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, July 29, 2009

london's congestion fee

An amazingly viewful dinner at OXO Harvey Nicks was our welcome to London Tuesday night. The meal for media was in a restaurant high a tower on the south bank of the Thames with great city views of St. Paul's and the river traffic far below.
En route into the city from our Heathrow Marriott Hotel we learned about the inner city Congestion Zone, a plan that has kept central London more or less free from traffic snarls. Built long before cars came into existence its streets are narrow and parking if difficult to say the least.

An 8-pound fee (about $13) is assessed to motorists during working hours and it's enforced by remote cameras that record license plates. Those who don't pay are fined 80 pounds (about $100) So needless to say that encourages people to use public transportation, which includes the legendary tube or Underground — a subway system that works quite efficiently and goes everywhere. The per ride charge is about 4 pounds, but residents and those who use if more than once or twice can get a pass that costs significantly less.

This morning motorcoaches transported our group of writers 90 minutes to Southampton, a busy English Channel port city where Celebrity's Equinox was at anchor. We've spent the afternoon exploring the ship, and discovering its many beautiful and interesting spaces. We have a veranda, perfectly amazing shower and many intuitive touches A deck 5 espresso bar was heavensent for our jetlag.

We checked out the spa and huge exercise room. Since my guest Nancy and I know each other from the gym at Mentor-Heisley we've tried to keep up our workouts here, starting our morning with exercise at the Heathrow Marriott. Our footwear wasn't quite the thing during our visit to the ship's gym but here's Nancy on the eliptical. Perhaps our workouts on this two-day cruise will help cancel out all the food and wine.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

overnight to london

Our flights to London were uneventful and we arrived at the Heathrow Marriott within a few minutes of each other. Nancy flew Continental direct from Cleveland, landing at Terminal 4, while I came on British Airways from Chicago landing at brand new Terminal 5. When I checked in for my flight in Chicago I discovered that I'd been invited to the business class lounge where a light supper buffet awaited. My nice mesclun salad hit the spot.

Dinner was served on board the flight shortly after take-off and wine was complimentary. Shortly thereafter I skipped the in flight movies and other entertainment on demand options and settled in to sleep. I probably got a good four-hour nap before the flight attendants were coming down the aisles with coffee, orange juice and a sweet roll.

London is six hours later than at home so our 9 a.m. arrival corresponded to 3 a.m. deep sleep at home.

We had planned to go into the city but folks responding to my post on the London Forum of advised against it. Most noted that we'd be spending at least two hours on public transport (the tube or Underground as the subway is called) for an hour of walking around. I did learn, however, that there's a free shuttle to the nearest tube station from the hotel which eliminates the need to return to the airport to catch the Piccadilly line.

So instead we took one forum poster's advice and walked a couple blocks to the Pheasant Pub for a glass of ale and a Ploughman's lunch of Stilton cheese. It came out as a one square foot plate with two big slices of cheese, a salad with sprouts, a salsa like condiment, slices of cucumber and beets and a small loaf f bread,

Our brisk walk was refreshing but now I'm hitting the wall and will take a short nap. Nancy, meanwhile, has gone to check out the heated pool.

We meet our group for dinner at OXO Tower on the Thames in central London at 4:15 pm. There are 72 writers invited to preview the ship. Tonight we'll get to know some of them.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Equinox London launch

I'm headed to London for Thursday's naming ceremony of the new Celebrity Equinox. It's another whirlwind trip which begins with an overnight flight tomorrow.

It's the newest of the cruise line's Solstice class ships and they've invited press to take part. My friend Nancy, who I know from the gym at Mentor Heisley, is joining me. It will be her first Europe trip.

We're going with carry-on so as to skip the time-consuming baggage claim process We are trying to buy time for a couple hours in London on Tuesday. Packing is a bit of a challenge since Thursday night is formal. We are on different flights and arrive within minutes of each other around 9 a.m. at different terminals so will meet at the Heathrow Marriott where the cruise line is hosting us Tuesday night. If our flights are on time we should be able to take the Piccadilly tube line from the airport and spend two or so hours at either Harrod's or Covent Garden. Nancy, who is paying her own way, is flying on Continental's non-stop from Cleveland, while I'm flying British Airways from Chicago as Celebrity's guest.

I've asked those on theLondon forum of if we're nuts to attempt this or if they have tips to make our two-hour London foray possible. We meet our group back at the hotel at 4 for transport dinner and need to make time first for a shower, at least.

We board the ship Wednesday after a 90-minute motorcoach transfer to Southampton from London. We'll be cruising just off the coast in the English Channel as we become acquainted with the ship. We're both hoping for a stateroom with a veranda - which 85% of them are. Staterooms are 15% percent larger than others in the Celebrity fleet.

I'll be blogging over the next few days, depending, of course, on internet access. Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

garden party extraordinaire

Saturday cleared in time for Holden Arboretum's Summer Soiree French Market to frame mimes, auction goodies and luscious food and wines in a golden garden party atmosphere.

Guests numbering more than 600 helped boost the evening's proceeds toward an estimated $80K . It's earmarked for conservation of Holden Arboretum's native forests. At more than 3,000 acres, the Kirtland-based Holden Arboretum is one of the nation's largest.

Party-goers, some women graced by garden hats and floral finery, browsed, sipped and nibbled as they perused silent auction donations ranging from fine art to landscape plants, spa experiences to a garden gate. Even during their current hard times, many local restaurateurs donated dining gift certificates.

Mentor's Candace Berthold brought a Taste of the Mediterranean basket from her Olive and The Grape for auction and sold olive oil specially labeled with the Summer Soiree sunflower as a tasty souvenir. Arboretum neighbor Judith McMillan donated a trail ride on her scenic Mountain Glen Farm as an auction item targeted to an experienced rider. Jack and Clara Sherwin Jr. donated two bottled of fine French wine from their Waite Hill wine cellar.

Twilight remained pleasant enough for open-sided tents to catch the flower- fragrant evening breezes against the plaintive backdrop of Edith Piaf songs. Dinner, pre-ordered and catered by Heinen's, was a choice among steak, salmon or chicken following hors d'oeuvres. Wine and mixed drinks were served at two open bars and, during dinner, by servers.

Auctioneer Morris Everett , assisted by volunteers in French berets roaming the crowd, guided the auctioning of once-in-a-lifetime adventures including a six-day sailing adventure in Maine aboard Bill Brown's 52-foot schooner to a week for two couples in a Left Bank Paris apartment.

See the full story in Monday's paper.

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