Our Favorite Great American Road Trips

Summertime, summertime, sum, sum, summertime. 

We all recall those glorious days of yesteryear with the station wagon packed to the gills, miles of billboard bingo, and endless Are we there yet?s.

Whether we were the kids, or when we had the kids, those memories are an indelible part of our American summers.

Guess what? Those intrepid explorations don’t have to end just because the offspring have moved out… CONTINUE READING >>

David at the helm of BAMF! GypsyNester.com
Summertime, summertime, sum, sum, summertime.

We all recall those glorious days of yesteryear with the station wagon packed to the gills, miles and miles of billboard bingo, and endless asking Are we there yet?

Whether we are thinking back to when we were the kids, or when we had the kids, those memories are an indelible part of our American summer traditions.

Guess what? Those intrepid explorations don’t have to end just because the offspring have moved out.

The road trip can be accomplished in a two seater just as well as a minivan! Or, for the truly daring, we could strap the grandkids in their car seats and set out for some high adventure.

Here are our favorite ways to see USA in your Chevrolet:

Driving through the Redwood Forest in California… and the Pacific Coast Highway

Hiking through the Redwood Forest of California! GypsyNester.com
Giant raindrops and David the Tree Model

Highway 101 through Northern California is known as the Redwood Highway.

Bucket list item: The Great American Road Trip! Here's our eight fave to choose from!

The road feels like a trip through time as it connects all of the state and national parks that have groves of the humongous trees.

Mature coastal redwoods average over five hundred years old, and a few are documented to have lived over two thousand years.

They are among the longest-living organisms on earth and the forests have a dreamlike prehistoric feel.

Inside Humboldt Redwoods State Park the road divides, with the old highway, known as The Avenue of The Giants, meandering into the woods.

This is a road like no other, where bright sunny days turn to twilight as the trees envelope the road. Once a stagecoach road to Oregon, later a US highway, now a national treasure, the narrow blacktop winds through the trees where the trunks sometime stand just inches from the pavement.

Check out the Redwood Highway

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Big Sur, California Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Big Sur – Check out our full drive down Big Sur – spectacular!

See all of our adventures along the California Coast!

Alaska’s Seward Highway is unbelievably beautiful – and the wildlife…

Glaciers at the top of the Alyeska Aerial Tram in Girdwood, Alaska

It is no wonder that the 127 miles of blacktop of the the Seward Highway from Anchorage to Resurrection Bay along the incredibly picturesque Kenai Peninsula has been named a National Scenic Byway and All-American Road.

A bull moose swims at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. Wait. Moose can swim?

Beginning along the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet, where some of the largest tides in the world provide ever changing vistas of ocean and mud flats, and continuing through mountains, glaciers, rivers, that define the Last Frontier, the Seward Highway captures Alaska in a nutshell.

This is a scenic wonderland where the deer and the antelope play, or we should say the moose and the mountain goats… and the bears, and eagles, and rams, and seahawks, and dolphins, and… wait, those are all football teams, but they do actually live there too.

Check out the Seward Highway

A bear at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

See all of our adventures in Alaska!

There’s nothing more American than Route 66!

Route 66 ends at the Santa Monica Pier
Route 66 ends at the Santa Monica Pier

From the pier in Santa Monica to the Windy City, America’s favorite cross country highway has become the stuff of legends.

It’s a journey where simply standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona can be immortalized.

Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona
The Petrified Forest in Arizona

Veronica bikes the Grand Canyon! GypsyNester.com
We did the Grand Canyon three ways – by mule, helicopter & bike!

Natural wonders abound, with ancient, petrified forests and massive canyons just around the bend.

Or, if you love the goofy stuff as much as we’d do, the unnatural attractions of Route 66 have a lot to offer.

Sites like the World’s Largest Rocking Chair and a giant oil rig worker known as the Golden Driller abound, and there’s a good chance there’s a stretch of 66 near your hometown!

Check out all of our sightings on Route 66

For roadtrips, it’s hard to beat tooling around the American Southwest!

History and music fans dream trip – the Mississippi Blues Trail!

Gateway to the Blues

The blues had a baby and they named it Rock & Roll.

That kid had cousins in The Magnolia State, with names like Country, Pop, Rap, R&B and Soul.

The delta region of Mississippi was the cradle for all of those babies.

Why not take a little trip down the Mississippi Blues Trail, to see what rocked that cradle?

The Shack Up Inn, Clarksdale Mississippi

The “Trail” is not an actual path or route, but a collection of about 120 markers, like those historical marker signs we see in most every state, that highlight significant places and people in the history of the Blues.

Along the way, stay in at an inn created from sharecropper shacks and visit the last of the authentic Juke Joints.

While discovering the roots of American music down home food is easy to find at almost any crossroads too, no deals with the devil required.

Check out the Mississippi Blues Trail

See all of our adventures in Mississippi!

The Great River Road in Illinois is a blast!

Biking along the Mississippi River in Quincy

The John Deere Pavilion in Moline, Illinois

The Great River Road National Scenic Byway follows the banks of the Mississippi River from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.

The scenic route stretches over 3,000 miles across ten states, but we chose to focus on the section through Illinois where we found the home of John Deere tractors, Ulysses S. Grant, Illinois’ Biggest Biker Bar (you’ll never believe what it’s called!), the oldest vineyard in the Land of Lincoln, and the self proclaimed “Nutroll Nazi” of Quincy.

Check out the Great River Road

See all of our adventures in Illinois!

Traveling the route of the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery was a very emotional experience for us

Foot Soldier Tribute

While Birmingham was not part of this particular protest, it makes a perfect starting point.

The Civil Rights Institute, the 16th Street Baptist Church, and Kelly Ingram Park’s Freedom Walk are all on different sides of the intersection of 6th Avenue and 16th Street.

Moving on to Montgomery, we visited The Rosa Parks Library and Museum, The Southern Poverty Law Center, and The Civil Rights Memorial Center before retracing the path along Highway 80 of the March from Selma to Montgomery for voting rights.

The Civil Rights Memorial

When Dr. King led the marchers in 1965 it took four days to travel the fifty miles, the road trip can be covered in a about an hour, but the impact could last a lifetime.

See more about our Civil Rights road trip

See all of our adventures in Alabama!

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the Summertime? Bliss…

Known us the U. P., the Upper Peninsula of the Wolverine State is truly one of a kind.

The two peninsulas of the Wolverine State are linked by the magnificent Mackinac Bridge

The individualist inhabitants are known as Yoopers and are scattered from the Porcupine Mountains near the Wisconsin border to the magnificent Mackinac (pronounced Mack-in-naw) Bridge that crosses over the straits between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

Along Michigan 185 on Mackinac Island, the only the highway that doesn't allow cars

Folks rely on horse drawn carriages to get around on Mackinac Island in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan!

Follow the coast of Lake Superior to Pictured Rocks National Shoreline, then on to Tahquamenon Falls, Whitefish Bay and the rushing rapids of Sault Ste. Marie.

Make sure to stop off for a pasty – the meat, potato, and rutabaga turnovers that are a staple of the Yooper diet.

Head south from there and leave the car behind for a visit to quaint and quirky Mackinac Island, where folks rely on horse drawn carriages and bicycles to get from point A to point B, since motorized vehicles have been banned since 1898.

Check out the Upper Peninsula

See all of our adventures in Michigan!

Highway 1 through the Florida Keys – stunning!

US Highway 1 in Florida

One of the greatest drives in America has to be the trip down U.S. Highway 1 to Key West.

Originally built as The Overseas Railroad, a hurricane in 1935 trashed it so badly that it was sold to the state and refurbished as a highway.

The run can be done in a few hours, but we strongly suggest making the trip on island time and let the hours become days.

Start by searching for Skunk Ape in the amazing Everglades, or visiting the incredible Coral Castle in Homestead.

Edward Leedskalnin's Coral Castle

Then, after an encounter with Florida’s version of Bigfoot or some gravity defying stonework, mosey on down through Key Largo, Marathon, across the Seven Mile Bridge, and finally into Key West, the southernmost point of the fifty states and unofficial capital of the Conch Republic.

Check out US Highway 1

Key West

See all of our adventures in Florida!

Summertime, summertime, sum, sum, summertime.

Here’s to a great one!

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See all of our adventures in the USA!

YOUR TURN: Have we inspired you to take a road trip? Where do you want to go next? Did we miss any you’d like to share?

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Power Pedaling from Paris to the Sea (and back again)

For us biking is the best way to see the sights up close and at a speed where we can cover more ground than walking yet still take everything in. Our recent ride through the Normandy region of France certainly accomplished that…

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

We love to ride our bikes.

However, we are not deck out in Lycra and knock out a hundred miles kind of cyclists. We are more in the stop and smell the roses (or restaurants), snap a few photos, and enjoy the view camp.

Perhaps some of this attitude stems from David’s deep-seated determination to avoid becoming a MAMIL (a term we learned in Australia that stands for Middle Aged Men In Lycra).

Through the years we have pedaled across countless countries on three continents. For us, this is the best way to see the sights up close, at ground level,  and at a speed where we can cover more ground than walking yet still take everything in.

Our recent ride with Backroads Travel along the Seine River through the Normandy region of France certainly checked everything on that list.

And to make the whole thing even more enjoyable, we were aided by riding bikes that included pedal assist from BionX e-bike systems.

These don’t turn the bike into a motorcycle, we still had to provide the pedal power, but it definitely helped out up the hills. That made a big difference over the course of the 162 miles we covered during the week.

The assistance comes in several levels, ranging from 1 through 4, with 1 being hardly noticeable and 4 powering us up almost any incline as if we were cruising on flat ground.

We must admit, at first we felt a little guilty passing our cycling cohorts as they huffed and puffed up a grade, but after a day or two we realized that our legs were still reasonably fresh, so we got over it.

Of course we could have turned it off, or way down, which we did sometimes, but by the end of the tour we were pretty much maxed out on 4 anytime there was a slight slope.

As we set out through the outskirts of Paris to Versailles we cautiously tested the system to get a feel for the power. Then, over the next few days our confidence grew while we made our way across the countryside checking out castles, abbeys, historic sites and the homes of legendary artists.

History came alive as we climbed up to Richard the Lionheart’s Château Gaillard built in 1196, stood where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, and rode right through the center of the D-day invasion at Omaha Beach.

We even had the energy left to climb 396 steps up to the top of the tower at Château de La Roche Guyon, where Field Marshal Rommel commanded the Axis forces as they fought to hold off the allied invasion.

By the time we made it to the garden that inspired many of Monet’s most notable paintings, and Vincent van Gogh’s last home just outside of Paris, we were firm believers in assisted living, or should we say pedaling.

Got to say, it made riding a whole lot easier, which freed us up to take photos, look around, get lost a couple of times, and just generally lollygag and still be able to catch up to the rest of the group in time for lunch.

Which brings us to a word about lunch.

We have always felt that one of the big upsides of these biking adventures is the guilt free chowing down (even more so in France) due to the energy exerted to make it to the meals. The pedal assist didn’t change that.

As we mentioned at the outset, it doesn’t do all of the work, just makes it a bit easier. So we felt warranted to partake of all of the excellent luscious local delicacies made available by our amazing Backroads crew.

We even felt that an ice cream break was perfectly acceptable… and justified.

Another cool feature of the system that we grew to seriously appreciate was the ability to use the charging mode as a braking device on downhill stretches.

Kick it up to full blast and not only was the battery filling back up, but the brakes almost never needed pumping.

Of course regular unassisted bikes were available for the serious cyclists, who made up the majority of our group, and our helmets are off to them, but for weekend warriors such as us, a little push made our journey just that much more enjoyable.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Here’s a look back at all of our entire adventure via TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

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

How to Avoid the Crowds in Venice, Italy

Venice is worth visiting for its beauty and culture extraordinare, and you can beat the crowds with careful planning. Here are 5 tips…

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There has been a lot of press lately in the travel media on the challenges Venice is facing with overtourism as it struggles with a high volume of daily visitors. Don’t let this discourage you from visiting Venice if it is on your bucket list.

The city is always worth visiting as its beauty and culture are extraordinary to experience. It is possible to beat the crowds with a little bit of careful planning, and discover a more serene and tranquil Venice. Here are 5 tips for how to avoid the crowds in Venice, Italy:

Plan to stay during mid-week dates for at least 3 days

Like many popular European cities, Venice receives a higher number of visitors on weekends. By planning your stay mid-week, you will be off to a good start in avoiding crowds. It also makes for a better experience to stay in Venice for at least 3 days if you can, this will allow you to strategize about the times you will be visiting sites. If you stay in Venice for a minimum of at least 3 days you can enjoy visiting other areas of the lagoon, spending a whole day seeing the islands of Murano, Burano, and Torcello, rather than dashing out to Murano for a quick visit. It’s definitely worth it to see the less visited islands as well!

Organize your arrival and departure logistics in advance

A lot of time and money can be wasted getting where you need to go on arrival, and when organizing your departure, due to the complexities of Venice’s transportation options as a city truly on the water. This can also be very stressful, and crowded! Preparing a plan in advance for how to get around Venice during your stay is important. Consider the best way to arrive to your holiday apartment or hotel from the train station or airport. For example, the Alilaguna waterbus shuttles from the airport can be crowded and this transportation option takes over an hour to reach the Grand Canal. Taking the bus or a land taxi to Piazzale Roma, and then taking a vaporetto (waterferry) or even walking to your destination can be an easier option.

This practical how-to guide to Venice transportation explains the many options for transportation in Venice and is helpful for deciding what is best for your arrival and departure, and for getting around the city during your stay. Don’t forget to consider that Venice has many bridges, big and small, and oftentimes walking is required to get where you are going.

Visit the main sites during the morning and the late afternoon to avoid the day visitor crowds

The source of a majority percentage of Venice’s crowds are day visitors who arrive to Venice from cruise ships or by train or car and visit the city from approximately 10 am to 5 pm. The main sites, such as Piazza San Marco and its museums, and the area around Rialto, are much less crowded, and more enjoyable, if you visit earlier in the morning, or after 4 or 5 pm.

Enjoy off the beaten path sites

Venice has much more to see than only the areas around Piazza San Marco and Rialto. Other neighborhoods, such as Cannaregio and Dorsoduro, are where you will find the charming views of smaller inner canals and canalside cafes. There are also important less frequented sites to visit in these areas, such as the Jewish Ghetto, or the Ca’ Pesaro museum in the neighborhood of Santa Croce, an art museum in a Renaissance palazzo on the Grand Canal. The Grand Canal view café at Ca’ Pesaro is also a hidden gem for the Grand Canal view without the crowds, and high prices!

Eat like a local

The exorbitant prices charged for low quality food in the touristy areas of Venice has also been the source of headlines lately, with one patron infamously charged 1000 euros for lunch, and tales of 20 euro coffees at the cafes in Piazza San Marco. In fact, you can eat excellent local, fresh cuisine (mostly seafood of course) throughout Venice if you seek out local options for dining. Certainly the more famous areas for local food are the “Fondamente” like a Venetian boulevard, the long stretches along inner canals in neighborhoods like Cannaregio. Venetian street food in the inner canals and off the beaten path area is a fun local way to eat as well. Venetians stop in to a few of their favorite spots in the evening for small glasses of wine and “cicchetti” – bite sized snacks of crostini or polenta topped with seafood or meats, or simple platters of meats and cheeses.

To beat the crowds in Venice, above all, take time to enjoy a little local life beyond the main tourist areas, and you will leave feeling you are a little Venetian yourself (and Venetians, indeed, know how to avoid the crowds!).

Author bio: Guest author Shannon Kenny is co-founder of Prontopia, an on-demand app for help getting around the city by foot from locals in pedestrian city centers. The first launch city was in Venice Italy, where locals on the Prontopia platform enjoy helping visitors get where they need to go easily

We are happy to present this collaborative post to offer valuable information to our readers.

Taking Time for Tapas… Eating Our Way Across Spain

What would a visit to Spain be without sampling the tapas? Incomplete we’d say.
But then tapas are a culinary style that is right up our alley…

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What would a visit to Spain be without sampling the tapas?

Incomplete we’d say.

But then tapas are a culinary style that is right up our alley. It’s as if the entire nation adopted our idea of appy crawling, a system of eating appetizers in several different places instead of a sit down meal.

Barcelona

Our introduction to the Spanish version of this concept was in Barcelona.

Here we learned that the word tapas comes from the Spanish verb tapar, to cover, and there are a few versions of why.

One legend claims it stems from King Alfonso being served a glass of wine that was covered with a slice of ham to keep the sand and/or bugs out, while another speculates that tavern owners served sherry with strong cheese or salty meats to “cover” the poor quality of the drink.

Either, or some other, may be true, but the practice of snacking fits into the Spanish afternoon schedule perfectly because dinner usually doesn’t happen until after nine.

With our partying days well behind us we knew we might not even make it that long, so we decided to make a meal of the tapas.

Classic tapas range from as simple as mixed olives, to meticulously prepared bites of seafood, cured meats, veggies and baked cheese.

In addition to these delectable bits our quest included an olive and pepper medley on toast that was reminiscent of Italian bruschetta, roasted hot peppers, and a bomba which, as the name implies, is a type of gut bomb made with mashed potatoes and meat.

As we got more adventurous we expanded our culinary horizon to try calamari, chorizo al vino, mussels, and blood sausage.

We were determined to get our mitts on every type of tapa we could, and believe we achieved greatness.

Madrid

The mobile meal model moved forward full speed in Madrid.

Here the tradition seems to also include escaping from the harsh afternoon sun, so cool beverages are a big part of the experience.

Ducking into the shade at a sidewalk café, we opted to blindly order a combination plate of five tapas and take our chances as to what might show up. Classic Iberian ham, fish with garlic, crab, salmon, and some ridiculously strong blue cheese arrived, so we were thrilled.

Well, maybe not so much with the blue cheese.

Oh, and I almost forgot, they brought out some of the best olives we have ever tasted. Seriously, ever! Those easily made up for the cheese.

In order to prove to ourselves that Spanish food can be more than tapas, our big plan for the next day was to make like Ernest Hemingway and have lunch at Sobrino de Botín.

In addition to being mentioned in his novel, The Sun Also Rises, Botín is certified by Guinness as the oldest continually operating restaurant in the world. They haven’t missed a meal since 1725.

It was imperative that we have their signature dish, cochinillo asado, which is roast suckling pig. After all, that is what Papa ate and wrote about.

Another house specialty is sopa de ajo, a garlic soup laced with sherry and sporting an egg poached in the broth. Both were more than worthy of their fame and accolades.

For good measure, we also added some artichoke hearts with Iberian ham, which could have been a tapa, and were unbelievable. They must not have had this dish back in Hemingway’s day or it would have deserved a whole chapter.

This also led to us learning the valuable lesson that absolutely everything is better, no, not just better, fantastic with Iberian ham.

Basque Country

The Basque may have perfected tapas with what are locally referred to as pintxos, and THE place for pintxos in the Basque Country is San Sebastian.

These typical snacks are generally made with small slices of bread topped by a mixture of ingredients, with a toothpick to hold things together. That is where the name comes from, “pincho”, meaning spike, and the “tx” spelling is Basque for the “ch” sound.

Since San Sebastian is by the sea, shrimp, crab, tuna, anchovies, and even caviar are commonly incorporated, but our hands-down favorite were the pimientos de Padrón.

These pan fried peppers are to die for. Most are mild, but every now and then a hot one sneaks in. As an added bonus, they were made off the charts incredible by adding crispy, fried Iberian ham.

Our visit also included a truly unique experience when our guide Txaro (pronounced Charo, there’s that Basque tx again) took us to a txoko (choko), which is a members-only private gastronomic society that in the past was only open to men.

The idea is get together to cook, and of course eat, while trying out new recipes and ideas along with a healthy dose of socializing.

When Basque culture was suppressed under the reign of Francisco Franco, txokos became safe havens where members could share their language and traditions as well as their love of cooking.

We all pitched in making dinner, sticking to fairly simple dishes, beginning with salad. Then tortilla de patatas, egg with potatoes, which is much more like an omelet than what we think of as a tortilla.

We finished with two main courses, chicken with carrots, leeks, and garlic, along with salt cod in a cream sauce.

None of this required being a gourmet chef to prepare, but like the old Shake-N-Bake commercials, it was better because we helped.

Bilbao

In Bilbao we realized that we’d been in Spain for two weeks and hadn’t had any paella. The city doesn’t have any historic connection to the dish, but this was our last chance.

So with nothing more than luck to guide us, we picked one of the many eateries available in the old city center and happened upon a good pan of the classic seafood and rice dish.

Afterwards, the plate piled with shells indicated that our mission had been accomplished.

Not a bad way to end our time in Spain.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See all of our adventures in Spain!

Post-Parting Depression: Saying Good-bye to My Adult Kids

Having just returned from our first visit to our eldest’s new home in Paris, we felt that this is a good time to take another look at this story.

I’ve got an issue and I need help! I’m hoping I’ll get a lot of suggestions on this post from our amazingly insightful readers… CONTINUE READING >> 

Having just returned from our first visit to our eldest’s new home in Paris, we felt that this is a good time to take another look at this story:

Veronica WritesI’ve got an issue and I need help! I’m hoping I’ll get a lot of suggestions on this post from our amazingly insightful readers.

Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” -Dr Seuss

This past holiday season, we had a lot to celebrate.

In addition to our typical yuletide festivities, we were blessed to celebrate my in-law’s 60th wedding anniversary two days after Christmas and our own anniversary a week after the new year started.

As wonderful as it was to have such momentous events smack-in-the-middle of the holidays, it led to more good-byes to our adult kids than I’m normally used to.

Having The Spawn come and go in such short and hectic celebratory spurts gave me some interesting insight into how I deal with my empty nest good-byes.

Not well, it seems.

No matter how long they’ve been out of the nest, no matter how happy they are, no matter how I prepare myself, no matter how much I write about it – I can’t seem to keep myself from being head-over-heels depressed every time I have to say good-bye to my young adult offspring.

It hits me like a ton of bricks. Seriously, I cry like Tammy Faye Bakker on the second day of her period — a regular air-sucking, mascara-dripping, please-God-nobody-see-me sob fest.

One would think I’d be used to good-byes by now. Or that I’ve somehow figured out how to prepare for the letdown. After all, The Spawn are all finished with college and it’s been over six years since we’ve had a full time, live-in offspring.

Prior to a visit, I’m obnoxiously ecstatic. Bouncing off the walls happy. I certainly don’t want to tarnish that feeling with the planning of the inevitable pit of despair at the end. So instead, I’ve been leaving an open void of time — just waiting there for me to fall into, dragging self-pity in behind me.

Seeing The Spawn never fails to fulfil me. I am always surprised at how easily I can slip fully back into Mommy mode, it’s a huge part of who I am. When I’m around them I smile bigger, laugh harder and feel so comfortably myself. The heartstrings sing — and dig in hard.

Having to let go from those good-bye hugs at the airport is literally physically challenging. I feel like I’ve just run a marathon (okay, I’ve never actually run a marathon, but it looks really difficult). I can’t catch my breath, there’s a tightening in my chest and exhaustion soon sets in.

I have to force myself not to take to my bed with my smelling salts.

On the plus side, I’m finding that I have a quicker recovery time. What used to last weeks is now a matter of days.

Growth, right?

Does this mean it gets gradually easier until the post-parting depression goes completely away? Or do I need to learn to brace myself for the inevitable and learn new ways to cope with it?

Veronica, GypsyNester.com

YOUR TURN: Do you have similar experiences? Any advice on how I can avoid post-parting depression? Suggestions, please!