Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Touring Barbados with a camera

If you want to live to 100, consider taking up residence in the mountainous interior of Barbados. Clean air—no pollution, even though it is windy--fresh foods, and plenty of exercise have produced the largest number of centenarians per capita after Japan. (Since October 2010, the entire island has been smoke-free).

Called the Scotland District because it resembles the Scottish Highlands, this is a beautiful but fragile region with undulating topography. Because of how it rose from the sea 500,000 years ago, Barbados has a terraced landscape with many ridges. While this makes for great views from most locations, houses built on the edge of ridges are in danger of tumbling into the ocean from erosion, so the soil must be shored up in many places with wire-enclosed rocks. 

This picturesque region on the east coast of Barbados was one stop on a four-hour photography tour led by renowned Barbadian photographer Ronnie Carrington.  “Part of the uniqueness of Barbados is the way the island’s beauty emerges as you drive into the countryside,” Carrington observed.  Although sugar cane farming has declined in recent years, the mosaic of green cane fields interspersed with small serene villages is still a dominant feature of the island.  And wherever you see a church in the villages, there is a rum shop within walking distance.

We started our journey down Spring Garden Street, a major artery in Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados. The first photo stop was at the entrance to a large plantation where tall cabbage palm trees provided a symmetrically landscaped path to the estate house.

On the second stop, Carrington showed us a chattel house, created for easy dismantling when families moved to another location—a common practice in past years.  He explained that chattel houses feature high-pitched gabled roofs without eaves, enabling them to withstand high winds common in the hurricane belt. The door is always centered with jalousie-shuttered windows on each side. Our photos captured a slice of Barbadian history as only a few of these architectural oddities remain.

Wind was the dominant feature of the Cambridge area, but photos from Windy Ridge revealed stunning views of the sea. Soil is composed of sandstone and clay, while long-ago upheavals were evident in abundant sharp, pointed rock formations.

Barclay’s Park on the beach was also very windy, although being at sea level meant wind was less than on the Ridge. We couldn’t stop snapping different views of gorgeous blue water, luscious green sea plants, gnarled trees, and blooming bougainvillea and hibiscus.

No visit to Barbados is complete without sampling rum punch, which we did at Sea Side Bar in the Bathsheba region. Here pock-marked rocks, which surfaced when Barbados was pushed up from the ocean floor, are scattered around the shoreline and poke up above waves off-shore.

Tourism sustains the economy of Barbados, although the island retains a “real Caribbean” feel. Hiking and diving, plus tours of seaside villages, plantations, gardens, and 17th century English country churches make Barbados a great place for adventure or relaxation. If you plan a visit, you’ll appreciate that trade winds keep the temperature steady at 75 to 85 degrees.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Monday, December 19, 2022

St. Thomas lures vacationers to its sunny shores

St. Thomas, one of the U. S. Virgin Islands, became a tourist mecca in the 1950s—and it retains that distinction today. 
Perfect spot for a bit to eat--and drink.

As the Caribbean territory that lured more foreign nationals than any other, a variety of cultural influences are evident: Danish red tile roofs and architecture, Dutch doors, French iron grillwork, and Spanish-style patios. The flags of six countries have flown over these islands, which have been inhabited since 2500 B.C. During WWI the U.S. bought the Virgin Islands, located 40 miles east of Puerto Rico, for $25 million in gold. 
Catamaran fun!

Once the home of notorious pirates like Captain Kidd and Bluebeard, St. Thomas offers plenty of modern-day booty. The largest of the trio making up the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Thomas is clean and well-developed with many high-end resorts and shopping spots. It’s the commercial capital of the Caribbean, rich with history; and its azure waters on soft-sand beaches make it a prime destination for vacationers. 

 A few years ago my husband and I decided to sample the beautiful landscape of St. Thomas with a full day sail and snorkel excursion while cruising in the Eastern Caribbean on the Emerald Princess. We boarded the Dancing Dolphin catamaran, part of the fleet from Top Sails Company, where we met Christie, a twenty-something crew member originally from Connecticut who came on vacation and fell in love with the island. 

Docking at the beach

The sun was high in the sky at 9:00 am, keeping us warm as we headed away from shore. Just a few small swells and splashes came over the front “trampoline” as the crew put up sails and headed to Buck Island and Turtle Cove. The ride took about 45 minutes during which time Christie admonished a few impatient souls to “Get on island time.” 
Iguanas are also found on these islands.

At Turtle Cove we observed numerous large turtles on the ocean floor. Christie led the group to the reef where she explained different types of coral—fan, branches, balls. Some sting, so don’t touch, she warned. Snorkeling in clean, clear water, we could easily observe sea creatures and plants on the bottom, especially when the sun was shining. Many varieties of fish--yellow and black striped called Sergeant Major, small blue iridescent, larger silver (more than a foot long); small black, and others swam around the reef, in and out of underwater rock caves. 
Bright coral shined in the sun.

When the area became crowded with other boats it was time to head to remote Water Island and Honeymoon Beach. The crew raised sails and used wind power to slide the catamaran within a few yards of the beach. A freshly prepared Caribbean barbecue lunch (pork, chicken, pasta salad, green salad, bread, drinks) awaited us at water’s edge. 
Beverly found a sea urchin.

For more than an hour we walked on the soft sand, splashed in the clear water, and sipped plenty of “pain killer” (rum punch) to keep cool. Water Island is accessible only by ferry or dinghy, so not too many people go there. But for us it was the perfect retreat for a relaxing day on St. Thomas.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Monday, December 12, 2022

America: the no vacation nation

 When was the last time you used all your paid time off? Have you always used all your paid vacation days and paid holidays? If you are an American, chances are 50/50 it was far too long ago, if ever. More than half of Americans do not use all their time off, according to a study by the U.S. Travel Association.

Americans long to be free from work--
but many are afraid to take time off
Americans are not taking vacations.

Why would Americans leave vacation unused? A study by the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology showed that Americans who struggle to take time off, often do so because they have trouble disconnecting from work, don’t think the vacation will go well and anticipate being stressed from things like finances.

Work can be hard to escape

According to the USTA’s study, 80 percent of Americans thought it was important to travel during their time off but don’t for similar reasons: too hard to get away from work, financial stress and frustrations around air travel. 

The pandemic changed the way many in the world work: offline to online, in the office to working from home. Has this improved our ability to take a vacation?

Yes, a family road trip can be
 a welcome escape from work.

In many ways, yes. All of a sudden, people were spending more time with their families and being reminded of what is most important in life. And with the increase in remote work, people felt they could travel more often. Indeed, since the pandemic, there has been a significant rise in bleisure travel, and many employers offer it as a benefit to attract new hires. 

Yet, for some, the rise of remote work has blurred the lines between work and time off more than ever. Ed Zitron shared in The Atlantic about his struggles detaching from work, before and during the pandemic. 

As the CEO of the technology public relations firm, EZPR and the author of the tech and culture newsletter, Where’s Your Ed At, the responsibilities felt too overwhelming to escape. Yet, his experience contracting COVID-19 showed him that working from home had become a “productivity trap” that he needed to address, for himself and his employees.

Fishing is a popular way to relax.
“I’m slowly learning that a few hours, or a day, or even a week away won’t bring the world to an end and that those emails will be waiting for me when I’m done relaxing,” he writes.

A waterpark like Schlitterbahn can provide relaxing
 fun for days.
Even the most experienced travelers in the world are leaving paid vacation time unused. According to the Global Rescue Traveler Safety and Sentiment, most travelers (68%) have taken all their available paid time off from work. Of the 32% who have not, fear of falling behind and coming back to a mountain of work and the inability to disconnect from work are the leading reasons for relinquishing paid leave time.
Skiing may be your perfect vacation.

The practice of taking time off is something that must be learned in American culture. Since it’s not in our country’s culture, it is certainly a shift for employers and employees. Leaders almost have to tell people how to unplug, and then employees have to take responsibility for doing so.

Or try a spa experience for pure indulgence!

Today’s post is by Stephanie Diamond, a veteran international human resources expert and currently VP of Human Capital Management for Global Rescue, the leading provider of medical, security, evacuation and travel risk management services.

Photos from free sources

Monday, December 5, 2022

An ancient monument to democracy

The Parthenon
It’s hard to imagine a city more important to the history of Western civilization than Athens, Greece. Because history has been recorded there since 11 B.C., we know that in addition to being the historical capital of Europe, Athens is recognized as the birthplace of democracy, arts, science, and philosophy. Plato, Socrates, Pericles, Euripides, and Sophocles all called Athens home during their lifetimes. It is referred to as an educational center focused on the Trilogy of Knowledge—Academy, University, and Library.

With such a long and interesting history, visitors like Larry and me find Athens fascinating. Constructed between seven hills, the city of Parthenon has a promenade around the Acropolis for folks to walk or bike on. (Actually, the term acropolis refers to any large hill, and many cities in Greece have their own Acropolis).

Olympic stadium in Athens

We decided to check out one of the most famous sites of Athens, the Parthenon and the Acropolis on which it is built (The last time we were there it was so windy we couldn’t enjoy the views). After stopping briefly at Panathenaic Stadium where the first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896—and held there again in 2004--we saw the Temple of Zeus, a building that was completed by Emperor Hadrian in the second century A.D. 

The Parthenon is often regarded as a monument to democracy, as well as a tribute to the Athenians' victory in the Greco-Persian Wars.

Entering the temple through sacred gates

After walking up approximately 100 slick marble and stone steps to ascend the Acropolis, we entered through sacred gates guarding what began as a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena Parthenon (Athena the Virgin). Built more than 2,500 years ago, the Parthenon has become one of the world’s most significant cultural monuments. It is an enduring symbol of Ancient Greece and the most recognized icon of the country today.

Olive tree beside the temple of Athena

Constructed during the High Classical period, it is considered to be the culmination of the Doric order, the simplest of the three Classical Greek architectural orders (others are Ionic and Corinthian). The white marble temple has suffered damage over the centuries, but its basic structure remains intact. Eight columns support the main buildings. An explosion in 1687 during the Ottoman occupation resulted in irreparable damage until restoration efforts began in the late 19th century.

Reconstruction continues

Reconstruction is an ongoing process, but even scaffolding and cranes can’t diminish the wonder of this magnificent structure. We learned that the massive columns that appear to be standing straight, really aren’t. Even in those early centuries engineers knew slanting the columns slightly inward and curving the steps slightly would give the illusion of straight lines.

Carved maidens 

We wandered among the ruins, being careful not to trip on rocks and rubble that indicate the work of rebuilding.  We stopped for photos at the Erechitheion Temple and admired the six lovely maidens delicately carved into columns supporting the Porch of the Caryatids. We marveled at the enormous size of the Temple of Athena (who is now a symbol of Nike) and the ancient olive tree that grows nearby. 

Overlooking the city

Looking down, two ancient theaters come into view, and we gaze over the thriving city below. Then it’s time to carefully descend those same marble and stone steps as we leave this majestic and historic place.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Monday, November 28, 2022

Best scenic drive at the Grand Canyon's south rim

One of the highlights of a visit to the Grand Canyon is following the Desert View Drive, which runs along the canyon rim for 23 miles. This is the only scenic drive open to private cars on the South Rim. With one breathtaking overlook and pull-out after another, this portion of SR 64 offers some of the most stunning panoramas of the canyon.

The majestic Grand Canyon!

Print out a guide which provides mile markers for each noteworthy stop. There is parking at every viewpoint; just be sure to allow plenty of time (at least two hours) to appreciate the marvelous scenery. 

Here is a visual tour of our journey:

Pipe Creek Vista at mile marker 242.5 is the first pullout from the Grand Canyon Visitor Center.

Colorful rock formations at Pipe Creek Vista

Duck on a Rock at mile marker 246 is the next canyon viewpoint after Pipe Creek. Visitors have imagined formations like castles and temples in the rocks. Do you see a duck?
People see different things in the Grand Canyon formations.

Grandview Point, a popular viewpoint at mile marker 251, offers panoramic views of Grand Canyon from east to west, including several bends of the Colorado River to the east.

The Colorado River sneaks into view.

Incredibly beautiful formations take shape at Grandview Point.

Moran Point, at mile marker 258, highlights three main rock groups of the Grand Canyon—Layered Paleozoic sedimentary rocks, Grand Canyon Supergroup, and Basement Rocks (oldest at the canyon).

A variety of rock groups make up the Grand Canyon.

Lipan Point, at mile marker 263.5, offers views of Hance whitewater rapid; Unkar Delta, home of ancestral Puebloan people; and the Supergroup, a unique rock strata that is visible from only a few places on the South Rim.

There are many whitewater rapids on the Colorado River.

Desert View,
mile marker 264.5. From the Point you have excellent views of the Colorado River as it makes a big bend to the west.

The Colorado River winds among the walls of the Grand Canyon.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Tips to avoid stress on winter flights

In previous years, giving advice for winter travel usually meant suggesting ways to avoid germs and staying well. While that’s still important, this year advice tends more toward alleviating stress if you have to cancel or rebook a flight for any reason.

Weather, which is unpredictable when flights have been booked weeks or months in advance, is a huge culprit for causing flight delays or cancellations. That can be especially troublesome if a flight has multiple stops, which means more opportunities for something to go wrong. Combine that with fewer flights routed through many airports, and you can be faced with a huge hassle to get to your destination—or to get home after your visit.

I actually booked and later cancelled a flight with multiple stops and ungodly travel times to Michigan in early December because I didn’t want to take a chance, and that was even before the holiday travel season officially began. Airlines are still not fully staffed and may not have adequate resources to service increased travel demands.

If you are scheduled to fly during winter months (and especially around the holidays) here are some tips that might help if your flight is delayed, cancelled, or rerouted.

--If your flight isn’t booked yet, use a credit card that provides travel insurance. Check your card to be sure of coverage, including for flights affected by severe weather. Additional costs incurred during a delay, such as meals or accommodations, may also be covered. If your credit card does not provide travel insurance, major airlines generally offer insurance coverage at the time of booking. Either that or purchasing separate travel insurance could be a good investment for getting a refund if a storm interrupts your trip.

--Book a direct flight, if possible. If not, are there stops at destinations less likely to be affected by bad weather? Of course, that’s not always possible to predict, but it’s still good to think about when scheduling.

--For help rebooking during travel, tools like Google Flights allow you to compare routes across multiple airlines. If replicating your chosen route won’t work, you might have to broaden your search and look at nearby airports to find alternate flights. Also consider booking a one-way flight rather than round trip. You can book the return after arriving at your destination.

--Because most airlines have a social media platform, you might get help from a customer service representative by posting about your dilemma on social media. But this tip is still iffy, especially if airline employees are overwhelmed with requests, so I’d use it as a last resort.

Now for some good tips whenever you travel—but more important during the winter season:

--Check in online, and set up flight alerts. An early status report that alerts you to a delayed or cancelled flight before you arrive at the airport could allow you to start making changes more quickly.

--Be prepared to stay longer. Pack medications and other necessities to last at least several days longer than your planned stay. You might even check out accommodations near the airport in case there’s a last-minute change to your plans.

--Take only carryon luggage. Traveling light gives you more flexibility to hop on another flight without worrying where you checked luggage might be or when it might arrive at your destination.

Be prepared so you can avoid inconveniences and the hectic scramble and stress that drives passengers crazy if the worst does happen. And it often does.

 Photos from free sources. 



Monday, November 14, 2022

Travelers are staying longer and spending more

 According to several global tour companies that service thousands of travelers, TrafalgarBrendan Vacations and Insight Vacations, travelers are spending more and traveling more compared to pre-pandemic times.

Beautiful Ireland

The tour companies report a surge in spending (no, it’s not from inflation ) which is up over 20 percent compared to 2019. Travelers are also staying longer, with more than a 35 percent increase in people traveling for three weeks or longer.  This reflects a desire to embrace the trend of slow travel. The pent up demand is translating to travelers seizing the opportunity to splurge on trips they’ve been dreaming about and using those PTO days and retirement funds to stay longer and delve into the core of a destination and its culture.

Countryside of Ireland--40 shades of green

Travelers are increasingly shifting their interests towards longer trips where they can leisurely explore a destination at their own pace. There’s a clear demand for more in-depth and cultural travel experiences that give travelers the opportunity to take time to learn, explore and feel at ease outside of their everyday lives. This insight encourages us to keep offering our guests the travel opportunities that they crave.” says Melissa DaSilva, President of Trafalgar, Brendan Vacations and Insight Vacations, North America.

Lake Orta in northern Italy

Trafalgar, a global guided vacation company, reports that travelers are eager to get back to Italy, splurging on longer trips to more deeply immerse themselves in the destination. Trafalgar’s Best of Italy, a 13-day adventure is currently the most booked trip for this year and next. On this trip, guests travel almost the entire length of the country—as far north as Lake Como and as far south as Sorrento.
Bellagio on Lake Como

Travelers continue to spend more to get the most out of their time across the pond. For Celtic tour company, Brendan Vacations, the 15-day classic Best of Ireland and Scotland is the most popular trip. Guests can explore the highlights of both countries plus Northern Ireland in one trip hitting all the iconic cities including Dublin, Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow and more. Brendan Vacations also makes it possible to travel with a private chauffeur or via locally
hosted rail in addition to their guided trips.

Unmistakably Scottish

Insight Vacations’ Best of Spain & Portugal is up 600% from 2019, as travelers flock to the cultural wine regions. The 15-day trip around the Iberian Peninsula brings travelers on an all-encompassing tour of Spain and Portugal with a visit to an art museum with art historians in Madrid, a dance lesson at a school that teaches and conserves flamenco dancing in Seville, wine tasting in Porto, and more.

Charming Lisbon, Portugal

Trafalgar, Brendan Vacations and Insight Vacations primarily service the 55+ demographic as well as solo travelers and multi-generational family travelers.

 I have no connection to any of the companies mentioned. Photos are from Burmeier's travels.

Information courtesy of Melannie Arolick, melannie@deckerroyal.com

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

44 nights of holiday magic in Marble Falls, Texas

Community partners in Marble Falls have announced the lineup for 44 nights of events, which will take place from November 18 to December 31, 2022 in celebration of the Christmas season.

Perched on the banks of the Colorado River, Marble Falls, Texas is a gateway to the Highland Lakes region of the Texas Hill Country. Marble Falls is a premier Hill Country destination, offering gorgeous scenery, appealing attractions and surprising amenities to keep travelers returning again and again, while also remaining uniquely situated as a hub to the surrounding region’s natural beauty and connection to neighboring towns.

The City of Marble Falls, along with Visit Marble Falls, will kick off Christmas celebrations with the annual Downtown Christmas Tree Lighting on November 11 at 6 p.m. The Walkway of Lights, celebrating its 32nd year, will feature more than two million lights. Along with the family favorite Winter Ice Skating Rink, these attractions will be open to the public from Nov. 18 through Dec. 31st from 6 p.m. - 10 p.m. This year, the annual Christmas Parade will be held on Friday, December 2 at 6 p.m. Additional holiday activities this year include Breakfast with Santa, Christmas Market on Main, Downtown Sip N’ Shops, Music on Main, and more. 

“We are so excited for the upcoming season full of holiday magic,” said Mike Hodge, City Manager of Marble Falls. “This annual celebration represents the ongoing joint effort between the City’s community, Chamber of Commerce, local businesses, nonprofits, and volunteers who continue to make Marble Falls a wonderful place to enjoy the holiday season.”

Presented by the Marble Falls Chamber of Commerce, the Walkway of Lights will be open nightly from Nov. 18 to Dec. 31. The walkway gates open at 6 p.m. and while there is no cost to attend, visitors are encouraged to give monetary donations to help support the event and local nonprofits. The paved path is dog-friendly and ADA compliant as well as offering ease to those with strollers. On Dec. 3 and Dec. 21, the Walkway of Lights and Winter Ice Skating Rink will open at 5 p.m. for accessibility hour, which is reserved for members of the disabled community and their families. 

Complimentary street parking will be available in downtown Marble Falls, and a trolley will run from Main & 5th Street to the Walkway of Lights. The Winter Ice Skating Rink will be located at Harmony Park in downtown Marble Falls, a new location this year. Ice skating is $10 in advance and $12 for an hour on the rink, with skate rentals included in the price of admission. Tickets can be purchased in advance at VisitMarbleFalls.org/Christmas. Private parties are also available.

With so many activities on the schedule, visitors should consider a weekend trip this holiday season. After the official lighting of the downtown Christmas tree on Nov. 11th has taken place., stick around for a post-sunset screening of The Grinch on the lawn at Harmony Park. Music on Main with The Jesse Stratton Band will entertain guests in Old Oak Square from 6-9 p.m. on November 17.

Christmas Market on Main, a yearly favorite tradition, will be held on Saturday, Dec. 3rd from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Shop more than 50 local vendors to grab the perfect holiday gifts and stroll downtown where boutiques, breweries, and sugary treats are all within walking distance.

To extend the holiday fun, reserve a room at the McKenzie Guest House or the La Quinta Inn & Suites for an overnight stay.  Learn more about Christmas in Marble Falls at VisitMarbleFalls.org/Christmas. Full event listings of all 44 nights of Christmas events with details and dates can be found here.

Information courtesy of Lauren Fritz, publicist of LookThinkMake publicity. www.lookthinkmake.com

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier