Searching for Serenity and Sunsets in Santorini

Santorini may well be the most famous of the Greek Isles. This is the home of the iconic whitewashed buildings and blue domed churches that we have seen gleaming in the sun against the backdrop of the deep blue Mediterranean Sea in every travelogue since we were kids.And lucky for us, the day we visited was like stepping into a postcard… CONTINUE READING >> 

Santorini may well be the most famous of the Greek Isles. This is the home of the iconic whitewashed buildings and blue domed churches that we have seen gleaming in the sun against the backdrop of the deep blue Mediterranean Sea in every travelogue since we were kids.

And lucky for us, the day we visited was like stepping into a postcard. Perfect sunny weather greeted us as we tendered ashore from our ship, the Aegean Odyssey. Even the short ride to the dock was awe inspiring because the trip was made in the caldera of an active volcano.

In fact, one of recorded history’s most violent volcanic eruptions created the unique crescent shape of the island when the bulk of the land here was blown away about four thousand years ago.

The explosion is thought to possibly be the inspiration for the legend of Atlantis and is also responsible for something about Santorini that we didn’t know until we arrived. An incredible archeological site, similar to Pompeii, was discovered when the town of Akrotiri was unearthed in the late eighteen hundreds.

The entire city was buried under layers of volcanic ash, therefore being almost perfectly preserved and providing a remarkable glimpse into everyday life from sixteen centuries before Christ.

Even though extensive excavations began in 1967, as we walked through the mammoth structure built to protect the findings scientists continued to carefully extract more artifacts. This way we could observe not only the past results, but how new finds are currently being preserved.

With the ash removed we could easily recognize the rooms, including bedrooms, kitchens and bathrooms, along with beds, pottery, plumbing, and even artwork that have been uncovered nearly intact.

However, unlike its Italian counterpart, no people were caught up in the cataclysm, which leads researchers to surmise that they must have had some warning of the impending doom. Perhaps they had learned that earthquakes and smoke billowing from the summit were an indication of an imminent eruption and that evacuation was a very good idea.

The lack of victims frozen in time also led us to conclude that the overall experience was not nearly as disconcerting as when we visited Pompeii.

Still, it was something less than uplifting so we were ready for a bit of the scenery that has kept Santorini consistently named as one of the Top 20 Greek Islands.

So we made our way along the entire length of the island to the far northern tip and the town of Oia, home to all of those postcard pictures we were talking about.

This village is perched precariously on the very tip of the crescent shaped remainder of the caldera’s rim, so the buildings are packed tightly against each other. The blindingly bright whitewash is only broken up by splashes of blue on the domes of the churches.

Luckily, most of the roads within the town are closed to vehicles, but there was more than enough pedestrian traffic to make up for the loss.

After a few hours of wandering, and an ice cream to cool off, we were ready to make our way down the steep cliffs and back to our ship. Since this was not where we came ashore, we had to find a new way down to the sea.

This meant we needed to make our way toward the center of the isle and the current capital city, Firá. The name comes from the ancient name for the island, Thíra, being simply a variant of pronunciation.

Being the capital, this is also home to the main cathedral, the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral. What the church lacks in name originality, it more than makes up for in unique whitewashed beauty.

So we lingered a while and moseyed around the myriad of shops along the tiny pathways nearby.

But we didn’t want to get left behind when the ship sailed, so we needed to hustle down to the docks. Unlike coming ashore in the morning, there is no road here.

For years, maybe centuries, donkeys carried folks up and down, but now there is a new cable car system to ferry us to the dock below.  There are still donkeys available, but locals tend to frown on using them anymore and no doubt their backs are thankful for the new found lack of customers.

Back onboard, the crew of the Aegean Odyssey knew that Santorini is also famous for one more thing, some of the world’s most vivid sunsets.

As our day came to a close the volcanic dust that still lingers in the air filtered the fading light into a masterpiece of colors across the western horizon while the disk of the sun settled into the sea.

It seemed only right to offer a toast to Helios and Apollo while we watched from the deck above the pool.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See all of our previous adventures in Greece!

Thanks to Road Scholar for providing this lifelong learning adventure through the Greek Isles! As always, all opinions are our own.

Ten Things You Don’t Know About New York City – Even If You Live There!

Your GypsyNesters found the wild, weird and wonderful not-so-known sights, sounds and flavors of The Big Apple!

Even if you are a New Yorker –  we bet you don’t know most of these!..

CONTINUE READING >>

Your GypsyNesters found the wild, weird and wonderful not-so-known sights, sounds and flavors of The Big Apple!

Even if you are a New Yorker –  we bet you don’t know most of these!

The dirty patch on the ceiling of Grand Central StationThere is a dirty rectangle on the ceiling of Grand Central Station. When the ceiling of the main concourse was restored in 1994-98, a patch was left untouched to show just how filthy it had been.

It took us forever to find it, but now that we know it’s there, we can’t stop picking at it.

The lions in front of the New York Public Library are named Patience and Fortitude. This is Fortitude, and the easiest way to tell them apart is that Fortitude is closest to 42nd Street. Get it? 42/fortitude?

The lions in front of the Public Library have names – and a cool way to remember them: Patience and Fortitude are the two lions that guard the entrance to the massive archives. Fortitude is pictured above, and the easiest way to tell them apart is that Fortitude is closest to 42nd Street. –> 42=fortitude!

See more about our adventures at the NYC Public Library!

Governor's Island at the beach in New York City

There’s a “tropical beach” off the coast of Manhattan. We found a place to get our feet in the sand without straying far from Manhattan! We took the free ferry ride, rented bikes and spent the day in (relative) quiet on Governor’s Island.

The island boasts a fort, an outdoor art gallery along the bike and foot paths, laid-back attitude and a sandy beach — complete with a snack shack and plastic palms.

We discovered new sides of Lady Liberty and the busy heliport across the channel. A perfect tropical getaway in the middle of the city.

George Washington lived here: The first executive mansion was at what is now the base of the Brooklyn Bridge


The first “White House” was where the Brooklyn Bridge now stands:
After looking high and low, peaking through fences and around construction barriers, we got a peek at a decrepit old inscription marking the spot of the The Samuel Osgood House, our nation’s first executive mansion.

Yes, all that is left of the site where George Washington lived and worked as our first president is a dirty old marker on an abutment of the Brooklyn Bridge.

See more about what’s left of colonial NYC

NYC pizza tours

There are tours dedicated to the history of pizza in NYC: If there is one food that screams New York City from the top of the Empire State Building, it has got to be pizza.

How did this happen? We didn’t know, but we do now–because we took a pizza tour!

See all of our adventures in New York City!

40% of the NYC subway is above ground

40% of the subway system is above ground. And it’s LOUD. The trains rumble noisily overhead — setting off car alarms in their wake, but they’re still referred to as subways.

Other subway fun facts:
-Over five million people ride on an average day.
-There are 840 miles of track.
-The deepest station is on 191st Street in Manhattan at 180 feet below street level.
-Back when tokens were still in use, thieves would suck tokens from the turnstiles with their mouths. Yuck!

Arthur Avenue in the Bronx

Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. Manhattan’s Little Italy is not the only game in town. The Bronx version might be even better. We love Saturdays on Arthur Avenue when the markets are in full swing.

Fight little old ladies for the best cuts and finest cheeses before settling down to some of the most delicious Italian food this side of the Atlantic.

Whispering Wall at Grand Central Station

The Whispering Gallery at Grand Central Station. Walk around Grand Central Station until you find the Oyster Bar Restaurant and a bunch of folks who look like they just got sent to “time out.” Were these folks exceptionally naughty? Nope, they are sending secrets to each other via the Whispering Gallery.

Whisper into one corner and a buddy can hear it behind you in the opposite one all the way across the hall! We tried it out — it really works! Kinda creepy, but fun.

The Library Hotel in NYC

There’s a hotel based on the Dewey Decimal System: Books are everywhere at the Library Hotel and, from the moment we checked in at the card catalogue-decorated front desk in the shelf-lined lobby, to the hundreds of titles in each room that correspond to its number in the Dewey Decimal System.

For example, our room, 905, is based on 900.005 in the famous library-organizing system, which is the travel and geography category. Absolutely a perfect fit for us, and we fell asleep blissfully reading of far-off places every night.

See more about our stay as Writers-in-Residence at the Library Hotel!

Batteries on the subway tracks

There are ALWAYS batteries on the subway tracks. A great mystery to us. Every station, every time. We always look and they are always there.

Why? What are they used for? Are they left over from back in the days when walkmans used AAs?

Is this where all of the “batteries not included” end up?

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

If you want to make your travel hassle-free and more fun, make sure to use  Vertoe which is America’s Leading Daily Luggage Storage Service with 300+ locations, Vertoe is America’s first highly rated daily luggage storage provider near you starting at $5.95/day/item. Book Luggage storage in NYC, near most happening places like Midtown, JFK airport, Port authority, grand central, Brooklyn, Penn station & more. Items are insured up to $5000. Also, read 10 tips for new york.

See all of our adventures in New York City!

YOUR turn: How many did you know? Did we stump you? Have you got one to share?

This post may contain sponsored links.

Top 5 Reasons To Visit Midtown

Whether you’re planning to visit New York City for business or pleasure, the city that never sleeps has a lot to offer. From luxurious hotels to exciting attractions, Midtown Manhattan has something to suit every preference… CONTINUE READING >> 

Whether you’re planning to visit New York City for business or pleasure, the city that never sleeps has a lot to offer. From luxurious hotels to exciting attractions, Midtown Manhattan has something to suit every preference. Here are the top five reasons you should visit this bustling part of the Big Apple.

The Westgate

When you need to find the perfect place to stay for your trip, The Westgate NYC Hotel is an excellent choice. Not only is it within walking distance of many attractions, but it also features an in-house restaurant and plenty of amenities to keep you comfortable. As New Yorks Historic Midtown Manhattan Hotel, The Westgate provides 24/7 front desk service for guest convenience.

Times Square

Whether you want to get some shopping in or attend a Broadway play, a visit to Times Square can make your dream a reality. As a cornerstone of the city, Times Square is always crowded and well lit so you’re sure to find something exciting. If you’re planning a trip around the holidays, stop by the iconic New Year’s Eve celebration to ring in the new year with locals and tourists alike.

Fifth Avenue

Every shopping enthusiast dreams of having a spending spree on Fifth Avenue. From clothes and accessories to jewelry, the items offered on Fifth Avenue are luxurious and high-end. Manhattan’s shopping district is home to many stores, including those listed below.

Vuitton
Tiffany & Co.
H & M
Cartier
NBA store
Gucci

Empire State Building

Get a breathtaking view of the city from the top of the Empire State Building. Tour the exhibits on the second floor to experience unique history and culture and then began your ascent to the top. Stop at the 86th floor to see the partial views but make sure you go all the way to the 102nd floor to get the full effect. Afterward, make sure you visit our gift shop and Visitor’s Center for a souvenir.

Rockafeller Center

If you’re planning a holiday trip to New York City, you can’t miss the annual Christmas tree at Rockafeller Center. During the rest of the year, climb to the top of the observation deck to get a bird’s eye view of the city. The attraction features a variety of exhibits each year, so make sure you tour them to learn more about the history and culture of the city. Restaurants and numerous stores make this attraction ideal for families.

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

What Makes a Great Empty Nest Destination? Here are our Suggestions!

With the children raised and off on their own, many of the obstacles that hindered our ability to travel extensively have disappeared, but there may be some new challenges.

The key for us empty nesters is to decide what we are seeking when we travel, then match the destination to our desires.

If we plan ahead for our levels of comfort, cost, and activity level, checking most anything off the… CONTINUE READING >> 

What makes a great empty nest vacation?

With the children raised and off on their own, many of the obstacles that hindered our ability to travel extensively have disappeared, but there may be some new challenges.

The key for us empty nesters is to decide what we are seeking when we travel, then match the destination to our desires.

If we plan ahead for our levels of comfort, cost, and activity level, checking most anything off the old bucket list becomes possible.

Roughing It – Without Roughing It

Biking The Grand Canyon

Just because we might not get excited at the prospect of roughing it like a Boy Scout anymore doesn’t mean nature’s wonders have to be off our list.

There are plenty of spectacular offerings in the great outdoors that are easy to visit.

At the top of that list are many of our National Parks.

Flying over the rim of the Grand Canyon in a helicopter!
Flying over the rim of The Grand Canyon in a helicopter.

We aren’t talking about sleeping on the ground in a pup tent either, a number of our most famous parks have fantastic lodges. Yellowstone, Yosemite, The Grand Canyon, and Glacier National Park all have incredible historic hotels set right in the heart of breathtaking scenery.

Buffalo at beautiful Yellowstone National Park
Buffalo at Yellowstone National Park.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park

These offer all the modern amenities in a perfect combination of rustic and elegant.

Most also offer shuttle bus service to all of the iconic attractions that are as reliable as Old Faithful.

The Grand Canyon, and Glacier National Park can even be reached by train. After all, Mother Nature prefers her visitors bright eyed and bushy tailed, not worn out from driving.

Quite a few State Parks also offer accommodations, some on a par with their national big brothers, such as Starved Rock in Illinois, or Fall Creek Falls in Tennessee.

Cruuuuuisin’
Cruising in Hong Kong
Sailing out of Hong Kong

Cruises can be another great way to travel in style and see places you’ve always dreamed about.

It’s like bringing your hotel with you while seeing a glacier in Alaska, sailing the Mediterranean, visiting The Great Wall of China, or cruising the great rivers of Europe.

If it’s near the water you can see it on a boat, and avoid all of the hassles of packing and unpacking along the way.

Safety at Sea: What the newest ships are implementing

Cruising through Budapest at night! Spectacular!
Cruising through Budapest at night! Spectacular!

Hint: It is best to avoid booking during Spring Break if you want a little peace and quiet by the pool. We made that mistake a few years ago. But the libation-soaked scholars turned out to be good for a little comic relief from time to time!

Size DOES Matter
Sunset in St. Augustine, Florida
Sunset in St. Augustine, Florida
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Smaller cities that have a ton of attractions within a central location make for great getaways.

Two of the oldest settlements in America fall into that category, Santa Fe, New Mexico and St. Augustine, Florida.

Both have restored historic downtown areas that are easy to walk around and packed with great shopping, eating, and some of the oldest structures in the country.

Savannah, Georgia
Downtown Savannah, Georgia
Shrimp and Grits and fried okra in Charleston, South Carolina
Shrimp and grits with fried okra in Charleston

 

For Southern charm, the Lowcountry cities of Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina are unmatched.

The Spanish moss-draped trees along the boulevards and squares, restored waterfronts, and classic colonial homes can be magical, with much of the allure of New Orleans… minus the happy hedonistic insanity.

For northern exposure, give Corning, New York or Newport, Rhode Island a visit.

View of Salzburg, Austria from the castle
Salzburg, Austria
Ornate guild signs in Salzburg
Ornate guild signs in Salzburg

With its easy walk-through old town, Salzburg in Austria is heralded as one of the best-preserved city centers in Europe.

Once inside the walls the baroque architecture and ornate guild signs are mesmerizing, and The Sound of Music is all around… in more ways than one.

Be sure to ride the cable car up to Hohensalzburg Castle for the best possible view overlooking Mozart’s hometown.

Sunset in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico
Sunset in Puerto Penasco, Mexico

An hour south of the U.S. border and a million mental miles away is Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.  No wonder this quaint fishing village has become so popular with snow birds. Relax on the shores of the Sea of Cortez for a fraction of the cost of most Mexican resorts.

All of these small-ish burgs have a full spectrum of food and lodging choices and best of all, because they are not big metropolitan centers, these towns can be pretty easy on the savings account.

Need a Bigger Adventure?
Prague

Beautiful Prague, Czech Republic

Prague in the Czech Republic is the former capital of the Holy Roman Empire and one of the world’s great cities, yet the old center is small enough to easily navigate on foot.

Rounding every corner is like stepping into a new page of a classic story book.

We almost expected a damsel in distress or a knight in shining armor at every turn. To ensure a return visit (and you’ll want one), rub the statue of St. John on the Charles Bridge.

Newfoundland
Kayaking with Icebergs in Newfoundland
Kayaking with humpback whales and icebergs in Newfoundland.

We thought we might just spend a few days in Newfoundland.

Good thing we asked around before we went, because everyone who had been there said it takes at least two weeks to even scratch the surface.

Luckily we are empty nesters and had the time to truly explore the natural beauty and fantastic people of the island. Don’t forget to ask a local about getting “Screeched In” to become an honorary Newfoundlander.

Queensland

Veronica snorkels with a sea turtle on Lady Elliot Island, Queensland, Australia, GypsyNester.com

If Australia is on your bucket list, look no further than Queensland. Beautiful beaches, glamorous seaside foodie towns and all the fabulous marsupials you could ever want to see are there for the experiencing!

Oh, and Great. Barrier Reef. It doesn’t get more bucket list than that!

The laidback, “no worries” atmosphere of Queensland allows us empty nesters to relax — or adventure — at our own pace.

Costa Rica

View from Parador Resort and Spa, Costa Rica

If you are a nature lover and appreciate ecotourism, Costa Rica is your ultimate destination.

Costa Rica has embraced ecotourism, understanding the need to keep their beautiful beaches, national parks and treasured wildlife as pristine as possible. Plus they have tons of monkeys, and we love monkeys.

If all the ecotourism talk conjures up visions of carrying a backpack through the jungle, sleeping in tents, and living off of nuts and wild papayas, we can relate.

But there’s luxury to be found, too. We soaked in hot springs on the slopes of an active volcano, and even had a massage while watching monkeys swing through the trees at the most eco-friendly hotel we’ve ever stayed. Can’t do that in many places!

The Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland

The Wild Atlantic Way of Ireland

The Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland will create memories that will stay in your heart forever – the views from the edge of the world are spectacular!

Headquarter in the little town of Dingle – for Victorian quaintness, and a foodie experience you’ll never forget!


A Nod to Voluntourism

Volunteering in Africa

Volunteer vacations are a great way to see the world, help others, and grow together as a couple.

Many US National Parks have volunteer programs that offer fabulous benefits, like free lodging.

There are also opportunities abroad, like teaching English to schoolchildren in Africa, that many empty nesters find very fulfilling – including us!

By combining volunteering and tourism, you get a unique, hands-on experience that connects you to the places you visit in very powerful ways.

With the offspring grown and flown, it’s the perfect time to spread our wings, pick a place, pack those bags, and leave the nest completely empty for a while.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

YOUR TURN: Have we inspired you to take an empty nest vacation? Which of these are on your bucket list? Do you have destinations to share?

Ketchikan, Catch It if You Can

There is no doubt that catching Ketchikan is a great idea even if there are only two ways to do it, either by boat or plane.Nowhere else has more totem poles, or Old West history, but be sure to bring an umbrella…
CONTINUE READING >>

There is no doubt that catching Ketchikan is a great idea, even if there are only two ways to do it. Visitors have no choice but to arrive by either boat or plane.

By far most arrive by ship, as we did, and when we stepped off on to the shore we were greeted by a group telling the history of the town.

These figures from the past could not speak, yet did a fine job of representing  the story of Ketchikan featuring Chief Johnson, standing with his arms outstretched and gazing over the water, led many native settlers here from British Columbia back in in the 1887and became chief in 1902.

He is joined by a logger, a fisherman, a miner, an aviator, a Tlingit woman drumming, and a lady in her finest Gay 90’s garb. The scene, named  The Rock, was sculpted by Dave Rubin and unveiled on the forth of July in 2010.

Still, as enjoyable as this artwork was, we were on a mission to find something even more iconic, totem poles. This is the totem pole capital of Alaska, no, the world, with more standing poles than anywhere else on the planet.

You can’t miss them, they are everywhere, including right in the middle of town, but the best collections are outside the city a bit. Needless to say that is where we headed first.

There is only one main road, and going in either direction will lead to outstanding examples of these classic pieces of native art. Even better, both directions are easily accessible by public busses.

A few miles to the south we found Saxman Totem Park. This is a public park in the tiny town of Saxman, but it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

That’s because their collection of totem poles rates as good as any in the world, with many found in abandoned Tlingit villages in the region and reconstructed by skilled Tlingit carvers. In fact, the carving room is right in the park so we got a good look at the tools and the process.

Hopping on the bus to the north of town and a bit farther out, we rode to Totem Bight State Historical Park.  This Alaska state park covers thirty three acres and has over a dozen poles along with a fantastic replica of a traditional Tlingit clan house.

There is a very nice path, about a mile loop, that we followed through the woods leading to the house. As we walked farther, the trail led to the shore where we were lucky enough to catch three whales making their way south through the Inside Passage. From our vantage point, granted several hundred yards away, it looked to be a mother with two calves.

Continuing around the loop took us back to the main entrance and the bus stop for our ride back into town.

Back in the big city we had one main goal in mind, to check out the famed old red light district known as Creek Street. No, no, it’s not like that anymore, but it is as picturesque an area as any we’ve seen with such a dubious past, other than perhaps Amsterdam.

Back in the gold rush times, over one hundred years ago, this was the sauciest, rootin’-tootin’est, raunchiest stretch of street just about anywhere in the Wild, Wild West. Actually, it’s not really even a road, it is a boardwalk along Ketchikan Creek.

These days it is a downright peaceful, other than a little crowded, family friendly walkway along the stream. The old brothels and barrooms are now eateries and curio shops, and nary a single husband was spotted trying to escape by running up Married Man’s Trail.

That path heading up the hills and out of town got its name from wayward spouses running away from the law to the avoid sizable fines that came with getting caught at one of the houses of ill repute. But the only slippery characters we saw heading for the hills on our visit were the thousands of salmon making their run upstream.

As we made our way back down to docks on the waterfront a very common occurrence for Ketchikan commenced, a light rain began to fall.

This is one of the wettest places in America, with precipitation about two hundred and thirty days a year. And not only does it rain often, it rains a bunch, normally over 150 inches a year. Holy cow, a little ciphering tells us that’s over twelve feet!

Bears in buildings seems to be a a thing in Ketchikan!

On the other hand, the drizzle gave us a good excuse to pop in to one of the waterfront’s favorite watering holes, The Arctic Bar. It claims to be the oldest bar in town, and who are we to doubt it? What we know for sure is that the beer is cold and the bears out front have become a local landmark.

We couldn’t think of a better place to wait out the weather before climbing back aboard our ship.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See all of our previous adventures in Alaska!