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Fear Conquering & Volunteering

What is it that makes us feel so passionate about life when we are helping others?

There must be something more to volunteering than the oft said “it makes us feel good to do good.”

I believe it goes deeper.

When the chicks fly the coop we lose the built-in community that comes with raising a brood. Gone are the sports team gatherings, the school plays and scout meetings.

Entire peer groups disappear overnight.  It can get kind of lonely… CONTINUE READING >>

Fear Conquering with Veronica!

What is it that makes us feel so passionate about life when we are helping others?

There must be something more to volunteering than the oft said “it makes us feel good to do good.”

I believe it goes deeper.

When the chicks fly the coop we lose the built-in community that comes with raising a brood.

Gone are the sports team gatherings, the school plays and scout meetings.

Entire peer groups disappear overnight.

The phone calls requesting help sewing costumes, baking cookies and manning the snack shack come to a screeching halt. It can get kind of lonely.

How Volunteering Can Change Every Empty Nester's Life!

Suddenly, we have to expend extra effort to reconnect. We have to reassess our passions and how we wish to channel them.

Those endless hours we spent wiping butts, drilling vocabulary words, and staying awake past curfew cry out to be filled by some significant new endeavors.

I believe that it is vitally important that we do so.

Rebuilding Together is a great way to help seniors in your community
Helping Seniors in your community is a great way to connect!
Click here to find out how you can help

We need to become fearless.

We tried to instill in our children that volunteering was vital — and, boy, did we beam when we saw The Spawn connect to something outside of the family in a meaningful way.

But with all the distractions of parenthood, I personally found it increasingly difficult to find the time to make the world a better place.

My first foray into volunteerism as a mommy was with a parent helpline. My kids were very young and I felt the need to help others with small children.

But as any mother of two toddlers can attest, eloquently conversing on the phone is out of the question. The last thing I wanted to do was subject a parent in crisis to my screaming rug rats. With this in mind I took the middle-of-the-night shift.

After attending classes, I was ready to take my first call. Or at least the helpline people thought I was ready.

Delivering school supplies to a jungle school in Costa Rica
In Costa Rica, we were honored to pack supplies for children
learning in a jungle school.
Click here to find out how you can too!

In reality, I was terrified.

It wasn’t that I didn’t feel sufficiently trained or that I wasn’t up to the task — it was my “What If…” gene kicking into high gear.

What if I don’t wake up if the phone rings? What if somebody calls with a problem not covered in the handbook? What if I was in the middle of a pizza dream?

My fears disappeared with the first call. Most of the parents simply needed a sympathetic ear with someone who could relate.

Someone with the proper resources printed on a sheet and a calm demeanor. It was extremely rewarding and well worth the loss of sleep.

Heck, I was young and energetic.

In Africa, we taught English at a primary school
In Africa, we taught English in a primary school.
Click here to find out how you can too!

When the kids became older, their passions became mine.

As family head-cheerleader, I found myself as a volunteer public relations officer (frantically writing and sending faxes from work), drama mama, car pool manager, and costume gluer.

(The needle was snatched from my trembling hamfist by the ballet company the first time I botched a tutu – which coincidentally was the first time I ever touched a tutu.)

Thing is, I learned that volunteers don’t have to be perfect – just willing to jump in and be passionate.

Meanwhile, David became Volunteer Coach Extraordinaire — mentoring The Boy‘s teams from elementary school until the big dogs took over in high school.

Let me tell you, coaching middle school should earn anyone triple brownie points and a purple heart.

I still catch him proudly surfing the ‘net looking up stats on his former players’ careers. He’s got a few guys playing college ball on scholarship — something he’s extremely proud of.

Kids Saving the Rainforest
Shelters, zoos, and refuges are great places for animal lovers
to help out. This one was started by two little girls!

Even though I was itching to get out into the larger world, I realized that raising children was community service in its own right.

If I got them to adulthood without being total losers, they could change the world for the better.

When the built-in volunteering opportunities fly the coop, many empty nesters find themselves out of touch. Volunteering is a great way to get back out there — it’s nourishing AND builds character, even at our age.

When our nest first emptied, we found ourselves in a new town, in a state we had never lived in — we knew absolutely no one.

Being political animals, we joined a hotly contested campaign.

There is always a way to make yourself useful in a campaign — answering phones, errand running, making coffee, assembling signs, knocking on doors, entering information on computers, and on and on.

Meet Kay! She & her husband volunteer at National Parks
– check out how easy it is to help out AND see the USA!

Because I am a big talker, I opted to knock on doors.

That first knock was really scary.

The “What Ifs…” were buzzing out of control as I tiptoed up the front walk.

What if someone yells at me? What if I say something wrong? What if I have spinach in my teeth?

Again, I wasn’t sent out unprepared. Nobody ever yelled at me, nobody was even rude. The worst that happened was people refused to answer the door — something I’ve done myself — sometimes I’m just too busy. And I gained a new experience – now I know how Jehovah’s Witnesses feel!

Campaigns are a wonderful way to meet people with a similar outlook on life. I highly recommend it. Not only did we help put a first-rate individual in office, we soon had more friends than we knew what to do with.

We found ourselves being invited to restaurants, game nights, concerts and all those wonderful things that tie a person to a community.

Volunteer on a cruise ship!
We helped replant the rainforest and bring clean water
to
the Dominican Republic – on a cruise!
You can too – click here.

Volunteer possibilities are truly endless.

Passionate about pets? Help out at a shelter.

Love a good book? Your library needs you.

Become a Big Brother, lend a hand backstage at a community theater, tutor a child.

Do you quilt? A friend of mine just told me about a group that quilts for soldiers.

Wanna get really crazy?

Go help build houses abroad, replant the rainforest, teach schoolchildren in Africa, fix up homes for seniors in your community, or work in the gift shop at a National Park. If you are a traveler, you can always Pack for a Purpose.

Every one of these endeavors is going to expand your horizons, I promise. You will make new friends, have great conversations and feel really good about yourself.

And you’ll be doing something noble while you’re at it.

Veronica, GypsyNester.com

YOUR TURN: Let’s brainstorm some ideas for volunteering to help out our fellow GypsyNesters! Where have you volunteered? Was it a good experience? Do you have other ideas for volunteering in the community?

How to Plan your Visit to Sagrada Familia (Barcelona) Like a Pro

After our first visit to Barcelona we learned that it was a good idea to plan ahead and maximize our time by booking a tour of the incredible Sagrada Familia… CONTINUE READING >> 

A trip to Barcelona might not be on everybody’s bucket list, but we think it should be.

The city is sometimes overlooked by travelers, but is unique in so many ways with a culture, cuisine, art, architecture, and even a language all it’s own.

On our first visit we took off to explore in our usual fashion, without any set plans, and discovered that this amazing metropolis has so many intriguing attractions that it was hard to find time to properly see and enjoy them all. We should have done a little more planning.

We also found the incredible La Sagrada Familia to be the most impressive stop of our visit. It is also one of the most popular. So on our next visit to Barcelona we knew that it was a good idea to plan ahead and maximize our time by booking a Sagrada Familia tour.

Visiting the church with a knowledgeable, professional tour guide can add so much to the experience of seeing this magnificent structure and help to understand the construction that is still continuing now

Seeing a landmark like this being created was certainly one of the highlights for us because even though we have visited many of the great churches of Europe, we had never been able to observe the actual building of one.

Plus, with our own private guide we learned so much about the actual process of the designing and the history of the structure.

Even better, by booking one of these Sagrada Familia tours there is no waiting in line. That’s right, these are “skip the line” tours which means the time that would have been wasted standing in line can be spent enjoying even more of the church and museum.

Honestly, it is hard to say just how much we love the “skip the line” aspect of these tours. And we have a couple more ideas that might be helpful. Make sure to buy tickets ahead of time because they are no longer available at the church.

Also, be sure to arrive a little before the scheduled time to allow for finding your tour guide and starting promptly. That should be simple because Sagrada Familia is served by 2 subway lines, L2 and L5, or it is just a short walk from the harbor, or an even shorter cab ride. No worries either, cabs in Barcelona are safe and very reasonable. Just look for the black and yellow cars.

Once the tour has begun, your private tour guide can tailor the experience to you and your traveling companions by answering questions and showing unexpected details to bring the answers to life. This means that each and every tour is personalized for your interests.

I have to admit, we used to never go on tours, preferring to explore on our own, and missed so much along the way. But now we have found that we learn so much more with a good guide and end up enjoying ourselves much more. It also helps us make sure not to miss any important facts or quirks that we easily could overlook on our own.

A licensed tour guide can also provide access to places the public might not be allowed to go or be able to see because of the crowds. That is one reason why the Sagrada Familia tour with towers is such a good idea. Skip all the lines, take an elevator to the top, and then don’t miss out on the experience of walking the stairs, but do it the easy way, by going down.

Sounds just about perfect to us!

Then after the tour there is plenty of time to explore the basilica independently or enjoy some of the restaurants along the pedestrian walkway on Avinguda de Gaudi.

And while enjoying the tapas, be sure to take one last look at the most amazing church we have ever seen, Sagrada Familia.

Can’t wait to see it again!

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

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

5 Things You Can Do Now as an Empty Nester

The empty nest is too often spoken about in negative terms, but while it may be tinged with melancholy, this can be a rich and rewarding time in your life…
CONTINUE READING >> 

The empty nest is too often spoken about in negative terms, but while it may be tinged with melancholy, this can be a rich and rewarding time in your life. After all, you’ve done things right as a parent, as your child is launching into an independent life of their own. It can feel strange and a little selfish to turn the focus back on yourself, and of course, you will always be a parent and always there for your child if they need you. However, it’s also a time to explore the next phase of your life and see what is out there for you.

Get Your Child Ready

There’s still plenty to do to help your kid get ready for college and while they’re in college. One of the most important things you can do is help them out by cosigning on a private student loan. These are often difficult for students to get without a cosigner since they don’t yet have a credit record, but they can be an important source of funding since they are not need-based like federal student loans. In some families, it may be appropriate to discuss parameters around cosigning for the loan, such as what your expectations are regarding repayment and how you will handle it if they can’t repay it.

Change Careers

You may find that this is a great time to make a career change. You could even consider a seasonal job or go back to school at the same time as your child if it doesn’t create too much of a financial burden in the family. It might be possible now to switch to a career that pays less but is more satisfying or less stressful, especially if you are happy with how your retirement savings look.

Expand Your Social Life

As your child got into high school, they probably became more independent, but you probably also spent a fair amount of time ferrying them around to various extracurricular activities. As an empty nester, you now have time to go out with friends, throw or attend dinner parties and stay out past your kid’s curfew.

Try New Hobbies

This is also an excellent time to try out new hobbies and interests. It’s a bit of a cliche that a child comes home from college to find that their room has been turned into a parent’s office or sewing room, and it’s best not to encroach on their space during this transition time. However, if you’ve always wanted to train for a marathon, take up painting or do just about anything else you couldn’t make time for between work and family obligations, now is the time.

Reconnect

It can be tough to feel that you’re losing the connection that you had with your child while they were living at home, and it’s important to remember that your relationship is just changing and not ending. However, this is also an opportunity to reconnect with other people in your life. If you have a partner, whether or not they are also the child’s parent, this can be a rich time of rediscovery, but you can also reconnect with old friends, including those you might have drifted away from because they did not have children of their own.

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

Only by Air: Alaska’s Extremely Remote Tundra Villages

Ever since our youngest, The Boy, took a job as a pilot in Alaska we have been intrigued by the unique corner of Alaska that his small airline serves.

He flies to about two dozen little native villages that are only accessible by air – there are no roads in or out of the harsh tundra.

These are some of the most remote settlements anywhere in the United StatesCONTINUE READING >>

Since summer is the only time that this adventure can reasonably be accomplished, we thought we would take a look back at one of the most interesting days we have ever spent.

Flying into Bethel, Alaska
Bethel from the air, no roads lead to Bethel.

Since the day our youngest, The Boy, took a job as a pilot in Alaska we have been intrigued by the unique corner of Alaska that his small airline, Yute Air, serves.

Yute flies to about two dozen little native villages from their base in the town of Bethel which, with only five thousand residents, is not much more than a village itself.

Flying over the tundra of Southwestern Alaska

Being certain that we wanted to see our son’s new life firsthand, he was just as certain that we we wouldn’t be able to handle the extreme cold and dark of an arctic winter.

So we patiently waited for warmer weather to head up to the Last Frontier for a visit.

After spending a few days with him in and around Anchorage, we felt were ready to tackle the tundra.

Bethel, Alaska has the highest concentration of taxis per capita in the United States.
Bethel has the highest concentration of taxis per capita in the US, kind of hard to get a car there!

Bethel has no roads leading in or out of it — the harsh landscape is too prohibitive — so supplies and people come via jet service from Anchorage several times a day.

Much of that service is cargo that then is distributed to the tiny villages throughout the southwestern quadrant of the state by pilots like The Boy.

Even pizza delivery is done by air in the Southwestern Alaska!

We arrived on the last flight of the day and met up with our son just as he was finishing his runs.

Since it was summer, and never got dark, we walked around town for awhile, and stopped for a pizza at one of the few food establishments.

It was then that we learned that even pizza is delivered by air in these parts!

Even in July, it was pretty chilly – we could only imagine what it’s like when December rolls around.

Headed out of Bethel, Alaska to visit the Yup'ik villages
David and our captain, The Boy, head to the plane.

In the morning we booked a flight out to the westernmost, and largest, village that the airline serves, Toksook Bay.

This not only ensured that we would see the most scenery as possible; it also meant that we would be stopping in a couple of other villages along the way.

The cockpit of a Cessina of Yute Air that flies to the Yupik villages of Alaska

These are some of the most remote settlements anywhere in the United States.

They are completely isolated; the only way to reach them is by airplane, or sometimes boats, during the summer months.

In winter, dog sleds and snow machines can make it across the frozen marshland, but these are only practical for fairly short distances.

Flying over the tundra of Southwestern Alaska to visit Yupik villages

This means that the mail, and almost everything else that is delivered to the villages, arrives on these small aircraft.

They are truly their lifeline to the rest of the world.

Newtok in Southwestern Alaska is only accessible by plane

After flying for nearly an hour over the soggy swampland that is the tundra when the frost has melted, we saw a small gravel landing strip perched on a slight rise above the mushy ground around it.

The Boy guided us in for a landing in Newtok and we unloaded a few supplies.

Each little Yupik village in Southwestern Alaska has an airport agent who is responsible for cargo
Each village has an airport agent who is responsible for cargo.

Sadly, this little settlement of about 350 people might not be around much longer.

The Ninglick River is eating away at the land, and with the permafrost melting due to warming temperatures, the village is sinking below sea level.

The elders are looking into possible relocation of the entire town.

A Yupik man flies to his village in Southwest, Alaska

With a little less cargo, but a new passenger aboard, we took off for our next stop, Tununak.

This lonesome outpost sits on the northwest coast of America’s fifteenth largest island, Nelson Island.

Flying over the tundra of Southwestern Alaska

Aside from its size, the island named after nineteenth century naturalist Edward Nelson is also known for its musk ox.

After being hunted to extinction on the island in the last century, the animals have been reintroduced and are beginning to make a comeback.

The tiny Yupik village of Tununak in Alaska is only accessible by air

Musk ox at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
Musk ox at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, one of the agencies working on their reintroduction.

On our way from Tununak to Nunakauyak, or Toksook Bay, we spotted a couple of the hairy musk ox grazing on the hills.

Since we were flying low to stay beneath the clouds, The Boy took us over them for a closer look.

Then we turned out over the Bering Sea and lined up for our landing.

Nunakauyak, or Toksook Bay, a Yupik village in Southwestern Alaska

ATVs are popular in Nunakauyak, or Toksook Bay, a Yupik village in Southwestern Alaska. There are no roads out of the village so who needs a car?

We were met at the airport, which consists of a gravel runway and one small shed, by Melvin, who works as the agent for Yute Air.

He had agreed to show us around, so we climbed aboard his ATV four-wheeler, which serve as the preferred mode of transportation in the village (no roads out, who needs a car?), and bounced down into the town as The Boy flew off to his next destination.

The Toksook Bay airport agent, Melvin, picks us up to show us around his village
Melvin’s adorable little brother came along for the ride.

The Yupik villages in Southwestern Alaska are mostly alcohol free

Almost all of the nearly six hundred residents of Toksook Bay — as well as this entire area of Alaska — are Yup’ik people, and they continue to live a lifestyle with traditions that have remained unchanged for centuries.

Hunting, fishing, and gathering are still primary sources of sustenance and folks still use many of the same tools that they have for generations, such as fish drying racks, and harpoons.

The beach at in the Yupik village of Nunakauyak, or Toksook Bay, a Yupik village in Southwestern Alaska

Little brother shows us his slingshot prowess and can already catch fish with his hands – great skills to have!!

Our first stop made this clear, we went down by the water to the area where Melvin’s family, along with many others, smoke and dry the fish they catch.

He also showed us photographs of how he and his family hunt walrus. This hunting is allowed by the state under Alaskan laws written for the “preservation of historic or traditional Alaskan cultural practices” of her native peoples.

The fish drying area in the Yupik village of Nunakauyak, or Toksook Bay, in Southwestern Alaska
Each family has a space in the communal fish drying area.

The beach at in the Yupik village of Nunakauyak, or Toksook Bay, a Yupik village in Southwestern Alaska

The post office in the Yupik village of Nunakauyak, or Toksook Bay, a Yupik village in Southwestern Alaska
The post office

Each of the villages we visited has a school, a post office, a clinic, and a small store.

We passed by all four on our tour, and Melvin was especially proud of his high school basketball program’s three straight trips to the state championship tournament.

The school in the Yupik village of Nunakauyak, or Toksook Bay, in Southwestern Alaska

The grocery store in the Yupik village of Nunakauyak, or Toksook Bay, in Southwestern Alaska

We were getting a little hungry, and there are no restaurants in Toksook Bay (we should have thought ahead a bit – oops), so we stopped in at the store to find something for lunch.

The first thing to strike us was the prices, most of them were crazy high.

Groceries are really expensive in the grocery store in the Yupik village of Nunakauyak, or Toksook Bay, in Southwestern Alaska

When everything has to be flown in it is definitely reflected on the price tags.

We saw a package of spaghetti for $10.49, a can of soup for $5.89, six rolls of generic toilet paper for $8.99, cheese for $14.55, and a bag of Doritos for $8.29.

Holy crap – we’d be hunting, fishing, and gathering too!

The selection was a bit limited too, so the best we could come up with was deviled ham and wheat thins. We ate it sitting on the steps in front of the shop.

The grocery store in the Yupik village of Nunakauyak, or Toksook Bay, in Southwestern Alaska

After our al fresco dining experience, the need for a restroom break earned us a trip to the town jail. It turned out to be the only public building open on a Sunday afternoon.

Nunakauyak, or Toksook Bay, a Yupik village in Southwestern Alaska

In fact, Melvin explained that it is always left open so that people can self-incarcerate should they feel that they have strayed outside of the rules laid out by the village council.

As the day went on it began to get colder, and a bit dreary. This was a mid-July afternoon and the temperature was rapidly dropping into the forties.

This definitely got our attention while riding on the four wheeler.

The cemetery at Nunakauyak, or Toksook Bay, a Yupik village in Southwestern Alaska

Seeing that we were getting chilled, Melvin offered to have us stop by his house for a visit. We were more than happy to accept his gracious invitation.

Picking salmonberries in Southwest Alaska

Inside we met four generations of his family.

His mother and grandmother were busy with babies, while his wife was whipping up something in the kitchen.

Earlier Melvin had pointed out people gathering salmonberries in the fields around town, and now we were about to try them.

Salmonberries in Southwestern Alaska

We were unfamiliar with salmonberries, but upon seeing them, we recognized them as similar to cloudberries which we had sampled in Newfoundland.

One of the most common ways to eat them in Alaska is in a dish called Akutaq, or as Melvin called it, Eskimo ice cream.

Akutaq, or Eskimo ice cream. The berries are mixed with whipped fat, traditionally from reindeer, moose, caribou, walrus, or often seal oil, but more recently Crisco has become the lubricant of choice, and a little sugar and milk is added.

The berries are mixed with whipped fat, traditionally from reindeer, moose, caribou, walrus, or often seal oil, but more recently Crisco has become the lubricant of choice, and a little sugar and milk is added.

We were served small bowls before we knew the ingredients, and while not blown away – or nearly as excited about it as the kids were — we loved the opportunity to try the unique treat.

Dried salmon in Southwestern Alaska

Melvin also wanted to make sure that we tried some of the dried salmon that had been on the racks we saw earlier.

Now this was more up our alley, smoky and salty, it tasted like jerky – delicious.

Plus we were still a little peckish from our light lunch.

Nunakauyak, or Toksook Bay, a Yupik village in Southwestern Alaska

While we were chatting, a young man carrying a package came through the door.

This meant it was time for Melvin to put back on his airline agent hat, and for us to catch a ride with him back to the airport.

Sweat lodges are common in Nunakauyak, or Toksook Bay, a Yupik village in Southwestern Alaska
Most of the homes in the village have sweat lodges.

In a few minutes we heard the drone of an approaching Cessna, so we said our thanks and good-byes to Melvin.

Southwestern Alaska from an airplane

The Southwestern tundra of Alaska from an airplane

We took off again, this time without The Boy. Another pilot, Buggy, was at the helm.

He is a long time veteran of Yute Air, and also a Yup’ik, so he knows this area like the back of his hand.

We were joined by another passenger, which meant that we would make a stop in one more village, Chefornak, on our way.

Bethel, Alaska from the air in a plane

By the time we returned to Bethel we had compiled ten takeoffs and landings on the day – but we weren’t through just yet.

We still had three more flights ahead of us to get back down to, and across the lower forty-eight.

That meant that by the time we were finished we had been through sixteen takeoffs and landings in one twenty-four hour span.

We also traveled from the very western edge of North America to the East coast and from one of America’s smallest villages to New York City.

Yikes, most flight crews have never even done that!

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See all of our adventures in Alaska!

YOUR TURN: Have you visited a truly remote part of the world? Would you fly in a tiny plane over the tundra? Wasn’t Melvin great to show us around his village home?

Summer Travel Idea: Escape to Breathtaking Newfoundland

Breathtaking vistas, natural wonders, and fabulous people combine to make the island of Newfoundland one of our favorite places on earth.

Here’s why we think Newfoundland should be at the top of everyone’s bucket list… CONTINUE READING >>

Stunning sea cliffs on the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Newfoundland

Breathtaking vistas, natural wonders, and fabulous people (so nice, we actually felt guilty at times!) combine to make the island of Newfoundland one of our favorite places on earth. Here’s why we think Newfoundland should be at the top of everyone’s bucket list:

The Beauty is Unmatched

Waterfall view while zip lining in Newfoundland with Marble Zip Tours

Find yourself fording fjords, ziplining over waterfalls, gazing at (and over) sea cliffs, watching whales, playing with puffins and that’s just the tip of the… oh, yes, iceberg. Best of all, you can “drive” your own car or RV onto this island province.

It’s One of the Few Places that You Can Walk on the Earth’s Mantle

The Tablelands - step on to the Earth's Mantle in Newfoundland!

Of Newfoundland’s many wonders, Gros Morne National Park is the heavyweight champ. It is one of the only places in the world where humans can set foot upon rocks that have risen from deep within the Earth’s mantle. But barren outer space landscapes are only a small part of Gros Morne’s championship qualities – there are other are textbook examples of the forces of nature. Fjords, glacial valleys, and cirques are the definitive features throughout most of the park.

See more Gros Morne

See Where America was Actually Discovered

The L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site, NewfoundlandSome five hundred years before Columbus “discovered” America, the Vikings landed at The L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site on the northwestern tip of Newfoundland. Through displays, replicas of housing and ships, Viking reenactors, and exploring the original foundations of their buildings, the lives of those ancient intrepid Norse explorers come alive to modern visitors.

See more L’Anse aux Meadows

Kayak with Humpback Whales & Icebergs

Kayaking with Icebergs in Newfoundland

Turn yourself loose to kayak in whale-infested waters outside of the picturesque town of Twillingate. The area is known as Iceberg Alley and, when the sun is bright, the sea dances with light, sea animals, and more shades of blue than a mind can process.

WATCH: Seriously, one of the best days of our lives! We were right in amongst a serious amount of sea creatures – and icebergs!

See more Twillingate

See the Birds of St. Mary’s

Bird Rock at Cape St. Marys in Newfoundland

On the far southern tip of the island, smack dab in the middle of nowhere, is Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve. The free-standing island mountain in the middle of the park, known as Bird Rock, rises thirty stories straight up from the sea and is completely covered by gannets. The cliffs on either side of Bird Rock are covered black-legged kittiwakes and common murres. All in all, well over fifty thousand birds.

WATCH: SOOOO many birds!

See more Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve

Get “Screeched In” to Become an Honorary Newfoundlander

Veronica kisses the cod as she gets Screeched In in Newfoundland

If you happen to be what the locals call “Come From Away,” then you face the prospect of becoming honorary Newfoundlanders by getting Screeched In. But beware, there are rules. The ceremony must be performed properly by a certified Screecher. (Spoiler: It involves kissing a cod!)

Watch us get Screeched In

Take a Spin in a Traditional Newfoundland Dory

A traditional Newfoundland dory! We took a took of Bay of Islands in it!

On Newfoundland’s west coast, in the Bay of Islands, a dory tour is an excellent way to see nature the way God intended it. Spot nesting eagles, jig a cod, admire wild land and seascapes, visit old timey fish cabins and eat mussels collected along the way.

See our dory tour!

Raft Down the Exploits River

Whitewater rafting on the Exploits River in Grand Falls - Windsor, Newfoundland, Canada

Take an exhilarating run down the gorgeous countryside of The Exploits Valley in Central Newfoundland. Best part? You get to say Exploits a lot.

See more about our rafting experience

Visit Dildo Run…

Dildo Run in Newfoundland, Canada

…and Virgin Arm. And Main Tickle. And Blow Me Down. And Come by Chance. And Pothead.

And, our favorite, Heart’s Content.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

We are so grateful to Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism for making this adventure possible. As always, all opinions are our own.

See all of our adventures in Newfoundland!

Or continue exploring Newfoundland through her exciting food!

A Whirlwind Two-wheeled Tour of St. Barths

There is something quite magical about waking up with the sun while island hopping across the Caribbean. Cruising into Saint Barths for our first ever view of this renowned playground for celebrities and tycoons was no exception… CONTINUE READING >> 

There is something quite magical about waking up with the sun while island hopping across the Caribbean. Cruising into Saint Barths for our first ever view of this renowned playground for celebrities and tycoons was no exception.

Perhaps Columbus felt the same when he first sailed here in 1493 and named the island St. Barthélemy, after his brother Bartoloméo.

The port at the main town and capital, Gustavia, is pretty little so there was not enough room for even a smaller expedition sized ship such as Viking Octantis to dock.

That meant we would stay in the harbor and take the tender boats in to shore. On the bright side, that gave us a chance to get a close up look at some of the yachts of the rich and famous that are always abundant here.

In keeping with our good ole Gypsynester motto “the plan is no plans,” we had very little idea of what to expect as we came ashore. Our rough outline was to find a scooter to rent and then go off half cocked and barnstorm as much of the island as we possibly could in one day.

After a brief walk through the town and poking our heads into a few of the incredibly high-end shops, we found our rental place. With some instructions under our belts, and a giant deposit charged to our credit card (about $2,000 or basically the value of the scooter) in lieu of insurance, we were off.

Right from the start we instantly realized that by far the biggest challenge for this bonkers adventure would be the incredibly steep hills.

Turns out that there is almost no flat ground on this little isle so even leaving the rental place to get back to the main road became quite an undertaking.

After a few minutes we got more comfortable with riding and settled in for some exploration. From town we headed to the east end of the island for a look at the salt ponds and some superb scenic overlooks.

The salt pond, known as Grande Saline, was a source of salt for use and trade going all the way back to the native Arawak and Taíno people, who named the island Ouanalao, meaning Land of Salt. The salt was commercially produced until 1972, but now it simply covers the ground in a bright white layer as the water evaporates.

Leaving the salt behind we crested a ridge and an amazing panorama of Grand Fond spread out before us. This huge bay opens out to the south with practically perfect views of the Caribbean.

After stopping to take it all in for a few minutes, we followed the road down and along the beach before climbing back up and crossing over to the north side of the island.

This brought us to the neighborhood of Lorient and since we were beginning to get a little hungry we stopped off to pick up a very simple, traditional French picnic at a local market. With our bread, cheese, fruit, and of course a spot of wine we were ready for St. Barth’s most popular and wildly entertaining beach, Saint-Jean.

The reason for that, other than the fact that is is an absolutely gorgeous beach, is that one of the wildest airstrips ever ends right at the sand. The Gustaf III Airport is well known, especially among pilots, as one of the world’s most dangerous.

Landing aircraft must drop down just a few feet above a small gap in the hills at Col de la Tourmente and then smash the brakes to stop on this less than a half mile of runway. If they over shoot, they end up in the ocean.

That’s why a special certificate is required for pilots to be allowed to use the airport. But for beach goers like us, it was a gas watching the planes come and go with so little room for error. We sat for quite some time leisurely snacking on our lunch and checking out the show until it was time to go and turn in our scooter.

Once we returned our trusty steed I noticed that I had blisters on both thumbs from squeezing the brakes so hard. Yup, those were some steep hills!

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Thanks to Viking Cruises for inviting us along and providing this adventure! As always, all opinions are our own.

Philadelphia, For Whom the (Liberty) Bell Tolls

Philly is truly the birthplace of our republic, this is where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were deliberated and approved.

We felt it all around us, inch for inch this must be the most historic ground in America…. CONTINUE READING >>

The lesser known uncracked side of the Liberty Bell, Philadelphia
Veronica shows off the lesser known uncracked side of the Liberty Bell!

We popped up out of the 5th Street Subway Station and found ourselves right in the heart of history, directly in front of Independence Hall.

Truly the birthplace of our republic, this is where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were deliberated and approved.

We felt it all around us, inch for inch this must be the most historic ground in America.

Independence Hall in Philadelphia

Built in 1753 to house the colonial legislature of Pennsylvania, the hall became the meeting place for the Second Continental Congress in 1775, then the site of the Constitutional Convention in 1787.

Prior to the ratification of the Constitution there was no official United States capital (or capitol, for that matter) but Philadelphia, and this building, certainly served the purpose.

5th Street Subway Station, Philadelphia

Once the nation was officially formed, New York City was named the capital.

Not everyone was on board with that idea, so debate to decide a permanent site carried on.

Congress finally settled on Washington, DC, but while the new city was being built Philly, once again, served as the capital city. This time officially.

Congress Hall in Philadelphia

For those few years the building right next to Independence Hall, Congress Hall, housed the government, with the House of Representatives meeting on the main floor, and the Senate upstairs.

This was also the site of two presidential inaugurations, George Washington for his second term, and John Adams.

Inside old city hall, Philadelphia

As we made our way to the building on the other side of Independence Hall, the Old City Hall, it hit us that we were truly walking in the footprints of the founding fathers.

No doubt many of our democracy designing dads made this same trip when the city hall housed the Supreme Court during Philadelphia’s time as the capital city. As part of the Independence National Historical Park, the Park Service has completely restored the interior of the old hall.

Inside old city hall, Philadelphia

May it please the court, we found the jury box, witness stand, and judicial bench guilty of looking just as they would have when statesman, patriot, and first Chief Justice of the United States John Jay called the court to order in 1791.

Let Freedom Ring!

The Liberty Bell in Philadelphia

Directly across from the Independence Hall Complex is The Liberty Bell Center.

While waiting in line to see the bell we pondered just how some things become so iconic. It did toll from the tower of Independence Hall, but actually played a very small part in history.

In fact, the story of it ringing out the news of declaring independence on July 4, 1776 is most likely false, since the declaration wasn’t read in public until July 8. Yet the bell has captured the hearts of Americans for over one hundred and fifty years.

The bell did ring out many special occasions through the years, and sustained a nasty crack at some point along the way, but much of its celebrity seems to stem from an 1847 story in the Saturday Review by George Lippard.

He penned a legend about an aged bellman waiting by the bell on July 4, 1776, and a young boy who appeared with instructions to ring the bell proclaiming the declaration.The lesser known uncracked side of the Liberty Bell, Philadelphia

Within a few years, the fable had been accepted as fact, and soon began to appear in textbooks.

But what is history without a good tale or two?

With this fame the bell became an icon, and toured the country after the Civil War. All the travel, and souvenir hunters picking at it, made the prominent crack worse, so the National Park Service took control in 1948, and finally placed it in The Liberty Bell Center in 2003.

That brings up another legend, how did the bell get cracked? Truth is no one seems to know for sure, but we don’t feel like the symbolism of the bell is diminished one bit. Let freedom ring!

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

Not Everyone was Free

The President's House in Philadelphia

Excavations of the slave quarters at the President's House in Philadelphia

In front of The Liberty Bell Center we came upon a relatively new discovery, The President’s House, which opened in 2010.

While it was known that a house where Presidents Washington and Adams had lived stood on this site until 1832, it wasn’t until 2000, while excavating for the new Liberty Bell Center, that the foundation was uncovered.

Excavations of the slave quarters at the President's House in Philadelphia

When it was revealed that the exposed ruins were part of the slave quarters, a door was opened for discussion of a topic that had been long avoided, the fact that many of our founding fathers were slave holders.

The President's House in Philadelphia

The memorial, President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation, addresses the subject like this:

If we are to understand how a nation founded on the principle that “all men are created equal” could also somehow embrace and justify slavery, we must examine the context and effect of this contradiction on the lives of Americans of every race and condition.

Eating Like a Patriot

The City Tavern in Philadelphia

With that food for thought filling our heads, we were ready for a repast.

To indulge that notion, and to get fully immersed in the colonial spirit, we headed to an interesting addition to the Independence National Historical Park, the nearby City Tavern.

The City Tavern in Philadelphia

The original structure was partially destroyed by a fire, perhaps of suspicious origin according to our server, in 1834 and then demolished in 1854.

But a perfect replica of the historic building was built and re-opened in 1976 for the United States Bicentennial.

Our adorable server at City Tavern in Philadelphia

As the seeds of the revolution were sprouting, the City Tavern was certainly at the center of it all.

John Adams called it “the most genteel tavern in America” while visiting Philadelphia for the First Continental Congress, Paul Revere rode here to proclaim the news that the British had closed the port of Boston, and Thomas Jefferson kept an open tab while writing the Declaration of Independence.

Mushroom Toast at the City Tavern in Philadelphia

Being a tavern we felt a tankard of ale was in order, how opportune that the City Tavern has Ales of The Revolution on tap.

These are brewed with the very recipes used by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. We choose Jefferson’s 1774 Tavern Ale, and Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce.

Move over Sam Adams, it seems many a founding father knew a thing or two about beer. As Franklin said, it proves God loves us and wants us to be happy. Cheers!

Martha Washington's Turkey Pot Pie at City Tavern in Philadelphia

We were excited to sample truly typical colonial fare, and with owner and executive chef Walter Staib using many authentic 18th-century recipes, including Martha Washington’s Turkey Pot Pie, we were not disappointed.

The menu also mentioned an intriguing story about Benjamin Franklin. It seems that he introduced tofu to North America in a 1770 letter to his friend, the renowned botanist John Bartram, so we ordered that too.

Martha Washington's Chocolate Mousse at City Tavern in Philadelphia

It is hard to imagine that the colonists ate this well, but if the portraits of Ben Franklin accurately portray his paunch, we have reason to believe they did.

Speaking of old Ben, there are plenty of tributes to Mr. Franklin throughout Philly, and we intended to see most all of them the next day. So we formed a plan that was all about the Benjamins.

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

Back to Ben

Franklin Court in Philadelphia

Our initiation into all things Ben began at Franklin Court.

This was not only where Franklin lived, but also where he worked. He owned all of the buildings surrounding the courtyard, one of which served as a post office, and another as his print shop.

Both are still operating, the post office in its official capacity, and the print shop as a reproduction run by the National Park Service.

The tunnel to Ben Franklin's house in Philadelphia
Ben walked here: David does his best Franklin impression.

The house where Franklin lived from 1763 until his death in 1790 stood in the center of the courtyard, but has been gone for two hundred years.

A steel frame “ghost house” showing the location was built for the bicentennial in 1976. Beneath that outline we found several viewing portals where remnants of the Franklin home can be seen below ground level.

Ben Franklin's Ghost House in Franklin

The site was excavated beginning in 1953, and continuing up to just before the bicentennial celebrations.

Viewing stands over the excavations were installed that show foundations, walls, and even one of Franklin’s privy pits.

We had no idea that we would be getting so personal with one of the founding fathers!

Benjamin Franklin's privy pit in Philly

When we entered the print shop a ranger was printing up a copy of The Declaration of Independence as a demonstration for a group of school kids.

Eavesdropping on the field trip was almost like having our own tour guide. The entire process, including the press and type setting, is just as it would have been when Franklin was printing newspapers here in revolutionary times.

Ben Franklin's Print Shop in Philadelphia

Ben Franklin's Print Shop in Philadelphia

Mr. Franklin realized that the sharing of information would be essential if our fledgling country was to unite, so he began mailing newspapers throughout the colonies to keep everyone on the same page, so to speak.

Perhaps that is why he opened a post office next door.

The B. Free Franklin Post Office looks much like it would have when Franklin used it as the first Postmaster General in 1775.

The clerks were happy to explain the history to us, and included the fun fact that this is the only post office in the United States that does not fly the stars and stripes.

Sounds strange, but it is in recognition of the fact that it was opened under British colonial rule, so the United States didn’t have a flag yet.

Betsy’s Place

Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia

Speaking of flags, the Betsy Ross house was just up the street and, even though this particular site is of dubious historic value at best, we felt we should see it.

We hate to be bursters of bubbles, but not only is the legend of Betsy sewing the first flag most likely false, there is also serious doubt as to whether she ever even lived in this house.

Pop!

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

Elfreth's Alley, America's oldest residental neighborhood

A very nice local gentleman tipped us off to something nearby that is a little less famous, but a lot more authentic, that sounded right up our alley… Elfreth’s Alley.

Named after Jeremiah Elfreth, a colonial blacksmith, this is considered the nation’s oldest residential street, and it has been amazingly preserved.

A rare surviving glimpse into life on a 18th-century working-class street. What a great tip!

Carpenters’ Hall

Carpenters Hall in Philadelphia

Carpenter's Hall in Philadelphia

Perusing our map we discovered that we had missed Carpenters’ Hall, so we backtracked a bit to see it.

In a way this could be called America’s first capitol building, since the First Continental Congress met in the hall in September and October of 1774.

Later it served as a hospital for both British and American troops during the Revolutionary War, and as home to Benjamin Franklin’s Library Company, The American Philosophical Society, and the First and Second Banks of the United States.

Carpenter's Hall in Philadelphia

Ben Franklin’s Final Resting Place

Benjamin and Deborah Franklin's grave in Philadelphia

Our final stop was Benjamin Franklin’s grave. Though he was originally from Boston, Franklin had such impact on Philadelphia that it is very fitting for his final resting place to be in The City of Brotherly Love.

He is laid to rest next to his common-law wife of forty-four years, Deborah, in the Christ Church Burial Ground. We thought it was odd that the tomb was covered with pennies, but learned they are from a Philadelphia tradition that is supposed to bring the penny-tosser good luck.

We certainly felt like we had plenty of good fortune during our adventures in Philly – even without tossing a penny.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

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.

Getting Down in the Mud on Saint Lucia

Our adventure of choice for the day on St. Lucia was to go into the caldera of a volcano and wallow in the mud. Yup, we were actually excited at the prospect of getting covered head to toe with fresh, hot, sulfur-laden volcanic mud… CONTINUE READING >> 

We woke with the sun the morning the Viking Octantis sailed into the Soufrière Bay on Saint Lucia. But let me say that any lost sleep was more than made up for by the incredible view of the island’s most famous landmark and UNESCO World Heritage Site, The Pitons.

The fact that we docked at the town of Soufrière, instead of the main port of Castries, worked out very well for us because it meant that we would be anchored (even though the ship doesn’t actually have an anchor, it is kept in place by GPS guided thrusters) in the shadow of these prominent peaks.

The two volcanic remnants are the most iconic geographic landmark on the island. The larger, Gros Piton, stands over 2,600 feet high, while its co-star, Petit Piton, comes in a couple hundred feet lower.

They are climbable, but that was not our adventure of choice for the morning, we were completely on board with going into the caldera of a volcano to wallow in the mud. Yup, we were actually excited at the prospect of getting covered head to toe with fresh, hot, sulfur-laden volcanic mud.

To accomplish this feat we needed to enter into a volcano, which was not a problem because unlike the Pitons, Qualibou is still very much on the active list, having last erupted in 1776.

The giant caldera of Qualibou makes up what is called the Soufrière Volcanic Center, which is home to Sulphur Springs, also known as the only drive-in volcano in the world. This is possible because the crater is over two miles across, so drive up the side and in to an active volcano is what we did.

Our bus managed the narrow, winding roads without incident and in a few minutes we were standing amid steaming vents and boiling mud puddles. The scene is not unlike a miniature Yellowstone. There are even some geysers, but none are very faithful so we didn’t get to witness an eruption.

We climbed up some stairs and a short trail to an overlook and got a good view of the hot spot. A stream is formed from the bubbling pools, and once it cools down a bit the mineral rich water is captured in pools for some serious mud bathing.

We began at the bottom pool because it is the coolest. First we got wet, then smeared two types of mud all over ourselves. The white mud for overall coverage, and the black for adding some décor and flair.

Once the mud dried it was back in to the pools, with each one getting warmer as we moved up the hillside until we reached the top bath that can exceed one hundred degrees Fahrenheit. By then all of the mud had washed off… well, almost all. We still managed to find little bits that had escaped for the rest of the day.

The claim is made that these baths will make you look twelve years younger. Don’t know if I buy that. It might have been true for Veronica, but me? Maybe twelve hours younger.

After our baths we took the opportunity to wander around the quaint little village of Soufrière for a bit. The town itself is not much of a tourist attraction, pretty much your basic island fishing hamlet, but still interesting, and for us it was a treat to be back in the Caribbean again. Still feels a little bit like home.

There is one very impressive highlight in the small square in front of the Church of the Assumption, the Freedom Monument. However, unlike most emancipation monuments, this statue by sculptor Ricky George is not an exactly an emancipation memorial, it honors slaves who helped defeat the British in the First Brigand War.

It began in 1791 during the French revolution when Commissaries were sent to some colonies to spread the revolutionary philosophies. On many islands, including Saint Lucia, these ideas were embraced by the poor free people along with the salves. So by February of 1794 slavery was abolished in many places.

But soon after that the British invaded Saint Lucia and several other French islands and retook control of the island. Well, the Saint Lucians were in no mood to give back their freedom, so they formed an army of resistance and drove the Brits out leading to what became known as “l’Année de la Liberté” or the Year of Freedom from Slavery.

However, the British were not inclined to give up, so they returned the next year and by the end of the Second Brigand War in 1797 had retaken the island. It remained under British rule until 1953 or 1979, depending on how one defines independence, and is still a member of the British Commonwealth.

While this is certainly an interesting piece of history, and we were glad to learn about it, we were most impressed by the quality of the artwork. This bronze statue is nothing less than stunning with its amazing detail and emotion.

As the heat of the day set in we set out for the ship, but decided to stop off on the waterfront for a cold beer at MICHAEL’S. The sign on the front welcomed us as a friend in four languages so we knew this must be the palce. It was here that we discovered a new contender for our favorite Caribbean beer, Piton.

Named for the mountains, this is obviously a brew native to St. Lucia. It has a light, crisp appeal much like our other prized island brews, Carib (from Trinidad & Tobago but brewed on several Caribbean islands) and Medalla (from Puerto Rico).

So we hung out in the shade and ordered another, just to make sure that we liked it as much as we thought we did.

By the time we finished, it was time to make a dash for the last tender of the day going back to our expedition ship Octantis.

Good thing we were close to the dock.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Thanks to Viking Cruises for inviting us along and providing this adventure! As always, all opinions are our own.