Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Four outstanding attractions in Phoenix, Arizona

For many visitors to the Phoenix/Scottsdale area, location is the main draw.  There’s no denying the attraction of spectacular Sonoran Desert scenery, breathtaking Camelback Mountain, and a sunny Arizona climate. All these natural features have spawned a huge resort community with world-renown golf courses and spas.

Golf at nearby Gainey Ranch offers spectacular scenery
But even visitors who chose to downscale their accommodations will find the area offers numerous attractions for a variety of interests. Spend a few hours a day away from your hotel or resort exploring these interesting sights:

Musical Instrument Museum—Fun for the non-musical visitor as well as those who play an instrument. Whether you know much about music or not, you’ll enjoy the diversity found in this museum. Learn about and hear musical instruments from every country in the world as they bring to life sights and sounds of different destinations. See guitars from the earliest models up to present day instruments. Listen to an antique organ, explore cultures through the sounds that represent their lives.
Check out unique instruments at the Musical Instrument Museum
Taliesin West—Built by Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1930s, this stunning project was constantly expanded and modified until the architect’s death in 1959. Regarded as one of his greatest masterpieces, Taliesin West was literally built out of the desert using rocks and sand to balance the design with the surrounding environment. Guided tours lead you through the buildings and explain Wright’s theories as brought to reality here. Architecture students still study the master’s talent in extended workshops.

Renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed and lived in Taliesin West.

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Taliesin West, reopened on Oct. 15, 2020 in Scottsdale with a new self-guided audio tour which provides visitors a safe and interactive experience accessed through their personal smartphone. The highlight of the audio tour is hearing Wright’s own spoken words firsthand through original audio recordings. Wright discusses his work and sources of inspiration at Taliesin West and across the United States.

Desert Botanical Garden—The world’s finest collection of arid-land plants and wildflowers is displayed in a beautifully landscaped outdoor garden. Five thematic trails illustrate topics such as conservation, desert living, plants and people of the desert. Rather than finding the garden a dry, barren plot of land, you’ll begin to appreciate how alive the desert is with colorful blooms and adapted creatures.

Desert Botanical Garden showcases beautiful and unusual plants.

Get a bird's-eye view of the Sonoran Desert.
Hot air balloon ride—On this magical adventure observe the Sonoran Desert from above while drifting tranquilly on a sunrise flight. Feel wispy breezes while inhaling fresh air.  Watch the balloon get inflated and then observe the captain masterfully use air currents to raise the wicker basket a mile above earth. Riding in the balloon’s basket is a thrilling experience and provides unobstructed views for the best photographs of this unique landscape, not to mention a couple of jackrabbits scampering below. Afterwards, bask in the glow of a successful flight at a traditional champagne breakfast served  on white-clothed tables set up where the balloon lands.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Love nature? Head to Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica

The coastline of Osa Peninsula is studded with palm trees and volcanic boulders.

For sheer diversity of flora and fauna, you can’t beat the “Amazon of Costa Rica,” Corcovado National Park. But it’s not easy to get to. In fact, our journey there from Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, was an adventure itself, requiring transportation by plane, van, boat, and tractor.

Our destination was Casa Corcovado Jungle Lodge on the Osa Peninsula, a shoe-shaped piece of land that juts out into the ocean at the southern end of Costa Rica’s Pacific coast.

The adventure begins
Taking to the air on the first leg of our journey to Osa Peninsula
First we flew via chartered plane to the peninsula. Then we rode by van to Drake Bay, stopping briefly in the village of Ajujitas to learn about perfectly round rock balls and their cultural importance in ancient times.

Lots of travel by water in this region
Next we boarded a motorboat that sped for half an hour through open water. Dense vegetation, beaches, and sea birds captured our attention during that ride. As we approached shore, fierce waves crashed against huge boulders that the captain had to maneuver around.

Because docks are not allowed in this remote area, we waded ashore and walked on a pebble-studded beach before boarding a trailer pulled by a tractor that carried us up the steep hill to Casa Corcovado. There are no roads to this deluxe outpost, but that allows nature to take center stage. 

Casa Corcovado Lodge is a luxury eco-lodge on the edge of Corcovado National Park, crown jewel of Costa Rica’s park system. Situated on a 170-acre private reserve, its hill-top location offers stunning views of one of the world’s last true wildernesses. From there we were able to explore the extensive rain forest, including some of the largest trees on Central America and the densest population of scarlet macaws.

Our cottage--luxury even in remote wilderness
Following a late al fresco lunch at the Lodge, we walked the Sendero Azul, a short private trail on the reserve.  Woody vines, towering trees, and massive palms lined the way. As we meandered along the route, we observed sloths, monkeys, and many intriguing species of birds--eventually capping the day off by watching a brilliant orange sunset glow over the ocean while sipping cool drinks from Margarita’s Bar.

Glorious sunsets provided a perfect ending to each adventurous day.
Exploring Corcovado National Park

Entering the rain forest where we marveled at  the variety of flora and fauna

The next day was one for exploration of Costa Rica’s last wilderness frontier and one of the world’s most biologically diverse regions. Corcovado National Park encompasses 103,000 acres and includes at least 13 ecosystems which provide protection for a multitude of endemic wildlife and plant species. It supports one of the world’s largest remaining lowland rain forests and species such as scarlet macaws, toucans, parrots, four monkey species (we saw all) and jaguars (rarely seen).

Trees are huge; in this case two grew together via a connecting horizontal root.
Our group trekked a challenging path made more uncomfortable because of the hot and humid weather (expected in a rain forest). Eventually, we arrived at the coast and enjoyed gazing out to sea, as the surf rushed to the beach, breaking over large lava boulders on the way.

Corcovado also functions as a marine sanctuary, protecting coral reefs, lagoons, rivers and estuaries, as well as 23 miles of palm-studded beaches. Crocodiles, whales, and dolphins can be found in surrounding waters as are all four species of turtles.
Nature shows off butterflies, birds, monkeys, and so much in Corcovado National Park. 

Snorkeling around a reef

The next day’s snorkeling adventure allowed us to sample more of the park’s pristine scenery,  despite getting drenched before leaving Osa Peninsula. Strong waves made the exit to open water so treacherous that the boat was inundated with water before we could begin the 45-minute cruise to Isla del Cano and the Biological Reserve there.

Larry prepares to snorkel at Isla del Cano.
But who cares when you going snorkeling? For almost an hour we splashed our way around a coral reef, photographing multiple species of fish (including a shark) that swim in and around the various formations. Pleasant water and a picturesque underwater tableau made this an adventure to remember.

Back at the Lodge, our group walked through a garden looking for hummingbirds. Later, at the solar pool on-sight, we spotted a rarely-seen speckled owl in a nearby tree. The local guides took much interest in my pictures.

A beautiful scarlet macaw.
After checking out the spring-fed pool on a lower level, we walked to Margarita’s for another glorious sunset and to ponder the wonders of Costa Rica that we had seen and experienced so far on this trip.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Irish experiences you won't find online

Listen to a private bagpipe performance.

Whether it’s lunching with a lord, a private art gallery tour or shucking oysters on a beach with a fisherman, a host of ‘unGoogleable’ experiences await on a luxury Irish getaway.

The internet can tell you lots about a luxury holiday on Ireland, but once you arrive there you will soon discover there are so many unique experiences that simply don’t show up in the search engines.

Live like royalty

Offering top-of-the-line services, gourmet dining and utterly unique things to do, Irish castle hotels are the ultimate in sheer luxury and indulgence, be it in a room for two, a presidential suite, a state room or the exclusive hire of the entire property for family and friends.
Crom-Castle, County Fermanagh is one castle turned hotel you can stay at.

 Whether you’re looking for spa rest and relaxation, classic country pursuits, historic sights and cities, scenic Ireland or all of the above, you will be treated like royalty at the likes of Ashford Castle in County Mayo, Ballynahinch Castle in County Galway or Dromoland Castle in County Clare, all among the most desired destinations in Europe.For those who like go it alone luxury, the stunning Crom Castle in the lakelands of County Fermanagh offers its complete West Wing for rent, and if you need more space, the entire castle is also available for hire. 
Ballyfin Castle has been restored to its previous excellence.
Your stay can be self-catering, or if you would like your food served, a cook can be provided. For a yet more exclusive experience, you can have afternoon tea with John Crichton, the 7th Earl of Erne and Baron of Fermanagh, or even spend your whole holiday with him as the host of your stay at his family's ancestral seat.
Garden at Lough Eske is a joy to walk through.
Ireland’s luxury destinations can customise your stay with the utmost creativity and discretion. Or you can easily create your own itinerary, or have one designed according to your interest.

For example: Forage for food with a local permaculture expert and then cook what’s been gathered with the head chef of the lavish Adare Manor in County Limerick.

Ashford Castle, junior suite
Rub shoulders with authors, historians and television personalities that epitomise the essence of Ireland, or delve into the Wild Atlantic Way to experience the meaty Connemara Oysters of Ballinakill Bay.

From meeting a leading fashion designer, coastal picnics beside a shipwreck and private tours of hit film and TV show locations, travel designers such as Adams & Butler can provide luxury Irish experiences totally unique to you.

Information and some courtesy of Tourism Ireland  Other photos by Beverly Burmeier

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Uncruise Adventures sets summer sailings

Kayaking in Glacier Bay National Park

The American owned, U.S. flagged small-ship adventure company, UnCruise Adventures has confirmed that its 2020 Alaska sailings will commence August 1st.

 “As one of the first companies to restart service, this is a pivotal moment for the travel industry and Alaska,” states UnCruise Adventures Owner and CEO Dan Blanchard. “These initial departures represent a re-framing of what adventure travelers are increasingly looking for, small groups, inclusion, and human connection.”

Consider an Alaska UnCruise Adventure in August.

 The initial Alaska sailing will take guests round trip from Juneau to Juneau on its 7-night Glacier Bay National Park Adventure with an enhanced wilderness itinerary. Two days in Glacier Bay make this one of the company's most popular adventures and, free from a large-ship presence all season, offers a rare moment of Southeast Alaska solitude not experienced in decades. Eager guests can experience active adventures daily with remote wilderness hikes, shoreline kayaks, and their choice of nature-based activities.
Observe turtles and other friendly sea creatures.

UnCruise Adventures has taken strong measures to implement health safety standards with a Coronavirus protocol plan recently released on their website.There is a new normal in travel and the restart of summer sailings represent a dedication to supporting local partnerships such as UnCruise Adventures long-standing work with Alaska state officials.

Get up close and personal with the amazing landscape.
  “How we structure our recovery efforts with new health safety standards, establish partnerships and operate with a small footprint will continue to define our industry and the pristine environments we visit for decades to come,” says Blanchard about his commitment to the industry. “The market is showing a growing interest in off-the-beaten-path destinations and that is what we do best. We've been social distancing since 1996.”
Revel in Alaska's spectacular scenery. 

UnCruise Adventures operates boutique yachts and small boats that carry 22-86 guests on voyages in Alaska, Hawaiian Islands, Mexico's Sea of Cortés, Columbia & Snake Rivers, coastal Washington, Galápagos, Costa Rica, Panama, Belize, Guatemala, and Colombia. In 2019, UnCruise was picked as the top adventure cruise line by Cruise Critic. Travel & Leisure also named UnCruise Adventures in its World's Best Awards and its list of top 10 small ship ocean cruise lines.

Whale watching is a favorite activity in Alaska.

Information courtesy of Liz Galloway | UnCruise Adventures This article does not constitute an endorsement of Uncruise. Images from Uncruise website.

Monday, July 6, 2020

A new age of travel

This blog is all about travel experiences, and if you’re like me, you can’t help wondering what that will look like in the near future—and beyond. Just as happened after 9/11, when the TSA was established and we all had to go through security check points and abide by new regulations, the COVID-19 pandemic will result in numerous changes to procedures, especially for air travel.

What will the airport look like?

First of all, check in online to minimize contact at the airport and lessen the time it takes to get through new procedures. While each airport will establish its own timeline for instituting changes, there are certain procedures that most are working now to incorporate.

Some airports may restrict entry to ticketed passengers only. Counter agents will likely be positioned behind a plastic or plexiglass shield, and they want to minimize contact with your possessions, including passport or ID.

Inside the airport, you will be required to wear a mask and to abide by social distancing guidelines. Floor markings for distance and arrows for traffic flow will help ease congestion. When travelers pass through checkpoints, they will see TSA agents in masks and gloves; in some airports, agents will be wearing clear plastic face shields.

Instead of handing your documentation or boarding pass to the TSA agent, passengers will just show it for verification, or they may be asked to scan their own boarding pass—whether paper or electronic.

You’ll want to be vigilant about not putting prohibited items in carryon luggage, so as not to delay the security process. Liquids, gels, or aerosols larger than 3.4 ounces will still be tagged by the X-ray scanner, but instead of an agent opening your bag to search for the offending item, you will be asked to remove the item yourself and then put the bag back on the conveyor belt.

The exception to the 3.4 ounce rule now is that passengers may carry containers of hand sanitizer up to 12 ounces. But it must be removed from your luggage and placed in a baggie before X-ray screening. 

If you usually put personal items like phone, keys, wallet, or belt in a security tub, you are now asked to put these inside your bag or in a plastic bag, not directly on the tray. The same goes for food or snacks. Place these in a clear plastic bag in a separate tray from luggage to help eliminated cross-contamination.

New procedures

Some airlines add temperature monitoring as an additional security protection. TSA is reportedly planning to take passengers’ temperatures on a trial basis at certain airports and possibly deny travel or rebook people who register 100.4 F. If this practice becomes universal policy, it will probably last into the future just as the requirement to remove shoes has become ingrained in our travel psyche.

Cleaning in airports has been dramatically increased at all levels and conducted more frequently than in the past. Hand sanitizing stations are established throughout terminals. Gate areas and jet bridges may be cleaned with electrostatic sprayers using high-grade disinfectants.

At present many airlines and lounge operators have closed these facilities while they determine increased sanitizing protocols and changes to how they serve food and drinks. You will likely still be able to peruse airport retail stores, but don’t be surprised if water bottles hit $10. With limited or no in-flight food and beverage service, options will be available but probably pricier. 

Required ID

If your driver’s license expired after March 1, 2020, and you haven’t renewed it at  your local agency, it will be accepted for a year after the expiration date, plus 60 days after the duration of the COVID-19 emergency. Also, you have another year to obtain a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license, the one with a star in the upper right hand corner. The new deadline is October 1, 2021.

If you choose to fly, be aware that you might need extra time at the airport. Plan for it—and no grumbling. All these changes (including masks during flight) are in the interest of health and safety, both for travelers and workers. Some may be temporary, but you can expect that some will be with us for a long time. 

Photos from free sources