Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Exploring the gutsy city of Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is one of the prettiest cities around the Baltic Sea, so it attracts many visitors. It’s a popular port for cruise ships, which is how we came to spend a day there exploring many sights.
Did you know that Skype originated in Tallinn? It is a very tech oriented city today—people vote and pay taxes via cell phones. That’s a great change from the 1940s and 50s when the Soviet Union ruled most of the Baltic region. Estonia was poverty-stricken when it declared independence as the Soviet Union broke up in 1991.

Preserved wall and towers of Tallin
The northern-most and smallest of the Baltic States, Estonia is also the most Westernized. It lies on the shores of the Gulf of Finland between Russia in the east and Latvia in the south. Its population of 1.5 million people is a mixture of Hungarians, Finns, and Estonians who enjoy a landscape dotted with 1500 lakes and numerous marshes and islands. Forests cover 51 percent of the land, so it’s no surprise that lumber is a big industry for the country.

Summer residence of Peter the Great
Old Town Tallinn features walls and towers dating back to the Middle Ages, many of which have been preserved and are now designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The winding cobblestone streets of Old Town are lined with fascinating wooden architecture, which has regained popularity.

The Rotermann Quarter is an award-winning architectural gem right in the heart of Tallinn, next to the harbor and Old Town. This quarter has emerged from dilapidation of the Soviet Era into a bustling commercial and cultural center of this dynamic city.
St. Brigit's Convent is an outstanding monument of 15th century limestone architecture.
Among sights you can see are the summer residence of Peter the Great as well as the pink-tinted tea house that he frequented. To enjoy panoramic views from up high, go to one of the viewing platforms on hills above the city or look out from the tower of St. Olav’s Church (once the tallest building in the world).

Tallin's amphitheater where the music festival is held every five years
Once every five years (next in 2019) a song festival is held in the city’s renowned amphitheater. The festival attracts 30,000 people who sing and wear national costumes. It is claimed that the collapse of the Soviet Union started here in 1987 when, in a gutsy move, the choir refused to sing required “Red” songs that didn’t reflect their true feelings.
Choosing my favorite piece of amber
Shopping in Estonia is a familiar experience combining old and new offerings. Since the country is known for beautiful amber, I decided to help the economy and buy and piece of jewelry while there. After all, wearing my glistening pendant is a lovely reminder of our visit to this historic yet progressive city.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier



Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Why your kids will love Abilene, Texas

For family fun that will entertain and engage the kids without breaking the bank, Abilene, Texas is the perfect destination. 
Known as “The Storybook Capital of Texas,” this charming Western town offers a mix of activities that range from family-friendly boot scootin’ to feeding giraffes and turtles to experiencing frontier life with the help of holographic “spirit guides.”  Here are a few ideas and tips for an affordable family vacation in Abilene.

Abilene has one of the best small zoos in Texas.  Admission is $8 for adults and $5.50 for children, but families who present their hotel room key will receive free kids’ admission with paid adult tickets.  Don’t miss the new Giraffe Safari or feeding fish and bobbing turtles who live in Zoo Lake. Parking is free and there’s even a kids playground.

Abilene Round Up Pass provides savings on admissions to the area’s six most popular attractions. $17 for adults, $8 for children ages 16 and younger. It covers admission to Frontier Texas!, the comprehensive WWII artifact collection at the 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum, The Grace Museum, Abilene Zoo, the expansive grounds of the Taylor County History Center, and the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature.

Get artistic at the free Come-n-Go Family Fun sessions every Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. at the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature.  Participants create artworks taking inspiration from the work of such prominent authors and illustrators as Eric Carle, William Joyce, David Shannon and Mark Teague.

The Storybook Capital of Texas has two dozen whimsical sculptures of favorite childhood storybook characters throughout downtown. Turn viewing the pieces into a scavenger hunt by downloading the free GooseChase app for iphone or Android and submitting photos of your children or groups to the actual app.

Another way to make touring Abilene an adventure for little ones is to look for a colorful character named Seymour. This wooden toy from Walter Wick’s “Can You See What I See” book series is hidden in locations throughout town. When children spot the Seymour embedded at each of several locations, they can get their special passports stamped and later turn them in at the Depot for a prize.


Looking for a fun family evening out on the town?  On select Saturday evenings, Eller Hall hosts “pop up” boot scootin’ nights with a live band.  Tickets to this family-friendly, no alcohol evenings are $10 for adults, $5 for youth 12 to 17 and free for kids under $12.  For upcoming dates, visit


For a unique family adventure, stay in a yurt at Abilene State Park.  Yurts can be rented for $50 to $75 nightly (plus park entrance fees.)

Information courtesy of Brian Briscoe, Tucker and Associates.
Photos from free sources

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Got the blues? Take a trip

Feeling depressed? Rather than trying to hide from the painful feelings, think outside yourself. One great solution to chase away those blah or even deep blue feelings is to plan a vacation.
Yes, travel can be the best potion to treat the melancholy or bad memories that take you to a place you don’t want to be. Travel has the potential to help you escape those feelings of sadness and inspire you to be a better you.

If you’re bogged down with a bad job, unhappy social life, or poor relationships, travel can take you mentally and physically away from those situations. Forget the hustle and bustle of your everyday life and ease into the serenity of a natural environment. Escape to the mountains, beach, or a secluded rural setting and let the calmness tame the misery in your mind.

Once that happens you’ll be open to discovering another aspect of the world—a real and brilliant world--not the one in which you feel depressed or sad. Sure, travel is enjoyable, but it also introduces you to beautiful scenery, different cultures, tasty foods, and new friends.
Challenge yourself—try something new. Go rock climbing, ziplining, or snorkeling in a new and fascinating place. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone builds confidence, so you’ll be able tackle whatever comes your way after you return home.

Travel helps you see yourself and others in a new light. It can help you find a purpose, gain new skills, and discover qualities about yourself you were unaware of. It teaches you to be responsible and enables you to gain independence. It’s easier to make new friends, stimulate your brain, and soothe your soul when traveling away from home. And it’s so much fun!

When you move out of the daily grind, you’ll make so many wonderful memories that will lift you up just by recounting your adventures to yourself or others afterwards. To make sharing easier, be sure to take plenty of photos, write in a journal, or record your thoughts and feelings as you go.
Travel simply makes us better people by helping us understand ourselves and the people we meet along the way more completely. Rather than hiding from the world, we embrace it—and leave depression behind.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Saturday, March 10, 2018

Unique ways to experience Colorado's public lands

Nearly 40 percent of Colorado is comprised of federal public land. That includes four National Parks and eight National Monuments, 41 state parks, as well as hundreds of regional parks and open spaces. Public land provides outdoor recreation, wildlife habitats, clean air and water. All of that makes the state’s landscape breathtaking and lifestyle appealing.
Outstanding landscape of Colorado National Monument
by Beverly Burmeier
Colorado Public LandsDay is May 19, 2018, a perfect opportunity to experience outdoor recreational activities or check out different voluntourism events.

Regardless of your skill level or experience, there are plenty of recreational opportunities for everyone in Colorado's public lands.

Experience a canyoneering adventure in the Uncompahgre National Forest.  Local outfitter, Canyoning Colorado, offers canyoning/canyoneering descents and trainings in the quaint mountain town of Ouray, where there is an abundance of canyons and waterfalls. Adventurers can explore eight canyons in the Uncompahgre National Forest outside of Ouray on these expeditions. Tours and trainings are available to persons with no prior experience. Experienced climbers can take on more challenging tours or learn to canyoneer on their own.

Wildflowers growing near Boulder's flatirons
by Matt Inden
Catch a glimpse of wildlife on the Colorado Birding Trail. The Colorado Birding Trail is comprised of outdoor recreation sites, hiking or walking paths, both public and private, along a designated driving route across the state. Each driving route offers unique trail names and is composed of several watchable wildlife sites including the Bobolink Trailhead in Boulder, a reliable nesting site for species along the Front Range or the Prairie Canyons Trail just south of La Junta, where visitors can see horned lizards, Cassin’s Kingbirds, roadrunners and more.

The Great Sand Dunes with the Sangre de Cristo mountains in the background
by Matt Inden
Cool off in the brisk water at Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve. Medano Creek in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is something of a mystery. Each spring it emerges from the mountains behind the sand dunes to form a wide, shallow and gently flowing stream. Visitors wade into it to cool hot feet after tromping around the dunes, build sandcastles, or boogie board and splash around in its rhythmic waves before it retreats into the mountains just as quickly. The ideal combination of sultry desert and refreshing water is not the Alamosa-area park’s only charm — the dunes themselves are quite bewitching as well.

Marvel at the masonry of Colorado’s ancient people at Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. So adept were the construction skills of the ancient Ancestral Puebloans who lived in southwest Colorado, that parts of their structures still stand more than 700 years later. Those who tour the area’s mesas and canyons today are left to speculate about the purpose of the multistory brick towers. Archeologists think they could have been homes, storage silos for crops, defensive forts or ceremonial structures. Canyons of the Ancients National Monument near Cortez, contains the highest known archaeological site density in the United States, with rich, well-preserved evidence of native cultures.

Whitewater froth on the Cache La
Poudre River
by Andrea Golod
Raft the tumbling rapids of the Cache la Poudre River. Located west of Fort Collins, Colorado’s only nationally designated Wild and Scenic River, the Cache la Poudre, carves through Poudre Canyon flanked by alpine mountainsides and natural rock cliffs. The triumph of paddling over a rapid named Devil’s Staircase is second only to the views and the chance to spot bighorn sheep and deer scampering along its rocky hills. Rafting outfitters guide groups to rapids of all difficulty levels, so everyone gets the right amount of adventure. 

Walk in dinosaur footprints in Comanche National Grassland. Standing in Picketwire Canyon with your foot swallowed by a three-toed impression left in the bedrock by a brontosaurus 150 million years ago, one can imagine what it might have looked like when dinosaurs inhabited the area. The canyon was home to a lake during the Jurassic period, and the brontosaurus you’re tracking now used to frolic along its shores. The footprints are reached after a flat five-mile hike, bike or horse ride.
Comanche National Grassland is one of the last short-grass
prairies in the world
by Matt Inden

Information and photos courtesy of Kirstin Koszorus, Colorado Tourism Office


Sunday, March 4, 2018

Schlotsky's launches Austin Eatery restaurant design

You can’t miss the big lighted sign on the wall. “Austin Born and Bread” is the mantra of Schlotzsky’s Austin Eatery, a new concept rolled out recently in Central Texas.
Started in 1971 in downtown Austin, the casual restaurant offered just one sandwich, known as The Original. Made with sourdough buns baked fresh in the store daily, that sandwich launched a franchise that is now more than 370 restaurants strong. 

Located in Bee Cave, the concept is the first of Schlotzsky’s to add local favorites inspired by the food truck culture. There’s a happy, comfortable hometown feel to the restaurant that replicates the eclectic vibe of Austin with bold graphics on the walls and use of reclaimed wood and found objects in the decorative motif. Colorful murals remind one of the brand’s Austin roots.

“The Schlotzsky’s brand and culture was built on our Austin heritage, and we are thrilled to pioneer the new restaurant evolution in the city where our story started nearly 47 years ago,” said Kelly Roddy, President of Schlotzsky’s.

The goal is to appeal to all ages, from youngsters to millennials to seniors. Many of the new menu items are sharable, a concept that is growing especially among young adult customers and families. The restaurant also sells beer and wine and provides seating options including booths, tables, and outdoor dining.

I was invited to preview new menu items prior to the grand opening at the Bee Cave location and left with some new favorites. Created by Corporate Chef Maira Isabel Morales, the menu now includes sliders, macs, and tacos in addition to traditional fan favorites like sandwiches, pizza, soups, and salads. Popular with Texas diners, the regionally-based selections—all made with the freshest ingredients--will likely be added to other Schlotzsky’s in the future.

When you go to Schlotzsky’s be sure to expand your taste palate, whether you prefer mild or spicy, with scrumptious offerings like Sweet n’ Sassy Slider, Aloha Brisket Slider, or Chipotle Steak Slider. Taco varieties include Saucy Chick (loaded with hot sauce), Smokin’ Hawaiian, and My Jam Brisket (with a secret ingredient for a unique taste combination).

Baked in a tin are two new dishes—Brisketeer Mac (yummy mac and cheese combo) and Cheesy Bacon Tots, each enough for a meal. Left Coast Flatbread is a tasty combination of chicken, bacon, and avocado (yeah!) and Margherita Flatbread works for those who prefer vegetarian fare.

Don’t forget to order The Original once you’ve sampled the new items. Its 13 ingredients will melt in your mouth and soothe your tummy with familiar warm goodness.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier