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.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Branson: God & country

God and country are paramount in Branson and there are no apologies to those who do not agree in the public display of religion and patriotism.
The day's opening ceremony yesterday at Silver Dollar City was marked with trumpet playing Revielle, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and a great rendition of the Star Spangled Banner — a first-ever for me at an amusement park. Everyone stood and respectfully placed their right hands over their hearts.
My day ended aboard the Showboat Branson Belle as it docked after a cruise on Table Rock Rock Lake with a stirring tribute to the troops, a recitation of scripture and a slide show of Bible scenes starring Jesus. A explosion of flags dropping from the ceiling and balconies ended the show.
My table seatmates, Shirley and Robert from Kent, England declared their surprise at the unabashed display of religiousity and patriotism, especially since they've visited the U.S. many times and hadn't witnessed it before to such a degree. They also expressed surprise at seeing few black or Asian faces among folks around here. "In England we end ceremonies with God Save the Queen," said Robert. "But it's nothing like this." Sentiments of patriotism and religion are considered private in England and not the subject for public displays.
The couple told me they are country music fans who came to Branson just for that reason. They also are fans of all things American and before they came here they visited the Space Center in Alabama, and attended a Mustang Car rally somewhere else in the south. They own and drive a 1966 Mustang which they bought 35 years ago in England where an American had had it shipped and later sold it. I know that those of us who adore all things English are Anglophiles, but I don't know the word for Brits who love all things American.
Other shows in Branson display the same God and country sentiments, the couple has found. A Passion Play show has just concluded for the Easter season and a Noah's Ark show is packing them in. There's a God and Country Theater and even a God and Country Memorial Garden, which looked to me more like a miniature golf course with flags, crosses and Jesus statues. But a sign out front advertised it For Rent so I didn't pop in.
But old time family values are apparently alive and well in Branson, even without a whole lot of diversity.

Friday, April 24, 2009

branson missouri

Branson, Missouri is to show goers as Las Vegas is to gamblers. And both the glitz and the distances are pretty similar.
More than 100 different shows are listed in the convention & Visitors Bureau's attractions guide, and although many of them don't run seven days a week year round, they range from Bobbie Vinton to Chinese Acrobats, variety shows to Loretta Lynn and Beatles Tributes. I saw the Oak Ridge Boys last night, will have tonight's dinner aboard the Showboat Dinner cruise and will attend a Red Skelton tribute show on Saturday.
I had hoped to interview Al Roker, the Today show star who is here to judge the Great American Pie Show, one of several culinary events taking place this weekend. Despite the fact that Roker got his start in TV as a weatherman in Cleveland, his publicist didn't return my calls and emails. So in a few minutes I'm headed to the pie show to try to track him down myself.
Branson isn't hurting in the way lots of places are in the current economy. The shows all seem packed even though many ticket prices hover around $50.
I thought I'd be able to walk to a lot of things during my visit here, but quickly learned the area is pretty spread out. I flew into Springfield Thursday afternoon and picked up a rental car for the hour long drive figuring I'd leave it parked when I arrived. WRONG!
The show venues are spread out over 10 miles or so, so this is no compact walking distance town. And although they're sometimes steep hills, instead of mountains, the terrain can also be daunting. I spent a big part of today at Silver Dollar City, a charming, 50-year-old amusement park that grew around a cave tour. Its founders moved in century-old Ozark log cabins, churches and businesses and invited crafters to demonstrate in them as a way to occupy folks while they waited for their cave tours.
Today food is a big emphasis with homemade cinnamon buns and pastries, ice cream and succotash all made in front of those who will be eating it. Giant skillets are filled with all manner of good food which is sold to those who line up to purchase it.
The entire 70-acre park is on wooded hills, with amusement rides sited in the valley so as not to visually detract from the old timey village feel. Lots of seniors rent scooters to help them get around the grounds. Some even tote portable oxygen tanks, refusing to let their disabilities keep them from having a good time.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Honors for me, CNN & GA. aquarium

It's great being here in Atlanta with other travel writer members of the Society of American Travel Writers. We're seeing the town and exchanging stories about how we are all coping in these tumultuous times.

Writing honors came my way yesterday from the organization, which is gathered for its spring conference.
Most prestigious, perhaps, was a third place for Best Newspaper Travel Section Under 350,000 Circulation for The News-Herald's Sunday Travel section. Competing newspapers came from 14 central states from Ohio to Texas , Illinois to Arkansas. Given the fact that the other winners in that category each have close to six times The News-Herald's circulation — that's quite an honor!

Last summer's story about a multi-day rafting trip I took with my grandson on West Virginia's New River won a first place for Best Marine Travel, while my series about villages in France's Loire region also won a third place.

I'll soon have another batch of stories from this trip which has so far included behind the scenes tours of both the CNN studios and the Georgia Aquarium.

In its 22 years, CNN has revolutionized the news industry with 24- hour news now reported from 22 news bureaus in 200 countries throughout the world.
Just as revolutionary is the five-year-old Georgia Aquarium, which has transformed the country's fourth largest convention city into a place with lots of fun things to do.
Not only is it the country's largest aquarium, it's the only one with four 15-to-18-foot long whale sharks in residence. Even more amazing in this day and age is that the $300 million project is without debt, since Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus put up $250 million and the rest came from corporate sponsors in the community. Although it's a non-profit it operates as a business — a fact that has made it able to plan an expansion with a dolphin area set to open in 2010.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

springtime in Atlanta

Atlanta bound early Wed on Delta, and I've lucked out with a small commuter aircraft that has the option of gate check. That means I can leave my bag at the end of the jetway and it will be loaded on the plane without me having to struggle to get it in the overhead bin — or pay extra to check a bag. When I get off the plane in Atlanta it will be on the jetway so can just wheel it away. Best of all, there's no charge for that option, which is available only on the smallest aircraft. I also got Continental frequent flyer miles for this flight when I saw that it's a code share with Delta. The gate agent told me both options will end soon, however. Gate checked bags soon will have a fee and Continental will ally with United instead of Delta.

It was great to see green again as we approached our landing cat Atlanta's Hartsfield Intl Airport - the largest in the country. I'd reserved a shuttle online to the Marriott Marquis and soon we were on our way past pretty pink blossoming trees, something gorgeously purple that was possibly a wisteria or jacaranda and flower beds brimming with purple and yellow pansies. Such a nice preview of spring!
With today's rain in Northeast Ohio I'm sure things will be greening up quickly at home-- maybe by the time I return on Sunday.

Im on the 35th floor of this stunning hotel right downtown within walking distance of everything. The picture you see was taken from the Atrium level showing the levels soaring to the 42nd floor. To me it looked like modern art, so I am sharing it with you.

I'm here in Atlanta for a conference of the Society of American Travel Writers and tonight's group dinner takes place at CNN, where we'll get a behind the scenes tour.