Staff Travels in 2013: Where We Went
Editor Max Hartshorne
I took my first journey of 2013 down to prosperous Colombia, where we began our trip on top of Montserrate the mountain in the capital, Bogota. This city is full of antiquities, which we saw in the incredible museum of Gold, as well as the city’s emerald center. We walked around the big metropolis without any fear, which is still a surprise to some. Later we toured another popular attraction, the Cathedral de Sal, where a cathedral has been constructed down inside a former salt mine.
Then we journeyed into the center of Colombia to the coffee-growing regions of Corcora Valley and Salento, where a nascent tourism scheme brings visitors right into the coffee trees to experience the life of the coffee plant and how it is grown and processed. The highlight of the trip was the spectacular beauty of Cartagena, on the Caribbean sea. I was happy to have my traveling buddy Paul Shoul along for the trip to shoot the photos and join in the camraderie.
I switched gears in March to head out to Bellingham, Washington, in the shadow of magnificent Mount Baker. This town, north of Seattle, has what I think is one of the world’s best bookshops, Village Books. The village of Fairhaven is known as a haunted place and we met a women there who’s written the book about their local ghosts who took us on a ghost tour.
We drove out to Mount Baker for a day of snowshoeing in the perfect flakes, capped off by a visit to a local brewery that doubles as a wedding chapel. Then I took the train up north across the border to Vancouver. This sparkling city on the water is just as fantastic as everyone told me it would be–especially a trip up Indian Arm waterway organized by a local First Nation tribe.
My next journey was a Man-cation to Sevierville, Tennessee. Eastern Tennessee has become the third most visited place in the US, and that’s because of the Smoky Mountain National Park, where 9 million visitors drive through the pretty countryside every year. My trip in Sevierville was an adrenaline-filled excursion–zip lining, mountain biking down a mountain, visiting war bird and muscle car and knife museums and dining family style–no booze in site but plenty of happy Tennesseans dancing to old time music.
The same month, April, brought us up to Brandon, Vermont, where we met French Chef Robert Barral, who spent the weekend teaching us how to cook Provencal style. Our visit included a stay in the Lilac Inn, a sprawling old house built in 1909 that the owner says was built for parties. A tour of local farms gave us an appreciation of the bounty of Vermont and how much the state is built around agriculture, and today, tourism.
I joined a great friend, Jack Dunphy for an excursion in May to Lewiston Maine. This unheralded town is home to gigantic brick former show and textile factories, and we met many people there who were helping to invigorate inland Maine. It turns out these buildings are getting new lives, and there are big plans for more developments. Paddling on the river with the mayor of Auburn and a stop by the Pineland Farms to meet farm animals and learn about their agricultural mission were among the highlights.
In June I spoke to a group of wine-tourism officials in Dijon France, which gave me a chance to see some Champagne and Burgundy. We visited a tree-house where they serve bubbly and toured the small village where President Charles DeGaulle had his summer home. Then I took a train up to Pas-de-Nord Calais, where I experienced a whole new Louvre–a new museum built in 2012 in the small coal mining town of Lens.
Biking near Wissant, we climbed atop a WWII German-built bunker and toured the town of Calais, where ferries come and go from England. The formerly glamorous beach town of La Touquet Paris Plage gave me a chance to meet sand-yacht pilots and sample fish chowder –tres bon. Then in July we flew to Nova Scotia and toured this beautiful big island that’s a little like Maine but still so Canadian. The wine there is top notch, and you can only find it there, Nova turned out to be a culinary showstopper.
My final journey in November was to Belize, where we got the rainforest and then the coral reef. So few people in so many nearly untouched acres, an up-and-coming destination no doubt.
Jean Miller Spoljaric
My year of travel for 2013 has been more of a personal journey, as life sometimes requires all of us to pick and choose certain paths and to follow the spirit of which the Fishing net in Madagascar.soul survives. It’s a journey we all must take at one time or another. I was fortunate enough to find myself in the far away mysterious land of Madagascar. Land of lemurs, beautiful people, ylang-ylang trees and the most amazing sunsets ever.
Some people get upset when they learn that their flight has been cancelled, not me, I welcomed the experience. En-route to the Island of Nosy Be, Madagascar I was lucky enough to get stuck on Reunion Island for 24 hours. This French Nation is a beautiful little island surrounded by mountain peeks and crashing waves.
I walked as far as my feet could bring me by day and at nightfall the sky turned to fire and I sat on the stone break wall in amazement and watched until the orange faded away. I hung around the bustling waterfront area and watched the people of Reunion play Bocce and eat gelato. Later in the evening I bellied-up at a local pub and tried a ‘Bourbon’, it’s Reunions local beer, it’s a blonde lager that used to be called ‘Dobo’, named after the extinct bird of Mauritius. I sampled the dark rum, shared a few laughs and made some new friends. I’ve learned not to be disappointed when travel plans fall apart, rather to embrace it and find some fun.
I was to meet up in Nosy Be with my friends of The Sailing Collective. Running one day late was not a problem, my land base was the fabulous Anjiamarango Beach Resort, and they were happy to see me, 24 hours late or not. I spent a week aboard a catamaran, sailing in and around the Indian Ocean. It was an epic week for sure, I learned to scuba dive for my first time in the Indian Ocean off the island of Nosy Sakatia.
I soaked my feet in the rust colored waters of Russian Bay, it was refreshing after the two hour trek in getting there. I danced the night away with the crazy fun people of Nosy Komba. I had close encounters with Lemurs, chameleons and snakes at the Lokobe Reserve, and I was stung by a school of jelly fish while swimming to the Island of Ankazobepavina. It was just part of an almost three week journey that will leave an indelible mark on my travel soul.
The stories, the people, the places, it’s what life is all about. Be one with the journey, as it’s not just a vacation, it’s part of your life. One must allow a trip like this to seep into their being, you should allow it to change who you are, for me it was a journey not just of land and sea but of mind, body and soul.
Associate Editor Stephen Hartshorne
I took just three trips this year, but they were humdingers and they all took me the South: one to Wilmington, Southport and Bald Head Island, North Carolina; one to Asheville, North Carolina; and one to Richmond and Charlottesville, Virginia.
On Bald Head Island, I saw a hopeful vision of the future with happy vacationers and year-round residents unplugging themselves from their devices and celebrating the beauty of the island. When a nest of sea turtles hatches, the word goes around and folks gather around to keep the foxes and other predators away and see that the hatchlings reach the ocean safely.
And once a month they gather on the beach to howl at the moon.
Wilmington is a beautiful old city with lots of historic architecture like the Bellamy Mansion, but it’s also a happening town with cool nightlife and fine dining — including seafood by tv’s “Top Chef” Keith Rhodes. Wilington and nearby Southport are major centers for television and movie production. I saw Matlock’s house and the courthouse where he triumphed every week.
On my trip to Asheville, I had a chance to stay at the popular Brahma Ridge Resort nestled in the mountains outside of town, and hear some very cool — and hot — players from Tennessee and Georgia, not to mention the local talent, which is legendary.
Asheville is one big arts and music festival, a year-round celebration. I toured the arts district along the river where local artists have their studios in restored mill buildings. The downtown is full of funky public art and great shops and businesses, and it’s pedestrian-friendly like Boston and Dublin. I saw a guy playing a steel drum and a diggeridoo at the same time.
In Richmond I visited the Virginia State Capitol, designed by Thomas Jefferson, where Spielberg filmed ‘Lincoln’ and went to a really fantastic exhibition of Hollywood costumes at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. They had everything from John Wayne’s guns to Margaret Hamilton’s hat, not to mention Marilyn Monroe’s famous Subway Dress. I also visited the historic Byrd Theatre and took a tour of the city.
Then it was off to the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville where I saw lots of great films including a brand new one, ‘Nebraska,’ and an old one, ‘The Birds.’ Tippi Hedren and Matt Forte were there for Q&As after the screenings!
I had a chance to take a side trip to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home, which (almost) left me speechless. The spirit of the man is so well expressed in the beautiful mountaintop home he designed; you can literally walk into his world and see his books and his boots and his paintings.
At the visitors’ center they screen a short film, and at the end they read from documents and manifestos from all over the world enumerating the inalienable rights of individuals and nations, all patterned on the Declaration of Independence, representing liberty for millions and millions of people.
More than 500,000 of them come to Monticello every year to pay their respects, and I was happy to be one of them.
2013 had a wet and wonderful start. In January, I went scuba diving off the coast of Honduras and spend the night at a World Heritage Site called Dunbar Rock Villa. My accompanying scuba buddies included professional diving instructors from across the country, one in particular – Tina, who helped me navigate a submerged shipwreck called The Jado Trader, a colossal freighter that has, through the years, transformed into one of the richest artificial reefs in the Caribbean.
Diving near Guanaja Island offered a world of volcanic caverns, tall pinnacles and swim-throughs with curious octopus, moray eel and rare tropical fish willing to pose briefly for my underwater GoPro. The ubiquitous lionfish, an invasive predator that reproduces every 4 days, is taking over the reef but spearing is allowing so our guide’s young son did the honors.
In June, I was on the road for a week shooting an inspiring documentary with a congenital quad-amputee and quadriplegic, both biking the entire length of the National Heritage or Erie Canal Corridor 350 miles from Buffalo to Albany. The pair biked on mostly bumpy terrain about 25 miles a day for three weeks straight pushing through pelting rain, sweltering heat, flat tires and sore muscles. I documented dozens of historic villages along the canal towpath including old locks, abandoned aqueducts and rural pastures.
In July, I took to bathing in the buff (well, not me personally) in the fast-moving River Isar that flows through the heart of Munich, Germany. Rather, on a press trip through Germany, thousands of hearty Bavarians were chilling sans suit in the cold water or basking on blankets sipping Doppelbocks with friends. I was mesmerized by the gnarly sport of wave surfing done on a stretch of river known as the Eisbach. After a restful three-night stay at a young hostel in Munich, we changed gears and took a thrilling ride on the Blue Fire mega coaster at the Europa Park resort.
The trip wrapped in Stuttgart with only 10 hours to explore the memorable Porsche museum and a fish market at Schorndorf Square. Fortunately, I stayed with family relatives, first cousins Gabi and Christof and Helmut and Suzi for an extended stay in beautiful Stuttgart, a region that literally has no unemployment and revels in their rich heritage. They offered up visits to attractive old towns with half-timbered buildings and medieval towers, monasteries and Baroque churches.
Before Germany, I took a quick excursion to San Diego where, after a long day of shooting a Math convention in Mission Valley, I escaped to the newly rehabbed historic Gaslamp Quarter Archway for al fresco dining on bustling city streets and shopping on the waterfront.
To cap off another busy travel year, I just returned on December 10th from a holiday sojourn to San Antonio, Texas. A freaky Midwest storm caused bitter cold walks along the River Walk but the Scoville Scale started to heat up dining on warm tamales and Mexican hot chocolate at the CIA, Culinary Institute of America at the Pearl Parkway. The trip included a visually stunning art walk in Southtown, embracing history at the city’s first mission – The Alamo and petting pigs at a historical farmstead within the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park.
The most sobering experience was a memorable visit to the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg. The gallery includes hundreds of hours of oral histories, rare memorabilia and combat artifacts and displays (a Japanese mini-submarine and American bombers, fighters and tanks) and World War II reenactments. Even a pacifist would appreciate the sacrifice and service of the stories and collections told at this museum.
Photographer Paul Shoul
As always I was honored to be able to travel for Gonomad.com in 2013. Family kept me close to home, but I managed to sneak in a few. My first trip of the year was in February back to Colombia. I have come to love this country and have traveled there many times since the early 1980’s. Colombia is in the process of peace negotiations with the FARC and there is finally hope for a truce that will last. You can feel it in the air.
My first stop was the capital city of Bogota, and a quick trip up the mountain to the church of Monserrate. From there I went down, way down to the the salt cathedral in Zipaquirá, located deep within a Salt mine.
Next stop was the famous walled city of Cartagena on the caribbean coast. This is a magical city full of energy. The old part of the city is more to my style, as were the outer islands but if you’re looking for upscale resorts, there are plenty right down the beach. Cartagena is really hot and very “cool”.
My next trip was to Costa Rica in June for an adventure trip with Austin Lehman adventure tours. After landing in San Jose, we jumped right into three days of white river rafting with Rio Tropicales along the pacuare river. We rafted for the day over class 3 rapids and spent two nights at their eco lodge deep in the jungle. What a completely beautiful and inspiring trip.
From there we drove to the Arenal Observatory lodge and spent two nights on the Volcano and hiking along the Arenal Hanging bridges trail system. This is a tropical rainforest and I was amazed by the beauty of the landscape and the thriving jungle life.
Next, we drove to Manuel Antonio after a quick stop for some sea kayaking at Jaco beach. Rated as one of the worlds most beautiful national parks by Forbes magazine, Manuel Antonio is blessed with jungle trails leading up to perfect palm tree-lined white sand beaches.
Next stop was Belize in November. Belize is a small English speaking country about the size of Massachusetts, yet with a total of only around 320,000 inhabitants. It has designated a huge percentage of its wilderness as a natural reserve. I started my trip at Chaa Creek, one of the first eco-lodges anywhere on earth.
Next was one to the Hidden Valley Inn and Reserve. Located on 7,200 acres of preserved wilderness in the Maya Mountains of Belize. It is not what you would expect in a country known for beach life and the worlds second-largest barrier reef. One thousand-foot waterfall, jungle trails, and incredibly diverse wildlife exist in a vast pristine landscape topped by Caribbean pine forests.
Travel Writer Cindy Bigras
February 2012 found me in sunny Puerto Vallarta on Mexico’s western coast. Home to expats from every corner of the world and a thriving gay community, this coastal city offers beaches, museums, top quality dining and nightlife, all in the environs of the former small fishing village. The spot was popularized when Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton moved here for the filming of The Night of the Iguana.
Today there are hotels from recognized chains as well as numerous boutique hotels and all-inclusive resorts making Puerto Vallarta an appealing destination for singles, families, and couples.
In late summer I headed to Calabria, Italy for a magical reunion with the family that hosted me for an AFS study abroad experience in 1974.
Time had somewhat distorted my memory of the places but not of the people I met, including the friends I knew nearly four decades ago. Most of my time was spent “in Famiglia” –shopping, cooking, mornings at the beach followed by abundant meals on the terrace finished off with locally made digestivi.
We even found time for a lesson on making American pancakes and chocolate chip cookies!
The quaint village of Squillace was settled by the Greeks in the seventh century B.C. The lower part of Squillacehas been preserved as an archaeological park where we spent an afternoon visiting the recently excavated Greek ruins and an archeological museum filled with superb sculptures and roman coins. All this is eerily surrounded by an olive orchard under the imposing Norman structure called the Roccelletta, thought to have been a cathedral built by the Normans who controlled southern Italy for much of the middle ages.
Travel Writer Cathie Arquilla
If just for a few days, most of us want to experience a” to the manor born” lifestyle, the stuff of BBC mini-series. Think grouse hunting, horseback riding, fishing, golfing, you’re staying with friends at a massive country house, staffed and appointed. Primland is this type of place, but it’s the American version, a huskier building, with more sporting options as well as a spa, and debatably better food. I had the opportunity to stay at this Blue Ridge Mountain resort and it was grand.
Just saying you’re doing a Baltic Sea cruise is heady. I boarded the Emerald Princess in June for their Baltic and Russia cruise. I was with three other ladies who are well-traveled with very high standards of hospitality and efficiency, my mother and sisters!
Princess did not disappoint, on the contrary, we were blown away by the service and amenities of this floating hotel/city. Ports of call, included Copenhagen, Oslo, St. Petersburg, Helsinki and Stockholm. I want to go back and take several days to visit some of these cities. Now, I know which ones and why. A cruise is a luxurious way to go, but shouldn’t be substituted for a deep cultural experience.
For sun, sea, sand and… dancing, Puerto Vallarta was the ticket. I went with best friend and fellow travel writer Cindy Bigras. We tasted green, red and brown, mole sauces, visited galleries, beaches, and gardens, and partied at gay clubs! The downtime was spent poolside at Casa Magna Marriott, throw in a sunset cruise and we had a vacation that felt like one.
I learned to drive all over again at Team O’Neil rally school. This Brite Spoke elite experiential tour was beyond challenging. First, it was facing the fear and get behind the wheel anyway. Then it was learning to left and right foot brake and gas at the same time! Doing so makes the car “drift” through turns. Brite Spoke teamed up with road rally champion Verena Mei to add knowledge and cache to the experience. Private plane travel, a stay at New Hampshire’s Mountain View Grand historic hotel, and every little thing is taken care of put the Brite Spoke stamp on the trip.
The night at the Mountain View Grand gave me an idea for another story, one on historic hotels of America, how do these grand dames compare and compete with today’s swanky modern hotels? There is always one more place to visit, one more story to write and that’s the way we like it at GoNOMAD.
Top Indian Blogger Mridula Dwivedi
When I did a review of places I traveled on my blog at the beginning of December one of my wonderful readers commented- “this should be called going places.” I never traveled this much before in a year.
In January we went to Alwar, Rajasthan in India, it was a family trip. February saw many trips getting canceled and I didn’t go anywhere. I was so restless by the end of it. In March, I went to Gulmarg in Kashmir, to Rishikesh in Uttarakhand andJagatsukh near Manali, all in India.
April was an action-packed month. I went to Sri Lanka on vacation with my younger nephew. We visited the famous Unawatuna beach and it was a big fun trip. Then I went to North-East India for work. I didn’t see much of Shillong or Guwahati but I was happy to visit. We had one day off which we utilized for sightseeing. While I was there my passport was with the South African Embassy. I had an invitation to visit South Africa Tourism.
I was in South Africa in May. I am so happy I started blogging. I would have never been to South Africa otherwise I guess, at least not this year! It is a beautiful country. I only went to Durban and then to a private game reserve near Kruger. I visited Manyeleti Game Reserve and it was an experience to cherish. I saw four of the big five in just 3 drives. We were lucky to right rhinos, lions, cape buffalos and elephants but the leopard eluded us. The trip ended with a tour of Panorama Route in the Mpumalanga region.
In June I went trekking in Nepal. I was trying to do the Annapurna Circuit Trek, only the weather had other ideas. It rained and snowed so much that I had to leave the trek midway. When I got back home I heard of the massive floods the state of Uttarakhand in India suffered. My next invitation came from Uttarakhand– by a beautiful hotel called Te Aroha in Dhanachuli. My family was quite apprehensive as I was visiting a calamity hit state but I knew the area I was visiting was safe and it needed tourism more than ever. The state has still has not recovered completely.
In July I went to Kerala and the highlight of the trip was kayaking in the backwaters! In August I visited three places in Rajasthan, Lakshman Sagar, Pushkar and a luxury hotel in Jaisalmer- Suryagarh.
I visited Thailand and Cambodia in September. This was also a first for me. I had not been to either country before. In October I did a trip with my daughter to Pushkar in Rajasthan. It was the first mother-daughter trip. And we loved it. Then I went on the tiger trail to Panna and Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh, India. I had no luck with the tigers though. In November I went again to Uttarakhand with my Daughter to a very beautiful lake called Deoriatal. Then I went on the tiger trail again with Taj Safaris to Pench National Park in Madhya Pradesh. And guess what? This time I saw a tigress at close quarters. So my jinx is broken now! Then in December, I went to the launch of a Novotel Hotel in Pune.
In 2014 the first trip has been planned for Bhutan. Let us see how that goes in freezing January.