Crocs Uncover

Bizarre Species

viernes, 15 de julio de 2011

Lost statue of Roman emperor Caligula unveiled

Reuters – Wed, Jul 13, 2011

ROME (Reuters Life!) - Officials on Tuesday unveiled a massive statue believed to be that of Roman emperor Caligula sitting on a throne and said it came from an illegal dig south of Rome that may have been the site of one of his palaces.

The statue, which had been broken in several large pieces and a head, was first found last January when Finance Police stopped it from being smuggled out of the country by boat at a port near Rome.

The operation led to the arrest of two so-called "tomb raiders" -- those who dig up the countryside looking for archaeological treasures to sell on the black market.

But more importantly, the arrests led police to the site near Lake Nemi, just south of Rome, where Caligula was believed to have had one of his imperial residences.

The statue, now cleaned of the earth that had covered it for 2,000 years, shows parts of a robed man sitting on an elaborate throne like the Greek god Zeus.

Significantly, it shows a man wearing a "caliga," shoes worn by Roman legionaries and from where the emperor got the name by which he is known. His real name was Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus.

Caligula, who reigned from 37 to 41 A.D., has gone down in history as a crazed and power-hungry sex maniac who demanded that his horse, Incitatus, be made a consul.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

martes, 12 de julio de 2011

8 Great Places to Retire Abroad

by Donna Fuscaldo, contributing writer

Great places to retire can be found outside of Florida and Arizona. In fact, many can be found outside of the U.S. entirely. Safe, attractive and affordable places to retire are scattered across the globe, from Latin America to Asia and even Europe. We've narrowed our list to eight overseas retirement hot spots.

Two factors critical to retirees (and their wallets) shaped our choices: cost of living and health care. To make our picks we consulted several experts on travel, tourism and overseas retirement, including Jennifer Stevens, executive editor of International Living, and Kathleen Peddicord, publisher of We also gave added weight to the cost of living, real estate and health care components of International Living's Global Retirement Index of the top 25 countries for retirees.

A note on cost of living: Monthly budgets for overseas retirees will vary widely, depending on country, lifestyle and housing type. There's no one-size-fits-all dollar amount. The estimates provided for each retirement hot spot offer a ballpark figure, including housing expenses, for how much a "typical" retired American couple would need to live comfortably.

Merida, Mexico

Population: 777,615

Climate: Tropical. Temperatures range from the low 80s to the mid 90s. Risk of hurricanes.

Proximity to major airport: Merida has an international airport with some nonstop flights to the U.S. Mexico City is less than two hours by plane.

Access to health care: There's a slew of quality medical facilities, including the highly regarded Clinica de Merida. Some retirees may qualify for Mexico's low-cost public health insurance program, known as IMSS. Mexico ranks 14th out of 25 countries on International Living's Global Retirement Index for health care.

Cost of living: Mexico tied for third (with Colombia and Thailand) on the Global Retirement Index for cost of living. A retired American couple can live comfortably in Merida on $1,700 a month.

The draw: City living meets colonial charm. Merida, the capital of the state of Yucatan, is a world away from Cancun, its touristy cousin across the peninsula. Sitting 22 miles inland, Merida has a European feel, thanks to its Old World architecture and abundant culture. There are opera houses and cathedrals to explore, and foodies rave about the dining scene. There's a growing population of retirees from the U.S., as evidenced by an English-language newspaper and library. Merida has escaped the violence that has plagued Mexico's border towns.

Lunigiana, Italy

Population: 130,000

Climate: Temperate. Summers can stretch from April to October, with temperatures from the mid 70s to low 90s. In winter, it's in the 50s and 60s.

Proximity to airport: Major airports in Pisa, Genoa and Parma are all about an hour's drive from the Lunigiana region. There's very limited nonstop service to the U.S. Expect to make a connection.

Access to health care: Italy ranks second (tied with Spain) out of 25 countries on International Living's Global Retirement Index for health care. Towns in the Lunigiana region with hospitals include Aulla, Fivizzano, La Spezia, Pontremoli and Sarzana. Pharmacists are found in most villages. Italy offers residents, including U.S. citizens legally residing in Italy, access to its national health plan, though many Americans opt instead to use private hospitals, which tend to provide better care than public ones.

Cost of living: Italy tied for 11th (with Uruguay) on the Global Retirement Index for cost of living, but 18th for real estate. A retired American couple can live comfortably on about $2,500 a month.

The draw: Tuscany on the cheap. The Lunigiana region of northern Tuscany is home to a network of villages connected by well-marked hiking paths. The Mediterranean coast is a short drive away, and Florence, Lucca and Pisa are all manageable day trips. Lunigiana isn't on the radar of too many retirees yet, which means the region is more affordable than areas farther south in the heart of Tuscany. Italy has a Social Security agreement with the U.S. that can benefit people who've worked in both countries.

Bocas del Toro, Panama

Population: 125,461

Climate: Warm and tropical, with temperatures ranging from the low 70s to high 80s. Rainy season can stretch from May to January.

Proximity to major airport: It's a one-hour flight to Panama City, where connections are available to the U.S.

Access to health care: There's a public hospital on Isla Colon, the main island in the Bocas del Toro archipelago. It's adequate and cheap, but most expats head to David or Panama City for checkups and planned treatments. Panama tied for 12th (with Portugal) out of 25 countries on International Living's Global Retirement Index for health care.

Cost of Living: Panama tied for 13th (with Costa Rica) on the Global Retirement Index for cost of living. A retired American couple can live comfortably in Bocas del Toro on $1,500 a month.

The draw: Laid-back island living. Bocas del Toro province, on the Caribbean in western Panama, boasts miles of sandy beaches, turquoise waters and sprawling rainforests. The currency is the U.S. dollar and, while Spanish is the country's official language, English is widely spoken. Panama has a "pensionado" program for retirees that provides discounts on public transportation, entertainment and health care.

Granada, Nicaragua

Population: 105,171

Climate: Hot and sticky. Temperatures span the 70s to the 90s, with humidity often high. The wettest months are May to October.

Proximity to airport: It's 45 minutes by car to Managua's international airport, where you can catch nonstop flights to the U.S.

Access to health care: Nicaragua tied for 22nd (with Honduras) out of 25 countries on International Living's Global Retirement Index for health care. In addition to local medical facilities, close proximity to Managua, the capital, gives retirees access to several specialized hospitals.

Cost of living: Nicaragua tied for sixth (with Brazil, Malta and Malaysia) on the Global Retirement Index for cost of living. It tied for second (with Colombia) for real estate. A retired American couple can live comfortably in Granada on $1,250 a month.

The draw: Rooms with a view. Granada, a picturesque colonial city that dates back to the 16th century, sits on the shores of Lake Nicaragua. Brightly painted buildings liven up the architecture, and volcanoes are visible in the distance. There are local restaurants, shops and access to freshwater activities. Nearby Managua has shopping malls, movie theaters and other entertainment options. Look into the government's incentive program for foreign retirees, which offers duty-free imports and other tax breaks.

Nha Trang, Vietnam

Population: 361,454

Climate: It's hot most of the year. Temperatures hover between the 80s and low 90s. The heart of the monsoon season is November and early December.

Proximity to airport: Cam Ranh International Airport is about 25 miles from downtown Nha Trang. There are no nonstop flights to the U.S.

Access to health care: The 1,000-bed Khanh Hoa General Hospital is located in Nha Trang. International Living didn't include Vietnam in its Global Retirement Index rankings.

Cost of living: A retired American couple can live comfortably in Nha Trang on $750 a month.

The draw: Live like a king for less. Located on the coast of South-Central Vietnam, Nha Trang is encased by miles of beaches and massive mountain ranges. An American couple can get by on less than $600 a month; $1,000 a month would land you in the lap of luxury. U.S. dollars, preferably crisp, clean ones, are widely accepted. There's a small population of foreigners in Nha Trang, as well as many restaurants and bars, a supermarket and a mall.

Roatan, Honduras

Population: approximately 70,000

Climate: The average temperature is 81 degrees. January is the coolest month; August, the hottest. Honduras lies in the hurricane belt.

Proximity to airport: There are nonstop flights to the U.S. from Roatan's international airport.

Access to health care: Roatan has several clinics and two hospitals on the island. Larger medical facilities are located on the mainland in San Pedro Sula and La Ceiba. Honduras tied for 22nd (with Nicaragua) on International Living's Global Retirement Index for health care.

Cost of living: Honduras ranks tenth on the Global Retirement Index for cost of living, but fourth for real estate. A retired American couple can live comfortably in Roatan on $1,200 a month.

The draw: Life's a beach. Located in the Bay Islands of Honduras, Roatan is home to the world's second longest coral reef, warm ocean waters and long strands of white sand. English is the primary language, the U.S. dollar is accepted, and real estate prices have come down in recent years. There's an established expat community. Retirees looking for a Caribbean experience for less probably won't be disappointed.

Bearn, France

Population: 350,000

Climate: Seasonal. Temperatures range from the 30s to 50s in the winter and the 70s to 80s in the summer.

Proximity to airport: The main airport is in Pau. No nonstop flights to the U.S., but easy connections via Paris, London and elsewhere.

Access to health care: France is tops on International Living's Global Retirement Index for health care. There are several hospitals in the Bearn region, including in the towns of Pau, Orthez, Oloron-Sainte-Marie, Mauleon, Tardets and Mourenx. Private medical insurance is required of non-E.U. residents. The Association of Americans Resident Overseas offers a group plan.

Cost of living: France ranks 18th on the Global Retirement Index for cost of living. A retired American couple can live comfortably on about $2,000 a month.

The draw: Basque in the moment. The Bearn area of southwestern France, near the border with Spain, is influenced by Basque culture from both sides of the Pyrenees (note the berets). The pastoral landscape is dotted with medieval towns, and hunting and fishing are favorite pastimes. There are loads of markets and vineyards to explore, not to mention a fair share of churches and castles. Living in Bearn is cheaper than in better-known parts of France such as Provence, a plus for retirees. France also has an agreement with the U.S. that provides Social Security advantages for people who've worked in both countries.

Corozal Town, Belize

Population: 9,901

Climate: Warm year-round, with temperatures mostly in the 80s. Mild rainy season starts in June. Risk of hurricanes.

Proximity to major airport: It's a short commuter flight via San Pedro -- each leg is less than half an hour -- to the country's main airport in Belize City, where connections are available to the U.S.

Access to health care: Corozal Town has its own hospital. More extensive medical options are available ten miles away in Chetumal, the capital of Mexico's state of Quintana Roo. Belize ranks 24th out of 25 countries on International Living's Global Retirement Index for health care.

Cost of living: Belize is second on the Global Retirement Index for cost of living, but 19th for real estate. A retired American couple can live comfortably in Corozal Town on $2,500 a month.

The draw: The best of both worlds. The town, located in northernmost Belize, offers retirees beaches and tranquility in Corozal, and big-city amenities such as malls and museums just across the border in Chetumal, Mexico. English is the official language, though Spanish is widely spoken. The government operates a "qualified retired persons" program that allows non-Belizeans to enjoy perks such as tax-free imports of household goods, cars and even airplanes. One-time application and program fees add up to $1,350, plus another $750 per dependent.

The College Degrees You Should Have Gotten

Though the job market is tough for everyone and we're all tightening our belts, there are some particular fields faring much better than others. Certain college degrees lead to nice starting salaries and hefty mid-career salaries, even in a state of economic slump.

Petroleum Engineering
In general, engineering wins the award for best college major with a total of seven spots on the top-ten list of college degrees leading to highest salaries. The first five spots for best college degrees are engineering, with petroleum engineering sitting in the number one position. It is the highest college degree in starting pay, with an average of just over $90,000 salary. And mid-career median pay, on average, ends up around $160,000, far exceeding the other five engineering degrees on the top-ten list.

Other Engineering Degrees
Aerospace, chemical, electrical and nuclear engineering occupy the next four spots on the top-ten list. Potential starting salaries for all four of these college degrees is around $60,000, and the average mid-career salary for these degree-holders is around $100,000. Not far below those numbers are two additional engineering degrees: biomedical and computer. Engineering, in all its specialties, is one of the top five in-demand degrees in the current job market.

Math and Sciences
Unfortunately for those of us who prefer words to numbers, the other three degrees on the top-ten list don't cater to wordsmiths. Applied mathematics, physics and economics are the options, with average starting salaries from $48,000 to $56,000 and mid-career salaries all ending up right around the $100,000 mark. Accounting, though not in the top-ten for earning potential, is the top in-demand degree in the job market, according to a recent study from the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The easy, albeit general, conclusion to draw is that the higher-demand, higher-earning college degrees are numbers-oriented, versus those in liberal arts or the "soft" sciences. There are exceptions, however. For those not mathematically inclined, there are some options.

Government majors start out with an average salary of around $40,000 - certainly not the highest starting salary among the college degrees. However, mid-career salaries average at around $87,000, topping the mid-career salaries of degrees in computer information systems, geology, chemistry and accounting.

When evaluating college degrees, it's important to look at mid-career salary point as well as the average starting salary. Computer information systems, geology, chemistry and accounting degrees can all get you a starting salary that's higher than the average $41,000 a beginning government worker will earn; so at first glance, government seems like the poorer choice, but it offers that higher mid-career salary which, for most workers, is the amount they'll earn for a much longer time.

Liberal Arts and Business
Besides government, there are a few surprises in the non-numbers oriented college degrees. Several that can lead you to a mid-career salary above $70,000 include film production, marketing, advertising, history, philosophy and fashion design. You might not earn the $100,000 per year that you could with one of those top-ten engineering degrees, but if you're happy in your chosen field then job satisfaction may be enough to compensate for that lost $30,000 potential in earnings.

Two Surprising Degrees to Avoid
A Bachelor of Science in Nursing is another one of those degrees that looks great at first glance, with a nice starting salary: the average starting pay is $52,700, which is in the top 20 of average starting salaries. A great choice, right? But by mid-career, most nurses will cap out at a salary not much higher than what they began with. The average mid-career income is $68,200, less than $16,000 more than the starting pay.

Another surprise is that architecture, a degree commonly perceived as one with high earnings potential, is actually on the low end in both starting ($42,000 a year) and mid-career average salary ($78,000). With the student loans that accompany a five-year bachelor's program, which an architecture degree usually requires, it's a big investment for a not-so-great return. If design and building are the passion you want to pursue, urban planning and construction management are better options as far as salary potential. A degree in urban planning can lead to a mid-career salary of $82,000, and construction management has an average mid-career salary of $87,000.

What's Next For NASA?

"As a former astronaut and the current NASA Administrator, I'm here to tell you that American leadership in space will continue for at least the next half-century because we have laid the foundation for success -- and failure is not an option."
Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator
National Press Club, July 1, 2011
The end of the space shuttle program does not mean the end of NASA, or even of NASA sending humans into space. NASA has a robust program of exploration, technology development and scientific research that will last for years to come. Here is what's next for NASA:

NASA is designing and building the capabilities to send humans to explore the solar system, working toward a goal of landing humans on Mars. We will build the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, based on the design for the Orion capsule, with a capacity to take four astronauts on 21-day missions.

We will soon announce the design for the heavy-lift Space Launch System that will carry us out of low Earth orbit. We are developing the technologies we will need for human exploration of the solar system, including solar electric propulsion, refueling depots in orbit, radiation protection and high-reliability life support systems.

International Space Station
The International Space Station is the centerpiece of our human spaceflight activities in low Earth orbit. The ISS is fully staffed with a crew of six, and American astronauts will continue to live and work there in space 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Part of the U.S. portion of the station has been designated as a national laboratory, and NASA is committed to using this unique resource for scientific research.

The ISS is a test bed for exploration technologies such as autonomous refueling of spacecraft, advanced life support systems and human/robotic interfaces. Commercial companies are well on their way to providing cargo and crew flights to the ISS, allowing NASA to focus its attention on the next steps into our solar system.

NASA is researching ways to design and build aircraft that are safer, more fuel-efficient, quieter, and environmentally responsible. We are also working to create traffic management systems that are safer, more efficient and more flexible. We are developing technologies that improve routing during flights and enable aircraft to climb to and descend from their cruising altitude without interruption.

We believe it is possible to build an aircraft that uses less fuel, gives off fewer emissions, and is quieter, and we are working on the technologies to create that aircraft. NASA is also part of the government team that is working to develop the Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen, to be in place by the year 2025. We will continue to validate new, complex aircraft and air traffic control systems to ensure that they meet extremely high safety levels.

NASA is conducting an unprecedented array of missions that will seek new knowledge and understanding of Earth, the solar system and the universe. On July 16, the Dawn spacecraft begins a year-long visit to the large asteroid Vesta to help us understand the earliest chapter of our solar system's history. In August, the Juno spacecraft will launch to investigate Jupiter's origins, structure, and atmosphere. The September launch of the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project is a critical first step in building a next-generation Earth-monitoring satellite system.

NASA returns to the moon to study the moon's gravity field and determine the structure of the lunar interior with the October launch of GRAIL. In November, we launch the Mars Science Laboratory named Curiosity on its journey to Mars to look for evidence of microbial life on the red planet. And in February 2012, we will launch the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array to search for black holes, map supernova explosions, and study the most extreme active galaxies.

America's Most Beautiful Landmarks

From soaring man-made monuments to jaw-dropping natural landforms, the U.S. has a wealth of beautiful landmarks.

By Lyndsey Matthews

Courtesy of Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation

While the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, and Mount Fuji may be the first images that come to mind when we picture beautiful landmarks, the truth is that there are numerous dazzling sights—both natural and man-made—right here in the United States.

The past century-and-a-half has seen the creation of two organizations that work together to protect America’s national treasures. After the first national park, Yellowstone, was established in 1872 to protect the natural beauty of its world-famous geyser basins and wildlife, the U.S. National Park Service was founded in 1916—and now oversees the preservation of 58 parks around the country. Later, the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 created the National Register of Historic Places, to protect landmarks that specifically illustrate the heritage of the United States.

Not all of the landmarks on our list have been officially designated as state parks or National Historic Places. And, on their surface, many of them may seem dissimilar: one is an extraordinary (and still active) volcano, while another is a lighthouse; one is a mighty waterfall, while another is a centuries-old desert adobe settlement. But what’s amazing is that these landmarks, disparate though they are, share a home right here on U.S. soil. And all of them have played a part, however small, in our national history.

Niagara Falls, New York

More than 750,000 gallons of water per second thunder down this iconic 167-foot waterfall—the most powerful on the North American continent. The falls straddle the border between the U.S. and Canada, and though some argue that Horseshoe Falls—set on the Ontario side—is more spectacular than the smaller American Falls, the landmark has held a particular place in American history ever since 1901, when Michigan schoolteacher Annie Edson Taylor was the first person to go over the falls (and survive) in a barrel.

How to See It: Take a half-hour water tour on the Maid of the Mist ferry, which has boarding docks in both countries.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Keystone, SD

Courtesy of the National Park Service
Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Keystone, South Dakota

Carved into a granite mountain face in South Dakota’s southwesterly Black Hills, this sculpture of four of America’s most influential presidents (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt) was considered an extraordinary feat of engineering when it was completed in 1941—and it’s still majestic today, bringing in more than two million visitors per year.
How to See It: If you visit in winter, you’ll be able to avoid the summer crowds and see the monument dusted with snow. In warmer months, though, try to catch the evening lighting ceremony (starting at 9 p.m.), where park rangers slowly illuminate the enormous granite faces above.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

Emrecan Dogan
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

Stretching 1.7 miles high above the mist-enshrouded waters of San Francisco Bay, this peaked, vermilion-painted suspension bridge (the color is officially known as International Orange) is as striking today as it was when it was completed in 1937. The natural surroundings—including the coves and forested bluffs of Marin County; the island of Alcatraz; and numerous sailboats, barges, kite-surfers, and even frolicking seals—can all be seen from the bridge on a clear day.

How to See It: Walking at least partway along the bridge’s pedestrian path allows for the most dramatic views (and best photo ops).

The Wave, Coyote Buttes, AZ

Set in the remote Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness in northern Arizona, this dazzling rock formation, which looks like a cresting wave frozen in time, isn’t easy to access: you’ll need a permit from the Bureau of Land Management, which allows only 20 people per day to visit the delicate landform. But getting to see this fiery swirl of Jurassic-age sandstone, carved by the wind more than 190 million years ago, is well worth a little advance planning.

How to See It: From the Wire Pass Trailhead, it’s a three-mile hike out to the Wave over sandy terrain. Summer temperatures soar to more than 100 degrees, so bring plenty of water.

The Giant Forest, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, CA

The Giant Forest, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, CA

Located in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains, this three-square-mile forest of massive giant sequoias is home to the General Sherman Tree, the world’s largest tree by volume (52,508 cubic feet). The other trees here are jaw-dropping, too—on average, they are as tall as 26-story buildings and have base diameters wider than many city streets. Equally awe-inspiring as these conifers’ grand size, though, is their age: most are between 1,800 and 2,700 years old.

How to See It: If you’re short on time, take a two-mile hike through the Giant Forest on the Congress Trail, which begins at the General Sherman Tree. With more time to explore, though, you’ll want to take the steep quarter-mile staircase to the top of Moro Rock, a granite dome that offers gorgeous views of the Great Western Divide and the forest below.

Kilauea Volcano, Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, HI

The legendary home of Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess, this 4,091-foot-high peak is located on the southeastern part of the Big Island of Hawaii. Appropriately named after the Hawaiian word for “spewing” or “much spreading,” this is one of the world’s most active and dangerous volcanoes. Continuous eruptive activity has occurred here since 1983, creating devastating-but-beautiful lava flows that have etched their way across the dramatic landscape.

How to See It: Take Crater Rim Drive, an 11-mile road that circles the summit of Kilauea, for panoramic views of the volcanic landscape. Since access roads often shut due to volcanic activity, though, be sure to check for closures before you visit.

Taos Pueblo, Taos, NM

Set at the base of the majestic Sangre de Cristo Mountains, this multistoried adobe compound is one of the country’s best-preserved Pueblo Indian settlements. The pueblo, which was built before 1400 and is one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the States, consists of ceremonial buildings and individual homes built from adobe—bricks made from earth mixed with straw and water—and decorated with bright turquoise doors. While visitors are welcome, approximately 150 people are lucky enough to call this UNESCO World Heritage Site and National Historic Landmark home.

How to See It: You’re welcome to wander around in the Pueblo as you like—but be respectful by only entering clearly marked shops, as most homes in the pueblo are privately occupied. (As a courtesy, you should also ask for permission before photographing Pueblo residents.)

Washington Monument, Washington, D.C.
This stately 555-foot monument, built in the bladelike shape of an Egyptian obelisk and completed in 1884, is the most prominent structure in the American capital city. Built in honor of the nation’s first president, the marble monument has served as a backdrop for some of the country’s most historic moments, including Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration. It’s at its most beautiful when mirrored in the Reflecting Pool at sunrise or sunset, and especially on the Fourth of July with evening fireworks bursting overhead.

How to See It: Though admission into the monument is free, tickets are required and long lines form to get inside every day. A better bet: enjoy the exterior of the monument from the steps of the Lincoln Monument, or from the tidal basin during the National Cherry Blossom Festival in April.

Portland Head Light, Cape Elizabeth, ME

Illuminated for the first time in 1791 by whale-oil lamps, this lighthouse is located within the beautifully landscaped grounds of Cape Elizabeth’s Fort Williams Park. Attached to a red-roofed Victorian keeper’s house, the 92-foot-tall white conical tower is often seen as a symbol of Maine’s beauty. From its location on a commanding point at the southwestern entrance to the harbor, you can take in crisp salt air as well as endless views of the ocean and rocky coastline for which the state is known.

How to See It: Fewer than 300 tickets are given out to climb the tower on Open Lighthouse Day, a September event put on by the Coast Guard, the State of Maine and the American Lighthouse Foundation. You can also enjoy the lighthouse in a more leisurely manner, by gazing up at it while picnicking in the park or visiting the museum.

5 Tax-Friendly States for Retirees 2011

Where's the best state for you to retire? Here's a good place to start your search: These five impose the lowest taxes on retirees in the contiguous U.S., according to our research. All these retiree tax heavens exempt Social Security benefits from state income taxes. Many of them exclude government and military pensions from income taxes, too, or offer blanket exclusions up to a specific dollar amount for a wide variety of retirement income.

Although relocating to an income-tax-free state such as Florida or Texas may sound appealing, sometimes the best retirement destination is a state that imposes an income tax but offers generous exemptions for retirement income.

Once you narrow your search to a few key states, zero in on local taxes. Municipalities can impose hefty property taxes or other assessments, or they may layer local sales taxes on top of statewide levies. Federal taxes? If you claim the standard deduction, they'll be the same no matter where you live. But if you itemize your deductions, you'll be able to write off real estate taxes and state income taxes, reducing your federal tax bill and easing some of the pain.

#1 Wyoming

State Income Tax: None
State Sales Tax: 4%
Estate Tax/Inheritance Tax: No/No

Thanks to the abundant revenues that Wyoming collects from oil and mineral companies, its residents have one of the lowest tax burdens in the nation, according to the Tax Foundation, a nonprofit research group in Washington, D.C. There is no state income tax. The state sales tax is 4%, and counties in the Equality State can only add up to 1% in additional levies -- a very low ceiling. Plus, prescription drugs and groceries are exempt from state sales taxes. For most property, only 9.5% of market value is subject to tax, so a home worth $100,000 is taxed on $9,500 of assessed value.

#2 Mississippi

State Income Tax: 3%-5%
State Sales Tax: 7%
Estate Tax/Inheritance Tax: No/No

Mississippi offers a sweet income-tax deal for retirees. It not only exempts Social Security benefits from state income taxes but also excludes all qualified retirement income -- including pensions, annuities, and IRA and 401(k) distributions. Remaining income is taxed at a maximum 5%. In addition, the Magnolia State is home to some of the lowest property taxes in the nation. Residential property is taxed at 10% of assessed value, and seniors qualify for a homestead exemption on the first $75,000 of value. The statewide sales tax is 7%, and counties and cities may add up to 3% to the state rate. But prescription drugs and health care services are exempt.

#3 Pennsylvania

State Income Tax: Flat rate of 3.07%
State Sales Tax: 6%
Estate Tax/Inheritance Tax: Yes/Yes

True to its Quaker roots, Pennsylvania extends a friendly hand to retirees. It offers unusually generous exclusions from state income tax on a wide variety of retirement income. Pennsylvania does not tax Social Security benefits or any type of public or private pensions. Nor does it nick distributions from 401(k)s, IRAs, deferred-compensation plans or other retirement accounts. Remaining income is taxed at a low, flat rate of 3.07%. Food, clothing and medicine are exempt from state sales taxes. Property taxes can be high in the Keystone State, especially near larger cities, but rates vary widely. One caveat for the wealthy: Your heirs won’t get off so easily. Pennsylvania is one of the few states to have both an inheritance tax, paid by the heirs, and an estate tax -- though it applies only when an estate is large enough to trigger federal estate taxes ($5 million or more).

#4 Kentucky

State Income Tax: 2%-6%
State Sales Tax: 6%
Estate Tax/Inheritance Tax: No/Yes

The home of the Kentucky Derby is a good bet for retirees. It exempts Social Security benefits from state income taxes, and it allows residents to exclude up to $41,110 per person in retirement income from a wide variety of sources, including public and private pensions and annuities. Personal income-tax rates range from 2% to 6%. A 6% sales tax is imposed at the state level only. Homeowners 65 and older qualify for a homestead provision that exempts part of the value of their property from state taxes. The Bluegrass State has an inheritance tax, but immediate family members are exempt.

#5 Alabama

State Income Tax: 2%-5%
State Sales Tax: 4%
Estate Tax/Inheritance Tax: No/No
Alabama is a tax haven for retirees. Social Security benefits, as well as military, public and private defined-benefit pensions, are excluded from state income taxes. Remaining income is taxed at the state's low rates, which range from 2% to 5%. Alabama also has some of the lowest property taxes in the U.S. Homeowners 65 and older are exempt from state property taxes, but some cities assess their own property tax. The only downside is sales taxes. Although the statewide rate is just 4%, cities and counties in the Yellowhammer State can impose their own levies, and together the taxes can add up to a whopping 10% or more in some cities. Food is taxed, but prescription drugs are not.

Visit Kiplinger for more tax-friendly states for retirees.

The Half-There House

This 6,400-square foot home is half-buried in a grassy slope in East Hampton, NY.
Photo: Adam Friedberg

When Bob Stansel and Tammy Marek were planning their new luxury home here, they didn't want to overwhelm the neighbors. So they buried half of it.

Except for its arching corrugated metal roof, the unadorned modern structure built of concrete and glass barely rises higher than the grassy slope into which it's built. More than 3,200 of the four-bedroom home's roughly 6,400 square feet are located in a lower level, making the house appear more than twice as big from the side as it does from the front.

Using subterranean construction to avoid restrictive building codes is a popular option in places like California's Napa Valley, where home owners burrow underground for more space. But the couple here said their decision wasn't driven by regulations; instead it was their own desire for a pared-down aesthetic.

"I don't think I'd want people thinking that was my dream of retirement, to build some monster," said Mr. Stansel, a 65-year-old former mortgage banker who moved into the East Hampton home with his wife this winter. "We didn't want a bunch of expensive decorations on the outside."

On the property, Japanese maple and copper beech trees sit near a planted flat-roofed garage and grass driveway whose wide-set cobblestones look like part of the landscaping. Mr. Stansel took a 1,200-pound glacial rock, which he bought for $2,000 after becoming intrigued by its Alaska history, and trucked it from storage in Portland, Ore. to use outside as a garden feature.

The owners filled the home with pieces chosen by an interior decorator.
Photo: Adam Friedberg

The interior is simple, reflecting the desires of Ms. Marek, a 52-year-old day trader and horse lover—the couple has four horses that are boarded away from home in Connecticut and Holland. "It's more like a loft," she said. The front door leads to an open plan living area with flooring made of Oregon black walnut and white Bulgarian limestone. A concrete slab marks the staircase, which is held up with a harpsichord-like row of steel cables. Arched glass walls surround the modern living room and lacquered wood kitchen, hugging the curve of the roof.

Downstairs, a sitting area and den are lit by three pairs of 9-foot tall glass French doors around a lower courtyard. Mr. Stansel's study and a general storage area, however, are in rooms without any direct light.

Architects are seeing more houses with unassuming façades that explode in size when viewed from the back, or homes split into multiple buildings so they'll look less massive, or even homes that New York architect Lee Skolnick calls "McRanchions"—1950s ranch houses given luxury makeovers. "There's a trend we're seeing—it's called 'perceived thrift,'" said Chris Rose, an architect based in Charleston, S.C. "It's kind of like the ladies going to Bergdorf's and still buying stuff, but putting it in a brown bag."

Mr. Stansel had his fill when it came to towering properties: In 2009, he and Ms. Marek bought Canterbury Castle, a 1930s landmark in Portland, Ore. with a moat, drawbridge and turret, for about $290,000. They were already living in the house next door and bought the site as an investment. The city had deemed the crumbling edifice structurally unsound, clearing the way for the couple to raze it. Some locals were opposed, but the couple considered it unsafe and an eye sore.

At the same time, Mr. Stansel and Ms. Marek were beginning construction on the Long Island house. East Hampton-based architect Maziar Behrooz had come up with a design for the land's previous owner, who was inspired by a photo of an F-16 fighter jet nosing out of an airplane hangar for the building's shape. Mr. Behrooz dubbed it the Arc House, after the curve of the galvanized aluminum roof. Mr. Stansel was drawn to the home's low-slung profile.

The couple paid $1.25 million for the property down a long road lined with tall pines, and another $2.2 million for the building, Mr. Stansel said. Nearby, in a subdivision with meadows and fields for polo matches, a home is on the market for $2.9 million.

The couple moved to New York because they thought it would make it easier to travel to Europe in their retirement, though they are considering spending the winters in Portland if they don't find a buyer for their property there.

Outside their Long Island home, a memento from their Portland past is now set into the ground. Two heavy stones serve as steps to a soon-to-be-built Zen garden—pieces of the castle they once owned.

words largest bridge

1. A sign that reads: "Shandong Highway Corp. invests to operate Shandong Highway Jiaozhou Bay Bridge" is seen at Qingdao Jiaozhou Bay Bridge in Qingdao, Shandong province June 27, 2011. The world's longest sea bridge spanning Jiaozhou Bay of Qingdao City, Shandong Province, opened on Thursday, June 30, 2011. The bridge is 42 km (26 miles) long, Xinhua News Agency reported. Picture taken June 27, 2011. REUTERS/China Daily (CHINA - Tags: SOCIETY) CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA less
2. A band plays during the opening ceremony of the Qingdao Jiaozhou Bay Bridge in Qingdao, Shandong province June 30, 2011. The world's longest sea bridge spanning Jiaozhou Bay of Qingdao City, Shandong Province, opened on Thursday. The bridge is 42 km (26 miles) long, Xinhua News Agency reported. REUTERS/China Daily (CHINA - Tags: SOCIETY) CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA
3. Qingdao Jiaozhou Bay Bridge is seen in Qingdao, Shandong province, in this general view taken June 27, 2011. The world's longest sea bridge spanning Jiaozhou Bay of Qingdao City, Shandong Province, opened on Thursday, June 30. The bridge is 42 km (26 miles) long, Xinhua News Agency reported. Picture taken on June 27, 2011. REUTERS/China Daily (CHINA - Tags: SOCIETY IMAGES OF THE DAY) CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA less
4. This photo taken Tuesday, June 21, 2011 released by China's Xinhua news agency shows the Jiaozhou Bay Bridge in Qingdao, east China's Shandong Province. China opened Thursday, June 30, 2011, the world's longest cross-sea bridge, which is 42 kilometers (26 miles) long and links China's eastern port city of Qingdao to an offshore island, Huangdao. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Yan Runbo) NO SALES