest seas in the world (but a rugged, unfriendly coastline), and home to an enigmatic ancestral culture, Easter Island is unique (I don't use that word lightly) in so many ways.
Hike to a volcanic crater on Easter Island
overlooking the Pacific Ocean
Fewer than 4,000 people live on the island, which is a protected national park. Although it’s part of Chile, Rapa Nui (native name for Easter Island) is so remote that discovering the curious culture found there is best done with assistance from local guides. That’s why we decided to stay at explora Rapa Nui, a resort that provides lodge-based explorations for guests.

Moais on Easter Island at the rock quarry
where most were originally constructed.
Moai, crude sculptures of human figures that are scattered throughout the island, are the best-known example of this ancient civilization and what most people come to see, so guides make sure visitors come away with a sense of awe--and clearer understanding--about these mysterious sculptures.

Getting there
To begin with, it takes a sense of adventure to put Easter Island on an itinerary, considering the trip requires a five-hour flight from Santiago, Chile (plane only goes once or twice daily) to get there. Of course, that’s part of the allure.

The architecture of explora Rapa Nui follows the
curving "boathouse" design of ancient settlers
So explora Rapa Nui builds on the inquisitive philosophy that most travelers to remote areas like this possess. Explora offers 20 included excursions, all with strong cultural and archaeological overtones, and each led by an expert bilingual guide. In this isolated environment, we expected--and got--a healthy exposure to nature.
Guests and guides meet each afternoon by the hotel bar to plan the next day’s activities, which might be on foot, by bicycle or boat. It’s a collaborative effort that ensures each guest has the kind of experience that suites their interests and skill level. Groups never have more than eight participants, and several times Larry and I were the only persons on our specific tours.
Rooms are beautiful and comfortable with exquisite views.
explora resort

Located eight kilometers from the main town of Hanga Roa, explora is situated in a tranquil spot by the ocean and surrounded by eucalyptus trees, perfect for in-depth exploration of this mysterious island. It’s an all-inclusive resort built in 2007 that provides everything a traveler needs—sumptuous dining, all excursions, drinks and snacks, water bottles and walking sticks, luxurious swimming pool and hot tub, and spacious, beautifully appointed rooms.
Room décor utilizes bright colors and sustainable materials.
The architecture of the resort blends with the island’s geography and heritage, following the curved form of so-called “boat houses” which sheltered ancient inhabitants. It is built mostly of wood and volcanic rock from the island and was the first lodge in South America to obtain LEED-NC certification, which is granted by the U.S. Green Building Council to buildings that meet high environmental standards.

A negative edge pool, hot tub, and spa provide soothing relaxation.
Explora Rapa Nui was built on land that was not suitable for agriculture, so much of the existing vegetation is intact. The award-winning lodge has 30 rooms with breathtaking views of sunset and sunrise--and excellent natural ventilation (air conditioning is available if needed).

A large in-room whirlpool tub helped soothe away any aches and pains from our hiking excursions. Lounging on the cushioned window seat while gazing at the Pacific Ocean was a favorite activity when we had a moment to rest. There’s no television or Wi-Fi in the rooms (available in common areas), since the idea is to disconnect from usual routines and obligations.
Common spaces are great for gathering before dinner and visiting
with other guests to talk about the day's activities.
If you chose to visit, come prepared to bask in the beauty of the island’s landscapes and engage with the history and culture of this amazing territory. Relax—because explora RapaNui will handle all the details of your stay.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Norman Rockwell exhibit at Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, VA

Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, Virginia
Photo by Sam Dean Photography
After more than a year of renovation to complete a formerly unoccupied and unimproved space at the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, Virginia, the new gallery space opened in March 2016 with a large exhibition of works by the legendary American artist Norman Rockwell. If you’re a fan of this iconic American artist, plan to visit the Taubman soon as the exhibit will only be there through Sunday, June 12.
Norman Rockwell

Works by the beloved 20th century painter and illustrator are showcased in American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell, which was organized by the NormanRockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts and includes original works from its permanent collection.

Rockwell created images reflecting the lives, hopes, and dreams of Americans in the 20th century. The Taubman exhibit chronicles Rockwell’s career of 65 years and highlights his unique artistic legacy that profoundly influenced American perceptions and ideals. It includes such beloved images as Triple Self-Portrait (1960), Girl at Mirror (1954), Going and Coming (1947), and Art Critic (1955) as well as preliminary sketches, Saturday Evening Post covers, photographs, color studies, and detailed drawings.

 Girl at Mirror
by Norman Rockwell
Although the museum’s unique design of soaring glass panels created a stir when first introduced to the community in 2005, residents now love that Roanoke’s most contemporary structure has brought the city into modern technology-driven times while still paying tribute to the region’s roots by focusing on American and folk art.

Tickets: Adults--$12.50; seniors and college students--$10.50; Children ages 9-17--$8.50. Museum hours: Wednesday through Saturday 10am-5pm; Sunday 12-5pm, First Friday, 10 am-9pm.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Continuing the train journey in Canada on Rocky Mountaineer

After an overnight stay in Kamloops, we’re again onboard the Rocky Mountaineer train heading west from Banff to Vancouver, Canada. Larry and I are riding the most popular route called First Passage to the West, a journey through a vast territory of unspoiled wilderness that is not accessible by other means.
Rolling hills become more prominent in the landscape.
Changing landscape

No longer in the Rockies, the mountains we see now in British Columbia are really large hills. Remnants of rock slides are evident, and forest fires have reduced the number of trees. Our route parallels the North Thompson River, with many picturesque bends providing opportunities to photograph the front of the train curving along the tracks.
The Rocky Mountaineer train winds along on a curving path.
River water has the appearance of flowing upstream as thick ripples break in mild white foam against rock islands exposed by low water levels. Not to be fooled, at places the water churns into a menacing mass. Brown dirt slides down hillsides into scrub brush, which forms a barrier that keeps silt onshore. As a result the water is bright green instead of a muddy butterscotch color. In the distance, mountains resemble sand dunes speckled with green Christmas trees.

The train travels through several tunnels, rolls into the town of Spencer’s Bridge, passes Avalanche Alley and Rainbow Canyon, and rumbles by Lytton, where the Thompson and Fraser Rivers meet. The track from Mission to Vancouver is shared by Canadian National Railway (heading west to Vancouver) and Canadian PacificRailway (heading east to Kamloops), so at Cisco Crossing (cisco is a First Nation word meaning unpredictable—perfectly appropriate), we watch two trains cross each other on the bridge’s tracks.
Intrepid rafters tackle Jaws of Death Gorge.
At the slender Jaws of Death Gorge in the Thompson Canyon, whitewater rafters maneuver through the turbulent river flow. We watch for Hell’s Gate, another narrow opening with a rough passage, intimidating whitewater rapids, and steep gorges. Explorer Simon Fraser wrote of this place in 1808, “We had to pass where no human being should venture.” From the safety of our coach, we appreciate efforts of early settlers who ventured across this challenging terrain.

Hell's Gate is a dangerously narrow
passage in a steep gorge.
Dining onboard
Savoring cuisine prepared by a culinary team of 85 is a highlight of the journey. Fresh local ingredients are the mainstay of meals perfectly presented aboard this gently swaying restaurant. While guests admire spectacular scenery outside they are served delectable dishes such as British Columbia salmon, Alberta braised short ribs, or Fraser Valley chicken. For lunch, I choose the ribs, served with mashed potatoes and salad—along with a glass of chardonnay and a taste of chocolate pistachio brownie for dessert.

Then it’s time to sit back and relax. I scan the fertile farmland of Fraser Valley and see fields of corn, raspberries, and blueberries. This compact region supplies more than 50 percent of British Columbia’s agricultural products.
The weather turns windy and cool, not so good for standing on the outside vestibule but okay for sightseeing through the glass dome that surrounds us inside. Fraser River is skinny here, with thick forests growing along its banks and beyond. As the train continues though Fort Langley, a trading region for 9,000 years, we’re reminded that this is where the Hudson Bay Company, the oldest commercial corporation in North America, started trading furs more than 340 years ago.
Farming in Fraser Valley is  important to all of British Columbia.

Before noon, the train heads into the Rocky Mountains again where tall gray-brown peaks appear to be stacked in layers. A few pointed summits rise above the gently-rounded mountains, while growth patterns of the lush spruce and oak forests follow the undulating grain of rock and flowing water in the mountains. Crystal clear lakes reflect majestic mountains, tempting me to fill my camera’s memory card.

Mountains again become part of the landscape.
Shortly before arrival in the cosmopolitan city of Vancouver, the sun pokes out, and our remarkable journey ends on a shining note.

Read about the first part of this train ride at

The Rocky Mountaineer runs from late April through early October and offers rail trips from one to 24 days in length.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier