Fascinating Destinations: Where we went in 2017

GoNOMAD's Top Travel Writers: from top left: Max Hartshorne, Paul Shoul, Sonja Stark, Stephen Hartshorne, Cathie Arquilla, Andy Castillo, Christopher Ludgate, Donnie Sexton.
GoNOMAD’s Top Travel Writers: from top left: Max Hartshorne, Paul Shoul, Sonja Stark, Stephen Hartshorne, Cathie Arquilla, Andy Castillo, Christopher Ludgate, Donnie Sexton.

Once again we revisit where we all went during our busy year of traveling the world. Here is our recap of all the travel from 2017 by GoNOMAD’s most prolific writers and editors who shared their journeys on GoNOMAD and continue to travel and write for us.

Editor Max Hartshorne

I started the year in Antigua and Barbuda, in the warm Caribbean. The island is famous for its beaches, and indeed, they are magnificent. A cruise in a catamaran at sunset was the highlight of this trip.

Riding horses on Fort Beach in Antigua-Barbuda. Max Hartshorne photos.
Riding horses on Fort Beach in Antigua-Barbuda. Max Hartshorne photos.

Then in March, I joined my friend writer Bruce Northam and headed to Denver, where we got to ride the Ski Train, from the revitalized Union Station to Winter Park, and back.

Denver is an exciting city, with more live music than even Austin. It’s really become a beacon for many people who are moving there. I truly enjoyed the historic city’s museums and the way they combine old and new, Larimer Square and Union Station.

Sculpture along Route 132, the main road the circles the Gaspe Peninsula. Mary Gilman photo.
Sculpture along Route 132, the main road that circles the Gaspe Peninsula. Mary Gilman photo.

In April I spent a week in England’s second city, exciting Manchester, and a highlight was walking expedition in the Peak District. Manchester is full of exciting people and museums and staying at the wonderful Principal Hotel for six nights was a treat.

Gaspe Peninsula

Our summer trip again was to Canada, this time Mary and I explored the Gaspe Peninsula, above Prince Edward Island, and enjoyed close encounters with moose and whales, and the cavalcade of seafood you’d expect upon that coast.

Paul Shoul and I had another trip up our sleeve when we traveled together to Pico Island, Azores to explore the impressive volcanic vineyards and the former whaling villages of this beautiful island. Then we enjoyed a Portuguese road trip, driving from Lisbon south to the wonderful Algarve. Portugal remains the best bargain in Western Europe and did not disappoint us.

Jason Deasy of Apex Falconry with a hunting owl at Westport House.
Jason Deasy of Apex Falconry with a hunting owl at Westport House. Max Hartshorne photo.

In October I joined my TBEX tribe for a speaking engagement and a road trip up the Wild Atlantic Way, full of friendly Irish people and stunning cliffs and barren expanses. Ireland deserves its spectacular reputation as a traveler’s paradise.

My final trip in 2017 took me to London for World Travel Market and to two other places, Devon and Bristol. Bristol is exciting and full of history, I thoroughly recommend this city on the Avon River in Southwest England.

Carnival on Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain.

Paul Shoul, Staff Photographer

My first trip was to the Spanish Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco to attend the world’s 2nd largest carnival celebration on the island of Tenerife. Aside from the official processions of people dressed in Carnival costumes, it was the parties at night that blew my mind.

Over 200,000 people packed the streets of Tenerife dancing and drinking until early the next morning.

Tenerife is a volcanic island with some of the world’s unique landscapes. Many movies were filmed there including star wars and the clash of titans. Even DR. Who landed on Tenerife.

My next trip was to Extremadura, a region of Spain that borders Portugal. I love Spain, and this is my new favorite spot. From here come two of Spain’s iconic culinary foundations. Jamon Iberico, and Pimenton de la Vera, (smoked paprika). Black Iberico pigs roam free range in the dry Dehesa landscape feeding on acorns during the last four months of their lives to produce the best ham in the world, Jamon Iberico Bellota.

The nutty taste is buttery, and the fat is good for you just like olive oil. Guilt-free ham.

In the Jerte valley in the town of La Vera, red peppers are dried over oak fires for two weeks to produce the smokey goodness that is Pimenton de la Vera. The taste is unique and unmistakable.

Add to the list of the wonders of Extremadura some of the most well preserved Roman ruins in the world, and the historic hometowns of the conquistadors and you have a place that will satisfy all of your travel urges.

Iberian pigs in the Dehesa
Iberian pigs in the Dehesa, Spain.

Portugal’s Algarve

Fishing for small ones in the Algarve, Portugal.
Fishing for small ones in the Algarve, Portugal. Paul Shoul photo.

Next up was a trip to Portugal with my travel partner Max Hartshorne.

This was our second journey to Portugal but our first time to The Azores Islands where we spent a day on Pico Island before heading to Lisbon and the Algarve coast.

We journeyed down under the volcano into lava tubes and drank wine in the world heritage designated vineyards that are grown in small corals of volcanic rocks to protect them from the wind and salt from the ocean.

Arriving in Lisbon, we found a booming city. Portugal has become a popular tourist destination. Lisbon is growing fast but still retains its historic charm.

The Algarve coast with its stunning beaches and cool historic towns like Faro was a feast for the eyes, and we went a fantastic culinary adventure with “Eating Algarve Food Tours” to sample the best this region has to offer.

My final trip was back to the town of Inverness on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, for thanksgiving Canada style. This dinner that has been going on for 29 years with a group of 60 friends, hosted by my Lobsterman buddies. The food was spectacular: 8 ducks, two 21 pound turkeys, 40 pies, smoked fish, all the sides you can imagine, a seafood chowder packed with lobster, and over 45 pies and desserts. If I am lucky enough, I’ll be there again in 2018!\

Donnie Sexton, Travel Writer and Photographer

Mammoth Hot Springs Yellowstone National Park. Donnie Sexton photo.
Mammoth Hot Springs Yellowstone National Park. Donnie Sexton photo

The New York Travel Show was calling my name in January, so I made a quick trip out to the Big Apple to check things out and met up with the amazing Max Hartshorne! As always, my friend is full of wisdom and advice freely given.

February was a time to pull out the winter gear and explore in my own backyard of Montana, including both Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks.

Strapping on a pair of snowshoes proved to be an invigorating way to get off the beaten path and take in the splendor of these national treasures. Dogsledding added to the winter fun.

I felt Venice calling me back in February, so I planned a trip where the dates overlapped with the world-renowned Carnival of Venice.

A costumed reveler in Venice.
A costumed reveler in Venice.

Not only were there an overwhelming number of costumed revelers, but they practically begged to be photographed, which is nothing short of a photographer’s dream come true!

Adding to this journey was a deep dive into the glassmaking culture on the nearby island of Murano.


In April, I helped lead a Mentor Series photo trek that covered five parks in Utah. Bryce was stunning, but it was the long, strenuous hike to the classic Arch in Arches National Park in sketchy weather that left an impression.

Just as we rounded the bend to see this landmark, the sun rewarded our efforts by lighting up the Arch for all of three minutes before ducking back behind the stormy clouds.

These somber faced goose-stepping guards change every hour at the Kremlin.
These somber-faced goose-stepping guards change every hour at the Kremlin.

I was fortunate to join a May trip to El Paso. The locals rolled out the red carpet to showcase the best of this Texas city, including a visit to the famous Lucchese Boot Factory

A June trip around the newly opened Frank Lloyd Trail in Wisconsin was educational, not only from the perspective of touring several of his creations, but hearing the backstory behind this fascinating icon.

Also in June, I co-lead another Mentor Series photo trek, this time to Russia and Estonia. While I can’t say I would go back, it was amazing to see the wealth of architectural gems that beautify the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg.

An invite to cover Cheyenne Frontier Days in July, the world’s largest outdoor rodeo, found me digging through my closet for something Western to wear. I had

Pasta with a truffle sauce complemented with shaved truffles that have been freshly harvested, is a delicacy worth traveling to Umbria to partake in.
Pasta with a truffle sauce complemented with shaved truffles that have been freshly harvested, is a delicacy worth traveling to Umbria to partake in. Donnie Sexton photo.

the pleasure of sharing the photography pit with none other than Ronnie Dunn, of Brooks and Dunn, who has a passion for rodeo photography. In a weak moment, I asked Ronnie if I could have my picture taken with him, something I’ve never ever done with anyone famous. Oh well, you only live once!

Eating Umbria

Thanks to Max, I was fortunate to travel to Umbria , Italy on a press trip in early October. I should have brought my expand-o-matic pants for that trip, as we spent hours eating and drinking all the outstanding food and wine of this region.

A week after I returned, I headed back to Europe to co-lead the last of the Mentor Series photo treks. (The treks were part of Popular Photography Magazine which folded early in 2017). This time, we roamed around southern France, Switzerland, and Italy, before ending up in Milan. Capturing the Matterhorn at sunrise was a definite highlight.

Looking ahead at 2018, a trip to Morocco in January and a photo excursion to Peru are booked. Hopefully, many serendipitous excursions will fall into my lap.

Stephen Hartshorne

A horse-drawn carriage in the Old Town in Krakow
A horse-drawn carriage in the Old Town in Krakow

Stephen took the LOT Polish Airlines Dreamliner to Warsaw in June for a week-long trip to Poland, where he toured Warsaw and Krakow, visited the 1,000-foot deep Wieliczka Salt Mine, and went rafting through the Dunajec River Gorge on the border with Slovakia.

In July he went to Georgia to report on the state’s burgeoning movie industry, with two of the three largest movie studios in the world under construction there.

He visited filming locations for the Walking Dead, the Hunger Games, the Avengers, Forrest Gump, and many other movies and television shows, took a golf-cart tour of Peachtree City, and stayed at Ashley Wilkes’ mansion, Twelve Oaks.

Twelve Oaks was the model for the Wilkes mansion in Gone With the Wind. Owner Nicole Greer rescued the building and made it into a b&b.
Twelve Oaks was the model for the Wilkes mansion in Gone With the Wind. Owner Nicole Greer rescued the building and made it into a b&b.

Sonja Stark

As I look back on my travels in 2017, I’ve come to mark the occasion with insight, clarity, and growth. Having entered the year jilted by the results of the 2016 presidential election, I was in no mood to venture beyond a “blue state” but I did.

Despite my hesitation, my first trip of the year was to Florida’s to Hillsborough County to enjoy some hillbilly fun aboard Wild Bill’s Airboat Tours.

“Clocking in at 100-mph, we weaved in and around swamp hummocks, fallen branches, hollow trunks and floating bromeliads, debris that littered the pristine Withlacoochee River.

Everyone gripped their ear protection but my sunglasses still went flying off. The airboat came to an abrupt stop at freshwater springs isolated by tall ancient Bald Cypress. If only the water was a few degrees warmer, we would have all jumped into the crystal clear lagoon.”

By April, I was on assignment in hipster Houston as an assistant videographer for a new travel series with Samantha Brown. My heart lifted as we interviewed dozens of hopeful residents living in Harris County , one of the most racially and ethnically diverse in the country. I was elated by the vibrant art scene and festive food choices of Market Square. Vacant buildings burst in color thanks to the efforts of street artist Gonzo while celebrity chef Hugo Ortega redefined Mexican cuisine at Xochi.

The author of this story survives several wipe-outs before retiring to the beach. Photo by Billy Scott.
The author of this story survives several wipe-outs in Northern Ireland before retiring to the beach. Photo by Billy Scott.

In May, my boyfriend and I escaped to Puerto Rico for a day of diving and another of hiking the El Negro rainforest. What a wondrous island to explore! We plunged into swimming holes, rappelled waterfalls and zip lined over valleys thanks to ACAMPA, a tour company with the friendliest guides. We stayed in the world-famous oceanside resort Caribe Hilton in San Juan overlooking a private beach, bird sanctuary, and too many iguanas to count.

Come June, politics was a distant memory as adrenaline rushes like base jumping in Idaho and shredding the shorelines of Portrush took center stage. Idaho’s Snake River canyon was first made famous in ‘74 with a stunt folly by Evel Knievel. Today, the heroics belong to professionals like Sean Chuma and Eric Dobbins.

They safely tandem jump with other extreme sports junkies with the full support of the Twin Falls community. Full disclosure: yours truly did not partake in the experience. I stayed safe on the sidelines shooting this short video .

On the other hand, I did surf the Coastal Causeway in Northern Ireland. I was stoked to check this off my bucket list along with catching a morning breakfast from the side of a fishing boat and challenging my inner-Tarzan at an obstacle course called Jungle NI.

“The “pop-up” technique proved harder than it looked. The footing didn’t come naturally. A squatting stance was the best I could hope for before my noodle arms went akimbo and my tail feather kissed the sea. Wipeout! Others found their “sweet spot” on the surfboard and did great. I resigned to sit in the sand and cheer on my mates instead.”

Getting dirty & clean in the rainforests of Puerto Rico
Getting dirty & clean in the rainforests of Puerto Rico. Sonja Stark photos.

For Labor Day, my beau and I biked from his hunting camp on Lake Ontario to Kingston, Canada, an annual trek that includes two ferry boat rides and one large bucket of greasy poutine. Due to the high tides, the St. Lawrence River washed away a private beach we discovered the year before on Wolfe Island.

One of my last trips of the year turned controversial with a return trip to Vancouver, British Columbia in early December. For the past 2 years, thanks to a determined producer, we’ve documented the lives of one precocious prepubescent and one fearless teenager as they cope with what it’s like to grow up transgender.

The subject is especially relevant (and urgent) given the continued rollbacks of protections for LGBTQ communities in the U.S. Fortunately for Canadians, Vancouver is leading the way with support groups, consultations, services, and medical interventions.

In conclusion, travel far and travel often regardless of political rhetoric. Be brave in 2018!

Cathie Arquilla

Paulette Goddard, one of Chaplin's leading ladies, recreated here for her role in the movie "Modern Times"
Paulette Goddard, one of Chaplin’s leading ladies, recreated here for her role in the movie “Modern Times”

Returning from Vevey, Switzerland in February on SWISS to experience their new business class regional dining experience was a sweet way to go. Executive Chef, Grand Hotel du Lac, Thomas Neeser created a menu inspired by the Lake Geneva Region.

This was my second time to the Lake Geneva, and it only gets better with each visit–the lake, the mountains, the villages, the views! I focused on some indoor pursuits, for this website – museums and wine! Read my story Switzerland: Chaplin’s World and The Nest.

Mother’s Day we celebrated my Mom’s 90th year in Yosemite. Yes, you can enjoy this national treasure without being super fit or outdoorsy. They do a terrific job of people moving in busses and flatbed trams. This year was exceptionally grand as the mountains had record-breaking snowfall. As a result, Yosemite Falls was peeking in sound, color, and awesomeness!

Ogi Port's Taraibune Tub Boats on Sado Island (An excursion for a better weather day!) Instructor wears traditional dress. Pawel Sewera photo.
Ogi Port’s Taraibune Tub Boats on Sado Island (An excursion for a better weather day!) Instructor wears traditional dress.
Pawel Sewera photo.

Momijigari is the Japanese word for the viewing of fall leaves. In October, I was in central Japan for momigigari, exploring some lesser known towns and cities as well as visiting the island of Sado. It was a BIG trip that introduced me to Japanese culture, thoughts, and attitudes.

Humbled by the grace and hospitality of my hosts, I vowed to let their nature rub off on me and take it home! Now, this is what traveling is all about! Read about what to do in Japan’s second cities here.

Early this month I was hosted to a long weekend at Serenity Coconut Bay Resort in St. Lucia. Me and Travelgirl editor Stephanie Oswald turned it into a girlfriend’s getaway trip. What’s better than researching St. Lucia with your BFFL!? One takeaway, we’ve got to learn how to kite surf!

Happy New Year GoNOMAD readers. Thanks for allowing us to share.

Christopher Ludgate

Giants Causeway2
The Giant’s Causeway is so-named due to an ancient legend but its formation actually began some 60 million years ago during volcanic activity.

Riding the wave of coastal wanderlust this past year routed me to many adventures in 2017 with highlights such as an unexpected nautical adventure in Northern Ireland beginning in Belfast with a day of biking through the Cathedral District, known for its classic Irish pubs, mews, and street art – with many a tribute to Northern Ireland’s natives like C. S. Lewis, Van Morrison, Oscar Wilde.

We then canoed the Lagan River taking in the architecture and serenity, and then followed it by a night of barhopping and doing a jig at Fibber Magees and The Crown. Road-tripping all along the shore from sunrise boat rides to evening blokarting in Portrush to braving super high-speeds in the waters of Strangford Lough.

The rush was unforgettable! The mellow, but the enthralling experience of foraging and horseback riding on the beach at fairytale Giant’s Causeway was a magical thing of beauty unrivaled by anywhere I have ever been. And the castles… well, I could go on and on about this part of the world and its people.

The musical port city of Hamburg, Germany for the first time to check out the brand new concert hall, the Elbphilharmonie which rises out of the water above the repurposed warehouses on the canals of

The Village People's Felipe Rose hanging out with the author at Anchor's Bend.
The Village People’s Felipe Rose hanging out with the author at Anchor’s Bend in Asbury Park NJ.

the Elbe River. It is a symbol of a new wave of musical collaboration, education, and nurturing in this perennial musical hub of Europe which was once home to Brahms, Mendelssohn, Mahler, Telemann, and at one point before they made it big – The Beatles!

Extreme Kayaking in the Bahamas

Another highlight included the eco-adventure and Extreme Kayak Fishing tournament at Grand Bahama Island. Aside from the kids and resorts at the mainstream parts of the Bahamas, a rich history of culture and nature provides the substance and a better understanding of the islands.

From driving through the smoldering forests to the nesting of wildlife along our kayaks in the mangroves, nature has a fascinating cycle here among these hypnotic turquoise waters.

This Bahamas visit was not at all about lazing on the beach sipping cocktails, although The Pelican Bay Resort and its fabulous restaurant definitely played a role in lying back after some extreme sports. The thrilling experience following the extreme kayakers 2 miles into eight-foot swells in the Atlantic Ocean at sunrise was a completely spontaneous rush, and later hopping those big waves on a wave runner – sheer exhilaration wild and free – just what the doctor ordered!

Playing Brahm's own piano is a thrill.
Playing Brahm’s own piano is a thrill.

Back at home, the buzz about the Asbury Park, New Jersey’s booming music scene had me intrigued and inspired, especially as a nearby New Yorker. Another destination with layered history and musical haunts stretching across the decades, I found this little beach town that nurtured too many legends to list here thanks to venues along the Asbury Park Boardwalk , such as Convention Hall and The Stone Pony a la Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

Becoming a foodie haven, live rock and roll nightlife landmark, very gay-inclusive, art, family, and green-community loving town makes for a thriving beach getaway with development, but also restoration and preservation of its grandness at the forefront.

Andy Castillo

My travels in 2017 began early in the year on Tenerife, a rugged and volcanic island in Spain’s Canaries. In retrospect, my week there seems like a whirlwind – a full throttle adventure spent mostly in the wild trekking over jagged rocks and along cliffs hundreds of feet above the blue ocean.

Most of all, I remember the little black lizards that perpetually stayed just far enough away so as not to get trampled on. They were curious creatures, creeping up when no one was looking and then freezing when someone was. The food there is fantastic, a combination of Spanish cuisine with a strong influence from Latin America, and traditional seafood indigenous to the island. And it would behoove me not to mention Tenerife’s fruit trees – of which there are so very many.

Along the island’s northern coast banana trees fill every unused acre, crowding into terraced farmland. I found Tenerife to be a beautiful place, which deserves investigation by any traveler who appreciates the outdoors.

Dingle, Ireland

Hiking on the northeastern end of Tenerife.
Hiking on the northeastern end of Tenerife.

Following Spain, I spent a week in Dingle, Ireland, which I now list among the most beautiful places in the world. The landscape there is absolutely breathtaking, especially along Slea Head Drive, a narrow road that hugs the Dingle Peninsula coast. I was there for a writer’s workshop in a former nunnery and found the region to be incredibly stimulating artistically.

The author, Andy Castillo, taking pictures on the coast of the Dingle Peninsula. Image by Andres Dario Moral Neumane.
The author, Andy Castillo, taking pictures on the coast of the Dingle Peninsula. Image by Andres Dario Moral Neumane.

Outside the city I discovered a world covered in green, enhanced by golden sunlight and white grazing sheep, offset by red wildflowers the peek up from grassy meadows. Castles seem to be everywhere. A few times I literally chanced upon one.

The city Dingle is a thriving hotspot that boasts a plethora of authentic bars. Although it’s touristy, there’s deep history rooted in the landscape. It’s just a little bit hard to find it. For example, a five-minute walk from downtown, up a long hill, is a famine graveyard where people who died in ‘the great hunger’ were buried.

Central Japan

Comparing Japanese culture to western society is apples to oranges. There’s no basis for comparison. It’s different at a structural level.

I discovered this late in the year during a weeklong stay close to Nagoya, Japan. I visited many shrines, temples, castles, historic houses, palaces, and museums, experiencing the nation’s spiritual roots. It’s an ancient nation that, through strict rituals, has preserved its culture well.

Nagoya castle in central Japan. Andrew Castillo photo.
Nagoya castle in central Japan. Andrew Castillo photo.

There are so many old buildings and trees that I began to think 500 years wasn’t that long. The central region is beautiful. When I was there in late November the hills were red with Japanese Maple Trees in full glory. And the seafood cuisine is, of course, among the best in the world.

The Northeastern United States

Within the United States, I spent a considerable amount of time exploring the east coast. Specifically, I camped on Cape Ann and in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. There, I hiked the Franconia Ridge Trail, a difficult climb along a ridge connecting a few large mountains. That hike was among the highlights of my year. It was really quite enjoyable.

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