Thursday, May 16, 2019

Historic Bath in England is delightful


When visiting London, you’ll probably want to escape the big city vibe at least once, so check out destinations for a day trip into the countryside. One of the most delightful places to visit is beautiful, historic Bath, just a two-hour drive from the city.
Site of the Roman baths
 Bath is a popular tourist spot and can be crowded, but it’s still more relaxed than the hustle and bustle of London. You can take a train, bus, or book a tour to this city named for the ancient Roman baths built over its supposedly healing mineral springs. Today there is a square with a fine museum surrounding the ancient underground bathing site.

There you can see displays, Roman artifacts, and excavated foundations of the mouth of the health-giving spring. Today you can bathe in the modern Thermae Bath, the only natural hot springs in Britain that you can bathe in. A good view from the inside, if you don't care to participate in a steaming bath, can be enjoyed over coffee and sweets at the Pump House Restaurant.

Inside Bath Abbey
Eventually the wool industry helped Bath to grow and prosper even more. During this time, about 500 years ago, the town built its grand abbey, the last great medieval church built in England. A visit to the ornate Bath Abbey with beautiful fan-shaped vaulted ceiling and elaborate stained glass windows at both east and west ends is a must.

Bath’s popularity diminished by the middle of the 1600s—until King James II’s wife, Queen Mary, went there to bathe in hopes of getting pregnant. Since she gave birth 10 months later, there was renewed interest in Bath’s healing properties, and a resort was built.

Our visit happened following a cruise that ended in London.  We hired a driver to meet us at the port as we disembarked from the ship and spent the day touring a different part of England. The rural scenery was stunning--gently rolling hills with farms and pasture land made the drive especially pleasant.
Royal Crescent
Free town walks are offered in Bath every day, led by volunteers who enjoy describing highlights of the city’s honey-colored Georgian heritage. Highlights are the Circus (like a coliseum) and the Royal Crescent building where the wealthy lived in 18th century Bath. Today anyone can live in this huge crescent-shaped complex that is an excellent representative of medieval architecture.
Park in Bath
We decided on a self-guided walk about in Bath, so we could cover not only the square but go a few streets over to the Putteney Bridge at River Avon and take a walk through the pretty park.
Bridge on the River Avon
After window shopping a bit, I bought a beautiful glass pendant (glass shops and artisans are abundant in Bath). Before leaving we tucked into a candy shop to purchase some of the city’s renowned chocolate. As we drove out of the city we stopped for a late lunch just outside Bath at a family restaurant and pub where we enjoyed delicious plates of traditional (and superbly fresh) fish and chips and some local ale.
Agriculture is prominent in rural areas.
While we didn’t indulge in “baths” we did enjoy our visit to a place drenched in history and elegant architecture. Our drive continued through the pastoral Cotswolds region before returning to our hotel and a next-day flight to Switzerland.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Free live music in Memphis, Tennessee


Music has played a key role in the development of Memphis, Tennessee. The legacy of previous artists like Elvis, Otis Redding, and B.B. King inspires modern musicians today.
While there is an abundance of venues to hear and enjoy live music, it’s even sweeter when you can listen for free. This year is an especially great time to check out the music scene as Memphis celebrates its bicentennial and shares 200 years of music, soul, food, and culture.
When planning your visit to Memphis, check out these lively—and free--music venues.

Beale Street Entertainment District
Corner of 2nd Street and Beale Street
One of America's most famous streets, Beale Street is where W.C. Handy penned the first blues song and where you’ll find three blocks of restaurants, nightclubs, live music, museums and neon. Peruse the A. Schwab Dry Goods Store, follow the music Walk of Fame, see hundreds of motorcycles for Bike Night (every Wednesday night in the summer) or catch the Beale Street Flippers hand-springing down the street. 
Levitt Shell Concerts
Located in Overton Park
​Built in the 1930s and recognized as the site of Elvis' first professional rock 'n' roll show, the Levitt Shell is an outdoor performing arts pavilion located in beautiful Overton Park. Every summer and fall, the Levitt Shell hosts more than 50 free concerts – blues, gospel, country and rock represented. 


Playhouse on the Square
66 S. Cooper
Playhouse on the Square is a regional theater company located in the Overton Square dining, shopping and entertainment district. It offers pay-what-you-can nights; just look for the show schedule on the company’s website.
Handy Park
Beale Street
​Concerts that take place in Handy Park are always free and open to the public. On afternoons, performers take to the small stage for free blues shows and other events. 


Southland Park Gaming & Racing
1550 N. Ingram, West Memphis, Ark.
Free general admission to live and simulcast greyhound and thoroughbred racing, seven days a week year-round.  
Information and photos courtesy of Caroline Parkes, PR Manager, Memphis Tourism

 

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Finding wildlife is easy at Etosha National Park


Majestic elephants are common sights in Etosha National Park in Namibia.
Namibia’s premier wildlife viewing destination is a huge expanse of savannah in the northwest part of the country. Etosha NationalPark is one of the oldest and largest parks in Africa and hosts a plethora of large mammals and spectacular birds. This is true despite the fact a huge salt pan, remnant of a huge lake that existed two million years ago, covers a fifth of its surface area, and this shimmering white expanse is extremely inhospitable to living things.
Actually, it’s the Etosha Pan for which the region is most famous and the park is named. Almost entirely devoid of vegetation, most game gathers along the rim (especially to the south) of the pan which makes viewing wildlife a bit easier. About 50 natural and manmade waterholes attract a variety of species and allow for excellent viewing when staking your spot nearby. When the rainy season begins in November, the animals seldom need to visit the waterholes along the tourist routes, congregating instead in large herds on the grassy plains.
The arid Etosha salt pan is easily visible from the air.
Four of the “Big Five” of African wildlife (lion, leopard, elephant, and black rhino) can be spotted among 114 species of mammals here. Because there is little water, species like buffaloes, hippos, or crocodiles to not live in the park. The best time to visit is during the winter months of May-October (our trip is in July) because vegetation is sparse and temperatures are lower.
Small planes take us from one camp to another.
A stop at Desert Rhino Camp, more basic than the last but a center where professional trackers record information about the rare desert-adapted black rhino, gives us the opportunity to follow trackers on an expedition and mark our first sighting of a “Big Five” animal before heading to Etosha.

Fantastic view from our cabin in Ongava Lodge and Reserve in Namibia
Following our fifth and sixth flights on puddle-jumper planes in Namibia, we eventually arrive at Ongava Lodge and Reserve, a luxurious hilltop lodge set high on a ridge inside a private game reserve with resident white and black rhino and a busy water hole. This private game reserve adjoining Etosha is a conservation success story that developed when local families turned unproductive cattle ranches into a prolific 74,000-acre haven to rehabilitate and reintroduce wildlife.
Female lions drink while they wait for the male to
eat his fill of their recent giraffe kill.
Following a late lunch, we embark on a game drive through the Reserve and soon spot zebras grazing on the sparse grass. Our first really exciting sighting was a group of lions with their fresh kill of a giraffe. Three lionesses and one male lion had hunted and killed the giraffe when it came to drink at the water hole. The male feasts on the fresh meat and growls if the females came too close. So they wander over to drink—and provide us with excellent photos of their reflections in the waterhole.

Different species co-exist peacefully in the wild.
Soon another truck comes by. Since the guide is an employee of the Reserve (our guide is employed by the tour company Natural Habitat) he is allowed to have a rifle which is required if anyone leaves the safari vehicle. They had spotted white rhinos—the color refers to the mouth—so we join their group as they exit the vehicles and walk towards a group of a dozen rhinos coming across the plain in our direction.
White rhinos approach our group of travelers before meandering
another way.
We hold our collective breath and creep along as the rhinos meander through the tall tan grass, so close they can look us in the eye. Fortunately--because rhinos can be extremely dangerous if they decide to charge--these deem us harmless and wander off in another direction. Another amazing experience!

Back in the vehicle, we spot more plains animals like zebras, Oryx, springbok, impala, and many vibrantly-colored birds.
Cabins in wildlife camps are often basic
but comfortable, although some are fairly
luxurious.
We spend another full day at Etosha National Park, where springs around the salt pan draw a plethora of game including red heart beast (the fastest antelope species), black-faced impala, elephants, black wildebeests, ostrich, zebras, spring bok, Oryx, and kudu. Our cameras keep clicking even as we remind ourselves to stop and just watch the action in nature.

Multiple species of wildlife will drink at water holes at the same time, but they are always on guard checking for predators. Not surprisingly, impala, antelopes, and ostriches move out of the way as we watch a large bull elephant approach a waterhole. While he isn’t a life threat, his sheer size is intimidating to other animals. Watching the elephant splash, blow bubbles, and suck water into his trunk, curl it upward, and lift the trunk to squirt water into his cavernous mouth is fascinating. His movements are slow and deliberate—necessary for such a large body.
A bull elephant splashes water on himself.
At another water hole we spend about an hour observing a family of 13 elephants, including moms and babies, as they march over the savannah toward the water. Young elephants play “tussle trunks,” a game where they appear to be trying to decide what the trunk is good for. As they begin to leave, the matriarch elephant keeps everyone in line while walking with the group, even the newborns. And before long another group of elephants comes across the savannah to the water hole—more than 30 in an hour’s time. What a thrill to see such a spectacle!

A family of elephants leaves a water hole.
Another highlight of our day in Etosha National Park is watching two giraffes walk in smooth, graceful movements toward a water hole. Giraffes are very cautious as they cross the plain and approach the water hole, stopping often to sense if danger lurks. They drink one at a time because when they bend down on their knees to drink giraffes can’t get up fast to run if prey should strike. Because they are more vulnerable, they do not scare other animals away from the water as the elephant did.
Giraffes are vulnerable to prey when bending down to drink.
The interaction of these animals in nature is fascinating to watch, so we take our time at different spots, soaking in the tremendous opportunity that we are privileged to have.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier