Cavorting Along the Camino de Santiago

As we traveled across the Basque Country we came upon the Camino Santiago, known in English as the Way of St. James, almost every day.
The paths originate all over Europe and merge as they go until they all reach their destination in the city of Galicia on the… CONTINUE READING >> 

A big thank you to VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations for providing this adventure, as always, all opinions are our own.

As we traveled across the Basque Country we came upon the Camino Santiago, known in English as the Way of St. James, almost every day.

See all of our adventures in the Basque Country here.

We encountered it on mountain tops, along the seaside, on city streets, and across international borders.

Each year hundreds of thousands of pilgrims make a trek on foot along this famous system of trails. The Camino is a catch all name for all of the paths that originate all over Europe and merge as they go until they all reach their destination in the city of Galicia on the northwestern coast of Spain.

A sign points “The Way” through Hondarribia, Spain on the Camino de Santiago.

The tradition began over a thousand years ago, when the legend spread that the remains of Saint James the Great, Santiago in Spanish, were buried at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.  Just how the apostle ended up on the Spanish coast is a tale that seems to have a few versions.

The stories range from the mundane, with his disciples bringing him back to Spain, to fanciful sagas with the body flying, or sailing on an angel-captained ship. Somehow they all end with him washing ashore covered in scallop shells.

At some point the pilgrims began to identify themselves with the shells as a way to recognize each other, and now it is common to see scallops attached to their backpacks.

We noticed this on our first day in San Sebastián, and then later found the shell symbol used on many markers showing the way.

Read more about San Sebastián.

Many of these pilgrims walk hundreds of miles, over weeks or even months in a physical, as well as spiritual, journey of self-discovery. There is even a movie, The Way starring Martin Sheen, about how walking the Camino affects the lives of those who make the pilgrimage.

Compared with these dedicated voyagers, our experience with the Camino was much less dynamic. We made our most extensive hike one afternoon along Mount Jaizkibel near the city of Hondarribia on a part of the coastal route that is considered to be the oldest of the trails.

This particular path dates back more than 1,000 years and is believed to be the first established route used by religious travelers.

Unfortunately, the weather was less than cooperative for our hike. Low clouds and heavy rain completely obscured our view of the surrounding mountains on one side, and the Bay of Biscay on the other.

We did have the chance to meet and speak with some heartier voyagers from Canada who were making the entire trek from France.

As impressed as we were, after a couple of miles we were soaked and ready to opt for motorized transportation. I know, I know, we’re wimps.

Luckily, we had the chance to return to this section of the Camino a few days later on a gorgeous clear day. It was amazing to see what we had missed.

From the ridge we could look out all the way down the coast of Spain and see where it makes a hard left turn to the north, becoming the coast of France. This “L” of shoreline is what forms the Bay of Biscay that stretched out before us.

Our next encounter with the Camino was around the city of Tolosa, high in the Pyrenees Mountains. We followed it along the Oria River through town, and then up into the countryside nearby.

At the end of our journey we had one last rendezvous with the road in Bilbao, the unofficial capital of the Basque region. They Camino runs directly through the Casco Viejo, the city’s old quarter, as an ancient cobblestone street.

It passes several churches, the main one being the Santiago Cathedral from the fourteenth century.

The name is in honor of the Camino de Santiago, because the northern branch of the Way of Saint James was already here when the church was made.

Read more about Bilbao.

All in all we figured that we walked about a dozen miles along the Way, not even close to qualifying as a pilgrimage.

It was enough for us to know that we are glad we did.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See all of our adventures in the Basque Country here.

See all of our adventures in Spain.

A big thank you to VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations for providing this adventure, as always, all opinions are our own.

A Collection of Castles in Germany

Cruising along the Moselle and Rhine Rivers unveils an unbelievable concentration of castles.

It seemed as though we never traveled more than a mile or so before spotting the next fortress… CONTINUE READING >> 

 Written aboard the Longship Odin on her river voyage with stops in Paris, Luxembourg, Trier, Cochem, Heidelberg, Wurzburg, Rothenburg, Nuremberg, and Prague. Thanks to Viking River Cruises for inviting us along and providing this adventure! As always, all opinions are our own.

Read about our entire Viking river adventure here. 

Cruising along the Moselle and Rhine Rivers unveils an unbelievable concentration of castles.

It seemed as though we never traveled more than a mile or so before spotting the next fortress. In fact, much of the time we were never out of sight of at least one castle.

Beginning in the Moselle valley, where some of the best Rieslings in the world grow, we would spend the next few days casting our eyes from riverbank to riverbank seeking the next fortification.

Landshut Castle

In the charming medieval village of Bernkastel we docked for a night time visit directly under Landshut Castle. This classic was constructed in 1277 but burned, along with all of its treasures, in 1692.

Imperial castle Reichsburg

The city of Cochem is overseen by the imposing Imperial castle Reichsburg on the hill high above. Actually, saying castle Reichsburg is redundant, like saying castle Reichs castle, because burg means castle.

But by any name it is a fantastic sight looming over the town.

Thurant Castle

Beginning in the mid-13th century, Thurant Castle was the bastion of the archbishops from Cologne and Trier, which is why it looks like two castles stuck together.

Since the 16th century the double castle has gradually fallen into disrepair, until the last hundred years or so when it has been partially restored.

Marksburg Castle

Marksburg Castle is one of the few castles in Germany, that has never been destroyed.

When we looked down from its perch high above the river it was easy to see how no invaders ever managed to ransack this stronghold.

Inside we found eight-hundred years of well-preserved history, and even though most of the artifacts were brought in from other places, they provide an excellent look into life in the middle ages.

Among them, eye-opening displays of torture, no wait, let’s call them criminal punishment devices, that harken back to the days when Marksburg served as a prison. Certainly looked as though harsh sentences were the order of the day back then.

Schönburg Castle

Schönburg Castle stands guard above the medieval town of Oberwesel in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley and dates back as far as the year 911.  As with many of these strongholds, the idea was to levy customs upon the traffic on the river.

Rheinstein Castle

Rheinstein Castle goes back to the late 13th century, when the archbishop of Mainz decided to collect some tariffs from the commerce on the river.

Of course it also provided protection from the other castles down the river.

Its heyday ran until the 16th century, before falling into ruin.

Pfalzgrafenstein Castle

Pfalzgrafenstein Castle has one mouthful of a name, so it is usually known simply as the Pfalz. This was another toll castle erected by King Ludwig the Bavarian in 1326.

To extract the fee, a chain was pulled across the river to block the boats. Traders who refused to pay would be thrown in the dungeon until they coughed up… or maybe croaked.

Heidelberger Schloss

While Heidelberg is on a different river, the Neckar, we included it because the Heidelberger Schloss found itself in the middle of much of European history. This palace / fortress has been occupied by kings and emperors of Germany, Bavaria, and the Holy Roman Empire.

See more about charming Heidelberg here.

Read about our entire Viking river adventure here. 

Find the rest of our escapades across Germany here.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

 Written aboard the Longship Odin on her river voyage with stops in Paris, Luxembourg, Trier, Cochem, Heidelberg, Wurzburg, Rothenburg, Nuremberg, and Prague. Thanks to Viking River Cruises for inviting us along and providing this adventure! As always, all opinions are our own.

To Drive or Not to Drive, That is the Question

Renting a car and taking off across a foreign land can be daunting even to the most seasoned travelers.

Before the days of the internet we had to hunt down… CONTINUE READING >> 

Renting a car and taking off across a foreign land can be daunting even to the most seasoned travelers.

Visions of confusion at the counter mingle with the dread of ending up lost, or worse, crashed.

Then there is the prospect of finding a hotel in a strange land. The first time we tried it, over twenty years ago, we certainly suffered from those anxieties. But now it is much easier, thanks to deals like these Travelodge Offers.

Before the days of the internet we had to hunt down one of the very few companies available for international rentals at that time, then called, faxed, and even overnighted documents across the continents to secure a rental.

Once we were driving, we would simply hope to find a good place to stay along the way, and hope even more that we could find a good deal.

Now, thanks to the internet, all of the reservation process can be handled online in one short sitting. That still leaves the driving of the car though. Here we found most of our fears to be unfounded.

Other than the difficulty of reading signs in unknown languages, safely operating a vehicle is about the same on either side of The Atlantic. The same basic principles apply, obey the laws, pay attention, be careful, drive defensively. (see our guides on driving in Italy and the Czech Republic)

There are a number of big advantages to renting a car to visit Europe as opposed to other modes of travel. Driving is often the best way to see some of Europe’s most famous sites. How else could we have traced the route of the Monaco Gran Prix, or motored over magnificent mountain passes in The Swiss Alps?


The perfect vehicle for an alpine crossing because he had the biggest windshield of any car we’d ever seen. It extended all the way up to the middle of the roof. Kind of a sunroof / windshield combo. Perfect for viewing the mountainous majesty.

WATCH: A beautiful drive though the Alps

WATCH: We traced the route of the Monaco Grand Prix!

A car has also allowed us to experience all sorts of treasures off the beaten path. Places we never would have seen if we stuck to the regularly scheduled modes of travel. Hidden gems like Wangen in southern Germany, the tiny principality of Liechtenstein, or a festival day in Castelletto d’Orba, Italy.

Staying in these smaller towns can be a real money saver. Hotels are generally much less expensive away from the tourist centers, and gassing up a small car sure beats buying train and plane tickets.


Our lovely, affordable hotel in Wangen, Germany

We’ve found that the simple act of driving through a country has given us a much better view of what everyday life there is really like. Whether pulling into an Italian truck stop or wandering around the Czech countryside, the connection is something no organized tour can provide.

WATCH: Italian “truck stops” are far fancier than their U.S. counterparts!

WATCH: The countryside in the Czech Republic is a beautiful drive

We must admit that one of our biggest apprehensions about driving in Europe was entering into the big cities. We’d heard horror stories about the traffic and it turns out they are mostly true.

In Rome, every signal is treated like starting lights for a Vespa and Fiat drag race to the next one, and in Paris the motorcycle mayhem on the freeways will frazzle the steadiest of nerves. In fact, navigating through city traffic can be difficult even in the smaller urban areas, so we generally just don’t do it anymore.

In the small and even medium sized cities it is much easier to simply park the car and walk to all of the sights, and when it comes to wading into the insanity of major metropolitan traffic, we have learned to stay on the outskirts of town and use public transit to explore the big cities. Subway, tram and bus systems have always served us well throughout our travels.

Then, when the time comes to find our way to our next destination, even getting lost on the way out of town can be an adventure.

WATCH: We got lost in Prague. Seriously lost.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

YOUR TURN: Have we inspired you to take a European roadtrip?

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Hitting the Wall in Berlin

Berlin is not all that close to the sea, so as cruise passengers sailing the Baltic we had to ride the rails to visit the German capital.
We immediately gravitated to perhaps the most famous part of the Wall, Dmitri Vrubel’s picture of… CONTINUE READING >> 

Thanks to Viking Ocean Cruises for inviting us along and providing this adventure! As always, all opinions are our own.

See all of our exploits aboard the Viking Star through the Baltic Sea here.

Berlin is not all that close to the sea, so as cruise passengers sailing the Baltic we had to ride the rails to visit the German capital.

We generally jump at any chance (at least David does) to see some countryside through the window of a train, so off we went.

The train pulled into the Berlin Ostbahnhof, or east station, which is right by the East Side Gallery of the Berlin Wall.

This is a nearly mile-long section of the Wall that has been covered with one hundred and five paintings by artists from all around the world.

We immediately gravitated to perhaps the most famous of these works, Dmitri Vrubel’s picture of the one-time head of the Soviet Union Leonid Brezhnev and former East German leader Erich Honecker in full smooch mode.

The Wall, a sympton of the partitioning of the city at the end of World War II, would play a primary role in the first part of our explorations, so we paralleled it toward the center of the city

The barrier was built to keep people in, not out, after three and a half million East Germans had fled to the West between 1946 and 1961. To stop the tide, an eight hundred and thirty-eight mile concrete border was erected.

The Berlin Wall was actually two parallel walls with a no-man’s land situated between them. We learned that towers were installed within eyeshot of each other and overseen by armed guards with orders to shoot to kill anyone who made it over the first wall.

Every morning, the dirt in the no-man’s land would be carefully raked, and if any footprints were found without a dead body nearby, the guards would be punished.

After the East Germans built the wall in 1961, the allies were allowed three crossing points: Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie. Checkpoint Charlie, being the only one in the middle of the city, became the best known passage between the two German states.

Unfortunately, what we saw was only a replica, since the real guard house was removed and put on display at the Allied Museum in 1990.

Moving on a few blocks from the checkpoint we found another section of the wall, one that has been left without embellishment. The concrete struck us as surprisingly thin—and the overall height much lower than we expected.

This meant that additional measures were needed to keep people from breaking through.

In the patches where the concrete was worn we could see tight interlacing metal mesh, making it difficult to tunnel through. The top of the wall was rounded—then heavily greased—making it nearly impossible to climb over.

Another reason that this section of the wall was exceptionally interesting to us was because it runs right along the place where the Gestapo and SS once had their headquarters.

The buildings were completely destroyed by bombs at the end of the war, but the foundations have been used as a backdrop for a display detailing the history of repression under the Nazis.

The gravity of this site, along with the incredibly disturbing information unfolding before us, created an overwhelmed feeling and our next stop only added to that.

The stark reality of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe served to increase the heaviness of the atmosphere, if that was possible.

The concept of 2,711 concrete blocks of various heights was designed to show how a supposedly ordered system can lose touch with reason, but the creators also wanted the interpretation to be open to each individual.

To us it certainly captured the weight of the events that it memorializes.

Walking toward the Unter den Linden, the main boulevard through the center of town, we stumbled upon yet another reminder of this city’s darker days.

Down a side street stood the last remaining watchtower from the days of the German Democratic Republic, better known as East Germany.

Of course, had it actually been democratic, or a republic, towers like this would not have been necessary in the first place.

With all of the dark history we had consumed this morning, we decided an attempt to lighten up our mood was in order, so we stopped for a quick bite.

In Berlin that means a currywurst.

Just as the name implies, this is a twist on the typical German sausage by smothering it with catsup and curry powder.

The snack became popular after the war as street stands began to pop up all around town.

Feeling revived and ready to move on from the darker days of Berlin’s twentieth century history, we jumped back in to find the regal reminders of the imperial era of Prussia and Germany.

The most notable of these has to be the Brandenburg Gate.

As with almost everything in the city, the gate was heavily damaged by bombing in World War II, but was restored after the end of the war, and then again once the wall came down. Since then it has become a powerful symbol of German reunification.

Another important symbol of prewar history and the reunification stands very near the gate, the Reichstag.  After opening in 1894, it housed the government until 1933 when it was severely damaged in a highly suspicious fire.

Hitler, who had been appointed Chancellor just one month earlier, used the blaze as justification to suspend most rights and begin an effort to eliminate communists and increase state security throughout Germany.

The building sat empty and fell into disrepair until it was partially refurbished in the 1960s, and then fully restored after reunification. Following that, it once again became the seat of the parliament.

Forging ahead through the heart of the city, we made a final stop at the Bebelplatz.

What seemed to be an insignificant plaza was the site of an infamous Nazi book burning in 1933. There is a memorial here but it is very easy to miss. We had to look pretty hard to find it.

The site is only marked by a window placed in the cobblestones looking down into a room filled with empty bookcases that would have held the 20,000 destroyed books.

The effect was certainly poignant, but by far the most powerful aspect of the memorial was a plaque set in the ground near the window with a scary, prophetic line from a play by one of the authors whose books were banned, Heinrich Heine.

He wrote: “Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen.” Which means “That was only a prelude; where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people.”

From the plaza we made our way back to the station and the end of this distressing day of emotional and draining history.

Our train ride back to the ship was spent in somber thought.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See all of our exploits aboard the Viking Star through the Baltic Sea here.

Thanks to Viking Ocean Cruises for inviting us along and providing this adventure! As always, all opinions are our own.

Why Traveling Is the Best Thing You Can Do in Retirement

When you think of retirement, you may think of kicking up your feet and doing nothing. After all, you’ve been on the move for decades and now is your time to relax.
But there are several reasons why getting back onto your feet and traveling during your retirement years is good for you. CONTINUE READING >> 

The many benefits of traveling for seniors. 

When you think of retirement, you may think of kicking up your feet and doing nothing. After all, you’ve been on the move for decades and now is your time to relax. But there are several reasons why getting back onto your feet and traveling during your retirement years is good for you.

1. Healthy Aging

There are a number of physical benefits to traveling during your senior years. While traveling is usually associated with relaxation, visiting new places can actually be quite physically taxing. Lugging around suitcases, sightseeing, hiking and various other activities can all burn plenty of calories and really get the blood flowing.

Older adults who are physically active have been shown to be less susceptible to things like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and even cancer.

2. Cognitive Maintenance

On top of all the physical benefits traveling can bring, there are also a number of cognitive advantages. Seeing new things, meeting new people and navigating new places all stimulate the mind, which promotes healthy cognitive function. Whether it’s trying to read a map or understand a foreign language, traveling brings plenty of mental challenges to keep your mind active and strong.

3. Social Benefits

There is a social aspect to traveling that can’t be overlooked. For one, it provides you the opportunity to visit relatives you don’t get to see often. Traveling is the link connecting generations of families and creating lifelong memories.

Additionally, traveling affords you the opportunity to meet people from different cultures and different parts of the world. In addition to learning new things, research has shown that an active social life can slow the decline of one’s health and create a higher quality of living later in life.

4. Stress Relief

There are certain parts of traveling that we all know can be stressful — airport lines, public transportation and jet lag to name a few. But travel as a whole has been found to improve people’s moods and relieve stress. In fact, a 2013 study revealed that 86 percent of travelers experienced an improved mood and outlook on life. More importantly, those effects are long lasting and continue long after your vacation is over.

5. Escape from the Weather

Seniors who live in certain climates may experience a little relief of their joint pain, muscle aches, arthritis and sinuses when visiting a new climate. Changes in temperature, humidity levels and air pressure can have dramatic effects on your body.

6. Spiritual Growth

There may also be some spiritual benefits to traveling for older adults. Discovering oneself, building a relationship with nature and putting the world into greater perspective are just some of the ways traveling can be beneficial to seniors.

7. Educational Benefits

Reading about another country or culture can only teach you so much. Traveling to a new location is the perfect opportunity to soak up some knowledge that you would never get sitting at home.

8. Senior Benefits

The best part about traveling when you’re older? The discounts! Retirees can often find discounts on airfare, hotels, meals and more. Financially speaking, there is perhaps no better time to leave the house.

Traveling offers a number of benefits for older adults, but it also brings a number of health and safety requirements. As a retiree, you should know what to pack and how to prepare for your trip to fully optimize your experience.

Enjoy your retirement, and safe travels!

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