Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Art (and Fun) of Stacking Rocks

Update: The Llano Earth Art Fest will be held March 9-12, 2018 with rock stacking competitions held on both Saturday and Sunday. Categories have been expanded and include team events as well as individual. Amateurs are encouraged to participate in addition to the professionals. There's no charge for watching the competitions, which are simply amazing.

I watched Michael Grab, an artist from Boulder, Colorado, demonstrate his rock stacking technique at the Llano Earth Art Fest. If you missed this unique Texas event earlier in March, plan to attend next year.

Don't know much about rock stacking?

Find out about this ancient activity--including the World Rock Stacking Championship--that is becoming one of man's newest diversions in my article for Texas Highways magazine.

Requiring a combination of discipline, creativity, and acute awareness of variations in natural objects, the activity is fun and challenging for amateurs and has developed into a profession for the country's most talented practitioners. The festival includes opportunities for all ages to try building their own rock structures--and to learn more about the natural resources of the area.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Two must-see neighborhoods in Miami

Miami, Florida is known for white sand beaches and high-profile celebrities with fabulously elegant homes. But there’s much more to see and do in this waterfront city. On a recent trip we discovered two intriguing neighborhoods that provide glimpses into very different cultures.
WynwoodArts District is a unique, funky area in midtown Miami. More than 70 art galleries, antique shops, bars and restaurants attract both locals and visitors. But what makes it one of the most creative communities in the U.S. is dozens of graffiti murals spray-painted on the walls of buildings. The result is one of the largest open-air street art installations in the world.

Neglected, old warehouses in the former manufacturing district of Miami were taken over by developers when factories closed. These were transformed into numerous art complexes—a true museum of cutting-edge painted walls.
These creations are not the result of teen-age mischief; they are truly artistic paintings done by hand with ordinary spray paint cans. Most have positive messages or bold geometric designs. All are fun to look at and enjoy.

With the introduction of Second Saturday Art Walk and the arrival of the Art Basel fair in 2002, Wynwood has seen unexpected growth in a relatively short time. Locals and visitors looking for a hip place to go for nightlife have discovered this reinvented section of the city.
Miami’sLittle Havana is a vibrant Spanish neighborhood that is home to Cuban immigrants (more than 300,000 people migrated to Miami in the 1980s) and others from Central and South America. It’s a community where everyone speaks Spanish, and most of the inhabitants never learn English.

Little Havana is considered the epicenter of Cuban culture and heritage in the U.S. That distinct character brings in tourists, especially during annual festivals like Calle Ocho Festival or Cultural Fridays, The Three Kings Parade, and Viernes Culturales.
Since the district is famous for old-world cigar shops, we visited the Cuba Tobacco Cigar Company, one of the oldest cigar factories in the city, where we watched cigars being hand-rolled. Shops along the main street are filled with the aroma of strong Cuban coffee, which many offer free of charge to visitors. Other quaint shops include botanicas—folk medicine stores.

A famous landmark is Domino Park (Maximo Gomez Park), the heart of Cubans’ social gathering. People come daily to play dominoes and discuss anything on their minds.
Little Havana is a popular place to go for Cuban food, cultural activities, and live shows. Monuments and murals bring to life the history of Cuba, including the Bay of Pigs. Visitors can take guided walking tours or tours that focus on food for a delicious taste of Miami.

Don’t miss either of these neighborhoods when visiting Miami.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Preferred seating now in economy class

Airlines have a longstanding tradition of charging extra for better seats and more service.  Want to be pampered? Pay up, and sit in business or first class. Now that practice is common even in coach.

Preferred seating

These seats can improve your flying experience—if you’re willing to pay the extra cost.

Alaska Airlines has launched its preferred seating category, which gives you access to the bulkhead and exit row. That also comes with a free drink and priority boarding. It starts at $15, but higher-tier loyalty members get the first chance to reserve those seats.

Singapore Airlines, which tends to focus on long haul flights and high-paying premium passengers, has launched its premium economy class. The seat pitch—or the space in between seat backs—is a more comfortable 38 inches compared to a standard 32, and it comes with a leg-rest, champagne, and in-flight meals that you can pre-order.

Other airlines are expanding existing premium products. Lufthansa has installed premium economy on half of its long-haul fleet. Delta and United also sell upgraded economy seats, some of which aren’t really better than the others—they just might be closer to the front allowing for quicker exit on landing.

Is the seat worth the extra cost?

Airlines make billions of dollars each year in ancillary fees, and the preferred seat option is one of the most profitable programs. But preferred seating can mean different things on different airlines, and it’s sometimes hard to tell if it’s worth the extra dollars.

A preferred seat isn’t necessarily a window or an aisle seat. Middle seats can be preferred if they’re near the front of the plane. 

It’s all about supply and demand. On some flights, the better seats will be gobbled up by business travelers, but the airlines then block off seats that aren’t necessarily better, call them “preferred,” and charge an additional fee.

They know that most fliers will feel pressured into paying extra to choose their seats rather than being assigned to the last row in the airplane. Also, families who can’t find adjacent seats when they book their tickets end up paying more to guarantee seats together. Travelers who don’t want to pay to check their bags (another ancillary fee), might choose to pay the fee for early boarding, just to get space in the overhead bins.

Unfortunately, these fees aren’t going away. It’s too profitable for the airlines. So remember to account for any upgrades when comparing costs for a flight. It’s all about the bottom line—for the airline and for the traveler.

Photos from free sources

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Parasailing above the sea in Maui

Dangling 800 feet above the ocean in a sling chair didn’t appeal to my husband, but after learning we could go tandem, he agreed to try parasailing.  We arrived at Mala wharf at Lahaina Harbor on Maui wearing bathing suits (although you probably won’t get wet) and climbed aboard a high tech speed boat to motor into open water of the Pacific Ocean.

Once sufficiently out in the water, we donned life vests, positioned ourselves on the slight seats, and strapped in. Unlike the time I parasailed by lifting off directly from the beach in Mexico, we launched effortlessly from the boat by a hydraulic winch system on deck.   

Slowly, as the attached cable was released and the colorful parachute inflated, we rose higher and higher, conscious of wind and sun on our bodies.  Soon, views of white, fluffy clouds above and the blue sea below rippling from our boat’s foaming wake filled our senses. It was pure pleasure!

It’s eerily quiet and peaceful when you’re drifting in the air over the ocean, feeling far away from overcrowded resorts.  That’s the lure of parasailing: an opportunity to become part of the natural environment while viewing ocean scenes from a lofty perspective. 

Riders can go alone (must weigh at least 130 pounds), in pairs, or triple (combined weight cannot exceed 400 pounds). Rides soar either 800 feet (38 stories) or 1200 feet (50 stories) high, depending on choice and weather conditions.  Children 6 to 12 years of age must ride with a parent or guardian. Time in the air is about eight to ten minutes, and if you’re game the crew will thrill you with a “touch ‘n’ go,” where they slow the boat down and allow your toes to skim the water’s surface before rising again.

Even though we took our own pictures while floating above the sea, the crew was also busy recording our adventure. Their included photos perfectly captured the broad smiles that covered both our faces and the feeling of pure exhilaration during this fun and exciting adventure in paradise.

Parasail Ka-anapali
Mala Harbor
Lahaina, Hawaii (Maui)