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


Thursday, April 21, 2022

The incredible Rock Church of Helsinki

I’ve seen beautiful churches that were built into rock, but nothing so far compares to the Temppeliaukion Church in Helsinki, Finland. Built in 1969, the church has become a symbol for Finland and is one of its most important tourist sites. Because it was blasted out of solid rock, it is also called Church of the Rock or simply Rock Church.

Entrance to Church of the Rock in Helsinki, Finland

Architect brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen came up with the winning design that used the natural resources of the location. At first they feared that using rocks for walls might be too radical—a thought shared by some of the Lutherans who would be using the church for worship services. But when they learned that rocks provided natural acoustics, they decided to embed the church directly into these natural materials rather clear the rocks away.

First reactions to the design were negative. But when the church was finished and finally opened in 1969, that all changed. It was an immediate hit. Services were often full to capacity, and visitors began to flock to the picturesque church.

Massive windows and rock walls surround the pews.

The unusual design includes an interior wooden, copper-lined circular dome with a skylight. Natural light streams from above as well as from ample windows. If you visit in the morning, you’ll see light flooding in from the skylight and shining on the altar (a piece derived from an ice-age crevice) directly below.

A copper-lined dome shields the interior of the Rock Church.

A massive organ fills the church with music during open hours. Visitors can sit in the pews and reflect on the beauty of this unusual place while listening to the music provided by an organist or a talented piano player.

Plan to spend time listening to organ music in the Rock Church.

The natural acoustics and artistic significance make it popular as a concert venue and a wedding venue. Architecture enthusiasts come from all over the world to see the church. Nearly a million people visit the church annually, which attests to curiosity about and appreciation of its unique construction and beauty.

The special altar of the Rock Church

Today, Temppeliaukion is a working church as well as a tourist attraction. If you plan to visit be sure to check opening hours on the website as it will be closed during weddings, christenings, funerals, and the Sunday service. Guided tours are also available.

What a privilege it was to observe and be surrounded by the massive natural rocks that form the basis for this structure. The famous Rock Church is a must-see when visiting Helsinki.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier



Thursday, April 14, 2022

Celebrate National Park Week

National Park Week starts on Saturday, April 16. Sites that charge an entrance fee will allow everyone to visit for free that day. It’s the perfect time to celebrate America’s Greatest Idea.

Grand Canyon National Park is one of our favorites.

To help you make plans I’m including photos from a few of our favorite national parks. Being there, of course, is the best way to explore, discover, and enjoy the treasures in our National Park System.

Yellowstone National Park

While we hear about popular parks such as Great Smokey Mountains, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Glacier, there are more than 400 parks in the National Park System. So this is a great opportunity to visit a new place or revisit an old favorite. While you are there consider purchasing one of the entrance passes available through the U. S. National Park Service.

·         If you have elementary aged children, apply for the 4th Grade Pass. This is a free pass valid for the duration of the 4th grader’s school year (September to August) and includes home-schooled children. Obtain a paper pass by visiting the Every Kid Outdoors website . Exchange that for the Annual 4th Grade Pass at federal recreation sites that charge entrance or standard amenity fees (day use fee). Find a location to pick up this pass at a federal recreation site

Olympic National Park in Oregon has 3 ecosystems.

 The Senior Pass is definitely a bargain. Cost is $80 for a Lifetime Pass or $20 for an Annual Pass. It’s available to U.S. citizens age 62 or over and will include other passengers in the same vehicle.

A Military Pass is free for current U.S. military members and their dependents in any of the Armed Forces, as well as Reserve and National Guard members. Military veterans and Gold Star Family members are also eligible for this pass.

A haze on the mountains
gives Great Smokey Mountain National Park its name. 

And there are more places to see than just the well-known parks. Any of these passes will allow you to visit more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. Each pass covers entrance fees at all  national parks, wildlife refuges, forests and grasslands, and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. Search a list of all federal recreation sites and parks where the passes are issued.

Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah is spectacular.

If you can’t get to one of these areas during the week of April 16-24, consider planning a national park visit on a summer trip. You’ll not only see gorgeous scenery but will have an opportunity to discover stories of history and culture. If you’re inclined, these places welcome volunteers in many capacities as well as donations.

Half Dome at night, Yosemite National Park

Larry and I have visited more than 55 national parks and dozens of other National Park Service sites. We hope to add many more and to revisit some of our favorites. What is your favorite national park?

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Friday, April 8, 2022

Charming tales from Lithuania

A few years ago Larry and I took a cruise that stopped at ports considered Baltic states. The largest, Lithuania, lies on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea. It is surrounded by Latvia to the north, Belarus to the east, and Poland to the southwest.

Klaipeda, the capital of Lithuania, is a modern city.

Because of their strategic position on the sea and close proximity to Russia, the three Baltic countries--Latvia, Lithuania, andEstonia--are closely watching current events unfold.  Yes, our cruise was years before Russia decided to bully its way into neighboring Ukraine. Daily news updates brought back memories of our visit, so I’d like to tell you a little about what we experienced in Lithuania.

