2009: Our Best Travel Stories

2009 Best travel stories

2009 Wrap-Up

It’s been a swell year, 2009, at GONOMAD with more than 200 top-notch travel stories published. Our writers have spanned the globe from Alabama to Zanzibar.

We’ve exhibited at the New York Times Travel Show and the Boston Globe Travel Show, and Editors Max Hartshorne and Kent St. John joined Julia Dimon, host of Word Travels, for a forum on effective travel writing.

The dean of American travel writing, Arthur Frommer, told us he reads our site and he recommended GoNOMAD as a good place for new writers to get published.

Anthony Bourdain follows GoNOMAD on Twitter, or at least his people do, and we got a call from Andrew Zimmern’s staff asking about weird food in Ethiopia. In this special edition of our newsletter, we’d like to recognize the very best stories of the year.

Selections of this kind are always a judgment call, but we decided to take the time to point out the stories that we feel best to exemplify what GoNOMAD is all about. That means getting to the heart of a destination, engaging with the people, experiencing the history and culture, sampling the cuisine, and, last but not least, finding fun stuff to do.

When Paul Shoul captures a smiling face peering out from a crowd of Tunisian women in burkas or Shady Hartshorne writes about the moving exhibits at the Civil Rights Memorial in Alabama — that’s what we’re all about. As our founder Lauryn Axelrod put it, “Good travel writing is transformative, informative and thoughtful.”

It was a real task to make these selections from more than 200 articles published this year. We based our selections on writing, photography, and subject matter. We’ve divided our stories into two groups, one by staff writers and editors and one by contributors. They’re in no particular order. Every choice was difficult, and we send heartfelt thanks to all our great GoNOMAD writers all over the world.

All in all, it’s been just another year of top-notch travel writing on GoNOMAD.

Top stories by our contributors:

A red fish in the Red Market in MacauMacau, China: Contradictions and Tiny Miracles by Janis Turk
I awoke early to wander with my camera. The best way to get acquainted with a city is to catch it early in the day before it has had time to wake up properly before the human highway begins — to look into the faces of shopkeepers opening their stores, nod a hello to old ladies who wash the streets with brooms outside their houses, see the children in their uniforms walking to school…

Biking in CubaBicycling Cuba: Bluebird Skies and Welcoming Homestays by Matthew Kadey
For the cyclist, roads sans cars, bluebird skies, numerous and welcoming home-stays, and the diverse topography of the Caribbean’s largest country is making Cuba an increasingly popular cycle touring destination. Where else do you have beaches and cathedrals and mountains cheek by jowl? We’re surrounded by a world that has come alive with resplendent views of lushly overgrown hills that hold some of the richest biodiversity in the Antilles…

The palace guard in TurkmenistanTurkmenistan: Tinhorn Tyranny by David Rich
I suggest money not be wasted going to Turkmenistan, though the country is an admitted hoot. With the mandatory guide, any visit is expensive. But for those who must visit every last weird country on earth, such as myself, Lufthansa and Turkmenistan Air fly to Ashgabat from Europe and the Middle East, expensively… Turkmenistan also has a reputation for ptomaine and unsanitary food preparation. But enjoy!

Visiting the Phlegrean Fields near NaplesThe Phlegraean Fields: A Family Excursion to the Gates of Hell by Barbara Zaragoza
The Phlegraean Fields encompass a caldera or cauldron-like region of twenty-four volcanoes and craters, many still bubbling with seismic activity. Escaping the bustle of downtown Naples and the crowds of Pompeii, this region has fewer tourists and more eye-popping sites. Here the kids can wander a Mars-like terrain of the still active Solfatara volcano that the Romans once called the ‘Forum Vulcani’ or ‘The House of the God of Fire.’

A Mamuthone Sardinia’s Mamuthones: An Ancient Carnival by Angela Corrias
You can’t just see a 2000-year-old ritual, you need to experience it. Being born in Sardinia myself and having lived for twenty years only 60 km away from Mamoiada, I have always known this tradition, but after seeing what it actually does for the spirit of the village, I’ve realized I had never captured the spirit of the lonesome figure of the Mamuthones. In the Italian tradition, the Carnival has always been an occasion for wild parties, bright colors and funny masks.

Monks in Luang Prabang, LaosLuang Prabang, Laos: A Slice of Heaven? by Paige Stringer
This small town in one of the world’s economically poor countries is rich in compassion and community. The elements of Buddhism are played out in every facet of the people’s lives here. As I wandered the town, I heard the happy sounds of goodwill resonate and decided that the monk had it right: “Focus on the community and contribute to its happiness.” It sure seems to work here. Every aspect of Luang Prabang is at peace with itself….

A player in a Dead Goat Polo match in KyrgyzstanDead Goat Polo: National Sport of Kyrgyzstan by Sophie Ibbotson
Kok Boru (Dead Goat Polo) may not be the most charming name for a sport, but it certainly does what it says on the tin. Raiding and kidnapping the neighboring village may no longer be as acceptable as it once was (though bride-napping remains in vogue), but in its place the Kyrgyz have a surrogate pastime that offers the same outlet for aggression and a similar showcase for horsemanship…

Ancient stone structures in Scotland's Orkney IslandsSummer Solstice in the Orkney Islands by Steven Bochenek
Orkney is a group of more than 70 islands north of Scotland. It’s easy to imagine life here 200 years ago. People speak in paragraphs, taking time to tell a story or set up a joke. Within an hour’s bike ride of this port town, Stromness lies a UNESCO World Heritage Site whose structures rival even Stonehenge for their impressive antiquity. Best thing is, they’re easily doable for families. Kids especially love them for their sheer caveman cool.

St. Basil's Cathedral in MoscowMoscow: Warming Up After the Cold War by Bill Pfeffer
With a Tony Soprano meets Boris Yeltsin reputation, we were not sure what to expect after arriving in this legendary capital. With six-dollar Big Macs, midnight sunsets, a hundred brands of vodka in your local convenience store, muscled pistol-packing bodyguards, pin-striped businessmen, all-night dance clubs, and beautiful women right off the set of a 007 movie, Moscow is an intoxicating affront to your senses…

A yurt on the Isle of WightA Yurt Holiday on the Isle of Wight: Cheap and Cheerful by Meredith Bower
Generally when we travel together we rent a self-catering cottage, but with only four nights on the island, a cottage was not an economical option. Hotels and B&Bs seemed too confining for our group of 10, and this was not the time or place to explore camping. Just weeks before we were set to leave the US, we received a message from our relatives suggesting that we look at the website of The Really Green Holiday Company. “They do yurts,” they said.

Top stories by editors and staff writers:

How to Travel Together Without Killing Each Other by Kelly WesthoffKelly Westhoff and Quang Nystrom with a boa constrictor in Cambodia
In the end, travel made our marriage stronger. My husband and I might have started our six month journey as honeymooners, but when we came home, we were solidly married. It was as if our trip condensed six years of marriage into six months. I returned home with a deeper understanding of myself and my husband. And it’s not just me He agrees that our travels turned our beginner marriage into something stronger than it was before…

Tunisia: Exotic Souks, Ancient Ruins and Fabulous Food by Paul ShoulA smiling girl in a burka in Tunisia
I loved Tunisia. Yes, they have cars, really nice Italian ones, but they also ride camels and so can you. There are beautiful beaches and plush five-star hotel resorts, but there are also ancient walled cities incredible souks (markets) and a wealth of ancient Roman and Phoenician ruins. The seemingly endless groves of olive trees and vineyards are abundant, green and rich, but the Sahara desert, roamed by nomads, also covers one fourth of this little country…

Kipling’s Bundi: Peacocks and Palaces in Rajasthan by Mridula DwivediA painting of a peacock in Bundi, India
When my nephew Sunil and I visited the Sukh Mahal (Palace of Comfort would be the rough translation) at Bundi, the caretaker who opened the room filled with paintings told me (in Hindi), “This is where the Mowgli writer stayed.” I told him the writer’s name was Rudyard Kipling and the book that is associated with Bundi is Kim, not The Jungle Book. But he told me firmly, “It was the Mowgli man who stayed here.”

Belgium: Wandering Through Wallonia by Kent St. JohnA war memorial in Bastogne, Belgium
After a bit in Brussels, it was time to traverse the French-speaking Walloon Region, packed with more castles and breweries than any man could wish for, one castle every 25 kilometers.Throughout history, right up to WWII, major decisive battles raged, yet today it is a peaceful, picturesque place. Wallonia is the lungs of Belgium with 80% of the country’s forests. It borders France, Luxembourg, and Germany while maintaining its own style and traditions…

The Jersey Coast: Finding the Twilight Down the Shore by Max HartshorneAmusement park rides on the Jersey Shore
Twilight down the shore is a feeling and an experience that’s been a part of my family’s life for three generations. It begins at the end of a long day at the beach, where lots of swimming and sun has left you sun-bleached and tanned. It transitions a change of clothes and a relief from your wet bathing suit. It culminates as one enters the porch or the deck, surrounded by friends and family with a cocktail and a sense that all is well with the world…

A rodeo clown at the Calgary StampedeThe Calgary Stampede: The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth by Lisa St. John
Alberta has it all, and once a year, for ten days, it explodes into a culturally Canadian masterpiece of contrary collage… The Calgary Stampede. I have never felt such power and raw energy; these magnificent horses are bred specifically for bronco riding These glorious creatures are treated like the golden gods they are. Watching the cowboys prepare was a real treat; you can feel the energy emanate from the other side of the chute…

thumbnailThe Bavarian Alps: Christmas Markets and Pagan Spirits by Sony Stark
Twelve costumed figures, some wrapped in long striped straw, others sprouting fur under disfigured masks, charge the cobblestone streets. Everyone takes off running, as do I. Boys and girls scream in nervous laughter as we dodge street corners and hide behind unsuspecting shoppers. The ugly beasts have long red tongues, crooked noses, and devil horns atop their furry heads…

A wild pony on Assateaque IslandAssateague Island: Summer Fun with Wild Ponies by Esha Samajpati
While on the trail, we spotted a herd of ponies grazing on a jutting piece of land, few feet away from us. Beautiful creatures with a glossy coat and long eye-lashes, they grazed peacefully. Their diet mostly consists of marsh and dune grasses. Petting or feeding is strictly prohibited. Imagine my delight when we came out of the sandy dunes and marshy grassland and saw that some of the ponies had ventured out on the paved roads…

A bronc rider at Cheyenne Frontier DaysCheyenne’s Frontier Days Bring the Old West to Life by Cindy Bigras
Exiting the depot I found myself in Depot Square, site of several free summer concerts. This city of approximately 50,000 swells to almost ten times its normal size for Frontier Days and crowds have appeared for the opening day parade. Passing by are Miss Frontier and her lady in waiting. And look, here comes the blacksmith shop, the dance hall, the one-room schoolhouse, and of course, it wouldn’t be a Western parade without the stagecoach!

Sculpture of Hank Williams in Montgomery, AlabamaMontgomery: The South’s Capital City by Shady Hartshorne and Laurie Ellis
As the state capital, the original capital of the Confederacy, and the birthplace of the modern American civil rights movement, Montgomery has always been a magnet for historic events. For example, the Empire Theater where a 14-year old Hank Williams won an amateur talent contest in 1937 is the same spot where Rosa Parks took her famous bus ride in 1955. The orders to fire on Fort Sumber were telegraphed from the Capitol Building in 1861…

The Art Car Parade in Houston, TexasHouston, Texas: A Great Place to Be Yourself by Stephen Hartshorne
Named for the wily Cherokee war chief who won independence for Texas — that would be Sam Houston — this place has character. Some say it’s the western part of the South, and some say it’s the southern part of the West. Actually, like the rest of the Texas Gulf Coast, it has a character all its own. You don’t find a lot of Texans here boasting about how everything’s bigger and better than everywhere else. Most of the people are from somewhere else…

Top stories by our student interns:

Finland’s Hidden Treasure: Pori, Where the Finns Go by Isadora DunneSwimming in ice cold water after a sauna in Pori, Finland
Among most Americans, the Finnish town of Pori is virtually unknown, but it is a favorite summer getaway for many Finns, as well as European vacationers from Sweden, Germany, Great Britain, and the Netherlands. There are two big reasons: Pori Jazz in mid July is the oldest and largest Jazz festival in all Europe. For sun lovers and nature enthusiasts the nearby Yyteri beach provides the ultimate reason to visit the Pori area…

Lowell, Massachusetts: History and Culture in the City of Kerouac by Kaitlyn SA canal boat in Lowell, Massachusettsilva
While the 1995 documentary “High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell” was a critically acclaimed victory for HBO, it was a curse upon the fourth largest city in Massachusetts.
Lowell earned an ugly reputation in the early 1990s due to drug and gang issues, but since then a dramatic downtown revival has made the city a center of history and culture, from the historic mills and Jack Kerouac to art and the annual folk festival…

Provincetown, Massachusetts: Biking, Art and Open-Minded Culture by Lisa LinsleyLeather Weekend in Provincetown, Massachusetts
Visiting off-season, on a windy, drizzling Saturday, I obviously didn’t go swimming and didn’t lie out in the sun. As the rain rapidly increased on the long drive there, I got antsy wondering what would be there to do in the rain, in October. I mean what else is in Provincetown besides beaches? The answer turned out to be… everything! Provincetown really has something for everyone, whether it is the arts, biking, whale watching, or boating…

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