GoNOMAD Travels 2011:
In April of 2011, I watched the sun rise twice in one day as I flew over the North Pole. The plane made a quick fuel stop in Alaska and, then, it was onward to Taipei, Taiwan where I hiked Keelung Mountain. I immersed myself into (almost) everything Asian. I ate ‘stinky tofu’ from a street vendor, sipped some ‘fishball soup’, but said “No!” to grilled chicken butts on a stick. I learned the art of ‘tea seeping’ in the beautiful northern mountain region of Jiufen.
From Taipei, I made my way to Bangkok, Thailand where I celebrated the vernal equinox at the Songkran Festival where the theme is water. It was wet and wild! After navigating unique long tail boats on the Chao Phraya River and attending the largest Asian market in Bangkok, I enjoyed an evening of Thai Boxing and ‘Lady Boy’ bars in Chiang Mai province. In the mountains of northern Chiang Mai, I trekked through the northern Thai rainforest and visited the Lisu Hill Tribe nestled in the mountains. I visited ancient temples, including my favorite, the Doi Suthep Temple in the northern mountains.
On Lake Ontario, I took some day trips to the north, including Alexandria Bay in the Thousand Islands where I explored the renovated and majestic Boldt Castle on Heart Island. I also visited the picturesque and historic Sackett’s Harbor. Traveling south from the lake, I enjoyed Mirbeau Spa in Skaneateles and did some wine tasting in the Finger Lakes.
I traveled to Norfolk, Virginia in October and took part in the 24th annual Town Point Park Wine Festival. Along the Cannonball Trail, I rode a Segway on Norfolk’s downtown cobblestone streets and kayaked on the Elizabeth River. And, I experienced terrific museums. At the Chrysler Museum of the Arts new glass studio, I learned glass blowing and I toured the Navy Museum featuring the battleship, USS Wisconsin.
As 2011 comes to a close, I’m thankful to have traveled to new and exciting places and to have made new friends around the world. As I reflect back, every year gets better.
Then I returned to Spain for the Las Fallas festival in Valencia. Over 350 “fallas” large paper mache sculptures are built throughout the city along political and whimsical themes that are all burned on the last night in one of the largest fireworks displays outside of China.
Next I found myself in Norway just after the horrible massacre that shocked the country and the world. Norway is a jaw dropping spectacularly beautiful country but it was the resolve of the people not to let this tragedy change their peaceful ways that impressed me the most. We met many chefs including Oslo chefs with seafood in their blood.
My next trip was to Austria and a tour of the wine country in Burgenland and found Austria is more than strudel and mountains. The wine culture of Burgenland is a window into a pace of life that we all could take a lesson from.
Finally I traveled back to Spain for a tour of historic Paradores along the route of Don Quixote the man from La Mancha. Written in the 1600’s by Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote is considered one of the greatest books ever written. The beautiful thing is that although it is a work of fiction, it is a story about travel and adventure and the places where the book was set were real and are still there for you to experience.
Special thanks to all of the people who opened their homes to me, let me take a peek into their lives and tell a small part of their stories. And to my readers who I hope got to experience a sense of my delight in telling these stories and went out to create a some of their own.
Videographer and Travel Writer Sonja Stark
January began with a trip to Miami, Florida for the annual NAPTE Television Conference & Exhibition. Because I brought along a friend with a broken leg I decided to write an article called "Miami on Wheels" that focused on the difficulties of traveling with a physical disability. Hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues that are handicap-accessible took on a whole new appreciation while wheeling my friend around South Beach. l
In February, I enjoyed a weekend of winter activities in Lake Placid, NY with my Mom and nature expert, Elizabeth Lee. Ms. Lee took us on hikes through the Adirondack Mountains identifying the trails of local inhabits like raccoon, otter and even moose. We were pampered as overnight guests at the historic Mirror Lake Inn and Spa and donned cleats for a tour through the frozen beauty of High Falls Gorge. My blog entry "Before it Melts" includes four videos that highlight the adventure.
After a quick trip to Tampa in March, I boarded a flight to Israel to videotape a documentary with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia. I tagged along with 100 pilgrims through the holy sites of Jaffa, Haifa, Cana, Tabor, Beattitude, Nazareth and Jerusalem for two weeks. Traveling the 'cradle of civilization', with it's countless invasions, sieges and wars, was unlike anything I've ever experienced. Jews, Arabs, Christians and a litany of smaller sects compete to carry forward their message of faith and survival. It was a dizzying adventure highlighting 2000 years of history captured for a future series on EWTN-TV.
Israel wiped me out and I took all of April to recover. But, by May I was up and running through France's Burgundy Champs-Elysées region. In the city of Reims, I celebrated the 800-year old anniversary of the Notre-Dame Cathedral with friends Pierre and Daniella Fresne of the Champagne dynasty. In Dijon, I balanced myself on a Segway from the House of Maille past timber houses to Liberation Square.
September offered an unexpected trip to Northern Germany. Having visited family in the South since birth, I always dreamed of seeing the North, particularly Hamburg and Berlin. From Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum to the Berlin Wall East Side Gallery to the Jewish Memorial and Topography of Terror, the horrific imagery of WWII is juxtaposed against playful punk venues like the Ramones Museum, nhow hotel and Kater Holzig restaurant. The maritime city of Hafen City on the Elbe surprised me with it's striking new architecture recast from old warehouses and crumbling piers.
In October, PilotGirl took to the Island of Bonaire in the Lesser Antilles, 60-miles north of Venezuela, to cast lines for the elusive bonefish, SCUBA dive the reef and interview a woman credited with saving hundreds of docile donkeys from animal cruelty. It was all part of a series that my producer-friend Sylvia has me continually shooting with Bill Marquez and his 'Stroll around the World.'
Nantucket in November was lovely and early December in Albuquerque was triumphant! I hopped a lift on the longest tram in the world to the top of Sandia Peak, learned how to make tamales at El Pinto, trekked past the petroglyphs at National Monument and was enchanted by the lighting of thousands of luminaria in Old Town.
As exhausting as it sounds (and it is), the ability to do what I do and travel where I travel is the most precious opportunity in the world. Indeed, I couldn't be more grateful.
As I get ready to bid adieu to 2011, I realize what a great year it has been. My husband and I became parents to a beautiful baby boy in October. So we concentrated on day trips in our neck of the woods.
My photographer husband and I did a tour of Washington Irving’s ivy-covered mid-19th century home, Sunnyside, and the adjoining Lyndhurst estate in Tarrytown NY. Remember Johnny Depp in The Legend of the Sleepy Hollow? Well, the credit for the story goes to Irving, and along with the all time children’s classic Rip Van Winkle, is among the earliest examples of American fiction.
Another architectural must-see along the Hudson is Olana, the house of Frederic Edwin Church, its Persian colors and patterns making a statement in the midst of the staid colonial homes of the valley. Church was a student of Thomas Cole, who is regarded as the founder of the Hudson River School, the first truly American style of landscape painting.
While in the vicinity, we explored the quietly posh town of Rhinebeck, the chosen venue for Chelsea Clinton’s wedding last year and stopped by for skizza at Gigi Trattoria whose owner and chef Laura Pensiero was one of the caterers for the grand affair.
As for Portland, four of the lights stood out as the very best – Cape Neddick Lighthouse in York, Marshall Point Lighthouse in Port Clyde, Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth and the Pemaquid Point Light in Bristol. Of course, a trip to Maine is not complete without a few scoops from the local ice-creams shops and super-long queues leading to some of the best lobster shacks in America.
Read GoNOMAD's Where We Went from 2010
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