Our Favorite Winter Getaways (without going too far away)

With the holidays behind us we think it is a good time to take a look at some ideas for escaping the midwinter doldrums that are likely fast approaching. So here we go with a look back at a few of the places that were the best for lifting our spirits over the past few winters… CONTINUE READING >> 

With the holidays behind us we think it is a good time to take a look at some ideas for escaping the midwinter doldrums that are likely fast approaching. So here we go with a look back at a few of the places that were the best for lifting our spirits over the past few winters.

Glacier National Park is certainly a year-round destination, and much more popular in the summer months.

Unfortunately, most of the glaciers in the park are long gone, but by visiting in the winter we were still able to get a feel for the once icy landscape.

Amtrak’s Empire Builder travels along the southern edge of the park and is an amazing way to see it in the snow, but we wanted to venture in a little deeper.

So we rented a car and drove through Hungry Horse to the western entrance of the park and up the famous Going to the Sun Road.

Staying in the nearby town of Whitefish, Montana made the trip all that much better. Not only did we get to experience some real Wild West hospitality, including a dogsled trip through the Rockies, but there were not too many other people crowding up the place.

Probably because most travelers are looking for warmer climes this time of year, duh!

Hawai’i is wonderful any time of year, but when temperatures drop and the wind chill is brutal a tropical paradise moves to the top of almost everyone’s list.

Whether it is a day on the beach or visiting a volcano, our fiftieth state is perfect for a winter escape.

We’ve done both, so here’s a look at a few of the wildly colorful and unique beaches on the Big Island.

Most of those colors come from volcanic activity so we felt like we had to takea look over the edge of a volcano while it was erupting!

Even with the incredible power that lies deep within our planet on display only a few hundred yards away we still felt perfectly safe.

As if that wasn’t enough, we decided to go inside. Yup, we walked inside the lava tubes of an active volcano and lived to tell.

Actually, so far as we know everybody who has done it has also survived.

Skiing is always a popular winter pastime, but we stumbled upon a particularly peculiar variation in Arizona.

It’s not something that can always be done, but when the weather cooperates it is possible to ski all day and then hang out by the pool afterward. Just outside of Tucson lies the southernmost ski area in the United States, Mount  Lemmon Ski Valley.

The drive up the mountain was gorgeous, going from sizzling arid desert to frigid alpine winter wonderland in less than an hour. It was like passing through all of the seasons in one day, and at the top the views were nothing short of spectacular.

Not much further down the road we discovered one of our all-time favorite spots, Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.

This little fishing village on the northern shore of the Gulf of California just might be the ultimate snowbird destination. It may be only an hour’s drive south of the border, but it’s a million miles from the hustle and bustle of life back home.

The landscape is mesmerizing, with arid mountains dropping into the crystal blue Sea of Cortez, and here in the heart of the Sonoran Desert temperatures are in the eighties even in the dead of winter.

Mexico is home to many other fantastic destinations all across the vast country. A great way to see the Pacific coast is to pick up a Car Rental in Puerto Vallarta. From majestic mountains to beautiful beaches the region has it all.

Another of our top choices, Cancun and the Riviera Maya. This area along the Caribbean coast is so jam packed with things to do and places to go that we could easily spend the entire winter here.

From the historic and mind blowing Mayan ruins in Tulum and Chichén-Itzá, to Rio Secreto, a river that flows for miles underground, this mystical region never ceases to amaze.

Taking the extra time to really explore led us to another gem, Valladolid. This inland hideaway on the Yucatan Peninsula has been named by the Mexican government as the best preserved colonial city in the entire country.

And of course the incredible food from the region makes it so we never want to leave.

But then summer will come along and we will certainly be looking for places to cool off by then.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Seeking the Seeds of Civilization on Crete

Beginning nearly five thousand years ago a society formed on Crete and over time became a precursor in art, architecture, and language to what we now know as Hellenistic culture.
Minoan civilization was based here and without them, along with the Mycenaean Greeks on the mainland, Greece would certainly be a very different place…
CONTINUE READING >> 

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

Even though it wasn’t the first stop on our Great Global Get-Together cruise through the Greek Isles, we begin our stories about the voyage on the island of Crete because ancient Greece might not have even existed without it.

No, that’s not an exaggeration, the Minoan civilization was based here and without them, along with the Mycenaean Greeks on the mainland, Greece would certainly be a very different place.

Beginning nearly five thousand years ago a society formed on Crete and over time became a precursor in art, architecture, and language to what we now know as Hellenistic culture.

We began our exploration at the ruins of the palace of Knossos, and discovered just how influential Crete really was. As Europe’s oldest city and the mythological home of Minos, the first King of Crete and son of Zeus and Europa, this was instrumental in giving the entire continent its name.

At one time it is thought that up to one hundred thousand people lived here, which would have made Knossos one of the world’s great cities.

Our first stop was the throne room, where kings of this vast city-state sat to rule. At least that was the original theory. Now scholars believe that this may have been strictly ceremonial and meant as a tribute to a mythological goddess.

Another character from mythology was most certainly believed to live here because the Labyrinth at the palace was the legendary home of the Minotaur, a half man half bull. The monster was born to Pasiphaë, Minos’s wife, after Poseidon made her fall in love with a bull.

An actual labyrinth has never been found, leading some historians to speculate that the myth might have been simply a story to explain the horrifying noises coming from underground due to the many earthquakes in the region.

We won’t weigh in on that debate, but do lean toward the idea that no man with a bull’s head was running around here a few thousand years ago. We did find several non-mythological wonders at the palace though.

Such as, the entire complex had a water and sewer system that would rival similar designs elsewhere in the world that didn’t become common until thousands of years later.

Also the builders created structures with several floors, at least up to four, with ventilation airways built in, which was certainly unique for the time.

The art was equally impressive, with colorful columns on almost every building, huge frescoes adorning many walls, and highly decorated pottery giving a glimpse into their ancient lifestyle.

Although, depending on who you ask, many feel that the English archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans who excavated and restored much of the complex may have taken a few too many liberties with his restorations of the colors and artwork.

The site was discovered in 1878 by Minos Kalokairinos, but it was Evans who did most of the work beginning in 1900 and continuing for 35 years. Some archeologists think his recreations went off track into the realm of unfounded speculations.

For a more academic view of the history, and a much better look at some of the artifacts, we made the Herakleion Archaeological Museum our next stop.

Widely considered to be one of the most significant museums in all of Europe, it holds relics from Cretan prehistory and history, covering a span of over five thousand years.

Much of the art includes various forms of sea life, which obviously was an important part of Minoan life. Frescoes, pottery, jewelry, and statues all feature octopus, dolphins, fish, and shells as decoration.

Many more featured bulls, which certainly seemed less logical. Perhaps some of the reason goes back to the Minotaur, but for whatever reason bulls were very important to the Minoans and maybe even worshiped.

One theme we saw repeatedly was bull leaping. Yup, men would take a running leap over a charging bull as part of a ceremony. Was this a part of their religion? Maybe, but no matter the reason for the crazy feat, the scene is immortalized in both sculptures and pictures.

Much of the art was ceramic, some functional such as pots of all sizes from tiny to giant, but a great deal was also simply decorative, such as figures and statues.

One of the more interesting displays had numerous larnakes, or clay coffins. Since these are only about three feet long, we first thought that the Minoans must have been very small. It turns out that the remains were either cremated or bent to fit into the terracotta chests.

Perhaps the most significant piece in the museum is also one of the smallest, the Phaistos Disc. Discovered in palace of Phaistos, about twenty miles south of Knossos, this circular clay tablet is about six inches across and covered with symbols and characters thought to be from an alphabet or logograms.

The 45 distinct signs appear 241 times in what might be some sort of story, but researchers have so far been unable to decipher the meaning. What is known is that this is one of the earliest examples of type setting ever as the symbols were pressed into the clay before firing.

Another thing we knew was that after all of this investigating, we were ready to eat.

A trip to Arolithos Village, a near perfect replica of a traditional Cretan village would solve that, and provide us with some fun. Our entire group was treated to an old fashioned Greek meal, but before the food was served we worked up even more of an appetite with some music and dancing.

If ever there was the proper time to exclaim “Opa!” this was it.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See all of our previous adventures in Greece!

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

Five Tips for Living in the USA

No matter where you originally hail from there are probably quite a few differences between your home country and the USA. Everything from language to food, work schedules, and even how you greet someone is probably different. While this can cause some anxiety, it’s also one of the most exciting parts of moving to a new country… CONTINUE READING >> 

No matter where you originally hail from, there are probably quite a few substantial differences in culture between your home country and the USA. For most new residents in the US, these differences can be a major shock to the system.

Everything from language to food, work schedules, and even how you greet someone is probably different than what you grew up with. While this can cause some serious anxiety for new immigrants, it’s also one of the most exciting parts of moving to a new country.

Information about living in the USA isn’t hard to come by, but a lot of the time it doesn’t account for those minute cultural differences. Below are five of the very best tips to maximize your time in the USA, adjust to the local culture, and start acting like a native.

1.    Each State is Different

One of the most common misconceptions about the US is that it’s the same everywhere (when in reality this couldn’t be any further from the truth). New York is not the same as Massachusetts, and California is certainly not the same as Alaska.

There are so many regional differences in culture, language, food, etc., which may come as a surprise to some. Not only do cultures differ between states, but landscapes are also dramatically different. The American Southwest, for example, is drastically different than the Northeast (i.e. New England). Likewise, Montana is virtually a different country when compared to somewhere like Florida, or New Jersey.

Where you choose to live in the US will play a large role in how easy you find the assimilation process. Larger cities are more diverse, and contain a lot more immigrants than in rural areas. However, there are also a lot of immigrants throughout the entire country.

Before you choose a specific city or region to move to, it’s recommended to do some in-depth research about that area’s culture, tastes, weather, etc. to see if it’s a good fit (or not). One thing that you can’t fault the US for is its incredible amount of diversity.

2.    Tipping Culture is Real

Unlike a lot of the world, tipping is expected in nearly all restaurants in the US. Not only is it expected in restaurants, but it’s also expected with certain services as well. For example, if you’re staying at a hotel, and the bellman helps you take your luggage to your room, they would expect a tip for that.

Anywhere from 15% to 20% is a normal (and expected) tip amount. Anything below that, and you might not get the best service in the future. When dining at a restaurant, it’s considered incredibly rude to not leave a tip (borderline asinine, actually).

3.    Work-Life Balance

Europeans are known for taking month long vacations (sometimes even longer), and having a relatively balanced work-life relationship. Americans, on the other hand, are known for being incredibly work-centric (more so than most other countries in the world). There is definitely a culture here that appreciates (and rewards) hard work. That’s what the American dream is about after all, right? Work hard, and your dreams will come true.

The point that we want to make here though, is that most employers are only required to give you a certain amount of time off per year. Actually, America is one of the only countries in the entire world where employers aren’t legally obligated to give their employees any paid time off.

Keep this in mind when selecting jobs to apply to (and subsequently work at). Some employers treat their employees better than others, and choosing the right employer can make all the difference in your quality of life.

4.    You Need to Pay for Healthcare

One of the most overlooked aspects of living in America is its healthcare system. Unlike a lot of countries in the world, America has a private healthcare system. This means that unless your employer provides you with a healthcare plan (which many do), you will be required to pay for your own insurance.

This means paying a monthly premium, as well as a certain percentage of any medical care costs (with the remainder being covered by insurance). The one advantage of this system, is that America is known for having some of the very best hospitals and medical research facilities in the world.

5.    Learn to Appreciate Differences

There are undoubtedly massive cultural differences across all of the various regions, states, and cities in America. It’s important that you learn to appreciate them for their differences, and perhaps explore them.

Understanding American culture won’t take a few months, rather it will take a few years until you really start to understand the US way of life.

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

Post-Parting Depression: Saying Good-bye to My Adult Kids

Having just returned from our first visit to our eldest’s new home in Paris, we felt that this is a good time to take another look at this story.

I’ve got an issue and I need help! I’m hoping I’ll get a lot of suggestions on this post from our amazingly insightful readers…

CONTINUE READING >> 

Veronica Writes

I’ve got an issue and I need help! I’m hoping I’ll get a lot of suggestions on this post from our amazingly insightful readers.

Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” -Dr Seuss

Having The Spawn come and go in such short and hectic celebratory spurts gave me some interesting insight into how I deal with my empty nest good-byes.

Not well, it seems.

No matter how long they’ve been out of the nest, no matter how happy they are, no matter how I prepare myself, no matter how much I write about it – I can’t seem to keep myself from being head-over-heels depressed every time I have to say good-bye to my young adult offspring.

It hits me like a ton of bricks. Seriously, I cry like Tammy Faye Bakker on the second day of her period — a regular air-sucking, mascara-dripping, please-God-nobody-see-me sob fest.

One would think I’d be used to good-byes by now. Or that I’ve somehow figured out how to prepare for the letdown. After all, The Spawn are all finished with college and it’s been over ten years since we’ve had a full time, live-in offspring.

Prior to a visit, I’m obnoxiously ecstatic. Bouncing off the walls happy. I certainly don’t want to tarnish that feeling with the planning of the inevitable pit of despair at the end. So instead, I’ve been leaving an open void of time — just waiting there for me to fall into, dragging self-pity in behind me.

Seeing The Spawn never fails to fulfill me. I am always surprised at how easily I can slip fully back into Mommy mode, it’s a huge part of who I am. When I’m around them I smile bigger, laugh harder and feel so comfortably myself. The heartstrings sing — and dig in hard.

Having to let go from those good-bye hugs at the airport is literally physically challenging. I feel like I’ve just run a marathon (okay, I’ve never actually run a marathon, but it looks really difficult). I can’t catch my breath, there’s a tightening in my chest and exhaustion soon sets in.

I have to force myself not to take to my bed with my smelling salts.

On the plus side, I’m finding that I have a quicker recovery time. What used to last weeks is now a matter of days.

Growth, right?

Does this mean it gets gradually easier until the post-parting depression goes completely away? Or do I need to learn to brace myself for the inevitable and learn new ways to cope with it?

Veronica, GypsyNester.com

YOUR TURN: Do you have similar experiences? Any advice on how I can avoid post-parting depression? Suggestions, please!

Goin’ for the Gold (Coast) in Australia

We may be nuts, but we’re not crazy! Of course we jumped at the chance to spend a few days along Queensland’s Gold Coast.

This dazzling stretch along the Coral Sea has become Australia’s playground for food, fun, surf, and sun.

From our first look at the towering skyline and enticing water… CONTINUE READING >>

Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
Peppers Broadbeach from above in Gold Coast, Queensland, AustraliaWe may be nuts, but we’re not crazy! Of course we jumped at the chance to spend a few days along Queensland’s Gold Coast.

This dazzling stretch along the Coral Sea has become Australia’s playground for food, fun, surf, and sun.

From our first look at the towering skyline and enticing water off of our balcony at Peppers Broadbeach we knew we had struck gold.

Toasting our good fortune at Peppers Broadbeach

Gold Coast Dreamin’

The Buzzsaw at Dreamworld, Gold Coast, Australia

We couldn’t visit the coast without a stop at Dreamworld, Australia’s largest theme park. With rides like The Buzzsaw, The Cyclone, and The Giant Drop from the Tower of Terror we knew that we were in for a thrill.

What we didn’t know was that we were in for one of the wildest adventures of our lives, feeding an enormous crocodile. That surprise was sprung on us once we entered the park.David feeds a crocodile at Dreamworld, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia

It’s hard to say if falling nearly 400 feet from the world’s second highest vertical drop ride helps prepare a person for staring into the teeth of a 1,500 pound eating machine, but we decided to give it a try before heading over to the croc pond.

Figured it would either steady our resolve or make us too weak in the knees to care…

Click here to see us feeding crocs – with video!

A Journey with the Original Australians

The Dreamworld Corroboree Theater in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
The Dreamworld Corroboree Theater in Gold Coast, Queensland, AustraliaThe Dreamworld Corroboree Theater was just the ticket. Built in a replica bush hut called a humpy, the theater runs a film and features interactive exhibits about the local Yugambeh people.

Outside, Aboriginals tell stories and give demonstrations of traditional arts and weapons. Boomerangs and spears seemed downright tranquil compared to a giant mouthful of teeth.

Boomerang demonstration at Dreamworld, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia

The Gold Coast’s Surf Culture – It All Started with Saving Lives

David gives surfing a go on Kurrawa Beach in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia

After a day in the park, and all of the eating going on, it was time for us to do a little chowing ourselves.

From our room at Peppers Broadbeach we could see the Kurrawa Surf Club and heard it was a great spot for some seaside seafood. We heard right but, before digging in, we first dug up a little background.

Kurrawa Surf Club in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia

Veronica is wearing her Kaf. Tanned at Kurrawa Beach in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
Watching surf lessons on Kurrawa Beach Veronica’s kaftan courtesy of Kaf.Tanned

Each stretch of beach has its own club that oversees safety for the swimmers and surfers in that area. Kurrawa has been keeping beach-goers safe along their beach since 1958.

But the tradition of surf clubs in Australia goes back over one hundred years to when laws against swimming in the ocean were challenged and the beginnings of Surf Life Saving Australia, SLSA, took hold.

Now, over 165,000 members and 65,000 junior members known as Nippers, who range from 5 to 13 years old, participate in beach safety and awareness skills training, as well as competitions.

Dress code at Kurrawa Surf Club in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia

The clubs have also become social organizations for each neighborhood, with restaurants, banquet rooms, dance halls, and some even have casinos.

Non members like us are allowed to come in as guests, but only if they live outside of the area served by the club. Locals must join.

Tower of delicious seafood at Kurrawa Surf Club, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia

Certainly no one would hesitate if they knew about the seafood platter for two. This tower of goodies features “A selection of trawler caught seafood… Prawns, sautéed bugs, chilled crab, mussels, oysters, smoked salmon, and flash fried morsels…”

Wait, go back, sautéed bugs? That must mean crawfish, mud bugs, like in Louisiana. But it didn’t, those are known as yabby in Australia.

Bug means Balmain or Moreton Bay bugs, types of slipper lobsters that are a smaller cousin of the spiny lobster. These were something we had never seen, or tasted before. Served as split tails, they had a flavor and texture somewhere between shellfish and fish filet.

We were curious now, and wanted to know what these critters looked like before they found themselves cracked and stacked on our tower.

Going Around the Middle Man – Finding the Bug’s Source

The Fisherman's Co-op in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
The Fisherman's Co-op in Gold Coast, Queensland, AustraliaWe asked around and the Gold Coast Fishermen’s Co-Op was the place to find them.

Just so happened that it was going on the next morning, so we rented some bikes and pedaled off toward the marina.

The co-op allows a group of boats to set up shop on the docks and sell their morning catch directly off the boat.

The Fisherman's Co-op in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
Yabby in Australia. Bug means Balmain or Moreton Bay bug in QueenslandIt doesn’t get any fresher than that, and we got to see a bug intact.

But we couldn’t figure out how we might go about eating one right on the beach, so we settled on a bag of freshly steamed shrimp, known as prawns down here (and blowing the whole “shrimp on the barbie” quote out of the water!), and sat on the rocks for the ultimate sack lunch.

Picnic on the spit near The Fisherman's Co-op in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia

Biking along the coastline in Gold Coast, Queensland, AustraliaWait. What? That’s Made out of SAND?

Surfers Paradise in Gold Coast, Queensland, AustraliaContinuing along the coastline on our trusty beach cruisers, we came upon the Wait. What? That’s Made out of SAND?Australian Sand Sculpting Championships.

Fantastic forms fitting the theme of Myths, Legends & Fairy Tales lined the promenade along the Pacific shore in Surfers Paradise and several other of the whimsically named communities, like Mermaid Beach and Paradise Island, along the waterfront.

Artists at work at the Sand Scupting Championships in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
Troll under the bridge at the Sand Scupting Championships in Gold Coast, Queensland, AustraliaEntries were judged in several categories including Australia against The World. In that competition two teams of invited artists, one from Australia and the other from around the globe, vied for king of the sandbox.

All in all, over 180 tons of sculpted sand became temporary masterpieces. It seemed a shame that someday these whimsical works of art will be washed away.

Click here to see more of these amazing sand sculptures!

Cowabunga! A Less-Than Stellar Attempt at Surfing!
David takes surf lessons on Kurrawa Beach, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
David’s only “successful” ride! His tee courtesy of aussieBum, his swimmers, Billabong

With all of the talk of surfing, and since we were staying right by Surfers Paradise, it seemed like a golden opportunity to give surfing a go.

Peppers hotel from the beach in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
We can see our room from here: Peppers Broadbeach looms over David from the beach!

Our attempts on the long board were somewhat less that cowabunga-worthy, but we did manage to get a few good rides in on the boogie boards.

Maybe we should have tried paddleboards. From what we have seen this in this comprehensive guide they are much easier.

Oh well, even with the multiple wipe outs and tumbles, we were glad we gave it a try.

All in all, an amazing afternoon on Kurrawa Beach – and, luckily, we didn’t require a rescue by a Nipper.

Can You Eat Your Way to Heaven?

Social Eating House + Bar, Gold Coast, QueenslandThat evening, we were lured to Social Eating House + Bar like a cartoon animal floating behind a visible wave of luxurious scent.

Social Eating House + Bar, Gold Coast, Queensland
We love a kitchen garden! From our perch we watched ultra-fresh herbs and micro-greens artfully placed on each beautiful dish.

Right across the street from our temporary home at Peppers, in the little village of shops and restaurants that surround the hotel, Social was certainly convenient. But that turned out to be way down the list of reasons to love the place.

Decor, style, seating along the kitchen where we watched everything being prepared (dinner and a show!), and the food, ooooooh the food, all topped the list.

Innovative specialities are served in small portions like tapas, enabling us to sample over half a dozen different dishes. It was like an appy crawl without ever leaving our seats.

As the name implies, shared plates equal a truly social experience.

Confit Pork Belly, Spiced Plum, Parsnip Puree, Crackling Crumbed Prawn, Apple Cider Jusat Social Eating House + Bar, Gold Coast, Queensland

We ordered a couple of dishes to start, then decided what we wanted next by watching orders as they came out of the kitchen.

We asked our server “Ooooh that looks great, what is it?” several times and wound up with… see our entire, incredible meal at Social Eating House + Bar

And we thought those crocs knew how to eat. Take that you leapin’ lizards!

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Delve Deeper:
See where we stayed! Peppers Broadbeach
See more spectacular Sand Sculptures!
Drool over the unbelievably delish Social Eating House
Watch us feed crocs!
Bucket list check! We snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef!
Watch us skydive above beautiful Queensland – yikes!
Follow us into the Australian Hinterland and kayak the Noosa Everglades!
Find out how we saw all of the bizarre Australian animals in one place!
Let Us Introdoos-ya to Noosa and Spread a Little Sunshine Coast

Huge thanks to Tourism and Events Queensland for providing this adventure! As always, all opinions are our own.

Click here to see all of our adventures in Queensland!