Sunday, December 29, 2019

More photos from 2019 travels

The beauty of Alaska is especially visible when driving from Anchorage to Homer.
During the second half of 2019 we traveled in the United States to Alaska, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. Our country has some of the most spectacular landscapes and scenery in the world and shouldn't be overlooked in favor of distant lands.

Halibut fishing on one adventure I'm glad I did but probably won't do again any time soon.
 The fish were delicious!
.
Bright pink fireweed takes over the countryside mid-summer in
Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska.
Aialik Glacier was simply spectacular, and we especially enjoyed kayaking
very close to the ice.
We added Saguaro National Park in Arizona to our list of national parks visited.
It has a haunting beauty that can be felt as well as seen.
an addition to our Grand Canyon experiences was a stroll on the Skywalk at Grand
Canyon West on Hualapai territory.  It did not disappoint.
Hiking the Wave at Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada provided
amazing displays of undulating red and white striations in sandstone rock.
This visit to Zion National Park included hiking The Narrows, a trek through the Virgin River amid towering canyon walls.
Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park are simply indescribably--and among the most beautiful sights in the U.S.
Colors, shapes, textures, and designs found in Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona
are impossible to imagine--you must see this place to understand how awesome it is.
The red rocks of Sedona, Arizona are mesmerizing. One of the most photographed formations is Cathedral Rock which we finally captured in a reflection.



Thursday, December 26, 2019

Travels from 2019 in pictures

Key West, Florida boasts the southernmest point in the United States--just 90 miles from Cuba.

As 2019 comes to an end, it’s fitting to ta ke time to look back at some of the travel adventures Larry and I were fortunate to have throughout 2019. We traveled internationally to countries including United Arab Emirates, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and Italy. Here are photos highlighting those countries.

We also explored new areas in southwestern U.S. and revisited some of our favorite national parks and scenic sites. I'll share photos from those adventures in another post.

The following photos highlight a few of our special adventures from the first half of 2019.

One of the most spectacular buildings in the world, inside and outside, is the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. In addition to plenty of glitz inside, the structure features 82 domes and five pillars.
We visited may Biblical sites such as the baptismal rea of the Jordan River in Israel 
Construction of the pyramids of Giza, Egypt was a massive
and complex engineering feat at the time.
Petra, Jordan is an extraordinary relic, a city carved directly into mountainous rocks.

Even in foggy weather, the craggy cliffs and quint houses along the Almalfi Coast of Italy are a stunning sight.

Friday, December 20, 2019

No more photography tours at Upper Antelope Canyon


The Page-Lake Powell area on the border of Arizona and Utah, offers some of the best scenery and recreational opportunities in the U.S. That’s because Page is known as home of the Navajo reservation, gateway to Grand Canyon National Park, and a houseboat haven on Lake Powell.

Uncommon beauty at Upper Antelope Canyon near Page, AZ
But for people who love and appreciate the magnificence of nature’s handiwork, perhaps the town’s best claim to fame is Antelope Canyon.

A slot canyon located on Navajo land just a few miles east of Page, Antelope Canyon includes two separate, photogenic sections—Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon. As a popular destination for sightseers and photographers, it has become a source of tourism business for the Navajo Nation and can only be visited on tours guided by Navajo-licensed guides.
Sunlight shines through the slots
to create colorful visions.


Most likely you’ve seen pictures of Antelope Canyon without realizing where it is because it is one of the most photographed canyons in the world for calendars, magazine covers, and artistic prints. In fact, it was the subject of a photo that sold for a record $6.5 million in 2014.

But the opportunity for amateur (and professional) photographers to capture such incredible shots is diminishing. Blame the canyon’s beauty—and social media--for creating a site so popular that photography tours now must be curtailed.

Nirvana for photographers
We're walking through sculpted
canyon walls.
When Larry and I first visited Antelope Canyon in 2015, we signed up for a special photography tour in the Upper Canyon, which meant we had to have a tripod or monopod and SLR camera. The intent was to allow serious photographers the opportunity to stay in the Upper Canyon for up to two hours, twice as long as a regular sightseeing tour.

Photographers carrying tripods into Upper Antelope Canyon in 2015.
The tour worked better than our tripods—which we ended up just carrying and not using, although our guide actually held back crowds for short periods of time so the six photographers could take pictures of the amazing rock formations without interference. In addition to our guide helping with tips and composition, being on the dedicated photo tour gave us the opportunity to plan shots and position ourselves to obtain better images.
Erosion has worn canyon walls
into layered rock formations.

Now, this was in November, not during the summer months when sightseeing tours become super crowded, and guides rush people through as quickly as possible. In the last several years, the popularity of photo tours—which are substantially more expensive—and the difficulty of achieving the desired results because of overcrowding, has led the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation to unanimously agree to discontinue these photo tours after December 20, 2019.

Great pictures are easy to take—it’s all in the scene

Fast forward to September 2019 when we visited Antelope Canyon again. We did not sign up for a photography tour because we realized that it’s possible to take outstanding photos using a handheld camera or smart phone. This freed us to take in the wonders of the canyon and admire its spectacular shapes, colors, and textures without dragging a tripod around.

Colors change with time of day
and seasons of the year, depending
how high the sun is in the sky.
Photo tours were only offered in the Upper Canyon anyway because it is flatter and shorter than the Lower Canyon. It’s still recommended to carefully choose time of year and time of day to most likely produce the amazing undulating patterns colored by streaks of glowing sunlight on limestone canyon walls. Erosion has worn the rock into beautiful and diverse sculptures, and every season offers different views according to the angle of the sun in the sky.



The canyon dwarfs Beverly.
But no matter when you visit, you’ll want to tuck away your camera from time to time and just admire the glorious sights in front of and behind you.  As we walked through many of the slots, the patterns changed constantly, almost overloading our senses with vibrant colors and shapes I would never have thought possible in a canyon. Horizontal and vertical layers of rock absorbed the sun’s rays and reflected them back in nature’s artistic handiwork. Blue-streaked rock walls curved against glimmering orange and yellow outcroppings begging for photos--and we obliged.

Even smart phones can take gorgeous
pictures when you position yourself
to capture such angles.
Standard sightseeing tours are still available for both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons, as the Navajo tour operators hope to create a better experience for everyone. However, it’s best to book tours in advance, even months ahead during busy tourist times. You can do this online to save time and guarantee your spot to see this breathtaking, Instagram-worthy attraction. Just go!

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Thursday, December 12, 2019

Do you have the right to recline your airplane seat?

No, and here's why, according to consumer advocate Christopher Elliott..

Two domestic airlines already limit your ability to lean back in economy class. Even if the airline doesn't make the decision for you, it's the polite thing to do. And, most important, it's the right thing to do.

Delta limits the amount of recline for seats on many flights.
"Seat reclining is one of the most irritating, inconvenient, self-indulgent habits," says Simon Sapper, an organizational consultant and frequent traveler based in London. "Period."

But click around the internet for a while, and you'll find that this debate is far from settled. Many of the blogosphere's "experts" believe it's their God-given right to recline. Ironically, the loudest seat recliners don't even fly in economy class.

There isn't any room to recline your seat

So, as a public service, let's settle this argument now. Reclining your airline seat is unacceptable because we're officially out of space. It's rude – and it's wrong.

Reclining your seat is rude and uncomfortable for
 the passenger behind you.
There's no space to recline. Airlines are trying to squeeze more passengers on a plane to make more money. Before airline deregulation, many economy class seats had a generous 36 inches of "pitch," a rough measure of legroom. Today, some seats have as little as 28 inches.

"I feel most folks would rather sacrifice the 2 inches of reclining backward not to have someone sitting in their lap for the distance of a flight," says Mary Camillo, a travel advisor from Middletown, New Jersey.

Also, airlines should immediately stop using the phrase "Sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight." That's an invitation to lean back all the way. But it's a cruel joke. On two airlines – Delta and Spirit – you can't fully recline. On other airlines, you'll invade another passenger's personal space, which might lead to an unfriendly confrontation. 

Isn't it my right to recline my airplane seat?

Another pro-recline argument: If the seat can recline, shouldn't you be able to?

No, you shouldn't.


You can do a lot of things on a plane. For example, you can tell your life story to your seatmate. You can eat a Limburger cheese and Bermuda onion sandwich. You can press the flight attendant call button repeatedly. But all are probably bad ideas.

"Seat recline is a moral issue," says Jennifer Aspinwall, a frequent air traveler who writes the World On A Whim blog." What do you do if the person in front of you reclines all the way? What if you turn around to discover a 6-foot-4 passenger seated behind you? Do you eat your meal in your lap while the tray table cuts into your stomach or do recline as well and crush the legs of the person behind you?"

Couldn't have said it better myself. Reclining a seat is wrong.

Airlines should lock their economy seats from reclining – permanently

So if there's no room to recline your airplane seat, and it's wrong, why do so many airlines still allow it? Because if they didn't, it would be an admission that they no longer care about your comfort.

"I wish all airlines would eliminate the recline function," says Larry Hickerson, a retired Air Force inspector and million-miler from Peoria, Arizona. "Since airlines went to ridiculously tight pitches, recline sets up an untenable situation."

Right now, about half the people reading this column probably want to name their firstborn after me. The other half want to kill me. And the airline folks? They're laughing.

The airline industry loves the seat reclining argument because it divides us. And while we're arguing about 2 inches of personal space, they're busy collecting more money from passengers and slowly – ever so slowly – removing even more room. This debate is the perfect distraction.

If you absolutely must recline your seat, then choose
upgraded economy or business class like these seats on
Air New Zealand.
Whether you think reclining your airline seat is wrong or not, let's agree on one thing: Greedy airlines got us to this point. Fighting over the scraps of space won't fix it. If we ever needed thoughtful government regulation, maybe it is now.

How to deal with a seat recliner

Reclining an airline seat is still allowed on most domestic flights. Here's how to deal with someone who leans into your airspace.

Ask them to lean forward. Timing and tone are important here. The moment someone leans back, gently tap the person on the shoulder and politely ask them if it would be possible not to recline their seat. Be. Extra. Nice.

Get a flight attendant involved. Some leaners are clever and wait for you to go to the restroom before leaning. Then they feign sleep, which makes you reluctant to bother them. Oldest trick in the book. You can always ask a flight attendant for help.

Move airplane seats. If you see another open seat in your class of service, feel free to move, as long as the seat belt sign isn't illuminated. You might also want to ask a flight attendant for permission. As a reminder, the seats in front of the exit row don't recline. So usually, an exit row seat means you'll keep your legroom. And maybe, your sanity.

Today’s post is by consumer advocate Christopher Elliott, whose latest book is “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic).This column originally appeared in USA Today.

Photos from free sites.




Friday, December 6, 2019

Puerto Vallarta is a haven for wellness

Enjoying oneself on a holiday does not mean abandoning your wellness goals. In fact, with wellness travel trending lately, picking a destination that emphasizes wellness is a way to combine fitness with your vacation.

Puerto Vallarta is a top destination in Mexico for wellness-minded travelers to stay in touch with their health goals while enjoying one of Mexico’s most famous beach destinations. From fitness programs to spas to healthy dining and more, Puerto Vallarta has become a prime wellness and relaxation destination.
Spa at Westin Puerto Vallarta
For example: The Spa at The Westin Puerto Vallarta draws upon its serene beachfront setting to feature a wide array of soothing treatments and create an oasis to renew the mind, body and spirit. Step into one of its seven peaceful indoor treatment rooms or outdoor pergola.

Sheraton Bouganvillas Resort & Convention Center’s Spa Maiavé is a holistic oasis that has been carefully designed to nurture a physical and mental experience for a balanced lifestyle.
Spa Maiave at Sheraton Bouganvillas Resort and Convention Center
It combines therapies and health techniques with the power of natural healing and surrounding elements, including agave extracts, essential oils, floral elixirs and mud to harmonize mind, body, and spirit.

Boutique in size, with just five treatment rooms, Abja Spa at Casa Velas, sets the tone with trickling fountains, aromatherapy fragrance, and candlelit corridors. It offers a robust array of services, including separate hydrotherapy areas for men and women, a spa boutique, and beauty salon. Specialized packages cater to golfers, honeymooners, executives, and more, with luxe treatments that beautify, tone, relax, and invigorate. Floor-to-ceiling windows in the well-equipped fitness center offer pleasant views of the surrounding gardens.
Beautify, tone, relax, and invigorate with a spa
treatment at Abja Sap at Casa Velas
The resort also has two 1,350-square-foot duplex Wellness Suites that offer many fitness amenities including newly opened spa labyrinths and meditation pods.

Then there is the Ohtli Spa at Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa. This palatial paradise spans 22,000 square feet and offers treatments inspired by ancient traditions of the Huichol culture. The signature treatment is the "Rebirth" Therapy session, which is performed in a pool of warm water.
Ohtli Spa at Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort and Spa offers
a variety of  treatments inspired by ancient traditions.
There is also a Hydrating Tequila Coconut body treatment that combines the nation's signature product with local fruit to restore the hydration of the skin. Guests visiting the spa have access to a variety of hot and cold plunge pools to help stimulate and invigorate the senses.

Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy hiking, biking, or yoga on the beach. The mountains that frame the city are veined with hiking trails that lead back into the jungle or spill out to secret beaches and waterfalls. Cyclists can hit the pavement or the sand on two wheels.

If it's yoga you're after, there are a variety of yoga studies and retreats within the area. One of the best yoga escapes is Xinalani, which offers an eight-day Ultimate Beach Yoga Retreat, packed with wellness-minded activities, healthy food, space to disconnect, and, of course, plenty of yoga.
Yoga is popular at many establishments in Puerto Vallarta.
 Finally, just because it is a vacation doesn't mean that the diet has to go out the window. Indulging may be part of the fun, but staying true to your clean eating goals is also important. Puerto Vallarta has fantastic dining, and health food is no exception. Salud Super Food, for example, is one of the city's best spots for fresh, clean eating. Located in the Zona Romantica, the natural food cafe serves salads, smoothies, healthy tacos, light breakfasts, wraps, and vegan specialties. Also, in the Zona Romantica is Barra Light, a vegan-friendly restaurant that serves breakfasts, organic salads, sandwiches, smoothies, and juices.

Information courtesy of Gustavo Rivas-Solis, Enroute com. Photos from hotel websites.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Mystery of Egypt's pyramids


Our spring trip to Egypt would not be complete without a visit to the pyramids of Giza. We were as fascinated with these ancient wonders as travelers have been for thousands of centuries. Learning about the history of these imposing structures gave us greater appreciation for the magnitude of engineering skills required to build the pyramids.
Three main pyramids at Giza. Note how close the city of Cairo is in the background.
The Great Pyramid of Giza is the largest in the Giza pyramid complex near Cairo, Egypt. It is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and the only one to remain mostly intact. The Great Pyramid was the tallest structure made by man in the world—a record it held for almost 4,000 years.
The Great Pyramid was the tallest man-made structure in the world
for almost 4,000 years.
Located on the Giza plateau near Cairo are three major pyramids (and three other smaller ones) that were constructed over a 20 year period more than 4,500 years ago.  The most widely accepted theory is that Egypt’s ancient pharaohs expected to become gods in the afterlife, and the pyramids were filled with things they would need in the next world. It was a place where their mummified bodies would rest for eternity. Despite this belief mummies have not been found inside the pyramids.

Foundations rocks are truly enormous.
Standing as a defining symbol of Egypt’s history, how the pyramids were built is still a big mystery. The ancient engineering feats are so impressive that even today scientists aren’t sure how the pyramids were built. Experts speculate that it became a national project with workers coming from many communities across Egypt. Many were farmers whose land was flooded by the Nile during the rainy season, so the government provided work for them to do.

We marveled at the immensity of the pyramids and positioned ourselves near the bottom stones of the Great Pyramid to show perspective of its size. Totally dwarfed, we stood in amazement at the achievement of a civilization without modern tools and an educated engineering fleet.

See me touching the pyramid!
The Great pyramid stands at 450 feet high--eroded over the centuries from a height of 479 feet high. Inside are triangular poles for support. Although visitors can go inside the pyramids for a fee, there’s not much to see today. It’s reputed to be very hot inside, so we did not go in.

The perfectly pyramidal structure covers two football fields. It is comprised of 2.4 million blocks of stone which weigh anywhere from two and a half tons to eight tons each! Because of the immense size and weight, it’s difficult for us to comprehend how these stones were raised and positioned so precisely.
Souvenir vendors ply their wares in what is admittedly a tourist destination.
Of course, the Egyptians never miss an opportunity to make a buck. Trinkets and camel rides are for sale nearby. Photo hawkers are everywhere—and quite insistent on using your camera or theirs to take touristy photos of you and the pyramids—all for a price. But, what the heck, we couldn’t resist taking some of these fun photos—and I got several at a bargain price later when the “photographer” tracked us down.
Getting on and off a camel requires holding on tight.

As if these amazing structures aren’t jaw-dropping enough, don’t forget to take photos of the enormous Sphinx statue there, too. It’s still an attention-getter, even though part of the face has been destroyed. 

The Sphinx is another iconic structure for Egypt.
Duly impressed despite the crowds, we were glad to have had this time to visit one of the world’s most historical sites. I highly recommend a day trip to Giza when visiting Cairo.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Monday, November 25, 2019

Giant sand sculptures for the holidays in South Padre Island, Texas


Holiday activities include sandcastle village, parades, and more

An island holiday is one of the most festive ways to celebrate the season--and a great excuse for a weekend getaway to the best beach in Texas.
 
Queen Isabella Causeway to
South Padre Island
Special events on South Padre Island include a tree lighting ceremony followed by a Christmas parade down Padre Boulevard, a lighted boat parade, breakfast with Santa, and its well-known  holiday-themed sandcastle village.
Winter Texans enjoy the climate.

With a tropical feel, miles of sandy beach and expansive views of both Gulf of Mexico and Laguna Madre Bay’s blue waters, South Padre Island is a world-class, year-round Texas Gulf Coast beach destination. The Island provides an abundance of activities including water sports, dolphin watching, fishing, horseback riding, shopping, diving, and birding.

Amazing sand castles will be on display.
November 25th - The Holiday Sandcastle Village opens with unique holiday sand sculptures built by incredibly talented sand artists. Santa’s sandy Christmas throne, a Sand Snowman, and more will be part of this exhibit, complete with a lighted musical performance. Located near Louie’s Backyard and Gravity Park and open through January 13th, the scene will be perfect for your unique Christmas card photo. Free for the public.

December 6th - Tree Lighting Ceremony and Annual Christmas Parade is an Island tradition. Join residents and visitors alike for this fun-filled event on the steps of City Hall, then stay for the parade. Hosted by the City of South Padre Island Parks and Keep SPI Beautiful Committee, the parade takes place immediately following the tree lighting. Filled with lighted floats, special guests, and live music, it’s festive fun and free to the public.
Holiday lights capture attention.

December 7th - The Annual Lighted Boat Parade will launch from South Point Marina in Port Isabel, lighting up the bay with holiday spirit. Boats of all shapes and sizes will be decked from stem to stern starting at 6 p.m. with judging taking place at Jim’s Pier. Don’t miss this free event.

December 8th - Have breakfast with Santa himself at the Hilton Garden Inn from 9 am to 11 am. This annual event is an opportunity for kids to put in a good word with Santa.  
Plenty of great seafood like these
mahi mahi tacos

Shopping and art events also take place on the Island throughout the holiday season, including a Gone Surfin’ St. Jude fundraiser painting party at Beachside Bar & Grill and a “Shop the Island” shopping spree giveaway. For more information about upcoming holiday events and Island experiences, visit sopadre.com/events.

Information courtesy of Winter Prosapio, Communications Director for South Padre Island, directorwinter@theatkinsgroup.com. Photos courtesy of www.Barberstock.com 

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Petra, Jordan--city of wonders


If you have seen the Indiana Jones action movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, you have glimpsed ancient Petra.

But it’s much more than a movie set, as Larry and I discovered when we visited Petra, Jordan. Centuries of historical significance and impressive architectural engineering are the reasons this ancient city was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.
Petra is an ancient city of buildings carved into the mountains.
When did Petra come into existence?

Built by the semi-nomadic Nabatean tribe, Petra is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. Located in southwest Jordan, it was the capital of the Nabatean kingdom around the first century B.C.
Walking tall walls of  the Siq is an amazing and
beautiful experience.

It was considered an important strategic location linking the Arabian Peninsula to the south and the Levant in the north to faraway China and Europe. As such, Petra grew rich through trade in frankincense, myrrh, and spices. It thrived until a large earthquake in the fourth century A.D. destroyed much of the city.

By the middle of the seventh century Petra was largely deserted. Only local Bedouins inhabited the area. After Swiss explorer Johannes Burckhardt rediscovered Petra in 1812, people began to recognize its beauty. Today it is Jordan’s most visited landmark.

Horse-drawn carts take mobility-challenged
visitors to the Treasury.
Petra is called the Rose City because of the colorful mountain rock from which its structures were carved. Wandering through its dirt streets, we could easily see why Petra was designated one of the Seven Wonders of the World in 2007 and why Smithsonian Magazine named Petra as one of the 28 places in the world you should see before you die. There’s simply no other place that it can be compared to.

An engineering wonder

The Siq is a fascinating lead-in to Petra.
The ancient city is built on a terrace divided from east to west by the Wadi Musa (Valley of Moses, where the Israelite leader struck a rock and water gushed out). Today visitors see the remains of its massive buildings carved directly into brilliantly colored sandstone cliffs.

These amazing carvings are accessed through a narrow canyon called The Siq. Visitors must walk about a mile on this gateway road to enter Petra, but the views through the gorge are so dramatic that it doesn’t seem long at all. Cliffs in shades of red, purple, yellow, and tan are reminiscent of the thriving spice trades which helped Petra to prosper eons ago. These cliffs also hold many carvings and relics from ancient times.
Experts aren't really sure of the purpose
of the Treasury, but it is an imposing
structure and a marvel of engineering.

One thing we learned quickly when walking on the Siq was to watch out for carts pulled by anxious horses. Intended to help mobility-challenged visitors get to the Treasury, the horses trotted at a rapid pace through the narrow passages—and they could easily run you over if you didn’t move out of the way!

Arriving at the end of the Siq we truly gasped as a sliver of the intricately carved Treasury came into view between tall rock walls. Called Al Khazna, this two story masterpiece is carved into the side of the mountain. Topped by a beautiful urn, which legend says conceals a pharaoh’s treasure, the Treasury is intricately decorated with Corinthian capitals, friezes, figures, and more.

Consisting of three chambers, the elaborate façade represents engineering genius. The Nabateans were very skillful builders who devised a plan to work from the top down, slicing off huge slabs of stone as sections were finished. This formed scaffolding for the masons to stand on as they proceeded to carve out the lower levels.
Camel rides are possible around the main carved buildings.
Other magnificent structures in the ancient city include a theater, Royal tombs, sacrificial sites, a church, the Colonnaded Street (main shopping area of ancient Petra), the Lion Triclinium, a Monastery (an additional three-mile walk), and more.
The Colonnade is a section of buildings with large columns.
Larry and I spent several hours dodging camels and exploring many of the intricate facades that are sculpted into the sandstone cliffs. We walked about six miles that morning in an attempt to cover as much of the incredible site as possible before our late lunch. The memories made a lasting impression of this unique destination.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier