Friday, March 31, 2023

A quick look at Tel Aviv and Jaffa, Israel

Israel and especially Jerusalem have long been an area that we wanted to visit. Our first trip there several years ago happened to coincide—unintentionally--with holy days for three religions all at once. Muslims, Jews, and Christians combine in spring pilgrimages during the overlaps of Ramadan, Passover, and Easter holidays, which attract about 1.5 million visitors annually.

View of Tel Aviv from the beach
Although we managed to see popular attractions on our schedule, it was very hectic, crowded, and a higher security risk because of the sheer numbers of people. Hoping for a more relaxed trip and the opportunity to expand our visit, we returned last fall. Traveling at an off-peak time for Israel allowed us to actually see and touch the Western Wall, get better looks at Dome of the Rock and Temple Mount, and tour cities we had missed the first visit.

Tel Aviv is modern city.

So we scheduled a tour to Tel Aviv and Jaffa from Haifa, third-largest city in Israel and the port where our cruise ship docked. The drive along the Mediterranean coast to Tel Aviv took about an hour and a half. Jews and Arabs generally live and work together peacefully there. Arab women especially like to live in Israel because of the rights they have there.

The city of Tel Aviv grew as a suburb of Jaffa; now they are parts of the same municipality. “Tel” means past and “Aviv” means future, which is an apt description of the city as it straddles many centuries. It is known for government buildings, modern architecture, museums, art, theater, and acceptance of all citizens. Half the population in Tel Aviv is Muslim.

German influence helped develop Israel.
From a visit to the German district of Tel Aviv, we learned that Germans were instrumental in the early development of Israel. They brought much of the agriculture and mechanics and built roads for easier transportation. Although no Germans live in those districts today, they are still honored for their contributions to the country.

When touring Old Jaffa, we learned that in the Bible story of Jonah and the whale, Jaffa is where Jonah
got on the ship at the start of his adventure. We crossed the Wishing Bridge, which is bordered by a line of Zodiac signs.  It is said that if you touch your sign, your wish will come true. So I did that.

I made a wish when touching the sign of Virgo on the 
Wishing Bridge in Jaffa.

We toured the square of Old Jaffa and had lunch near the 1903 clock tower that marks the northern entrance to Jaffa. Within this central area are many shops, galleries, mosques, churches, and restaurants from fast food to fine dining, an indication of how important tourism is to the region.

The cities of Tel Aviv and Jaffa are diverse yet inclusive, ancient yet modern—a good example of different cultures sharing history and moving into contemporary life successfully.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Africa for all kinds of travelers

Zebras are plentiful and fun to watch.
When I recall trips we have taken to Africa, my first thought is about the abundant wildlife that we have witnessed there. That is surely a prime reason many people travel to Africa. But this gigantic continent has a huge variety of natural beauty, and you can find activities whatever your traveling style.

Go2Aftica tour company (we have not used them) has broken down different adventurer categories with experiences that would appeal to each. Here is a summary of recommendations.

Safari jeeps include lots of windows.
Wildlife Enthusiast: If you fall into the largest category of visitors to Africa, choose a safari at any of Africa’s many habitats including jungles, forests, grasslands, and deserts to view a diverse selection of species. In addition to the Big 5 (elephant, lion, rhino, leopard, African buffalo), there are innumerable mammals, reptiles, and birds (many found only in Africa) to amaze you.

Magnificent elephants are a joy to behold.
Top wildlife experiences are witnessing the Great Migration in the Serengeti (Kenya and Tanzania in east Africa) or choosing from the explosion of safari camps in Botswana. Either way you’ll have an unforgettable adventure travelling by jeep daily over prime landscape for getting up close and personal with animals you’ve only seen in pictures.
Wildebeests scramble up the bank of the Mara River
during the Great Migration. It's impossible to describe this massive event.

II you prefer your adventure on foot, opt for a walking safari which provides a fully immersive experience with nature and wildlife. Follow animal tracks, search for gorillas, and view natural elements of the environment’s smaller details in plant life.

The pool at the top of Victoria Falls is a dangerous place to play.
Thrill seeker: Seeing the mighty Victoria Falls in Zambia crash over cliffs and feeling the spray (okay, getting drenched) as you walk along established paths is quite an experience. For those seeking a deep adrenaline rush, take a dip in the Devil’s pool at the upper edge of the Falls. It’s truly a risky endeavor, as you’ll be pushed to the edge of the cliff by the force of the Zambezi River, with only a rock lip to halt a 100-meter drop into the raging waters below.

White water rafting is an enormous thrill!
For thrills of a different kind, try white water rafting on the Zambezi River. This has been one of the the most exciting excursions we have ever taken. Be prepared for a semi-tough slog down to the river and back out afterwards. Also be prepared to be totally enclosed in water as your raft maneuvers through rapids up to class 5. 
Imagine bungee jumping from
that bridge.

If you’re really fearless, try bungee jumping from the bridge over the Zambezi River. Having witnessed this experience, I can attest to the mind-numbing, ear-curdling screams it seemed to inspire.

Climbing addict: If you enjoy the challenge of an uphill battle rewarded by breath-taking views at the top of your trek, Table Mountain awaits. 

We chose to ride cable cars to the top.

Overlooking the city of Cape Town, South Africa, this can be a three-hour journey even for experienced climbers. Be prepared for an intense workout along the way. For those who want the views without the physical effort of climbing, you can take a cable car to the top (or down) and enjoy dinner at the restaurant there.

A one-day climb not enough? Ready to tackle the highest mountain in Africa? Then Kilimanjaro is your challenge. As the tallest freestanding mountain in the world at 19, 340 feet, Kilimanjaro features a variety of ecosystems and microclimates. You’ll experience everything from tropical forests to subzero alpine environments—and the weather can change from pleasant to inclement at a moment’s notice. Sign up in for the adventure with an established company. A little advance training can help before you tackle this seven to 10 day magnificent feat.

Sky tripper: To get a bird’s eye view of the region, take to the sky in a Skeleton Coast flying adventure. From 14,000 feet in the air, you see the whole picture of diverse landscapes and terrains. Gain new perspective viewing the deserted beach, wind-rippled dunes, and decaying whaling ships. 

Don't miss the red-sand hills of Namibia.

Include the enormous (and beautiful) red-sand hills of Namibia in your above-ground adventure. Enjoy an easy-on-the-body other-worldly vision of a less popular but extraordinary destination in on the continent of Africa.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Chase winter chills at the island of St. Kitts

Regarded by many visitors as the jewel of the Caribbean, the volcanic island of St. Kitts offers some of the region’s most dramatic panoramas and scenic photo opportunities. Intriguing coves, excellent interior hiking paths, and palm-lined beaches are hallmarks of this classic Caribbean destination.

Offshore view of St. Kitts

The easiest way to view the island, which is only 65 square miles, is aboard the historic St. Kitts Scenic Railway. You’ll travel 30 miles around the island on a narrow-gauge railway along a route where sugar cane was once carried from plantations. At one time St. Kitts was the leading sugar producer in the Caribbean, and the railway remains a vital part of the island’s economy. The train returns to the capital city of Basseterre, the island’s main shopping spot, where batik and local artwork are especially popular buys. 

Smooth sand and warm water on beaches of St. Kitts

For beaches and water sports, head south to Frigate Bay, where most of the hotels are located. The island’s best white-sand coves are just beyond at the Southeast Peninsula. Green vervet monkeys scamper freely here, often looking for a hand-out. Bird watching, scuba diving, and golf are popular activities. Year-round temperature averages a balmy 79 degrees, making these mountainous islands a great place for a winter or early spring vacation.

Mt.Liamuiga, a dormant volcano, is the highest point on St. Kitts at 3792 feet. Hiking to the summit is challenging, but once there you can descend into the crater on ropes for a truly unique experience. Black Rocks on St. Kitts’ northern shores were once molten lava deposits spit out by Mt. Liamuiga Walking along the rocks and boulders is like stumbling over an obstacle course, but the striking geological formations of black cliffs and boulders is one of St. Kitts’ most notable features.

On a catamaran excursion to snorkel

The complementary islands of St. Kitts and Nevis, a small, lush tropical paradise, became an independent state in 1983. You can completely circle the isle of Nevis in 20 minutes. Calm and quiet prevail here; crowds are usually nonexistent, even on Pinney’s Beach and Qualie Beach. The Botanical Garden of Nevis provides a shady retreat with one of the largest collections of palms and rare plants.

Fish gather by the wrecked boat

While visiting St. Kitts, we took a sail and snorkel excursion operated by Blue Water Safaris. We sailed on a catamaran down the island’s southwest coast to Shitten Bay, where mountains provided a welcome windbreak. Although the weather was partly cloudy and winds quite strong, water temperature remained a comfortable 82 degrees—except for people sitting on the trampoline section of the catamaran who got soaked as water splashed over the boat during our 45 minute ride.
Exiting the water from snorkeling

At the snorkel site the water was much calmer.  A wrecked boat by the shore provided a boundary and haven for fish.  With water 22 feet deep where the boat anchored, it was easy to stay away from large rocks under the surface and mustard-colored fire coral that stings if touched. In addition to numerous coral specimens, several varieties of large and small fish were sighted swimming beneath our masked faces.  Yellow and black striped fish and  iridescent blue fish swam provided color underwater. We also saw a small octopus stretching its tentacles on a rock, adding interest and surprise to our adventure at St. Kitts.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier



Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Try these alternative vacations by sea

Travelers are considering alternative destinations for some of the most popular vacation spots in 2023. Lesser known destinations can offer similar adventures but without the often overwhelming numbers of visitors.  

These sailing adventures from Dream Yacht Worldwide, a leading ocean tourism company that aims to make sailing and sea travel accessible all around the globe, may be just what you’ve been longing for.

Instead of the Maldives, visit Seychelles

Seychelles are a tropical paradise.

Dream Yacht Worldwide began its first yacht charters in the Seychelles. And for good reason, as it’s one of the most beautiful places on the planet, comprising 41 of the earth’s oldest granite islands and 74 low-lying reef islands which embody the phrase ‘tropical paradise.’ On a Seychelles yacht charter, travelers can snorkel among the treelike corals on Coco Island or at stunning St. Pierre islet where rugged granite rocks merge with lush tropical vegetation.

Beach on a Seychelles island

A must-do highlight on any yacht trip in the Seychelles is a visit to the scented vanilla plantations at Union Estate on La Digue, one of the most beautiful islands in the region. For nature lovers there’s bird watching at Aride Island and the rare Aldabra tortoises at Curieuse, a protected island where you can observe these gentle giants. 

There are also the larger islands of Mahé and Praslin to explore. Here, you’ll find stunning landscapes, relaxed island hopping and plenty of opportunities to swim in the reefs.

Instead of the French Riviera, explore New Caledonia 

Sail to New Caledonia

Dream Yacht Worldwide was the first company to offer sailing charters in this exciting cruising ground, and now they have an extensive fleet operating from the base at Port Moselle in Nouméa, the capital of New Caledonia

New Caledonia is home to the world’s largest lagoon, a beautiful and unique natural aquarium covering over 9000 square miles, and one of the most remarkable and beautiful sailing destinations. The archipelago is also home to one of the world’s most extensive reef systems, with a diverse range of healthy coral and marine life, including whales, turtles and tropical fish. 

Lagoon on New Caledonia

Nouméa is a cosmopolitan city which feels much like the French Riviera. Colorful waterfronts are lined with bars, cafes, restaurants, and nightclubs, and it’s an ideal place to stock up on superb French gourmet food and wine. The city is within easy reach of the south lagoon, where you can sail Îlot Maître, Île des Pins, Île Ouen, Îlot Brosse and Ilot Kuaré. 

Instead of Sicily, check out Sardinia

Sardinia is a beautiful Mediterranean island.

The island of Sardinia
 is off Italy’s west coast in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Sardinia sailing adventures begin from Dream Yacht Worldwide's base in Olbia on the northeast coast. From there, it’s an easy sail to the Maddalena Archipelago and the glamorous Costa Smeralda – Sardinia’s most coveted sailing areas. 

Well known for miles of craggy coastline, the world-famous Emerald Coast and the Maddalena Archipelago National Park and Marine Reserve are great places to find superb beaches and scenic coves. Travelers can swim, snorkel and take in stunning sunsets in the solitude of these largely uninhabited islands.

Plentiful water activities are available at beaches
and coves of Sardinia.

Enjoy boutique shopping in the super-exclusive ports of Porto Cervo and Porto Rotondo, where travelers can mix with the international jet set. With a wide choice of dining options, from local trattoria to fine dining, it is recommended to sample the local cuisine, especially the fresh seafood found on the coast. 

Of course, there are a variety of companies that offer cruises to these destinations. Dream Yacht Worldwide goes a bit further with its charters. Travelers have the option of crew support including a variety of skipper and hostess positions that support sailors and non-sailors of all skill levels. Alternatively, travelers can book a cruise and enjoy a private stateroom on a modern catamaran.

Information was provided courtesy of Angela Tuell, Communications Redefined

 I have no connection to Dream Yacht Worldwide and do not received any remuneration for sharing this information. Photos from free sources


Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Early Christianity in Ireland

The day was windy and damp, but blankets and complimentary coffee and tea (served with huge scones and sweet jam) chased away the chill as our Viking boat cruised down the Shannon River in Northern Ireland. Sitting on outside benches watching pastoral scenes of cattle and cottages, we made our way from the town of Anthlone to Clonmacnoise, a monastic site one and a half hours away. 

Captain Mike, owner of Viking Tours Ireland helped us understand what cruising on a Viking ship 1200 years ago was like. He was proud of his Viking heritage and provided knowledgeable commentary about this often overlooked branch of the Irish family tree. 

Meadows of grass grow right on the river’s edge; there’s virtually no river bank, so the area is prone to flooding.  But on this summer day, cattle grazed contently, even wandering to patches of land that extended into the water. Because the region is on a migratory path, conservation groups are working to save endangered bird species that come through here in winter or springtime.

As we arrived at the monastic community of Clonmacnoise in the heart of Irish midland, the sun began to shine. Overlooking the River Shannon in County Offaly, Clonmacnoise was founded in 548 by St. Kieran, who brought Christianity to Ireland. Unfortunately, St. Kieran died of the yellow plague at age 33 only seven months after establishing his monastery here.

The settlement was a major center of religion, learning, trade, craftsmanship and politics for several centuries, thanks to its position at a major crossroads of River Shannon.  Although religion was the central focus at Clonmacnoise, the settlement always had a large lay population and thus looked more like a town than a monastery. At its peak, the monastery covered 10 acres.

Scribes labored into the 10th century, and the church prospered, as evidenced in an abundance of artistic and gold items by the 11th century. Like nearly all monastic settlements in Ireland, it was plundered on several occasions by Viking and Anglo-Norman invaders. In addition to these attacks, fires and Irish assaults on the land occurred numerous times between the eighth and twelfth centuries. Although the monastery was rebuilt each time it eventually lost influence.  By 1550 it was in ruins; everything of value had been carried off or destroyed.

From the 16th century onward, there was no actual monastery at Clonmacnoise, but it remains a powerful symbol of early Christianity. Visitors wander among extensive ruins including a cathedral, castle, round tower, numerous churches, two important high crosses, and a large collection of early Christian grave slabs.

Today people make pilgrimages to the tomb of St. Kieran (especially during St. Kieran’s feast day in September) and gather soil to spread on their farms.  Ecumenical ceremonies for Protestants and Catholics are held, and Pope John even preached here in 1979. Clonmacnoise was designated a national monument in 1877, and in 1955 the Church of Ireland transferred the site to the Office of Public Works.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier