Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Tea time at Lake Louise

Morning reflections on Lake Louise

Classic hikes at Lake Louise in Banff National Park in Canada will take you on trails to either Lake Agnes Teahouse or Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse.  We chose to hike the Lake Agnes trail on the recommendation of the tourism office and other hikers we had met in Banff the night before.

Mirror Lake lives up to its name.

The Plain of Six Glaciers provides panoramic views of glaciated peaks in the Canadian Rockies on a trail that’s 3.3 miles versus 2.2 miles for Lake Agnes, but the estimated time for each hike is 90 minutes one way. The difference is that there’s less elevation gain for the Plain of Six Glaciers, so it’s a bit easier on the legs. At the top is a rustic teahouse serving homemade goodies baked on a wooden stove—much as when it was first constructed by the Canadian Pacific Railway in the early 1900s.

Lake Agnes waterfall

The Lake Agnes Trail, labeled moderately strenuous in my guidebook, starts in front of the Fairmont Lake Louise Chateau.  (Plan to arrive before 10:00 a.m. as the parking lot fills quickly). The trail climbs steeply for the first 1.6 miles, switch-backing through a forest of fir and spruce. It levels off at Mirror Lake, a wonderfully scenic spot that appears just when you need a break.

Near the end of the trail, just below the teahouse, a beautiful waterfall flows out of Lake Agnes, gushing over a series of rocks with a refreshing spray. The trail concludes in a series of steps leading to the historic tea house that overlooks the lake and valley.

Not having brought snacks (bear warnings all around) we were hungry, so it was a good thing we arrived in time for lunch--homemade tuna, peanut butter, or cheese sandwiches. An assortment of hot teas is available and would taste terrific on a cold day, but we were looking for something chilled after our uphill trek. Unfortunately, there’s no ice (everything has to be packed in to the teahouse), so we settled for drinking the water in our backpacks.

 Lake Agnes Teahouse

Slightly revived, we headed out for another six-tenths of a mile on a fairly steep path to Little Beehive (the longer trail to Big Beehive, a distinctively rounded mountain, joins up with the Plain of Six Glaciers trail in the opposite direction). New vantage points provided impressive views looking back at Bow Valley, Lake Louise, and the Fairmont Lake Louise Chateau.  The return 3-mile trip went much faster as our memory cards were already loaded with hundreds of images—and we resisted the urge to add more.

Mountain view along Lake Louise

There’s no better way to appreciate the stunning sights of the region than on one of these hikes. Being photo hounds who savored our lunch break, the entire excursion took us about five hours.  Naturally, we were ready for wine and cheese on our return to the Post Hotel.

 

Friday, June 10, 2022

Thrills at the mighty Iguazu Falls

We’re walking on the Lower Falls Trail at Iguazu Falls inArgentina, looping along connecting paths, all the while gawking at the indescribably beautiful cascades of water roaring over walls of rock and plunging into the Iguazu River below. It’s a moody, mystical scene reminiscent of Niagara or Victoria Falls—but the enormity of Iguazu Falls dwarfs both.

Powerful waterfalls in every direction

Water pours magnificently over huge black boulders into the abyss below. At places the rocks gleam like yellow gold under the flowing froth. Mist rises high above the ledges obscuring everything behind it; then it dissipates and plumes again even higher, casting a haze over the entire landscape.

As huge sprays of water shoot like geysers into the air, a chorus of “oohs” and “ahhs” from the crowds of people on the walkway reflect the amazement shared by onlookers who are jostling for space by the railings and unobstructed views. On this September day, the sun occasionally peeks out, but mostly the weather is cloudy and pleasant--perfect for taking pictures, which we do often.

Although I had heard about Iguazu Falls, I could not visualize the sheer numbers of thundering waterfalls—and the incredible maze of concrete and steel pathways that allow visitors to experience the spectacle in such a close and personal venue. Travel brochures don’t come close to conveying the scope of the gigantic water-drops or the immensity of the site in this national park.

Getting soaked on land


One path is specially designed to take brave souls into the pounding spray, a most spectacular sight if you can keep your balance and your eyes open in the forceful wind and water.  We don ponchos before walking to the end of the path, knowing we’ll be thoroughly drenched in seconds. Of course, the spray carries for some distance. Having felt it on our approach we had stashed all but the waterproof camera in dry bags. (Eager for more thrills, I do this again on another day of our visit).

Getting soaked by boat

We then scurry down a rock path studded with pink periwinkles and purple, white, and yellow flowers of various shapes and textures on our way down to the river. That’s where our next adventure begins--a boat ride with Iguazu Jungle that takes us under the falls. It’s an exciting and risky-looking excursion, although apparently it’s safer that it appears on first glance. On reaching the bottom of the path, we’re issued life jackets and dry bags for our backpacks and gear—and then wait for our turn to board the boat.


To make up for an uncommonly long delay, the speedboat driver gives us even more thrills than usual. First, we go toward the waterfall of St. Martin’s Island, the second largest one. Then we bounce and lurch closer, retreat, and go back in even closer. I’m soaked and water is pouring over my face.


As if that isn’t enough to get our adrenalin pumping, the driver zooms back to the main river and then takes the boat around the bend to another thundering waterfall inside Devil’s Throat Canyon, screeching the powerboat as he drives further into the spray. We’re almost directly under the pounding falls, and I can’t open my eyes. The boat is in rock and roll mode, so I simply hold the camera high and snap away, hoping for a few good photos. Finally, we head back to the dock, a bit wobbly but thoroughly exhilarated by what we’ve just done.

It’s late afternoon when we return to the pier, and a chill is settling in the air, so Larry and I head back to the hotel for dry clothes and dinner in the restaurant.

Photos by Larry and Beverly  Burmeier

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Must-see natural wonders of the world



Frequent travelers have their favorite destinations, and it’s not always the best known places that capture one’s sense of wonder.  Still, there are special sites that always seem to attract visitors—and for good reason. Here are a few that you should put on your lifetime bucket list:

Victoria Falls—Fed by the Zambezi River that runs between Zambia and Zimbabwe in Africa (the Falls are visible from both sides), Victoria Falls is the tallest and widest waterfall in the world. During the wet season dense mist fills the area as water plunges through the gorge to the canyon below. In the drier season beautiful rainbows sparkle through fog, giving rise to the name local tribes used for Victoria Falls many years ago, “smoke that thunders.” For the super-adventurous, try bungee jumping from the bridge that connects the two countries or go whitewater rafting on the Zambezi River—memories that last forever!

Ngorongoro Crater—When the upper two-thirds of a towering volcano collapsed into its base, the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, Africa was created. It is the world’s largest unbroken caldera, often called “Africa’s Garden of Eden” because of the immense variety of plant and animal life concentrated there. Descending into the crater, which encompasses more than 100 square miles of desert, grasslands, forests, lakes, and streams, is tricky business—driving best left to professional guides. Animals, including elephants, that live in the crater typically stay their entire lives because leaving the region is too difficult.


Redwood National Forest—
The world’s tallest trees grow in Northern California, some reaching 200 feet tall and 20 feet in diameter.  It’s hard to imagine that the average age of these redwoods is 600 to 700 years old. Wander along numerous foot paths or take a wagon ride to marvel at these huge and ageless plant specimens.

Grand Canyon—The enormous gorge is a testimony to the power of wind and water that cut through and eroded rock to form a beautiful and intriguing geological wonder. Carved during millions, if not billions, of years by the Colorado River (a flowing ribbon at the bottom), this massive canyon measures 277 miles long, one mile deep, and four to 18 miles wide. 

It offers dramatic views and brilliant colors during sunrise and sunset. Explore the area on accessible rim trails, hike or ride on mules down into the canyon, or raft on the Colorado River in an unforgettable multi-day camping adventure.


Glacier Bay National Park
—Many Inside Passage cruises to Alaska venture into Glacier Bay for a look at the panoramic coastline sparkling with massive glaciers and deep fjords. If you’re lucky, you may glimpse marine life such as whales, porpoises, or otters drifting on chunks of ice that float in the water.  Small ships can venture closer than big ocean liners, but even the big ships provide guests with amazing views of snow-capped mountains and icebergs. It’s a sight that often draws visitors back for another visit.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

 

Saturday, May 28, 2022

An iconic hike in the Italian Dolomites

Driving from Corvara to Tre Cime hike

Tre Cime di Lavarado was our final hike in the Sexten Dolomites of northeastern Italy, one of the best-known mountain groups in the Alps. Although there are many trails throughout the mountains, Tre Cime is one of the must-do hikes for capable explorers.

After warming up with shorter hikes around Lake Braies and Cinque Torri (both very scenic), we finished our time in this beautiful mountain range on a trail that circumnavigates the Three Peaks that symbolize L’Alta Pusteria Valley. Known as Cima Grande, Cima Occidentale, and Cime Piccola, these colossal mountains provide ample panoramic views on the iconic 6.2-mile loop.

Breathtaking beauty!

Our driver met us very early in the morning at Hotel La Perla, where we spent five nights. Located in Corvara in the Alta Badia region this cute town lies in the shadow of the Dolomites.

Colorful flowers contrasted with the stark winding roads as we drove through the foothills of the mountains, paths punctuated with tiny villages along the way. White clouds and blue sky provided amazing background for the jagged limestone mountains.

Jagged peaks in the mountain range

After an hour and a half drive we arrived at Refuge Auronzo, the starting point for our hike. A wide, relatively flat trail connects Rifugio Auronzo with Rifugio Lavaredo. Within an hour of walking, the valley in front of Tre Cime opened up, and the north side of the Three Peaks came into view. What a sight to see all three majestic mountains side by side, an imposing UNESCO World Heritage Site. With their sharp-cornered ridges and dramatic peaks, the Dolomites are unlike any other mountain range we have seen.

A perfect place for lunch

We stopped to eat our packed lunch at a hut that was dwarfed beneath the imposing peaks. A short walk from there took us to a spot that proved perfect for capturing the scenery. 

First look at Tre Cime
At this point, Larry decided to hike back to the starting point with Gerhard, our driver and guide. Beverly and our friend Deb continued on the hike around Tre Cime with our other guide.

The three of us walked down into the valley and followed a narrow trail that provided excellent views of the three peaks and more. 

Some hiking challenges

Our trekking poles came in handy as we navigated rocks and other challenges on the trail. As is often the case, it’s hard to really describe the immensity and ruggedness of the terrain.

A surprising sight at Tre Cime
Pink, purple, and blue flowers dotted the late summer landscape and softened the bare peaks that stretched towards the clouds. We even saw cows grazing on green grass that magnified the beauty of the land. We felt truly blessed for the opportunity be outside soaking in the God-made beauty of this route.
Limestone skirts the peaks

As if that wasn’t enough awesomeness, our guide led us off the path to a stunning lake, a hidden gem that he knew about from years of hiking this popular path. The day was absolutely perfect for photos with the sun in an excellent position to provide clear reflections in the water. We stopped for a brief snack and short rest while admiring the view.

A perfect day for our hike!

But there was more, our guide led us to a second lake, and again the sunshine gave us beautiful reflections. We walked further in the meadow to a third lake before heading back to the trail and and uphill trek to finish the hike in the parking area near where we started.

The second lake also had great reflections.

It was an unforgettable adventure that we’ll always remember when we think of the Italian Dolomites.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Friday, May 20, 2022

Reasons to love Lake Travis


Summer is approaching rapidly. Central Texas is likely to hit a scorching 100 degrees in mid-May. So what is the best antidote to the heat? The cooling waters of Lake Travis!

Located on the western edge of Austin, Lake Travis is a reservoir formed in 1942 when the Lower Colorado River Authority constructed Mansfield Dam to contain floodwaters in a flash-flood prone region. Although the average depth is 62 feet, the deepest part of the lake extends to 210 feet. Today, the lake is popular for various recreational opportunities. And there’s a special magic in watching the sun set over glistening water.

Boating is the first activity that comes to mind, primarily because it doesn’t require any special athletic skills. Of course, knowledge of safe boating practices and lake terrain are imperative. That said, everyone can enjoy a ride on the winding 64-mile long lake. If you add in the myriad coves, the coastline stretches to 271 miles of peaceful spaces to explore or just drop anchor and enjoy a relaxing swim.


If you have a boat, there are about two dozen ramps where you can put in. If you don’t have a boat, check at any of more than 20 marinas and businesses for rentals. While you’re at it, rent a large tube and take the youngsters for a ride behind the boat. It’s a little bouncy, but they love the challenge of hanging on when the boat driver spins a few figure eights in the water.

Water sports. Once you have a boat to access Lake Travis, there are numerous water sports to try. Start with water skiing, which is probably the basis for newer sports like wakeboarding, knee boarding, or wake surfing. Water skiing is fairly easy to learn, especially with two skis. It’s such a thrill when you learn to cross the wake of the boat, then jump the wake, or just hang on for a multi-mile ride. If you become proficient you can advance to slalom skiing (one ski). 


Lake Travis is well suited for great wakeboarding since the water is generally smooth and traffic light, especially early in the morning or towards evening. There are plenty of open stretches for learning and practicing tricks, if you’re so inclined. If balance is an issue, consider knee boarding, since there’s a lower center of gravity and a tow rope to hang on to--great sport for kids who are still testing their water bravery.

