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.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

James A Garfield 's connection with Poe

James A. Garfield enjoyed reading Edgar Allan Poe’s poems and stories and the Memorial Library at his Lawnfield in Mentor has several of Poe’s works, along with books by Dickens and other writers of Garfield’s time.
Garfield’s widow, Lucretia, had the library built after her husband’s untimely death and it became the country’s first presidential library. The National Park Service, which now operates the home, has engaged Baltimore based actor David Keltz to perform more than four hours of Poe’s works on Thursday. Park Ranger Joan Kapasch, who has enjoyed an almost lifelong connection with the Garfield property, explained that all programming at the James A. Garfield Historic Site must have a Garfield connection. Several of Poe’s books are on the library’s shelves.
Poe, who has been widely credited with creating both the horror and science fiction genres of literature was reportedly the first American to earn his living from the written word. He served as a book reviewer and magazine editor in Richmond, Philadelphia and New York and had a difficult life, battling illness and the temptations of alcohol most of his days. He considered himself as a poet and once described “The Raven” as the most perfectly constructed poem ever written.
Sunlight streamed into the Garfield library as we entered, reflecting the brilliant fall colors outside the windows onto the furnishings and shelves of books belonging to the 20th U.S. President. Kapasch  explained that the books, all originals, are not usually available for up close looks since almost everything found there can also be accessed in public libraries.
Kapasch carefully donned gloves to handle the century-old books and opened the first volume to a faceplate displaying the initials of Lucretia Garfield. The book also carried a likeness of Poe, an early photograph in a volume dated to 1880, a year before Garfield took office.
Keltz, who has committed Poe to memory, will include classic horror tales when he performs  at 6 and 8 p.m. on Thursday. Only 40 people can be accommodated at each performance, but tickets remain available  at $15 a person to those who reserve them at 440 255-8722.
Click to see video of Poe works in Garfield's library

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Adriatic's Blue Grotto on Bisevo

Here's the harbor at Vis town, the main village on Vis.

Sunset on the Adriatic is sublime

Vis (#4) was an overnight cruise from Korcula.
Click here for video of the Blue Grotto

You really have to wonder who first thought of squeezing a tiny boat through a small hole in the rocks next to the sea on Bisevo, a little island off Vis in the Adriatic. The grotto, or cave, beyond the entry opens into a fairly large space where the water is an eerie blue color from sunlight that shines through the rock and water into the grotto.
Several of my well-traveled Romanca shipmates thought it was similar to the famed Blue Grotto on the island of Capri, near Sorrento in Italy. Personally I thought the other Blue Grotto is vastly overrated and a true tourist trap, mobbed with people who paid way too much for the “pleasure” of squeezing into boats that in turn squeezed into a tiny opening to see a cave filled with a blue light.
Vis, itself, is among the more remote of the Adriatic islands off Croatia. It was an overnight cruise for us to reach it. Believed settled in Neolithic times, the island was the home of the Greek Dionysis the Elder four centuries before Christ. It was from Vis that he ruled the other Adriatic islands claimed by Greece. Most of its people, fleeing pirates, left in the 1400s. Because remote Vis was a headquarters for Tito and a base for the Yugoslav army from the 1950s to 1989, it was off-limits and its isolation preserved it from development. Today people come because it is one of the sleepiest and less populated Adriatic islands.
The Blue Grotto on Bisevo, a 20-minute cruise from the harbor at Komiza on Vis’s west coast, is still not exploited as is its counterpart in Italy. Because the eerie light only shines into the grotto between 10 a.m. and noon and the sea is calm enough for entry only in the summer months, those who want to go inside must go then. Since we were on a charter organized by Row Adventures, our host Peter Grubb paid the fee for the small boat we boarded and the admission to the grotto.  That’s one of the great advantages to being on a charter — you’re not nickled and dimed to death since most things are included when you pay upfront. But that means I can’t tell you what the admission cost to the Blue Grotto is. My guess is that it was included with the boat ride since those of us from the Romanca were the only ones on our small boat. A young man standing in another boat near the grotto entrance was collecting the price of grotto admission from those arriving in dinghies from other, smaller yachts. I’ll email this blog to Peter and perhaps he’ll reply with an answer.
If you click on the blue line at the beginning of this entry you’ll be able to view the video I shot. It shows how unearthly the light in the grotto really is but it also shows that it was pretty crowded and noisy inside, even though we visited in mid-September, at the end of the high season. It’s one of those amazing things in nature that I hope doesn’t become so popular it’s spoiled.  I think wonderful experiences like this are best enjoyed with reverence.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lavanderman, sipping grappa, hearing Hektorovic

Lavanderman is a Croatian superhero who enjoys the pleasures of life.

We were welcomed to this tiny bar/restaurant with tastes of grappa in a dozen flavors

Lavender is sold everywhere on Hvar and its scent follows folks. 
Perhaps it was the grappa.
One night on the island of Hvar it came to me. Although I'm the wrong gender, for Halloween, I’d like to go as either Peter Hektorovic or as Lavanderman.
As in most Catholic countries, Halloween is not observed in Croatia with costumes and trick or treating.
But Croatians among our readers may know Hektorovic, the national poet of Croatia who lived around the time of Shakespeare and wrote about his life and times in a style resembling that of a script.
Those of us aboard the Romanca visited his 16th century home in Stari Grad on the island of Hvar. Hektorovic directed its construction over 40 years and had truisms inscribed in the stone in various places. His outhouse-like toilet was indoors, not far from a door, and above it in Croatian he had inscribed “Know what you are and be proud.”
We heard a partial reading of one of his works, the story of a three-day trip taken by a fisherman in the same town. It was eloquent and insightful. What’s more, it was the first-ever travel writing in Croatia, so perhaps it’s understandable why Hektorovic is a man close to my heart. Hear an excerpt on the video linked to  this blog.
Lavanderman is something else again.
He’s a superhero, Croatia style, a cartoon character attired in a skin tight suit of lavender, complete with a cape and a white Vespa. He carries a sprig of the fragrant herb that grows everywhere and in the storyline he's unable to leave the island.
When our ship first docked in Hvar city, on the other side of the same island, the fragrance of lavender drifted out to us before we even stepped ashore. It’s grown everywhere and processed by the islanders into sachets, oils, potions, skin creams and even grappa. Stands all along the harbor sell it and its fragrance follows you while on Hvar.
Lavanderman himself is a play on words since lavander is the mixture of wine and water that’s drunk by many. The artist who draws Lavanderman has turned the graphic comic book into a collectible, creating one each year.
Our guide Josko Zovic took us to Jurin Podrum, a small restaurant operated by a friend who brought out a dozen varieties of grappa for us to try. As she poured them for our table, the four of us heard about Lavandar man — who must be seen to be believed. Our hostess served small glasses of grappas flavored by plum, lavender, green tea, peach and a few other flavors along with glasses of water.  We each were given a straw to insert into the liquid. Placing an index finger over the top of the straw, we were able to create a vacuum to suck up small amounts of each grappa for tastes, rinsing our straws between flavors.
Many know that grappa is a high alcohol eau de vie distilled from grape skins and seeds left in the wine press after the juice is removed to make wine. This fiery distillation comes in many styles and flavors and we were able to sample a few of them.
It was quite a night.
Click here to see Lavanderman, grappa sips 

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Monday, October 4, 2010

Disembarking to hike from Orebic to a seaman's church

Anchovies wrapped around olives, top, were an appetizer our first night aboard the Romanca. It .gave us all a clue about the great food we'd be served here in Croatia.
We pass long abandoned ruins as we hike uphill along narrow footpaths.

Signs along the walking path tell you the time it will take to reach various destinations.

Chilling beneath the cypress trees after a hike from Orebic
The pretty town of Orebic, just opposite Korcula on Croatia’s Peljasec Peninsula, was where we took our first hike in Croatia. Our sailing ship, the Romanca, spent the night moored to another ship in the harbor at Korcula and departed just after breakfast for the 2.5 mile sail back to the mainland.
We had 12 passengers plus a crew of five on board and as we moored at the Orebic pier the Jadrolina ferry tooted its outrage. Apparently it was due to stop and we were in its way. The ferry, which has overnight berths, plies a regular route among the islands between Split and Dubrovnik — where we would be traveling throughout our week. We crossed paths with the ferry several different times and it looks like a fairly comfortable way to see the area.
 After dropping us off in Orebic, the Romanca had to be on its way quickly to continue around the peninsula to pick us up at the end of our hike. We faced a 7 mile walk up Mount Ilija, which, as a flatlander, I viewed with some trepidation.
The narrow path we were following required a fairly sharp eye since there were loose stones and the occasional boulder the scramble over. We learned that the mountain protects the town from northern winds and allows Mediterranean plants to flourish, so despite skies threatening rain we were on our way uphill.  The first half hour we passed by hillside homes, many with ripening pomegranates and olives among the fragrant lavender and rosemary in their landscapes. Some of them were built long ago by sea captains, who had a great fondness for the Lady of the Angels shrine at the top of the mountain. Tradition maintained that a ship pulling into Orebic would blow its horn and the church would ring its bell.
A local well at trailside beckoned several of us to fill our water bottles. It was hot and important to remain hydrated.
It was noon as we neared the church and its bells were ringing loudly. We took a few minutes to sit in the shade of the cypresses there to cool off and look out over the sea and to the harbor below before touring the museum.
Realizing that we still had about three miles to go — and that would be all downhill — I took pity on my arthritic knees and accepted a ride from the owner of a nearby cafe called Panorama to the village below.
It was there that I had my first local beer — a Karlovacko and learned to say “cheers” as “zivjeli” in Croatian. Before long the others in our hiking group joined us and soon the Romanca sailed into view, docking just after the second Jadrolina ferry of the day departed.
 Click here to see our ship and the sights on our first hike

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Fish in dubrovnik and along the Dalmation coast

I’d reserved a taxi in advance since I knew I’d be jetlagged and somewhat spaced out upon my arrival in Dubrovnik. It was 1 p.m. Dubrovnik time but about 6 a.m. at home and I’d been awake most of the night flying across the Atlantic. The website delivered just as it has promised. A driver was holding up my name as I exited the airport and before I knew it I was at the Hotel Vis and ready to pay him.  I’d visited an ATM machine at the airport where I got 400 kuna (about $80),  the local currency. Not yet used to the currency I paid him partly using euro, but he quickly corrected my mistake. “That’s way more than you owe me,” he said. “Better put away your euro or you’ll be spending it accidently.”
Meeting an honest man makes such a great first impression.
 After a visit and walk around in Dubrovnik with Carol (see previous blog) from Richmond Heights, it was time for my dinner at Proto, which is known for its seafood. In the heart of Old Town, within the old city walls, it’s on a cobbled pedestrian street with other restaurants. The dinner was arranged by the local tourist office at my request so I could get up to speed on the local food. Josip Zuvela,  a culinary professor at the hospitality school in Dubrovnik, explained that the cuisine is influenced by 400 years of rule from Venice.
Proto’s menu was in English as well as several other languages so understanding it was easy. Smoked tuna, one of the ingredients in cold platter I ordered as an appetizer is colloquially called “sea ham. The platter also included octopus and marinated anchovies, which were fresh and not at all salty.
I was told to expect to be served dory, and red mullet on my upcoming travels. The professor told me I would also be having fresh sardines on my voyage among the islands and he told me I’d see grapes being picked and find olives, figs and pomegranates ripening on trees. When he learned I’d be visiting Ston the professor told me the best oysters in the world are found there.
He left me with some recipes, including a Dubrovnik style tuna.
It’s made like this: First the fresh tuna is fried after being salted and rolled in flour. After it’s cooked, it’s removed from the pan. Sliced onion, garlic, parsley, bay leaf and rosemary are  cookedin the same pan with 2 cups of water for 10 minutes, or until reduced. Sugar, pepper, wine vinegar and salt is added and the mixture is poured over the tuna and allowed to cool. The fish is served garnished with lemon slices and black olives.
Click here to see Dubrovnik's great fish

Friday, October 1, 2010

Dubrovnik now home for Richmonds Heights woman

After Richmond Heights native Carol Sosa graduated from Euclid High School, she lived in several California cities, in Honolulu, and in Paris before moving permanently to Dubrovnik three years ago. Croatia is where her parents were born and she visited the country often during the 1980s but had to stop coming during the war in 1991. No matter where else she lived she dreamed of returning to Dubrovnik to live some day.
She married her beloved Ivo and they live just a few minutes’ walk from the walls of the Old City.
This beautiful city along the Adriatic coast also captured my heart when I visited the first time in 2006, so during my planning for this trip I visited the website where Carol answered many of the questions I posed. She’s not an official Dubrovnik guide but blogs at
We got to know each other online and within an hour after I’d arrived, she met me in the lobby of the Hotel Vis.
As an expat, she’s learned lots of things about Dubrovnik and gladly shares them with others. We  became acquainted over coffee on the hotel’s seaside patio  a delightful spot in the shade of an ancient olive tree.
Because she’s over 65 she travels for free on the city’s bus system, but I bought a ticket for 10 kuna at the hotel front desk. That’s a  little less than $2.
We rode for 20 minutes to the Pile Gate, one of the entrances through the city walls into Old Town. That’s pronounced Pee-Lay, I quickly learned when I bought the bus ticket at the front desk and the clerk there didn’t know what I was talking about.
“Everyone here speaks English,” she said. “I try to speak Croatian most of the time but I’m still known as ‘that American lady’ because my accent gives me away.”
Life in Dubrovnik is fairly typical of other European cities, she said. One shops every day and gets bread, freshly harvested produce and fish fresh from the sea. “We have socialized medicine here but since I didn’t pay into the system I’m not eligible. My husband has it and I pay less than $100 a month for good health care.
She said it is very difficult to secure a good apartment at a reasonable price because Dubrovnik is so popular with visitors. “We have a nice one-bedroom apartment with a small yard just a few blocks from the Old Town and we pay about $500 a month,” she said.  But the landlord could easily get $100 a night for it from tourists, she said.
I told her that lots of people of Croatian ancestry now living in Northeast Ohio would like to do just what she has — move back to Dubrovnik.
“I would tell them to come here for January, February and March and see how they do first,” she said.
Although this palmy city rarely gets snow, it’s winter then and more rainy.
 Meet Carol, an ex-pat in Dubrovnik by clicking here.

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