Utterly Unexpected Palo Duro Canyon

Out of nowhere the Texas prairie drops one thousand feet down into the second largest canyon in the United States. If we hadn’t known what we were about to encounter our jaws would have hit the ground. They almost did anyway… CONTINUE READING >> 

We know everything’s big in Texas, and the Lone Star State is full of surprises… but this was one BIG surprise!

To make it even more surprising, we didn’t find it in Big Bend National Park, or even in that southwest part of the state where mountains are a part of the landscape.

No, the impressive Palo Duro Canyon is right smack in the middle of the plains of the panhandle. Out of nowhere the prairie drops one thousand feet down into the second largest canyon in the United States.

If we hadn’t known what we were about to encounter our jaws would have hit the ground. They almost did anyway.

Driving toward the rim we couldn’t help but think about what early settlers rolling across the smooth, open prairie in their covered wagons must have though when they hit the edge.  “This is too easy, nothin’ to it. We’ll be in Caiforn… Holy $#*%!!!! What in the Sam Hill is this?”

It was formed by the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River during the Pleistocene era, when melting Ice Age glaciers provided massive torrents of water. Thousands of years later, in 1934, this incredible geologic wonder became Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Soon after that the CCC, Civilian Conservation Corps, built roads, trails, cabins, and campgrounds that still serve the park’s hundreds of thousands of visitors.

On our recent autumnal visit we found nary a drop of the water that carved through the layers of rock through the ages, but we did find amazing colors in the resulting formations. These are very reminiscent of the Grand Canyon.

Even in the fall it can still be pretty hot, so we spent most of our time driving the miles of roads that took us over the edge and down the slope of the canyon wall then in a loop along the floor.

We did stop for a couple short hikes, one led to a formation called the painted rocks, where fairly recent erosion has exposed a large cliff of red-orange stone.

The other took us to a stone that natives had used for grinding roots, mesquite beans, and various seeds for food.

Over the ages the process wore down obvious holes in the rock that allowed archeologists to make the discovery.

Soon after that we encountered a good sized flock of wild turkeys. With the heat and lack of water, these were the only wildlife we saw all day, but we guess that they would have made a fine meal too.

When we drove back up on the rim, we stopped in for a quick look through the visitor’s center and then another short walk that took us to an overlook with a panoramic view of the entire upper portion of the canyon.

From there we got a long distance view of the park’s most famous landmark, Lighthouse Rock, which made us feel okay about skipping the six mile trail that would have given us a close up view. With that, we felt that we had done a pretty good job seeing most of the sights.

Amarillo is only twenty five miles to the north, but we decided to stay in the closer town of Canyon. This smaller, and definitely quirkier, little enclave proved to be a good choice.

It is home to West Texas A&M University, and the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum on its campus, along with a couple interesting eating establishments that we can heartily give two thumbs up.

Feldman’s Wrong Way Diner was fun, with model trains circling the ceiling, but our favorite for both the food and its unique combination had to be Pepito’s Mexican Restaurante & Auto Sales.

We have a strict rule to never stop in Texas without getting our fill of Tex-Mex. However, we can’t say that we’ve ever considered getting our burritos and Buicks in the same place, but we can declare that at least the food was fantastic. No word on the wheels

On our way back to the main road in Amarillo the following morning, we made a quick pit stop at the RV Museum. The collection is on display at Jack Sisemore Traveland, which is the oldest RV dealership in the state.

Jack began collecting vintage trailers, campers, and motorhomes back in 1986, and has managed to gather quite an impressive array that embody the past century of Recreational Vehicle development.

After spending most of the last ten years in our three motorhomes, we couldn’t help but be intrigued, and were definitely not disappointed.

Right off the bat we were greeted by a 1915 Ford Kampkar. The body was actually made by Anheuser-Busch and fitted on to a Ford chassis, creating what was one of the first motorhomes, rustic as it may have been.

As we moved on, we encountered over a dozen other iconic models including the very first Airstream from 1935, a 1967 VW hippie bus, a 1976 FMC that was owned by Max Factor, and the 1948 Flxible bus featured in the Robin Williams movie RV.

One of the coolest things about this museum is that we were not only able to view these babies from the outside; the interiors are also open and impeccably restored. We could have spent all day, but had to get going.

As we pulled back out onto the highway it seemed more than fitting that we were traveling along the course of Route 66.

We certainly got our kicks.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

A Slice of New York City: An Iconic Pizza Tour

Could there be a single food that is quintessentially New York City? 

If there is one food that screams New York from the top of the Empire State Building, it has got to be pizza.

How did this happen? We didn’t know, but we do now!…

CONTINUE READING >>

Who doesn’t love pizza? If there is anybody out there, we haven’t met them yet. With that in mind we present this story from our tour a few years ago.

Veronica loves Lombardi's pizza in New York City! GypsyNester.com

Could there be a single food that is quintessentially New York City?

Maybe a hot dog from the cart on the corner, or a sandwich piled high with pastrami from the deli defines The Big Apple.

No, if there is one food that screams New York from the top of the Empire State Building, it has got to be pizza.

How did this happen? We didn’t know, but we do now. The Crosstown Pizza Walking Tour took us right to the source. We got to spend an afternoon with an expert exploring the area where it all began, Little Italy and Greenwich Village.

Gatsby's in New York City, the home of the original Lombardi's Pizza

We met Cedric (and yes, he was entertaining), our tour guide/pizza aficionado extraordinaire, at the site of the first pizzeria ever opened outside of Italy, Lombardi’s.

The Spring Street location was a bakery, then the original Lombardi’s, and is now home to Gatsby’s, a neighborhood bar. While there are no longer hot, delicious pies flying out the door, the historic spot still occupies a big slice of pizza history.

We were issued pizza survival kits!
We were issued “pizza survival kits!”

Before we bit into the crust of the matter, Cedric gave us the lowdown on how pizza migrated from Naples to New York.

Back in 1904, a teenaged Gennaro Lombardi came across the Atlantic and found work as a baker.

The history of pizza in New York City can be traced to Genaro Lombardi
The history of pizza in New York City can be traced to
Genaro Lombardi,
click to enlarge

Since he was from Naples, he knew how to make his hometown favorite, pizza.

Soon he was baking a few in the big coal fired oven at the old bakery. The new taste sensation was a big hit, and became the bread and butter of the business.

But in 1970 the huge brick oven collapsed from the vibrations of the subway running underneath it and, without his signature pies, Lombardi’s soon went out of business.

Lombardi's Pizza in New York City

That triggered a search for a similar oven. After several years a giant, 1890s vintage, brick coal-fired oven just like the old bakery had was discovered only two blocks up Spring Street.

A new Lombardi’s was opened, with Gennaro’s grandson Gerry at the helm, and pizza lovers started flocking in just like the good old days.

The coal fired pizza oven at Lombardi's Pizza in New York City

To demonstrate the difference between a regular oven and these classic stone behemoths, Cedric whipped out his handy dandy laser thermometer. The big coal oven was burning at over 900 degrees–regular gas or electric runs about half that.

Lombardi's Pizza in New York City

The pies cook in a matter of minutes and have a chewy, fiery flavor that is unlike any pizza most Americans have ever experienced. While we ate, we discussed the reasons why.

High-protein wheat gives the crust a more chewy body, uncooked crushed tomatoes give the sauce a tangy zip, and soft, fresh mozzarella adds a mild sweetness.

Somehow these qualities have been long lost in most fast-food versions.

The wood-fired pizza oven at Forcella in New York City

After tasting the New World original, the pie-o-neer, we figuratively stepped back in time to give the old Neapolitan style pizza that started it all a try.

At Forcella, the pizzas are cooked in a smaller wood-fired oven, just like back in the old country.

Checking the temperature of the wood-fired pizza oven at Forcella in New York City

Cedric’s magic laser hit 1000 degrees inside their oven, which cooked the pizza in just two minutes, and made for a slightly crispier, smoky flavored crust.

The wood-fired pizza oven at Forcella in New York City

We have enjoyed many a pizza Margherita in Italy, and this was the closest we’ve experienced in the States.

Pizza at Forcella in New York City

As wonderful as those two notable offerings were, they did not embody the classic New York slice, a big greasy wedge of cheesy, saucy goodness that has to be folded to be eaten properly.

For that experience, we headed toward Joe’s in Greenwich Village.

The Village is packed with great pizza places, but its real claim to fame are the nightclubs that helped launch the careers of some of the world’s top musicians and comedians.

David grabs a slice at Joe's Pizza in New York City! GypsyNester.com

Since Joe’s has been around for almost forty years, some of those stars must have snagged a slice from time to time.

How could they resist?

This is the grab and go pizza that New York has become famous for, no fancy brick ovens, definitely no knives and forks–just a soft, chewy crust, some sauce, and lots and lots of cheese served on a paper plate.

Famous Joe's Pizza in New York City

It’s a style of pizza that caught on in the sixties and seventies, after the advent of a low-moisture type of mozzarella.

The old soft, high-moisture cheese had a short shelf life and was next to impossible to shred, but as the harder, drier variety became common, pizza ingredients were much easier to ship and store.

Hundreds of little walk-up, by-the-slice pizza joints sprung up throughout the city. These are the pies that became synonymous with The Big Apple, and Joe’s is widely considered to make one of the best.

Pizza from Famous Joe's Pizza in New York City

Cedric’s final performance as our guide was to pass around the giant slices that topped off our tour, and our bellies.

It was enough to quell our craving for John’s of Bleeker Street — just down the block — and home of our favorite pizza in New York.

Pizza at the park by Joe's Pizza in NYC

We asked Cedric what he thought about John’s and it is high on his list too. It is also often included in the tour as the stops rotate among a group of Manhattan’s best pizzerias.

We felt good that our top choice got the expert’s seal of approval, but mostly we felt full after taking some big bites out of the Big Apple’s favorite food.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Big thanks to Viator for providing this delicious adventure! As always, all opinions are our own. To see more about this tour, click here.

See all of our adventures in New York City!

YOUR TURN: Could there BE a better day than walking off pizza around New York City? Where would YOU start?

Pursuing the Perfect Pub Food

Eating while traveling doesn’t have to be fancy. We have found pubs to offer outstanding tasty morsels of wonderfulness that can be regionally enlightening and really help us connect to a place… CONTINUE READING >> 

We are huge fans of street food. These tasty morsels of walking wonderfulness really help us connect to a place while we travel.

But sometimes weather, or tradition, don’t always allow for eating on the run, we have found pubs to often offer outstanding alternatives that can be just as regionally enlightening.

Short for public house, these neighborhood watering holes have served as thirst quenching gathering places for centuries. They also have traditionally fed patrons with quick, hearty, and locally unique meals.

In the British Isles, pubs date back nearly two thousand years to the arrival of the Romans. When the centurions left some five centuries later, the Anglo-Saxons continued to operate taverns. Over time the pubs became a focal point in many communities, as people frequented their “local” near home or work.

For us Ireland springs to mind when the word pub is mentioned, and there is good reason for that since it is home to some of the oldest. So Dublin is where we will begin this look at our experiences with pub grub.

We sought out M.J. O’Niell’s in the Temple Bar district because it came highly recommended, and happily we found they lived up to their reputation.

The location, in the heart of the city’s cultural quarter, has been home to a pub for some three hundred years.

Lamb stew and a slab of corned beef, both served with plenty of Irish potatoes, seemed like the right orders, along with a couple o’ pints. It is a pub after all.

Picking our poison was no easy task at O’Neill’s, since they pour forty-five different brews on tap, and a bunch more in bottles, from all over the world.

But when in Ireland a Guinness is always a good call.

The next day we returned to the Temple Bar section for a meal at the Turks Head. This eclectic establishment opened in 1760 and features decor that wildly mixes Turkish Bazaar with corner bar.

The Beef and Guinness casserole, along with the fish & chips, was classic Irish fare. For a change of pace we tried a Bulmer’s Cider to wash it down.

Great Britain also celebrates pub culture. While the number of pubs in London has been declining in recent years, there are still a solid thirty-five-hundred of them across the city. Believe us, finding one wasn’t hard.

Since we were staying by the Paddington station, Dickens Tavern was our “local.” Their menu is packed with great British pub food standards, including iconic dishes like hand-battered fish and chips, pie and mash, and our choice, steak & Ruddles Ale pie, which rocked.

Pudding for breakfast and pie for lunch, we learned to like it… a lot.

In our experience, great pubs are not confined to the big cities. We also found stellar fare in Salisbury, where classic fish and chips with mushy peas at The King’s Head saved us from succumbing to jet lag. The sustenance was enough to give us the strength to make it to Stonehenge a few miles away.

The town also seemed to be the home of quirky pub names. The King’s Head struck us as a little off beat, but right across the street we saw The Slug & Lettuce, and a bit later the Wig & Quill. Got to love it!

In Cornwall we found pub and street food intertwined as the pasty, pronounced pass-tee, was almost everywhere. They are so emblematic that they have been given Protected Geographical Indication status.

Traditional pasties consist of a sturdy crust filled with beef, potato, swede (also known as turnip in Cornwall) and onion. They are designed to be hand-held, as in hand to mouth, but will appear on a plate with gravy when feeling fancy.

Even though we may not have as long of pub history here in the U.S.A., the Brits definitely brought their love of taverns with them to America. Then we took the idea and ran with it.

No doubt the most famous and wide spread American addition to pub food has to be Buffalo Wings.

These tasty little morsels are said to have been invented by Teressa Bellissimo at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York. This is where the name came from, not that somehow bison sprouted new appendages.

We made a pilgrimage to the source and found the bar awash in fanciful decor celebrating the achievement. Why not? They should be proud.

Their story behind the creation of the original hot wing appetizer back in 1964 is that Teressa’s son and some friends came in for a late night snack. With nothing handy to feed them but chicken wings, which were considered superfluous soup bones back then, she decided to fry them up.

Adding some hot sauce and dressing, next thing you know the Anchor had a taste sensation on their hands. The rest, as they say, is history.

We can testify that they are near the top of the list of the many, many, many, many wings we have consumed.

And perhaps any pub food we have ever found.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

We are always looking for good things to eat so let us know your favorite pub food in the comments below.

The Insider’s Guide to Canadian Train Getaways

Canada is the second largest country in the world. If you’re aiming to see it all from coast to coast in one trip, cross country train travel is the ultimate way to go… CONTINUE READING >> 

A classic Canadian train journey is full of history, scenery and quintessential Canuck culture.

But with the trip spanning more than 2,700 miles, planning a seamless trans-Canada train vacation is no simple task.

I spoke to Canada travel expert Katherine Foxcroft at Canadian Train Vacations (which has booked over 15,000 Canadian train vacations over the past 25 years) about how you can make the most of your Canada train vacation.

She had a lot of helpful things to say about planning the perfect Cross-Canada odyssey. Here are some of the insider tips she had to offer:

How Much of Canada Can I See in One Trip?

Canada is the second largest country in the world. If you’re aiming to see it all from coast to coast in one trip, it is possible to travel cross country by train in two weeks. You’d simply have to book a ride on the overnight sleeper train Via Rail Canadian.

However, you won’t have much time to stop and look around. (You’ll see most of the scenery through the train window.)

“For those who want to get off and explore along the way,” says Katherine, “we’d recommend around at least 20 days to see all of Canada, or a couple of weeks to explore some of Eastern Canada, and the Rockies.”

If you have a shorter vacation, it might be better to choose one region of Canada (such as the West Coast, The Rockies or the Maritimes) and really immerse yourself in it.

When you narrow it down to a specific region you’ll have more time to get off the train, walk around and really see your destination up close. (After all, there’s so much to see and do in every province… so you don’t want to rush it!)

Which Part of Canada Should I Visit?

Here’s one of the most difficult Canada conundrums – if you have to choose only one part of the True North Strong and Free to visit, which one should it be?

Katherine says there is no right answer – it depends on your interests. She has met travelers who are fascinated with the First Nations cultures of British Columbia, those who dream of hiking to glacial lakes in the Albertan Rockies, or those who want to embrace the unique cultures of Canada’s big cities such as Toronto and Montreal. So the key is to ask yourself – what aspect of Canada most intrigues you?

It might help to think about the types of experiences you want to have during your trip. If you love history, you’ll want to explore the East Coast and Quebec, where some of Canada’s earliest settlements can be found. If you crave stunning mountain scenery, a ride on the Rocky Mountaineer from Vancouver To Banff is an absolute must.

Do some research into the festivals, museums and attractions you want to visit, then plan a train journey that hits your top highlights. Canadian train journeys are much more flexible than you might think. You can add in stops at different cities along the route, as well as tours, excursions and other activities.

Katherine recommends talking to someone who understands the logistics of how the trains fit together, and what the distances and travel times are. This can really help when figuring out how to make connections between different trains and ensuring your logistics are smooth.  

Which Level of Service Should I Choose?

The various trains in Canada offer a range of service levels, from simple economy class seats to luxurious and spacious private cabins.

So, I asked Katherine to share the insider scoop on which level of service offers the best value on each train.

Train: Which Level of Service is Best?
The Rocky Mountaineer The highlight of this journey is the stunning scenery, so opt for GoldLeaf service as this will give you access to the spectacular views from the upper dome cars.
The Canadian Train Choose Sleeper Plus and get your own private cabin on this cross- country route. You’ll have the best of both worlds – the social atmosphere of the dining car and dome car, plus a quiet place of your own to sleep.
The Corridor Train Business Class offers the best value when traveling on this Ontario/Quebec route. You’ll enjoy priority service at the train stations and you’ll be treated to drinks and food.
The Ocean Train On this East Coast train, you’ll enjoy the best value service in Sleeper Plus Class. (Be sure to wake up early and watch the sun come up as the train glides through Chaleur Bay.)
What’s It Like to Sleep on a Train?

Wondering what to expect on an overnight train?

“The first night is a little strange,” Katherine explains, “listening to the sounds of the train, and feeling it go up and down hills and mountains.”

However, that strangeness quickly fades and the experience becomes cozy and familiar.

“You get to know the people in your car really well. It’s super relaxing to meander from the lounge cars, dining cars, dome cars, and your cabin.”

Life on the train is incredibly relaxing – a chance to sit back and watch the stunning scenery go by – dense forests, mirror-like lakes, craggy peaks that fill the horizon. Many passengers say they bring a book along with them thinking that they will get some reading done, only to leave the book untouched on their lap as they gaze in awe out the window.

In addition to the hypnotic scenery, sleeping on the train means your every need will be taken care of. Katherine says one of the most surprising things that travelers on train trips across Canada discover is how high-quality the service is.

The staff are incredibly attentive and will bring you snacks, make up your cabin and help you with anything you might need. Plus, on many of the trips they will host activities such as local wine tastings and live music performances, as well as entertain you with tales about Canadian history.

When you add in the fun of mingling with other passengers onboard, the Canadian train experience is unlike anything else in the world.

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

A Little Talked About Sign of Aging

Here’s the thing. My best features come from my Romanian roots. I’ve always enjoyed having dark hair and blue eyes. I am psyched that my “gray” hair is silver, some people pay big bucks for that. Dracula was Romanian, and by most accounts was a particularly handsome man-thing.

That being said, we Romanians are a very hairy people. My beloved Grandpa not only had follicles growing out of his ears, but in his later years his lobes looked like small woodland creatures. My stunningly gorgeous mother had quite the collection of… CONTINUE READING >>

Veronica Writing

Here’s the thing.

My best features come from my Romanian roots. I’ve always enjoyed having dark hair and blue eyes.

I am psyched that my “gray” hair is silver, some people pay big bucks for that.

Dracula was Romanian, and by most accounts was a particularly handsome man-thing.

That being said, we Romanians are a very hairy people. My beloved Grandpa not only had follicles growing out of his ears, but in his later years his lobes looked like small woodland creatures.

My stunningly gorgeous mother had quite the collection of creams, bleaches, waxes and other tortuous means of ripping hair out of unwanted locations. No hair loss treatments in her bathroom! She was just the opposite.

Luckily, I have a dash of the less hirsute Western European DNA in the mix, so I don’t look like Cousin Itt. Yet.

Armed and ever aware of my Romanian hairy-heritage, I remain on steadfast lookout for the inevitable mustache, the gratuitous nose whisker or stray fur bearing mole. I’ve been beating back a unibrow since puberty. I am immune to the pain of tweezers.

But as the years have passed, I’ve been forced to employ magnifying reading glasses to keep up my persistent plucking practice. Seeing is a top priority while I keep unruly outgrowths at bay.

But nothing prepared me for what I found in the mirror recently.

I HAVE AN EYEBROW ON MY EYELID! And it’s a honker. Browbeating me, as it were.

Let me clarify a bit. My newest brow tress is situated on the lid that covers my eye when I blink. This position gives the little monster the undue advantage of not being visible when look in the mirror with my eyelids open.

I’ve concluded that the ten-foot-long eyebrow hair achieved its great length by hiding under the rim of said eye-wear. But discovering the existence of the strong willed stray gave me no advantage, it had cleverly chosen an impossible-to-tweeze spot. This fact did not detour me from the task at hand though, the sucker had to be plucked.

In order to get close enough to the mirror for my assault, I donned my cheater-glasses and hoisted one knee up on the vanity for hands-free support while leaning in at a vertigo inducing angle.

With one eye closed, clutching the tweezers in my right hand, I used my left forefinger to gingerly reach behind the lens of my cheaters whilst trying not to leave a view-obstructing smudge. I could therefore elevate my upper lid high enough to see the offending hair.

Unfortunately, this feat prevented any light from coming in from above, seriously impeding my efforts. The thought of pinching even a teeny part of my eyelid with the tweezers during the yanking procedure promptly precipitated my aborting of the mission.

Three more eye-wateringly unsuccessful attempts and I had resigned to the fact that the obstinate sucker was never coming out. I was destined to go through the rest of my life with a marmot covering my eye. Maybe I should just treat it as a pet and name it.

Problem is, the only moniker I can come up with should not be repeated in mixed company.

Veronica, GypsyNester.com

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