Once these sports are mastered, it’s time to catch a wave. With the right boat and board, you can actually surf a wave on this inland lake, no rope needed. Yes, it takes good balance, but it’s a premier sport for those with access to the right equipment and no fear.


Fly boarding is gaining popularity with young people. Wearing a pair of boots attached to a board, the fly boarder is propelled into the air via power from thousands of gallons of water exploding through a tube. It’s like being on stilts above the water. Expert fly boarders get propelled high in the air to do amazing flips and tricks. It does take practice, but after a few lessons you may decide fly boarding is an incredible experience.


Scuba diving. Because Lake Travis is very deep, there are many hidden treasures below the surface. Grottoes, shipwrecks, old cars, even underwater trees attract scuba divers to the lake’s depths. Submerged areas such as Oasis Wall, Fiesta Haus Wall, Wreck Alley, and Starnes Island intrigue scuba divers, but you can also dive from shore at Mansfield Dam Park and Windy Point Park.


Although the lake is buttressed by tall limestone walls, if the water level is low, you might find a few spots of sandy beach at Pace Bend Park. The important thing to remember when in the water is that land can drop off suddenly, so you should wear a life jacket if you’re not a strong swimmer (required at all times for children under age 14). 

Always practice caution and common sense and you'll have hours of fun on beautiful Lake Travis.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

 

 

Thursday, May 12, 2022

How taking a vacation can make you healthier

Dreaming of taking a vacation? Counting the days until you have time off from work? Or is FOMO (fear of missing out) keeping you available 24/7?

American workers are known for not taking advantage of earned time off. According to the 2018 State of the American Vacation report from the U.S. Travel Association, more than half of workers in the country have unused paid vacation days. In fact, they are taking about one less week of vacation annually than they did in the mid-1970s.


Are Americans afraid that their co-workers will get more props for staying on the job? More raises or promotions? Better projects? Do they feel irreplaceable? Alert: No one is! So, let’s look at important reasons to take back earned time off.

Vacations are like medicine for your body, mind, and soul. For example, if you’re at risk for heart disease, skipping vacation time makes you 30 percent more likely to have a heart attack than folks who took time off during the year. Foregoing time off can also increase risk for anxiety, depression, obesity, and insomnia. Women are especially vulnerable for stress-related illnesses like these. So, vacations can improve wellness and keep you healthy long-term.


You need to give your brain a break. Instead of constantly focusing on work projects, taking time to focus on new activities, scenery, people, or cultures can provide increased motivation when you return to your job. This leads to greater job satisfaction because you’ll feel less stressed and happier—attitudes which will help you do your job even better.


Vacations can be a time to have fun and to bond with family or friends. Leaving daily distractions behind allows you to focus on enjoying the people in your life instead of harboring negative emotions from the daily frenzy that many families live in. Allow yourself to uncover a fresh sense of adventure, curiosity, and appreciation for your surroundings.

Travel can help unlock these physical and mental health benefits by engaging our bodies and minds in new activities or mindfulness. Improvement happens when you step away from routine and allow yourself to experience a different level of satisfaction. Leisure time to set a different pace, free from tension, and full of inspiration can be a healthy reset that reaps great benefits for both personal and work lives.

So, take that vacation. Whether you travel near or far is not as important as that you simply get away!

Photos from free sources

 

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Controversial policy impacts travel decisions

Even as travelers plan to spend more time and money on trips to make up for lost travel opportunities during the past two years, there is controversy over the pandemic-related requirement for negative COVID tests before returning to the U.S. from abroad.

Should testing be eliminated?

The world's most experienced travelers want this requirement eliminated, according to the Global Rescue Spring 2022 Traveler Safety and Sentiment Survey.  

A third of travelers (32%) say the U.S. government should immediately eliminate for everyone the requirement for a negative COVID test for fully vaccinated inbound international travelers to the U.S. while nearly an equal amount (34%) say the requirement should be removed for U.S. citizens but not non-citizens. 

“Unfortunately, many of today’s governmental rules are not medically indicated.  We’re hopeful that changes soon,” said Dan Richards, CEO of Global Rescue, the world’s leading provider of medical, security, evacuation and travel risk management services and a member of the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board at the U.S. Department of Commerce. 

Testing in airports is expensive and
time consuming and often too late.

The overwhelming majority of travelers (84%) are less or much less concerned about travel today compared to the beginning of the pandemic. But 15% of survey-takers report producing a negative COVID-19 test to meet U.S. re-entry requirements is their main travel concern behind being stranded away from home after testing positive for COVID-19.  Not only is there uncertainty about test results to consider, but just finding a place to accomplish the testing in ever-changing and shorter time limits a worry that many travelers have when planning a trip.

Some people choose to wear masks,
even after the requirement was lifted.

According to the survey, many travelers believe pandemic protocols, including masking and physical distancing, are no longer needed. Almost half of the respondents (42%) say there are no pandemic-related behaviors they plan to continue unless required. A third (33%) of respondents disagree and say they plan to continue masking despite easing of mask requirements. Many travelers also prefer to stay out of crowds and to keep their distance from unknown persons when possible.

Avoiding activities with large crowds
is still recommended.

“Travelers want to travel now more than ever. One–out–of four travelers (27%) will spend more time or more money – or both – on trips to make up for curtailed travel due to the pandemic. They’re going to get their travel revenge once governments allow them to move with fewer or no restrictions,” Richards said.  

And the travel industry couldn’t be happier about those sentiments. It’s the path for recovery in travel-related businesses. 

Information courtesy of Bill McIntyre at bmcintyre@globalrescue.com.

Photos from free sources.


Thursday, April 28, 2022

World's best water park

If you’re looking for a place your whole family can enjoy during summer vacation, look no further than Schlitterbahn in NewBraunfels, Texas.  With attractions ranging from water slides and tube rides that will leave the bravest among your clan thrilled and breathless to gentle heated pools and kiddie play areas, this attraction has been voted World’s Best Waterpark for 23 years in a row.


My family has been going to Schlitterbahn since it was a relatively small water park on the Comal River. Now it is enormous, with four distinct sections. Each one is as large as most regional water parks and contains a swim-up bar, not-so-lazy river, children’s area and a variety of river rides, pools, waterslides, and adventures from mild to wild. In fact, it was so perfect for all ages and activity levels that several years ago we booked a family reunion involving 29 people for a three-day stay.


What’s new

Schlitterbahn recently opened for the 2022 season, featuring upgrades and improvements totaling $4.5 million. Guest entry has been streamlined, accommodations have received upgrades, and busses have been added to the free shuttle fleet.

Darren Hill, vice president and general manager of Schlitterbahn, New Braunfels, explains, “This season we are using our 40 years of experience of providing fun for our guests as we add more shade, new food options, and important upgrades to iconic attractions.”

What to expect at Schlitterbahn


Miles of rivers in the Original Section (still a favorite area) are powered by natural spring water from the Comal River. There’s the largest and most eclectic collection of water rides in the world, making Schlitterbahn the “Hottest, Coolest Time in Texas.” Several water playgrounds are designed for the youngest guests. Even though there are numerous food options available for purchase, coolers are always welcome in the park, so you can bring drinks and snacks for your crowd and avoid resort prices, if that’s what you prefer.

Cabanas are available for rent, but if you arrive reasonably early in the morning you should be able to find a shady area with tables or chairs to use as home base for the day. If you want to stay longer, Schlitterbahn Resort includes several accommodation options such as cabins, hotel, and a lodge, as well as condos and luxury suites that are located right next to the water park. 

For our group, we rented several condos that were walking distance from the water park gates. Families could enjoy attractions in the morning, play for several hours, return to their condos for a mid-day break (especially nice with small children), and then go back for another round of thrills and spills later in the day. We were also close to pools outside the gate and a large picnic area where we had dinners together in the cooling shade of large oak trees. Staying on site also enables guests to save up to 40% on admission fees.

Ready to go

Test your mettle on tube rides like Raging River, The Falls, Black Knight, Bahnzai Pipeline, and AquaVeyer. Body slides including Back Splash, Double Look, and Soda Straw will have you screaming, smiling, and going back for more.

Little tykes and their parents will find fun and relaxation at Crystal River, Kiddie Coast, Gator Bowl Activity Pool, and Sea Creature Cove. Wave pools provide just enough challenge and cooling off opportunities for all ages.

Away from the water, take time to check out historic New Braunfels and nearby Guene with its famous dance hall. The beautiful Texas Hill Country also features other attractions including caves, wildlife park, golf courses, and nearby San Antonio. 

Schlitterbahn can be a one-stop attraction with something for everyone. 400 N. Liberty Ave, New Braunfels, Texas, 830-625-2351

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier