Friday, April 04, 2014
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.
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. I visited Cuenca and Otavalo, Ecuador for a trade show and got out on a horse to ride in the countryside, this was definitely the highlight! 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.
Max Hartshorne has been the editor of the GoNOMAD.com travel website in South Deerfield since 2002. He travels to write stories and post daily blogs on GazetteNET and on his site. Follow him @gonomad.