Reykjavík has a Famous Phallic Fascination

We had been intrigued, no obsessed, with visiting the isolated island nation for nearly a decade, ever since our eldest sent photos and videos of her trip. In typical Gypsynester fashion went right for the weird stuff… CONTINUE READING >> 

While flying to and from California for a bicycle tour in France, Iceland made for a good place to break up the twelve hours of flight time. Since we were stopping anyway, a two night lay over in Reykjavik on the way back was a natural extension of the plan.

We had been intrigued, no obsessed, with visiting the isolated island nation for nearly a decade, ever since our eldest sent photos and videos of her trip. Luckily a couple of airlines offer deals for staying over anywhere from a day to a fortnight while crossing the Atlantic.

Not only was that perfect for us, it was also the cheapest way to get to Europe.

Even though the island is fairly small, we had a lot to pack into a couple of days, so we spent one of them touring the Golden Circle. This was a perfect overview of the country’s unique natural beauty, but didn’t include the city of Reykjavík at all.

For that exploration we were on our own, and in typical Gypsynester fashion went right for the weird stuff.

That meant beginning at The Icelandic Phallological Museum. Seriously, how could we possibly pass up seeing the world’s largest display of penises and penile parts?

We’re not sure what possessed Sigurður Hjartarson to start his collection, but he has managed to gather nearly 300 examples from almost every animal to ever grace the land or sea around Iceland.

These range from whale specimens he snagged at commercial whaling stations, to an assortment of farm animal phalluses, to tiny mice and hamsters members that can only be seen with a magnifying glass.

Once our childish embarrassed giggling subsided, a strange curiosity kicked in. We found ourselves staring at pickled penises of every imaginable size and shape with the detached concentration of a researcher instead of the goofy immaturity of a Junior High kid.

Looking around, that seemed to be a transformation almost everyone else also experienced after a few minutes.

But that doesn’t mean that the museum takes itself too seriously, at least we hope that the exhibits portraying the organs of elves and trolls were meant to be humorous. You see, according to Icelandic folklore these creatures are invisible, so we may never know if those were just empty jars.

Easily the most disturbing aspect of the gallery was an array of lampshades made from foreskins. These must have been some circumcisions because the light fixtures were not miniature. It’s not a stretch to say these had an unsettling effect.

We won’t be doing any redecorating from this inspiration.

An hour or so of this phallic bombardment was more than enough; it was time to explore the rest of town.

Reykjavík has the distinction of being the northern most capital city in the world, and it is also one of the smallest, making it easy to walk the entire downtown even if it was only forty-five degrees in July.

We took in the handful of famous sites as we walked along Laugavegur, the main street , then checked out the City Hall and especially the massive Lutheran church Hallgrímskirkja, which dominates the skyline, but all the while we had something else in mind.

As we said, our eldest spent some time here and she told a tale of something called kæstur hákarl, which means putrefied shark. It was hard for us to believe that anyone would intentionally consume man-eating beast that had been buried on the beach for several months, but she insisted it was true.

We had to find out for ourselves. A chalk board at the Icelandic Craft Bar announced our fate: “Shark Tale Shot 1000-”

Sure 1000 Icelandic Kronas seemed a bit steep for a small hunk of foul fish, about ten dollars, but it came with a shot of exceedingly strong Brennivin (translates to burnt wine) to wash it down, and more importantly, the story.

The meat of a Greenland shark is poisonous due to its very high concentration of ammonia, but somehow some hungry Icelander discovered that if the fish is buried and allowed to ferment the poison dissipates.

This falls into the long line of things we have encountered that make us wonder why anyone ever thought “We should figure out some very elaborate and involved method of making this inedible stuff edible.”

It makes no sense. All in all we’d rather eat some grass, or seaweed, or dirt.

After about three months some brave soul digs it up, scrapes off all of the black rot, and declares the shark edible. As near as we could tell, no one actually likes it. It’s just one of those things that people keep eating over time… like lutefisk, or fruitcake, or Vegemite.

Our bartender, Dan, gave us the lowdown:

Chef Anthony Bourdain once described kæstur hákarl as “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” he had ever eaten.

We can’t agree, as the silkworms we had in China were much worse.

We can however agree with Chef Ainsley Harriott, who described eating fermented shark as “like chewing a urine-infested mattress.”

Guess that says a lot about just how bad silkworms are.

David & Veronica,

Shear Madness: Fall Festivals of the Catskills

When autumn arrives in the Catskills, there’s a good bet a party is happening nearby. 

The explosion of color on the mountainsides brings in folks from far and wide, so putting on a festival is a natural thing to do.
Visit the site of the 1969 Woodstock Festival, a Sheep and Wool Festival and, because it’s October, or shall we say Oktober… CONTINUE READING >>

When autumn arrives in the Catskills, there’s a good bet a party is happening nearby. The explosion of color on the mountainsides brings in folks from far and wide, so putting on a festival is a natural thing to do.

Craft Beer at Bethel Woods — at the Site of the Woodstock Concert

Fall festivals in Up State New York!

Bethel Woods Center for the Arts at the site of the Woodstock concert

We began at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, which is where the 1969 Woodstock festival took place.

But wait, we were a good fifty miles from Woodstock, what gives?

Well, unlike its name implies, the world’s most famous Rock concert took place on Max Yasgur’s old dairy farm in Bethel, New York.

The Craft Beer festival at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts at the Woodstock concert site

Back in 1996, Alan Gerry bought the farm and set out to create a not-for-profit performing arts center and museum.

Over the next ten years things took shape, and now the historic site has a fantastic museum commemorating all things Woodstock.

Even though we had come for a different festival — the Bethel Woods Craft Beer Festival — the museum and the field where music history was made were the main attractions for us.

The magic bus at the Woodstock Museum at Bethel Woods Center of the Arts!

See more about the fabulous Woodstock museum!

It is Oktober…

Being October, we could hardly forage for fall fests and not take in a classic of the German variety, so our next stop was the Hunter Mountain Oktoberfest.

Hunter is a ski resort, so for a fantastic view of the fall foliage we started the day with a ride to the top of the mountain on the Kaatskill Flyer chairlift. Veronica certainly had a better time getting on and off without any snow involved than in her previous winter-time attempts.

German dancers at the Hunter Mountain Octoberfest in New York

Back at the bottom the games were beginning, and we couldn’t pass up the chance to jump in.

Mostly our hopes were to avoid complete embarrassment, but in the heat of the competitions a sneaky little voice piped up saying, “Maybe you could win.”

Yeah right, the first challenge involved rolling —

Beer keg rolling at Hunter Mountain Oktoberfest in New York!

and throwing — a beer keg through an obstacle course. Maybe if they divided the field up by age.

We took pride in not finishing last.

WATCH: Sheep, beer, and, okay, more beer in Upstate New York!

Veronica tries her hand at the Krug Carrying Race at Hunter Mountain Oktoberfest!

Next up, the Krug Carrying Race. This time contestants carry ten full beer krugs (the real German name for a beer stein) around a slightly modified course.

The winner completes the course in the fastest time, while spilling the least beer.

Veronica felt she had an advantage based on her waitressing days, and she did finish near the top, but victory eluded us and we knew there was no way we were pulling out an upset in the final game, Masskrugstemmen, which means beer-stein holding.

Sounds easy, but it’s not! Go ahead, give it a try.

Holding a full, one-liter stein directly in front of you, without bending your arm, can make five minutes seem like an eternity.

As the minutes ticked off, we decided to exit happy in the knowledge that we weren’t the first ones out.

So we escaped with our egos intact, and went off to find some leberkäse, sauerkraut, and kartoffelpuffer, better known as potato pancakes, to restore our strength.

Food at the Hunter Mountain Oktoberfest in New York

It’s a Bash, Bash, Baaaaa-sh!

As great as our first two stops had been, there seemed something lacking from our festivities so far… animals! The New York State Sheep & Wool Festival in Rhinebeck would fix that. For over forty years the Dutchess County Sheep & Wool Growers’ Association has thrown this baaaa-sh every October.

Vibrant colored yarn at the Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, New York

A huge part of the show is dedicated to knitting, and something we’d never heard of before, felting.

Enough yarn to easily circle the globe was on sale in the exhibition halls, as well as every imaginable product made from that yarn. But we came to catch some critters, so we made our way to the canine frisbee demonstrations.

Although some herding dogs were represented, many breeds, including a tiny chihuahua, participated in the fun and games.

It never gets old watching man’s best friend sprint, leap, dive, and drool in their relentless pursuit of a flying plastic disk.

But, as furry as some of these guys were, not a one of them could produce any wool, so we headed over to the barn marked

Camalids & Exotic Goats

to see where really nice sweaters come from.

Veronica and her llama friend at the Sheep and Wool Festival, New York!

We were just in time; the animals were lining up for the big Exotic Breeds Parade and, before the procession proceeded, Veronica got to walk a llama around the grounds.

Then the column of llamas, alpacas, and cashmere goats marched through the fairgrounds. Perhaps most impressive were their fancy poodle-style trims. Cute, but not very practical when it comes to producing wool.

The parade at the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival

These decorative hairdos are the product of clipping, not shearing, but we wanted to see the wool fly.

Shearing sheep at the Wool and Sheep Festival, New York

Following to the crowd, we joined the sheep shearing demonstration just as the electric trimmer was getting fired up.

Removing the wool from sheep goes back centuries, but the modern method can be traced back to one man, Godfrey Bowen, and the Bowen technique.

He pioneered the process of removing the fleece in one continuous piece.

Shearing sheep at the Wool and Sheep Festival, New York

Godfrey developed the pattern in the 1950s using electric shears and soon became a champion shearer, setting a world record by shearing 463 sheep in nine hours.

His innovations were so important to the industry that he was knighted in 1960.

In the time it took to learn this little history lesson, our lamb was shaved clean and a blanket of black wool covered the ground.

Shearing sheep at the Wool and Sheep Festival, New York

After a brief break to chomp on a lamb chop (which, admittedly, felt just wrong), we went to see what was the highlight of the day for us, a couple of border collies doing what they do best.

A border collie herds sheep at the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival

These guys are the undisputed champions of sheep dogs.

Amazingly, all border collies can be traced back to the same dog, Old Hemp, who was born in the border area between England and Scotland back in 1893. That’s where the border in border collie comes from.

As soon as the dogs spotted the sheep it was clear that the only thing on their minds was to herd them, but being meticulously bred for intelligence and obedience, they would anxiously wait for the command from their trainer.

Well groomed sheep at the Sheep and Wool festival

We couldn’t help but think of the movie Babe.

With a quick “come-bye” the dog took off to the right, circling the flock clockwise, then an “away to me” from the trainer sent them in the opposite direction.

“Lie down” slowed the whole process –depending on the tone in which the command was delivered — to a crawl or a complete stop, followed by “walk up” which meant to proceed slowly.

Sheep with crazy horns at the Wood and Sheep Festival in New York

The entire time the dog had his undivided attention on the herd using what is known as “the eye,” which is a stare that anyone who knows a border collie is familiar with.

To finish each session the trainer would tell the dog “that’ll do,” which we both automatically followed in our minds with “pig.”

Or maybe we said it out loud. Of course we said it out loud.

David & Veronica,

Thanks to the folks at Ensure who were kind enough to sponsor our video, and provided a supply of their new Ensure Active, which kept us hydrated throughout our escapades. All opinions are our own.

See all of our adventures in New York!

Making an Impression on Us, or Connecting with the French Art Scene

Paris is known for its art. However, in our endless effort to expand our horizons, we recently learned that venturing just outside of The City of Light can make a lasting impression. At least it did for two of the greatest impressionists ever…


A big thank you to Backroads Travel  for providing this adventure, as always, all opinions are our own.

Paris is known for its art. The Louvre and the Palace at Versailles jump to our minds as favorites for adding to our Francophile feelings, but in reality the entire city is a work of art.

However, in our endless effort to expand our horizons, we recently learned that venturing just outside of The City of Light can make a lasting impression.

At least it did for two of the greatest impressionists ever, well maybe just one, Claude Monet, since Vincent van Gogh characteristically rejected the label and is usually considered post-impressionist or expressionist.

Not being art snobs, we generally don’t care about the nomenclature anyway. We just know what we like, and we love these two, so we were entirely excited to visit their homes as a part of our Backroads Travel Bike tour of Normandy.

We began this art immersion at Giverny, the home of Claude Monet. This quaint village caught the artist’s eye while he was passing through on a train. Soon after he moved, bought a house, and set about creating the garden he immortalized in many of his paintings.

This was something new to the art world; the artist was not only capturing a scene, but had constructed the subject of his work himself. And Monet took that construction extremely seriously.

His designs were inspired by Japanese gardens, a subject he knew well as an avid collector of prints. Many of these are on display inside the house; alongside some of the artists own best known works.

The Japanese theme included willows, bamboo, and building a bridge covered with wisterias that he made famous in several paintings. All of this was used in combinations that helped to seclude the garden from the surrounding countryside.

Monet found inspiration in his water garden for over twenty years and as we walked around the perimeter of the pond it was easy to see why. We found ourselves looking from the artist’s vantage point at live versions of many of his masterpieces.

The feeling of being there at the creation of some of art’s most renowned works engulfed us.

Following Monet’s lead, many more artists began to move to Giverny in the late eighteen hundreds, including a number of American Impressionists, until the town became quite well known as an artistic colony.

At that same time, another great master decided to move to the nearby village of Auvers sur Oise. After a short ride, we discovered that the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh lived in a much different manner, or should we say manor, than Monet.

There was no elegant country home for van Gogh. He rented a tiny room at local boarding house, the Auberge Ravoux. The  inn became very popular with the artistic community with all of the rooms occupied by Dutch and American painters.

Now more a museum than roadhouse, it is known as the House of Van Gogh, Maison de Van Gogh, but still has the restaurant on the ground floor.

We climbed up a dark and narrow staircase to reach his second floor chamber and were taken back by the size, only 75 square feet. That even felt small to us, and we have lived for years in an RV.

The motorhome had many more amenities too. This room had nothing but a bed, a chair, and a table, but Vincent certainly seemed to find the surroundings creatively stimulating, producing an average of two works a day over the final seventy days of his life.

Yet his move was more for therapeutic reasons than for artistic inspiration. He had come seeking help from Dr. Paul Gachet, a patron of the arts with experience treating mental illness.

While ultimately unsuccessful with the patient, the doctor did manage to be immortalized in a portrait, which sold for a record price of $82.5 million in 1990.

That was no help at the time though, and the good doctor’s treatment failed rather miserably when van Gogh shot himself in the chest on July 27th, 1890. The artist initially survived the suicide attempt, but died two days later.

The tragedy went largely unnoticed by the world at the time, but not by Theo van Gogh, the master’s younger brother. He had financially supported the artist for many years, since even as a successful art dealer he is thought to have only sold one of Vincent’s works.

But more than a benefactor, he was a believer in the genius, and was so distraught that he passed away only six months later. He was buried beside his brother.

Ironically, it was not long until the world discovered van Gogh, and within a few years he was regarded as an all-time great.

To conclude our visit, we mounted our cycles and rode a short distance out of town toward the cemetery. As we rode we noticed certain landmarks with signs featuring paintings comparing the currant spot with the artwork.

These were places that van Gogh had captured during his final months, now immortalized by his brush strokes. Yet another touch that seemed to put us inside the world of these two extraordinary artists.

For someone so impactful, we were surprised by van Gogh’s lowly lifestyle, and that continued at the graveyard where the brothers are interned.

We left our bikes at the gate and wandered into the yard, but had there not been a few other visitors to the grave we would have had no idea where to look. There are no big monuments or memorials, just two very humble graves side by side.

And again, somehow that added to our feeling of being connected.

David & Veronica,

Lugging Luggage and Our “One Trip Rule”

No matter where we go or how we get there, one constant always remains – packing.

So we thought we’d explore the pros and cons of lugging luggage through airports and beyond.

And share with you our always-adhered-to “One Trip Rule”… CONTINUE READING >>

The GypsyNesters on their way to Asia!
On our way to Asia, note Veronica’s new purple four-wheeler that David gave her for her birthday!

No matter where we go or how we get there, one constant always remains – packing.

So we thought we’d explore the pros and cons of lugging luggage through airports and beyond.

There are a few variables depending on destination and time of year, but these basics apply for us whenever or wherever we travel.

Of course, lots of other Vagabonds Extraordinaire have great travel hack ideas too.

Roll With it Baby!

How to pack like a pro

Remember when suitcases didn’t have wheels?

It’s basically unthinkable now, but not that long ago we were actually carrying our bags.

Rolling changed our lives, no more aching arms or broken backs and, as an added bonus, the suitcase makes a nice cart for briefcases, backpacks, or overstuffed handbags.

Now the next generation of rolling bags are here, the four wheeler. I gave Veronica an adorable purple one of these last year and she loves it.  Scored on that one, but sometimes I need help with gift ideas.

The ability to stop and have it stand without tipping over, roll while upright, and walk with the case beside or even in front of her is a true baggage breakthrough. She will never go back to the old two wheeled version again.

WATCH your extremely goofy GypsyNesters as we prepared for a South American adventure!:

To Check or Not to Check, That is The Question

Using your rolling bag as a luggage cart

We try not to check bags whenever possible, but is this always the best idea?

On the upside, our carry-on bags always make it to our destination, we save a few bucks on fees with most airlines, and we get to use those wheels for our bulky backpack, coats and briefcase when hustling from gate A-1 to Z-54 with a tight connection.

But on the downside, we sometimes can’t bring along all of the things we need, especially when traveling to different climates.

About two days worth of winter clothes and that carry-on bag is looking about eight months pregnant. Or two sets of fins and snorkel gear can mean wearing the same shoes every day.

Lovely wine from Cave di Moleto, Italy
Thank goodness we had a checked bag with us this time – we brought wine home from our stay at Cave di Moleto

There is also the liquid issue. Not being able to bring the big bottle of shampoo is no big deal, just put some into smaller bottles.

But there’s no bringing back a bottle of wine or an interesting local libation discovered along the way.

We have worked on our packing to address these issues and generally only check a bag when going overseas. Not only does this allow for more stuff on those longer trips, it dodges the fees since most airlines allow one checked bag for international flights, and gives us the option of bringing back a sample of the local swill if we want.

Whether we end up checking one bag and carrying another (Veronica can’t face travel without her new purple pal so that gets carried no matter what) or both carry on, we always adhere to what we call the “One Trip Rule.”

One and Done – the “One Trip Rule”

Packing for two week Amtrak trip
Fully loaded: How the “one trip rule” works on a crazy two-week train trip!

Every item we have must be pushed, pulled, gripped, strapped, or carried simultaneously.

Rolly bags (and sometimes making pack mule noises) really come in handy for this.

There are two big reasons we do this. It saves a lot of time and provides an added safety factor.

The “One Trip Rule” makes it so much easier to keep track of everything, and our belongings never get left unattended while moving between airports, taxis, trains, shuttle busses, and hotels.

When no bags are feeling lonely and neglected, no bags mysteriously disappear.


Find out how a small space in your suitcase can make a big impact in the world!

More “One Trip Rule” tips:

See how we packed for South America (including special tips for hiking, multi-climate and water-based trips!)

See how we packed for Italy (including tips on what MUST be in your carry-on, what to bring on more glamorous trips, what to wear on the plane and how to minimize electronics)

See how we packed for a two-week train trip

YOUR TURN: We’d love to hear about any packing prowess you may have picked up in your travels, leave us a comment and let us know.

This post may contain sponsored links.

7 Reasons To Visit New Zealand Once The Kids Have Flown The Nest

At this stage of life, you now have the freedom to start out on another journey of your own. If you are eager to travel in the near future, one of the best destinations to consider is New Zealand… CONTINUE READING >> 

A new chapter of your life is about to start.

You’ve made it through the journey of parenthood and now your adult children have flown the nest and are ready to start on their own path. At this stage of life, you now have the freedom to start out on another journey of your own.

If you are eager to travel in the near future, one of the best destinations to consider is New Zealand.

The “Land of the Long White Cloud” is an ideal addition to your bucket list for a number of reasons. (A two week getaway is just the right amount of time to see both islands.)

Let’s take a look at why you should be heading to NZ… ASAP!

It’s Wonderfully Safe

New Zealand is one of the safest countries in the world to travel, so you won’t cause anyone back home to worry about you! This nation always ranks up at the top of the Global Peace Index, which is an international study that ranks every country in the world according to its peacefulness.

Levels of health and sanitation are high and the police are not corrupt. No one carries guns (not even law enforcement) and crime levels are quite low. You can relax and enjoy your visit, knowing that the chance of danger is very small.

(Plus, the Kiwi people are very helpful and friendly and will make you feel right at home.)

It’s Naturally Gorgeous

There’s a reason why New Zealand was used as the setting for Middle Earth in the unforgettable Lord of the Rings films – the scenery here is so unusual and stunning that it will make you feel like you have stepped into an epic fantasy.

Surreal volcanic landscapes bubbling with geothermal pools. Dense rainforests shaded by ancient ferns. Craggy mountain ranges where glittering glaciers lie. It’s amazing how many different ecosystems can be found in this relatively small island nation.

30% of the country is made up of national parks and other protected areas, so there’s plenty of pristine nature to explore. From Paparoa to Tongariro to Arthur’s Pass, you’ll have plenty of options when it comes to hiking, camping, kayaking and other outdoor activities.

The Beaches are Superb

Sinking your toes into the sand of a New Zealand beach is an essential part of your kiwi getaway. So much of New Zealand culture revolves around the beach – it’s a place where families can relax and share a picnic, children can frolic and play and the adventurous can enjoy sports like surfing, kayaking and volleyball.

There are hundreds of beaches all around the islands of New Zealand that are worth visiting, so make sure you allow time on your getaway to see them all. They all have their own unique charms – some are better for sunsets while others are ideal for swimming and others are lined with great restaurants. You’re sure to find the perfect beach for you.

The Cities Are Packed with Culture

New Zealand doesn’t just offer stunning nature, it also has many excellent cities that are alive with art, culture, dining and nightlife. The main cities are Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Napier – but there are also many other small towns that are vibrant and interesting.

Whether you’re in the mood for an art exhibition, a poetry reading, a music festival, a theatre performance, a museum tour or even a traditional Maori dance and feast, you’ll find a packed cultural calendar of events in many of New Zealand’s great cities.

It’s Easy to Get Around

Whether you are taking the bus or driving yourself, getting around New Zealand is quite easy. Public transport here is better than in the USA and every major city has a number of bus routes that will take you to the most important places. There are also rail and ferry links throughout the country.

If you choose to rent a car and drive, you’ll find the highways well maintained and the scenery incredibly stunning. Make sure that you give yourself extra time to get between point A and point B, as there will be many points where you’ll want to stop and admire the view.

The History is Fascinating

New Zealand might seem like a relatively young country compared to many nations in Europe, but it has a very intriguing past. The first European settler to land was the Dutch navigator Abel Tasman in 1642, but the island was discovered and settled by Polynesians at least 700 years ago.

When you tour New Zealand, be sure to visit the many museums and historic sites you’ll see along the way. You’ll hear stories of explorers, whalers, traders, Maori chiefs and so much more,

The Food is Delicious

Last but not least, one of the big reasons why you’ll love New Zealand is the excellent food. (In fact, for some passionate foodies this is the main reason for their visit!)

If you love seafood, you’re in for a treat. Surrounded by ocean bounty, New Zealand’s chefs have some of the world’s best fish, oysters, crayfish and mussels to work with.

Try the juicy, succulent oysters from the Hokianga, the Snapper from the Bay of Islands and the Greenshell Mussels from Marlborough. Freshwater fish are plentiful too, including trout, salmon and more.

But seafood isn’t all the New Zealand culinary scene has to offer. You can also enjoy high quality New Zealand lamb, venison and beef. The fruits that are grown in the Nelson and Central Otago region are superb – such as apricots, cherries and nectarines. Oh, and don’t forget to finish off the meal with a scoop of hokey pokey ice cream – a unique New Zealand treat.

Why not add New Zealand to your travel bucket list?

This island nation is the perfect travel destination for empty-nesters who are ready to go on their next big adventure. These are just many of the reasons why you should consider visiting New Zealand once your kids have flown the nest.


MoaTrek offers small group tours that take you off the beaten track and show you a friendly, laid back side of New Zealand. Kiwi-owned and focused on personalised, unique experiences – we take care of the details so you can relax and enjoy. Let us help you plan the trip of a lifetime by visiting us a

We are happy to present this post in collaboration with MoaTrek to offer valuable information to our readers.