Friday, February 15, 2019

Top sights in Austin, Texas

Austin, Texas is one of the fastest growing cities in the country--and for good reason. There is much to see and do, the weather is generally mild (except August), and the scenery is spectacular.

In this post I'll cover some of the sites that provide historical background of the city. I'll cover more fun and beautiful outdoor venues in a later post.
Texas state Capitol
State Capitol.  The Capitol building of Texas buzzes with politicians, tourists, and students on any given day, and the gallery is a popular visitor spot when the Legislature is in session.  Located at the north end of Congress Avenue, it’s an imposing pink granite structure, 14 feet higher than the Capitol in Washington D. C.  Its grand rotunda, symbolic terrazzo tile floors, and life-size statues of Stephen F. Austin (“Father of Texas”) and famous general and statesman Sam Houston catch your attention immediately.

The nearby Capitol Visitors Center details Texas history through exhibits and videos in the historic General Land Office Building.  Free tours of the Governor’sMansion, 1010 Colorado St., occupied by Texas governors since 1856, are offered most weekday mornings.

Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum
Bob Bullock TexasState History Museum.  1800 N. Congress Ave. Named for a long-time Texas politician, the museum is a dynamic tribute to the multi-faceted history of the state.  The “Story of Texas” comes alive through interactive exhibits, rare artifacts, multi-media displays, and a special effects theater--not to mention the huge bronze star on the grounds.

The facility also houses Austin’s only IMAX theater.  From the 35-foot tall bronze star in front to the exquisitely designed interiors and exhibits, the museum is picturesque enough to be a popular wedding location. 
The University of Texas Tower
The University of Texas.   Everything is bigger in Texas, including The University.” Curl your fingers into the “Hook ‘em horns” sign and don something in burnt orange to join legions of avid Longhorn fans.  Become immersed in college-town atmosphere by walking along The Drag, respectfully known as Guadalupe Street, for some of the best people watching anywhere.

Harry Ransom Center
At the educational end of the UT spectrum is the Harry Ransom Center, one of the world’s finest cultural archives at 21st and Guadalupe Streets.  Browse through 30 million literary manuscripts, five million photographs (including the world’s first), a rare Gutenberg Bible, and the infamous Watergate papers.  One of the country’s top university fine arts collections is showcased at the BlantonMuseum of Art.

LBJ's Library and Museum
Lyndon Baines JohnsonLibrary and Museum.  2313 Red River St. (on the UT campus).  Texas Hill Country spawned a political legend in LBJ, so it’s only fitting that Austin would host the nation’s most visited presidential library.  In addition to chronicling the life and times of our 36th President, exhibits are also devoted to the influential Lady Bird. 

Learn more about LBJ at Johnson City, Texas.
For a different perspective about the man beyond politics, tour the LBJ National Historical Park atJohnson City, less than an hour away, west on Hwy. 290, where you’ll learn how Johnson’s beloved central Texas land and family influenced his formative years. 
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier and free sources.



Saturday, February 9, 2019

Namibia stirs the soul

Nothing quite compares to sunrise on the sand dunes of Sossusvlei.
Namibia is truly a land of contrasts, as we discovered on our visit last summer. If you’ve ever wanted to go on a safari, a good place to start is in this almost unknown country on the southwest edge of Africa. Namibia’s ecological diversity is attracting more and more visitors to the country whose tourism industry is just in its infancy.
Private camps are plentiful and accommodations are very comfortable.
Yet, there are plenty of private camps willing to host visitors, and some are as luxurious as the desert will allow. Camps on private nature reserves in the bush are generally small (although individual cabins are roomy and comfortable) and can only accommodate perhaps 8-20 guests.

Airplanes take visitors where there are no roads.
That is actually fine because it’s often necessary to fly on small plane over the vast and rugged desert. A short 30-minute flight (watch out for the ostrich on the runway) might cover an area that would take eight hours to drive—if there is even a road. And nowhere will you find staff more convivial and anxious to make your stay the best ever.

Sand covering the mountains reminds you that this is desert.
This may not be a trip for everyone. But if you have a keen sense of adventure and willingness to be surprised, Namibia will fill you with wonder. Here are some of the reasons I believe this country should be on your bucket list.
We removed shoes and walked
down the steep sand dune.
--Namibia stirs the soul with the isolation and solitude in its stark desert landscape. While the ocean washes over the coastal desert, the inland plains are baked by the sun into a dull brownish landscape of dried mud and rocks.

--But then the spirit soars when viewing the towering orange-red sand dunes of Sossusvlei in the south. Climb the dunes for a spectacular view of salt pans below—and walk barefoot in the soft sand that swallows your legs midway up the shin.
--Marvel at the variety of ecology and wildlife. In the million-acre Palmwag Concession, you can follow trackers as they search for the endangered desert rhinos that live there. You’ll also learn how different wildlife species have adapted to the harsh desert environment.

Rhinos are one of the "big 5" of African wildlife.
--Guided safari drives in open 4 x 4 vehicles through private reserves allow for superb wildlife encounters. You may see unusual wildlife found nowhere else in Africa, with plenty of time to observe and follow the animals without feeling rushed or crowded.
Elephants are another one of the "big 5" that safari goers want to see.
These lionesses were thirsty after dining
on the giraffe that had recently bee killed.
-- Around the Etosha Salt Pan in northern Namibia, there is enough water (along with some manmade water holes) to sustain a variety of game including feline predators, Springbok, oryx, kudu. There’s a large elephant population and plenty of opportunities to watch these magnificent behemoths interacting gently in their family groups.

Flying over spectacular and rugged mountains in Namibia
--Get a bird’s eye view of the varied topography on flights between wilderness camps. Scour landscape  to admire imposing mountains, deep canyons, and vast plateaus below.
We enjoyed a "sundowner" with refreshments as the sun descended.
Getting from place to place be a challenge, but the diversity of this complex country will surprise and thrill you. Namibia is truly awesome!

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier



Sunday, February 3, 2019

South Padre Island attracts families for Spring Break

Sea Life Safari
Explore the shores of Texas’ best beach, South Padre Island, for the ultimate family-friendly Spring Break getaway. From action-packed water sports, to bay and deep sea fishing, to engaging nature tourism attractions, and relaxing on the white, sandy beaches, it’s no wonder South Padre Island was recently named one of the 10 best destinations in Texas for families at Spring Break.

Here’s a preview of family-friendly experiences this Spring Break season:

Waterpark fun  
Schlitterbahn Waterpark and Beach Resort  One of South Padre Island’s biggest attractions, Schlitterbahn Waterparks are considered the best water parks in the country.  The outdoor water park is nestled right next to the beach with its own inland surfing attraction, uphill water coasters, and more fun than should be allowed.
Learn more about sea life.

Water sports galore Older children and parents can get active and take up kayaking, surfing, windsurfing, kiteboarding, stand-up paddle boarding or flyboarding. Rent your equipment and take a lesson from a variety of expert, local vendors.

Sea turtle adventures and bird watching. The Island is a nesting ground for the endangered Kemp’s Ridley species. Visitors can get an up-close look at these and other species of sea turtles  at Sea Turtle, Inc., an educational, rehabilitation and rescue facility on the Island. Also, the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, situated along the wetlands of the Laguna Madre Bay, features exhibits on the Island’s birds and other natural features. The Center includes a five-story viewing tower, viewing blinds, and boardwalk nature trails.

Fascinating sea turtles
Catch a cruise with the Black Dragon - All cruises include a crew of pirates entertaining with stories, face painting, treasure hunts, water pistol battles, sword fighting, booty, music and loads of family fun. Sunset cruises are also popular in the springtime.

Enough wind to fly a kite
Go horseback riding on the beach with Island Adventure ParkThe riding center has a large selection of horses specifically trained to accommodate children and first-time riders. In addition to horseback riding, the park offers a petting barn for the kiddos and a zip-line course for the thrill seeker.

Hook a fish! Then, cook your catch. Fishing enthusiasts can enjoy bay and deep sea fishing; Inshore or offshore, charter boats or kayaks, surf fishing, you can get bowed up no matter what species you’re fishing for. Even better, many restaurants will prepare your catch for lunch or dinner, any way you like it (think grilled, blackened, fried and more).

Information courtesy of The South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau