Staff Travels: Where We Traveled in 2014
Keeping the tradition of traveling going strong, GoNOMAD writers hit the road
My travels in 2014 began in mid-February when I visited chilly Manitoba. Winnipeg was my destination, and my goal was to skate on the Assiniboine River and experience winter in a place where it’s seriously cold.
I was there to see the city’s two new attractions, the Museum of Human Rights and the new recreation of Churchill, home of the polar bears. What I most enjoyed was my skating across the frozen river, done in minus 20-degree temps.
Winnipeg was also celebrating their annual Voyageurs Festival, where live music, sugar on snow, and the history of these proud explorers and trappers is celebrated.
In March my traveling pal Jack Dunphy and I did a week-long California excursion, first skiing at Big Bear Lake, and then warming up in Ventura and in Marina Del Rey, two cities near Los Angeles. In Big Bear, things are tough due to the drought since skiing requires snow which was in short supply when we visited. The beauty of the area was still the highlight, we toured the mountains around the lake in a special 4×4 vehicle and enjoyed a day of skiing and touring by Segway scooter.
We drove south to Ventura, north of LA, and learned that it’s the kind of city where surfers move to, and non-conformists thrive. We met a man who does a great business selling oysters in a truck by the beach that he raises in Baja, California, Mexico.
Marina del Rey was our final stop on the California journey, we went out for a sailing lesson at UCLA and got a glimpse of this wealthy coastal city that attracts thousands of rich Europeans during the summer.
I met up with my photographer pal. Paul Shoul and we visited several cities in Portugal, Coimbra, Viseu, and Lisbon. Portugal is a fantastic destination so full of beautiful vistas, great food, and for the most part it’s all much cheaper than the rest of western Europe.
We stayed in a mountain resort that felt like we were in Sweden, hiking over rocky trails and looking out for miles and miles of wilderness. Lisbon was vibrant, full of tourists and we discovered it’s a great place to ride bikes too…a nine km trail that snakes along the river was a perfect way to tour the city.
The Land of Armagnac
In May, I set out for one of my all-time favorite destinations, France, where I visited the Midi Pyrenees region near Toulouse, and met dozens of men and women who make the strong French brandy, Armagnac.
The producers of this powerful drink are nearly all small family businesses, and along the way I enjoyed a ride on the Velorail, a pedal-powered platform that rides along an old railroad track. While I never developed much of a taste for Armagnac, the food and the history in southwest France were memorable and I’d recommend to anyone that they visit!
After spending about a week visiting France, I took a 15-hour train from Toulouse to Lisbon Portugal, and a highlight was an unintended stopover in San Sebastian Spain, after the trains were full.
Small Ship Adventures in New England
In July my partner Mary and I boarded a small ship in Warren Rhode Island for a Blount Small Ship Adventure. We visited familiar islands like Cuttyhunk, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket as well as historic ports like New Bedford and Newport RI.
With just 84 travelers aboard the 125-foot ship, it was an intimate and thoroughly enjoyable cruise. We made solid friends and avoided big crowds and hassles.
Later in the summer Jack and I went as far north as we could, visiting Coos County New Hampshire and then Newport Vermont, where a renaissance is taking place with big building plans on the border lake and exciting tourism expansion.
I was invited to speak at a meeting in Tampa Florida and there I enjoyed seeing the city by bike, and the riverside by electric boat. We also visited Ybor City, made famous by the men who made cigars with strong ties to Cuba, we even saw a tiny city park that’s actually owned by the Cuban government! Other business trips took me to Cancun and Isla Holbox, a sleepy island of the Yucatan coast. A highlight was ceviche made with just-caught fish from the Caribbean sea!
In November I took off for a totally new destination, the Republic of Georgia. This country, which was once a part of the Soviet Union, is beautiful and is a major wine and food destination. So many wineries and tastings, and each meal was a feast with the table full of so many small mezze dishes.
My final trip for 2014 was to Traverse City Michigan, another wine destination and one that’s beloved by Michiganders. It’s a pretty part of the state, located about an hour south of the Upper Peninsula.
Sonja Stark, Travel Writer
There were many sudsy adventures enjoyed this year without having to leave the country. With so many new and unique specialty flavors in craft beer: bourbon-infused, sour, farmhouse, I took to traveling stateside instead of Belgium, Germany, or Ireland.
To be honest, had I been invited on a press trip to any of the countries mentioned I wouldn’t have declined. Still, I did my share of consumption in Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont. To make up for the calorie count, I threw myself into high-adrenaline sports like hiking, biking and skiing.
My first big trip happened on April Fools’ Day with a multi-sport adventure in the beautiful mountains of the Wasatch Front, near Salt Lake City, Utah.
Every day, we experienced a new outdoor thrill from skiing, fishing, golfing, and hiking to organic, artisanal drafts at local watering holes. We stayed in a luxurious condo owned by Resorts West at the base of Park City Mountain Resort.
The frontier-themed guest suite had the largest granite fireplace I’ve ever cozied up to. The mantle alone was the size of a small sequoia.
In May, I journeyed to Lancaster County, P.A. for Dutch dining among the largest automotive swap meet in the world: the Spring Carlisle Collectors Auction. A 150-acre fairground plays host to thousands of collector buffs and automotive geeks, my boyfriend being one of them.
I documented George and his valiant efforts to find a vital engine part for his restored baby blue 1946 Ford. He found the part and strategically bartered with the owner at a fair price. The find was an excuse to toast mugs at the Market Cross Pub and Brewery in downtown Carlisle with a pint of “Car Show Cream Ale.”
Biking the Erie Canal
In June, I was hired to produce, shoot, and edit the achievements of the congenital amputee, John Robinson, as he biked the Erie Canal Corridor from Buffalo to Albany for seven days. I followed Robinson in 2013 so I was already familiar with the route. I mounted several discrete GoPro cameras to Robinson’s recumbent bike to record the journey.
For 365 miles he was supported by family and strangers including Doug Hamlin, a quadriplegic friend who rode alongside him the entire time. The footage is currently being reviewed for a PBS documentary. Not surprising, Robinson proved to be a bigger hop lover than me. Central New York’s new farm breweries (and ice cream stands) helped quench our thirst on hot days.
June also witnessed a gig in Grapevine, Texas where I had the opportunity to stay in the official Lonestar Hotel of the Dallas Cowboys: the Gaylord Texan. Inside a huge glass atrium with dancing fountains and flowering promenades hangs an autographed photo of quarterback Tony Romo. The experience felt like I was trapped in a sports version of the movie, Wizard of Oz.
In July, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo invited the press to join him and Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver as they took to whitewater rafting in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains. The outing helped raise the economic importance of tourism in small, rustic towns like North Creek and Indian Lake. Local WNYT television reporter, Dan Bezile, my rafting partner, sparred with the Governor with light political barbs. The jokes and paddle splashing of his girlfriend did little to help us win the race.
August was busy with four back-to-back weekends exploring Vermont, the central Adirondacks, the town of Kingston in Canada and a peach farm in Campbell, Missouri. Kingston, Canada was accomplished vis-à-vis an endless bike trail that crosses the St. Lawrence River by ferry, twice, by virtue of Wolfe Island.
The Vermont excursion included sampling dozens of taps from all over the state: 14th Star Brewing Company, Otter Creek Brewing, Fiddlehead, Magic Hat, Northshire Brewing and many more. The trip helped earn me a little purple stamp in my Vermont Brewery Challenge passport book – anything for a free t-shirt.
After a trip to Las Vegas for a convention and a return trip to Hermann, Missouri, I didn’t even bother to unpack my bags before hopping aboard an international flight to St. Petersburg, Moscow and Tula, Russia in late November. With the city so close to the Arctic Circle, St. Petersburg has only 6-hours of light in early December.
Winds from the Neva River proved chilling but we enjoyed the bright lights of decorated churches, fancy cars racing up and down the Nevsky Prospect and museums like the Hermitage and Catherine the Great’s immortal Palace. One of my favorite evenings was spent rejuvenating in a sauna while being softly pelted with eucalyptus leaves. The Slavic tradition of the banya is the reason why this was my 3rd but not last foray to the Federation.
Paul Shoul, Travel Writer and Photographer
My first journey of 2014 started in central Portugal in the Serra da Estrella Mountains. This was once a popular destination in the past for tuberculosis sufferers for its clean air and restful environment.
These days, with the highest elevation in Portugal, and spectacular landscapes, hikers flock to this natural park. I stayed at the Casa das Penhas Douradas, a cozy Nordic-style lodge with modern architecture and a world-class restaurant committed to local farm to table cuisine.
The next stop was Coimbra, home to one of the oldest universities in Europe and the Machado de Castro National museum.The14th century Quinta Lagrimas Palace Hotel I stayed at was elegant, comfortable and its Pedro and Ines Michelin star restaurant was refined, yet inviting.
Lisbon by Bike
I ended my Portugal journey in Lisbon biking on the banks of the Tagus river. One of the oldest cities in the world, it is a traveler-friendly very walkable city by the sea with a thriving food scene and great street life.
My next trip was a 2,200-mile road trip across Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
Boarding the Nova Star ferry in Portland Maine I arrived in Yarmouth and drove to Cape Breton Island to catch the last day of lobster season with Joe Gills and his two sons, Hauling in 500 lbs, we feasted on them that night.
Next, I wound my way to PEI and sampled Charlestown’s growing restaurant community. On the eastern part of the Island, I harvested oysters with Johnny Flynn of Colville Bay Oyster company and camped out for two nights on the beach at Red Point Provincial Park and campground.
Next in November was a trip Destin, Ft. Walton Beach and Okaloosa island to go fishing in the Emerald coast of Florida. White sugar sand beaches, emerald green water, amazing rates on accommodations at Sterling Shores in Destin, and the freshest seafood anywhere on the planet. We caught mackerel, Yellowfin tuna, and fought with sharks.
Finally, in December I flew to Nevis Island in the Caribbean. With only 11,000 people on this little 27 acre island, there is not a lot to do and that’s the beauty of it. The birthplace of Alexander Hamilton, Nevis was a major sugar producer and slave colony of for the British, the remains of the plantations have been restored into some very unique hotels.
There is also the luxury Nevis Four Seasons, but there are only a total of 400 rooms on the island. This means no hoards of tourists and you can walk the beautiful palm tree-lined beaches in peace.
Jean M. Spoljaric, Travel Writer
This past year was a full circle travel year for me. Thirty years ago I hopped aboard a fifty-foot sailboat and ventured to parts unknown throughout the West Indies. Eventually, I found my way to the beautiful Island of Grenada. That adventure seems like a lifetime ago.
I wasn’t hesitant in the least to visit Grenada back in 1985, I hadn’t given it a second thought. I had no fear back then. A short time prior to my first visit to Grenada, President Ronald Reagan, launched an invasion, known as “Operation Urgent Fury” onto the Spice Island. It was hard to believe that just two short years before my visit to Grenada it was a war zone.
This time around in 2014, the people of Grenada were every bit as friendly as they were thirty years ago. I was lucky enough to call the beautiful and luxurious resort, Sandals LaSource Grenada my home away from home. I traveled through the open valleys and climbed my way up into the spice hills and explored Fort Frederick, the backward-facing fort.
I traveled through the lush rainforest to Annandale Falls, the most beautiful waterfalls in all Grenada. I learned the art of scuba diving on this trip and in turn, I discovered a whole other world under the water.
All in all a visit to this paradise should be on everyone’s bucket list. The lush mountainous views, perfect blue harbors, white crystal-like, sandy beaches and friendly people, combined with some of the best diving in the world make Grenada an ideal vacation destination, one not to be missed.
Cindy Bigras Travel Writer
Chicago! What’s not to like? It’s young, vibrant, clean, and easy to navigate. And there’s something absolutely wonderful about the midwestern charm of the locals.
June took me to the land of my mother’s ancestors, Ireland. Unfortunately, she never got to see this beautiful land, but I sure took in a lot of Limerick for a whirlwind three-day tour in honor of the City of Culture designation. If you want arts of all types, Limerick should be on your list.
Back to her Homeland
The following month I returned to what I consider my “homeland” – Italy. I spent several days visiting friends in the far southern region of Calabria where there are Greek ruins and an inviting blue sea around every corner. One early morning at about 6:00 a.m. I visited a local fish market just as the boats returned with the night’s catch. Guess what we ate for lunch that day? The freshest, tastiest fish ever! I followed up my Calabrian holiday with five days in Rome, a city I should have fallen for long before now.
It’s loud, chaotic, disorganized, and utterly habit forming! History, cuisine, language, Italians, art….Rome has it all.
I stayed in a charming retro-inspired pensione (bed & breakfast) in the chic Trastevere area, but set out each morning with my trusty map and good walking shoes.
I wandered up to the Gianicolo Hill, down winding streets to the Vatican area, along the Tiber’s banks back to Trastevere. Yes, I feel in love with this wonderful city and plan to return again to explore more of its many secrets!
September found me in Denver where a friend had promised to produce elk. We spent a few days at the YMCA Camp in Estes Park saw plenty of elk that had come down from the mountains for the mating season. These enormous animals don’t seem bothered by human presence but it’s best to not get close. The eerie screeching sound you hear echoing in the distance after dark? That’s bugling – the elk bull’s mating call.
The last trip of the year was to one of my favorite places, Quebec. The Magdalen Islands are part of Quebec Maritime Province, and it was here that my paternal grandmother was raised. So close to the northeast part of the USA, Quebec should be on everyone’s radar. The Magdalen Islands are a terrific destination with every possible outdoor sport in the summer and plenty of seal observing in the late winter.
Stephen Hartshorne, Associate Editor
In June, Associate Editor Stephen Hartshorne took off for Atlanta, Georgia, where he toured the hotspots of a truly happening city, rode the fast, clean, cheap subway system known as MARTA, and visited the world-renowned Atlanta Botanical Gardens. From there he set off on a spectacular tour of the Great Smoky Mountains, with a side trip to a music festival at the famous Brahma Ridge Resort in Asheville, North Carolina.
In August he spent four days at the iconic Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City, where he toured the historic old city, the Isle of Orleans, and the magnificent Montmorency Falls. He had the opportunity to savor the province’s famous cuisine and to attend the New France Festival with costumed balls, great music, historical exhibits, parades, fireworks, and other wonderful festivities.
In October, he zipped into Boston on the Massachusetts Turnpike for the Secrets of Underground Boston Tour, featuring some of the city’s less-well-known attractions. He toured Mt. Auburn Cemetery, where he met a famous sphinx, and Fenway Park, where he climbed onto the world’s second most famous monster.
He went backstage at a punk rock venue and stayed at a new music-themed motel called The Verb. The highlight of the trip was a tea party, complete with crustless sandwiches, at the Boston Public Library.
Janis Turk, Travel Writer
The year was full of travel! First I went to the Florida Keys to visit Hawks Cay Resort, where jet skiing became my new favorite activity. The next trip found me acting as a tourist in my own town—New Orleans, where I spent Mardi Gras riding in the Orpheus parade.
This was a bucket-list event, and something I’ll never forget. I got to hang out and eat pizza with Quentin Tarrantino that day.
Soon after, I took my mom with me on a trip through Canada, where I had an assignment to write about Alberta, the Fairmont Hotels, and the Rocky Mountaineer railway.
We began in Edmonton, drove to Jasper. Then we went on to Lake Louise and Banff before I joined cookbook author and food writer Jody Eddy on the Rocky Mountaineer train which cut through the Canadian Rockies across the Great Divide.
Not long after, I was back in Florida on the white-sand beaches of Sandestin, Seaside, Rosemary Beach and Watercolor.
Then, I went to Old Mexico where I attended a conference in beautiful Cuernavaca, the land of the eternal spring. It brought back all my memories of living in Mexico when I was young.
Soon after, my husband Dan and I took our son Reid on a big road trip to California by way of Phoenix. On the way home, we went to Las Vegas and Hoover Dam, and then we showed our son the Grand Canyon before meeting New Orleans friend Ride Hamilton in Sedona.
Next, an assignment sent me to Savannah, Georgia. It was a lot like my beloved New Orleans, so I enjoyed it a great deal. There I visited Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home and walked through parks with trees canopied in Spanish Moss. That was followed by a trip to Yellowstone National Park, Jackson Hole Wyoming, and the Mountain Sky Guest Ranch in Montana.
After that, the biggest trip of the year began. It was a 20-day whirlwind Eurail trip through Germany (for the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall), the Upper Rhine Valley (Karlsruhe, Freiburg, Strasbourg, etc.), and then Switzerland, followed by a few days in Paris with my girlfriends, travel writers Marybeth Bond, Alison DaRossa and Kim Schneider.
After that, I flew to Naples and took a bus to the Amalfi Coast where I stayed in a spectacular former monastery, the hotel Monastero Santa Rosa. I adored Positano and Amalfi. After that, I took a train up to Venice for a few days. The day after I returned, I had an assignment to go cover a big quilt festival in Houston—so off I went, on the road again.
At this point, I thought I’d stay home for a while—but then we took a family trip to the Texas Coast to Port Aransas, and as soon as I got back I flew to England for a week.
In England, I got to see the 800-year old Magna Carta in Salisbury. I also got to see the Christmas market in Lincoln and visit with my British friends I’d met on the Rocky Mountaineer earlier in the year. London was a treat because I got to stay in an apartment suite at the new Rosewood London Hotel at Covent Garden.
Yes, the road can wear a person out—I have a cough that I caught in some cold clime months ago that will not leave me—and I rarely have a day when my suitcase isn’t waiting to be unpacked and repacked. But travel reminds me that people everywhere are kind and are looking for connection and friendship–something I’ve grateful to have enjoyed during this busy year on the road.
Mridula Dwivedi, Travel Writer
The traveling in 2014 started on an uncertain note for me. My first scheduled trip got canceled but at the last moment, I managed to rebook and traveled solo to Rann of Kutch in the Indian state of Gujarat. I had a fabulous trip.
The region is famous for its white salt marshlands. It is also a good place to shop for fabulous dresses with gorgeous embroidery done by the local artisans.
My second trip was special as it was a mother-daughter trip to a nearby Sarika National Park in the state of Rajasthan, India. We went on two safaris but we did not spot a tiger. But for me going inside a jungle is always special, my concrete-filled eyes react so well to the greens of a jungle. As my daughter was also with me, it was doubly special.
Snowfall for me is an unusual occurrence. On my third trip to Narkanda in Himachal Pradesh India I got a lot of it. It was a trip where I was determined to do nothing other than reading a book and going for walks.
And I managed to do exactly that!
My fourth trip of the year was to beautiful Lapland region in Finland with Nokia. It was an amazing trip.
I saw snow like never before and temperatures like never before. When we landed at Kittila it was -22 degree Celsius. The highest temperature was 2 degrees in Helsinki. It was a wonderful tryst with reindeer, husky dogs and Sami culture. I had a crazy time in the sauna and snow!
The fifth trip was to Udaipur in Rajasthan in India. Udaipur has lovely lakes and grand forts. It is once again a good place to shop for colorful local fabrics and dresses. I witnessed one of the most amazing sunsets at the Monsoon Palace.
On my sixth trip of the year, I went to the Maldives on a personal vacation with my younger nephew Sunil. He is a complete chatterbox and it is always fun to have him around. The Maldives has really stunning beaches and islands. We stayed at Maafushi and hopped over to Fihalhohi Island Resort. The Maldives is just spectacular, I am lucky it is nearby and they have now opened budget islands for tourism as well.
For my seventh and eight trips, I went to Rajasthan again to Ranthambore National Park and Ajmer. At Ranthambore, I did see a tiger. Seeing a tiger in the wild is indeed a thrilling experience.
My ninth trip of the year was truly blessed. I covered the Pope Francis’s visit to Jordan with the Jordan Tourism Board. Being a college professor, never in my life I imagined I would get an opportunity like this!
The emphasis on this trip was to visit biblical sites like Madaba, Bethany Beyond Jordan, etc. I quite enjoyed floating on the Dead Sea too.
The tenth trip of the year was to Thailand with Bangkok and Khao Yai as the focus. This was the first of the three trips I made to Thailand this year with the Tourism Authority of Thailand, New Delhi. The 11th trip this year was to the beautiful region of Kashmir. I visited Srinagar and Pahalgam during my stay.
The 12th trip of the year was to Pragpur, Himachal Pradesh, India. Pragpur has a heritage hotel, The Judge’s Court and I was invited by them. The area is known for its miniature paintings and the tranquil mountainside. The 13th trip was to the beautiful high altitude lake of Chandratal in Spiti, India. It was a 14 km trek to the lake at 4300 meters, the only small one day trek I managed this year.
On my 15th trip I went to the Land of Dragon, Bhutan with an Indian company Makemytrip. Landing at Paro it felt as if I had stepped back in time. Bhutan is so beautiful, so peaceful, exactly what a doctor would order for the frayed city nerves. I visited Paro, Thimphu, and Phunaka and all of them are lovely places.
My next trip was to Hong Kong with my daughter and my niece. My daughter recently got her passport so I decided to take the two youngest members of my family to Disney Land. They tell me that they enjoyed the hotel swimming pool the most! Kids are so sweet at that young age!
My 18th trip of the year was to Thailand again, this time to Bangkok and the beautiful Krabi region. I visited the small island of Koh Lanta as well. I had an entire speed boat to myself to visit the Hong Island in Krabi. Krabi is a beautiful beach destination quite unlike other places; its focus is on providing a peaceful holiday to visitors.
On my 19th trip, I visited Jaipur in Rajasthan, India with the beautiful Jaipur Marriott Hotel. The hotel itself was fabulous. The city is one of the three cities of what is known as the golden triangle in India. It is once again a city of forts and crafts in colorful Rajasthan.
The year is not yet over and I still have a family vacation left, a short one to Sariska National Park again as it is close to my place. If I can travel to even half the places next year, I promise I will not crib.
Shelley Seale, Travel Writer
I got a late start traveling in 2014 – typically I go somewhere warm in January. This year’s travels began March 1, when my boyfriend and travel photography partner Keith and I visited the Caribbean island nation of Grenada.
A completely underrated, under-visited tropical country, we found Grenada authentic and charming. We especially liked the smaller sister island, Carriacou, which had great diving, snorkeling, and beaches.
In April, I headed out to Arizona to spend some time at one of the state’s original health resorts, Canyon Ranch. It was four blissful days of yoga, hiking, healthy eating, and spa treatments. I came back rejuvenated and relaxed.
The next month I headed to Central America, to visit one of my best friends who lives in Costa Rica. This was my 3rd visit to this beautiful country, and my second to see my friend in her hometown of Tamarindo. This is a cute little beach town with a very hippie vibe.
The week included lots of beach time and happy hours (mostly combined), with a side trip up to Cocoa Beach to check out a small, independently run 7-room villa called Villa Buena Onda. Cool vibes, indeed!
In June I was back in North America, at the fun mountain town of Telluride, Colorado. While Telluride is known primarily for its skiing, it was a super fun place to go in the summertime.
They have a festival almost every weekend, whether food and wine, yoga, music or other themes. We were treated to some special insights into the local foodie scene with Chef Bud of Hotel Madeline, including a trip to the farmers market and a special lunch Chef Bud made just for us with his market haul.
For July, I was visiting another dear friend – this time in Florida. I first spent a few days on Marco Island, then headed to Venice Island to spend the Fourth of July with my friend and her husband. A multi-cultural international dinner with their friends, sparklers on the beach and rooftop fireworks show made it an Independence Day to remember!
August brought my favorite trip of the year. Keith and I headed down to Chile, one of my favorite countries.
The first stop was an absolute top-of-my-travel-list destination: Easter Island, or Rapa Nui. Seeing the famed (and mysterious) Maoi statues that are scattered around the small island was an incredible experience, and we had an all-around fantastic five days at Hangaroa Ecohotel and making different historical excursions every day.
From Easter Island, we headed down to Patagonia, another of my top destinations and the farthest south in Chile I have been. Because it was the offseason, there were very few tourists around which was really nice. We did several hikes where we never saw a single other person.
We also went horseback riding with a bona fide gaucho, who chain-smoked during the entire ride and then built a campfire and made us mate tea at the mountaintop. At Torres del Paine National Park, we did some hiking and saw the famed glacier, coming down into the lake with the huge, surreal blue icebergs floating all around. Spectacular.
My last trip of the year was from late October through the third week of November, when I headed to India. I have probably been to India more than anywhere else; after my first visit on a volunteer trip to an orphanage in 2005, I became “hooked” on this vital, alive country and the multitude of things to be found there – some good, some bad, but all an experience like no other.
It was another great year of travel! If you care to, you can follow along on my 2014 journeys via my video below: