Tough Times for Travelers

We have been so incredibly fortunate to travel all across the world over the past ten years and never have any significant health issues. But for now we will be taking a break from traveling or posting any travel stories. This is the time to care for ourselves and several older loved ones that are at high risk… CONTINUE READING >> 

We have been so incredibly fortunate to travel all across the world over the past ten years and never have any significant health issues.

The world is now a completely interconnected place, so stopping the spread of an extremely contagious virus is virtually impossible, but mitigating its damage hopefully is not.

For that reason we will be taking a break from traveling or posting any travel stories.

Now is the time to care for ourselves and several older loved ones that are at high risk.

Please, everyone do the same, and once this has passed we will all be able to enjoy exploring our wonderful world again.

Take care and stay safe.

David and Veronica, GypsyNester.com

The Top 5 Places to Experience the Raw Beauty of Costa Rica

Known as the “rich coast,” Costa Rica’s natural beauty dazzles even the most experienced travelers. It is one of the world’s most biodiverse countries with half a million different species that it home, so you might see more exotic wildlife in a weekend than many people see in a lifetime…
CONTINUE READING >> 

Known as the “rich coast,” Costa Rica’s natural beauty dazzles even the most experienced travelers.

It is one of the world’s most biodiverse countries, after all, with half a million different species that call this place home. From giant anteaters and scarlet macaws to white-faced capuchins, you’ll see more exotic wildlife in a weekend than many people see in a lifetime.

The right  Costa Rica tours can help you get the most from your vacation to this unique place. But before you start planning your trip, consider these five top locations to experience the raw, natural beauty of Costa Rica.

1) Braulio Carrillo National Park

Located roughly 90 minutes outside of the country’s capital of San Jose, the Guápiles Highway takes you from the modern world into the real-life rainforest that is Braulio Carrillo National Park. Over 150 species of mammals inhabit this 108,970-acre protected area. Watch howler monkeys swing from tree-to-tree and see colorful parrots perched in the distance. More than 500 species of birds can be found sailing the cloudy skies here.

The park is the most extensive in the country, teeming with native wildlife, plants, and flowers, many of which you can only find in Costa Rica.

Take a riverboat through the myriad of interconnecting rivers and canals sprinkled with mangroves and water hyacinth as you cruise towards the Carribean coast. This is a great opportunity to really take in your surroundings and watch for wildlife all around you.

2) Tortuguero Park

This Costa Rican National Park is best explored by boat, giving you an optimal view of the surrounding vegetation. For those who want to walk along its Carribean sandy beaches, watch for the park’s famous tortuga hatchlings as several species of turtles deposit their eggs in the piles of sand along the coast. This protected area of land was once part of an archipelago of volcanic islands. Over time, the sediments altered the coast’s structure and the area became filled with marsh and sand deposits perfect for sea turtles to implant their eggs.

The people of Costa Rica are dedicated to preserving this national treasure and the species of turtles that rely on it for the birthplace of their young. You can also visit the Tortuguero Museum, which proudly showcases the ecology of the area.

3) Baldi Hot Springs

Located in the Arenal Volcano area, the Baldi Hot Springs is a rare treat that offers ultimate relaxation. The expansive geothermally-heated springs vary in temperature because the surrounding rivers flow into them. That means there’s a perfect fit for everyone to enjoy a good soak.

Visitors are surrounded by pristinely landscaped grounds, crystalline waterfalls, and stunning wildlife which make for a truly memorable experience. Be sure to bring a towel and come thirsty to enjoy a cocktail at one of the three swim-up bars onsite. Nestled at the foot of the sleeping Arenal Volcano, many regard the Baldi Hot Springs as the “purest” hot springs the world has to offer. The best part? The springs are 100% pure of contamination and are rumored to have healing properties.

4) Arenal Volcano National Park

The Baldi Hot Springs are not the only major draw in Arenal, Costa Rica. The sprawling 29,692-acre Arenal Volcano National Park is actually home to two volcanos, although one, the Chato Volcano, has remained inactive for 3,500 years.

At 5,437 feet, the Arenal Volcano demands your attention. But you will be most entranced by the looming clouds surrounding its peak. While the volcano has been in the resting phase for over four decades, it has a history of both major and minor eruptions. Thankfully for travelers, the volcano’s seismicity, explosions, as well as lava flows have decreased significantly since 2010. Scientists have assured the public that it is still, in fact, “alive” and that it’s simply resting.

While at the park, you can see evidence of remains from the massive 1968 eruption of the Arenal Volcano. Take a hike over to the edge of Arenal Lake to find the largest dammed lake in all of Central America. There are a number of memorable views to take in throughout the hikes through the park, including the collapsed crater from Chato Volcano which gives way to a picturesque lagoon.

Throughout your journey in the volcanic region and nationally protected lands, you will be treated to the sights and sounds of Costa Rica’s native wildlife. Watch for parrots, magpies, tapir, deer, monkeys, and many more. The park also features countless plants, including several species of palms, fungi, ferns, orchids, and bromeliads.

Be prepared to wear your comfortable walking shoes for this unforgettable adventure through the Costa Rican jungle. The Arenal National Volcano Park is ideal for experiencing the raw beauty of Costa Rica.

5) Monteverde Cloud Forest

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve gives travelers a chance to experience Costa Rica’s most remarkable landscapes up close.

Take in 360-degree views of the lush jungle. The thick moisture in the air helps to preserve the vegetation and protects the biodiversity found in the cloud forest. Wander over suspension bridges and watch for spider monkeys, coatis, and raccoons. If you’re lucky, you just might catch a rare glimpse of tapirs, pumas, jaguars, or even ocelots. The Monteverde Cloud Forest will make you feel as if you are one with the land and the wildlife inhabiting it.

This list is just for starters

Costa Rica is a country that prides itself on preservation and sustainability. The country encourages you to experience its raw beauty while seeing the immense value the nation’s people place on keeping the environment as pristine as possible. But this list just scratches the surface of the  amazing places that you can discover here.

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

Hangin’ with FDR and Eleanor at Hyde Park

Sometimes in our travels we come upon connections across history — and miles — in coincidental and unpredictable ways.

Come along with us as we explore the Presidential Library and Museum (and yes, we found the weird stuff!), peek into the houses that the Roosevelts lived in — together and apart — and have the privilege to visit with a friend of Eleanor’s (seriously)… CONTINUE READING >>

Veronica hanging out with Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt at Hyde Park on Hudson, New York! GypsyNester.com

Sometimes in our travels we come upon connections across history — and miles — in coincidental and unpredictable ways.

On our recent exploration through Holland we encountered two important sites in the life of explorer Henry Hudson, the spot where he set sail from Amsterdam in the Half Moon and, Hoorn, where a replica of the ship is headed this summer.

The Roosevelt Ride - a great day trip from NYC!
The Roosevelt Ride picked us up at the Poughkeepsie train station.

Upon returning to the States we found ourselves once again in old Henry’s stomping grounds.

This time on the banks of the river that bears his name, as we were invited to take the Roosevelt Ride for a visit to the home and library of President Franklin D. Roosevelt at Hyde Park on Hudson in New York.

Exploring the Library and Museum

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

After a hop, skip, and a jump up the Hudson River from New York City on the Metro North train, and a short ride on The Ride from Poughkeepsie, we found ourselves at FDR’s Library & Museum.

Opened in 1940, this was the first US Presidential Library ever created. Before that, presidential papers were considered property of the outgoing executive, so they could do whatever they liked with them.

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

Some even chose to destroy them.

It was Roosevelt’s hope that by donating all of his papers, the library would become an important research center, as well as a preservation of the history of his time in office.

Both aims have been a resounding success.

Thousands of researchers use the archives, and even more visitors, like us, enjoy a firsthand look at one of America’s most influential presidencies.

Very cute letter from a child to Franklin D. Roosevelt
Our favorites were from kids!

In the entry hall to the museum, a wall is covered with letters sent to the president.

We spent some time perusing the correspondence and found that while most of it was complimentary, several held extremely harsh criticism as well.

Partisan politics is nothing new, but we were impressed that FDR not only kept these, but they are now proudly on display.

Click here to see more examples of our favorite letters sent to FDR.

Campaign button and flyer for FDR election at the Frankin D Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum
Campaign button (the donkey has mechanical legs!) and flyers

FDR's lucky campaign hat at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

We moved on along a timeline which begins with the Great Depression and FDR’s first campaign, and continues on with mementos from all four of his election victories.

We found a few choice items such as his lucky hat, which he wore in every campaign, and a giant paper mâché sphinx featuring the president’s head.

A giant sphinx head with FDR's face at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

The sphinx head came from the time when speculation was gathering about whether Roosevelt would run for an unprecedented third term.

For a long time the president remained stoically silent on the issue and the press started showing him as a sphinx in political cartoons.

The giant figure was the centerpiece at the annual Gridiron Club White House Correspondent’s Dinner in December of 1939. FDR liked it so much that he asked if he could keep it.

Recreating a fireside chat at the Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York
Recreating a Fireside Chat
The Bell of Michele was given by the people of Capri in 1944 and rung to mark V-E and V-J Days in 1945 - at the FDR Presidential Library in New York
The Bell of Michele was given by the people of Capri in 1944 and rung to mark V-E and V-J Days in 1945.

A new temporary exhibit, running only until the end of 2015, features gifts Roosevelt received while in office.

Some fabulous fineries, such as jewel encrusted swords and magnificent china sets, were given by government dignitaries from around the world.

A cowboy lassos Hitler at the Roosevelt Libray and Museum

However, much of the more interesting items came from ordinary American citizens.

People sent the president all sorts of hand-made crafts, including a vest made of buttons, an amazing carved wooden bell tower, and figures of a cowboy lassoing Hitler.

The archives of the Roosevelt Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York

The basement serves as storage space, but cutaway windows were installed so visitors can still take a look at the rooms filled with letters, documents, and a massive collection of model ships.

Roosevelt had been a collector since childhood, mostly of stamps and naval memorabilia.

Franklin Roosevelt's car was outfitted so he could drive without the use of his legs. Displayed at the FDR Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York

Two of the museum’s most popular exhibits are also down in the cellar, the 1936 Ford Phaeton that FDR had specially modified so that he could drive it only using his hands, and the desk he used in the Oval Office during his presidency.

Polio left Roosevelt without use of his legs after contracting the disease at 39 years old in 1921, so a series of knobs and levers were devised to control the brakes, accelerator, and clutch of his car.

A box attached to the steering column delivered a lit cigarette at the touch of a button.

FDR's desk at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York

The desk is known as the Hoover desk because it was given to FDR’s predecessor.

When Roosevelt took office in the depths of The Depression, he decided not to change any furniture.

He used this desk his entire time in the White House and the library has kept it just as he left it, with all of the knickknacks and books in place.

The gravesite of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt at the Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York

Leaving the museum we passed through a rose garden that was one of the president’s favorite spots on the property.

It is where he chose to be laid to rest, along with Eleanor.

FDR insisted that no large monument be erected, just a plain piece of marble no larger than his desk.

Springwood, where FDR was born, grew up, and used as the Summer White House

Springwood, where FDR was born, grew up, and used as the Summer White House in Hyde Park, New York

Inside Springwood, FDR's home

After building the library, he also chose to donate his home and the grounds to the people of the United States effective upon his death.

One year to the day after FDR passed away the home was opened to the public and the entire complex is administrated by the National Park system as a National Historic Site.

The dining room at Springwood, FDR's home, Hyde Park, New York

We were met on the driveway of the house by a ranger, Scott, who began by showing us how much the structure was changed from its original floorplan.

The estate, known as Springwood, was purchased by James Roosevelt, the president’s father, in 1866 for forty thousand dollars, which was a healthy chunk of change in those days.

The bedroom - and bed - that Franklin D. Roosevelt was born in at Hyde Park, New York
The bedroom – and bed – where FDR was born.

At the time it was a wood-framed house, but after his father’s death FDR’s political ambitions grew, and he thought that the house should too.

By 1916 he had more than doubled the size and completely enclosed the original building inside a new stone edifice he designed to be fitting for a governor of New York, or even to serve as the Summer White House for a president.

The elevator at Springwood, FDR's home. He pulled himself up with the ropes.
The elevator FDR used after he was unable to walk up the stairs due to polio. He pulled himself up with the ropes.

Even as both of those plans came to fruition, the interior remained fairly similar to its original.

There are no huge ballrooms or opulent entryways; in fact the inside is quite homey.

Scott showed us around the ground floor, where more of Roosevelt’s collections are kept.

In the front room, a showcase full of stuffed birds native to the Hudson Valley occupies one wall.

As a youngster the future president collected the specimens, and even performed the taxidermy on a few, until his very protective mother noticed the chemicals were turning his skin green.

Franklin Roosevelt's study at Springwood, Hyde Park, New York

In the study, the desk where FDR worked on his much less toxic stamp collection remains in one corner underneath a large bookshelf.

This room was one of the few in the house that he could call his own.

The home was rightfully his mother, Sara’s, and she continued to live in it until her death in 1941.

Sara Roosevelt's Snuggery at Springwood, home of FDR, in Hyde Park, New York

Her little office where she handled the household affairs, was known as the Snuggery because of its cramped quarters, was created by dividing the parlor during remodeling.

We were fascinated by the 1939 RCA television tucked away in a corner, a gift to the president, but can’t imagine that there was any signal to pick up out here in the relative wilderness.

Franklin Roosevelt's bedroom at Springwood, Hyde Park, New York
FDR’s bedroom

Of course this was also home for Eleanor Roosevelt, but there is ample evidence that she never really felt at home.

Mother-in-law Sara seemed to make certain that it was clear who served as the lady of the house.

There is only one room in the entire house that the First Lady had any impact on, a tiny former dressing room adjacent to the President’s bedroom.

Eleanor Roosevelt's bedroom at Springwood in Hyde Park, New York

Mrs. Roosevelt, Eleanor, not Sara, turned that little space into her own bedroom after Franklin contracted polio, so she could be nearby to help him.

After finding a packet of amorous letters from her former social secretary, Lucy Mercer, while unpacking FDR’s luggage, Eleanor began spending more and more of her time at Val-Kill Cottage. According to the Library the Roosevelts, “thereafter were more politicall partners than husband and wife.”

Eleanor’s digs, Val-Kill Cottage

Val-Kill Cottage, Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site in Hyde Park, New York

Val-Kill cottage is about two miles away from Springwood and part of the estate, but did not become the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site until 1977.

Mrs. Roosevelt stayed in the home from the time of the president’s death until she passed away in 1962. Then it was sold to developers, and finally a public campaign succeeded in preserving it.

Or guide at Val-Kill was Doris Mack, a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt's

Our guide for Val-Kill was a rare treat indeed, a friend of the First Lady.

Ms. Doris Mack first met Mrs. Roosevelt at an NAACP meeting, and both women were members of the nearby St. James Church.

Doris took us inside and explained that the building was originally used as Val-Kill Industries, a furniture factory that Eleanor Roosevelt established in 1927 with three friends, Nancy Cook, Marion Dickerman, and Caroline O’Day.

The living room at Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site

Most of Val-Kill’s present furnishings were made in that factory and used by Mrs. Roosevelt when this became her residence.

The cottage is small, but packed with history, as the former first lady was very active in politics throughout her life.

The study at Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site
Mrs. Roosevelt’s office

Ms. Mack pointed out the chairs used when a young senator named Kennedy came to Val-Kill in hopes of getting Mrs. Roosevelt’s support as he ran for president in 1960.

The cottage was also a place for outdoor activities, with picnics and swimming being favorites. The President would regularly use the swimming pool as a favorite form of exercise after he had lost the use of his legs.

Today the pool is closed and covered, but plans are in place to refurbish it since it was an integral part of Val-Kill.

After spending an entire day exploring, we still didn’t come close to seeing everything that we would have liked to.

We most certainly need to make a return trip.

Now we know just a little of how FDR felt when he said, “All that is within me cries out to go back to my home on the Hudson River.”

David and Veronica, GypsyNester.com

DELVE DEEPER:
Find out more about the Roosevelt Ride
Look through more of our favorite letters to FDR from Americans
See the Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, DC
See all of our adventures in New York!

A big thank you to Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Dutchess County Tourism and HistoricHydePark.org for providing this enlightening adventure. As always, all opinions are our own.

Traveling is Not a Competition, or is It?

We just heard about a new idea, Competitours.
The idea is to make each tour a competition, à la The Amazing Race, while discovering new places in a unique and exciting manner. Honestly, we can hardly think of anything more up our alley…

CONTINUE READING >> 

We’ve done our share of tours over the years and, while they do have advantages such as skipping long lines and reducing the hassles of booking hotels and finding restaurants, exciting is not usually a word that jumps to mind when we describe them.

Then we heard about a new idea, Competitours.  They bring a completely different concept to touring that could certainly change our outlook. I must say, our curiosity shot up to a inevitable feline fatality level.

Simply put, the idea is to make each tour a competition, à la The Amazing Race, while discovering new places in a unique and exciting manner. Honestly, we can hardly think of anything more up our alley.

The two of us are crazy competitive, to the point of jumping out of an airplane just because of a dare.

It started long ago, on the Christmas Eve before our oldest was born. On that not so silent night we spent hours timing each other to see who could solve her baby puzzle present the fastest.

We had bought her a learning toy that had shapes that fit into a cube and while attempting to wrap it made the big mistake of trying it out. Easy, peasy, just put the stars, circles, triangles, and rectangles into their corresponding holes.

Soon we were timing each other while madly stuffing plastic blocks into the shaped holes as fast as we possibly could… over and over and over again. This ridiculous display of insanity continued into the wee hours of Christmas morning until we finally collapsed, wild eyed and sweat drenched, under the tree.

Neither one of us can remember who emerged victorious, but the rivalry was burned into our memories so needless to say we will be taking winning a part of the $3,600 to be split by top 3 teams very seriously. We can also take comfort in some good news; even if we fail no one gets eliminated.

Even better, some challenges actually upend the normal ambition of seeking victory, instead committing to the intriguing goal of simply being the ‘least worst’! Now that sounds like something we might have a good shot at.

We also love to discover new destinations, especially those that are off the beaten path, and Competitours does just that as they zig zag through a secret ten day itinerary of nooks and crannies in Western Europe that will bypass most of the big cities and tourists meccas.

They have scoured the continent in search of iconic, pedestrian friendly medium sized cities, mountain hamlets, coastal enclaves, and medieval flavored villages to explore.

Along the way each two person team will earn points by completing fun, interactive challenge activities that take sightseeing to a new level. They call it sightDOING.

Previous challenges have included chocolate making in Switzerland, a scavenger hunt in Spain, indoor skydiving in Copenhagen, Kite fighting in Holland, an Iron Chef style dinner in Italy, and building and sailing a raft made of barrels, pieces of wood, and some twine in the shadow of the Rock of Gibraltar.

Other past Comptitours adventures took competitors down the longest alpine coaster in the world, which ironically is in one of the smallest countries in the world, Andorra. Another television style contest during a trek high in the Alps of Austria incorporated Tyrolian dance and musical instruments in a competition akin to Dancing With The Stars.

Of course these are just to get an idea of what to expect. The challenges change every year, so there is no telling what might be in store for this summer. We do know for sure that 2020 will feature at least three totally new contests that have never been attempted before.

With all that we have learned about this new travel concept, we can’t help but think that all of this really does sound just about perfect for us, with the possible exception being the fact that we are not spring chickens anymore.

No worries, all of the challenges are about being creative, resourceful, and spontaneous, so speed (yes, we have lost a step or two) or physical prowess are not the deciding factors. Anybody can play… and win!

Our competitive streak aside, ultimately Competitours is all about fun, with friendly rivalries made during the day and even more sociable revelry filling the nights.

Steve Belkin, the Evil Genius behind this great idea, and the fearless Trip Leader on the adventures, might just have us beat when it comes to competitive nature. How else could he possibly rack up over forty five million frequent flier miles?

That’s right, 45 million! From what we have learned this required some rather elaborate schemes involving Thai rice farmers, four thousand luggage tags, a couple of empty wings in budget hotels, and about nine thousand magazine subscriptions.

All we can say is holy crap!

An additional point in his favor, certainly with David, a life-long Packers fan, is that Steve is the self-proclaimed Ultimate Cheesehead.

He was also kind enough to put us in touch with several previous competitors, including his mother (who has participated six times and is a hoot) and all were more than happy to share some of their experiences with us.

Without fail they had a ball, but above and beyond their descriptions of the great time had by all, the thing that stood out to us was the bonding that occurred between contestants that was forged by the heat of the competition.

Each and every one of them agreed that this was an experience that made memories that will last a lifetime.

We think that’s what traveling is all about.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

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

Another Transition is Upon Us, We are About to Become Grandparents!

Now the time has come for another huge life changing occurrence, our time between becoming empty nesters and grandparents is coming to an end.

We couldn’t be more thrilled!
CONTINUE READING >> 

Without a doubt the adjustment to life after the kids all move out is a big one. In our minds it was big enough to necessitate drastic measures. So we sold our house, bought a beat up old motorhome, and set out on our GypsyNester adventure.

Little did we know at the time that the vagabond life we thought would be temporary would last ten years and take us to fifty seven countries on six continents and inspire a best selling book, but we followed the path where ever it led and here we are.

Now the time has come for another huge life changing occurrence, our time between becoming empty nesters and grandparents is coming to an end.

We couldn’t be more thrilled!

We knew we would be excited at the prospect of a new generation coming into the family, as we wrote years ago from Veronica’s point of view, and also from David’s. However, back then the thought of a grandchild was still very much hypothetical.

Now it is real and just as we did with our approach to empty nesting, we will set out to make the very most of this new chapter of our lives.

The problem is, we are not exactly sure how to go about that.

One hurdle to overcome is that our daughter lives in Paris with her French husband. Obviously not the best situation for getting to see the new addition to the family anywhere near as frequently as we will want, but on the other hand, there is very little danger of us being too pesky by dropping in way too often.

Even for seasoned travelers such as ourselves, it also means that we will be extra vigilant in our quest to find the cheapest air fares. Everything will be on the table, CheapOair coupons, frequent flyer miles, red eyes, layovers, puddle jumpers, crop dusters, wing walking, routing through Patagonia, we might even stow away if we can, but we will find ways to get there.

Another snag is that we have recently moved on to a boat (more on that coming up soon here on Gypsynester.com) and the soon to be parents are not very comfortable with a little one running around on a floating home.

Neither of these obstacles are insurmountable, we will just have to budget in travel expenses for France and perhaps renting an Air B&B for when the little one visits us.

So with that in mind we can look for the silver lining in these clouds. A grandchild in Paris means we will certainly be visiting La Ville-Lumière more often, and that sounds great for everything except our wallets.

Another plus is that our petit bébé will grow up with two native tongues and will also have the opportunity to spend a great deal of time on two continents. Then when he or she is old enough, we can head out on the open seas.

In the meantime, while we wait in excited anticipation, we have already begun to buy presents.

Now if we can only address the biggest problem of all. How are we ever going to make it through the next few months of waiting?

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Since we are beside ourselves with excitement we are no doubt overlooking some stuff. Please, any grandparents out there, give us some tips in the comments below based on your experiences.