Thursday, June 28, 2018

First impressions of India

People have asked me why we wanted to travel to India. Isn’t it overcrowded, dirty, and noisy, they ask.
Yes, it is. But it is much more than what you see on the surface.
This fellow pushes his cart of fresh fruit along the street.
India is an ever-changing collection of colors, smells, tastes, and sounds—a feast for all the senses that can often become overwhelming.
Cities, especially, are a jumbled mass of humanity which makes accomplishing tasks of daily living difficult. Chadni Chowk, the Old Town Market in Delhi, is a good microcosm of city life for the mid and lower classes. But the market is an historical place you must visit if you really want to experience all the crazy wonderfulness of this complicated country.

Colorful blankets for sale
Chadni Chowk is one of the oldest and busiest markets in Old Delhi, a place where you really want to have a guide. Its open air shops offer a multitude of goods at wholesale prices. It’s the most popular place for wedding shopping—paper goods, invitations, and bridal wear.
Food was cooked open-air style. Often we had no idea what was
being prepared--and didn't dare sample it.
 Open air spice markets and food vendors peddle a plethora of items, such as the wagon full of green limes making its way down the stifling street. Boxes of second-hand books (in case you want to learn chemistry, medicine, or law) were also bundled for resale to other shops.
In cities and rural towns vendors line the streets with their wares
or sit beside the wall and wait for a "job."
People on foot, bicycles, rickshaws, and motorcycles all vie for space in narrow alleys and lanes. All modes of travel pass each other with mere inches to spare, sometimes bumping into each other. People push carts loaded with fruits, boxes, and indeterminate goods right alongside motorized vehicles. Pedestrians must be brave and aggressive—even little old ladies nose their way across the street ignoring the real possibility of personal injury.
Electric wires strung across alleys
like this seemed dangerous to me.

Such close encounters means horns are constantly blaring at all decibels and tones.  Vehicles are spewing noxious exhaust, and just the noise of so much movement can be a head-splitting cacophony that never stops.
Still, we rarely saw tempers flare even though the conditions would bring huge road rage in America. It seems the people are adept at anticipating movement and avoiding collisions.

But look past the rust, peeling paint, and disarray. If you can blot those out of your mind, you’ll see brilliant colors everywhere—beautifully beaded and sequined gowns, glistening textiles in Crayola hues, and elaborate jewelry in crisp gold or decorated with multi-colored stones.
Rickshaw ride

Our guide wanted us to experience a traditional bicycle rickshaw ride, but what should have been a 15 or 20 minute jaunt took us into a massive traffic jam that took an hour to navigate. We were bounced, bumped, and jostled down the pothole-laden alley as our adult bike peddler dodged so many obstacles.
Ready for our ride--we held
on for dear life.
This is the typically crowded, gaudy, smoky, smelly, loud, and hazardous picture many people have about India. People stepping over bicycles while dodging rickshaws or weaving through the mélange. Monkeys roaming on the rooftops. Castrated oxen pulling an overloaded cart. And all sharing the same limited space. It wasn’t calm, but it wasn’t contentious—just what people must deal with.

Despite the hot, dusty ride, I tried to appreciate the experience for the fact it exposed us to life in Delhi—something I know not everyone will comprehend or value. But it was through such experiences that we better understood the culture of this heavily populated country. (One in six people in the world is Indian, our guide said).
We saw plenty that was good as well as bad—including the friendliness of the people. We observed that many different religious groups lived well together, and applauded that the country recognizes the inequality of the caste system, even though this social anomaly is still practiced.

Traffic on jam-packed streets leads tomass confusion.
As we traveled on to several interior national parks to view tigers and other wildlife, we enjoyed beautiful landscapes that many Indians themselves never see. Whether they live in a large city or in rural areas, life for most people is rather simple with few amenities. And there is a great divide according to education level achieved. I’ll write more about life in India in future posts.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Friday, June 22, 2018

Cruise the Caribbean--perfect destination for families

More ships cruise the Caribbean islands than any other region in the world. No wonder--Caribbean cruises treat families to crystal-clear waters, pristine beaches, abundant water sports, kayaking and zip lining, and duty-free shopping, and non-stop entertainment for all ages.
Caribbean cruises are great family vacations.
Caribbean cruises are divided into three regions: Western, Southern, and Eastern Caribbean cruises. In the Western Caribbean you can see Mayan ruins on Mexico's Yucatan coast, snorkel in the barrier reef off the coast of Belize, swim with sting rays or lounge on Grand Cayman's Seven Mile Beach. Roatan, Honduras is a relatively new, clean, and uncluttered port that shares the barrier reef and has an interior jungle landscape.

Because so many people cruise the Caribbean islands, you'll find the most competitive pricing and the best per-diem rates on a Caribbean cruise. You’ll also find four or five day cruises, if you’re short on time. Special offers like lower deposits, kids sail free, shipboard credits, and free shore excursions are popular enticements.
Great vacation for families

Caribbean cruises are particularly kid-friendly, making them ideal for family getaways (grandparents included). Most ships have children's programs, youth counselors, and children's activity centers that can be life-savers for parents and help guarantee that everyone has the most fun possible.  
Many ships have popular kid attractions like water slides.
Cruising provides an all-inclusive vacation. The best part, especially if you’re traveling with children, is you only have to unpack once. If you have teens who want some independence, tourching base is easy enough on a ship. Plus the Caribbean is blessed with balmy, pleasant weather year round, making it family-friendly for holiday cruises, spring break, or summer time.

Best time to go
Anytime!  If you like to swim, snorkel, or do other water activities, the Caribbean is ideal. The weather is almost always warm, Caribbean ports have activities year-round, and ships sail throughout the year. The only time you might choose to avoid is hurricane season from June 1 to November 1, which is officially hurricane season, but if no storms are on the horizon, summer is a great time to enjoy Caribbean islands.

Exploring Mayan ruins on a shore excursion in the Caribbean.
Of course, cruise ships can be packed with kids and teens during spring break and in early summer, so keep that in mind. That’s great if you're traveling with kids or grandkids who make friends easily.  However, if you’re flying into a popular port like Florida around spring break, flights and hotels may be hard to find or expensive.

During  “shoulder season,” late April to May and September to early January (except for holidays), prices are lower and crowds smaller on Caribbean sailings. Sailings longer than seven days generally attract mature cruisers because kids are generally in school and parents may not be able take so much time off work.
Cruising with kids

Families larger than four people will require adjoining rooms or a suite. But that has the advantage of more room to move around and store items as well as the possibility of some privacy for parents. Dining rooms typically accommodate young children with faster service and special menu items. Or choose casual buffet restaurants which serve the same items, allowing adults to sample fine cuisine while children nosh on familiar foods.
More fun for children on cruise ships.
If you need to travel on specific days, take advantage of early booking discounts, which are offered when you place a deposit as much as 18 months prior to your travel date. Plan shore excursions as a family and book online before you set sail.

Consider a shorter cruise, if it’s your first time. Kids will stay excited throughout, and it will be over before boredom has time to set in. Set a budget, and be sure kids know what they can charge (cruise cards act like credit cards) and what is off-limits. Or inactivate your kids’ cruise cards so they can’t run up your tab on unapproved expenses.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Saturday, June 16, 2018

A wild ride in Barbados

Our guide called the ride a great back massage.  I called it Darth Vader in a race car.

We are ready to roll!
At least that’s what my husband Larry and I looked like as we donned racing helmets and reflective sunglasses, seated ourselves 10 inches off the ground in a two-person mini-buggy, and lurched down dirt paths along the North Point of Barbados.  It was the perfect location for a hotrod experience.  Waves crashed on reefs where the North Coast meets the Atlantic Ocean, perfect spot for a thrilling ride in the Caribbean. 
Outstanding scenery on the hilly north coast
Starting from Bridgetown, our guide Tammy took the wheel of a tiny van, speeding down each narrow street as she pointed out that in Barbados “Stop signs are just a suggestion.” 

Oblivious to other vehicles, Tammy zoomed through village streets, past sugar cane fields, workers repairing roads, and outdoor vendors selling chintzy goods—obviously practicing for her duty as dune buggy guide. 
Dune buggy brigade ready for an adventure.
Her narrative entertained the eight people in our party as she pointed out the proliferation of churches on the island.  Churches are everywhere, and where there’s a church, there’s a bar.  The people take care of two kinds of spirits on Sunday, she said.  It was Sunday.

We learned that settlers first landed on the West Coast of Barbados, a coral island pushed out of the sea ages ago by volcanic activity.  Beautiful white sand beaches stretch for miles along a turquoise sea on the flatter West and South Coasts.  Coral reefs provide excellent snorkeling and scuba diving, with soft formations resembling abstract sculptures jutting out from the shore. 
Beaches are found mainly on the south and west coasts of Barbados.

As we headed north the topography changed, and rolling hills appeared. We learned about one of the unique geological feature of Barbados:  It is really two land masses merged together.

Soon we came to a privately owned plot of land where we were introduced to fully roll-caged eight-foot long all-terrain mini-buggies.  Not exactly what we had imagined, these steel-encased lowriders were the vehicles for our off-road adventure.
I try out the driver's seat.
After receiving a short safety briefing with operating instructions, Larry and I were outfitted with head socks, red and orange space-age helmets and mirrored sunglasses.  Larry shimmied into our buggy, adjusted foot pedals, and fingered the start key.   I followed, keeping camera handy to record whatever ensued, while we strapped ourselves in and prepared for another wild ride. 

Tammy led the convoy of buggies, weaving down dirt paths, hitting puddles in the middle, and spraying mud sideways from the wheels.  Larry gassed our buggy, and we followed—also spraying mud on both sides of the buggy. 

Beautiful coastal scenery of Barbados
For almost an hour we zipped back and forth along rugged trails--massaging our backs, skidding on gravel, and occasionally catching air after hitting large rocks.  Turns were tight.  Thrills were constant. 

Twice we stopped for refreshing drinks and to visually drink in the beauty of the North Coast. Here, sandstone cliffs rise hundreds of feet straight out of the sea.  Perched on such a cliff high above the rushing Atlantic, we admired the surrounding landscape. Turquoise water decorated by splashing waves formed a lovely background against blue sky and green grass.
With grassy hills and sandy beaches, Barbados is a unique Caribbean island.
A brief stint at lovely Paradise Beach followed the road safari, a welcome respite after so much excitement.  This small protected bay proved the perfect spot for building sand castles, despite waves that rolled heavily onshore, quickly washing away my ingenious creations. The shore’s rocky bottom and quick drop-off made beach combing more attractive than swimming.  We strolled along the sand, capturing the beauty of the beach with a camera and enjoying the tranquil surroundings.  It was an excellent way to wind down from our exciting Barbados adventure.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier






Monday, June 11, 2018

Do you use social media to plan vacations?

If you've embraced social media for choosing, planning, and recording your vacations, you're not alone. In fact, social media is becoming the new guideline for all things related to leisure travel.
Curious about the extent of social media's influence on our choices? Check out this infographic, reposted courtesy of  MDG Advertising, which is based on stats for 2018.
Vacationing the Social Media Way [Infographic]

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Yes, you can afford to visit Aspen, Colorado

The glorious Maroon Bells are reason enough to visit Aspen.
If Aspen’s ritzy reputation has been reason enough to by-pass the town and head for simpler cozier spots in Colorado, you might be surprised to learn that Aspen can be very affordable.  It’s true that Aspen is high on the radar of celebrity skiers (or après skiers) during the winter season, but it becomes an excellent value during spring, summer, and fall.  Many activities are free or nearly so—and prices are generally lower at accommodations and restaurants during the off seasons.
Aspen’s year-round population is just under 7,000, which means it’s a cozy town, too--any time besides high season. It is situated in the White River National Forest surrounded by the peaks of the Elk Mountains--prime territory for visitors who appreciate beautiful natural settings.

Aspen retains the independent character of its early silver mining days even as it has grown into a world-class destination with unique hotels and charming lodges, fine dining, shopping, and wonderful natural beauty—all of which are available for sampling after the ski lifts have closed for the season.
There are plenty of trails to hike.

White water rafting, kayaking, river surfing, fishing, horseback riding and mountain biking attract adventure seekers, but there are plenty of milder choices for families, too. The Rio Grande Skate Park, one of the best and largest in the country, buzzes with skateboarders, and little kids love playing in the shooting waters of Dancing Fountain on the Hyman Avenue Mall.  Practice your climbing skills at the Red Brick Climbing Wall in downtown, or save your energy for a round of Frisbee golf at the 11,212-foot summit of Aspen Mountain which can be accessed via the Silver Queen Gondola.
Take free guided nature walks led by naturalists from the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, or explore The Grottos on an easy 1.2 mile trail featuring a waterfall on the Roaring Fork River a few miles east of town.

Galleries, restaurants, and music are attractions in the town.
Get your culture fix at the Aspen Art Museum--admission is free during the summer. There’s also a bounty of free music in the mountains with performances, lectures, and recitals provided through the Aspen Music Festival and School.  Any day of the week during the summer, do as the locals do and pack a picnic to enjoy while listening to world-class performers on the lawn beside open-air Benedict Music Tent.
Actually, you don’t need a car in downtown. You can walk or bike to most destinations or hop on one of Aspen’s free buses that connect visitors to every local attraction. 

The beauty of nature is a main draw for visitors to Aspen
in seasons other than winter.
Buses leave town throughout the summer and drop visitors off at the base of the Maroon Bells, the most photographed peaks in North America. The view is stunning and reflections of the peaks are spectacular. At 9,000 feet altitude, the air is clear and cool.  Post-card perfect scenes are common as you walk around Maroon Lake or hike two miles to Crater Lake.
  Golden-leafed aspens glow in the sunlight, draping luminous beauty on fields and trails.  Lovely red aspens, not as common as the yellow variety but every bit as glorious, can be found along the streets of Aspen.
Fall sparkles with golden, gleaming aspen trees.
September in Colorado is prime time for fall color, and the weather is still relatively mild for trekking or bike riding.

Red aspens glow in autumn sunshine.
Lodging specials during the off-seasons keep rates affordable at charming downtown hotels, and you can walk to many fine and reasonable eateries  The “happy hour” specials at most diners and bars are just a small indication of the “happy holiday” you can experience in Aspen.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier