Sunday, September 23, 2018

Tips for less stress when traveling by air

You’ve heard people say flying isn’t fun anymore. It’s not the exciting event of several decades ago. Nowadays, when you arrive at the airport you’re likely to feel like the airline is testing your patience, trying to wear you down so you won’t argue with additional charges that seem to be cropping up anew every time you plan a flight. The fact is, flying isn’t going to get any easier, so it’s up to you to manage the experience as best you can. Here are some tips to help the process goes as smoothly as possible.
Plan ahead: Make sure you have all necessary documents before leaving home. That might include passports, flight information and phone numbers for the airline and anyone you might need to call upon arrival or during your trip.

Arrive early: Recommendations are that you arrive at the airport 90 minutes prior to a domestic flight and two hours before an international flight. Allow extra time enroute for traffic or construction delays. Also consider the time to park your car and take a shuttle to the airport. If you’re returning a rental car, allow time to find a gas station and fill the car before returning it. Whatever time you think you’ll need, add at least half an hour.

Pack light: Schlepping a heavy suitcase is tiring, even if it has wheels. Add in a carryon bag, backpack, or large tote bag, and you’ve got a lot of weight to maneuver through the airport. Most people don’t use everything they bring on a trip anyway, so leave at least a fourth of what you first plan to take at home. Remember, if you take it, you should be able to handle it yourself, and that includes lifting bags into the storage bins in the plane.

Check in online: Most domestic flights allow you to check in and print your boarding pass online. You’ll still have to use the kiosk at the airport if you’re checking luggage, but the whole process will be much smoother if you have already checked in. You should receive an email reminding you to do this around 24 hours prior to your flight.
Be prepared for security: Finish that soda or bottle of water before getting in line. Pack your quart baggie with liquids in containers of three-ounce or less. Slip-on shoes, belts with plastic buckles, and computers you can access easily help the process go faster. Clear your pockets of change, even that tissue for blowing your nose, before reaching the scanning machines.

Or skip the long security line: These days you can apply for TSA pre-check or Trusted Traveler Program (which also works for immigration when returning from an international flights). There’s a cost and interview process to get preferred clearance, but if you travel often, it’s definitely worth it.
Pack your own care package: Make sure you have items at your seat that make flying more comfortable for you. That could include reading material, glasses, disinfectant wipes or hand sanitizer, paper, pencil, snacks, and medications (both prescription and over-the-counter) that you’ll need in-flight. For longer flights, you might include a pillow or blanket, eye mask, slippers, toothbrush, or bottled water. Keep these items in your under-seat bag, so you won’t have to rummage through luggage in the overhead compartment, possibly disturbing passengers nearby.

Sit back and enjoy the flight: Here’s hoping the passenger in front of you doesn’t recline his seat the entire trip, you aren’t sitting near the crying baby, and no one around is coughing and sneezing in your direction.
Photos from free sources.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Best places to enjoy the Swiss Alps

Sure, Americans know about the majestic Swiss Alps and the many glittering lakes that weave around snowy mountain peaks and settle into fertile valleys. But they don’t go there very much. Only a small percentage of visitors to the Jungfrau Region of Switzerland, which encompasses the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau mountains, are from the United States.
Swiss scenery is a collage of ountains and lakes.
And yet, my husband Larry and I discovered that the Jungfrau Region provides some of the best opportunities to appreciate these stunning landscapes.  Interlaken is one of the most visited towns because it can be a hub from which to explore nearby attractions. Take a train--Switzerland’s train system is efficient and extensive throughout the country.
Staubbachfalls, the signature
waterfall of Lauterbrunnen.

If you prefer serenity to sociability, travel beyond Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen or the nearby car-free villages of Muren or Wengen. It doesn’t take long to understand why the Swiss themselves choose to vacation in this gorgeous, less crowded area.

Whether you travel via rail, cable car, gondola, bicycle, on foot—or a combination of methods-- spring and summer are ideal times to wander through this splendid natural playground. Fresh mountain air keeps you cool when hiking, wildflowers bloom in bright hues, and waterfalls flow freely from high ridges into clear rivers and lakes.

One of the highlights of our late spring trip to Switzerland was a train ride to Europe’s highest railway station, the Jungfraujoch. Running every day of the year, the railway leaves Grindelwald or Lauterbrunnen for Kleine Scheidegg, the railway station at the foot of the famous Eiger Mountain’s north face. 
Ice carvings at Jungfraujoch, the Top of Europe
On the two-and-a-half-hour journey, we traveled through the Eiger and Monch mountains to the station, which is called Top of Europe because it’s located at an altitude of more than 13,000 feet. Ice sculptures, mountain climbing exhibits, snow sledding, and a grand view of the pristine white landscape made this a spectacular experience.

Approaching Schlithorn by
cable car
Another day we rode a cable car to Schlithorn, a mountain peak almost 10,000 feet tall, for breakfast at Piz Gloria, the first revolving restaurant in the mountains. This setting gained fame in a ski chase scene during filming of the 1960s James Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The restaurant was built, blown up for the movie, and rebuilt as a tourist attraction.

Today visitors enjoy a delicious buffet as the restaurant rotates 360 degrees. On a clear day you’ll have a panoramic view from the outdoor terrace of more than 200 alpine peaks.

The Lauterbrunnen Valley, called Valley of 72 Waterfalls for good reason, offers an impressive landscape of steep rock walls carved by flowing glacial water. Just down the road from our hotel in Lauterbrunnen was Staubbachfalls, the town’s signature waterfall. Wander the trails, and you'll see many more waterfalls, especially flowing well in early spring.

Hundreds of miles of designated footpaths offer outdoor enthusiasts a variety of options, from paths suitable for strollers and wheelchairs to challenging overnight hikes and the incredible experience of Via Ferrata (walking along a narrow mountain cliff).  We sampled one well-maintained path on a trek from Murren to Gundswait before catching the train back to Lauterbrunnen.
Take the train or bike to car-free Muren, a beautiful,
intimate towns in the Swiss Alps.
If the valley waterfalls aren’t enough, drive or walk a few miles outside Lauterbrunnen to Trummelbach Mountain, the only place to see snowmelt crashing down into 10 interior waterfalls.  Corkscrew Falls is one of the most unusual, as it winds through a convoluted rock formation deep in the cavern. The waterfalls carry away up to 20,000 liters of glacial melt per second from the three regional mountains.
Corkscrew Falls in Trummelbach Mtn.

Another good way to see the countryside is on a boat ride on Breinz Lake. The passenger boat functions like a ferry, criss-crossing the lake and stopping at tiny villages along the way.

We got off at Giesbach and stopped briefly to admire the sumptuous hilltop Grand Hotel before walking up to Giesbach Falls.  Water plows down the mountainside eventually splashing in a wide cascade into Brienz Lake.

Hanging clouds over a mountain as seen on Breinz River cruise
The promise of fresh air and beautiful scenery prompted us to hike on a wooded path, then along the road into the town of Breinz where we ate a hamburger and fries (the Swiss love their fritas papas!) before reboarding the boat back to Interlaken.

Hiking trails can take you to small towns like car-free Wengen.
Mountain bike trails extend over the Jungfrau Region with tours suitable for all ability levels, including families.  Experienced guides can lead you to remote, yet beautiful, spots in the region. For an easy ride around town, rent an electric bike, and take off on your own.

If you’re truly adventurous, try paragliding—sailing off the side of a mountain, then floating along as your parachute catches wind drifts (It’s on my bucket list!).

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier





Friday, September 7, 2018

The way to Montana's autumn wonders

Montana Office of Tourism shares how to take a scenic route to exquisite landscapes this fall.

From cooler temperatures to changing colors, autumn is the perfect time to slow down and see Montana from a different perspective by taking a scenic road, bike or canoe trip.

Road Trips
Landscapes along King's Hill Scenic Byway

Imagine winding down a road with little traffic, through brilliant colors of gold, red and orange, and taking in mountain landscapes and prairies. That’s what you get when you take a road trip in Montana. Looking for golden foliage reflected on crystal-clear waters? Take a scenic drive along Montana Highway 35 and U.S. Highway 93 around Flathead Lake. As you follow this route around the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi, you’ll feel transported by the beauty of its mystifying depths.

Take part in the Flathead Lake Wakeboard Academy

Head east for an unspoiled oasis of rivers and sweeping landscapes sprinkled with orange and red. Here you can take the road less traveled, and venture along Kings Hill Scenic Byway to experience the rugged beauty of the Lewis and Clark National Forest.
Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail is part of USDA Forest Service
If you’re looking for a road trip through towering mountain peaks to spectacular vistas, you don’t want to miss the Beartooth Highway. 
Drive Beartooth Highway for outstanding scenes.
Here, drivers climb to striking views from heights of over 10,000 feet above sea level. From Red Lodge, follow the highway west to Yellowstone National Park for abundant opportunities to view bison, elk and other wildlife.

Bike Trips
There's much to see on the Bitterroot Trail, either by bike or car.
Fewer crowds, perfect temperatures and breathtaking landscapes are just a few reasons Montana is the perfect place to explore in autumn. One of the best ways to take in the sights of the season is biking. Soak up Montana’s fresh mountain air and fall colors by setting out on theBitterroot Trail. The paved biking trail is located in the Bitterroot Valley, framed by the Bitterroot Mountains to the west and the Sapphire Mountains to the east. As you follow its mesmerizing path, you’ll enjoy spectacular views of snowcapped peaks, brilliant fall foliage and charming small towns.

Bike in Paradise Valley along the Yellowstone River.
Prefer biking with riverside views? Set out to explore Paradise Valley and peddle up to 24 miles  along the winding path of the mighty Yellowstone River in between the towering Gallatin and Absaroka Mountain Ranges. From sun-kissed stands of golden aspen and cottonwood trees to the majestic peaks in the distance, this valley is true to its name in the fall.

For the perfect variety of autumn scenery, embark on a biking journey along the Backbone of the Rockies from Choteau to Augusta. Between the wild mountains and forests to the west and the ranch and farm country to the east, this route gives you the best of both worlds and will leave you with unforgettable memories.

Canoe Trips
Paddle your way past mountains on the Clearwater Canoe Trail.
Imagine gliding through calm waters as one of the few people around and enjoying only the sounds of nature as you paddle. Add autumn colors splashed against the landscapes to that image, and you have a perfect Montana getaway. Follow the Clearwater River Canoe Trail in the Seeley-Swan Valley for a quiet two-hour paddle on a stretch of river closed to motorized boats. As you float, you’ll enjoy spectacular views of the valley, and pass through a dense willow marsh that turns a brilliant shade of yellow in the fall.
There's nothing quite as spectacular as watching a moose
cross a river in Glacier National Park.
Adventure north to Glacier National Park and float the pristine waters of Lake McDonald.
This glacial lake is stunning any time of year, but exploring its miles of shoreline in the fall is truly breathtaking. With the striking contrast of vibrant yellow larch trees dotting the cedar and pine forests, paddling the lake in this season offers no shortage of magnificent views and opportunities to sight wildlife.

Information and photos courtesy of Montana Office of Tourism andBusiness Development.