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.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Portugal adventure includes Chapel of Bones, Night Sky stargazing spot

The Chapel of Bones in tucked away inside an ancient church in Evora.

Portugal is one of the least visited of European countries, but its attractions are simply amazing. Some of them are chronicled in the Feb. 8 Travel section, including the
Chapel of Bones in Evora. Click on the contrasting print to read the whole story.

The Chapel of Bones was built in the 1500s by Franciscan  monks  who disinterred the remains from a dozen cemeteries around Evora. The town, begun centuries before that by the Romans, needed to expand.

That small city, capital of the inland Alentejo region, an area of vast plains about a 90-minute drive from Lisbon, was one of the treasures uncovered for me during my November motorcoach tour with Insight Vacations. Our spacious Mercedes Benz coach  had been reconfigured to seat just 40 travelers, all with extra legroom. There were just 29 of us on my trip so we all were able to spread out.

Excellent guides joined us at every stop, giving us a bit of history and a walking tour to help us become oriented for forays on our own.

In exploring the coastal towns around Lisbon we made a stop en route to Estoril where we got off the coach to stroll near to the Atlantic, which whipped its spray into a frenzy that drove several of us back into the bus. In the distance we could see Cabo de Roca, the westernmost point of continental Europe. It was easy to imagine that Vasco de Gama and other early explorers believed  sea  monsters lived beyond the horizon.
Poseidon astride a sea monster is depicted in marble near the monument to the explorers. 

Some of those monsters are depicted on a giant marble map carrying Posiedon. It which lies in front of the seaside Padrao  dos Descobrimentos, a huge stone monument dedicated to the many explorers who departed on their voyages of discovery from Lisbon.

 I  especially want to return to Lake Aqueva, a 97-square mile artificial lake created in 2010 by the damming of a river. It spans Portugal's border with Spain and has become a major destination for dark sky tourism, so called because of the area's record number of clear days and lack of light pollution. Telescopes are available at several guest houses in the region and astronomy experts are on hand to show amateur stargazers the celestial sites.

I hope you enjoy this latest story from my Iberian adventure with Insight. Learn more about the company's upcoming adventures at 800-582-8380;

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Previewing Pastina, Mentor newest restaurant

My smoked salmon chips were a delightful combination of chile cream cheese, capers, chives and pickled onion served on top of huge potato chips 
The hottest new tables around are at Pastina, which opens Monday Feb. 9 in a stunning new space at 9354 Mentor Ave. I was among those invited for a soft opening preview - a time to fine tune both service and food - and both my friend and I were super impressed.

Meet Tina Greci, affable proprietor at Pastina, Mentor's newest restaurant.

The 200 seat restaurant is the latest in the offerings from the Longo family with its Longo's just west on Mentor Avenue and and Joey's Italian Grille locations in Chardon and Madison Township.

However, this place is Tina's as in Tina Greci, Joe's sister, and it has her touch in everything from the amber like jewel tone chandeliers  to the layout. Her husband, Ray Greci, oversees the making of the pizza crusts, the breads and the light and delicate homemade pastas. But everything here is made from scratch.
The whole family was on hand to welcome invited guests who filled booths big enough to accommodate eight smaller people and six with more ample proportions. Tables also are available but folks seemed to prefer the cushy booths.

The shrimp and polenta small plate has an interesting and quite delicious combo of flavors. 

The bar, which has 100 more seats for dining, also were filled. This place has 6,000 square feet and is served by a large kitchen.

My friend and I ordered from the small plates part of the menu and then split a margherita pizza ($10).

She ordered the shrimp and polenta, priced at $11, while I went with the smoked salmon chips at $9. Her shrimp were huge and wonderful tasting atop a lovely cake of polenta, napped by  a lemon butter fondue.  It was served in a pretty squarish half plate, half bowl. My house smoked salmon had chile cream cheese, capers, chives and pickled onion  set atop homemade potato chips made from large Idaho potatoes and set on a board.  I was surprised to discover it was cold but there were six of those really large chips.

We both agreed those so-called small plates were enough for a meal and when the pizza came we couldnt finish it. But the pizza had waht is perhaps the lightest crust I'd ever had and was simpoly prepared with tomato sauce house-made mozzarella and fresh basil.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Media viral vortex: shelf life of a story

My work has been sucked into a media viral vortex.

When I met Lee Wachstetter aboard the Crystal Serenity in 2012 I was captivated with her story. She loves to dance, and since her husband died she's lived aboard the ship so she could dance every evening.

I met her through  Emery Lendvay, a Madison Township man who was an Ambassador Host for Crystal. He danced the evenings away with women like Mama Lee, the affectionate nickname given Wachstetter by the ship's staff  His courtly European manners and smooth  dancing style made him a favorite. So, of course, I also wrote about him.
Not long after those stories appeared, I got an email from Dave Ashley who played trombone with the ship's Galaxy Orchestra. He was home in Lexington, Kentucky on a break between sailings and had found my stories online. He asked if I had any photos of the orchestra. I told him I'd look, and later I blogged about how he found the earlier stories online.

Fast forward to January 2015. Someone else wrote about Mama Lee. I heard it was USA Today but things have moved so quickly since then I haven't been able to check.
Soon the story had gone viral. It was picked up by other newspapers and TV stations and everyone was looking for another angle. The ship was at sea so calling Mama Lee was not an option.

Sharp reporters searched with Google and found my earlier stories and soon I was being contacted by other news outlets. First it was London's Daily Mail and then it was a German television network, both asking to use my video. I gave permission as long as they  linked back to The News-Herald. Newspapers these days live by hits, It's something they can take to the bank in terms of ad revenue.
The Daily Mail, with its one million circulation, credited me, Janet Podolak but at the Miami Herald. I asked for a correction, which they made. And we got plenty of hits.

 I haven't yet seen what the German TV network is doing but now when I Google "Mama Lee" I find my story and its video have been put up on many other newspaper websites. But you can click on the words in contrasting print for the original stories in this saga.
Simply amazing!

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Seafood extravaganza a motorcoach tour's Lisbon treat

A rainy night in Lisbon found us in a great seafood spot in a working class neighborhood. 

I'd never been to Portugal but  knew the Atlantic defined its western coast and the country was one of Europe's wealthiest during the Age of Discovery.  Early in our Iberian adventure our Insight tour took us to a Lisbon monument marking the place where  Vasco de Gama and Magellan set out to explore the world. 

I was  looking forward to eating some great seafood, but concerned that  motorcoach tour dining would be less than stellar. It's got to be a challenge in planning such a trip to find restaurants to handle 28 people at one time. Food on my earlier motorcoach tours  usually ranged from adequate to  ordinary so I didn't have high expectations.  
Platters filled with seafood kept coming.

Extraordinary clams, unlike any I'd seen before,  were succulent and delicious.
Most meals on the Insight itinerary were included but several times  we were free to arrange our own dining. On our second  evening in Lisbon  I'd intended to go to a newly opened market boasting food stations staffed by a rotating group of local chefs. t sounded like a good story, but it was pouring rain. I didn't want to take a cab, and lacked confidence in negotiating the streetcar to the waterfront,.

 So when Insight president John Boulding asked us if we wanted to join him for seafood, I jumped at the chance. 
Several writers had other plans so our  group numbered about a dozen.,

John told us we'd be taking the ferry across the Tagus River to dine in a working class neighborhood far from the tourist haunts

Our coach took us to the ferry where we all got umbrellas and queued up to board the boat, which ran every few minutes.
We were urged to stay together and used tickets handed us by Toni, guide/conceirge extraordinaire.

Whole shrimp, with eyes still in place, required us to bite of the heads before consuming them.

The restaurant Marisqueira Val de Rio was just a half block from the ferry landing, but it was pouring by then. We raised our umbrellas and leaned into  the deluge to follow John to dinner, while Toni brought up the rear. Keeping travel writers on the straight and narrow is something like herding cats. We're curious types who are easily distracted. But the rain probably helped.

I'd hoped for octopus and got it

Once inside the restaurant we relinquished umbrellas and were shown to a trio of tables.
I eyed a blackboard menu promising octopus and planned to order it.  After orders for beer and wine were filled  platters filled with all kinds of seafood kept coming our way . It  proved to be an extravaganza of clams, crab, lobster and other shellfish and crustaceans and included the octopus I'd eyed.  

The place was not fancy but the food was extraordinary. My concerns about  dining quality were quickly put to rest. 

Toothsome crab claws had a side of bread stuffing on the plate.

Labels: , ,

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.

Labels: ,

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.