Sunday, May 30, 2021

Two famous American railways are running again

Two famous trains have pulled out of the station just in time for spring and summer vacations. Both have launched unique ride and stay packages which are perfect for families, couples, and adventurists looking to dip their toes back into travel in 2021.

Pikes Peak

At The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway, America’s highest railway reaching a height of 14,115 feet, is back and will be better than ever climbin’ up America’s Mountain beginning May 2021. This iconic railway (one of only two cog railways in the U.S.) and the view from the summit is where “America The Beautiful” was inspired. The Railway reopens in May after a three-year, $100 million rebuild and renovation of its tracks, cogs, railcars, and depot to create a new and improved journey to the summit.

Originally built in 1891 and owned and operated by The Broadmoor since 1925, this historic railway is the highest railroad in America, the highest cog railway in the world, one of Colorado’s top attractions, and one of the nation’s most unique experiences. For visitors who would like even more adventure, hiking, biking, and new trail experiences are available. Guests may forgo the round-trip train experience and hike up to Pikes Peak on the 13-mile Barr Trail and ride the train down or take the Cog up and bike down the 19.5-mile downhill adventure from the summit on a guided excursion.

Ride & Stay package is also available via The Broadmoor, a luxury Forbes Five Star/AAA Five Diamond property, that includes accommodations and train tickets.

Grand Canyon

Meanwhile, the Grand Canyon Railway (EX AT&SF) has been taking passengers to the Historic Village at the South Rim of Grand Canyon since 1901. The Grand Canyon Railway runs daily from Williams, AZ on historic Rt. 66 to within steps of the Grand Canyon South Rim and El Tovar. The pristine train, comprised of railcars from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, including luxury observation dome cars and an open platform parlor car, as well as vintage coaches with opening windows, departs at 9:30 a.m. and returns at 5:45 p.m. with a 3.5-hour layover at South Rim of Grand Canyon. Assigned seating enables social distancing.

Williams is only a 2.5-hour drive, give or take, from Phoenix, 3.5 hours from Las Vegas and 6.5 hours from Los Angeles.

You can save 30% on train tickets when you book the 1 or 2-night Summer Getaway Package at The Grand Canyon Railway Hotel. More information on how to book and other ways to save can be found here.

The Railway runs steam engines on the first Saturday of every month from May through September to the delight of rail fans. It’s a rare sight to see and hear a steam engine pulling a passenger train in the United States.

Visit or call 800-843-8724 for updated and current information on both the hotel and the train.

Information courtesy of Rene Mack, for Maritou Cog Railway and Grand Canyon Railway and Hotel. Photos from free sources

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Two looks at Tahiti

Knowing we had two full days in Papeete, Tahiti following our return from a South Pacific cruise we planned two day-long excursions so we could explore Tahiti beyond its shoreline. It was time to check out beautiful palm-studded coastal landscapes and lush, green forests of the interior highlands.

One excellent way to see this beautiful tropical island is to rent a car and drive all the way around Tahiti stopping at scenic and exotic points along the way.  It’s easy because there is only one highway, and it hugs the coast as you travel southward, then east, north, and back to the city of Papeete.

Around the island

Gorgeous tropical flowers
bloom in Vaipahi Gardens

The first place Larry and I stopped was Vaipahi Gardens, just off the main road--the quintisential tropical garden filled with a kalaidascope of color displayed by abundant flowers and plants (and an enticing waterfall) in the gardens. 

Larry pauses on a bridge in
the gardens.
We then detoured down an unpaved road through the smaller, attached peninsula of Tahiti-iti, exploring this agricultural region until noon when we returned to the mainland.

Among the bounty of waterfalls that splashed at various locations along the coast were three famous waterfalls called Cascades de Tefaarumai. Here we were inspired us to get out and hike awhile. Nearing the end of our magical journey we marveled at Ara Ahoaho Blowhole and took sunset photos of the lighthouse at Point Venus.

Waterfalls add immense beauty
to this tropical island.

Across the island

For a different perspective, we wanted to journey into the vastly different interior of the island to explore  mountainous regions that are not visible from the coast.  This voluminous green landscape is unbelievably captivating for its  beauty and historical significance for native islanders.

An unimagined landscape for those
who only stay on the coast of Tahiti

Tieva braids plant leaves into
a strong rope.

For that, I booked an eight-hour tour with Tahiti Discovery owner and guide Tieva Tiapoi, a twelfth generation Tahitian whose family still lives in the mountains. He knew the land intimately and provided one of the most enjoyable excursions we’ve ever had.

Riding open-air in the back of Tieva’s truck (covered when rains came on the return trip) we traveled through territory uninhabited since the arrival of Western civilization 200 years ago—a world of lush mountains, high cliffs, verdant valleys, and streaming waterfalls. What a view we had!
Tieva made this lovely heart for 
our special picture.

We especially enjoyed lessons learned from Tieva on using resources from the land—creating plates from plant leaves, testing a natural shampoo, consuming plants that appeared inedible, and braiding stems into ropes. Other highlights included a brief dip in a lake, multiple photo opportunities, and a jaunt into the Papenoo Valley, the caldera of Tahiti’s great extinct volcano. 

Lunch was served at the only restaurant on the route, the turn-around point, which was about the time rain started. But that led to a bonus—dozens of waterfalls began streaming down the mountain sides.

Some mountain roads are
tricky to navigate.

After the rain dozens of new waterfalls were visible 
on the mountainsides.
While relaxing at a luxury hotel pool with an exotic drink in hand can certainly be part of any Polynesian experience, our adventures during those two days enabled us to get a real sense of the island and truly appreciate all it has to offer.

 Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Insurance for travel post-COVID

Today’s post is from John Cook, owner of Quotewright, a travel insurance comparison site.

One year and still counting!

To say that all of us have been through tough times over this past year is an understatement. However, things are starting to change for the better and good things are on the horizon. One of the foremost things on people’s minds is getting back out into the world safely. More people are purchasing travel insurance, so here are some things to think about when you decide to travel again.

Has Travel Insurance changed because of COVID19?

Contrary to some news articles, there haven’t been any material changes in travel insurance policies in regards to covering COVID19. For trip cancellation and trip interruption, coverage is only for an unforeseeable covered reason stated on the policy. 

What’s covered for COVID19?

Most comprehensive package plans cover trips that are cancelled or interrupted due to an unforeseen sickness of the insured, traveling companion or immediate family member. An attending physician must state that the sickness is debilitating enough to prevent you from traveling (trip cancellation) or continuing to travel (trip interruption).  And in most policies COVID19 is treated as any other sickness would be covered.  However, there are some policies that have an exclusion for “pandemics or epidemics.”  Stay away from these unless it doesn’t matter to you.

If you’re concerned about your destination being shut down due to COVID19, or you’re worried the tide of COVID19 might shift, you need to look at those plans that offer Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR). CFAR still remains the best protection for travel. Remember, it’s still only available if the insurance is purchased within 15-21 days of your initial trip deposit, and it covers only a stated percentage of the purchase price (usually 50-75 percent).

Does my destination have any insurance requirements?

Know the insurance requirements of the country that you’re visiting. The most common so far we have been seeing are those countries that are requiring $2,000 for bed rest while being quarantined if you contract COVID 19. Not all policies include that, so be sure to read your policy for details.

Is default or bankruptcy coverage included?

Should you be concerned about having coverage for the “default or bankruptcy” of an airline, cruise line, or tour operator?  Yes.  This past year has put a financial strain on all travel companies.  Trip cancellation/interruption plans with “default” as a covered peril can help you mitigate this risk, but remember it’s not uncommon for companies to make this a time sensitive coverage that is only available within a short time following your first trip payment.

It’s time to travel but travel smart.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

More beautiful crafts and folk-art from Peru

This is the second of a two-part series (read the first blog) about different kinds of Peruvian handmade crafts and world-class folk art, many practiced since pre-Inca times and inspired by lasting traditions.

 Inca Cross Jewelry 

Considered sacred in the Inca culture, the Chakana, or Inca Cross, is a popular design motif found throughout Peru — from ancient archaeological sites to stonework, pottery, and textiles to beautiful jewelry pieces. Silver Inca cross pendants, rings, earrings, and more may be inlaid with colorful stones or shells. It’s geometric shape has deep spiritual significance for the Quechua people. Its center circle represents the Inca imperial capital of Cusco as well as the Southern Cross constellation.

Carved Gourds

The traditional Peruvian art form of carved gourds, or mates burilados, dates back more than 4,000 years to pre-Inca societies. In ancient times, they had ceremonial and practical purposes. Today they are primarily decorative with carvings depicting scenes of daily life or stories from history and mythology. Commonly made in Peru’s central and southern Andes mountains, these artifacts use the dried, hard-skinned rind of the gourd as a canvas. Craftsmen, or materos, hand-etch, dye, and acid-burn designs into the gourd to produce a range of colors.

Ayacucho Pottery

Considered Peru’s folk art and handicraft capital, the town of Ayacucho in the central highlands is one of the country’s key pottery centers. Using the local red- and cream-colored clay adorned with brown and white paint, artisans produce small handmade churches inspired by the town’s own 33 churches, one for each year of Jesus’ life.

Pucará Bulls

Bulls of another sort originate in the Puno region near Lake Titicaca. The iconic torito de Pucará is an intricately painted ceramic bull figurine often used for ceremonial purposes. Originally made as a ritual element during the cattle-branding ceremony, these figurines are believed to bring prosperous harvests, livestock procreation, happiness in marriage, and household protection. Throughout much of the Andes, you’ll see a pair of bull figurines straddling a cross cemented on rooftops for protection.

Shipibo Pottery

Deep in the Peruvian Amazon, the indigenous Shipibo-Conibo people are well-known for elaborate maze-like designs, known as kené, that adorn their clay pottery. These delicate geometric lines, in shades of brown and ochre, are inspired by the natural environment and rooted in shamanistic visions and native cosmology. Intricate designs are created freehand predominantly by women. Shipibo pottery is distinct from that made in the rest of the country because the style of baking in an open fire pit means the walls of the pieces are thinner and the earthenware pots and bowls are more delicate.

Musical Instruments

The Peruvian highlands produce hauntingly beautiful music, thanks to a variety of unique native instruments. Displaying indigenous, Spanish, and African influences, they range from flutes and panpipes to guitars and drums. The most famous of these is the traditional Andean flute, or quena, a hollow reed with one thumb and six finger holes. Just as distinctive is the zampoña, also called a siku, a traditional Aymara panpipe made of different-length reeds bound together in a flat or slightly curved shape.

Rounding out the baleful sound is the charango, a 10-stringed instrument in the lute family invented by the Quechua and Aymara people of Peru. Originally made of armadillo shells, charangos are now more commonly crafted from wood. Finally, traditional drums include the six-sided box-shaped cajón and the cylindrical bombo drum.

Llama Figurines

With llamas so ubiquitous in the Peruvian Andes, it’s no surprise that they turn up as adorable woolly figurines. An important pack animal and source of wool for the Incas, this native camelid typically appears as a white fluffy stuffed animal adorned with a halter, saddle bags, or pom-poms and in multiple sizes from keychains and Christmas ornaments to teddy-bear like toys.

Photos from free sources



Monday, May 10, 2021

Cycle Ireland for a green adventure

 There is no better way to see the beautiful Irish landscapes than on your own two feet, on the seat of a bike and on a jaunt along one of the country’s fantastic collection of off-road greenway trails.

Travel on two wheels

Top of the list must be the Waterford Greenway in Ireland’s Ancient East. At 46km, this is the island’s longest off-road cycling and walking trail, though it is flat and easy to travel on.
Stretching from the Viking city of Waterford to the port of Dungarvan along a gorgeous coastline known as the Copper Coast, it offers not only stunning views but also a peak into Ireland’s past. The route  passes a number of historic sites including Woodstown Viking Site, Kilmeadan Castle, Kilmacthomas Workhouse and the gardens of Mount Congreve.

Book a cycle tour or travel on your own.

One of the longest traffic-free greenway routes in Northern Ireland is the 37km Newry Canal Way. Packed with things to see and do along the way, it runs from the town of Portadown to Newry city. Walkers and cyclists can explore the linen history of the villages en route, the museum at Moneypenny’s Lock and stop for something to eat at Scarva Visitor Centre.
For a traffic-free journey along Ireland’s famous Wild Atlantic Way, head to the 42km 
Great Western Greenway in County Mayo. This greenway brings spectacular views around Clew Bay and Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s holy mountain, as well as heritage towns, the stately Westport House, archaeological artefacts and golden beaches.
Connemara Greenway
Connemara Greenway is fine for
a family adventure.
 in nearby County Galway is also one to look out for. With some sections open, it will eventually become a 76km route through the stunning Connemara National Park.
Handy for those looking to a Belfast city break when the time is right, the 11km 
Comber Greenway steers out through the east of the city starting from the famous Big Fish sculpture in the Titanic Quarter. Alternatively, the 17 km Lagan Towpath takes walkers and cyclists along the River Lagan and a canal system running from Belfast to Lisburn.
Elsewhere on the island, some may prefer to explore the quieter 40km 
Limerick Greenway which offers a spectacular ride or walk through time, heritage and nature. Along this route you will find Norman castles, abbeys, medieval ruins, old railway stations, a viaduct, the Barnagh Tunnel and breath-taking scenery.
Royal Canal Greenway, Ireland's newest,
traverses lush landscapes of Ireland's
Ancient East toward River Shannon in
Ireland's Hidden Highlands. 

There are many more greenways to be found around the island of Ireland and there plans afoot for lots more. So whatever your fitness level and wherever corner of the country you fancy exploring, there will be a greenway through Ireland’s lush green landscapes to suit you, your family or group as soon as it is safe to travel again.
E-bikes make the journey even easier.

And if any journey seems too daunting, you can always go electric and rent an e-bike to make the hills a breeze.

Information and photos courtesy of Tourism Ireland.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Plan ahead for safe, healthy travel

Now that most people considered “seniors” have been vaccinated against COVID, many are anxious to start traveling again. Whether you long to visit family from which you’ve been separated more than a year or you seek the adventure of visiting “bucket list” places that was put on hold, take some time to prepare for a safe and healthy trip.

Actually everyone, no matter your age, will have a better, healthier trip with these planning tips:

Consider your health

If you have a medical condition, the first thing you should do is check with your doctor about precautions to take and to be sure you have adequate prescriptions for the duration. If you’re traveling outside the U.S. check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the health conditions of the country you’re visiting and find out if any vaccinations are recommended or required. If you have a chronic condition, check out health care facilities in the areas you’re visiting before you leave.

Most Medicare policies do not cover health expenses outside of the U.S. (some Medicare Advantage plans do), so check your coverage carefully. Just don’t leave home without travel insurance that also provides medical benefits. I often use or to compare prices and coverage of different policies. Remember, the older you are, the higher your premiums will be.

Pack medicines in your carry-on bag, not the checked one. And include enough medication to last at least a week past your planned vacation time. It’s best to bring medicines in original containers, with your name on the labels. Make a list of all your prescriptions and dosages or download the information onto your smartphone, so you’ll have it available wherever you might be. 

Continue healthy habits

When traveling, follow the same protocols you have been doing during the pandemic: Wash hands often, use anti-bacterial wipes on airplane, bus or car surfaces, keep hands away from your mouth, and keep your distance from other people as much as possible.

Plan activities according to your physical abilities. Know beforehand how strenuous or demanding the trip will be, and plan each day so you don’t overextend yourself. Allow for jet lag the first day or two if your journey requires a long flight. If you require adaptations in your room or on tours, be sure to arrange those before you leave.

A final piece of advice that is good for every traveler to remember: Pack lightly so you won’t have to haul heavy bags around, possibly up stairs, and risk injury.

If you have prepared well, there’s no reason not to enjoy the trip—so have a great time!

Photos from free sources