Monday, October 30, 2017

Costa Rica's slow pace and political stability attract expats from U.S.

According to research by, political volatility in the U.S. appears to be motivating expats to look in increasing numbers for overseas retirement havens that exhibit greater stability.

Costa Rica tops the list of destinations offering a quiet, steady, and stable political, economic, and social environment in addition to providing a low cost of living, slow pace of life, warm weather, and great natural beauty.

“Costa Rica is a low-drama country—and that appears to be a greater draw today than ever, according to expats living there,” says Jennifer Stevens, International Living Executive Editor.

“There’s no lack of drama in Costa Rica’s landscape, of course—you’ve got jaw-dropping expanses of coast, jungles rich with everything from spider monkeys and sloths to scarlet macaws and quetzals, gorgeous lakes and volcanic valleys.

“But the people have a gentle way about them, the politics are low-key, the character of the place is warm and welcoming. It feels stable and steady and expats . . . appreciate finding those traits in Costa Rica.”

Ticos (the moniker Costa Ricans give themselves) have established one of the world’s most stable democracies in Costa Rica. The country dissolved its standing army in 1949 and the reallocated funds are spent on education, healthcare, and pensions instead of the military.

Costa Rica invests heavily in education, and as a result, Costa Ricans enjoy a  high life expectancy and a literacy rate approaching 98%. The country regularly wins accolades for its happy lifestyle.

But what many expats say they appreciate—in addition to the low costs, welcoming people, and gorgeous landscapes—is how laidback life there is.

This country is one of the most prosperous and politically stable in Latin America. "At a time when it seems like nothing but tragic, controversial, and volatile news is coming out of my home country I am so grateful to have the opportunity to be in Costa Rica where I feel a bit removed from it all,” says Jackie Minchillo, IL Costa Rica Coastal Correspondent, who lives on the Pacific coast.

“Of course, you can't completely escape the news, thanks to social media, but we're also not completely inundated here. People spend their mornings and evenings outside enjoying nature, rather than glued to the television.

“And the talk of the town here is about Costa Rica's plans to ban single-use plastics, one more step in the country's commitment to the environment. It's a peaceful place to live, and we appreciate it especially at times when it seems chaos is driving so many other places in the world." If this interests you check out International Living’s comprehensive guide to Costa Rica: Complete Guide to Costa Rica

Information courtesy of For 37 years, has been the leading authority for anyone looking for global retirement or relocation opportunities, travel or investment. 
Photos from free sources

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Plan a cruise to Australasia

October is Plan a Cruise Month—so if you haven’t booked your cruise, it’s time to get on board.
Many novice U.S. cruisers like to try shorter jaunts to Mexico, the Caribbean, or along the east or west coasts. These offer a good introduction to the benefits of cruising: unpacking only one time even while visiting several ports, the all-inclusive nature of cruising (onboard food, activities, housekeeping services, etc. are included in one price), and the availability of various destinations with shore excursions for every level of fitness.

Meals are included when cruising.

The beauty of cruising is that you can also be adventurous and choose off-the-beaten-path destinations. Cruising allows you to create lifetime experiences with a minimum of individual planning. The cruise line does most of the work, which can include booking flights, to make sure your trip is convenient and comfortable.
Explore new territories

When you’re ready to explore unique landscapes, consider the region known as Australasia—Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, and other neighboring islands in the Pacific Ocean. Here are some of the diverse destinations that cruisers of all styles put high on their lists of places to see.
Scenery on a boat ride from Akaroa, New Zealand
Akaroa,New Zealand—From this tiny town  you can sail up the strait that is reminiscent of Norwegian Fjords to marvel at lush and beautiful scenery. Dancers and musicians provide entertaining opportunities to learn about indigenous cultures.

Sydney,Australia—This modern city is a must-see for every global traveler. In addition to exploring the sprawling metropolis, don’t miss the famous harbor in Circular Quay, home to the iconic Opera House and Harbour Bridge.
Be sure to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge
Viti Levu, Fiji—Mount Tomanivi, an extinct volcano, creates a scenic backdrop for adventurers and photographers. Tour sugar cane plantations, and learn about the history of the island which claims to have been submerged in the Pacific multiple times.

