Tag Archives: travel

Story Published! Miami’s Wynwood Walls

Murals at the Wynwood Walls across from a restaurant.  Photo by Richard Varr

Murals at the Wynwood Walls across from a restaurant. Photo by Richard Varr

Mural at the Wynwood Walls.  Photo by Richard Varr

Mural at the Wynwood Walls. Photo by Richard Varr

My story on Miami’s unique outdoor art museum of sorts, the Wynwood Walls, has been published in the latest issue of Porthole Cruise Magazine, on newsstands now.  The Walls features murals on old warehouse facades — murals where the fine line between art and graffiti seems to fade.


Mural by Greek painter Stelios Faitakis at the Wynwood Walls, Miami. Photo by Richard Varr

Mural by Greek painter Stelios Faitakis at the Wynwood Walls, Miami.
Photo by Richard Varr

Washington D.C. From Above: The Old Post Office Pavilion

View of the Capitol. Photo by Richard Varr

View of the Capitol. Photo by Richard Varr

Here’s a tip on where to see great views of Washington D.C. from above. I visited the nation’s capital and by accident with friends stumbled upon the historic Old Post Office Pavilion building and tower.  The 315-foot tower is the third highest structure in the city, with the observation deck at 270 feet. This was a particularly great find, especially with the Washington Monument still closed (as of this post) because of damage from the 2011 earthquake.

Also known as the Old Post Office and Clock Tower, the building at 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue NW was completed in 1899 and used as the city’s main post office until 1914. A block or so north of the National Mall, it now houses a food court and has been used for office and retail space.

View of the Washington Monument. Photo by Richard Varr

View of the Washington Monument. Photo by Richard Varr

When I visited, National Park Service rangers were on hand to guide visitors to take an elevator up to the top of the building (ninth floor), and then either take another elevator or climb about 130 or so steps to the observation deck. I made the climb, which really wasn’t that strenuous. The tower offers 360 degree panoramic views of Washington. A park ranger I spoke with was very gracious and a wealth of information about the building and Washington.

The tour is free and the lines weren’t long when I visited.

Plano Balloon Festival 2011: ‘Like the Earth is Revolving Underneath You’

By Richard Varr

“All burn” at the 2011 Plano Balloon Festival. Photo by Richard Varr

They stand like giant and colorful light bulbs – glowing, flickering and illuminating the night sky.  It’s Saturday night at the 2011 Plano Balloon Festival where I’m watching an “all burn,” where balloonists fire their propane burners in unison – a syncopated burst of flames shooting up in more than a dozen now glowing balloons.  The gently swaying aircraft sport bold patterns, sponsor names and cartoon-like faces – a colorful cacophony of creativity and aeronautical design.

Firing the burner. Photo by Richard Varr

Held every September, this year’s Plano Balloon Festival was the 32nd annual event.  It’s Texas’ largest such festival with liftoffs during the early morning and evening, when free-floating balloons drift along a landscape of long shadows and orange sunrises and sunsets.

“You’re standing in a basket and it’s not like your flying,” says John Cavin, pilot of the Purple People Eater balloon.  “It’s like the Earth is revolving underneath you.  That’s the feeling you get when you’re up there.”

I attended the three-day event on Saturday, September 17th.  Wind gusts ruled the late afternoon and early evening, and for a while pilots where skeptical whether their balloons would ever take shape, as flight seemed out of the question.

Balloons taking shape at Oak Point Park. Photo by Richard Varr

But at dusk, Mother Nature took a breather perhaps as winds finally died down.  Suddenly, Oak Point Park’s throng of festival goers cheered as electric fans whirled and burners blasted flames into the balloons as they slowly came alive.

To get balloons airborne, they’re first laid flat on the ground.  Crews use fans to inflate them while sideways, and once suitably inflated, burners shoot bursts of heat to give the balloon lift.  Once the air is hot enough, the balloons tilt upwards and baskets are positioned for launch.

“All burn.” Photo by Richard Varr

Flights can be tricky and sometimes unpredictable, often at the mercy of wind gusts and weather conditions, with the pilot having the final say on whether the balloon will take off.  “My mind is one of safety – what can I do to make sure this flight ends up peacefully,” says pilot Phil Bryant with the Texas Council on Propane balloon.  “I always try to position myself, the balloon and the passengers in a way that the landing is really the most important part of the flight.  It’s the landing that really makes the difference.”

John Cavin (left) and Phil Bryant. Photo by Richard Varr

“There are no two landings alike,” adds Cavin.

Flights this year were $250 per passenger, and the festival had fireworks, marathons and other events to entertain those wanting to stay on solid ground.

“It’s a way of enjoying aviation that you can’t in any other type of aircraft,” says Bryant.  “We can float over bodies of water.  We can pick a leaf off the top of a tree.  You can’t do that in any other type of aircraft.”

VIDEO of “All Burn” with Countdown

For more information:



Seasons 52, Plano: Where Calories Count


How many progressive and popular restaurants actually pay close attention to calorie count for every item on the menu?  The Seasons 52 chain, with its Plano restaurant the only one in Texas, promises that nothing on its menu is more than 475 calories, with some items less than 200. “You can have four courses here and not break 1,000 calories,” says server Sirus Ornzoff.  And that can be a tall order for entrees that sound mouthwatering – Cedar Plank Roasted Salmon, Wood-Roasted Pork Tenderloin, or Caramelized Sea Scallops, to name a few.  The key is “perfect portioning with proper cooking methods” – no butter added and no frying, but instead grilling, brick-oven cooking, roasting and steaming.

Desert options, each less than 475 calories. Photo by Richard Varr

Seasons 52’s menu features more than 100 bottles of wine and 80 by the glass.  The name is inspired by efforts to pluck the ripest farmer’s market foods every week and season throughout the year.