Tuesday, August 29, 2017

News for Austin-Bergstrom and other Texas airports

Hurricane Harvey affects air travel
Hurricane Harvey has caused immeasurable damage and heartbreak in coastal Texas. Even if you don’t live in that part of the country, the winds and rain could affect your travel plans. More than 1,500 flights to and from Houston were canceled Monday, and weather will continue to be a factor in airport closures and flight cancellations. If your flight is canceled or delayed, talk to the airline.

Houston Intercontinental Airport is a hub for United, so many of the affected flights were on that airline, including those where Houston was just a layover stop. Flights will not resume until at least noon Thursday, according to airport spokesman. United has generously offered to waive any change fees and differences in fares for new flights that had been scheduled to fly to, from or through Austin, Brownsville, College Station, Corpus Christi, Harlingen, Houston, McAllen, or San Antonio in Texas or the Louisiana cities of Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Lake Charles, New Orleans, or Shreveport between August 25 and September 5.  Check for details at www.united.com/CMS/en-US/travel/news/Pages/travelnotices.aspx  
Southwest, the low-cost Dallas-based airline, is another major airline serving the affected part of Texas. It has suspended all flights to and from Houston Hobby Airport through at least Thursday. Flexibility for flight changes to Houston, Austin, Corpus Christi and San Antonio is in effect through Friday, September 1. Find updates at www.southwest.com

As of Monday afternoon, Corpus Christi, San Antonio, and Austin airports were offering regular service and might be options if you absolutely must travel to that part of Texas. Plan to arrive early at any of these airports—up to two hours for a domestic flight—so the airlines can work with you to find the best options. As always, be sure to check your flight status before leaving home.
Southwest adds nonstop destinations from ABIA

Starting April 8, 2018, Southwest Airline will add nonstop service to San Francisco and Sacramento, California. Service will be provided once daily each way for each destination city. On the same day, Southwest will also begin Sunday-only nonstops to Indianapolis. Nonstop flights are always good news for Austin travelers who can match their travel schedules to the offered flight times. Check www.abia.org  for details.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Relax in Taiwan--get a foot massage

Walk along any street in Taipei City, capital of Taiwan, and you’ll see a foot massage parlor on most corners. More popular here than Starbucks for a quick pick-me-up, a good rub-down of your feet and legs does the job nicely. Foot massage parlors can accommodate dozens of patrons at a time in comfortable massage chairs similar to what you might find in a nail salon in the U.S.
Food massage is a full-body activity
Anytime I hear massage, I’m on board, so during the port stop at Taipei City on our Southeast Asia cruise, we booked a tour that included this small luxury. Larry and I were lucky, though, because we were serviced lying on a regular massage table—even more conducive to total relaxation and a quick nap.

Larry preps for his massage.
After soaking our feet in individual bowls, we lay down and let each of our technicians go to work. Each lady massaged the lower leg and calf, kneading, stroking, pressing, and pounding to get all the kinks out. No buff and puff—this was an active massage. In fact, we had been taught the words for “more” or “less” so we could make sure the pressure applied was comfortable. Even though the massage lasted just half an hour, the soothing feelings remained much longer.
Temples, too

Longshan is a beautiful, but very busy, temple.
Still feeling a bit euphoric, we left downtown and headed to Longshan Temple. Built in 1738, it was a place of worship and a gathering spot for Chinese settlers. Visiting on a Saturday, we found the temple extremely crowded and the scent of incense almost overwhelming. But it was interesting to see many people praying to various gods about almost anything that might be going on in their lives, from the mundane to big picture issues like jobs and marriage.
Worshipers light incense to offer
the gods when making supplications.
At one point hundreds of temple-goers, led by a monk and nun started singing and chanting from song books. It was a strange sight for us as Americans who are used to solemn church services because they were attempting to be religious and find inner peace while hundreds of others walked around paying no attention to the worship program. However, since it’s a public temple, people (locals and visitors) were there for different reasons, and no one was turned away.

An uneasy coalition
While in Taipei, we also visited the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, a memorial to the man who unified China in 1928. After a civil war between communist Mao Te Sung and capitalist Chiang Kai-shek, Taiwan was defeated in 1948 and became People’s Republic of China.

Singing is a form of worship for many Taiwanese Buddhists,
especially the older generations.
Today Republic of China is the country’s official name rather than the more popular and locally preferred Taiwan. Tensions run high regarding the status of Taiwan because it’s considered a rogue entity by mainland China.

Visitors looking for an upscale and modern shopping experience can find that at Taipei 101, the tallest building in Taiwan. So named because 10 + 1 means “better than perfect,” the building is designed to look like bamboo, with outcroppings every eight stories (8 is a lucky number in Asia). When built in 2015 the architecture was innovative and the building boasted the world’s fastest elevator.
Young people flock to modern shopping venues.
Taiwan is an interesting combination of traditional culture and contemporary life. Ancient temples and foot massages are still important even as the country adopts more Westernized standards and struggles with its global identity.



Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Explore Cambodia's other temples

As mentioned in an earlier post, there are thousands of temples in the Angkor region with Angkor Wat being the most readily recognizable. During the Golden Age of the Angkor civilization, the 9th to 15th centuries, this southeast Asia country was twice as large and much more prosperous than it is today.
Buddha statues adorn temple entrances
At present the government lacks resources to restore and maintain many of these temples, but here are two others that we would recommend to visitors.

Angkor Thom—the happy place
While in Siem Reap, Cambodia, we also visited AngkorThom, a striking temple complex known for sculptures, carved Buddhas, and tall structures. Unlike Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom was a large city--the last capital of the 12th century Khmer civilization--where people lived vibrant, active lives. Hospitals, roads, water reservoirs, and a detailed infrastructure were constructed during the period of high prosperity.

The Bayon Temple in the center of the temple city, is known for its many carved Buddhas with smiling faces—reflecting good times in Cambodia. Now we see only ruins, a skeleton of the historical city that fell when invaded by the Siamese (who looted all the gold and treasures). Later the Burmese invaded Siam and took those same treasured items.
Entrance to Angkor Thom, also a UNESCO site, is through a very elegantly carved gate. Cars, motorcycles, and foot traffic stream through this ornate gate into the complex. You’ll enjoy the smiling faces of rugged Buddha statues while imagining a pleasant daily life for the many inhabitants in those ancient times.
Smiling Buddhas reflect prosperous times in Cambodia.

Roaming monkeys were familiar sights as we explored massive structures and carvings on stone walls, including at the Elephant Terrace.

Jungle Temple--a wild place

When life circumstances deteriorated and people left Ta Prohm Temple, the jungle took over and destroyed many of the structures. Huge trees are now entwined in, through, and around walls of the so-called Jungle Temple. Tree roots tangle around rocks and stones, woven into the fabric of the deteriorating structures. They have become inseparable—one would fall without the other.
Enormous tree roots have wound their way around remains of this temple.
Centuries later, when the jungle was cleared, animals left (tigers, rhinos, elephants, and leopards among them), but many varieties of trees such as fig, banyan, mahogany, and rosewood were left. The temple area will continue to be left in this natural state to illustrate how nature adapts and reclaims the land when it’s undisturbed for a long time.
Roots and stones entwined in an inseparable structure.
Because the Jungle Temple is a messy jumble of stone and vegetation—and too many people crowded there--it’s easy to get lost when exploring the grounds, so we were told to follow the guide closely. A good thing, too, as we headed down a different path once after stopping to take additional photos. But we had been told to exit by the East Gate (we had entered the South Gate), so all turned out well.
It's had to imagine how imposing the roots have
become through the ensuing centuries.
Each of these temples illustrate different aspects of religious, social, and cultural life in ancient Cambodia and provide historical context today that is allowing the country to rebuild via tourism.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Find out more things to do in Cambodia at https://www.jenreviews.com/best-things-to-do-in-cambodia/ 



Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Mt. Rainier National Park--designed for tourism

Entrance to the first master-planned national park.
Mt. Rainier National Park, created in 1899, was the first national park that had a full master plan from the start. It was designed for tourism with a well-maintained road system engineered and planned to take advantage of scenic views of the namesake mountain and the meadows, lakes, and forests within its boundaries. Creating the road system wasn't easy since it meant boring through mountains at several points.
Wildlife, mountains, forests, and meadows are among the many
 attractions in Mt. Rainier National Park.
The park first developed the familiar rustic style of architecture that has since been used in many other western national parks. In fact, it was designated a National Historic Landmark District because of the architecture. All this was notable for the park system, even though the main attraction will always be the majestic mountain itself and 97 percent of the park that is designated wilderness with no development.

Beverly and Larry at Narada Falls
in Mt. Rainier NP
Mt. Rainier is considered an active volcano, even though it hasn’t erupted in 20,000 years. But magma heated water (steam) still escapes from the summit and lava flows drape the mountain sides making it potentially the most dangerous mountain in the Cascade volcano range. Shaped by fire (volcanic ash is a building force) and ice (tears it down with scraping and scouring), the surface of the mountain is constantly changing. “Erosion always wins,” says a sign at the Paradise Visitor Center. Thus, Mt. Rainier can be a destructive force or a sanctuary depending on weather and geologic forces.
Clouds move rapidly across the mountain and provide fleeting
views of its peak.
The park is a magical land, always changing. It can be misty, foggy, sunny, rainy, or cloudy--all in the same day. Dozens of rivers and streams run through the park, and trees grow twisted and bent from the weight of snow and ice. Visitors gain a renewed appreciation for the forces of nature when visiting the national park.  Although 9,000 climbers attempt to summit Rainier each year only half that number actually make it. Its size and variety are an inspiration for nature lovers and photographers.

Beverly poses on a fallen tree during
a hike in Mt. Rainier NP.
On our first day in the park we stopped to take pictures of Christine Falls, beautiful and strong as it cascades down a cliff. Then we took a short walk to Narada Falls, one of the most spectacular in the park with water splashing 168 feet over jagged rock into the Paradise River.
After lunch at  the park's main visitor center, Paradise Jackson Visitor Center,we walked to scenic Myrtle Lake and extended the hike to Nisqually Vista, a pleasant trail through a sublime alpine flower meadow, among the prettiest anywhere in the world during summer's blooming period. During our September visit, remnants of summer wildflowers dotted hillsides with bright color. Next we drove on Stevens Canyon Road and through a valley, then on to Box Canyon for a stunning look into the deep, narrow canyon cut by a rapidly flowing river.

Sunshine on Reflection Lake one day rewarded us with this amazing
 but short-lived view.
Scattered rain and gray clouds had curtailed some of our walks, but as we returned on Stevens Canyon Road, the clouds began to move quickly, opening up the top of Mt. Rainier. For about 10-15 minutes we watched clouds blow across the sky and allow for our first pictures of the mountain. A rainbow shone in the sky, and reflections sparkled in Louise Lake on the drive back to our cabin. We were satisfied with all we saw that day, even while hoping for better views of the mountain on another day (and we were not disappointed!).

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier