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…
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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!

Traveling in Dr. King’s Footprints

Follow your GypsyNesters as we explore pivotal moments of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life though travel.

Join us in an emotional journey through Atlanta, Birmingham, Montgomery and Selma as we discover more about what had happened, what is happening now and our hope for the future… CONTINUE READING >>

The Capitol Building in Montgomery, Alabama
Capitol Building in Montgomery, Alabama

As the capital of Alabama, and former capital of The Confederate States of America, Montgomery is steeped in history, but for people of our generation its recent history is more transformational.

This is the city where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. began his civil rights work.

Martin Luther King's Birthplace in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. King’s Birthplace in Atlanta

In 1954 Dr. King, at only twenty-five years old, he left his childhood hometown of Atlanta, Georgia.

He moved to Montgomery to become pastor of The Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.

Montgomery
Dexter Avenue Baptist Church
Dexter Avenue Baptist Church

A year later the young pastor found himself in the center of The Montgomery Bus Boycott, considered the beginning of the modern civil rights movement, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus.

Our knowledge of these events was sketchy at best, so we decided to seek out some of the sites of these historic developments.

The Rosa Parks Library and Museum on the Troy University campus was our first stop. After chatting with a few of the students who staff the museum, we headed inside to the focal point of the presentation, a recreation of the bus Mrs. Parks was riding.

The Rosa Parks Library and MuseumWe entered a darkened room they call the Cleveland Avenue Time Machine, climbed aboard, and were taken for a ride through the years from Jim Crow in the 1800s to the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 and 1956.

The Rosa Parks incident triggered the boycott, which began as a one-day event but ended up lasting over a year. Much of the planning and coordinating took place in the basement of Dr. King’s Dexter Avenue Church, and his involvement led not only to his arrest, but a bombing at his house.

Still he remained steadfast, and by the time the boycott was settled with the United States District Court ruling in Browder v. Gayle, he was established as one of the leaders of the civil rights movement and racial segregation on all Montgomery public buses had ended.

The Civil Rights Memorial Center, Montgomery, Alabama

The success of the boycott led to the creation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, with Dr. King as president, and more efforts to end segregation and secure voting rights. The stories of those struggles are documented at The Southern Poverty Law Center and The Civil Rights Memorial Center.

The Civil Rights Memorial

The Memorial captured our attention as we walked from the church toward The Center.

The smooth granite circular slab is engraved around the outside edge with the names of people killed in the struggle for equal rights.

Water washes over the stone as a constant reminder of Dr. King’s words, “We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Click here for more photos and info about The Civil Rights Memorial Center

The Civil Rights Memorial

The Memorial was created by Vietnam Veterans Memorial designer Maya Lin, who envisioned the plaza as “a contemplative area, a place to remember the Civil Rights Movement, to honor those killed during the struggle, to appreciate how far the country has come in its quest for equality, and to consider how far it has to go.”

Click here for more photos and info about The Civil Rights Memorial Center

Birmingham

For Dr. King the quest led to Birmingham, so we followed his trail to The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, an affiliate of the Smithsonian. Set up as a walking journey, multimedia exhibits took us through the turbulent decades of the fifties and sixties while the powerful Oral History Project told us the stories from the actual participants, in their own voices.

Firehosing of Demonstrators

Early in 1963 the Southern Christian Leadership Conference organized a campaign against segregation with the hopes of exposing the city’s continued injustices using nonviolent confrontation.

During those protests the Birmingham Police Department used high-pressure hoses and dogs against the protesters.

Police and Dog Attack Sculpture

We found those moments captured in powerful statues by sculptor James Drake at the Kelly Ingram Park Freedom Walk.

The park, which served as a staging ground for many of the demonstrations, is just across the street from the Institute and The 16th Street Baptist Church. Drake’s works, such as Police and Dog Attack, and Firehosing of Demonstrators, put us right in the middle of each situation.

Click here to see more photos of Freedom Walk

Foot Soldier Tribute

It was while Dr. King was jailed during these protests that he wrote his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” advocating nonviolent civil disobedience, and by the end of the Birmingham campaign he was recognized as the leading voice of the civil rights movement.

Later that summer he led the march on Washington to give his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.

Click here to see more photos of Freedom Walk

16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama

As the movement was making real progress in 1963, the worst days in Birmingham were still to come.

On a September Sunday morning four Klansman planted a bomb in the basement of The 16th Street Baptist Church and set it to go off during a youth meeting at the morning services.

16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama

Four young girls were killed in the blast, but only one of the perpetrators was arrested.

He paid a small fine for illegal possession of dynamite.

No one else was arrested, tried or convicted for the murders until many years later.

Dr. King spoke to the more than eight thousand mourners of all races attending the funeral service, and the tragedy was instrumental in turning public opinion for the civil rights cause, ultimately leading to President Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Selma
Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Selma, Alabama
Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church

Equal rights was the law of the land but the struggle was not over.

Early in 1965, Selma, Alabama became the focal point for the next battle, voting rights. Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference came to Selma hoping that a major event would help lead to national voting rights legislation in the same way that the Birmingham campaign helped to bring about passage of the Civil Rights Act.

They planned a march from Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church to the capitol building in Montgomery.

The Edmund Pettus Bridge, Selma Alabama

We entered Selma by crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge, scene of Bloody Sunday, and proceeded on to the church.

This took us directly along the route taken on Sunday March 7,1965 by the six hundred people who were beaten and gassed as they tried to cross the bridge in their first attempt to march on Montgomery.

Two days later Dr. King led another march, this time only planning to go as far as the bridge, to prove the point that they had the legal right to do so on the authority of a Federal District Court Judge.

The Edmund Pettus Bridge, Selma Alabama

The third march left Selma on March 16th with just over three thousand people.

They walked about ten miles a day, sleeping in fields along the way, until reaching Montgomery on the 24th. By the time they arrived at the capitol building the group had grown to twenty-five thousand.

Atlanta

Gravesite at Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Change

By retracing the path of the marchers we had returned full circle to the beginnings of Dr. Martin Luther King’s remarkable achievements.

But two years after Selma Dr. King’s life was cut short by an assassin’s bullet in Memphis. He returned to Atlanta, Georgia to be laid to rest at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Change.

The Chapel of All Faiths at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Change

Along the way we came to understand the importance of bringing attention to these events, after being disconcerted by how little we knew of them before.

Our eyes were opened, not only to how much has been accomplished, but how much is yet to be.

Washington, DC

The Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington DC

After over twenty years of planning and building, the Martin Luther King Memorial opened to the public in August of 2011, and is one of the few in Washington not dedicated to a president.

We passed through two huge stones that symbolize a mountain of despair, to the Stone of Hope, which is the centerpiece of the monument. The path was designed to signify the journey toward civil rights and named for the line from that famous speech “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”

Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope: The Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington DC

A relief of Dr. King is carved in the stone, and a granite wall is inscribed with lines from many of his sermons and speeches.

Oslo, Norway

Celebrating Martin Luther King's Nobel prize at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway

Each year at the Nobel Peace Center in Olso, Norway a presentation delivers new information on the fiftieth anniversary of each recipient’s award.

All of these details are kept strictly secret until the required passage of five decades, so this is the first opportunity to see who else was nominated or may have come close to winning.

Newspapers all over the world announced Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Nobel Peace Prize Honor. Seen at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway

The most recent files released revealed the specifics behind Dr. King winning the prize in 1964, and we were fascinated by the process.

He was chosen from among forty-three candidates and became the youngest person ever to receive the award.

Boston

The Free at Last sculpture in front of Marsh Chapel in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. received his Ph.D. at Boston University.

The steel and granite Free at Last sculpture in front of Marsh Chapel on the campus was created by Sergio Castillo and was dedicated in1975.

Towering twenty feet into the sky, Free at Last, is composed of birds taking flight – and once we backed away from the monument we realized the the flock takes the shape of a single bird headed for the sky.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Delve deeper:
The Freedom Walk in Birmingham
The Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery
Retracing the Freedom Walk from Selma to Montgomery
The Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, DC
The Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway

Seeing Red in Rothenberg, Germany’s Best Preserved Medieval Town

It’s not every day that we get to spend securely tucked away within the impenetrable ramparts of a fortified enclave, but Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Germany was just such a place. The town truly is one big fortress, protected by a city wall all the way around it that has remained intact for centuries…
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Rothenberg, Germany. Germany's best preserved Medieval town. GypsyNester.com

It’s not every day that we get to spend securely tucked away within the impenetrable ramparts of a fortified enclave, but Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Germany was just such a place.

The name means Red Fortress above the Tauber, most likely for the red rooftops on many of the buildings, but this is no Red Roof Inn. Still, it might not cost much more than one with these best travel deals for Black Friday.

Colorful buildings in Rothemburg, Germany

Rothenberg means Red Fortress above the Tauber, most likely for the red rooftops on many of the buildings

The town truly is one big fortress, protected by a city wall all the way around it that has remained intact for centuries.

Inside the bastion we were treated to Germany’s best preserved medieval town.

For a quick and amusing lesson on the legend that dominates the town’s history, we made the main square our first stop.

Glühwein at the town square in Rothemburg, Germany

The plaza is dominated by the Rathaus, or town hall, and the tavern where the council did their drinking that stands next door, the Ratstrinkstube.

The facade on the tavern has become semi-famous for its Meistertrunk animated clock that, every hour on the hour, depicts the popular legend of how the town was saved.

These classic story-telling timepieces are particularly prevalent in this part of the world, and we try to catch their presentations whenever we can.

The main square in Rothenberg, Germany

Arriving a few minutes early, we staked out a sidewalk table with a view of the Glockenspiel, ordered a cup of Glühwein, and waited for the show.

Count Tilly and his Catholic troops were laying siege to the town. As a joke, the count promised to spare the town - if one of its councillors could quaff a full three and a quarter liter tankard of wine in one gulp. Mayor Nusch took the challenge and downed the whole thing nonstop, becoming an instant hero

It helped that we knew the story beforehand, as the timepiece’s demonstration is somewhat less than in depth.

The tale is told that back in 1631, during the Thirty Years’ War, Count Tilly and his Catholic troops were laying siege to the predominantly Protestant town.

Perhaps as a joke, but certainly thinking no one could pull it off, the count promised to spare the town if one of its councilors could quaff a full three and a quarter liter tankard of wine in one gulp.

Mayor Nusch took the challenge, downing the entire tankard nonstop, and became an instant hero and symbolic champion of the village from that day forward.

The underwhelming clock in Rothemburg, Germany

However, in the humble opinion of these GypsyNesters, the clock’s show doesn’t quite live up to the legend. Two windows open, one with the count, the other with the mayor, and while the mayor drinks – in painfully slow motion — the count turns to look out over the square.

The characters of the Glockenspiel in Rothemburg, Germany

That’s it, show’s over.

The city wall of Rothemburg, Germany

After that anticlimactic introduction to the saving of Rothenburg, we were determined to find a better observation by getting up on top of the medieval city wall.

In Rothenburg, Germany, we were determined to find a better observation by getting up on top of the medieval city wall. A little wandering along the base of the bulwarks brought us to a vertigo inducing steep stairway.

A little wandering along the base of the bulwarks brought us to a vertigo inducing steep stairway that led to a tiny doorway.

Entry to the city wall in Rothenberg, Germany

Rothemburg Germany

We carefully climbed to the top with walking the perimeter of the town as our prime objective.

From high on the fortifications we had an excellent, and ever-changing, view of the entire city while we walked.

As we circled, we checked out every angle of the rooftops, church spires, and defensive towers along the way.

The city wall of Rothemburg, Germany

Loophole in the city wall in Rothemburg, Germany

We also captured miniature views of the valley extending outside of the walls through the tiny window slits made for firing down on any advancing enemies.

These are known as arrow loops, or loopholes, and yes, they are where the term for usurping a rule or law originated – as in a way though the wall without actually breaking it.

Our vantage point gave us great angles for checking out the half-timbered houses that dominate the architecture of the city, and interesting peeks from above into the day to day lives of the residents.

View from the city wall of Rothemburg, Germany

The twin belfries of St. Jakob's Church of Rothenberg, Germany

It always strikes our New World senses as strange how folks live in these domiciles that are older than any structures still standing in the Americas.

The skyline is dominated by several towers, the most prominent being the twin belfries of St. Jakob’s Church.

This has served as the main church of the city since it was built over the course of one hundred and seventy years between 1311-1484.

Markusturm at Rothenberg, Germany

Many of the more impressive towers are part of the ancient city walls, but we found that they were better viewed from the ground.

So we returned to the surface streets and passed through the
Markusturm, which dates back to the 12th century as a part of the town’s first fortifications, on our way to the main entrance to the old town.

The Burgtor, or Castle Gate, served as a kind of front door for Rothenberg.  This is where Count Tilly breached the town’s defenses during the Thirty Years’ War before being held off by one very thirsty mayor.

The Burgtor, or Castle Gate, served as a kind of front door for Rothenberg, Germany

Shopping in Rothenberg, Germany

We also did a little window shopping as we walked along.

One of the town sweet specialties, Schneeballen, seemed to be in every other shop.

Schneeballen, or snowballs, a Rothenberg, Germany specialty

The name means snowball in English, and they looked to be very similar to Dutch olliebollen, although these are made by wrapping strips of dough into a ball, instead of one solid glob, so they very well could be lighter.

Still, two things kept us from trying them. First, every place that sold them proudly bragged that they were a great souvenir because they would last for eight weeks without refrigeration; second, our prior experience with fat balls made us even more wary.

The medieval drinking room Mittelalterliche Trinkstube Zur Höll, or Hell Bar, has been Rothenberg Germany’s watering hole of choice for over a thousand years.

With that in mind we decided that there wasn’t a Schneeballen’s chance in, well, let’s say Hell Bar of us eating one.

Perhaps we should explain, the medieval drinking room Mittelalterliche Trinkstube  Zur Höll, or Hell Bar, has been Rothenberg’s watering hole of choice for over a thousand years.

It is possibly the oldest building in town.

Unfortunately it wasn’t open for business on the Sunday morning that we were wandering the streets, but from the stories we heard of its reputation that may have been a good thing.

It’s not every day we get to live secure in the notion that hell is closed for the day.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See all of our adventures in Germany!

Thanks to Viking River Cruises for inviting us along and providing this adventure! See our full Cities of Light Voyage from Paris to Prague with stops in, Luxembourg, Trier, Cochem, Heidelberg, Wurzburg, Rothenburg, and Nuremberg. As always, all opinions are our own.

Man o’ Manatees

January is manatee mania month in Florida. There is no better time of year to see – and swim with (yes!) – these gentle giants in The Sunshine State, and Floridians go all out to show off the endangered sea cows, including throwing a festival or two. Did someone say festival? No way we would miss that!

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With temperatures plunging across the country, we thought this story from a few years ago might provide some inspiration for a great Florida getaway. This year’s manatee festivals are the Florida Manatee Festival in Chrystal River January 18th & 19th and the Orange City / Blue Springs Manatee Festival January 25th & 26th!

Swimming with manatees in Florida!

January is manatee mania month in Florida. There is no better time of year to see – and swim with (yes!) – these gentle giants in The Sunshine State. Floridians go all out to show off the endangered sea cows, including throwing a festival or two. Did someone say festival? No way we would miss that!

Swimming with manatees in Florida!

In winter the Florida subspecies of the West Indian Manatee (Trichechus manatus) can be found on both the Gulf and Atlantic sides of the state seeking warm waters. Since we had seen them on the Atlantic side a couple of years ago, and especially since we learned that it was the only place where we could actually get in the water and swim with manatees, we headed to the town of Crystal River on the Gulf Coast.

Swimming with manatees in Florida!

The area around Crystal River has about fifty mammoth fresh water springs that feed Kings Bay with perfect seventy-two-degree water year round. The manatees come to the springs to mate, feed, or just rest and get away from the colder seas. In fact, they like the water in the bay so much that they have been known to stay even through the summer.

We made an afternoon out of exploring our options as to which of the many “Swim With Manatees” boat tours to use by bicycling around the quaint little bay side village of Crystal River.

Along the way we spotted several sea cows feeding along the seawall in the bay. Let the mania begin.

Swimming with manatees in Florida!

After talking to a few of the tour operators, and reading up on the excursions while stopping off for a little waterfront refreshment, we were convinced that our ultimate meeting-the-manatees experience awaited us not in Crystal River, but ten miles south at Homosassa Springs.

So the next day we drove on down to board our boat ready to say howdy to some sea cows face-to-face.

Snorkeling with Mantees in Florida!

Another of the massive springs common to the Florida Aquifer feeds the Homosassa River, and manatees are known to swim several miles up the stream to congregate near the source. We chose this tour because it is usually less crowded, the water is often clearer, and it had the added bonus of getting to see some monkeys.

Monkey island of The Homosassa Riverside Resort, Florida

Yup, monkeys, as in more fun than a barrel of. Just after leaving the dock our boat passed by the famous monkey island of The Homosassa Riverside Resort.

The five resident spider monkeys all gave us a good show, climbing trees and swinging from ropes while we cruised by. Our captain, Laura, explained how the little primates got there.

Monkey island of The Homosassa Riverside Resort, Florida

Dr. John Hamlet was convinced to move to Florida by the resort’s colorful owner G. A. “Furgy” Furgason. It seems the good doctor had been using monkeys to study the polio vaccine and Furgy, always the promoter, had the idea that they might make a good tourist attraction.

After dredging in the marina created a pile of rocks just offshore from his businesses, Furgy had his monkey island.

Homosassa River, Florida

Another fifteen minutes or so up the river and we were wetsuited up and ready to go. But first the rules. Manatees are protected by several state and federal laws, so it is strictly forbidden to harass them in any way.

No chasing, poking, scaring, riding, or in any way going cowboy with the sea cows is allowed. It is not a roundup, pardner.

Veronica all snorkeled up and ready to go!

Captain Laura explained that it was best to try to stay still and let them come to you. And they did. A lot. They are huge, adults often reach over one thousand pounds and babies nearly half that, and they swam right up to us. Several times we had no idea one was around until it was right next to us. They seemed to come out of nowhere.

Swimming with manatees in Florida!

Manatees are slow moving, very gentle, and actually seem to enjoy interacting with humans, so we mostly floated silently and let them move around us.

We even got to touch a couple of them, which is allowed as long as it is done softly and with an open hand. Their skin is a little bristly, with short, coarse hairs, and often covered with a layer of algae.

Scars on the back of a manatee from boat propeller

Sadly, as we had noticed in our land-based manatee viewings, almost every one of these congenial creatures bears scars from collisions with watercraft.

They nearly all have tell-tale parallel lines across their backs from boat’s propellers. In fact they have no natural predators, humans are really their only threat, mainly from impact with boats, but also loss of habitat and pollution.

Swimming with manatees in Florida!

The good news is that a great deal of effort is being made to protect them and their numbers seem to have stabilized, with at least five thousand spending the past few winters in Florida.

One of the groups working to preserve the manatee population is Friends of Blue Springs State Park. For thirty years they have been raising funds and awareness with The Orange City / Blue Springs Manatee Festival.

Our timing was perfect, the festival was winding up the next day. So we drove across the peninsula to Orange City to get our fest on and see some more sea cows.

Food truck at Manatee Festival

Disc-Connected K-9 Frisbee Dog

The in-town portion of the festival is a really fun fair, with food, music, booths and the like, but the main attraction was not manatees – it was dogs.

The Disc-Connected K-9 show wowed the crowd with the amazing frisbee catching antics of a group of well trained border collies. We even got to watch a world champion do his high flying disc catching thing.

Disc-Connected K-9 Frisbee Dog

Save the Manatee Club at the Manatee Festival

But the festival really is all about raising money to help the community and the state park, so busses were provided to shuttle folks from town out to the park.

We climbed aboard our standing-room-only coach for the short ride while reading up on the park from a brochure.

Blue Springs State Park, Florida

Blue Spring is another first magnitude spring, pouring forth over one hundred million gallons of water a day, and like the springs around Crystal River, the water stays a constant seventy-two degrees year round.

So manatees love it, and many will swim miles up the St. Johns River to get to it.

Click here for more pics of beautiful Blue Springs State Park

Blue Springs State Park, Florida

Exiting the bus, we took a boardwalk path up to the source of the spring and got exceptional views of all sorts of wildlife along the way.

Turtles, alligators, and any number of birds and fish, but the stars of the show were being quite shy. The half dozen or so manatees we saw were all resting on the other side of the river from the path, so we didn’t get a very good view.

Manatees at Blue Springs State Park, Florida
Click here for more pics of beautiful Blue Springs State Park

But that was fine with us, we really didn’t want to get greedy. We had already experienced about the best manatee encounter anyone could ever hope for.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Can’t get enough manatee action? Click here to see our sightings on Florida’s east coast! Be sure to watch our video on How to Spot a Manatee: