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, December 19, 2012

Mykonos has reputation as party island

The Aegean is a beautiful blue off  Mykonos, a Greek island with a reputation for being a party place, especially in summer.  

  It was September when we arrived on Mykonos and my  first goal was to find a ferry to take us to Delos, the sacred island about an hour away.

Both are among the Cyclades, which means circle in Greek, and are about equally distant from mainland Greece and the Asian coast of Turkey. A quick look at a map reveals how critically located this island group was to commerce in ancient times, when people and goods moved more often by ship than by land.

Twisty streets on Mykonos are said to be the result a wish to discourage pirates when they came to pillage and plunder. 
The Crystal Serenity offered many fine shore excursions for exploring both Delos and Mykonos, made popular by Jackie Onassis. Since then, Mykonos has achieved the reputation of being a party island, supportive of the gay and lesbian lifestyle and popular with the sun and sand set who wants to party deep into the night then sleep on the beach by day. Its crooked streets were said to be the result of it being designed to foil pirate who came ashore to pillage and plunder.

The ship's shore excursions, which started at $132  for an exploration of Delos to $3,345 for a beach outing by private yacht, sounded wonderful. They included guided walks with wine tastings, explorations by Jeep and by inflatable boat. But despite the great deal we'd gotten for this cruise, our budget was stretched to the max, so we explored Delos on our own. You'll read about that in January's travel section, set for Jan. 13.

This tiny seaside chapel is among 365 churches on Mykonos.
Returning to Mykonos after our trip to Delos, we discovered a town with great shopping, pretty twisty streets cascading with bougainvillia, and lots of churches and chapels.  Getting lost on its winding streets was half the fun, just as it is in Venice, and finding your way back was a great adventure in passing B&bs, shops, cafes and private homes - all whitewashed and many topped with blue roofs.
Not much of a party scene in September when college crowds are back in school, but lively and pleasant with reasonable prices. 

 We both agreed it would be a great place to return to. So we will, next time an opportunity to travel to Greece comes our way.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Disney's Art of Animation Resort ideal for friends

Cartoon-like cars, complete down to every detail, greeted us at the entrance to the building with our Cars Family Suites in the Art of Animation Resort at Disney World.

The family suites at Disney World's new Art of Animation Resort are an idea whose time has come. It's a new resort in the southern part of the 44-square mile Disney World not  far from the ESPN Wide World of Sports area and the town of Celebration. When Disney invited me to the grand opening celebration of its New Fantasyland earlier this month, I learned they'd be putting me up there so I could preview the property.

Our suite's compact kitchen had a fridge, microwave, sink and coffee maker plus plastic cutlery.
The suites, which easily sleep six and have two bathrooms and a kitchenette, are ideal for families. Thinking they'd be just as nice for a girlfriends getaway, I invited two friends to come along. I figured they could keep each other company and visit the theme parks when I was attending press events and interviews during the two-night press trip.  I encouraged them to bring food for the fridge so their basic expense would be limited to park tickets and airfares. One friend had work to do so she immediately inquired about internet access.

Our suite was in the new Cars area of the resort, just beyond the buildings called Finding Nemo. In keeping with that fishy theme, 3D fish on the sides of those buildings made occasional gurgling sounds  much like the sounds heard underwater in the Big Blue Pool. Learning that the resort had an afternoon dance party at the pool, my New York girlfriend talked us into suiting up and heading that way. I think she'd forgotten where we were. It was really cute and the  dance moves were great but participants were mostly in the under 10 age range.

A comfortable Murphy bed pulled  down from the wall above this table.
I got the master bedroom and each of them had a convertible bed, which I figured wouldn't be very comfortable. Wrong, they told me. Even the hide-a-bed, which converted from what looked just like a care seat was good sleeping. A Murphy bed pulled down from the wall to top a table that my working friend found perfect for her computer. But had we been a family, it would also seat six for breakfast. Her bed was just as comfortable as my standard queen bed. And each of the two bathrooms had a great Carwash theme.
Even the bathrooms were complete with the Cars theme.

 Although none of us were pizza aficionados, we could get pizza delivered or go to Landscape of Flavors, an array of  food shops serving custom and casual cuisine ranging from burgers to pasta and including beer and wine. 

The Cars theme was straight out of the Cars movie, down to the landscape plantings replicating the southwest. I later learned at a press conference that it's straight from a new Cars attraction at Disneyland in California.

We had two flat panel TVs, a hair dryer, and in-room safe. Just outside was the smaller Cozy Cone Pool with the Flipping Fins pool serving those staying in the part of the resort with Little Mermaid standard guest rooms.

 A few days ago I got a postcard from Disney indicating that one of us had left something behind. It turned out that my New York friend walked away without her dancing shoes, leaving them next to the bed. She hadn't missed them until she got my email. But when I called Disney,  and identified the missing item, I learned that Disney will mail them to me.   'll return them to my friend  when she comes back to Mentor to visit her family for Christmas.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

New Tony Sacco's Coal Oven Pizza opens in Mentor

The largest school district in Ohio - Mentor - is one of the main reasons Michael DuBois chose the Great Lakes Mall as the location for his Tony Sacco's Coal Oven Pizza, which opens today, Dec. 12. He knows that teens love pizza, of course, but there's lots to appeal to shoppers and others, as well.

 As an invited guest for its "soft opening" we enjoyed the buzz of the new eatery and observed quite a few elements that make it stand out and bring people back again and again. Its location in the mall corner next to Dillard's is appealing and easy to reach from Plaza Boulevard. There's close-in parking for those ordering carryout and it isn't one of the busiest places in the mall's parking lot.

 We ordered things not typically found at pizza shops since there are quite a few within a 10-minute drive of the mall. All of us adored the Garlic Rotoli, little rolls embracing some Romano cheese that are baked and put in a basket then drizzled with herbed olive oil, which is great for dipping. Those babies persuaded me that the dough it makes every day is the real secret to its offering, not the coal. I grew up with a coal furnace so at first the coal wasn't very appealing in connection with a restaurant. But its clean burning anthracite coal, an employee told me, and as I tried to shoot a video of the red hot coals I was invited behind the counter so I could do the job right. That video will accompany this blog so readers can also have a preview.

 It was apparent to me that employees have been well trained to answer questions. Anthracite coal, indeed!

Pizza is thin crust style and cooked for four minutes in the very hot oven. The crust is really good as were rotoli.. all made from that wonderful dough. This place also offers a personal pizza, priced at $5.25 with the first item at 75 cents and additional items at 50 cents each. Should make a great alternative to the food court for lunch by both shoppers and employees. This place must go through a LOT of fresh basil since it's on many of its pizzas as well as in its salads. There's hardly anything better with the Italian plum tomatoes they use than basil, so someone has certainly done their homework. Italian plum tomatoes, also called Romas, are the ones used in Italy for pizza. They're not as juicy as the big tomatoes customarily grown here but they're full of flavor and in good supply year round.

 When I walked in I noted the full service bar, which will certainly be a welcome addition at the mall. Liquor licenses are in short supply there and, to my mind at least, there's nothing better with pizza than a glass of red wine. I have friends, however, who swear by beer with their pizza, and this place has both. The menu boast six reds and six whites, plus draft and bottled beers. Its house wines cost just $4.95 a glass, a real deal in this day and age. Adding to the treat is 3 to 6 p.m. happy hour with $2.50 house wines and half off appetizers, which include those yummy rotolis. Cheapskates could easily make that a meal.

 Speaking of prices, they're competitive here across the menu ranging from $9.95 for a 12 inch small pizza on the traditional menu up to $17.95 for a 16 inch specialty pizza,, of which there are nine. The Capo is the most popular so of course we ordered it. It boasts pepperoni, sweet Italian sausage, roasted mushrooms and caramelized onion. I most enjoyed the Margherita, simple elegance of tomato sauce, soft mozzarella and basil.. just like those served in Naples, where pizza was born.

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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Bargaining is key when shopping at the Grand Bazaar

This Grand Bazaar textile merchant offered us apple tea as he gave his asking prices in three different currencies with a discount for cash.  

Transactions with most of the 4,000 merchants in the more than six-century old  Grand Bazaar in Istanbul are a matter of bargaining. Typically the merchant will open with a price and the customer will make a counter offer, usually about a third-less than he or she is willing to pay. Sometimes the merchant will act insulted and sometimes he really is insulted, such as the $10 I offered for five pretty silk bags I wanted to get for my girlfriends.

The merchandise is stunning especially when it comes to beautiful  textiles and good quality knockoffs of $600 purses, $5,000 rugs, and $1,000 shoes. One wonders why the manufacturers of the real items aren't cracking down on the merchants in Istanbul as they would if the same things were sold in New York or San Francisco. In one almost-transaction my daughter Sascha was examining a genuine Prada purse that would sell for $800 in New York and was being offered to her for $200. She was almost ready to capitulate when the merchant took the purse from her. She was certain that he was going to substitute a good knock-off for the real thing and walked away from the deal. Trusting your gut-level reaction is usually a good idea.

The merchants are quick with their calculators to tell you the price in the local Turkish lira, dollars or euros.  Often the price can be reduced for those who pay cash.

A time honored  tradition is an invitation to be seated and join the join the merchant for apple tea as the discussion continues.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Holiday time along Florida's Gulf coast

I'm spending a few days along Florida's Gulf of Mexico coast before going to Disney World for the debut of the new Fantasyland, largest expansion ever at the Magic Kingdom. I'll  also be previewing the new Animation Family Suites, a whole new type of lodging choice at Disney World.

Here in the Venice-Nokomis area snowbirds are returning to their winter homes and it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, Florida style People have poinsettias out, wreaths on their doors and twinkle lights framing their doorways, just like home.On Saturday evening we took in a parade of boats all decked out with lights and holiday decor as we had our dinner in a place along the intracoastal waterway.

Tonight I'm going out for  stone crab at Capt Eddies, a restaurant with its own fish market, that gets its daily catch delivered straight from the fishing boats. Stone crab is cooked aboard the boats themselves as the only way to keep the delicious meat from sticking to the inside of the shell. As far as I know, this is a Florida-only delicacy in season only during winter months.

 It always takes me a few days to become accustomed to the slower pace of life here and the many courtesies that seem to be a part of southern hospitality. For instance, when I shopped at the nearby Publix the other day, a clerk took my cart and walked me to my car. I try to imagine someday retiring to this coastline but wonder if I'd ever be able to really adapt. It's very very different.

It's in the low 80s today and the many area convertibles are seen with their tops down. I began my morning with a swim in the pool and expect to start my day tomorrow the same way, but this time in the Gulf of Mexico, which is about a 10 minute walk from my place. I'm told the water temperature is 78 degrees.