Waterfalls abound in Tahiti.
Tahiti—Explore lush tropical jungles, and feel the mist of accessible waterfalls. There are numerous hiking opportunities for active travelers and gorgeous gardens that encourage gentle wandering for less-active travelers.
Superb snorkeling, sailing, and other water activities are plentiful in ports throughout this region. Or follow in the footsteps of the Lord of the Rings to learn how Middle Earth was created when touring movie locations on New Zealand. Cruising allows travelers to choose their activities geared to their specific interests when visiting the bucket-list destination of Australasia.

Plan a cruise now
Plan a Cruise Month was created by Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) to help people learn more about cruising and how to plan and take a cruise vacation. Many cruise lines are offering special deals and promotions with options to fit every travel style and budget. If you have a preferred cruise line, check to see what is being offered.

If you’re new to cruising, look for a cruise specialist at Sites like Cruise Critic, All Things Cruise, Vacations To Go, and Cruises Only can also help you decide what cruise line best fits your travel style and needs.

Information courtesy of Sarah Kennedy, Public Relations and Marketing for Cruise Lines International Association.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Rose Capital of America celebrates annual festival in October

Rose Season is well under way in Tyler, Texas. During the entire month of October, Tyler offers activities and workshops, all leading up to the renowned Texas Rose Festival, October 19-22.
Rose Season is celebrated throughout the month with a variety of events for the whole family to enjoy. Some of those events include arts and craft fairs, historic home and rose tours, festivals, concerts, and more. For a list of Rose Season activities go to
History of the Texas Rose Festival
In 1933, during the height of the Great Depression, a group of Tyler civic and community leaders created a festival to showcase Tyler’s rose industry.  Thanks to the Oil Boom, Tyler had been somewhat insulated from the reality much of the rest of the country was experiencing. 
Tyler had real cause to celebrate, so the Texas Rose Festival was born, known in the beginning as the Tyler Rose Festival.  The annual festivities were quickly adopted and word of the elaborate gowns and awe-inspiring roses spread statewide. 
As the years progressed, The Texas Rose Festival played host to multiple dignitaries and gained significant national attention.  Today, tourists come from all over to be a part of Texas history and participate in this annual celebration. Even though gardens filled with beautiful roses of every variety draw visitors to Tyler in October, the flower displays are popular throughout the year.
Texas Rose Festival
Rose Season would not be complete without the Texas Rose Festival. This year the Texas Rose Festival will be celebrating with elaborate displays of roses and activities including the Rose Show, the Coronation, Queen’s Tea, and of course, the popular Texas Rose Festival Parade.
In 2016, approximately 46,000 visitors from out of town attended the Rose Season festivities, which resulted in a $2.5 million estimated economic impact on the local community. That’s even more reason for Tyler citizens to be proud of their rose gardens and surrounding landscaping. For more information about the Texas Rose Festival, visit
Information courtesy of Holli Fourniquet, Vice President, Marketing, Texas Rose Festival
Photos from Beverly Burmeier and free sources

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Texas tales of haunted places

Need to ramp up the fright factor of Halloween? Austin, Texas has more than 40 locations where ghosts and spirits have been reported. But the otherworldly figures don’t just surface around Halloween; they spook folks year round Here are a few of the city’s notable haunted spots.
Famously haunted Driskill Hotel in Austin, Texas
The DriskillHotel, probably the most haunted site in the city, still feels the presence of numerous ghostly figures. The scent of cigar smoke from namesake Jesse Lincoln Driskill lingers despite renovations. The apparition of a little girl, daughter of a former U. S. Senator, chases a bouncing ball down the front staircase—an event that reportedly led to her death. Some even say the ghost of LBJ (former president Lyndon Baines Johnson) roams the rooms. If you’re brave, stay in Room 29, reportedly the scene of a bathtub suicide of a women who stayed there just a few decades ago.

Less than a block from the Driskill is Buffalo Billiards, original site of the Missouri Hotel, Austin’s first boarding house and a questionable entertainment spot for cowboys in the 1860s. Ghost sightings have startled a cleaning woman and night bartender. Occasional ghosts still drift through the crowds at this popular night spot on trendy and hip 6th Street.
Neil-Cochran House and Museum in Austin
The Neil-CochranHouse on San Gabriel Street served as a hospital for Union prisoners. A former owner, Colonel Andrew Neill has been seen riding his horse around the mansion and having tea on the front porch with the ghost of Robert E. Lee. Ghost sightings are common here.

Strange things happen in Austin's Paramount Theater.
Employees of downtown Paramount Theater frequently report moving props, strange lights, and unseen hands engaging in unexplained activity at this historic venue that has produced vaudeville, silent movies, music, dance, and Broadway shows for more than 90 years. Theater patrons accept these strange occurrences good-naturedly, even searching out new reports.
Teachers working late by the gum at Crockett High School report hearing a little girl crying and walking up and down the hall. It is said that she is searching for her family.

University of Texas Tower
People who remember the infamous observation tower shooting rampage of Charles Whitman in 1966 won’t be too surprised to learn that Whitman is said to still haunt the Universityof Texas Tower and campus.
Want to know more? Paranormal researcher Fiona Broome recounts some of the most familiar tales in her book The Ghosts of Austin, Texas: Who They Are and Where to Find Them.

Photos from free sources.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Misty magic of the Faroe Islands

I once read a quote from Dalai Lama that perfectly expressed how I feel about travel: “Once a year go somewhere you have never been before.” It’s inspiring to know such a laudable person shares my life philosophy—at least on this point.
A fishing village nestled on the coast of the Faroe Islands
Last summer, I managed to visit several places I had never been before, but among the most unusual was Faroe Islands, a collection of 18 small islands (17 inhabited) in the North Atlantic.

The history of the Faroes began when Irish monks came more than 200 years before Norse settlers arrived in 850 A.D. Vikings later drove them out, and Norwegians ruled until Denmark took over.
The Faroe Islands are still part of Denmark, although the islands became autonomous in 1948 after World War II. Cultural and financial connections to Denmark are strong. For example, every citizen receives an annual stipend from the Danish government, and they use Danish coins but have their own paper bills.
Ancient volcanic activity left its mark on the landscape of Faroe Islands
I was amazed at how green and lush the countryside was. At first glance, that is. As we drove north from the capital city of Torshavn, the landscape revealed its volcanic origins. Created 65 million years ago from tremendous upheavals, the islands are marked by deep crevices, giant clefts, and rough ridges. No trees grow in the inhospitable rock, which makes the soil almost impossible to cultivate. In fact, the only crop is grass, which is dried and bundled into hay to feed livestock, mostly sheep (Faroe means “sheep,” which outnumber people here).

Deep clefts on the mountain side make the land mostly unusable.
No volcanic activity has been recorded in modern times, however, so I felt safe. The day was chilly, windy, and foggy (normal, in other words). Because of the rugged terrain and blustery winters, numerous tunnels have been cut through the mountains—two also go under the sea—to provide year-round passage.

If you’re getting the picture that the Faroe Islands are a difficult place to live, you are right. Often young people leave the islands to study and work—and many (especially women) don’t come back.
A squiggly road traverses the mountain on its way to the village.
But I was delighted to experience tunnels, seaside villages, and vast expanses of green grassy pastures. On the way to the island of Eystuoy, we drove up a mountain along a thoroughly squiggedly road until we came to a viewpoint overlooking a beautiful view of the ocean—a postcard perfect scene of cloud-shrouded hillside guarding a remote fishing settlement.
Fishing for cod, haddock, and mackerel and salmon farming (the ring)
are important to the economy of the Faroe Islands.
The fish industry is the economic mainstay of the Faroe Islands, and that includes salmon farming which has grown to 40% of the total export value. Fortunately, fishing can be done year round because the Gulf Stream rims the Faroe Islands and keeps the climate milder than you might expect from its northern oceanic location.
Gorgeous cliffs at the village of Eioi on the island of Eystuoy.
Our journey continued on to Eioi, a tiny village with only 30 permanent inhabitants. Eioi means “cliff,” which is appropriate since tall, craggy cliffs guard a very narrow channel into open water. In recent years, people have begun to build summer houses here. Call them tourists, if you like, but they respect tradition and maintain the custom of using grass for roofs, a good means of insulation.

Grass roofs utilize a commodity that is native to the islands.
Throughout our travels from Torshavn, tiny clusters of homes dotted the coastline, while sparkling waterfalls tumbled down hillsides on their way to the ocean. Knowing that the idyllic setting belies the adverse living condition of the Faroe Islands, I cherish the memories of hazy mist drifting over verdant hillsides even more.
Waterfalls take a circuitous path down the mountains.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Visiting Maui? Take a day trip to Lanai

Maui brings visions of beaches shaded by tall palm trees, sunsets glistening on ocean waves, and hikes to beautiful waterfalls. All of that is reason enough to visit this popular Hawaiian island.
Near the beach there are trails to follow, many with volcanic rock
creating stunning views--and rocky paths.
After experiencing all these things on previous visits—and again when we returned—my husband and I decided to venture to Lanai. We had not been to this lesser-known island but had heard about great snorkeling and unspoiled beaches. Lanai is the smallest publicly accessible island of the Hawaiian chain and is also called the Pineapple Island because of its past as an island-wide plantation. Because most roads on the island require four-wheel drive, arriving by boat seemed like a good way to check it out.

Lounging on the trampoline, enjoying the
sail to Lanai
So we booked a full day excursion with Sail Maui on a catamaran called Paragon. Our group of eight had the most fantastic crew led by Captain Ray and Lacey. I highly recommend them—and no, I do not receive any compensation for mentioning this company.
The April day could not have been more perfect—sunny but not too hot with dainty white clouds in the sky and sparkling blue water for contrast. Most of us settled in on the trampoline—the netted area at the front of the catamaran—to enjoy the pleasant ride. Breakfast breads, fresh fruits, yogurt, and drinks filled our tummies once we embarked on the journey to Lanai.

Dolphins can often be found in these waters.
While we expected to see fish while snorkeling, the biggest surprise—and an awesome bonus to the trip—was spotting a pod of dolphins. Literally hundreds of the magnificent animals followed our boat, jumping in and out of the water in groups of two, three, or four at a time. Although Lacey said the pod seemed sleepy and not as active as on some days, we were thoroughly delighted with the show.
And we did stop to snorkel, with the crew providing top notch gear. The water was cool, especially over deep areas, the best places to see many varieties of coral and fish. As usual, we spent a good bit of time snapping photos of the moving targets with our waterproof cameras.

Larry enjoys lunch with the sandy beach
in the background.
At Manele Harbor we disembarked the catamaran for almost two hours of free time. Sail Maui provided each guest with a cooler containing lunch: sandwiches in the variety that we had pre-selected, fresh pasta salad, chips, and cookie plus bottled water. Larry and I took our bags and walked to the beach where we found a picnic table in the shade.
Exploring the rugged coastline of Lanai
Getting to Lanai on your own isn’t easy, although a ferry does take people there. As expected the beach was not crowded—mostly locals wandering on the smooth sand or snorkeling around the rocky shore further down.

The upper cliff as it extends over the water is called Sweetheart Rock.
While there we chose to hike to Sweetheart Rock, an enormous cliff with expansive views of the ocean. This took all our remaining time, partly because we just had water sandals on, not shoes more appropriate for trekking over the rocky path. But the climb was well worth the effort, even if we did have to jog to return to the boat on time.
One last dive into the sea
Back on the catamaran, Lacy served a platter of fresh vegetables and dip to snack on as we sipped adult drinks and soaked up sun and scenery. Soft brownies and more drinks later made sure we didn’t go hungry. As the boat neared shore, Ray stopped so we could have a final dip in the ocean before returning to the dock at Lahaina. It was a long day but one of the best.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier