Look out below! Holding Our Breath Beneath the BVI

There is an amazing world of colors and scenery, along with an incredible collection of marine wildlife, to be discovered beneath the crystal blue waters of the British Virgin Islands… CONTINUE READING >> 

A big thank you to Dream Yacht Charter for providing this adventure, as always, all opinions are our own.

The Islands of the British Virgin Islands are practically paradise with their vast white sand beaches stretching out under swaying palms and lush mountains rising above to the sky. However, that is only half of the picture.

There is an equally amazing world of colors and scenery, along with an incredible collection of marine wildlife, to be discovered beneath the crystal blue water. We have always felt like it is akin to swimming in an aquarium.

But the ability to get close to many of these places can be quite an obstacle without access to a boat small enough to squeeze into some pretty tight places. Problem solved by sailing with Dream Yacht Charter, and even better, we got to stay the night at some of them.

As always, we took about a million pictures, thanks to the modern technology of digital cameras we are ardent believers in the “take a hundred shots to get one good one” theory. Here are a few of our favorites and the places that we took them.

The Baths

This is perhaps the most famous spot in the BVI, and for good reason, it is phenomenal.

Enormous boulders, some reaching forty feet across, form grottos, tunnels, arches, and caves both above and below the surface. We had a blast snaking through the openings from one formation to another while watching the array of colorful tropical fish swim by.

After about half an hour we swam through a gap into an open area and headlong into a school of squid.

These did not look like the squid we were used to, nothing like calamari we have seen on many a plate. These were quite different from any we had encountered previously and we were mesmerized by their brilliant phosphorescent colors. We took photos like crazy.

After cross referencing our pictures online, we learned that these were Caribbean reef squid. Turns out that they can change those colors, and not just randomly, it is believed that they are able to communicate with one another through the variations.

The Norman Island Caves

For many years Norman Island served as a home base and hideout for pirates. That historic relationship with the pirates of the Caribbean has led to legends of hidden treasure as yet undiscovered.

The caves are often regarded as a prime suspect location by seekers of water-logged fortune, but we figured the possibility was slim considering the popularity of these caverns with snorkelers.

What we did find was an opulent abundance of orange cup coral clinging to the walls. While it can be hard to tell that most corals are actually living creatures, these left little doubt as they moved in reaction to our hands.

If we had come back at night we might have seen them feeding by extending tentacles to capture nearby plankton.

Deeper inside the rock walls we found a trove of glassy sweepers.  The schools of these shiny swimmers moved in and out of the light like a flocks of birds as we swam through the openings and darkened interiors of the caves.

The Indians

Not far from Norman Island stand four jagged stone pinnacles protruding through the waves. Since they are technically islands, we were pretty jazzed at the prospect of circling the whole chain. It’s not often that the feat of a swimming circumnavigation of an entire archipelago can be accomplished!

The mini mountains are mostly undersea, so the canyons and crevices are best explored while free diving. The technique of holding our breath while descending twenty or thirty feet is something we perfected while living on St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands.

This allowed us a much closer view of the numerous sea fans and corals that have taken hold among the rocky submarine landscape, including several excellent examples of Brain Coral.

These colonies of genetically identical polyps can live as long as 900 years. Maybe they know where some of that pirate booty is stashed.

Fish

At almost every anchorage we found a colorful combination of blue tangs, yellow jacks, blue runners, red snapper, angelfish, parrotfish, and the striped sergeant major variety of damselfish. They populate almost all of these tropical waters near rocks and reefs.

On a couple of occasions a Great Barracuda decided to hang out under our boat while we were anchored. While these big boys are usually harmless to humans, but it is still a touch unnerving to jump in the water and see a razor-toothed fish as big as ourselves keeping an eye on us.

Great barracudas often top six feet long, and there is something about the way they look that screams dangerous predator. Maybe they should be called sea cougars. Nice kitty.

We are happy to say that everyone avoided losing any limbs and actually got quite a charge out of seeing these sleek ocean hunters up close.

Speaking of limbs, keeping them came in quite handy. Not only for swimming, but we also used them to explore some above the surface environs and discovered some very interesting surroundings.

But that’s another story.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See more of our amazing trip here.

Get a Jump on the New Year and Leave a Smaller Footprint

How about turning over a new leaf for the New Year? The Nature Conservancy has great ideas to help make the resolution a reality. No need to wait, get started now! CONTINUE READING >> 

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of The Nature Conservancy. All opinions are 100% mine.

For the last ten years travel has been our life and we truly love it, but as this year draws to a close we are thinking about some changes.

We’re not talking about anything extreme, maybe not even a full-blown resolution. Those are too easy to break, and have a way of falling by the wayside before the tree is down. Of course with us that can easily be well after Valentine’s Day. Anyway, let’s just call our plan an adjustment.

Our main motivation comes from a desire to do more toward having a positive impact on the planet. We understand how that can be daunting. It is certainly difficult to contemplate, much less accomplish, drastic lifestyle modifications.

With that in mind we decided to check in with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) for some simple ways to help do our part.

Browsing their website, we found all sorts of solutions that the leading scientists, committed citizens, and dedicated leaders who make up the Conservancy have put together. You can take urgent action today by making a tax-deductible donation by December 31.

To make things even easier, they have compiled those ideas in an engaging and entertaining downloadable Everyday Sustainability Guide.

Reading through the guide, the headline for section three, CHOOSE VACATIONS CLOSER TO HOME, jumped out at us. This is something that we have already been discussing. Over this past year we began trying to do more exploring nearby, and now we have added incentive.

To be honest, we weren’t all that informed about the environmental impact of our decision, but now we are. Aircraft emissions are a huge culprit when it comes to our carbon footprint, so driving, or better yet taking the train, to closer destinations will make a big difference.

Lucky for us we live on California’s Gold Coast, so there are tons interesting attractions close by. Although, in our travels we have found that there are cool things to see and do just about everywhere.

When we visit a new city we like to pick up a paper or watch the local news because we almost always learn about something fun going on. It might be a street fair, a community theater performance, maybe a little history at a museum, exploring in a cemetery, or strolling through the historic district.

No doubt there are plenty of undiscovered treasures in or near your hometown. It seems we often fail to notice what is right around the corner.

Another overlooked in-the-vicinity-vacation alternative can be a visit to a State Park. We have discovered some true gems that rival their National Park cousins, such as Palo Duro Canyon in Texas, Starved Rock in Illinois, and Watkins Glen in New York.

There are a bunch of other great suggestions for reducing our environmental impact in the Sustainability Guide. One seems so obvious that we can hardly believe we have overlooked it for so long: unplug power eating appliances while your away.

One of the worst offenders? The Wi-Fi router and modem. You can bet the plug will be pulled on those babies next time we head out, no matter how far from home our trip will take us.

Yes, every little bit adds up to a big difference, so why wait for the calendar to turn over to 2019 to turn over a new leaf? Join us in getting a jump on the upcoming year and go get The Nature Conservancy Everyday Sustainability Guide now.

Just imagine how good it will feel to be fulfilling a New Year’s resolution before the old year even ends!

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Why We Love a Good Christmas Market

We love Christmas markets! 

The festivities, the food, the comraderie, the glühwein – put it all together and we’ve got ourselves a great way to ring in the season!

But really — you ask — how different can they be? Surely one Christmas market is the same as the next? 

Our reply? Not by a loooooooong shot! CONTINUE READING >>

The GypsyNesters love Christmas Markets! Let us show you the best ones in the world!

We love Christmas markets!

The festivities, the food, the comraderie, the glühwein – put it all together and we’ve got ourselves a great way to ring in the season!

But really — you ask — how different can they be? Surely one Christmas market is the same as the next?

Our reply? Not by a loooooooong shot!

Vienna, Austria

The Christmas Market in Vienna Austria

Arguably the oldest of the markets, the Vienna December advent market was the predecessor to the modern Christkindlmarkets, or Christ child markets, and is said to have started way back in 1294.

The idea spread across the Holy Roman Empire, and they remain most popular in the German-speaking regions of Europe.

Hand blown glass ornaments at the Christmas Market in Vienna

As with most of the cities we have visited there are several markets scattered about town, but the Wiener Christkindlmarkt in the Rathausplatz, the plaza in front of the town hall, is the city’s main market.

We were thrilled to wander through the descendant of the world’s first.

Sausages in Vienna's Christmas marke

Selling gluhwien at Vienna's Christmas Market

Local delicacies are a big part of experiencing the markets, so of course we had to sample some from the selection of sausages, (that makes them Vienna sausages, right?) and a steaming cup of mulled wine known as glühwein.

The name is said to come from a glowing hot iron used to warm the wine, or maybe it’s because this staple at the markets really hits the spot when it comes to keeping the shoppers warm and glowing.

See more photos of the Vienna Christmas Market!

See our entire adventure in Vienna

Salzburg, Austria

The Salzburg Christmas Market in Austria

While not the oldest, like its Austrian neighbor, Salzburg has perhaps the biggest and best Christmas market we’ve visited in the country.

Food and drink are certainly available, but this market has much more to offer in the way of local crafts and unique gift items.

Mozart Chocolates in Salzburg, Austria

In addition to Salzburg's famous Mozart chocolates we bought a gewürzstrauss, a traditional spice bouquet that makes anyplace smell like Christmas

In addition to the city’s famous Mozart chocolates, we bought a gewürzstrauss, the traditional spice bouquet that makes anyplace smell like Christmas.

See our entire adventure in Salzburg!

Passau, Germany

The Passau, Germany Christmas Markiet

In Germany we visited the Passau Christmas market at the square in front of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, a baroque church from 1688.

Here we discovered something new and truly inspired, the half-meter würst.

The infamous half metre wurst in Passau Germany

Wow, that’s nearly two feet of sausage!

Did we (meaning David) die and go to heaven?

Unfortunately we had just eaten a huge lunch, so we had no place to put half a meter of würstle.

The half meter wurst selfie of Passau Germany

That minor detail was easily overcome when Sausage Boy devised a würst-case scenario, and snuck his way back a little later to partake of the best of the würst, or at least the biggest.

Sometimes he can be his own würst enemy.

The quest culminated in a legendary half-meter-würst selfie.

See more photos of the Passau Christmas Market and the full story of the infamous würst!

See our entire adventure in Passau!

Bratislava, Slovakia

The Christmas Market in front of Old Town Hall in Bratislava, Slovakia

The Hlavne namestie, main square, is filled with booths, mostly selling food and drink, and tables under small shelters where the purchases can be enjoyed

While the markets are most common in the German speaking world, we also found a fun example in Bratislava, Slovakia.

The Hlavne namestie, or main square, was filled with vendors, mostly selling food and drink, and tables under small shelters where the purchases could be enjoyed.

A very social situation and we were more than happy to jump into the middle of it.

We also gave zemiakové placky with cheese a try. This is a pancake made of shredded potatoes, crisp on the outside and chewy within, covered in a layer of tangy white sheep cheese.

We gave zemiakové placky with cheese a try. This is a pancake made of shredded potatoes — crisp on the outside and chewy within — covered in a layer of mild, yet tangy white sheep cheese.

We gave it two gloved thumbs up, very tasty and stick-to-your-ribs on a chilly December evening.

Mulled wine at the Christmas Market in Bratislava, Slovakia

Nearly everyone warmed themselves with varene vino, the local version of mulled wine, but in a twist we hadn’t seen before, hot white wine seemed just as popular as the red.

After giving this regional variety a try, our verdict was that while delicious, it lacked the superior cockle-warming qualities of the red. But the fact that we made our purchase from a vino vender named “The Flinstones” more than made up for it.

Yaba-daba-do (we think)!?!

See more photos of the Bratislava Christmas Market!

See our entire adventure in Bratislava

Budapest, Hungary

Budapest's Christmas Market

Budapest Christmas Market

In Budapest, food also stole the spotlight.

On the Pest side of the city we checked out the main Christmas market, a large collection of stands and kiosks all decked out in holiday style.

While there were plenty of booths selling handcrafted gifts, food — lots of food — was certainly the main event.

Food at the Christmas Market in Budapest, Hungary

töltött káposzta, cabbage stuffed with meat and rice and served with a paprika sauce and sour cream. Exceedingly Hungarian! We also couldn't resist a huge smoked meat dumpling with sauerkraut.

After scouting out all the offerings we ordered a töltött káposzta, that’s cabbage stuffed with meat and rice, served with a paprika sauce and sour cream.

Exceedingly Hungarian!

We also couldn’t resist a huge smoked meat dumpling with sauerkraut.

Veronica drinks a cup of steaming hot Glühwein to warm our body and soul

To wash it all down, and to stay warm too, we tried the Hungarian version of glühwein, which is called forralt bor, meaning simply “boiled wine.”

See more photos of Budapest’s bustling Christmas Market!

See our entire adventure in Budapest

Oslo, Norway

The Julemarked in Oslo, Norway

Ringnes Juleol or Christmas Beer in Oslo, Norway
Juleol or Christmas Beer

On our recent crazy romp across Norway up to the Arctic Circle by train, we found the Scandinavian equivalent to a Christkindlmarkt, a Julmarked, in Oslo.

The Jul, or Yule, celebration predates Christianity but, since it coincides with Christmas, the two have become intertwined.

Elgburgers at the Julmarked in Oslo, Norway

The Norwegian market was very similar to the others we’d seen, with the exception of the preponderance of elk and reindeer based products.

Plus, what they were calling elk, or more precisely elg, sure looked like moose to us, and we all know they don’t really exist.

Flying reindeer, sure, but moose?

No way.

See all of our adventures in Norway!

Helen, Georgia

Horse drawn carriage in Helen, Georgia

While these European markets all have long histories behind them, the custom has spread far and wide.

Christmas markets are even becoming commonplace throughout the United States.

In fact, the first one we ever visited was a few years ago in the mountains of northern Georgia at the town of Helen.

Christmas decorations in Helen, Georgia

Their Christkindlmarkt is in keeping with the town’s reincarnation as an alpine Bavarian village.

It was only natural that this nearly perfect reproduction of a German town would also feature this seasonal tradition.

See our entire adventure in Helen, Georgia

New York City

New York City also hosts a number of Christmas markets throughout the city. Two of the biggest and most popular are the Winter Village at Bryant Park, and the Union Square Holiday Market.

The Winter Village Christmas Market at Bryant Park in NYC

The Winter Village Christmas Market at Bryant Park in NYC

Surrounded by soaring skyscrapers, Bryant Park’s Winter Village began in 2002.

Booths offer NYCcentric wares and food (we saw everything from chimney cakes to sushi), and in lieu of glühwein, New York apple cider is standard fare.

Bryant Park boasts a huge Christmas tree and a full-sized ice skating rink that’s twice as big as the rink at Rockefeller Center — and it’s free to skate!

The Union Square Holiday Market in NYC

The Union Square Holiday Market may not be quite as spectacular, but it struck us as more traditional.

A veritable maze of tents are set up offering all kinds of gifts and goodies that are sure to put even the Ginchiest Grinch in the spirit of the season.

The Union Square Holiday Market in New York City

See 10 things you don’t know about NYC!

See all of our adventures in New York!

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

YOUR TURN: Are you game to give a Christmas market a go? Have you been to a Christkindlmarkt? Tell us all about it below!

Coming to America? From Sea to Shining Sea There is so Much to See!

Our first piece of advice is to remember that the US is huge. Don’t think that if you’ve seen one region you’ve seen it all…

CONTINUE READING >> 

We travel outside of the USA a lot, and one thing we have learned is that it is extremely important to check the Visa requirements of our destinations before we go.

No one wants to be stuck at customs in a strange land trying to work things out. Believe us, that is a mistake you will only make once. So we are offering this recommendation to anybody planning a visit to the United States, have your US visa ready before departing your country.

With that finished, you can begin to make plans for your visit and, having traveled to all fifty states, that is an area where we can hopefully help out.

Our first piece of advice is to remember that the US is huge. Don’t think that if you’ve seen one region you’ve seen it all. This is a lesson we learned when traveling in Australia. Queensland was fantastic, but we quickly realized that we had seen only a tiny part of the Land Down Under.

New York is nothing like New England, or the Rocky Mountains, or Los Angeles… or just about anywhere else in America. This is not to discourage anyone from visiting the Big Apple, just a reminder that there is so much more. With that in mind, let us offer a few suggestions.

One of the most extraordinary aspects of the United States is the vast open space in the west, and no place captures the character of the Old West any better than Arizona. The stunning landscape of the Grand Canyon is unmatched anywhere on Earth.

Or for those looking for something more like the Wild West of the movies, television, and books, a stop at Tombstone is like a trip back in time. Walking the dusty boardwalks of Allen Street or among the headstones at Boot Hill feels like starring in one of those western tales, but watch out because the Shootout at theOK Corral happens here every day.

Following the famous Route 66 farther west leads to the incredible Pacific coast. There is so much to see, from San Diego and its amazing zoo, to the glamor and glitz of Hollywood, to the beauty of the forests and mountains in the Northwest.

But our favorite part has to be the section in California between Santa Barbara and San Francisco known as Big Sur. The drive along The Pacific Coast Highway is unmatched as this remarkable piece of road crosses thirty-three bridges connecting one wicked winding section of cliff-side roadway to another.

Remember that traveling within the United States requires no paperwork at all, so exploring is only limited by the time one has to spend. However, entering and exiting will be much smoother if everything is in order before leaving home. The best way to make certain of that is to check with E-visums.

Clear across the continent we uncovered the history and hospitality of Dixie alive and well along the Atlantic seaboard in Georgia and South Carolina.

For Civil War buffs Charleston is a must, because this is where it started. Fort Sumter, where the first shots were fired, still stands on guard at the mouth of the harbor, and there are many other historic sites and museums to see as well.

There is also much to be found that predates the War Between the States, Charleston is a fine example of a colonial American city. The original town has been remarkably preserved. The buildings and houses seem nearly untouched by the passing of the centuries.

Just a few miles to the south, Savannah has a vast array of equally remarkable homes on tree-lined streets. In fact, we found many of them even more impressive than those known as the Charleston Single.

Another similarity is the historic waterfront, except here the history is more about merchants than military because cotton was king. Now many of the old warehouses have been converted into restaurants, but the offices have not. They still remain snuggly tucked away between River Street and Bay Street in a hidden alleyway known as Factor’s Walk.

For a very different sort of southern charm, we love New Orleans. Long considered one of the most unique places in the US, for music, food, and fun the Big Easy is hard to beat. We also love that none of it needs to be fancy or expensive, just down-home good.

Right outside of town there is an even more laid-back outlook on life, in our favorite part of the good ole USA, Cajun Country. Years ago the Acadians settled in the swamps south and west of New Orleans and nurtured a way of life that exists only in this place.

Over centuries of nearly total isolation they developed a dialect, cuisine, and lifestyle that we fell in love with and have returned to enjoy time and time again.

So there is a look at some of our preferred places in the US, but there are countless others. So come to the states because discovering them is what travel is all about.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

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