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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.

To convince you further, here are additional reasons to visit Cusco:

    • You’ll get to see a traditional mix of colorful clothing from traditional, modern and everything in between.
    • You’ll see llamas and alpacas.
    • You’ll come across architecture that will send you back in time.

If you’re looking for other hidden Latin American destinations, we’ve got you covered there, too.

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.

For those who do not live right next door a visa may be necessary for travel to Canada and we found a way to make getting one super easy with eTA Canada.

However, when it came to picking just one special 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.

This post may contain sponsored links.

Accidentally Attending the Alarde Festival

As we were approaching the town of Hondarribia on the Camino de Santiago, little did we know that a huge festival was underway… CONTINUE READING >> 

As we were approaching the town of Hondarribia on the Camino de Santiago, little did we know that a huge festival was underway.

Actually, our guide Txaro (pronounced Charo) knew but she didn’t want to spoil the surprise.

See all of our adventures in the Basque Country here.

Our plan was to stop at a small church up on Monte Jaizkibel above the city, the sanctuary of the Virgin of Guadalupe, for a look at the famous Madonna inside. The statue was found centuries ago and is one of only three so-called black Madonnas in Spain.

While we did get a peek at the figure, we had to fight our way through some serious crowds because we had stumbled upon an event that we will never forget.

The festivities were part of the Alarde, an annual celebration commemorating Hondarribia’s survival of a siege by the troops of King Louis XIII of France.

In the summer of 1638, the city was surrounded and the citizens swore to the Virgin of Guadalupe that if they managed to escape they would hold an annual procession to her shrine.

The blockade lasted sixty nine days, but the Basques endured, and now each year they honor their pledge with a party more than worthy of the victory.

The little chapel was overflowing with worshipers attending the special mass that began the proceedings, so we waited outside in what became an incredibly noisy perch overlooking Hondarribia, the Bidasoa River, Txingudi Bay, and France across the water.

Cannon fire was coordinated to punctuate, and we do mean strongly, certain parts of the service, and we just happened to end up right by them as they went off. When a final blast signaled the end of the liturgy, the priest led the congregation out into the streets to begin the parade.

With ears ringing, we watched dozens of men in huge sheepskin hats and long black beards march around the church.

They carried various tools, shovels and so forth, as a reminder of the townsfolk who dug their way past the enemy lines disguised as sheep in order to seek help from neighboring villages.

These guys, called hatxeroak in the Basque language, are without a doubt the rock stars of the spectacle and the crowd went crazy.

Next, several companies of fife and drum corps marched past, followed by a huge troop of riflemen.

The armed contingent stopped in front of the church to fire a salute, the first of much gun fire we would be observing during the day. By now our ears were shot, but we figured out that this seemed to signal that it was time to make way for the city below.

We walked down the path to Hondarribia and prepared for the scene to repeat, but this time with a much larger crowd of spectators.

The entire old town within the medieval walls was wall-to-wall merrymakers. The cobblestone lanes were jammed and every balcony filled with spectators.

In a much larger parade than the one up on the mountain, numerous regiments representing the town’s neighborhoods marched through the streets to the Plaza de las Armas where they gathered and loaded up for numerous volleys.

At the same time the cannons, we think the same ones as before, fired incredibly loud barrages out toward the vanquished French.

Clouds of gun powder induced smoke billowed and hovered over the city.

The smell was something akin to the Fourth of July on steroids.

We had a leg up on blending in because this is Txaro’s hometown, so to help us look like locals she had instructed us to wear white shirts and gave us all red bandanas to wear around our necks.

It was a wonderful touch that, even though we’re sure most folks could tell we were visitors from afar, made us feel right at home.

Feeling a bit less conspicuous, we wandered among the throngs and joined the merriment as artillery and rifle reports, music and peals of church bells surrounded us.

Each square we came to had crowds of revelers singing, waving flags, and drinking beer or cider.

The celebration continued while afternoon turned to evening, and then night, so we crawled into bed while listening to the joviality go on well into the wee hours…

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See all of our adventures in the Basque Country here.

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

A Patriotic Journey: Biking Washington DC’s National Mall

We were in a city like no other in America.
Or anywhere else for that matter. We mounted our trusty wheeled steeds and headed out for a day of awe inspiring monuments and memorials. And we got to bust a few myths as well… 
CONTINUE READING >> 

The Capitol Building is visible as soon as you step out of Union Station in Washington DC

The Capitol Dome highlights the view as we walked out the front doors of DC’s Union Station, and instantly we knew we were in a city like no other in America.

Or anywhere else for that matter.

Just outside the station, there were bikes for rent — so we hopped on a couple of trusty steeds and headed out toward the National Mall.

The Capitol Building: a capital idea!

The Capitol Building in Washington DC

The main attractions of Washington are spread out over several miles, so walking from monument to monument could have easily eaten up most of our limited time in DC.

Pedaling along the extremely bike-friendly paths through the Mall area solved our time issues and prevented mighty tired tootsies by the end of the day.

The Capitol Building in Washington DC

If any one of the dozens of iconic buildings and monuments in the District of Colombia can symbolize the city — perhaps the entire country — it must be the Capitol.

President George Washington himself laid the cornerstone on September 18, 1793 and the first session with both houses of congress was held in November of 1800.

The dome of the Capitol Building in Washington DC

The construction was nowhere near finished at that time, but our government had a home. In fact, construction continued for well over a century.

From our first vantage point in front of the east steps, we could easily see the difference in stone between the original structure and the expansion that began in 1850.

That expansion added the Capital Building’s most recognizable feature, the dome. The expanded capitol was so large that the original dome looked pretty puny, so in 1855 a fitting cupola was created.

We most certainly applaud the decision as a capital idea, it just wouldn’t be the same without it.

Ulysses Grant Memorial stands on the west side of the Capitol
The Ulysses S. Grant Memorial stands on the west side of the Capitol Building.
The White House

The White House in Washington DC

Close up on the White House in Washington DC

Before we set out to see the monuments, we headed over to the most famous residence in town, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Built from 1792 to 1800, the house wasn’t finished in time for George Washington to move in, but every president since has lived in it.

Like the Capitol, The White House has been a work in progress, with numerous additions and renovations, and both were burned by the British in 1814, during the war of 1812. James and Dolley Madison were forced to move out but repairs began immediately, so by 1817 the new president, James Monroe, moved in.

That kept the streak alive.

At first no one was sure what to call it, the President’s Palace, the President’s House, or the Executive Mansion. Over time people dubbed it the White House, and in 1901 President Theodore Roosevelt made it the official name.

I never forget that I live in a house owned by all the American people and that I have been given their trust. FDR
Inscription at the Franklin Roosevelt Memorial

See our full Founding Cities Tour by Train through Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC and New York City

The Washington Monument

The Washington Monument in DC

After meeting in Philadelphia, New York, and briefly in several smaller cities, the founders realized that their new nation needed a permanent seat of government.

So in 1790 congress passed the Residence Act creating a capital along the Potomac River.

President Washington picked the site and appointed Pierre Charles L’Enfant to draw up a plan for the new city. L’Enfant’s vision was of grand avenues, a huge open mall, and canals for delivering goods.

The Washington Monument in DC

Though he fell out of favor and Washington replaced him with Andrew Ellicott, the final design remained close to the L’Enfant proposal.

Most all of the important buildings and monuments are on, or near, The Mall, which is centered around the towering Washington Monument.

Lucky for us, the scaffolding from repairs due to the 2011 earthquake has recently been removed, so we had an unobstructed view of all 555 feet of the obelisk.

The Washington Monument in DC

Construction took thirty-six years, but no work was done during twenty-two of those due to disagreements involving commemorative stones.

Things got out of hand as groups used inscriptions on the stones to promote all sorts of causes that had nothing to do with our first president. When the Know-Nothings took control of the Washington National Monument Society and stole a stone donated by the pope, things really fell apart.

They ran out of money and did such a poor job that all of their work had to be removed once work resumed again after the Civil War.

The Washington Monument in DC

We easily noticed the different times of construction by the color of the stones, an obvious change occurs about one third of the way up.

When it was finally completed in 1884 it was the tallest structure in the world, a title held briefly – the Eiffel Tower topped it just five years later.

The Memorial to the Fifty-six Signers of the Declaration of Independence

Memorial to the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence in Washington, DC

Memorial to the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence in Washington, DC

Our next stop was one of DC’s more overlooked monuments, the Memorial to the Fifty-six Signers of the Declaration of Independence, dedicated in July 1982.

On a small island in Constitution Gardens, an arc of stone blocks depicting each signer’s signature is arraigned in groups by the colonies that they represented.

While we were familiar with the names of many of these patriots, especially the contingent from Boston, we are surprised by how many we did not recognize.

Memorial to the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence in Washington, DC

Constitution Gardens in Washington, DC at the National Mall

Constitution Gardens is the part of The Mall that runs along the north side of the reflecting pool between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.

We headed further west along the park until we reached the Vietnam Memorial.

See our full Founding Cities Tour by Train through Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC and New York City

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC

Dedicated in 1982 and designed by Maya Ying Lin (who also created the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama), the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a stark and solemn black granite wall engraved with the names of over fifty-thousand servicemen and women.

Each gave their life in the conflict, or remain missing.

The Three Servicemen statue at The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC

Near The Wall, stands The Three Servicemen, created by Frederick Hart.

Not everyone was happy with Ms. Ying Lin’s abstract design and some called for a more traditional statue.

The sculpture, unveiled in 1984, stands facing The Wall as if the men are looking over their fallen friends.

Vietnam Women's Memorial at The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC

The Vietnam Women’s Memorial, by Glenna Goodacre, is dedicated to the thousands of women who served in Vietnam.

A wounded soldier is depicted with Charity – who holds him in her arms, Hope – looking to the sky – and Faith – who is kneeling in prayer.

The Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC

When we reached the west end of The Mall, we were standing right at the feet of the Great Emancipator and his stature and his memorial were just too imposing to ignore.

Climbing the steps where Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his I Have a Dream speech, it is hard not to feel it is the most inspiring monument in our nation’s capital.

Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC

Styled after a Greek temple, it has a classic appearance that houses an enormous statue of the President.

The original plan was for a likeness only ten feet high, but that seemed much too small for the surroundings, so the size was doubled.

Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC

We heartily agree with that decision, Lincoln should certainly be remembered as larger than life.

Many of the monuments we’d seen have National Park Rangers guiding tours, or simply on standby for questions from curious types like ourselves.

National Parks Rangers are at many of the monuments at the National Mall in Washington DC

We were lucky to find ourselves a guide who was willing to debunk a couple of myths about ole Abe’s likeness for us.

Myth One: Mr. Lincoln’s hands were positioned to spell out his initials – A & L – in sign language.

Lincoln's hands spell out A and L in sign language at the Lincoln Memorial in DC

This myth most likely started because Daniel Chester French, the statue’s creator, has another sculpture on display in DC entitled Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Alice Cogswell.

That statue depicts Gallaudet, who opened the first school for the deaf in the US, and a young girl signing the letter A. Intentional for Miss Cogswell, not so much with Lincoln.

Myth Two: On the back of Lincoln’s head is Robert E. Lee. This was done to signify a yin-yang of the Union and the Confederacy.

On the back of Lincoln's head is Robert E. Lee at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC

Nope. It’s just Lincoln’s hair. But it’s hard to un-see once it’s pointed out.

The ceiling at the Lincoln Memorial is thinly cut marble soaked in beeswax to let the perfect amount of light in

Another fascinating feature is the thinly cut marble tiles in the ceiling.

Soaked in beeswax to become translucent, the perfect amount of light is let in to highlight this incredible work of art.

The Washington Monument in Washington DC

Trotting down the fifty-seven steps (no myth involved here, it’s simply a number of steps to have) to climb back aboard our trusty bikes, we were waylaid by the view!

Hey, isn’t that where Jenny ran through the water to get to Forrest Gump?

See our full Founding Cities Tour by Train through Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC and New York City

The Martin Luther King Memorial

From the site of the I Have a Dream speech we made our way to the nearby Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.

The Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington DC

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

We passed through two huge stones that symbolize a mountain of despair, to the Stone of Hope, which is the centerpiece of the monument.

The path was designed to signify the journey toward civil rights and named for the line from that famous speech “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”

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

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

We’ve followed the footsteps of Dr. King through travel – see many more MLK tributes we’ve found

The Roosevelt Memorial

The FDR memorial in Washington, DC

Statues of bread line or soup kitchen at the Roosevelt Monument

Spread out over seven and a half acres, FDR‘s memorial was designed by landscape architect Lawrence Halprin to encompass the twelve years that Roosevelt served as president.

The sculptures are fascinatingly life-like, addressing the great depression with a bread line of weary bronze figures and a citizen anxiously listening to a fireside chat.

A man listens to a fireside chat on the radio in The Roosevelt Memorial in Washington DC

The FDR Memorial in Washington DC

We followed the path through the massive granite blocks, inscribed with quotes from the 32nd president, that mark off the sections.

One of these features a bronze statue of Eleanor Roosevelt, making this the only presidential memorial that includes a first lady. Even better, the sculpture celebrates Mrs. Roosevelt as the first US delegate to the United Nations.

Bronze statue of Eleanor Roosevelt, making this the only presidential memorial that includes a first lady. The sculpture also celebrates Mrs. Roosevelt as the first US delegate to the United Nations

Follow us around the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in New York!

The George Mason Memorial
The George Mason Memorial in Washington, DC
Veronica attempts to gain some Founding Father insight by sneaking a peek into Mr. Mason’s book.

Mason is sometimes called the Forgotten Founder, but his contribution to the constitution should be unforgettable.

Having written the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the state sent him to the Constitutional Convention where he had a major impact. Ironically, he refused to sign the final document, feeling it did not provide the proper protections for individual freedoms.

He lobbied for a Bill of Rights, which was later adopted and closely resembled his earlier Virginia Declaration. Perhaps that is why he looks so content and comfortable on his bench gazing across the water toward The Mall.

See our full Founding Cities Tour by Train through Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC and New York City

The Jefferson Memorial

The Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC

From the man behind the Bill of Rights, we biked over to the author of the Declaration of Independence.

The last of the memorialized founders we visited is Thomas Jefferson. Another classic design, the Jefferson Memorial is based on the Pantheon in Rome, and Jefferson’s own design of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia.

The Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC

In the center, a five-ton bronze statue of our third president stands looking past the Washington Monument toward the White House.

He is surrounded by excerpts from the Declaration of Independence and quotes from several of his letters.

As we looked out over the tidal basin at our nation’s capital with Jefferson, we can’t help but feel that we had found a kinship with our nation’s historic leaders.

The Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Delve deeper:
See more of DC’s incredible Union Station!
See our full Founding Cities Tour by Train through Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC and New York City

Thanks to Amtrak for providing the train travel portion of this adventure through Boston, Philadelphia, New York, and Washington, DC! As always, all opinions are our own.

The Ultimate Vehicle Prep Checklist for Boomer Road Trippers

With your vehicle in top condition, you’re ready to hit the open road and make the most of your adventure…
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For boomers, a well-prepared vehicle can make all the difference on a road trip. Whether you’re revisiting favorite destinations or exploring new ones, ensuring your car is road-ready is crucial. This comprehensive checklist covers essential vehicle maintenance tasks and offers practical advice on packing, organizing, and updating technology to help you avoid common pitfalls and enjoy your journey to the fullest.

Check Fluid Levels

Maintaining optimal fluid levels is vital for your vehicle’s performance and longevity. Start with the engine oil. Check the level using the dipstick and top it off if needed. If the oil appears dirty or it’s been a while since your last oil change, consider replacing it to ensure smooth engine operation.

Next, inspect the coolant level. Coolant helps regulate your engine’s temperature, preventing overheating in summer and freezing in winter. Make sure the coolant reservoir is filled to the recommended level and check for any leaks in the system.

Brake fluid is another critical component. It ensures your brakes function correctly, which is paramount for safety. Low brake fluid levels can lead to brake failure, so check the reservoir and top it off if necessary, following the manufacturer’s guidelines.

Other essential fluids to check include transmission, power steering, and windshield washer. Each plays a crucial role in your vehicle’s operation, from smooth gear shifts and steering to clear visibility.

Inspect Tires

Your tires are your direct contact with the road, making their condition critical for safety and performance. Start by checking tire pressure. Properly inflated tires ensure better fuel efficiency, improved handling, and reduced wear and tear. Use a tire pressure gauge to check each tire and inflate them to the manufacturer’s recommended levels.

Examine the tire tread depth. Adequate tread depth is essential for traction, especially in wet or slippery conditions. Use the penny test: insert a penny into the tread with Lincoln’s head facing down. If you can see the top of his head, it’s time to replace the tires.

Also, inspect the tires for any visible damage, such as cuts, bulges, or punctures. These issues can lead to tire failure, which is especially dangerous at high speeds. Don’t forget to check the spare tire as well, ensuring it’s in good condition and properly inflated.

Test Battery Health

A reliable battery is crucial for starting your vehicle and powering its electrical systems. Begin by visually inspecting the battery for any signs of corrosion on the terminals. Corrosion can hinder the battery’s performance and should be cleaned off with a battery cleaning solution or a mixture of baking soda and water.

Next, test the battery’s voltage using a multimeter. A fully charged battery should read around 12.6 volts or higher. If the voltage is lower, recharging or replacing the battery may be time. Additionally, consider the age of your battery. Most batteries last between three to five years, so if yours is nearing this age, replacing it before your trip might be prudent.

Evaluate the Brake System

Your vehicle’s brake system is fundamental to your safety, making its evaluation a top priority. Start by checking the brake pads. Worn brake pads can significantly reduce stopping power and should be replaced if they are thin or worn down to the wear indicator.

Next, inspect the brake rotors for any signs of damage, such as grooves or warping. Damaged rotors can affect braking performance and should be resurfaced or replaced as needed. Additionally, check the brake lines for any signs of leaks or damage, ensuring they are in good condition.

If your vehicle has a brake warning light on the dashboard, it’s essential to address it before your trip. The light could indicate a range of issues, from low brake fluid to a more serious problem with the braking system.

Verify Lights and Signals

Properly functioning lights and signals are essential for visibility and communication with other drivers. Begin by testing all exterior lights, including headlights, taillights, brake lights, and turn signals. Replace any burnt-out bulbs to ensure you can see and be seen on the road.

Next, check the condition of the lenses. Cloudy or cracked lenses can reduce the effectiveness of your lights. If they appear cloudy, clean the lenses with a headlight restoration kit and replace any that are damaged.

Also, test the interior lights, including the dashboard lights and dome lights. These lights help you see the controls and navigate inside your vehicle at night. Ensure all lights are working correctly and replace any that are not.

Pack Essentials and Organize

Packing wisely and organizing your vehicle can enhance comfort and convenience during your trip. Start with an emergency kit that includes a first aid kit, a flashlight with extra batteries, basic tools, and a tire repair kit. Additionally, carry extra fluids such as oil, coolant, and brake fluid, as well as a portable air compressor for tire inflation.

Include personal essentials like medications, water, snacks, and a blanket. Organize these items in easy-to-reach places so you don’t have to dig through your luggage when needed. Consider using organizers and bins to keep everything tidy and accessible.

Ensure Technology is Up to Date

Modern vehicles rely heavily on technology, and keeping these systems up to date can improve safety and convenience. Start by updating your GPS or navigation system. An updated system ensures you have the latest maps and traffic information, helping you avoid delays and find the best routes.

Next, check your vehicle’s software. Some newer models require periodic software updates to maintain optimal performance and access new features. Check the manufacturer’s website or your owner’s manual for instructions on updating your vehicle’s software.

Ensure your phone is charged and equipped with useful apps for road trips, such as weather, traffic, and emergency service apps. A phone mount can also make it easier to use your phone for navigation without taking your eyes off the road.

From Checklist to Road Trip

By following this comprehensive vehicle prep checklist, boomer road trippers can enjoy their journeys with confidence and peace of mind. Regularly checking and maintaining fluid levels, inspecting tires, testing battery health, evaluating the brake system, verifying lights and signals, packing essentials, organizing the car, and updating technology can help avoid common pitfalls and ensure a smooth, enjoyable trip. With your vehicle in top condition, you’re ready to hit the open road and make the most of your adventure.

Yellowstone – What a Gas Hole!

We came to Wyoming to see the world’s first National Park. Permanently set aside in 1872, Yellowstone is home to two-thirds of all the geysers in the world…
Permanently set aside in 1872, Yellowstone is home to two-thirds of all the geysers in the world… 
CONTINUE READING >>

Buffalo at beautiful Yellowstone National Park

Vast expanses of open range stretch as far as the eye can see, the deer and the antelope really do play in America’s West.

The lack of a gold rush back in the 1800’s left Wyoming sparsely populated, with just over half a million cowpokes in all. Thirty-three cities in the U.S. are more populous than the entire state of Wyoming.

That’s a boatload of land per person.

Buffalo at Yellowstone National Park

We had come to Wyoming to see the world’s first National Park.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River

Permanently set aside in 1872, Yellowstone was named for the bright colors of the rocks on the walls of The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.

The river flows north from Yellowstone Lake, cascades down over four hundred feet in two magnificent waterfalls before cutting a spectacular nine hundred foot deep gorge through yellow and orange volcanic rocks on its way to meeting up with The Missouri River.

Without a doubt this is the ultimate place for a traditional camping trip.

Wanting to see the colorful canyon from every angle possible, we gathered our hiking gear and traipsed the semi-strenuous trails along the rim and around the Upper Falls.

The jaunt took some time, and energy, so we were glad that we carried some snacks, and of course a good water bottle with us.

From the falls we discovered Uncle Tom’s Trail. This trail provided an absolutely mind-blowing view of the Lower Falls — we just scampered down a bit over three hundred metal steps along the sheer canyon cliffs.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River

Uncle Tom's Trail in Yellowstone National Park

Getting BACK up up the 300 steps, that was quite another story altogether.

Ah yes, feel the burn.

Uncle Tom was quite certainly a masochist, especially since back in his day they didn’t have the stairs!

The falls, canyon and lake would be more than enough to warrant setting aside this area as a National Park but — wait — there’s more!

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River

As breathtaking as this portion of the Park was, at least we felt we had our feet solidly on planet Earth.

Things were about to take a most drastic change.

We were about to enter an other-worldly world, and it’s next to impossible to describe the bizarre sights, sounds and smells of the place.

Oh yes, the smells are a huge part of the Yellowstone experience.

Two-thirds of all the geysers in the world are within the borders of Yellowstone National Park

Two-thirds of all the geysers in the world are within the borders of Yellowstone.

Superheated water gushes hundreds of feet into the air from some while others spout tiny bursts of steam.

In some spots, boiling springs and pools of sulfur-rich water dwell next to pits of bubbling mud called paint pots, all reeking like rotten eggs.

See all of our adventures in America’s Wild West!

Two-thirds of all the geysers in the world are within the borders of Yellowstone National Park

Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park

We mounted our trusty bikes for a ride through The Upper Geyser Basin, home to the most famous of Yellowstone’s geysers, Castle, Grand and of course, Old Faithful.

We waited with eager anticipation as a crowd gathered for the scheduled eruption of the ancient trustworthy fellow.

Right on time, he did not disappoint.

The Sapphire Pool at Yellowstone National Park

Cycling our way up the path from the visitors center to The Sapphire Pool, we were awed by the Mars-like terrain around us.

Eruptions by a couple of the less-than-faithful fountains, The Grotto and Spa Geysers made the out-of-this-world
experience even more present.

Geyser at Yellowstone National ParkAdditional snaps to The National Park Service for making the whole area remarkably handicapped-friendly.

The Emerald Pool at Yellowstone National Park

From the Upper Geyser Basin, we took an easy bike ride over to the Black Sand Basin.

The basin is named for the obsidian glass sand covering parts of the ground and is best known for its colorful hot springs, The Emerald Pool and Opalescent Pool.

It is also home to The Cliff Geyser, named for the wall of geyserite along edge of Iron Creek formed by its eruptions. We had the good fortune to experience one these eruptions with forty feet of boiling water shooting skyward and then splashing with a cloud of steam into the creek.

Bubbling mud in Yellowstone National Park

One of David’s most vivid memories from his childhood visit to Yellowstone was the simmering, colorful mud in the paint pots.

Small wonder that a giant boiling mud-puddle would stick in a kid’s mind. He had to see them again.

There are several examples of muddy geothermal pots in the park but the two standouts are The Fountain Paint Pot and The Artists Paint Pots. The Fountain is just a short hop north of Old Faithful in the Lower Geyser Basin so we hit it first.

Yellowstone National Park

There are two sounds that dominate this area, the thick bubbling splattering of boiling mud and the jet engine like roar of steam blasting through fissures in the ground.

The viscosity of the mud in the paint pots varies depending on the time of year. Thin and runny with the Spring rains and melt, thicker after a hot, dry summer. By our visit in Autumn, they were a gooey goop of gaseous gunk.

Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park

The Artists Paint Pots are up the road a little way in the Norris Geyser Basin.

Home to the world’s largest geyser, Steamboat Geyser, that can spray over three hundred feet in the air on the rare occasions that it erupts.

These were not as impressive as mudpits go, but the walk along the loop trail of the area was fantastic.

Let’s just say that walking beside a nearly boiling little mountain stream is not an everyday experience for us.

A geyser in Yellowstone National Park

Everywhere we looked on our jaunts through the geyser basins something was either boiling, bubbling or steaming.

The very ground was hot in many places because Yellowstone is actually a huge volcano, known as a supervolcano, one of the biggest in the world.

This massive caldera erupts catastrophically every six to nine hundred thousand years, covering the entire continent in darkness and ash — basically killing every living thing for thousands of miles around.

It won’t be pretty when it happens again and oh, by the way, the last time was around seven hundred thousand years ago soooo…

Retro geyser warning sign at Yellowstone National Park

Retro buffalo warning flyer at Yellowstone National Park

Warning signs are posted all along the trails in an attention grabbing effort to keep tourists on the safety of the paths and boardwalks so as not to get parboiled. Don’t be like this kid!

There were several other warnings to heed involving wild animals — avoiding getting gored by a buffalo, trampled by an elk or mauled by a bear.

Somehow we managed to avoid all these pitfalls and made our way to the relative safety of Montana.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See all of our adventures in America’s Wild West!

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8 Things Not to Miss in Prague

The heart and soul of the Czech Republic, as well as traditional Bohemia, are inseparably wrapped up in the amazing cultural confluence that is Prague.

There has been a settlement on the site of the city for over twelve hundred years, so there is plenty to do!
Here are our favorites… CONTINUE READING > >

The heart and soul of the Czech Republic, as well as traditional Bohemia, are inseparably wrapped up in the amazing cultural confluence that is Prague. There has been a settlement on the site of the city for over twelve hundred years.

Be Enchanted by Old Town Square

Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republic

It’s like stepping inside a fairy-tale picture book. The plaza seemed especially huge because of the contrast with the narrow streets leading into it. But size alone is not what makes the square so impressive, that task is accomplished by the remarkable architecture enclosing the space. Standouts are the Old Town Hall, with the world’s oldest working Astronomical Clock on its tower, and the Týn and St. Nicholas Churches. More Old Town Square

Have the “Time” of Your Life at The Astronomical Clock

The Astronomical Clock of Prague

Every hour, on the hour, a huge crowd gathers as this mechanical marvel breaks out quite a conglomeration of characters — including Death, Avarice and Vanity — to commemorate the passing of another sixty minutes. Created in 1410, the clock shows time in four different variations, as well as the date, times for sunrise and sunset, the position of the sun in the zodiac, and the phases of the moon. More Astronomical Clock

WATCH: Inside, outside and topside of the Astronomical Clock!

Eat lots of Delicious Carbs

Delicious Czech Dumplings!

A big part of Veronica’s desire to see Prague was to find the origins of her childhood dinners. Generations of her Bohemian ancestors had passed down traditional dishes, now we could experience the originals, almost all of which include dumplings. Dumplings are the undisputed heavyweight champions of Czech food and we found them answering the bell on almost every plate. More Czech Food

Take the Trip to Kutná Hora

St. Barbara Cathedral, Kutna Hora, Czech Republic

In a bygone era, Kutná Hora rivaled Prague as the main city of Bohemia, and several kings took up residence. Silver was coming out of these hills in massive quantities during the fourteenth century and the town was rolling in dough. And, as we know, kings like dough. St. Barbara’s Cathedral dominates Kutná Hora from a hill overlooking the city and is certainly worth the short trip from Prague. In 1388, miners began an enormous project to build this Gothic masterpiece, replacing their chapel that had occupied the site for nearly a century. More Kutná Hora

Get Chilled to the Bone at Sedlec Ossuary

Macabre Human Bone Church of Sedlec, Czech Republic

Words – not even pictures – can begin to explain what it’s like walking through the doors of Sedlec Ossuary. The bones from tens of thousands of people adorn the walls and ceiling, in inexplicable formations. Stacks, pyramids, signs, crucifixes, candelabras and a coat of arms surrounded us, all made from the skeletons of the long deceased. Strings of skulls and femurs of the dearly departed hang like garlands over the arches and doorways. The creepy centerpiece of this macabre masterpiece, a massive chandelier containing at least one of every bone in the human body.
More Sedlec Ossuary

WATCH: You won’t believe the macabre “artwork”

Visit the Jewish Quarter

The Jewish Quarter in Prague, Czech Republic

When the Nazis invaded Prague during WWII, it was expected that they would destroy the Jewish Quarter, known as Josefav, but instead they decided to preserve the cemetery, town hall, ceremonial hall and several synagogs as an “exotic museum of an extinct race.” Fortunately, their plans were foiled. The area has gone from settlement, to walled ghetto, to near extinction, to tourist attraction through the ten centuries of its existence. And then, there’s the tale of the Golum… More Josefav

Hike up to Prague Castle

Prague Castle From Charles Bridge

From its hilltop perch the Prague Castle looms over the city and has been home to Kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman Emperors, and presidents of both Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic since the first fortress was constructed here in the year 870. Heralded as the largest castle in the world by the The Guiness Book of World Records, it feels more like a walled city with two huge cathedrals along with countless palaces and halls within the ramparts. More Prague Castle

Vow to Return to Prague on the Charles Bridge

The Charles Bridge at night, Prague, Czech Republic

From the earliest days of Prague, this bridge across the Vltava River has been the focal point of the city. King Vladislaus II built the first bridge in 1170. In 1342, when the original structure was washed away in a flood, King Charles IV replaced it with the version that stands today. More than just a bridge, it’s a history lesson, a performance venue, a shopping center and a place of supernatural phenomenon. St. John of Nepomuk was martyred here and, by rubbing his likeness, you will be certain to visit Prague again. More Charles Bridge

Bonus! Be Blown Away By the Street Performers

Street performers abound in Prague, our favorite was an astounding musician using water filled brandy snifters as his instrument. He played outside the Opera House with the skill of a concert pianist… perhaps he should be inside the hall.

Watch: The incredibly talented (and hysterically funny) Peter! He even performs a special serenade to Veronica!

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See all of our adventures in Prague!

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There’s No Denying Denali is Da Bomb! Alaska’s Beauty at its Best

Scenery that’s just too spectacular to be real!

There’s no place like it on earth. We skirted precariously along cliffs, hiked among magnificent mountains, and learned how to react when we came upon a grizzly in the wild (this goes against every human fight-or-flight instinct!). Oh, and there’s that bit about the town that has a cat for a mayor… CONTINUE READING

The GypsyNesters in Denali National Park in Alaska

In what may be becoming an regular trek up to Alaska to see The Boy again this summer (we haven’t summoned the fortitude to venture up in the winter yet), we decided to take in some of the state’s boundless beauty with a visit to North America’s highest peak, Denali, and the National Park that surrounds it.

View from Flat Top Mountain in Anchorage, Alaska
Right before things went terribly awry on Flat Top Mountain, so climbing Denali is probably NOT the best idea!

Seeing it from afar last year when we climbed Flat Top Mountain only whet our appetites, we felt that if we were to do the massive mountain justice we should get an up close and personal introduction.

From Anchorage, our homebase, we headed toward Wasilla (a different path from our previous travels down the fabulous Seward Highway and our visit to the extremely remote Native Villages in the tundra).

Setting out in the evening, after The Boy and his lovely girlfriend finished work, we stop for an overnight in the town of Talkeetna. This quirky-quaint little outpost is used as a base camp for climbers, since it is the nearest civilization to the southern route up Denali’s summit.

Talkeetna, Alaska

Several air taxi services shuttle mountaineers to base camps, and take sightseers on flybys or glacier landings, in fact the tiny town has two airports.

Since we’d learned our limitations whilst climbing Flat Top, we weren’t interested in getting into further trouble climbing the ginormous peak. Enjoying the the frontier atmosphere of the village was more our speed.

A local watering hole in Talkeetna, Alaska

Talkeetna’s downtown area is so darn quaint, and authentic, that it is classified as a National Historic Site.

Though it was getting a little late, we wandered Main Street and stopped into a couple of the local watering holes.

Summer solstice in full swing—and being so close to the Arctic Circle—meant that it was not going to get dark that night.

Just to be certain, we waited for twelve o’clock and a dose of midnight sun. If there ever was a time that we wished for blackout curtains, this was it.

Nagley's General Store, home of the cat mayor, Stubbs, in Talkeetna, Alaska

The next morning, which looked pretty much the same as the night that preceded it, we set out for Nagley’s General Store to pay a call on Mayor Stubbs.

The Honorable Mayor Stubbs - he's a cat - of Talkeetna, Alaska
The Honorable Mayor Stubbs has his own swag.

We were hoping to be able to give him a little scratch behind the ears, oh, wait, perhaps we should explain that Stubbs is a cat.

Full discloser: he is also only the honorary mayor.

The town has no real mayor, so there is no truth to the legend that Stubbs won a write-in campaign, but he has been holding forth with huge approval ratings since 1997.

That’s almost twenty years!

He started out as barely more than a kitten but, obviously, he’s getting a little long in the tooth, and wasn’t feeling up to greeting his citizens (or his legions of fans) that day.

Luckily, Nagley’s is a landmark in its own right; over one hundred years ago this was one of the original buildings in Talkeetna and more than a store, it served as the Post Office and District Territorial Headquarters too.

Talkeetna Alaska's famous spinach bread!

Feeling sad that we missed the mayor, we soothed ourselves with some of Talkeetna’s famous spinach bread (cheesy, garlicky, gooey goodness) and took a walk down to the Susitna River to hopefully get a peek at the mighty mountain that was shrouded in clouds the day before.

Unfortunately, Denali is so large that it creates its own weather, so it is hidden from view at least two thirds of the time.

This morning fell into that majority.

Mountain view from Talkeetna, Alaska

We did end up with a fantastic view of Mount Foraker, the third highest peak in North America, but looking out across the rushing water only the bottom half of big Denali was visible to the right of Foraker.

Loading up the car and hoping for a break in the clouds, we drove north to Denali National Park.

The drive to Denali National Park, Alaska

Along the way we played peek-a-boo, catching passing glimpses, but never a clear view of the entire mountain.

The road to Denali National Park, Alaska - stunning!We were more than happy to take in the “regular-sized” humongous mountains on the endless range. Each one more stunning than the next.

As we traveled on, it was surprising to find that we had passed the summit completely and ended up on Denali’s north side where the entrance awaited us.

We settled into our cabin in Denali Village and drifted off to sleep with dreams of a clear day ahead.

Instructions on how to survive a grizzly bear attack at Denali National Park

Up for a bright-and-early morning, our first stop was a quick trip to the visitor center.

It was there that we learned how to handle grizzlies.

Memorizing what goes against everything our fight-or-flight human tendencies warned us, we vowed to give it a shot were we so (un)lucky to find ourselves near a grizzly bear.
The bus through Denali National Park

There is only one road through the park, so for safety and traffic control it is restricted to park vehicles only.

That means the only way to get into the interior of the park is to take a bus.

Our driver, a vivacious woman who couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred pounds dripping wet, drove on paths so narrow that much of the time we could only see a sheer drop while we peered aghast from our windows.

The crazy road through Denali National Park, Alaska

We went deep into countryside that normally could never be seen without days of hiking under heavy backpacks.

The crazy cliff-clinging road through Denali National Park, Alaska

Snow on the mountains in Denali National Park, Alaska

As we went along our driver regaled the history of the park, which in turn explained why we were not going to see the summit, even if the clouds broke.

The concept of the park came from conservationist Charles Alexander Sheldon, who pushed for National Park protection of the region from 1906, until 1917 when Woodrow Wilson signed the bill creating Mount McKinley National Park.

Signs in Denali National Park in Alaska are fitted with spikes so the bears refrain from scratching themselves and knocking them over
Signs are fitted with spikes to deter bears from scratching their backs on them and knocking them over.

Sheldon’s idea was never focused on the big mountain, which he called Denali even back then, but on preserving the incredible wildlife and beauty of the entire area.

In fact, the summit of the peak wasn’t even within the original park boundaries.

The rest of the mountain wasn’t officially protected until President Jimmy Carter named it Denali National Monument in 1978.

Two years later the Monument was added into the Park, and the Alaska State Board of Geographic Names officially changed the name of the mountain to Denali.

The sheer cliffs off the road through Denali National Park in Alaska are crazy!

The name had been a source of controversy from the beginning, and even with that change the federal government continued to consider the official name Mount McKinley.

The situation of different state and federal names lasted until 2015, when President Barack Obama directed Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to rename the mountain Denali, which means “the high one” in the native Koyukon language.

Denali National Park, Alaska

Now that we had the notion of seeing that one particular mountain out of our heads, we were freed up to stop looking, and enjoy all of the other amazing mountains that were surrounding us.

We could also beginning to focus on spotting some of the vast array of wildlife that calls the park home.

Dall sheep frolick in Denali National Park, Alaska

Our first encounter didn’t take much effort to spot, as a herd of Dall sheep ran right across the road.

Coming to quick, sharp stop, freaking out our driver because in her twenty years here she had never seen them so up close.

They are normally quite shy and stay high up on the hillsides.

Not much farther along we got a good sense of what she meant, and just how good at spotting animals she was, when she pointed out several caribou up in a snowfield high on a ridge.

Without her guidance we never would have seen them, or known that they were rolling in the snow to get rid of pesky insects.

Polychrome Pass in Denali National Park in Alaska - where the mountains explode with color!

As we climbed up the aptly named Polychrome Pass, the colors of the rocks exploded into a rainbow of earth toned hues.

This is due to the localized volcanic events, in contrast to the vast majority of the mountains which rise from tectonic activity as the Pacific Plate slowly crashes into the North American plate.

It’s actually a part of the same fault system that created the San Andreas Fault thousands of miles to the south.

While riding through this spectacular scenery was incredible, we really wanted to get out in it, so we asked to get off at the next stop.

The buses make numerous stops along the road just for this purpose, as hikers and campers make their way in and out of the wilderness.

Black bear warning sign in Denali National Park, Alaska
According to our driver and the warning at the vistor center, black bears behave quite differently—we frantically double checked that we knew the difference.

We weren’t going to get too crazy, just wanted to take in the wide open expanse of the Toklat River Valley and maybe explore over a ridge or two. So we grabbed our hiking gear, and after strongly warning us to beware of bears, the driver pulled away in a cloud of dust.

Hiking through Denali National Park in Alaska

For the next couple of hours we bashed through the brush and squished our way through the spongy tundra.

Good thing we didn’t plan on going very far because it is pretty tough terrain.

Bet we didn’t cover more than a couple of miles the whole time.

Hiking through Denali National Park in Alaska

Not that we could notice from the amount of daylight, but it was starting to get a little late so we hightailed it back to the road to flag down one of the last few buses headed out of the park.

We certainly didn’t have any desire to make a survivalist camp for the night… even if it wouldn’t get dark.

A grizzly bear in Denali National Park, Alaska

A grizzly bear eating in Denali National Park, Alaska

Just after getting back on the bus our driver slowed to a stop to give us a good long look at a grizzly feeding just a few feet from the road.

Two things came to mind.

First, how lucky were we to get this amazing chance to see this deadly combination of teeth and claws in his native habitat?

Second, O. M. Geeeee—how close was this guy when we were out rambling around?

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See all of our adventures in Alaska!

YOUR TURN: Are you as happy as we are that we didn’t get eaten by a bear? Isn’t Denali stunning?

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Create a Glowing Celebration with ManhattanNeons

Whether it’s the classic signs in Las Vegas, or the local theater, restaurant, or corner bar and grill, for as long as we can remember the bright glow and flashing colors of neon lights have always been an indication of good times to come… CONTINUE READING >>

Whether it’s the classic signs in Las Vegas, or the local theater, restaurant, or corner bar and grill, for as long as we can remember the bright glow and flashing colors of neon lights have always been an indication of good times to come.

What if you could capture that feeling and electrify your next party, wedding, or any big event? That would certainly add an air of excitement to the festivities, and it’s sure to make any celebration more memorable.

Good news! It is actually very easy to pull this off with a little help from your friends at ManhattanNeons. Now your soirée can have all the flash and fun of a night out on the town.

They have an incredible variety to choose from with impressive, festive illuminations that are perfect for everything from birthdays, to weddings, graduations, to anniversaries and any other occasion that calls for a good party.

But if none of these tickle your fancy, or you just feel like expressing yourself in your own distinctive style, they invite you to design your very own original sign that captures the essence of your special occasion.

This way, when guests see your vivid Happy Birthday or Wedding Neon Sign it will certainly be a first time special experience. We all want our affair to be one to remember, something above and beyond the ordinary, and this will certainly help to make that happen.

Without a doubt, neon has enthralled folks for over a century. Soon after the discovery of the gas back in 1898, it was also discovered that if it was trapped in a glass tube and electrical current was sent through it, a wonderful light would appear. French inventor, Georges Claude, demonstrated this to everyone’s delight at the Paris Motor Show in 1910. People loved it and in almost no time a huge new industry had emerged.

Businesses quickly realized that these bright, colorful displays could do a bang up job of attracting customers. So soon almost every theater had an impressive marquee featuring the lights. Then smaller establishments, began to jump on the bandwagon until, as we said, Just about everybody who saw them loved them.

These eye-catching displays became a big part of our lives and people became completely captivated by their brilliant and colorful shine. We would say that they have achieved an almost mythical status. In fact, there are even several museums dedicated to the beauty, craft, and kitschy appeal of these bright, tubular bulbs and the fantastic creations that have been fashioned out of them. We have visited the one in Las Vegas and can highly recommend it.

However, the process of blowing and shaping glass tubes, and filling them with a variety of different gasses that each reveal their own individual color when high voltage is applied, was difficult and time consuming. It was also quite expensive. But like so many things, modern technology has changed all of that. New neon signs can be created much faster, and for a lot less money. They also use much less electricity.

This means that all of us can now have access to creating our very own amazing neon sign! And they are not just for special occasions, imagine including one in the personalized décor of your home. What a great way to light up your family room, den, or patio.

Or maybe give the old man cave an upgrade so it feels like a vintage lounge from back in the Rat Pack era.

I don’t know, we might never leave the house again.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com