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

Information courtesy of Winter Prosapio, Communications Director for South Padre Island, Photos courtesy of 

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 fa├žade 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

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Fly free to Cuba

Is a trip to Cuba on your bucket list?

Old cars like this still fascinate tourists.
Do you think it may be out of the question now that stricter rules are in place for American tourists?
Not only is travel to Cuba possible, but it is easier than ever since InsightCuba, the leading provider of legal travel to Cuba, introduced free flights from Miami to Havana.

There are many historic buildings to see.
Effective immediately, president Tom Popper says InsightCuba has decided to add air without raising tour prices in order to bring much-needed attention to that destination. “Despite the Administration’s policy changes over the past two years, traveling to Cuba not only remains legal but is still easier than it was a few short years ago,” Popper says. “And now it’s even more affordable,” he adds.

Certain restrictions still apply, but an experienced tour operator like InSight can guide you on finding the right group tour or custom trip to allow for your best experience in Cuba.

Be sure to have a meal at a paladar, a family-run restaurant.
Complimentary air is available on most InsightCuba tours including the 10-day Undiscovered Cuba, 7-day Classic Cuba, 6-day Legendary Cuba, and the popular 4-day Weekend in Havana. Custom-made tours are available with dates till the end of 2020.

Samples of beautiful pottery to be found in Cuba
Air-inclusive packages include roundtrip air from Miami to Havana on scheduled service as well as the Cuban visa. Undiscovered Cuba will include roundtrip air via charter flight from Miami to Havana and Holguin to Miami and also includes Cuban visas.
Horseback is still a useful mode of transportation, especially in rural areas.
Popper says InsightCuba tour itineraries and experiences remain unaffected by policy changes. “Next year is our 20th year providing legal travel to Cuba for Americans, and we look forward to providing this incredible opportunity for Americans for another 20.”

While other U.S. companies provide tours for Americans to Cuba, Insight is the first to offer complimentary flights with their tours.

The square in Havana is a gathering place. 
Note: I have not personally traveled with Insight, but having been to Cuba six years ago, I encourage Americans to consider this destination. You’ll learn so much about this fascinating country and its people than you would never expect. Travel there will most likely change many of your perceptions about this once-forbidden island that is only 90 miles from the U.S.

Information courtesy of Tom Popper, President of InsightCuba

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Saturday, November 2, 2019

What you need to know before driving in a foreign country

Driving in a foreign country can be an easy way to get from one destination to another—and on your own time schedule.
For most Americans traveling in a foreign country, the choice to drive means renting a car. However, not all countries consider a U.S. driver’s license sufficient for driving there. You may be required to get an International Driving Permit (IDP) in order to rent a car. Basically, it acts as a translation of a driver’s license providing important data, so the holder may drive a private vehicle in any country or jurisdiction that recognizes the document. It is not a regular driver’s license.

Since an IDP contains your name, photo, and other driver information translated into at least the 10 most widely spoken languages, it can help you avoid problems if you are in need of identification or assistance from local police or other authorities in a country where English isn’t the main language. As a United Nations regulated travel document, an IDP can make foreign travel easier and safer. That’s a good preventive reason to have an IDP before you drive in any of more than 150 countries that accept the IDP document.
How to get an IDP

You must be at least 18 years old and have a current driver’s license from your home state before applying for an IDP. You’ll still need to take your U.S. driver’s license along, as the IDP is only valid when accompanied by your U. S. license. You’ll also need to have your passport in your possession at the same time.
If applying by mail, you’ll need to send in a photocopy of both sides of your driver’s license. You’ll need to complete an application, include two original passport-size photos with your signature on the back, and pay the application fee, which may run between $20-30. The IDP is valid for up to three years, but it can’t be used for more than one year in the same country. If you plan to stay in a country longer, you must apply for a local driving permit.

Obtain an application at any AAA (AmericanAutomobile Association) full-service location and apply in person or by mail (may require up to 10 days). Or apply online to an organization such as AATA(American Automobile Touring Alliance) and get a digital version of IDP in as little as two hours. Find a list of countries that accept the IDP at
Although an IDP is not required if you are driving your own vehicle into Canada or Mexico, don’t forget to get Mexico liability auto insurance since U.S. liability is invalid in Mexico. U.S. auto insurance also may not meet minimum requirements of other countries, but you can usually buy additional insurance in the U.S. or in your destination country if needed. Check with your insurance company and the U.S. consulate of the country you are visiting beforehand.

Photos from free sources