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.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Stay at Cedar Point Hotel Breakers disappoints

News-Herald sports reporter Theresa Neuhoff Audia is guest blogger with this account of her recent unpleasant experience at the Hotel Breakers during a family visit to Cedar Point.
Janet Podolak

For as long as I can remember, I have been going to Cedar Point on family vacations.

The past seven years, I have gone with my husband and his family.

We have stayed at Cedar Point's Hotel Breakers every year.

After this year's experience, we may never go back.

My in-laws are retired teachers who have been going to Cedar Point for the past 45 years. During that time, they missed two years - when my husband was born and last summer when my husband and I were married.

When I was young and growing up in nearby Vermilion, staying at Hotel Breakers in Sandusky, Ohio was a big treat.

Now it's a chore.

We stayed at Hotel Breakers East which has not been updated since it was renovated in 1995. The cost was over $300 per night (over $400 per night for my in-laws who had a view of Lake Erie).

For a place which is classified as a resort, one could expect such amenities as clean sheets, a flat screen television and newer carpeting.

But none of those luxuries existed.

The stay was a real disappointment.

The sheets were something you'd expect to find at Goodwill.
The television was old and outdated. The room itself seemed dirty.

According to Cedar Point Public Relations Director Robin Innes, the hotel is owned by Cedar Point. He said the park has over 1,600 rooms and can only renovate a portion of those rooms at a time.

This year, Breakers Express was updated. The last two years, Cedar Point has been working on Sandcastle Suites.

That didn't help us.

What is most upsetting is my in-laws paid over $2,000 for three rooms for two nights. For that price, we could have gone to a resort that was actually worth it.

Cedar Point brings back wonderful childhood memories for me.

The park itself is still going strong.
Hotel Breakers is not.

Each year it continues to deteriorate.
Unfortunately, this year, it took away from our family experience.

We will not be going back anytime soon.

-Theresa Neuhoff Audia
(Neuhoff Audia is a sports writer at The News-Herald.)


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Vines & Wines at Farmpark

A backdrop of a perfect late summer twilight made the courtyard venue just about perfect for Friday's annual Vines & Wines benefit by the Lake Parks Foundation.

People mixed, mingled and got brought up to date about their summers as they browsed among plants, shrubs and trees donated by members of the Nursery Growers of Lake County, committing to purchases of extraordinarily-priced plant material.

This beautifully blooming shoulder high hydrangea caught my eye at $35, but while I was mulling over where in my yard I would plant it, it was marked as sold to someone else and hauled away to the pick-up area. Prices to my admittedly untrained eye were 25 to 50% less than you'd find them in a garden center. And because everything was raised right here in Lake County their survival is nearly assured.

The courtyard at Lake Metroparks Farmpark in Kirtland was scattered with umbrella tables for diners. But most guests, who had paid $45 for the pleasure of being there, saved their visits to the four food stations until after they'd browsed the plant materials. Silent auction groupings of plants, artworks and gift baskets filled the courtyard 's circumference. A clever lotto tree had as its leaves more than $200 worth of instant lotto tickets.

Plant material that was for sale was displayed in and beyond the porte cochere preceding the bar. It was well organized by sections for plants requiring either sun or shade. I was on the lookout for plants that would be fragrant and thrive in the shade so they could infuse my non air-conditioned living room with their scent. The wine, beer and beverage tent, set up at the far end of the party area, served to keep people moving among the collected plants. Farmpark horticulturists were on hand to answer questions while burlier staffers moved plants once they'd been purchased.

There wasn't much left once the evening was over, but leftover plants are being sold today (saturday, aug. 15) through 2 p.m. at Farmpark. Amy Kapostasy, Farmpark sales manager, says that past events have raised $10- to-$12,000 for the Foundation, which supports scholarships so students can attend park events and schools can benefit from its programming. She's also the one to call (440 256-2138) to make plans for a group event at Farmpark.

J&J Catering, which operates the park's cafe concession, positioned food stations throughout the venue. I tried them all, but found the wild mushroom crepes with a white wine butter sauce and salmon wellington with asparagus and capers and a lemon buerre blanc sauce to be my favorites. The cheese board also drew me back a few times. It would have been nice to see some bleu cheese and nuts offered to accompany the nice red wine.

Among the 140 people who attended were the awesomely fit Pat Granito, old friend from Mentor Heisley Fitness Club and wife of Foundation Trustee Vincent J. Granito and new acquaintance Mark Oesterle from Wickliffe, newest of the three park commissioners. He was appointed two years ago by Lake County Probate Court Judge Ted Klammer.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

3 hour London visit

We only had a few hours in London by the time we checked in to our centrally-located City Inn in Westminster so the challenge was to do things quintessentially British. I'd been here many times before, but it was my friend Nancy's first visit so the search was on for icons, which I hoped hadn't disappeared in the time since my last visit a few years ago.

The Pimblico station for the Underground was the closest to our hotel so after changing into good footwear we headed there to buy a day pass. The helpful agent sold us two day passes for about 11 pounds, good for transport within the central part of the city. We took the Victoria line to Green Park, walked underground corridors following signs up down and around to the Picadilly Line where we headed toward Heathrow, exiting at the Knightsbridge station for a visit to Harrod's. We passed Rolls-Royces and other chauffeur driven luxury cars discharging Muslim women clad head-to-toe in black burkas. Some had just a slit for their eyes, while others showed only their faces. Their handbags, shoes and jeweled fingers indicated their obvious wealth as did their enthusiastic reception by shop clerks, who fawned over them. Owned by the Fayed family, whose son, Dody, died with Princess Diana, Harrod's is obviously a favorite shopping spot for Muslims in London. Locals, however, are increasingly calling it Horrids.
Nancy and I headed for the amazing lower level food halls, grabbed a bite at the newish tapas bar here and ogled and gaped at goods we couldn't afford. As we left we saw the Harrod's doorman politely trying to get the chauffeurs to move their double-parked luxury cars which were blocking the entrance for everyone else. We headed back on the tube, which by then was crowded with rush hour commuters.

We needed to find rest rooms so stopped at a pub where we quenched our thirsts with others we had met on the cruise. Using our map, we aimed our walk toward Big Ben and the London Eye on foot, passing the Houses of Parliament and loads of other tourists.

When crossing streets, visitors from the States have a tendency to first look left and then step off the curb as they look right — a surefire way to get hit in traffic that moves opposite our own on the right side of the street. So intersections often have "Look Right" emblazoned on the pavement just to remind us not to step in front of oncoming cars.
Dusk was beginning to gather as Nancy stood in line to buy a London Eye ticket. That's the huge ferris wheel built for the Millennium, but still going strong on the south bank of the Thames. I'd been on it when it was new and recommend it highly, but didn't want to pay the approximately $20 to ride again. Each car holds 20 passengers who stand in an egg-like plexiglas compartment. It moves so slowly that from the ground it's hard to tell it's moving at all. One circuit takes a half hour and gives riders fabulous views of central London. Nancy said she enjoyed it although her camera battery went dead at a critical time, so she didn't get the photos she wanted.
I'd hoped to have time to take a Thames cruise from Tate Britain near our hotel to Tate Modern, downriver. Both are extraordinary museums and it's a little known and inexpensive way to travel between them, giving passengers a relaxing way to see the city. But darkness had fallen by then and we needed to get back to pack for our early morning departures for the airport and our flights back home.

We weren't really hungry, but Nancy wanted to try fish and chips before leaving London, and after nonstop food aboard the ship we figured we could probably manage it. So we popped into a pub just a few blocks from our hotel and ordered a platter of fish and chips. Here's Nancy ordering at the bar.

stonehenge & salisbury england

Stonehenge was on our itinerary en route back from Southampton to London following our two-day cruise aboard the new Celebrity Solstice. We'd departed and were on the coach when we learned that we would also be visiting Salisbury Cathedral, which was especially exciting for me since I'd spent two days there in 1982 and climbed up to the spire on a tour. Then we discovered three passengers who had overslept and missed the departure, had been left behind. We'd all been informed that if we missed the 9 a.m. Friday departure, we'd have to take the train back to London. But the bus turned around to retrieve them anyway. It was annoying to learn our visits would be cut short since we had to go back, but my fellow travel writers were polite and refrained from booing and hissing them as they boarded the coach.

Salisbury was ever bit as charming as it was nearly 30 years ago. The Cathedral itself was clad in scaffolding for one of the country's endless rehabs. Built in 1220 it escaped bombing in World War 2 and its spire remains one of the tallest in Europe. Inside was as amazing as I'd remembered.

And our guide, Rosamund Forester, made it even better. She's a Blue Badge Guide member of the Institute of Tourist Guides...reassuring for writers like me who depend on having accurate information for our whirlwind visits. Forester pointed out holes behind the angel statues on the front of the cathedral. "The choir sat there and sang through the holes so villagers would think they were hearing the songs of angels," she told us. Built originally as a Catholic cathedral, it switched to Church of England (Anglican there, Episcopal here) during the reign of Henry VIII, who abolished Catholicism so he could get a divorce.

Next came a quickie visit to Stonehenge, made all the quicker with the traffic jam encountered upon our approach. Legends and theories abound for the origins of the prehistoric stone monument on the Salisbury Plain. Begun more than 5,000 years ago, it consists of stone brought from 240 miles away before the wheel had been invented. Some think it was built by aliens, and supporters of that theory and others make themselves known to today's visitors. When I was last there, a tall chain link fence surrounded the stones and no one could approach closer than 50 yards. People on my coach who visited in the '70s said back then they were able to walk among the stones and actually touch them.

Now there is a low knee-high barrier strung around Stonehenge so people can't approach the stones but are able to take photos without having the fence in view. A free audio tour is included with admission to give background, but we had less than 40 minutes for our visit so there wasn't time.
Rosamund, however, told us that discoveries about Stonehenge continue to this day and now there's a plan in the works that would assemble visitors at a visitor center a mile or so away where they'd learn about the monument. They'll then be shuttled in small groups to the stones where they could take up-close tours with a guide. English people are generally displeased with this plan, she told us. But it's similar to what's in place at Newgrange in Northern Ireland which I visited last year and wrote about for the Dec. 21, 2008 travel section. (Enter Newgrange in the blank at the top of web site and you may be able to see it)

Newgrange was a simply amazing experience I'll remember the rest of my life. It was not diminished at all by the small group controls. I think the need to preserve these ancient sites dictates that we must put in place plans to minimize human impact on them so they'll be there for people to view in millenniums hence.