Blogs > News-Herald Food and Travel

Food and travel captivate Janet Podolak, who chronicles both for The News-Herald. Get the back story of her three decades of stories here. Guest bloggers and fellow News-Herald staffers also periodically share details of their trips.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Time capsule Cuba ending soon?

Sometimes you need to step away from the everyday to really examine life and how it's being lived.
That's one of the most compelling things about travel as far as I'm concerned, and last spring's visit to Cuba trumped that thought in every way.
Now that Cuba is about to open up and its 53-year embargo ended, that time capsule I visited is about to end. The 90 miles from Key West to Cuba will surely shrink and soon, I fear, Cubans will be just like us.
 I wrote about what I found and the words  here in contrasting print will allow you to revisit the stories published in recent months.. Just click and you will go there.
 Time spent without credit cards, cellphone and internet  was an eyeopener. I met hero Jose Marti, rode in cars from the 1950s, tasted forbidden cigars and rum, got some traditional recipes,  heard music that brought tears, met artists, toured a botanical garden, and did a little birding. I discovered people who were very literate and loved to read,, found out how to best stay hydrated, learned about how the money works, walked through a beautifully restored old neighborhood, and learned about the legacy of the mob in Havana.
I did a series of three stories for the paper that ran last July, August and September and tried to articulate stepping through a window in time, that shook my perceptions and reintroduced me to Ernest Hemingway.
My week-long visit to Cuba was a trip like no other. I will never forget it and I want to go back.

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Monday, December 8, 2014

Find favorite nativities at annual exhibit in Kirtland

In the week before it opened, artist Norbert Koehn constructs an Italian  nativity near the entrance to the Historic Kirtland Visitors Center.

Walking among the many nativities showcased each holiday season is always an interesting experience.  It's the same Christmas story told in hundreds of different ways.

Almost everyone has a favorite. When I heard about it, I  fully expected the Native American nativity featuring bear totems to be my favorite, but it turned out the one I liked best was the one constructed by artist Norbert Koehn just inside the entrance the to the visitor center.

Koehn and his wife live in South Euclid and are artists of great  stature. They've contributed nativities many years, but last year their work was missing from the exhibit.

One of the things I liked best about his nativity this year is that he sourced his figured from Spain. I'm pretty sure he got them in Seville, where an annual street market showcases everything nativity, from lush and detailed figures to fruits and vegetables and even cartoonish characters. When I saw that street market during my visit to Seville last month I thought of Historic Kirtland and its annual exhibit of loaned nativities. I knew that I would be writing about it upon my return to Ohio so as I walked around the nativity market in Seville I carefully checked out the various vendors and what they were selling.

Imagine my delight to meet the very figures I discovered in Seville at the nativity exhibit not far from my own backyard.  Catch the exhibit in Kirtland if you can. It's open every day but Christmas. Before you go browse the gallery of photos posted by News-Herald photo chief  Duncan Scott. You may find your favorite among the photos.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

United to end nonstops to popular Florida cities

Perhaps it's the arrival of Frontier Airlines in Cleveland that has partially caused  it, but United has announced it will end its popular nonstops to Fort Myers, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale on April 7 and nonstops to Dallas/Fort Worth  will end March 5.
Frontier Airlines flights to the popular Florida cities are about $100 cheaper than United's but when you add the $30 fee each way for carryon bags, the difference is much less. I've never flown Frontier and consider myself a loyal United flyer, but if I visit my daughter in Tampa this spring I'll certainly learn more.
Spirit Airlines, another low cost carrier with extra fees for carryon, also will begin flights from Cleveland to Tampa on Jan. 15.
Frontier, meanwhile, has dropped flights to Seattle and more recently announced it will soon end its nonstops to New York's LaGuardia,  Washington-Dulles and Trenton Mercer in New Jersey.
I've fine tuned my packing skills to travel with a carryon almost everywhere and for any amount of time, so now I don't know what I will do.
Near the airport on Maui there's a great secondhand clothing store where you can buy what you need when you arrive and donate it back when you leave. Maybe it's an idea other areas could adopt. And perhaps a rent-a-coat-and boots concession would  be well received in places where winter needs to be considered.
I'm not going to stop traveling and I'll mourn the loss of United flights to Florida but obviously some more new flying tactics need to be developed.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Portugal passage to Spain

Storks hi in their nests, long white necks stretched as if they're curious.Black pigs snuffling beneath oaks that haven't changed color. Old cork trees, their bark harvested to make a wide array of  commodities fare beyond bottle stoppers. These are the sights as our motor coach makes its way from Portugal to Seville. This Insight Vacation is a far cry from the last coach tour I 'd taken with huge amounts of legroom, wifi on board, charging stations, bottled water, and fellow passengers from far flung Singapore, South Africa, Australia, Italy, England and. Ireland.  Half the fun is hearing their varied perceptions of the experiences we share..We,be spent two nights in each hotel and now are concluding the Portugal portion of our journey together.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Car sharing - idea whose time has come

Car sharing is an idea whose time has come, especially for the museum dense University Circle neighborhood where parking and walking - especially in winter - can be problematic.

Car sharing arrives there with the Nov. 12 debut of Zipcar — a 24/7 transportation option for students and the local community. Two vehicles will be at University Circle Inc., 10831 Magnolia Drive, and two will be parked at the Ford Road Garage, 1980 Ford Road. Rates, which start at $7.50 an hour and $69 a day, include gas, insurance and 180 miles a day.

Sounds great for dropping the gang off for an exhibit or show, zipping downtown for an errand, then whipping back to pick them all up at the appointed time

 Memberships, available to university students and local businesses and nonprofits, permit reserving online or with a Smartphone. Details:

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Headed to Portugal and Spain

A week from now I'll be on my way to Lisbon to explore the southern part of that country before crossing over into Spain where I'll visit Seville  and Cordoba before going on to an overnight in Madrid and then heading home. It's all part of an #InsightVacations motorcoach trip - the first of that type of trip I've taken in many years. But that's a segment of travel I've long wanted to write about since it's the choice of so many readers.

Insight is a top notch tour operator with expert guides,  lots of seat and leg room, and itineraries with special experiences such as winery visits with tastings, a lake cruise, and seeing how free range pigs feast on acorns to become the cherished Iberico hams. We'll spend  two nights in a single hotel three times during our trip and all are centrally located and within easy walking distance of many attractions for our free time.

Our expert guide has already introduced himself by mail and I've received a duplicate list of hotels with addresses and phone numbers  so I can leave a copy behind.  That's not always the case on organized tours but it's that kind of attention to detail I've experienced so far with Insight. Check our the website at

I'm doing my homework on the places we'll visit so I don't have to waste time asking a lot of questions I can have answers for before I leave. That will leave me time to meet the people, absorb my surroundings, shoot good photos and capture the videos I'll share with readers early in 2015.

I also have fairly liberal amounts of free time, so am seeking input from others who have been to Lisbon, Evora, Monsaraz, Lake Alquva and the Andulsian region. Tell me, please, what to eat, what to drink. what to buy,  who to find, and where to take it all in.

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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Long haul flying strategies

My backpack, sleep mask and earplugs are basics for every trip. These neoprene shoes, a bottle water that folds flat when empty also help make a long flight more comfortable. See what else helps me sleep and arrive refreshed even on long haul overnight flights.

Long haul flying strategies detailed in my  Nov. 9 column in the Travel section depend on being properly equipped. 

My most recent long trip was 30-some hours en route to Oahu with an outbornd layover in San Francisco and a return layover in Houston. The five hour time difference gives,   in effect, give an extra half day. But sleep between here and there is essential if you're going to be able to take advantage of it since it's five hours earlier.

My next long trip will also be five hours' time difference, but I'm headed for Lisbon so it will be that much later than at home. When I arrive it will be morning but my internal time will be the middle of the night. 
That's part of what jet all is all about, but I can't say which is more difficult - eastbound or westbound.
But sleep is essential and I always try to get on local time as soon as I arrive. Getting outdoors and going for a brisk walk in the sunlight helps.

Here are some of the specifics Ive discovered through the years or being on the road for The News-Herald's Travel section.

My North Face backpack is critical because it becomes a footrest  once I recline my seat for sleep. Neoprene Nufoot slippers go over my socks to keep me warm, provide traction  and help me make the trek to the washroom. I brush my teeth using  one-time use disposable brush picks with toothpaste embedded. A collapsible plastic water bottle the folds flat when empty  is attached to the pack by a carbiner along with Purell handcleaner. Both are easy to clip off the pack and onto my belt when I explore my destination. 

The water bottle, purchased at the AAA office in Mentor, was the envy of everyone in during my visit last spring to Cuba where hydration is important but bottled water is not widely found. 

My sleep mask and foam earplugs are travel essentials since I need darkness and silence to sleep on flights and at my destinations. They're rolled and packed in a ziplock bag along with meds I need to take on the flight. I usually travel with a sleep aide, although I don't always use it. Prescription Ambien is my choice. 
Inside my pack are my electronics and chargers padded by a light rain jacket that packs into its own pocket. That pocket has become a pillow when one isn't provided  on the flight. I also have an inflatable neck pillow
and I always take a cozy pashmina, which can serve as a blanket or be rolled for low back support during  long flight.