Our 2012 Travels: GoNOMAD Staff

Where We Went in 2012: GoNOMAD’s Travels for the Year

GoNOMAD’s editors traveled around the world in 2012, in keeping with our belief that if you want to write or edit travel, you gotta travel!

Editor Max Hartshorne

Margaritas taste better in Mexico! Max and Mary in Boca de Tomaltan.

I started out the year in one of his favorite places, Mexico. He and his partner Mary Gilman visited Boca del Tomaltan, where she painted and they danced at an artist’s workshop. Besides learning salsa dance moves on the top balcony, overlooking the busy Rio Horcones, they enjoyed dining with their toes in the sand at the small restaurants (all featuring grilled fish and great margaritas) and some interesting excursions.

In March, I strapped on my skis and headed to one of the largest and least-known ski resorts in the US, Mt Bachelor. Though I had never heard of this 13,000-foot volcanic peak, I had heard of the town nearby. That would be Bend, Oregon.

Bend is famous for having nearly 100 breweries and brewpubs, and a thriving dining and arts scene. They even have a rolling bar, that’s pedaled by up to 12 beer drinkers who navigate the compact downtown and stop in at a string of pubs.

Enjoying pizza in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom with my traveling buddy Jack Dunphy and a friend.

We visited a place that’s very familiar in June, Martha’s Vineyard. Here I got a chance to show Mary my favorite haunts, and discover a newly renovated Inn, right on Oak Bluff’s harbor. Bike riding and slurping up steamers at Larsen’s in Menemsha made this a memorable but short visit.

I joined 725 other travel bloggers for a few days in June in Keystone, Colorado. I spoke on a panel about the business of website publishing and it was great to meet so many familiar names.

Later in the summer I joined a pal and we drove up to Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. The trip included tree climbing, canoeing, hiking and meeting some local farmers and others who have thrived in the natural foods business. Mountain biking down a series of perfect trails was a highlight.

Bike riders enjoy the calm and quiet of a closed down Reforma, in Mexico City. photo by Max Hartshorne.

In September I went for the to Mexico City for the first time. Despite a old reputation for pollution and crime, it was actually pretty clean and felt very safe.

On Sundays they block off main boulevards and I got a chance to pedal the usually crowded streets with fellow Chilangos, all smiling and enjoying their day.

My final trip for 2012 was to Jamaica. What a beautiful island! It’s so open and rural and of course the accommodations were about ten feet from the crashing waves. So romantic the only thing I kept thinking was, “I wish Mary was here!”

Stephen Hartshorne, Associate Editor

In the evening, all of Vilnius becomes one big outdoor cafe. Stephen Hartshorne photo.

In the Spring, Associate Editor Stephen Hartshorne followed up his visit to East Germany last year with a trip to another former Soviet Republic, Estonia, where he was captivated by the historic architecture, the advanced level of computer technology (free WiFi everywhere), and the blossoming of personal, political, and artistic freedom in the wake of that country’s “Singing Revolution” in the early 1990s.

From there it was on to another former Soviet bloc country, Lithuania, where he viewed the storied castles and palaces of Vilnius, visited a recreation of a Soviet gulag, and

toured Europe’s largest indoor ski area.

In October he traveled to Colorado to the state’s most haunted places in Manitou Springs, Denver, Boulder, and Fort Collins, and capped the trip with a stay at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, where Stephen King got his inspiration for The Shining.

Mridula Dwevedi, Travel Writer

Team Mridula at the Base of Mt Everest.
Team Mridula at Everest Base Camp in 2012.

I have to say I went places in 2012! January dawned cold and bright and I went to Odisha and Jaisalmer in my home country of India. Within Odisha I went to Chilika Lake, UNESCO World Heritage site at Konark and Mangalajodi, a birder’s paradise. Jaisalmer is the desert region of India and I had a great time staying at Suryagarh.

February saw me heading with family to another birding spot called Bharatpur. In March I was at the sun, sand and sea city of India, Goa. In April I was on a day trip Chandigarh for work but as I got a few hours free and visited the famous Rock Garden.

May was a really good month for me, first I went to Malaysia on invitation to attend the first Blogger’s conference. Then I did the trek of my lifetime, I successfully trekked up to the Everest Base Camp. Then in June I went to Baiguney in Sikkim to attend Conclay organized by Club Mahindra.

In July I trekked again to another UNESCO World Heritage site, Valley of Flowers. Then there was a short lull till September but I went back to Malaysia again to attend The Malaysia Tourism Hunt, an event organized by the Ministry of Tourism, Malaysia.

In October I headed to Lakshman Sagar in Rajasthan and it was a peaceful retreat. Then November went blank again. December saw me at Palampur in Himachal Pradesh and I am not done yet. I will head to Bangalore a little later.

I wanted to travel at least once a month in 2012. I came very close to my goal. Though there were two blank months, August and November but in January and May I went out twice. I hope I will travel more in 2013!

Janis Turk, Travel Writer:


“I’ve only done five countries this year,” I pouted. “Oh you poor baby, only five?” My husband said with a tone of wry sarcasm. But he knows that I love to go.

My first international trip of 2012 was to Quebec City, Canada for the glorious “winter carnival” and a trip to the ice hotel just outside the city. I love snow and winter more than most people, I thin—it can’t get cold or snowy enough for me. However, Quebec’s winter carnival does a good job with both.

It was my second visit to Quebec, and I’m completely smitten with its French feel and its winter white frosting. I even met a masseuse at a Nordic Spa there and invited them to Texas.

In February, they showed up at my door and we had a marvelous time touring San Antonio and the River Walk and Alamo with them! It just goes to show friendships can begin anywhere when you travel.

My next big trip put four more stamps in my passport as I visited The Baltics. With editor friend Stephen Hartshorne of GoNOMAD, I was able to visit Estonia and the beautiful cities of Tallinn and Tartu, as well as the countryside to the south where the interesting Seto people live and keep their traditions and faith. After touring Estonia, we traveled on to Lithuania, where I was surprised by the exciting young café culture that springs up in the streets everywhere around Vilnius. I loved the way people there speak in a sweet sing-songy way. The countryside and the architecture of the cities were breathtaking.

From there, the rest of our group of travel writers flew home—but I hadn’t traveled enough. So I stayed on in Helsinki, Finland a while to take a quick look around and explore the city on foot. Helsinki is a great walking city with stunning architecture. I found it fun to navigate the busses and trolleys there. But I didn’t spend a lot of time in Finland—I was just getting pumped up for my big Russian adventure.

From Helsinki I took an overnight train into Russia (the “midnight train to Moscow,” I called it) that rushed me through white birch forests—stunning, and drove me deep into the white nights of Russia. Moscow was challenging to navigate alone—tourists and English speakers are few and far between there.

From there, to took another train to St. Petersburg. What a glorious city! There was no line at the Hermitage, to my great surprise, and I spent a great deal of time walking on Nevsky Prospect and exploring on my own. I’d like to go back there someday and spend more time.

Cindy Bigras, Travel Writer


Enjoying an intimate dinner in Florence, Italy.
Cindy with a new friend in Florence.

My 2012 began with a trip to Taiwan for the Lantern Festival and it was truly magical. Held annually at the end of Chinese New Year, the festival showcases Taiwan’s crafts, cuisine and tecno-expertise at an unforgettable opening ceremony!

Skiing in the Berkshires kept me fit over the winter. Butternut and Jiminy Peak ski resorts are only an hour from where I live making an easy day trip or weekend on the slopes. Later in the year Pennsylvania beckoned – I visited friends in Northampton PA and Bethlehem PA where I was NOT checking out the Sands casino!

July found me attending a conference in Boston where I had an unobstructed, up close view of the July 4th fireworks over the harbor! A spectacular sight, for sure!

Also during the summer, I followed my Holyoke Blue Sox to my home state of Vermont where they played the VT Mountaineers. This is good, old time baseball!

August took me on a magical four day weekend at Kettle Pond deep in a Vermont state forest. A friend owns the only building on the water – wonderful sunsets, spotting loons and various animals as we hiked and kayaked around the small body of water.

I recently returned from Florence Italy where I reconnected with friends I knew 30 years ago while living there. it seems the world becomes smaller with every trip I make. Stay tuned for my story – you’ll get some great ideas about activities to do in this Renaissance gem of a city. The attached foto is of a friendly waiter at Trattoria La Casalinga near Santo Spirito. Typical Florentine cuisine served with a story or two!

Paul Shoul, Travel Writer and Photographer

Paul Shoul on assignment in Greenland.

This year I got to experience the amazing food and wines of Burgenland, the sunny side Austria. It was not what I expected. Burgenland is warm and flat, the perfect environment for the thriving bio-dynamic vineyards that cover the landscape. Combine them with an evolving cuisine that incorporates traditionally rich Austrian dishes with the influence of a new healthy food movement and you get the perfect mix of intense flavors in a sustainable diet.

My next trip was not so far away from my home. I spent some time with Chef Chris eddy at Winvian. Chris is a skilled chef who has found his perfect home in this surprisingly whimsical resort in the hills of western Connecticut. I attended his pasta making class and finally got the inside scoop on how to make dishes at home that would cost you an arm and a leg in good restaurant.

Finally I geared up for 21 hours in the air to travel from Boston to Korea and eventually to Thailand. Korea is a beautiful country. It is at once ancient and hyper modern. It is not unusual to see a monk sporting the latest Samsung cellphone or other cutting edge digital device that gadget crazed consumers in the US can only dream about. Korea is clean, organized and their work ethic is intensely strong. But at the end of a long hard day, they really know how to have a good time.

In August I visited Thailand, starting in Bangkok. There I traveled by boat on long winding canals that crisscross the city past ancient golden Buddhist temples and sparkling modern skyscrapers. I learned how how to cook with coconut milk, and how Thai chefs expertly balanced the spicy and savory with the sweet. And Finally, I got to experience an expert Thai massage.

In Pattya I walked the beaches on the coast in the mornings hiked through rain forests in the afternoon and went to the most outrageously cool cabaret show of the famous lady boys at night. Waking up the next day with the sound of the waves crashing and a rich luxurious breeze coming through my window, I made way out to have a cup of coffee. I thought as I often do when I reflect on my travels, “ wow, this place is wonderful, I am lucky to be here. Where should I go next?

Cathie Arquilla, Travel Writer and Stylist

Cathie Arquilla, on assignment.

My article “Take 5 in Napa” for Travelgirl Magazine described a fall girlfriend getaway sans car to Napa Valley, California. Take the Wine Train up the valley and fulfill your Agatha Christie dreams or visit the Oxbow Public Market where cool meets country. While most visitors to Napa are elbowing to get a reservation at The French Laundry, we opted for Cuvée Napa. The atmosphere and clientele made for excellent style watching and the food and wine pairings were extraordinary.

Early summer in Portland Maine is all about–light houses, adirondack chairs, lobster… This stylist put on full lobsterman gear and boarded a lobster fishing boat to catch those gnarly creatures and catch them, she did! Lunch was my lobster catch dockside. Next was a stone massage at The Inn by the Sea’s spa. This classic, contemporary Inn is Maine at it’s best. Wear sweeping linens, straw hat and espadrilles. You’ll feel like you belong in a Winslow Homer painting! What’s more you can visit Homer’s Studio while in Portland. Follow that up with a food and wine tour of this unexpectedly hip New England town.

Palm Springs, California is HOT in August! Skimpy summer frocks, a must! The town is tourist free and there are off-season deals to be found. The Viceroy Hotel makes for feeling fabulous. It’s ultra chic, goove-a-licious–everything the Rat Pack had in mind when they made this town their playground. Make sure to visit the “design district” and stop by Flow Modern Design. If hiking is your thing, the desert makes for interesting vistas and a fizzy cocktail post hike is deserving and appreciated! My choice was a lemon drop!

Sonja Stark, Travel writer and Videographer

Sonja Stark
Sonja Stark

January catapulted PilotGirl to Costa Rica with students from the School of Public Health at Albany State University. As a documentary shooter, I followed the students as they learned about mosquito-borne diseases like malaria and dengue. The SUNY students marveled at how the students of Earth University live sustainably – no hot showers and no cars while working on producing organic bananas sold to Whole Foods and beyond.

February brought me to Florida to introduce family to Guy Fieri’s “Drive-ins, Diners & Dives” throughout Tampa. We put our feeding faith in Fieri and without fail he did not disappoint. Our waistlines hit a home-run at Danny’s All-American Diner and Dairy Bar with the Triple D sandwich. Pastrami, mojo pork, fried onion rings and jalapeno peppers; it turns out we ordered the only sandwich that Fieri has ever created during the filming of the show.

March had me toting gear with the School of Public Health a second time but rather in the small community of El Seibo in the Dominican Republic. The country includes some of the best beaches, resorts and golf courses in the Caribbean but rarely do tourism dollars get filtered down to the working majority. The students dug up dry dirt, toted heavy canisters of filthy water and assembled water filtration systems. Several grateful families, including one living on a sugarcane plantation, wept with joy at the help they received. Sweltering heat, biting mosquitoes, even a giant harry tarantula didn’t stop the students from getting the job done.

I took flight again in late March for deep powder in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah. First Snowbird Mountain followed by Brighton Resort, Solitude and Alta. In the evening, The Grand America, Salt Lake City only AAA Five Diamond hotel tucked me in at night with spa treatments and handcrafted macaroons. I took time out to visit the new Natural History Museum called the Rio Tinto Center and tour the new retail masterpiece called City Creek Center.

dannys All American Dairy Bar in Tampa, FL.
Danny’s All American Diner and Dairy Bar in Tampa.

June sent me to Crescent City or, more famously, New Orleans, Louisiana. During the day I worked inside the newly reopened Hyatt Regency while nights were free to roam the French Quarter. Local ambassador Melvin offered me a tour of his favorite jazz, blues, gospel, zydeco and Cajun joints. We explored 1719 Algiers Point just across the Mississippi River for a welcoming break from Bourbon Street’s din and debauchery. When 80-year old couple Fritz and Joanne invited complete strangers (Melvin and myself) into their home to share a glass of bubbly it reinforced everything I heard about NOLA being the friendliest place in America.

July whisked me off to yet another city I’d never been: Minneapolis, Minnesota. The twin cities are ranked the best biking communities in America so I rented a ‘Nice Ride’ and pedaled dozens of ‘rails to trails’ that crisscross the Mississippi. I broke to tour the historical Mill Museum once used to produce Gold Medal baking flour.

In August, I clocked in at 40-mph on a zip-line in Grand County, Colorado. The thrill ride was followed up by downhill biking, hiking, alpine sliding, canoeing, white-water rafting and horseback riding. Instructors at Sombrero Stables at the YMCA Snow Mountain Ranch taught me how to mount my feisty thoroughbred and (attempt to) stop him from grazing. Horseback riding between high desert grasslands, lush meadows and bold climbs in one of the state’s most scenic and ecologically diverse landscapes felt like a dream. Accommodations included overnights in a ancient post and beam nomadic shelter called a yurt. Shame on the Wild West for convincing me that Rocky Mountain oysters were a delicacy!

September brought a 10-day trip to Russia for the Albany-Tula Alliance, a sister-city organization between Albany, NY and Tula, Russia. On assignment to record essay contest winners senior high school students Haewon Hwang and Rose Schneider, cameras were rolling while we visited Red Square, Moscow University, St. Basil’s Cathedral, the extravagant underground metro and Leo Tolstoy’s Yasnaya Polyana estate. 20 years of friendship with the former Soviet Union has fostered home stays and invites to special dinners and intimate dachas.

In October, I visited the John Newcombe Fantasy Camp Tennis Ranch in New Braunfels, Texas. Along with a crew of shooters, we record Aussie Grand Slam tennis champions John Newcombe, Roy Emerson and Fred Stolle along with Dick Stockton, Brian Gottfried and dozens more tennis legends compete from dawn to dusk rekindling the glory years. 30 miles north of San Antonio, the former Texas dude ranch with its dusty furniture and antiquated Billabong Bar is a relic in itself. Bawdy joke-telling, beer-swilling and Newcombe’s own colorful Samoan War Dance aimed to make the 25th anniversary the best in history.

Jean M. Spoljarik in Puerto Rico.

Jean M. Spoljaric, Travel Writer

I started my year out with a bang in January, the Spanish Virgin Islands were the backdrop to my sailing adventure where I circumnavigated Puerto Rico on a 38’ sailboat. The SVI chain is most enchanting because of its remote charm, pristine beaches, and crystal clear blue waters.

I swam with the turtles on Culebrita’s Playa de las Tortugas and snorkeled the reefs amongst the most colorful fish on Cayo Icacos and Bahia Tomarindo. I hiked up to an old, dilapidated lighthouse that offered 360 degree views of the crystal clear waters below on my favorite little island Culebrita.

In March I flew to the beautiful Island of Antigua where they claim to have 365 perfectly sugar white sandy beaches with turquoise water. Although my five-day jaunt wasn’t long enough to count them all, the ones I was lucky enough to visit were glorious.

Lapped by water so clear and gemlike that it glistened like liquid sapphire, it was the ultimate Caribbean experience. The highlight was zip-lining through the rain forest with my daughter Hannah.

The rest of my year was filled with quality fun and enjoyable family time, I spent the bulk of my Summer sailing on a J-24 on Lake Ontario. Wind or no wind, it’s nice to be on the water. A great family vacation was had on Long Beach Island NJ.

We sunned ourselves and rode our bikes to Old Barney Lighthouse, still standing tall since it was constructed in 1835. We like everyone are devasted by the terrible effects of Storm Sandy to this wonderful part of the world and hope it can recover by next summer.

With 2012 coming to an end, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the loss of my dear friend, and our Senior Travel Editor here at GoNOMAD, Kent St John. Kent had a big heart and was a great friend and a big part of my travel life and beyond. I miss him everyday!

Where are you going this year?

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