Saturday, January 26, 2019

Amazing tiled steps of San Francisco

Even if you’ve been to San Francisco before, you might not know about the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps. I had not heard of this project until Larry and I were planning a spring trip to San Francisco. A little Internet research turned up this destination that we decided to check out on our last visit to the  California coast.
We learned that when neighbors decide to work together, beautiful things can happen. That’s how the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps came into being.

Two residents of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Heights Neighborhood envisioned the artistic project in 2003 as a means of connecting neighbors. The result is a colorful mosaic of sea-and star-themed designs flowing up 163 steps.
To fund the project, neighbors sponsored and then commissioned decorative handmade tiles created by artists in the shapes of animals, fish, and shells. These were incorporated into the mosaic, which is visible as you ascend the steps but not when you come down.  In 2005 the beautiul tile steps were opened in a city-wide celebration.

Our interest was piqued, so we set the GPS and drove there. As you park near Morango Street between 15th and 16th Avenues, be sure to heed warnings about possible car burglers (we didn’t have any problems). Also, if you plan to climb the steps and perhaps linger awhile, bring your own water as this is a residential neighbord without tourist services.

The amazing display is really unique with the overarching theme broken into sections that feature different colors and designs. Additionally, gardens on the south side of the mosaic stairway were privately donated, while a grant from the city funded gardens on the north side to further beautify the area.

At the top of the steps there is an uphill path across the street that will take you to a lookout spot. It’s worth the short walk to see excellent views of the city below.  We enjoyed discovering this unusual treat before heading to a picnic in Golden Gate Park.
Photos by Beverly Burmeier


Sunday, January 20, 2019

Choosing your next piece of luggage

Suitcases come in a variety
of sizes and materials.
Luggage used to be almost a lifetime purchase where you looked for the best quality bags you could afford. But that’s not necessarily the best approach these days. Sure, quality matters, but styles and features change so quickly that it might make better sense to replace luggage every five or so years.
Besides choosing a distinctive and good-looking piece of luggage (not black!) think about function, packing space, airline requirements, and value in addition to quality. Whether you are looking for something rugged, luxurious, or high-tech, many choices are out there no matter what your style of travel may be.

The largest bag may not be the most
practical.Only buy what you need.
First, you have a couple of basic options, mainly whether to buy soft-sided or hard-sided luggage (which has made a comeback after being out of fashion for many years). Assuming any luggage you buy should be made of durable material with good handles and wheels, here are some points to consider when making the choice between soft or hard:
Soft-side luggage:

It is lightweight, flexible, and can adapt to tight spaces such as overhead bins and under seats of airplanes. It may actually hold more because the sides are not rigid, although soft sides may not be as sturdy and protective of the contents.  Be sure the fabric is made of a strong and durable material such as ballistic nylon.  
Hard-side luggage:

Carryon sizes are strict, especially
for hard-side suitcases
It offers more protection for your precious cargo, but it may scratch and scuff more easily. It probably weighs more, and it can’t be squeezed into fixed storage spaces (forget about under the plane seat). There’s a greater chance you’ll have to check your bag if storage space is short on a flight. Be sure the bag’s frame, which should be made of aluminum or polycarbonate, is strong and sturdy.
Shopping for luggage:

Take along a tape measure to be sure the size you purchase meets airline guidelines, especially if you plan to carry it on rather than checking. Even if you plan to check a large bag, remember that the larger it is, the more it will weigh when packed full. You might not want a 32 or 35- inch piece that could be dinged a steep fee for exceeding allowable weight limits.
Check that the handle has a solid and comfortable grip. Open and close zippers to be sure they flow smoothly. Interior compartments should work for the way you pack items. (While you’re at it, pick up several of those zippered, mesh packing cubes. They make packing and finding things later much easier).
Gotta have wheels, preferably four!  You’ll be considered a dinosaur and given dirty looks if wrangling your duffle bag creates inconveniences for other travelers—not to mention the back and shoulder pain you might get from lifting and hauling un-wheeled bags around an airport or train station. (I speak from experience on a recent journey to Africa that required bags without wheels--ugh). Practice wheeling luggage around to be sure it will travel smoothly over different surfaces, including mild bumps (a gravel road or cobblestones will come your way at some time in your travels).
Suitcases continue to get “smarter.” Newer features that may be important to you include built-in weight indicators, location trackers, fingerprint locks, and battery chargers (but be careful of certain items that may be banned on flights). Warranties—if you plan to keep the luggage for many years--should offer extensive coverage without exclusions for airline damage.

Cost will depend on the quality and size bag, but you don’t have to spend a fortune for a serviceable and dependable bag. Read reviews for major, well-known brands like American Tourister, Samsonite, Travelpro, Delsey, Eagle Creek, Victorinox, and others. And check major retailers for frequent sales.
One of the newer luggage styles that I like is Biaggi, a series of frame-less soft-side bags that each fold into a small, neat package for storage. These can be stuffed to accommodate all those “extras” you inevitably bring home, and they are incredibly lightweight, which is important when traveling to remote destinations that have weight limits below those imposed by large airlines.

Photos from free sites.


Sunday, January 13, 2019

The beauty of Point Lobos State Reserve

Spring flowers add a gentle touch to the rugged coastline
along Highway One near Carmel, California.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve was a mere five-minute drive from our Carmel, California Hyatt resort. Dedicated to preserving native relationships of the unique animal and plant life, geologic features, and scenic qualities found in their natural state along Highway One, the Reserve is a wonderland of ocean, trails, coves, and meadows.
The coastline along South Shore Trail at Point Lobos State Reserve
in California
Although we anticipated a quick stop, the Reserve was so fascinating that we spent three and a half hours exploring this bountiful landscape. That’s because the beautiful scenery--a mosaic of ecologies was shaped when rocks formed below the earth’s surface, later uplifted, exposed, and then eroded into a variety of forms by waves and weather—was far more enticing than we had expected to find in a reserve.
Coastal scene along the Cypress Cove Trail at Point Lobos State
Reserve near Carmel, California

To see all that Point Lobos offered, Larry and I walked several trails, starting with the South Shore Trail near the parking lot between Sea Lion Point and Bird Island. The accessible one-mile trail took us along cliffs with a magnificent ocean view and through one of nature’s lovely seaside gardens filled with dunes, rocks, splashing surf, caves, and driftwood. Sea Lion Point and Sand Hill Trail include cove overlooks and easy views of sea lions resting on rocks offshore or basking on the beach--moms tending their young as our visit was during ‘pup” season.
Monterey cypress trees frame the ocean on Cypress Grove Trail.
The Cypress Grove Trail, a loop from Sea Lion Point parking area through coastal scrub and woods and cliffs, serves up dramatic and spectacular ocean views. It winds through one of only two naturally growing stands of Monterey cypress trees remaining on Earth (The other grove is across Carmel Bay at Cypress Point). In fact, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve was originally acquired by the government to protect these trees.

Old Veteran cypress tree is estimated to be at least 300 years old.
These cypresses formerly extended over a much wider range but withdrew to the fog-shrouded headlands as the climate changed 15,000 years ago. The outermost trees reflect the forces of nature and time—they survived salt spray and wind with their roots seeking nourishment in whatever cracks and crevices could be found. A short side trail led to “Old Veteran,” a cypress tree about 300-350 years old. Even though it has split (possibly from lightning) it is still growing and sports a leafy canopy.
Deer can be seen in the meadows of Point Lobos State Reserve.
Our last trail was to Bird Island. To get to the trailhead we drove to the southernmost parking area, passing by two white, sandy beaches—China Beach and Gibson Beach. We then hiked the path highlighting pine forest, coastal scrub, rocky shores, and beautiful wildflower displays.
Trail marker

Notable were the huge boulders where thousands of sea birds roost during spring and summer. Cormorants nest close together on the flat part of the island, while sea otters rest in kelp offshore.

Mother seal tending to her pup at the beach below Bird Island Trail.
From the upper-level trail, we also had a great view of harbor seal moms tending their pups in the cold water and on the beach. Their actions resembled mothers everywhere!
Birds come by the thousands to roost on the rocks, which have a
distinctive white covering--and smell!
To get to Gibson Beach later, we walked down a sandy incline and a 56-step staircase. Wading is allowed there, but the water is very cold year-round, and with a cool breeze blowing, we decided a short look around was all we needed.
Beachcombers enjoy relatively secluded Gibson Beach at the
southernmost end of Point Lobos State Reserve
Bottom line, we were very glad we had time to wander around the trails and learn more about the multiple terrains and beautiful environments of Point Lobos State Reserve. So plan enough time for discovery when visiting this interesting place.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Sunday, January 6, 2019

Why travel?

People sometimes ask my husband Larry and me why we like to travel so much. Well, we love a good adventure and the opportunity to create lasting memories with each other and friends.
Parasailing in Kauai, Hawaii
But the most important reason is that learning and travel go hand in hand.  Travel provides interactive opportunities to try new things, see new places, meet new people, and have new experiences. Learning becomes an integral part of travel—and it stays with you for the rest of your life.

Looking into the crater at Volcanoes National Park, Big Island, Hawaii

It follows that travel helps keep us young in mind and spirit. It gives us increased satisfaction and appreciation for our lives, enrichment from understanding more about other cultures (especially when talking with locals in other countries), and the chance to delve into the history of countries far older than our own. We agree with the playwright Henry Miller who said,” One’s destination is never a place but a new way of seeing things.”
Magnificent red sand dunes at Sossusviel, Namibia
Make planning easier

We use the “bucket list” approach to deciding where to go next. Our bucket list includes destinations in our home state of Texas as well as destinations in remote locations across the globe. From years of writing travel articles for magazines, newspapers, and online venues, I have learned that there is something interesting in every place we visit. We’ve never been to any place that we  were in a hurry to leave. In fact, we almost always wish we could stay longer.
Sunset on Lake Travis near Austin, Texas
You don’t have to take long trips to have amazing experiences. Day trips can be just as unforgettable as a month-long journey. Road trips allow for flexibility. You can stop whenever you want (another photo moment coming up!), adjust the itinerary along the way, and not have to worry about how much stuff you tossed in the back of the car.
Zip lines can be found in many
outstanding locations.

Cruises are an excellent way to see the world. One of the best perks is that you only have to unpack one time. And it’s easy to stay within your budget because you know ahead of time what most expenses will be. True, cruises dock at seaside ports, so exploring inland may take extra planning or extra days. However, many cruise lines now spend one or two nights in selected ports, allowing for additional exploration that further enriches your experience.

What if travel makes you anxious?
Travel—under any circumstances—is best done with an open mind. Here’s another learning opportunity: Develop a positive mindset to appreciate all that is good about travel and minimize perceived effects of bumps along the way.

Crater Lake National Park

The best way to overcome travel fears, such as flying in an airplane, is to do it anyway. Accept that things can go wrong, but don’t wallow in it. Plus, there’s a certain pride to moving outside one’s comfort zone and finding that you can be okay. Not just okay, but excited about discovering unexpected pleasures of travel. 
One of many tiger sightings in India
We have survived illness and hospitalization in a foreign country, hurricane-force winds that broke our ship from its moorings, and numerous delayed or canceled flights. But the benefits of travel still far outweigh the possible negatives—most of which are more perception and fear of the unknown than reality.
Incredible beauty of icebergs in Antarctica
Think about this: Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier