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