Orlando All Grown Up

We’ve got nothing against theme parks. In fact, we happily took our kids to Orlando for an exhilarating visit to Disney World and Epcot years ago and had a fantastic family vacation, but our memories are mostly of tiny hands excitedly pulling us from one wild ride to the next.

Now that they are all grown up and on their own, we have the opportunity to explore the city at a more relaxing pace and see the more adult side of …

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We’ve got nothing against theme parks. In fact, we happily took our kids to Orlando for an exhilarating visit to Disney World and Epcot years ago and had a fantastic family vacation, but our memories are mostly of tiny hands excitedly pulling us from one wild ride to the next.

Now that they are all grown up and on their own, we have the opportunity to explore the city at a more relaxing pace and see the more adult side of things. So, as Petula Clark sang long ago, downtown is the place to be.


Image via Flickr by WalterPro

A great place to start is the Church Street Station in the center of town. This former South Florida Railroad terminal, circa 1889, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and now serves as home to SunRail commuter trains and a hub for dining and nightlife.

Instead of corndogs and cotton candy we can indulge in Orlando’s thriving foodie scene. Within a few blocks of the old depot there is a collection of culinary choices ranging from home-style to health conscious, and everything in between. It is possible to take an epicurean journey of gourmet burgers or steaks from America, to sushi in Japan, tapas from Spain, or Spätzle, Schnitzel, and Bratwurst for a German flavor.


Image via Flickr by mattkaiser77

After dinner, dozens of nightclubs await within an easy walk. Or it is just a few steps over to The Amway Center where the NBA Orlando Magic work their wizardry on the hardwood during the basketball season, and concerts and shows are featured year ‘round.

Perhaps our favorite discovery was just how bike friendly the city is. There are hundreds of miles of bicycle lanes and pathways throughout the urban area. Even in the heart of the city, two wheeled transportation is a good option.

For us, the rail trails that incorporate old railroad right of ways are ideal and there are several to choose from around town. These are always fairly level and make for a relaxing day of cycling.

Winding its way past six lakes, the Orlando Urban Trail links downtown with the Mead Botanical Gardens in Winter Park. Named for the renowned horticulturist Theodore L. Mead, for seventy five years the gardens have been a great place to stop and smell the flowers or spot butterflies.

At Highland Lake the Cady Way Trail splits off and heads east to Lake Druid Park. The park is home to Orlando’s first mountain bike park, but as much as we love our mountain bikes the motocross style dirt track and jumps are a bit more of a challenge than we like to tackle.

From there the trail follows the abandoned roadbed of the defunct East Florida & Atlantic Railroad north for several miles, with a shopping stop at the Fashion Square Mall on its way up to Baldwin Park.

A few miles northwest of downtown the West Orange Trail passes a number of historic homes and introduced us to Lake Apopka. These wetlands have had more species of birds spotted than anywhere else in Florida. Over three hundred and sixty so far… and still counting.

After biking our brains out, a trip back to the center of the city to replenish our energy was certainly in order. Over a meal we recount our memories of Orlando both old and new, and compare the enjoyment of our adult adventure with the fun the kids had way back when and found it hard to say which was better.

Maybe we’ll be back with our grandkids for some more research.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

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

Costa Rican Jungle Bike Ride

While investigating the incredible creatures of the Costa Rican night at the Parador Resort our guide, Danny, asked if we would be interested in taking a bicycle tour through the jungle the next day.

He didn’t have to ask twice… CONTINUE READING >> 

A HUGE gracias to Parador Resort and Spa for providing this adventure! As always, all opinions are our own.

While investigating the incredible creatures of the Costa Rican night at the Parador Resort our guide, Danny, asked if we would be interested in taking a bicycle tour through the jungle the next day.

He didn’t have to ask twice.

The next morning we set out bright and early on what would be the most unique bike ride of our lives.

Our first clue that this would be a very different kind of outing was when we noticed a little green snake on our spokes just as we were getting ready to start.

He wasn’t bothering anything, and he was kind of cute, so we snapped a couple of photos and waited for him to move along.

Once our wheels were reptile free, we set out down a dirt road that disappeared into the dense forest.

As we rode along the rustic roadway, we noticed that trees had been planted in straight rows along the side of the road.

On closer inspection, we could see that they were used as fence posts. With an even closer look we found that the trees had grown around the wire making for a permanent connection.

Deeper into the growth we stopped to check out an interesting seed pod that looked like a seashell. Nearby, we found a number of plants proudly presenting bright red flowers. Crimson seemed to be the most common color, at least in this part of the rainforest.

As we learned at the weaving cooperative in the tiny village of Chincheros, Peru, the landscape is filled with plants and bugs that can be used to create vibrant dyes and pigments.

Danny demonstrated one of these by simply rubbing a leaf between his fingers and turning them blood red. This definitely had some practical joke possibilities, but instead we moved on.

Wildlife seemed a bit scarce, or at least they weren’t showing themselves much. We were mostly surprised by the lack of monkeys, since they seemed to be abundant everywhere else we had been in Costa Rica.

We did get a chance to get up close and personal with a few critters though. In addition to our reptilian send off, we saw several other fascinating lizards and interesting insects.

A couple of hours into our explorations, Danny had us dismount and led us down a steep path descending into the depths of the rainforest.

All he would tell us was that a surprise awaited us at the end of the trail.

The mysterious payoff did not disappoint. In fact, after pedaling for several miles through the tropical heat this emerald pool beneath a refreshing waterfall was a joy to behold.

We asked if it was OK to jump in, but it was just a formality. Almost nothing could have kept us from cooling off from the jungle sun in that inviting water.

We swam and frolicked for quite some time, but began to notice that we were getting a little hungry.

Danny had one more surprise up his sleeve, and it was a doozy. The last thing we expected to find out here was a sumptuous picnic spread out before us.

We devoured fresh fruits, tortillas, and Costa Rica’s famous coffee, made in a simple yet ingenious contraption known as a chorreador.

The ground beans are filtered through what looks disturbingly like an old sock. Luckily looks can be deceiving, because the finished product yields some of the best java we have ever had the pleasure to sip.

Yet another revelation during our day of two-wheeled discovery.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See all of our adventures in Costa Rica!

YOUR turn: Would you ride a bike through the jungle?

The Oz Museum: Behind The Yellow Brick Road

Yes Dorothy, we were in Kansas anymore, Wamego to be exact.

As the home of The Oz Museum, this little burg between Topeka and Manhattan has become quite a Mecca for fans of The Wizard of Oz.

We entered the main street storefront into a fairly typical gift shop, with a couple of exceptions. There was a tornado … CONTINUE READING >>

Entering the Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas

Unlike Elton John, we did not find ourselves beyond the enchanted pathway, instead we found ourselves right in the middle of it, and privy to the secrets behind the making of the most magical road movie of all time.

The Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas

Yes Dorothy, we were in Kansas anymore, Wamego to be exact.

As the home of The Oz Museum, this little burg between Topeka and Manhattan has become quite a Mecca for fans of The Wizard of Oz.

We entered the main street storefront into a fairly typical gift shop, with a couple of exceptions.

There was a tornado machine in one corner and a very familiar-looking, sepia-toned house along the far wall.

Auntie Em's house at The Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas

To set the mood, we stepped into the machine and were buffeted by gale force winds.

We say gale, as opposed to tornadic, not only because it is Dorothy’s last name, but also because was must admit to being a little disappointed by the lack of vortex.

The wind blew straight down on our heads. Nevertheless, we felt ready to enter Auntie Em’s front door.

Dorothy Display at The Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas

In a very effective nod to the movie’s switch from black & white to technicolor, everything beyond the doorway was properly retina-burningly bright.

Our journey began with the books behind the film, including a first edition of the one that started it all, L. Frank Baum’s Wonderful Wizard of Oz from 1900.

The complete collection of OZ books at The Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas

Baum went on to pen thirteen more Oz books, but the tales continued even after he passed away as the publisher sanctioned over twenty more titles, mostly written by Ruth Plumly Thompson. In all, the series spanned five decades.

Waddle books and games at The Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas

The Wicked Witch, Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Cowardly Lion at The Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas

The Wizard of Oz display at The Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas

From the literary beginnings, we moved on to the displays about the beloved 1939 movie that brought Oz to life for so many millions of people.

Each of the main characters is given a space which includes signed memorabilia, letters, notes, and fascinating behind-the-scenes stories.

Buddy Epson as the Tin Man at The Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas

We learned that several of the actors were not the first choice for their roles. W. C. Fields was originally cast as the wizard, played by Frank Morgan, but contract disputes got in the way; and Buddy Ebsen, of Jed Clampett and Barnaby Jones fame, was the first pick for The Tin Man until the silver makeup made him ill, giving the part to Jack Haley.

The Tin Man's hat at The Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas

Many of the film’s special effects are explained too.

The tornado was made of a gauze-like muslin fabric wrapped around a wire coil, and the wicked witch’s “Surrender Dorothy” sky writing was achieved with an ink-filled medical needle and water in a glass tank.

Most interesting to David, especially since he can finally stop being terrified of them, were the little models used to create the army of flying monkeys.

Flying Monkey at The Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas

The Ruby Slippers at The Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas

There are several replicas of the ruby slippers, which were originally meant to be silver but changed because red looked so much better against the yellow brick road, but an original pair destined to be displayed at the Oz Museum fell prey to thieves back in 2005.

Unfortunately, one of the five known pairs used in the movie was stolen from The Judy Garland Museum two weeks before they were scheduled to be delivered. While some of the other shoes have been auctioned for over half a million dollars, the stolen ones have never surfaced.

The theater at The Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas

The Haunted Forest at The Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas

In the back of the building a theater runs a pristine copy of the MGM classic, but we’ve seen it hundreds of times so we headed into the Haunted Forest, lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

Just as in the movie, beyond the forest we came to Glenda The Good Witch and the hot air balloon.

But we didn’t need a ride back to Kansas, it was right outside the door.

Toto's Tacoz in Wamego, Kansas

The museum has spawned several other Oz based businesses in Wamego. Right next door we grabbed a bite at Toto’s Tacoz.

We knew it had to be good because they spelled tacos with a Z.

The Oz Winery in Wamego, Kansas

About a block down Lincoln Street we found the Oz Winery.

They make a wide variety of wines right on site, many with fanciful Oz based names like Squished Witch, Flying Monkeys, Drunken Munchkin, and Wine of a Different Color.

The Oz Winery in Wamego, Kansas

In fact, Oz has become such an integral part of the town that each year they host a giant Oztoberfest combining the classic Bavarian festival with thousands of fans, many decked out as their favorite fantasy characters from the merry old land of Oz.

We’re not positive about this, but speculation is that this might be where the winery got the idea for the name Drunken Munchkin.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Graduation A Go-Go

“Graduation speeches were invented largely in the belief that college students should never be released into the world until they have been properly sedated.” – Garry Trudeau

Between our brood of three and my brother’s trio we have six kids within a ten year age span. That used to mean some hilarious… CONTINUE READING >>

David Writes!

With graduation season firmly upon us, we thought that we would revisit this story from a few years ago.

“Graduation speeches were invented largely in the belief that college students should never be released into the world until they have been properly sedated.” – Garry Trudeau

Between our brood of three and my brother’s trio we have six kids within a ten year age span. That used to mean some hilarious high jinx as piles of toddler bodies rolled around our basements and backyards.

Cousins seem to have some sort of inborn bond this way. Months or even years can pass and the shenanigans pick up right where they left off at the last visit.

These days five of the six are officially adults and that means we’ve been to A LOT of graduations — both high school and college — over the last few years. And there are more to come.

We will be attending our niece’s university commencement ceremony in Boston this weekend. My brother’s oldest daughter is heading out into the big wide world.

As always, it’s both exciting and a little bit scary for both the former student and her parents. Both parties are understandably nervous about the job market, living quarters and the details of making the transition from pupil to worker bee.

After going through this rite of passage twice with our girls, The Piglet and Decibel, it will be nice to be a semi-impartial observer. Attorney General Eric Holder will be delivering the address so that should make for an interesting afternoon.

We can enjoy the speech without stressing out about the future. We don’t have to worry that grandma might get lost on the way to the celebratory dinner. We don’t have to make hotel reservations for twenty people or be the official family Boston tour guide while simultaneously choking back our emotions.

My sister-in-law is a fabulous hostess and we just can kick back and enjoy the results.

When The Piglet and Decibel graduated we found that some forward thinking helped to make this transitional time a lot less troublesome. Rather than having them move backwards by coming home to begin a job and housing search, they simply continued the life they were already living.

That way we avoided having a short term helping hand become a long term boomeranger in the basement.

For our family, we found it extremely beneficial for the kids to move out of the dorms after their freshman year. Dorms were a nice initial transition, but we were truly shocked at the expense.

The move to an apartment was less costly and taught our offspring the real world lessons of bill paying, food gathering and the limits of sanitary conditions tolerable for human habitation. Not living in student housing helped ease the shock of graduation.

Without the stress of needing to learn to live on their own, moving onward became a matter of finding work in their chosen field while getting by on the income from gigs they’d rather not have. Nothing gets you off your butt faster than working a job you hate.

Another important step was not waiting until after graduation to begin the job search. By keeping in communication with contacts made in college and through internships, The Piglet and Decibel had leads ready to pursue before the tossed caps hit the ground.

Because we are not totally heartless, we offered a little grubstake as a graduation gift to help them on their merry way. While it might seem crass to give cash as a gift, there’s nothing a recent graduate appreciates more. It buys time and a little less stress for any antsy alumnus.

Otherwise we offered advice when asked and encouragement the rest of the time. We made a point of not making any decisions for them, only offering insight. That way they owned their outcomes and were ripe for living and learning.

Sure there have been twists and turns since receiving their sheepskins — it’s a hard knock world out there. Tough times, a few moves and a couple of job changes were undertaken, but both girls are getting by just fine.

The next graduation we will be celebrating will be our youngest’s — The Boy — two years from now. After that, no more tuition, no more dependents on the tax return, no way to consider our children, children in any context.

That will do it for us, the fat lady will have completed her cantata. The nest will be truly empty.

David, GypsyNester.com

Our Favorite (Lesser Known) Cities on Each Continent

For a trip down Memory Lane, and maybe to offer some ideas for summer travel, we decided to go back through our past few years of globetrotting and pick out our favorite metropolises along the way… CONTINUE READING >> 

For a trip down Memory Lane, and maybe to offer some ideas for summer travel, we decided to go back through our past few years of globetrotting and pick out our favorite metropolises along the way.

We didn’t want to just randomly select, and choosing them by geographic landmass seemed like a good criteria, so here we go…

Europe:

There is an intimidating list of fantastic choices in Europe, so picking one is a daunting task. Certainly Paris and Rome spring to mind, and Prague always comes up when we get asked about our favorite places, but for this recollection are looking to venture a little more off of the beaten path.

With that in mind we pick Wangen im Allgäu in Germany.

We stumbled upon this southern German gem completely by accident when seeking a night’s lodging on our way to Switzerland.  By the time we parked at our hotel we were immediately enamored.

The berg most certainly has a sense of humor, with fanciful fountains featuring whimsical sculptures scattered throughout, yet it also has maintained its authenticity as a picture perfect dollop of Deutschland.

The food and architecture could not have been more genuine, and we even happened upon the town’s weekly outdoor market when we ventured out the next morning. We couldn’t have asked for a better overnight.

South America:

Whenever the subject of South America arises our first recommendation is always to visit the Galápagos Islands, but since we are focusing on urban areas for this retrospect we will jump back over to the mainland and choose Cusco in Peru.

Perched over ten thousand feet high up in the Andes, this once capital of the Inca Empire now serves as the homebase for explorations of The Sacred Valley.

It is the perfect jumping off point for venturing into the mysteries of the ancient cities and ruins of Sacsayhuaman, Ollantaytambo, and Machu Picchu.

But it would be a mistake to rush off to those ruins without indulging on the rich past and vibrant present that Cusco has to offer. The city has several layers to reveal as it was transformed from the ancient Incan, to Spanish, and now the Peruvian cultures.

Africa:

We have not travelled extensively across Africa, but we were able to collect lifelong memories in the village of Rau, on the outskirts of the city of Moshi in Tanzania.

Our time there became an experience that will live in our hearts forever as we jumped in to teaching and repairing the Lunguo Primary School. Our time with the vivacious students and dedicated faculty will bring us joy for the rest of our lives.

Beyond that, we were able to get a small taste of what day to day life is really like away from any tourist attractions or high-rise hotels.

Mixed in with our construction and educational activities, we also found time to meet and learn a few of the customs of the Chagga and Maasai people, and see an amazing array of African animals in the Ngorongoro Crater .

All under the powerful shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Asia:

Growing up as Cold War kids we never in a million years dreamt that we would ever have a chance to set foot in China. My how times have changed!

After observing the uproarious hustle and bustle of Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing, the work-a-day city of Dalian gave us a welcome glimpse into the life of Chinese people away from these massive urban areas.

Hopping aboard a creaking and clanking old wooden streetcar, we rode into the city with no particular destination in mind and discovered gleaming modern skyscrapers next to a marketplace of shops mish-mashed together that looked as though it had hardly changed in centuries.

We also indulged in perhaps the best street food we have ever encountered, as well as the worst thing we have ever put in our mouths.

No wonder we called it a city of contrasts.

Australia:

Even though we only had the chance to explore a small slice of the Land Down Under, we feel comfortable proclaiming Gold Coast as a pick.

It is aptly named, because this stretch of beach along the Coral Sea certainly is top notch all the way.

Spectacular hotels overlook the ocean while innovative restaurants serve up its bounty.

We even tried our hands (and luckily didn’t lose any) at surfing and feeding enormous, hungry crocodiles.

North America:

As hard as it is to arrive at a choice of a favorite on our home continent, after much debate we managed. Having traveled all across the US, actually making it to all 50 states, it was nearly impossible to narrow it down in our own country.

So we thought of Canada.  Among the many great places we have seen in our northern neighbor, Twillingate on the island of Newfoundland came to mind. In fact, we fell in love with the entire island and the fantastic folks there.

But when it came to picking one town, we decided that Valladolid had to be it. Considered to be the most perfectly preserved colonial city in all of Mexico, it was hard not to be completely captivated while wandering its streets.

The combination of the Mayan and Spanish has survived so stunningly that at times we felt as though we had stepped into a time capsule and been transported back a couple of centuries.

Antarctica:

The bottom of the world is the one continent that we have yet to visit so we can’t pick a favorite.

Good thing it doesn’t have any cities so we don’t have to.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

YOUR TURN: What would your picks be? We’d love to hear.