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, June 16, 2010

Hello from Langdueoc

Eighty percent of the people seen on the streets of Montpellier this time of year are students who come from throughout France and the rest of Europe to study music, medicine, and a host of different disciplines at the city's dozen colleges. Narrow, cobbled pedestrian walkways lined with shops such as the cities 12 luthiers (violin makers) ply their trade. Walk away from one of the bustling town squares in the old part of the city and you're sure to hear distant operatic arias and the refrains of practicing an instrument. Montpellier's vitality and diversity help peel away the exhaustion of jet leg topped by being on the go for 27 straight hours before dinner.
The ancient Romans left their marks on this Mediterranean city and the local language still is affected by Catalan, spoken to the south in Barcelona.
As we board our mini-van for the drive north we're accompanied by glowering clouds indicating the rain to come. At first the distant mountains are not much more than shadows along the horizon, hardly distinguishable from the dark cumulus. But as we drive the countryside becomes more West Virginia in appearance, and narrow roads become switchbacks lined with cliffs over fast-flowing mountain streams. Narrow stone villages are squeezed into wide places in the canyons, their varied stone rooftops showing their antiquities. We're in the area now where in about 1870 Robert Louis Stevenson set out with a donkey and a sleeping bag to walk 120 miles in 12 days. The book he wrote about the experience, "Travels with a Donkey," turned out to be the first travel writing to explore the pleasures of the trail. Both Hemingway and John Steinbeck considered him a mentor. I've got it on order through Barnes & Noble.
Dinner included my first cheese tray since I was last in Europe - a selection of 15 different cow, sheep and goat cheeses that me glad that cholesterol isn't one of my problems.
If the weather holds today we'll be walking some of these same trails, and if it doesn't we'll be meeting some of the artists tucked into these hills to see what they do.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Tennessee Travelogue #5: The Best of the Noog

I lied to you. I said yesterday would be the last blog post on my recent trip to Chattanooga, Tenn.; but I thought it would be worthwhile to throw out some favorites from my stay in the Noog.

Best way to spend your time in Chattanooga if you only have a single afternoon in the city: The Chattanooga Aquarium is a must visit. It combines elements of an aquarium, zoo, riverboat tour, botanical gardens and art exhibit. It's worth it just to see the adorable pig-nosed turtle.

Guilty pleasure: I didn't expect to care about Rock City. It's a series of outside gardens and caverns -- pretty, but nothing special. But the original owners of Rock City augmented their gardens with touches that you will either love or loathe.

Some may think it's ridiculous to design a "fairy tale cavern" with dioramas depicting stories from the brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen, or to have someone dressed as a gnome frolicking in the gardens.

But, honestly, I loved it. If you have a kid who is younger than 12 (or are someone with the emotional maturity of a 12-year-old, like myself), I suspect you will love it.

Biggest surprise: The art scene in Chattanooga is incredible. The creativity literally spills into the street with sidewalk sculptures. Glasswork, paintings, blacksmithing -- the talent runs the gamut; and, if you care about the visual arts, you will find something you love in Chattanooga.

Best entree: I could say almost anything from Sugar's Ribs. (They had some of the best barbecue I've had in my life, and I come from a family in which barbecue is a spiritual experience.)

But they were slightly topped by the crabmeat-stuffed filet mignon at Back Inn Cafe. Often, restaurants use luxery items like truffles, caviar and, to a lesser extent crabmeat, to disguise average offerings. But the crabmeat complimented, instead of competed with, the filet.

Best appetizer: Avgolemono from Niko's. I initially ordered the soup because I was intrigued by the words "lemon egg emulsion." But I loved it after a single spoonful. It's a complicated soup with a hint of sweetness, the bite of lemon and the substance of the egg.

I had never had Avgolemono before seeing it on Niko's menu. Now, I will order it whenever I see it in the menu, if only so I can say, "This isn't as good as the one they serve at Niko's in Chattanooga."

(Niko's broiled feta also deserves an honorable mention.)

Best dessert: Let me tell you how good the banana pudding at Sugar's Ribs is. I ate it for the first time Saturday evening. I had already eaten portions of barbecue lamb, chicken, sausage, pork rib, brisket and a side of cole slaw. But the pudding was so good that I not only made room for dessert, I requested another cup, afterward.

On Sunday, I had an hour to kill before I needed to check-in at the airport. I went to Sugar's and only ordered one thing.

Prettiest view: There are a lot of peaks on Lookout Mountain from which you can see the city and also a fleet of boats that can take you down the picturesque Tennessee River. But the best view in Chattanooga is actually 1,100 feet underground.

Ruby's Falls is an 140-foot waterfall ensconced in Lookout Mountain. You'll like it... or you're dead inside.

For the adventurous: I have sunburns on my forearms and knees from rafting the whitewater of the Ocoee River. It hurts whenever anybody touches them, and I suspect my skin will be peeling like a snake's in the next few days.

Doesn't matter. Rafting the Ocoee was a blast and I regret nothing. Class-four rapids, fun tour guides from Cherokee rafting -- I can see why the Olympics chose the Ocoee for their whitewater rafting competition in 1996.

-Jason Lea,

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Tennessee Travelogue #4: Epilogue

This is the final post from guest blogger Jason Lea on his trip to Chattanooga, Tennesse. For more, read The News-Herad's travel section.

My flight out of Chattanooga is delayed, and I'll likely be sleeping in the Charlotte Airport tonight. Things like this happen when you travel. I've spent nights in the Miami and Atlanta airport before.

If nothing else, it gives me an opportunity to update Janet's blog.

I neglected to mention one important aspect of the Chattanooga art scene in my previous post. The primary reason the relatively small city has such an exciting art community is because of all the support it gets from the local chamber of commerce, government and nonprofits.

The city has a program called Arts Move that helps fund artists' relocation to Chattanooga. So far they have brought 27 artists -- who range from sculptors to writers to dulcimer players -- in the last four years.

Also, Chattanooga has revitalized its once abandoned Main Street through public art. For example, they took an abandoned building and turned it into one of the more audacious sculptures I have ever seen.

They have a bevy of artists -- some locally grown, some imported -- on and along Main Street. Some examples:

The easy way to describe Terry Cannon's art work is mixed media. He stands in front of an unfinished bicycle painting/sculpture here. (I wish I could tell you more about his process, but most of my notes are en route to Cleveland.)

Here's an example of his finished work.

Along the same stretch of road we have blacksmiths who turn aluminum siding into purses, wood workers and glass blowing artists. (Once again, I will have more specific info once I get my notes back.)

Chattanooga also offers outlets for its local artists at venues, including its weekly market. The market offers paintings, caricatures, jewelry made from recycled glass, beeswax candles, sculpted fountains and photography.

A pair of examples:

Overall, I loved the city even though it was hotter than Satan's sauna during most of my visit.

-Jason Lea

P.S. As a parting shot, enjoy this picture of a goat. Local restaurant Sugar's Ribs (great barbecue, better banana pudding) uses goats to mow its lawn.

France rain forecast

and now, back to Janet

According to AccuWeather, it's raining in Montpellier, France right now and showers are also in the forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday.
I leave in just a few hours.

So I just added my raincoat to my carryon. Now I'm concerned that my bag won't fit in the overhead and I'll be struggling to remove the raincoat while in the aircraft's aisle with boarding passengers backed up behind me. I suppose I could just wear it, but when I arrive at Charles deGaulle Airport at 8:30 a.m. Monday (2:30 am Cleve time) I'll be bleary eyed and brain addled and could easily leave it behind. And I wouldn't want to do that because, honestly, that raincoat is one of my most treasured possessions. I wear it on a regular basis probably nine months of every year. Why not an umbrella? you may ask. Ever try to juggle an umbrella, a camera bag, video and notebook at the same time? It just doesn't work on a writing trip.

On another note, I've been trying to give away the travel related items sent to me by many different entrepreneurs. All you have to do is view the video Gadgets for Travel (a few blogs ago) and tell me in the comment section which one you want. Let me know how to reach you so I can get your address, or I'll bring it with me to the office so you can pick it up.

And I hope you really enjoy the new Travel Section in today's News-Herald. It was a real labor of love and most of the photos are from the archives of my husband, Ted Podolak.

I'll be blogging from France, so come back here soon. Bon Voyage.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Tennessee Travelogue #3: Artistic Differences

This is the third in a series of posts from guest writer Jason Lea on his trip to Chattanooga, Tennessee.

First, a correction: Ruby Falls is 140 feet, not 200. It only seems 200 feet when you see it by lantern light. Here's what it looks like when lit by LED lights.

Chattanooga embraces art in a lot of different ways. It has the Hunter Art Museum that focuses on American painting and sculpture. Here are a couple of examples from its collection:

This painting was created by Oscar Bluemner, who was also known as the Vermillionaire for his use of that particular hue. (I want my nickname to be the Hamburgundy.)

This horse looks like it is a skeleton made of driftwood. It is, in fact, constructed from cast bronze.

As enjoyable as the art museum is, it's not revolutionary to have a museum dedicated to art in your city. What impresses me about Chattanooga is how it incorporates art into all aspects of the city.

For example, it reminds you that the culinary arts are, of course, an art.

It also has repurposed an old cigarette machine to give small pieces of artwork. Some of which is locally made.

The city's fantastic aquarium has an exhibit called Jellies: Living Art, in which it commissioned artists to recreate the imagery of jelly fish with ceramics, blown glass and other glasswork. It is done in cooperation with the art museum.

The aquarium also incorporates sculpture into its turtle exhibit.

The Bluffview Art District lies on the shore of the Tennessee River. It has a free sculpture garden that is open from morning until dusk. The sculptures in the exhibit occasionally change as some of them are for sale.

Icarus cannot be bought.

However, Man Defeats Chair can.

Bluffview also has a gallery with more sculpture and artwork that can be purchased. My favorite artist inside is Teena Stern.

Stern creates bronze sculptures of dancers in ballet positions. You can immediately tell her sculptures are made by a woman because their features have an honesty that men would idealize. If I had a few thousand disposable dollars, I would be leaving Chattanooga with a Stern original.

Rock City is on Lookout Mountain, near Ruby Falls. It has large, outside gardens and caverns that use sculpture and light to enhance nature's beauty.

My favorite part was Fairytale Caverns where sculptor Jesse Sanders created a series of dioramas depicting childhood stories. (Good for kids!)

Finally, I want to leave you with some snippets from Sheryl Crow's performance at the Riverbend Music Festival.

Riverbend is a 9-day, genre-spanning music festival on the Tennessee River in Chattanooga.

The stage is actually on the river. (Crow specifically noted there would be no stage diving during her performance.)

Crow is the headliner for the opening night. Other headliners range from Allison Krauss to George Clinton & the Parliament Funkadelic.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Tennessee Travelogue #2: Chattanooga Aquarium

This is the second entry of a series of posts written by guest blogger Jason Lea about his trip to Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Busy day -- kayaked on the Tennessee River, visited the Bluffview Art District and toured Ruby Falls by lantern. Ruby Falls, by the way, is a 200-foot waterfall ensconced more than half of a mile within a cave.

But it's late and I'm already exhausted, so today's post will only focus on one aspect of today's travels, my trip to the Chattanooga Aquarium.

The city's aquarium is so much more than sea life. It has botanical and butterfly gardens, art exhibits, freshwater and ocean habitats and a boat tour. The only aquarium that I've seen that can be compared to it is Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

As for freshwater, the aquarium had tanks for the different river habitats in Russia, South America, Africa, China, Japan and, of course, Tennessee. They had freshwater stingrays with polka dot and orange paisley patterns.

In the saltwater exhibits, they have a menagerie of fish, sharks, rays and reptiles. My personal favorite: an enormous green sea turtle named Oscar, because, when he was discovered, he was grouchy and covered in furry, green algae.

The aquarium also has a beautiful exhibit on jellyfish, which pairs the animals with blown-glass and ceramic pieces of art inspired by the jellies.

Before I let you go, here are a few photos from the aquarium:

And because I don't have time to edit a coherent video, here's something I threw together entitled Penguin Frolic Time.

-Jason Lea,

P.S. This is what I ate for dinner at the Back Inn Cafe. It's filet mignon stuffed with crab meat. Life is gravy, man.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Tennessee Travelogue #1

Janet Podolak has been kind enough to let guest writer Jason Lea borrow her blog for the next few days to write about his trip in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The first thing I do when I'm south of the Mason-Dixon Line is get a glass of sweet tea. During the next five days, I expect to drink my weight in it.

This is my first night in Chattanooga, and I'm staying at a hotel that used to be the city's railway station.

As you probably guessed, it's named the Chattanooga Choo Choo.

My room used to be a railway car. It's a cool shtick that kids, especially boys, would love. A lot of the visitors here are families with younger children.

The hotel has 48 railway car rooms. They can cost as much as $170 per night, but that changes depending upon season.

Tonight, I ate at the station house, which offers a full complement of tasty steaks and chicken dinners; but the real attraction is the singing waiters and waitresses. The service staff take turns belting out fantastic renditions of "Midnight Train to Georgia," "Get Down Tonight," "California Dreaming," and, yes, "The Chattanooga Choo Choo."

They do take suggestions, but my waitress declined my request for something from Naughty by Nature's catalogue.

-Jason Lea,

P.S. You see this? This is The Station House's apple dumpling. It is just cause to visit Chattanooga.

P.P.S. Theme hotels give the best swag.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Gadgets for travel

There are a million gadgets that promise to make packing and traveling easier. This video shows you some that have been sent to me. The hanger is really helpful in keeping my clothing fresh, especially when I pack for carry- on and wear everything more than once. This Sunday's new and improved travel section has a photo of me sliding down the face of a glacier - one big reason I've become a fanatic about packing the appropriate footwear. I hope you read it and find lots of helpful information for your own journeys. To me, a newspaper travel section is inspiration, while the internet is information. I try to give you both! Please weigh in and let me know what you think.

Art of packing specific to the trip

Soon I'll be off to France. I'm shown here with the clothes I'll wear on the flight and the things that need to go in my personal bag.
The act of packing for a trip is meditation, a time to contemplate the hours of transit, the adventures, the social interaction and overnights ahead.
Parameters for a writing research trip are quite different from a vacation, although the same pitfalls can occur without mindful packing.
Research trips typically involve a heavy schedule planned and implemented by others, following an itinerary received a week or two before departure. Hotels are one-night stands and baggage is the responsibility of the traveler.
I pack to meet airline restrictions for carryon, which means one bag will fit in the overhead compartment above my seat and a second, smaller bag can go under the seat in front of me.
Carryon affords flexibility - a proactive, desirable thing in this era of travel.
When your bag and its contents are beside you, it’s easier to cope with unexpected changes and take advantage of rare blocks of unexpected free time.
After a long haul flight, free time often means a hot shower in the airport. Many airports now make them available for a fee and they’re spotlessly clean and incredibly effective refreshers, especially after sleeping in your clothes in a narrow seat. See to read last year’s blog about airport showers.

I’ll have a three-hour layover between my arrival Monday morning at Charles DeGaulle airport in Paris and the departure of my connection for Montpellier, on France’s Mediterranean coast to the south. Given the need to clear customs and travel to another terminal for the connecting flight that’s not nearly as much time as it seems
But know where the Air France showers in Charles DeGaulle are and I will pack a Freshhanger (see below) on top of my bag so that my clothes can also be refreshed and have their wrinkles steamed out as I shower.
That’s good, because I will join a walking tour of Montpellier directly from my midday arrival the airport, with hotel check- in still several hours (and miles) away. The itinerary calls for dinner at 8 (which will be 1 a.m. back home) so a 22-hour day without sleep is almost a certainty that first day.
I pack very specifically for the trip, making sure to include hiking boots if walks in the mountains are expected, as they are with this trip to Languedoc. Not having the correct footwear can ruin a trip. Catch this Sunday’s Travel section fo a photo of me sliding down a glacier — a victim of inocrrect footwear. Here’s how I have packed for this five-day trip. The list includes the clothes I will be wearing since I need to dress up each night for dinner and pieces will alternate.
My carryon bags include my laptop, camera and Flip-Cam, for documenting the adventures.
4 pairs pants, including jeans
3 tops, including 1 T-shirt
2 tanks
1 jacket
3 changes underwear
2 socks
2 pair shoes
1 pair boots
2 Freshhanger
Also: a compass, small towel, nylon tie-sack

Once I always packed in large plastic zipper bags until my daughter gifted me with one large plastic bag with a double zip on top.
Light fabrics this time of year allow clothing to slide easily into that bag. Underwear and socks are tucked into shoes. The bottom of the bag is covered with a 2-quart plastic bag that provides a layer of waterproofing and can serve to hold soiled laundry to be washed en route.
Once my belongings are in the bag it’s placed on a chair or another firm surface and I sit on it to squeeze out all the air. That squeezes my clothing into a 4-inch thick, tightly sealed package — just the right size for my suitcase, with room on one end for my camera, and one-quart bag with toiletries, which is double-bagged for leakage.
Flying in comfortable nonrestrictive clothing encourages sleep on overnight international flights. In coach I can pull out the bag placed under the seat in front of me to use as a footrest because my legs are short. I bring an inflatable pillow, sleep mask, earplugs, and shawl, which can serve as a blanket since airlines often are out.
If I arrive at the hotel early enough to wash out underwear it usually will be dry the next day. If it’s not, the in-room hairdryer will finish job.
So my clothing doesn’t acquire a stale scent I unpack every night and use the Freshhangers to air it out. Before I discovered them I always added a couple fabric softener sheets in my bag.
The compass is along because I am not good at keeping a sense of direction and I try to include some directions in my stories. Its also valuable when I’m on a subway underground and need to know which way to turn once I emerge into the city above.
The ties on the nylon tie sack configure as a backpack, so can be great for carrying my umbrella, maps, notebook while exploring a new place on foot.
What size for carryon?
The size restrictions vary by airline and the class you are traveling. On domestic flights a good rule of thumb is to figure 45 inches, which is the bag’s width plus height plus depth. My 22 by 15 by 7 inch bag fits nicely. An extra zipper opens to allow for a little extra space, which sometimes is needed for press material and purchases. It’s a nice feature, but if the bag expands I will need to pay to check it.
My Continental flight to Newark permits my carryon bag to weigh 40 pounds, but once I check in to my Air France flight, 26 pounds is the limit.

My personal bag holds my camera, laptop, Flipcam, glasses and sealable quart size bag of toiletries. Once I’m beyond airport security I stop and transfer heavier items to my wheeled bag, padding them carefully for the rest of the trip.
Also in my personal bag are my medications, hairbrush, and toothbrush. My cosmetics, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, saline solution and cosmetics all are in my sealable plastic bag, per Transportation Security Administration rules.

I save tiny plastic bottles used by Lancome for samples. Each one holds one-day’s shampoo with a second for conditioner and a third for styling product. I use an old contact lens case for squirts of my foundation, with face moisturizer on one side. One small bottle of contact lens saline solution lasts a week.
Transportation Security Administration:
See www.luggage to learn the restrictions for most airlines.; 866-530-6580
Follow my blog while I am in France right here

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