In the 14th to 16th centuries Lithuania was a powerful empire that dominated much of eastern Europe. Today it has an advanced economy and is quite prosperous. It is not part of Russia. However, in the 1940s it was occupied by the Soviet Union, a situation that was contrary to international law and not recognized by most democratic countries. Lithuania became independent in 1990 and is an active member of the European Union and NATO.

Forests are abundant.

Lithuania is famous for its landscapes, flatlands, abundant forests, and lakes. Amber is found there, along with charming seaside towns with sandy beaches. We took a forest tour showcasing the capital city of  Klaipeda’s world of fairy tales and legends and were charmed by the country’s with a magical history.

After crossing the Curonian lagoon to the CuronianSpit, we visited Witches Hill, a park that features 80 sculptures carved from oaks along the edge of a path. Seventy percent of the Curonian Spit is forest with lots of wildlife and beautiful old-growth trees and paths leading in various directions.

Our guide entertained us with tales about the giant Neringa, Egle the queen of grass snakes, a dragon slain by the prince, thunder, and witches performing their devilry. Sculptures representing these stories are a favorite attraction that we came to see in the park.

A n ongoing card game among characters.

After walking through the forest, we visited a gallery that made and sold weather vanes. During the 19th century these became artistic symbols used as a marking system by fishing boats to show that they were fishing in legal waters.
Larry stands beneath an elaborately carved arch.

 Amber is found at the bottom of the Baltic Sea and has been mined on the Spit since the late 19th century. It's beauty shines like sparkling gold. As a reminder of our visit I purchased several pieces of amber jewelry at a local store. And who could resist a hand-knitted cotton sweater made by a vendor at a local fair (not me)?

All types of jewelry make use of amber from Lituania.

At the water's edge, I tramped over dunes and through honey-colored sand on the beach. So, of course, I rolled up my pants legs and waded into the cool waters of the Baltic Sea--another fond memory of our visit to this proud country that was once the largest state in the entire continent of Europe. 

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Friday, April 1, 2022

Hiking in the Dolomite Mountains of Italy

First, I must say that the Dolomites are among the most beautiful mountains in the world, and any visit near the border with Austria must include several days exploring this remarkable region. If you are reasonably fit, I highly recommend going into the mountain range and hiking; there are numerous trails suitable for a variety of skill levels. You gain an appreciation for the towering peaks that can only be achieved when standing in their midst.


We walked around gleaming Lake Braies.

Our first hike after arriving in Corvara, a village in the Alta Badia region, was at Lake Braies. Known as the “Pearl of the Dolomites,” Lake Braies is one of the deepest lakes in the Bolzan province. It is located in the Fanes-Senes-Braise Nature Park, a heavily visited area for both tourists and locals.
Lovely view as we walked around the lake

A 2.25-mile hiking trail circumvents the popular lake. Although the day we were there was somewhat overcast, we were still able to see mountain reflections (primarily of the Croda del Becco which stands at more than 9,000 feet)  in the emerald green lake. Along the way we observed an ancient church, colorful blooming flowers, and multiple limestone formations.

A strange sight to see!

We were pleasantly surprised to see cows roaming freely in the area, especially as they came down to the lake to drink or rested beside the lake, apparently unfazed by groups of humans wandering around.


Diving up the mountain to the starting point of the hike

The next day we headed out of the Tyrol region for a trek around Cinque Torri. Even though the weather was foggy and windy, we were excited to head higher up the mountains. To get to the trailhead at Rigufio degli Scoiattoli we took a chair lift above 7,000 feet. From there we hiked for 4.5 miles while circling the peaks that make up Cinque Torri.
Larry, Beverly, and Deb

This hike is named for massive rock formations composed of a combination of boulders, towers, and peaks. Located in the Nuvolau mountain group within the northern Dolomite region, the five towers are named (from largest to smallest) Torri Grande, Torri Seconda, Torri Terza, Torri Quarta, and Torri Quinta

Outstanding scenery along the trail

When the fog lifted, the scenery was magnificent. Paths wound through meadows bathed in dark and light shades of green sprinkled with a beautiful assortment of pink and white flowers. Some trails require challenging treks over rocks and boulders, but there are also meadow paths that follow a more level route for those who aren’t so nimble.
A beautiful day for a mountain hike!

During World War I Austro-Hungarian soldiers fought fierce battles among these steep mountain walls. Rugged landscapes and terrible winter weather were a huge hindrance, and more people died from the harsh conditions than died from battles.

Passo Falzarego--does it get any more magnificent than this?

The trail ended at Passo Falzarego, an enormous rock formation that sprawled over a hill making a breathtakingly perfect picture spot. So my friend Deb and I climbed to a small ledge so our guide could snap the photo. It was a fitting way to celebrate this amazing adventure in the Dolomites.

Beverly and Deb pose on the rocks

I’ll cover our hike to Tre Cime di Lavarado in an upcoming post!

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier