Monday, October 29, 2018

Don't let winter weather spoil your trip

Living in central Texas we don’t think much about winter weather affecting our travel plans. But if you’re flying to a northerly destination, ice or snow could wreak havoc on your plans.
It’s not just weather in the city that you’re flying into that can be a problem. If the plane you’re taking is scheduled to arrive from an airport that’s experiencing a winter storm, it may not be able to arrive on time—so you won’t leave on time, either. If the unthinkable happens in a southern city such as Austin and the plane needs de-icing, the flight could be significantly delayed as the airport may not be set up to handle that situation efficiently.

In fact, you could be delayed a day or more, not just hours. Or the flight could be cancelled. Spending a night or two in an airport isn’t fun for anyone, and airlines often run out of available hotel rooms for which they might offer a voucher (if you’re lucky!). So think about a back-up plan before booking your flight.
Of course, no one can predict what the weather will be when you plan a trip months in advance. But if the situation looks dicey a day prior to travel, consider booking another flight to an alternate (still close) airport or on a different airline. Yes, that means you have two reservations for the same trip.

Many airlines let you cancel a reservation within 24 hours of making it with no charge. Others might charge a fee but reimburse you later. Just be sure you know the cancellation policy in case your original flight is able to go as scheduled.
Another option is to contact the airline ahead of time and ask to be rerouted or rescheduled because of weather conditions without additional cost to you.  The airline might be willing to accommodate your request if it looks like hundreds or thousands of delays and/or cancellations are imminent. On a trip abroad last year we were scheduled to fly through Atlanta just as a hurricane was approaching the East Coast. At my request the airline rerouted us through Detroit, so we missed the madness and confusion taking place in the Atlanta airport at that time.

Consider purchasing travel insurance for any parts of the trip that are pre-paid and non-refundable.  That might include flight, hotel, rental car, or excursions--but don’t include anything that is refundable. Just be sure to buy the insurance prior to travel and print out a summary of your policy with contact numbers to take with you. If you get stranded it’s a good idea to check on what the insurance will cover while deciding what course of action to take.
You can get insurance through a travel agent, the airline, or purchase it yourself online from many reputable companies. Check with consolidators and comparison sites to get the best policy for your needs at the lowest price. (I like QuoteWright). Policies are generally based on cost of the trip and age of the insured person.

If you paid for your flight, cruise, or tour with a credit card, check to see if travel interruption, delay, and lost baggage coverage are included on that card. Quite possibly, you already have insurance and just aren’t aware of it.
Images from free sites.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Three adventures anyone can do

Willing to try something different?  These fun activities will provide thrilling adventures for anyone who loves a new challenge.

Kayaking on a glacial lake in Alaska

If you visit Skagway, Alaska, either on a cruise or on your own, a popular tour combines a ride on the White Pass and Yukon Scenic Railroad with kayaking on a glacier lake.
A most beautiful setting for kayaking in Alaska
You’ll learn history of gold rush days while on the train, and then arrive at pristine Lake Bernard at the edge of the historic town of Fraser in British Columbia, Canada.           

Guides give expert instruction before participants slide into stable, two-person kayaks, zip up the protective covering designed to keep them warm and dry, and paddle onto the glacier-carved lake.  It’s smooth gliding across the same cold, clear water that Klondikers paddled more than a century before. 
We got good at paddling in tandem.

Marvel at vistas of snow-capped mountain peaks surrounding the lake. Paddle over gentle waves to coves, and admire alpine plant life while breathing in crisp mountain air.

Riding in a hot air balloon over Steamboat Springs, Colorado

The Hot Air Balloon Rodeo is a summertime staple of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Visitors can go to the launch grounds early in the morning to watch as balloons inflate—perhaps even joining ground crews in preparing brightly colored balloons for flight. Then watch as gleaming balloons dot the Yampa Valley sky at sunrise.
The Yampa River is a gorgeous place to view hot air balloons
during the Steamboat Springs Hot Air Balloon Rodeo.
After the spectacular professional competition has ended, plan a ride of your own. Several participating hot air balloon companies offer exciting rides over the Yampa Valley with views of the Yampa River and green mountains stretching for miles around. Your pilot might even thrill riders by dipping the basket into Bald Eagle Lake. It’s a special way to experience Steamboat Springs and add to your appreciation of the skilled balloon competitors.
Don't miss the spectacular Balloon Glow at night.
For a different look, attend the Balloon Glow in the evening. Spectators can walk among beautiful displays of tethered balloons that illuminate the evening sky with brilliant colors.

White water rafting in Taos, New Mexico

Prime time for exciting whitewater fun is from late April through early July.  The Taos Box Canyon is one of the premier Class III and IV whitewater runs of North American, if you’re up for the challenge. 

Entirely contained in the black lava walls of the Rio Grande Gorge (which range up to 1000 feet high), the Box begins with two miles of fairly gentle Class I drops—a warm-up before nine miles of more difficult rapids that require precise boat handling. 
Rafting through the Rio Grande Gorge near Taos, New Mexico
You and your mates will learn to paddle as a team, execute 15-foot drops, and flow with the current as you wrap-up the ride with six miles of Class IV drops—with names like Powerline, The Gut, and Pinball. Afterwards, celebrate success and trade splash stories during a provided gourmet lunch.

White water provides a thrilling ride in the Taos Box!
If that sounds like more excitement than you really want, calmer rafting and flat-water trips are also available that show off the natural beauty of the area to the less adventurous or families with young children. 

Photos by Beverly Burmeier and provided by free sites.


Monday, October 15, 2018

Nashville is more than music

It’s true that Nashville is like Mecca for country music fans. But if you think that’s all there is to this Tennessee city, you’re only hearing the chorus of a multi-versed song.  Yes, music is a draw, but if a steady diet doesn’t enthrall you for more than a day, can Nashville entice you to stay longer?  Sure can, if you include these stops on your itinerary. 

Hatch Show Print
A wall of posters printed at Hatch Show Print
In this age of cheap ink jet printers, some people have lost appreciation for the intricate work that old-fashioned letterpress printing entails.  But not Hatch ShowPrint in downtown Nashville.  Using techniques from the 1500s that meld designing and printing into a creative art form, this shop produces posters for stars, businesses, and individuals. 
Type is set and printing is done by hand

Inside you’ll see an entire wall covered—clear up to the ceiling—with posters for stars like Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, Hank Williams, and Patsy Cline, as well as contemporary clients including Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Shania Twain, Wynona Judd, and Coldplay.

Thousands of people come every year to Hatch Show Print to
watch this historical printing process in action.
Hatch Show Print became an historical property of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in 1992. Today it is the best place to observe traditional letterpress printing techniques using 10,000 old-style wooden typeface blocks and 14 historic printing presses.

Manuel, Exclusive Clothier

Elaborate embroidery on a
colorful jacket. 
Walk into the workshop housed in an old Victorian building and you might start a new craving, as I did.  I’m not a star, but I can dress like one—for a price. I’m coveting a pair of jeans created by Manuel Cuevas—jeans that fit perfectly, embellished with crystals and intricate embroidery and expressing my personality in a way no other clothing item can.

That’s exactly what this famous tailor has done for stars including Kenny Chesney, Dolly Parton, Keith Urban, and Miranda Lambert. Ever wonder how Johnny Cash became the Man in Black? Or why Elvis began wearing gold jumpsuits? Or who came up with Dwight Yoakum’s skinny leg look? 

Larry tries on a special Manuel jacket.
The answers lie in Manuel’s expertise at creating image.  His custom-made outfits are the result not only of superb craftsmanship at the sewing machine but also of getting to know his clients sufficiently to express their personalities in a visible way.

Manuel’s embroidery and design skills earned him the nickname of Rhinestone Rembrandt—and his artistic pieces are worthy of display in museums like Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, Smithsonian, and Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

The Parthenon

Athena at Nashville's Parthenon
At 65 feet high, it’s the only full-scale replica of the Greek Parthenon in existence and the centerpiece of Nashville’sCentennial Park.  The building, which faces east like its Greek predecessor, serves as a monument to classical architecture—and it houses the city’s art museum.  Not to be missed is the 42-foot gold statue of Athena, an amazingly detailed creation sculpted just like the original including representations of 11 snakes on her breastplate. 

The Parthenon is also Nashville’s art museum with a permanent collection of paintings by 19th and 20th century American artists.

Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art

Cheekwood Botanical Garden is gorgeous in spring.
Stroll through 55 acres of beautiful gardens and fine art.  Tranquil streams and ponds meander through gardens filled with colorful blooms, wildflowers, herbs, and perennials. The unparalleled Boxwood Gardens that surround the museum lend a touch of formality in an otherwise relaxed motif.  Set on the Cheek family estate (originators of Maxwell House Coffee), the Botanical Garden and Cheekwood Mansion are perfect for weddings and special events—or a picnic while touring the grounds.
Special events are held at Cheekwood Mansion
Although traditional paintings have a home at Cheekwood, the museum is especially known for its contemporary art center and the Sculpture Trail with works that blend into natural surroundings. Modern American artists whose works are featured include Andy Warhol and David Hockney.

Nearby historical sites

Venture to Belle Meade Plantation and Belmont Mansion to see how the upper class lived in the 19th century, or tour Jack Daniel’s Distillery for a whiff of its charcoal mellowed whiskey.  History buffs will enjoy the Hermitage, home of Andrew Jackson, and Travelers Rest Plantation and Museum.

Music too

Don't miss outstanding collections at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
Still, you can’t miss Nashville’s music standouts. Grand Ole Opry is a mainstay of the Nashville scene. Whether you’re a foot-stomping fan or not, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum serves up familiar names and memorabilia that even tone deaf visitors recognize.  The Schermerhorn Symphony Center, a major North American concert hall, satisfies classical musical tastes.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier



Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Texas Longhorn Cavern--a river ran through it

Unlike other Texas caves, Longhorn Caverns was created by rivers surging through cracks and holes in the earth millions of years ago. Water dissolved and cut on the limestone bedrock of the area, leaving behind unusual rock formations, domed ceilings, large sinkholes, sparkling crystals, alabaster dolomite (mistaken for marble or diamonds by early explorers), and rock carvings resembling animals and human faces.

Our guide on a recent tour was a historian, so he shared some facts about Texas history and Hill Country geology, especially as it relates to Longhorn Caverns. Prehistoric peoples used the large room next to the main entrance for shelter and a place of refuge. Because a thick layer of mud and debris was left in the cave a million years ago, early visitors could only use a small part of the cavern. In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), dug out much of this debris and opened up several rooms beyond the large room next to the main entrance. Following the CCC’s work and further development, Longhorn Cavern was opened to the public in 1937.

Fossils dating to the Ice Age have been discovered in this prehistoric place, and evidence suggests Comanche Indians inhabited the cave at least 400 years ago. After Anglo settlers discovered the cavern in the mid-1800s, the Confederate army used bat guano found in the cave to secretly manufacture gunpowder during the Civil War.  Popular legends claim outlaws used the cave for a hideout perhaps hiding stolen money there (which people later tried unsuccessfully to find). In the 1930s ladies and gents dressed up to enjoy an evening of dancing and drinking in the cavern.

Our group of five took the walking tour which covers 1.25 miles round trip and lasts about 90 minutes. Tours are offered year-round multiple times a day, and you must sign up when you arrive as they do not take reservations.

If you’re looking for more of a challenge, sign up for the Saturday Wild Cave Tour. With a guide, you’ll crawl through tight spaces for two hours using only a headlamp for light. If you like a good mystery, learn about unexplained happenings on the evening Paranormal Tour, or book up to three hours of photography time in the cavern.

Located in LonghornCavern State Park on Park Road 4 near Burnet, the cave is less than 90 miles from Austin. Temperature inside holds at a pleasant 68 degrees. Hiking trails through scenic oak and juniper landscapes, shaded picnic tables, a snack bar and gift shop are additional attractions for visitors to enjoy.
For hours, tour times, and information, go to

Photos by Beverly Burmeier