Where We Went in 2019

Where We Went in 2019 1

Here are the Places that GoNOMAD’s Most Prolific Travel Writers went in 2019

Editor Max Hartshorne

Skiing in Turkey, on Mt Erciyes.
Skiing in Turkey, on Mt Erciyes.

I began this year in Turkey, skiing at the Mt Erciyes resort near the city of Kayseri, in the center of the country. It was my first trip to this huge nation and a place I was very welcomed and was glad to visit.

The stunning sites in Cappadoccia, Istanbul’s palaces, and the skiing–no trees! It was all fascinating and one of many top trips of the year.

Each part of Turkey was welcoming and delicious, with side orders of palaces and art galleries galore.

Anna Meteyer celebrates the good life in her vineyards in Aisne, France.
Anna Meteyer celebrates the good life in her vineyards in Aisne, France.

Then I began a long trip through Italy, starting in Lazio. We toured vineyards and agriturismo lodges by bike, and hiked up a tall mountain in Circeo National Park, overlooking the hooked shape of the bay.

The next stop was a train trip north, and I departed the train at Bolzano and taxied up the steep mountain road to the little village of Ortisei in Sud Tyrol.

I stayed at the sleek and elegant Adler Dolomite, and I quickly learned it was a bathrobe wearing hotel, which was fine with me.   A highlight was electric mountain biking down the mountain after taking the tram to the top.

My next trip was to France where we visited three of the Top Cities of France, Reims, Versailles, and Lille. I later ventured up farther north by train to Aisne, where much of World War One was fought. I visited the foxholes and saw the caves, battlefields, and small villages where the war took place.

Granddaughter Sofie loved our shopping trip in Costa Mesa.
Granddaughter Sofie loved our shopping trip in Costa Mesa.

Summer travel included glamping in Southern Maine at the retro Sandy Pines Campground in Kennebunkport,  and taking my two grandchildren to California, first to Newport Beach, then to Costa Mesa for shopping and football training camp!

Newfoundland and Labrador finished up the summer, on a trip with Mary to the always-memorable Maritime Provinces of Canada. Never have I been disappointed in a trip up to this far eastern part of the continent.

In October I visited Saxony, Germany, hitting Dresden, Leipzig, and Gorlitz for an Architecture trip, and was very impressed with the wonders of the eastern side of the country. It was remarkable in many ways, mostly the dramatic rebuilding that’s taken place over the decades since WW II.

Right after this trip, I visited Hainan and Hunan Province China for a tradeshow and a tour of this island at the bottom of China. More on this to come.  I finished the year of travel with a trip to Little Rock Arkansas, which I can heartily endorse as one of the funnest towns in the U.S.!

Ferrocarril de Sol
Ferrocarril de Sol, the little train in Mallorca.

Paul Shoul, Travel Writer and Photographer

Is it the end of 2019? That was fast.  My first trip of the year was to the Spanish island of Mallorca in the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean.  It is crazy beautiful.

The beaches are endless, the food is fantastic, but as always it is the people that keep me coming back to Spain. They know how to live and eat for hours. Hot air ballooning, olive groves, wine, majestic cliffs Mallorca has a lot to offer.

Istanbul, Turkey

Next up was Istanbul, Turkey, one of the world’s great cities. Situated strategically at the crossroads of Asia and Europe, it’s been a central point of trade and travel for over 3,000 years.  After a cruise on the famous Bosphorus River, I checked out the Grand Bazaar, the world’s oldest and largest indoor “mall” with over 4,000 shops built in the 15th century.

Bosphorus bridge in Istanbul. Paul Shoul photos.
Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul. Paul Shoul photos.

But my favorite memory is the Kebabs at restaurant Ali OcaKbasi. Smokey, savory, and fabulous.

Then came a trip to Salzburg, Austria. The home of Mozart and the setting for the legendary “Sound of Music” movie.  The Salzburg region is a natural alpine wonderland with towering mountains and crystal clear lakes surrounded by quaint little towns.

Cutting a ham in Segovia, Spain. Paul Shoul photos.
Cutting a ham in Segovia, Spain. Paul Shoul photos.

Salzburg city is possibly the most comfortable place I have ever been to. Great shopping, cool restaurants, the symphony, and, most importantly, the best hot dog carts anywhere.

Back in Spain, I took a trip to the Castilla Leon region, about an hour and a half from Madrid toward the border with Portugal.

Over 400 castles and towering cathedrals stand in testament to its long history. With some of the best cured meats and wines on the planet, the bars still offer free tapas with every drink. Lively and fun, there’s is nothing better than tapas for dinner.

On to Little Rock

My final trip of the year was back in America to Little Rock Arkansas, the home of the Clinton Presidential Library. This town is booming with an astounding number of new restaurants and classic old barbecue and catfish fry places.

The music and bar scene is hopping. Southern hospitality is real, and I am planning to go back.  I’m looking forward to 2020.

Tab Hauser, Travel Writer and Photographer

Traditionally dressed Asmat walks to his canoe. Tab Hauser photos
Traditionally dressed Asmat walks to his canoe in Indonesia. Tab Hauser photos

When it came to 2019’s travel plans, things got a little carried away.   What started as a trip to one place, expanded into four different destinations this year.

The original idea was to hop aboard a Silversea expedition ship in March and cruise to remote places scattered across the Indonesian islands.  This included swimming in the pristine “coral triangle” having more diverse fish per reef than anywhere else.

Then there was meeting the last of the headhunters and a visit to the islands where the Dutch monopolized the worldwide nutmeg trade because it was worth more than gold.

With Bali being the debarkation of the above cruise it seemed silly not to see what this island offered.  My story Bali Four Waysteaches people how “the island of the Gods” is not overplayed if you plan it right for two weeks.

Here we visited waterfalls, peaceful temples, hot springs, incredible infinity pools, took a cooking class, did a couple of dives while eating some really good inexpensive food and getting the occasional full Balinese massage for $20!

Infinity pool overlooking jungle in Bali
Infinity pool overlooking jungle in Bali

To get to Bali we flew on the world’s longest direct flight going from Newark into Singapore and transfer there.  With Singapore Airlines allowing a free stop we decided to linger for five days and making it our first destination.

Singapore is a modern, lively, tasty, vibrant, safe and clean city with a bit of “wow” power. It has the highest rooftop bar, closest botanical gardens to the equator, the world’s highest infinity pool, largest domed gardens, highest indoor waterfalls–and more.

A wallaby off the trail
A wallaby off the trail

As our expedition cruise mentioned above ended in Australia it made sense to stay down under because it is a long way from home to come back.

We took the perfect nine-day road trip called South Australian Road Trip.

We finished up by driving the last few days on one of the prettiest coastal roads in the world.

Finally, our cruising continued with a beach-hopping experience on several islands for a small ship  Caribbean Cruising experience.

Kurt Jacobson, Travel Writer

Lava in Hana, Maui Hawaii. Kurt Jacobson photos.
Lava in Hana, Maui Hawaii. Kurt Jacobson photos.

January and February 2019 got off to a great start with four amazing trips. Starting in Aspen Snow mass, my wife and I skied, ate, and drank our way to a higher altitude. My young ski guide, Zanthe Demas, asked me, “Where do you want to go.”

I blurted out, “Longshot” forgetting that there is a bit of a hike at over 11,000 feet before skiing a 3.5 mile-long bump-run! It felt good to survive such punishment to my knees, and we followed that with a 55 mph cruiser.

A trip to New York City followed for some big-city fun and a bit of business at the International Media Marketplace. Catching the show My Fair Lady at the Lincoln Center and dinner at Boulud Sud made for a fun night on the town.

In February, my brother joined me for a wine-infused trip to Santa Barbara and Santa Maria. This trip was another break from the cold weather of the North East and a first but-not-last visit to Santa Barbara.

Road to Hana

The garden part of the Independence Beer Garden. Kurt Jacobson photos.
The garden part of the Independence Beer Garden. Kurt Jacobson photos.

Late in February, my wife and I made it to Mauifor the first time and loved getting out of the cold for a week. The Road To Hana provided wildlife, hiking, and good roadside eats. We loved both the beaches and the Up- Country of Maui during our stay. Swimming with a sea turtle nearby was one of the highlights of the trip.

May brought one of the big trips of the year. I joined my sister and wife- post-safari, for a wine and food safari in Cape Town and Franschoek. We had a blast on top of Table Mt. on a glorious sunny day. In Franschhoek, we drove around seeking wine and Indian Runner Ducks, finding both.

June held a quick trip to Philly for beer research and good food. The City of Brotherly Love doesn’t disappoint. July held trips to the Delmarva and Maine, providing much to write about.

August and September offered many road-trips in the Mid-Atlantic Region and a beer trip to Guinness in Baltimore. October was a great time to introduce my wife to Santa Barbara.

I filled November and December with trips to NebraskaAlabama, and Santa Fe. All-in-all a great year of travel.

Donnie Sexton, Travel Writer

Donnie Sexton at the Holi Festival in India.
Donnie Sexton at the Holi Festival in India.

My year started off leading a photo workshop in March to my favorite destination, India. Delhi, Jaipur, Varanasi, Agra, and Udaipur were part of the fast-paced agenda. But it was the Holi Festival, that will go down in my book as the most chaotic, frenzied day of my life, and my most memorable travel experience to date.

By the end of the day, I was gleefully covered from head to toe in a rainbow of powder, as I joined a cast of thousands celebrating the arrival of spring.

Mount Everest. Donnie Sexton photos.
Mount Everest. Donnie Sexton photos.

May found me strolling the delightful streets of Dusseldorf for three days, followed by a trip to the Czech Republic along with a deep dive into the Moravia region.

Our small group spent a day at the Ride of the Kings, a spirited celebration transporting us back in time to medieval days.

An infected tooth in Prague would find me in a local doctor’s office with both the doctor and his assistant staring into my mouth using a popsicle stick as a tongue depressor.

The summer of 2019 found me exploring in my back yard, road tripping through the far reaches of eastern Montana, then driving the amazing Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park.I was reminded that Big Sky Country is a treasure trove of endless beauty, from gnarly badlands to the Swiss-like peaks of Glacier.

Observing hundreds of Indians gather in full regalia at the North American Indian Days (July) in Browning, Montana provided endless opportunities for photography.

The Hornbill Festival in Nagaland.
The Hornbill Festival in Nagaland.

Watching the sunset on Mt. Everest from base camp on the Tibetan side of the mountain was my 2019 travel highlight.Reaching base camp by vehicle and spending the night is an option when traveling the Friendship Highway. This overland journey in October across the “roof of the world” started in Lhasa, Tibet and ended at the Nepal border.

I continued onward from the border to Kathmandu, where I spent three days wandering the city and the surrounding valley. There remain piles of rubble from the 7.8 earthquake in 2015. Thanks to the help that has poured in from around the world, enormous strides have been made in repairing the damage.

I was invited to participate in India’s International Travel Mart in November, which took place in Manipur, one of the eight states of Northeast India.This is a region of India that doesn’t see hordes of visitors, adding to its appeal as an off-the-beaten-path destination.

After the conference, I was treated to a few days in Assam, including a safari in the Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary with sightings of the Great Indian one-horned rhinoceros.

I snagged a last-minute trip to attend the opening of the legendary Hornbill Festival in Nagaland, featuring the cultural of 17 tribes on full display.I will be back – there are many stories that need to be shared about this pollution-free, eco-focused corner of India.

Jackie Finch, Travel Writer

The Victory 1, on a voyage from Chicago to Toronto.
The Victory 1, on a voyage from Chicago to Toronto.

In spring, I boarded the new Victory I ship for a cruise from Chicago to Toronto with many stops along the way. With a capacity of only 202 passengers, the ship is a wonderfully relaxing place to cruise along the Great Lakes.

One of our shore excursions took us to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland where I heard the music of legendary performers like Elvis, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix and saw their musical instruments and stage outfits. One of my favorites was the fella from my Hoosier hometown, John Mellencamp.

Off the beaten path in Pall Mall, Tennessee, the home of World War I hero Sgt. Alvin York is preserved as it was when he lived and died there. A recreated trench tries to show what life was like for those brave soldiers fighting what they thought was the war to end all wars so far from home.

Sgt York
Sgt York

I was very lucky to be at the home when York’s daughter Betsy Ross York Lowry stopped by. The 86-year-old She was in town for a family gathering and we chatted for a while.

Growing up, the first movie she ever saw was when she was 8 years old. Amazingly, the movie was the 1941 Oscar-winning film classic “Sergeant York” starring Gary Cooper. It was about the exploits of America’s most decorated World War I soldier – her father, a story the young girl didn’t know. Sgt. York was not one to talk about his battlefield bravery.

A champion ham carver in Salamanca.
A champion ham carver in Salamanca.

Heading to Spain, I learned how the Guggenheim Museum opened in 1997 turned around the derelict city of Bilbao into a popular tourist mecca.

Another trip to Spain in May introduced me to a champion ham carver in Salamanca whose paper-thin slices of Iberian ham are a culinary work of art.

Next came a stop at a place in Irving, Texas, that made me wonder “What if?” It was here that Lee Harvey Oswald stayed the night before he killed President John F. Kennedy. What if someone had asked what the assassin was carrying in his long cylindrical package.

What if the homeowner where the Oswalds were staying had known that the young man had a rifle? What if Oswald had changed his mind and gone to work so that he could return to his family that night? What would the nation have been like if JFK hadn’t been killed?Those “might-have-beens” we will never know.

Visiting the Lunch Box Museum in Columbus, Georgia, was a welcome change of pace that brought back many memories. My little brother had a Lone Ranger lunch box many years ago and my sister had a Brady Bunch one. As owner Allen Woodall said, opening one of those antique lunchboxes still brings a hint of peanut butter sandwiches and bananas that children once toted to school. Ah, sweet memories.

Author, Sonja Stark, enjoys views of the Angeles National Forest just north of Los Angeles, California, close to the famous Mount Wilson Observatory
Author Sonja Stark enjoys views of the Angeles National Forest just north of Los Angeles, California.

Sonja Stark, Travel Writer and Videographer

Early in 2019, at nearly 10,000 feet, I experienced a prescription for thin air at Copper Mountain Ski Resort in Summit County, Colorado. Due to a frightening case of hypoxemia, my press trip was relegated to a weekend of bed rest instead of black diamonds.

It was upsetting but, on the bright side, the medical team and resort team delivered a regiment of care and compassion worthy of a glowing article.

In March, I played it safe at sea level with my annual visit to Central Florida to see family. Most memorable was a day trip to the wacky world of Howard Soloman; artist, author, and businessman, who built a castle of kitsch.

In April, I sweated out the last of my toxins in the Helderberg-to-Hudson half-marathon. Then, I chased work south to University City in Philadelphia for the world-class track and field competition known at the Penn Relays.I kept pace with track legends like Santa Richards-Ross and Jim Ryun for NBCSN.

In May, I flew to Moscow, Russia as an ambassador for my sister-city organization, the Albany-Tula Alliance. This was my fourth visit to the opulent capital over the course of ten years as Public Relations Chair for the nonprofit. After getting reacquainted with a network of close friends in Tula, I visited famous landmarks in Moscow like Red Square, Saint Basil’s Cathedral and the OKO Tower.

Anchovies and radishes in Carytown, VA.
Anchovies and radishes in Carytown, VA.

Also in May, I flew to a funky, tattoo-infused college ghetto in Richmond Virginia called Carytown. After a quick job, I dined on Appalachian cuisine of wild edibles, foraged fiddleheads, and cured anchovies. The meal was nearly worth missing my flight home!

In June, I doodled on chalkboards and stuffed my luggage into school lockers at a retro-chic hotel in Lawrenceville, PA. Dubbed “America’s Coolest Neighborhood,” the renovated school overlooked the Allegheny River and Pittsburgh skyline from the rooftop bar & restaurant. Over a pint of local craft, the Wyndham TRYP hotel earned solid grades in my book.

Thermal Baths at the Holiday Inn Resort Qionghai Guantang on Hainan Island, People's Republic of China
Thermal Baths at the Holiday Inn Resort Qionghai Guantang on Hainan Island, People’s Republic of China

The summer and fall proved too busy to blog but memorable nonetheless. Assignments for PilotGirl Productions took me all over the country including Los Angeles, California, Dover, New Hampshire, Dallas, Texas, and Killington, Vermont.

A weekend sojourn to the iconic environment and climate museum Montreal biosphere was an architectural highlight as was the stunning summit views from a hike up Mount Royal Park.

Finally, with work behind me, I was able to accept a “visa-free entry” invitation to Hainan Province, an island in the South China Sea to attend the World Leisure Tourism Expo.

While the flight was long, relaxation on the tropical resort destination took effect almost immediately. I’m currently writing an article for GoNomad about this dreamy destination dubbed the “Hawaii of China.’

Mary Charlebois, Travel Writer and Photographer

Bridges in NYC. Mary Charlebois photos.
Bridges in NYC. Mary Charlebois photos.

San Francisco’s Presidio was my first adventure for 2019. The former military base turned National Park is now my favorite neighborhood in the city. I tried both hotels and 4 of the 16 restaurants.

A photographer friend joined me on an escorted art hike through the forest. I visited museums, hiked, and wished I’d had more time.

In late January, I headed to New York City for two travel shows where I lined up most of my trips for the year. I took a Circle Line Tour around the island to photograph all the bridges. I managed to get most of them. It was cold and rainy back on the stern. The bar was serving Hot Toddies. My job required me to give them a try.

Yosemite, California.
Yosemite, California.

March was a month for local and regional excursions. On the Mendocino Coast, I spent a weekend at Little River Inn, a historic oceanfront resort and spa. In Fort Bragg, I tried out the new railbikes on offer by the Skunk Train.

With an on sight naturalist, I spent a day exploring the private forest, coastline, and cattle ranch, at Inn at Newport Ranch. This exclusive, remote lodge is made for your inner-recluse.

I paid my first visit to Tri-Valley, in San Francisco’s East Bay. It’s an area made up of  PleasantonDublin, and Livermore. It’s called the birthplace of California Chardonnay. The Wine Growers Association took me on a lovely tour of Chardonnay producing wineries that have award-winning female winemakers. Great tour and fabulous wines.

A LemurBack to San Francisco in April, where I met a friend from England for a backroads tour of the Sonoma Coast, he had his fill of the city. We ate at a restaurant on a wharf where harbor seals were swimming. My friend was enchanted.

Berkeley was home for three days. I stayed at a Graduate Hotel directly across the street from UCSF. I parked my car and forgot about it. Berkeley is a walkable city. I was in a museum nerd’s Nirvana. I explored the campus bell tower and was rewarded with views of the San Francisco Bay and some bird’s eye photos of the school.

Back-to-back with Berkeley, I spent some time in San Mateo County, otherwise known as Silicone Valley. I explored Redwood City, San Carlos, Belmont, and Woodside.

Hiller Aviation Museum in California.
Hiller Aviation Museum in California.

My favorite destination, Hiller Aviation Museum, will be featured in my GoNOMAD story in mid-January 2020.

In Santa Rosa, I spent a week learning about lodging, wineries, outdoor adventure, Charles M Shultz, and multi-gen vacation options in the beautiful city.

One of my favorite experiences was glamping at Safari West, an African wildlife preserve outside Santa Rosa.

In July, I made the bucket-list drive from Fort Bragg to Bodega Bay. The long weekend was a decompress mission. The Bodega Bay Inn was my home base for hiking, wildlife watching, photography, and spa. My quest for an old-school fish-shack was fulfilled several times.

Malta
Malta’s salt pools.

I returned to Santa Rosa on a peanut and beer quest. Visiting breweries is tough work, but someone must do it.

In late August, I took a small escorted tour with 7 Brits. Our road trip started in San Francisco’s  Japantown, then MontereyYosemite, and Lake Tahoe. My GoNOMAD story about the luxury land cruise is planned for February 2020.

Spanning September and October, I spent 30-days in Malta living like a local. I stayed in an apartment on Gozo for 2-weeks and 2-weeks in an apartment on Malta.

My trip was enlightening, restorative, and inspiring. I visited the oldest standing building on earth, a 5000+-year-old temple. I walked the countryside of Gozo meeting farmers, fishermen, bird chasers, and shop keepers. I want to return for another 30-days next time.

Cathie Arquilla, Travel Writer

Florida Keys sunset. Cathie Arquilla photos.
Florida Keys sunset. Cathie Arquilla photos.

Escaping the cold of New York, my husband Tom and I went to the luxurious all-suites, all-inclusive, Serenity Resort in St. Lucia. As travel professionals, we were treated to the resort’s Romance Package, the highlight being a Champagne and Jazz Sunset Catamaran Cruise with sunsets so picturesque they looked unreal.

In March, I boarded Holland America’s Koningsdam for a tour of the Caribbean. My story for Travelgirl magazine focused on the Lincoln Center Stage, which is part of the Music Walk that makes HAL cruises the number one pick for music lovers.

I went south, way south, in April to the Florida Keys for an eco-tourism press trip. The Keys are in a race to save the third largest and most visited barrier reef in the world, and tourists can be a part of that initiative.

Cathie in Pasadena, California.
Cathie in Pasadena, California.

July took me west, to my birthplace, the resulting story is here. Pasadena is a cultural, foody city often overlooked as a west coast destination. An annual family trip to Laguna followed. But of course, this travel writer had to visit some hotels while there.

Check out the brand new boutique hotel, Hotel Joaquin, and the recently renovated Laguna classic The Ranch at Laguna Beach. Make the point of getting exercise (lots of stairs) and sandy while exploring the many and varied beach coves along this spectacular coastline.

We headed to the Catskills the weekend before Thanksgiving. Spillian, a historic home once owned by the Fleishman yeast family, put together a terrific weekend called Forage Your Feast. Saturday’s farm tour was followed up by a mixology competition and tasting dinner in the grand dining room with new friends.

One of the best outcomes of travel is making friends, be it fellow travelers, hotel managers, tour guides, or bartenders. It’s all about “connection” in new places, discovering each other, and yourself.

Shelley Rotner, Travel Writer and Author

Valladolid, Yucatan Mexico.
Valladolid, Yucatan Mexico. Shelley Rotner photo.

My best travel experience for 2019, and in my all-time, top 10 was to the Yucatan Peninsula. While I’ve explored other parts of Mexico for me this had it all.  Why? Because it delighted my senses from the designated magical towns and colonial cities based on heritage and beauty, the light and the colors, the natural beauty and diversity of the natural, the pyramids, the cenotes, the cuisine, and the friendly welcoming Maya people.

Other trips for me were based on work for my books plus some curious exploring. I had a couple of trips to Jupiter, Florida to witness sea turtles laying eggs and hatchlings crawling to the ocean. Another trip to photograph reptiles and butterflies. I spent hours at a multi-cultural farmer’s market in Del Ray. The square had authentic, Mexican food, huge pans of Paella, organic and tropical fruits and juice and natural remedies. It was like traveling around the world.

I also went to Buffalo NY as a keynote speaker for a children’s book conference and in addition got to experience a Frank Lloyd Wright Home, Niagara Falls, Bacchus Wine Bar (voted the best restaurant in Buffalo) and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery- a showpiece for modern and contemporary art.

Christopher Ludgate, Travel Writer

The author, warming up with Sami native, Dimitri in a lavvu. after an intense dogsledding excursion.
The author, warming up with Sami native, Dimitri in a lavvu. after an intense dogsledding excursion.

Riding a wave of adventure into 2019 while on a wild and dreamy extended excursion off the map in Norway’s Arctic Circle, my experiences ran the gamut from pure adrenaline to polar night magic. A Zodiac to remote islands where wildlife thrived and where nothing came between us and Greenland but the vaguest sunlight runoff escaping along the far northern stretch of the Gulf Stream. We sped by the variegated colossal glaciers. It was all astonishing, and also poignantly eye-opening to find thriving green grass there by the fjord’s fish-racks in the dead of winter.

Enchanting Sainte-Emilion in Bordeaux entrances with history and delights with endless wine tastings.
Enchanting Sainte-Emilion in Bordeaux entrances with history and delights with endless wine tastings.

My propelled rush in the peaks of the Lyngen Alps on an authentic dogsled journey and meeting the majestic reindeer of the indigenous Sami underneath the clear Milky Way was matched by my enthralling hunt for the light of the Gods aka The Northern Lights in a Tesla and laying by the bonfire beneath them along the fjord as my camera craned to do the patient work of capturing them before setting out for a scurry of dreamy sites for the rest of the journey by Tromso with Visit Lapland.

Fast forward to a different kind of escapism in Mexico’s Riviera Maya on a much needed political and digital detox (minus the fun and handy resort app use at UNICO 20°N 87°W), more nautical adventure beckoned aboard a catamaran eight-miles out into the Yucatan Peninsula to Isla Mujeres (Island of Women).

Snorkeling commenced in Bahia de Mujeres above the underwater Mayan sculptures created as supplemental reefs, and we soon also found ourselves leaping into the waters beyond the white sands of Playa Norte. And also imbibing aboard on tequila with local fare, naturally.

Don’t think for a second that there is nothing new in New Orleans. There always is. Exploring the new and eclectic food markets and repurposed structures of NOLA, like the NOPSI Hotel and Auction Warehouse, the culture of one of my favorite places on earth is ever-evolving and flourishing. An exciting evening of debauchery in Maringy District’s Bacchanal followed by a boozy brunch burlesque in SoBou, I mean, why wouldn’t you?

New Orleans, aka NOLA is as fun and free-spirtied as ever with boozy burlesque brunch at SoBou.
New Orleans, aka NOLA, is as fun and free-spirited as ever with boozy burlesque brunch at SoBou.

If you’re going to San Francisco, check out Oakland, California’s lively Jack London Square.

The recently revamped waterfront has great ambiance, restaurants, the Waterfront Hotel, plus Heinold’s charming Last Chance Saloon circa the 1800s, a popular spot during Prohibition.

If walls could talk… With easy access via the exhilarating ferry from North Beach, the options to delve into an interesting literary history revealed some of the region’s wild and also most important humanitarian cast of characters.

Also oozing with U.S. history is one of the oldest beach towns in the U.S., Cape, May, NJ. One doesn’t need to feel all old-fashioned or Victorian – a la the extremely well-preserved local architecture – for a weekend getaway here.

It’s not just for families either. While there aren’t a lot of late-night spots, there are a few, plus the playhouse. Foodies and wine lovers are a perfect fit here, but Cape May is also really great for a weekend getaway for northeasterners who like to explore.

A summer’s day at Cape May Brewery was a delight with lots to learn on their tour before enjoying some brews with live music on our balcony from the newly renovated Tiki bar below. What a view! Later we learned wine blending and pairing at Cape May Winery, having a blast with a diverse group of locals and visitors.

Speaking of wine, have you been to Bordeaux? Another true travel highlight of mine was 24-hours in Bordeaux, followed by an extensive wine-centric adventure on the widely acclaimed AmaWaterway’s Taste of Bordeaux river cruise.

A fountain in Moscow. Andy Castillo photo.
A fountain in Moscow. Andy Castillo photo.

Along the pastoral shores of Nouvelle-Aquitaine on its Dordogne and Garonne Rivers were underground tours of medieval towns, fabled châteaux, a Citidel with a romantic past, plus bikes & hikes in world-renowned vineyards galore.

Andy Castillo, Travel Writer

My stateside travels began early in February (and continued throughout with countless camping weekends) with a cross-country flight from Massachusetts to Southern California with my wife, Brianna, to visit friends. From skiing at Mammoth Mountain to lounging in natural hot springs at the base of the Sierra Mountains to hiking at Joshua Tree National Park, we packed a lot into a short amount of time.

As an east coast snowboarding enthusiast, this trip was an introduction to the west coast’s powdery slopes and intense terrain. Here’s to hoping this 2020 will bring with it more boarding opportunities.

Monestir de Montserrat, Spain.
Monestir de Montserrat, Spain.

My international exploits started a little slow but picked up steam quickly. I traveled to Russia on an assignment covering Moscow’s 872nd birthday celebration. Along the way, I day-tripped to St. Petersburg where I explored Russia’s State Hermitage Museum, the second-largest art museum in the world, and learned the meaning of Russian hospitality on the train ride home.

On the sleeper train, my roommate, a businessman traveling to Moscow after visiting family, bought me vodka and told me about his culture. It was a unique look behind Russia’s dense cultural curtain that I won’t soon forget.

Elsewhere in Europe, Brianna and I toured Spain and Morocco over two weeks. We stopped in Barcelona, Grenada, Seville, and Cadiz before taking a jump-flight to Tangier and Chefchaouen — known as “the blue city” — where we experienced in full Morocco’s alternative-travel opportunities (including a run-in with a hashish farmer at his ramshackle shack that could have ended a lot worse than it did).

If you’ve never explored Morocco, I highly recommend that you plan a trip there in 2020. It’s a must-see country for adventurous travelers.

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