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, April 16, 2012

Why underwater is my nirvana

After reading my recent post about my love of being underwater, several people have asked me why. They know that I spent a recent birthday on the island of Bonaire so I could spend as much time as possible next to, under and on the water.
I've been giving some thought to those reasons and here's why I really enjoy the underwater world.
It's quiet down there.
 Except for the munching of fish eating coral there's no one talking, no music, very few sounds.One of the best sounds I've heard in my life, though, was the song of a whale underwater off Maui. My day-today world is devoted to talking, either in person or on the phone. I ask questions, listen for answers write them down and ask more questions, sometimes questions that are difficult to ask and to answer.
It's in the here and now.
Most of my professional life is spent writing stories that will run Thursday, Saturday, Monday or another time. So I'm constantly thinking 'future' in terms of appointments, deadlines and writing. Much of the subject matter is in the past so I'm also thinking about things that are over and done with and how they impact the now. I'm either planning or reacting most of the time when I'm on land. That doesn't happen underwater.
It's another world just inches from this one.
A whole lot goes on underwater, even if it's just knee deep and close to shore. Little fish groom big ones which hang motionless  in a state that seems a lot like the bliss I'm in when I get a massage. Some fish, like silvery barracuda,  are so  territorial that you can count on seeing them in a certain place every time you go there. I only just learned that the eels Ive seen opening and closing their mouths are not threatening me - that's how they breathe.Most of the time the creatures underwater are as interested in me as I am in them. And there's so much to learn!

Exciting discoveries await
 At night, when you shine a light back into a coral head you see things glittering like gold. It's just shrimp. Shy eels, who hide away and can be hard to see by day, crawl across the ocean bottom after dark, surprising me with their grace and size. Tiny little sea horses cling to anchor ropes set out by boats. You could swim right by and not notice them unless you take the time to look.
Dreams of flying
When I've spent time snorkeling or Scuba diving those delightful childhood dreams of flying return to me after I'm asleep. I think that's because I've been experiencing the world in a horizontal position and in a near weightless mode when I snorkel and dive - it's a lot like flying!

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Newspapers, blogs a very strange world

Newspapers and blogging conspire to create a very strange world that’s somewhat lost in both time and space. You’ll never see the words “Yesterday ” or “Tomorrow” in print  because we need to keep the date of publication somewhat open in case of breaking news. The newsroom has an erasable whiteboard that says “Today Wed April 11
Paper Thursday April 12” to remind those on the newsdesk that even though the actual date may be Wednesday the copy they are editing and producing is for Thursday’s paper.
It’s even stranger when it comes to travel and the animal we call preprints. My travel section, for instance, appears in the paper the second Sunday of each month but goes to press a full week before that. And deadlines for Travel stories and photography need  to be in advance of that so the people who lay out the pages can work it in between their other jobs, such as laying out the daily paper.
Because of those deadlines I had to file my story about Middle-earth in New Zealand
( ) on March 16 since I was going to be in the Caribbean March 17 through 25 even though you didn’t see the story until April 8 (or maybe April 6 if you read it online)
That online thing adds another dimension since we’re a Digital First paper, meaning that stories go up online before they are in print.
Confused yet?
I sure am. My tan from my Bonaire trip (just scroll down a bit ) has barely faded and I need to write the final New Zealand story in the Kiwi Kronicles series. That trip was last November. I also need to shepherd through the process and edit stories about the newest Disney ship and Playa del Carmen in Mexico which I helped to arrange for other News-Herald staff members.
The next travel section will be in the paper on May 13.
It’s almost time for me to get working on it now. But first I have next week’s Health, Food and Religion stories to do along with a story for Page 3 on Monday. Then there's the following week and the one after that.
Whew!  What a strange world I live in.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Touring Chicago by boat

Meet my colleague Cheryl Sadler, the community engagement editor, who shot video of the city that originated the skyscraper and shares it in this blog:

 I made my first trip to Chicago in August to visit a good friend who moved there last year, and one of my favorite parts of the trip was taking the Chicago River Architecture Tour from Wendella Boat Tours. Now that the weather is a bit warmer -- and riding a boat on the Chicago River while getting a breeze off Lake Michigan doesn't seem like a silly idea -- I thought I would share a video and slideshow from my trip.

Tickets for the tour are $26 for adults, $24 for seniors, $13 for children. (But keep an eye on Groupon if you'd like to go a bit cheaper; that's where we got our tickets.)

Other Chicago things I'd recommend:
  • Lou Malnati's Pizzeria. Order the "Malnati Chicago Classic."
  • Goose Island brewery. Good beer, and seriously good food. My friend and I had our eyes on two entrees, ordered one of each and split them. Best. Idea. Ever.
  • Navy Pier. There's a ton of stuff going on there, so you're bound to find something entertaining or good to eat. The Ferris wheel was a little pricier than I thought it should be, but you get a fine view of the skyline and Lake Michigan.
  • Affinia's Chicago hotel. This hotel was gorgeous, and service was outstanding. It's probably a bit too pricey for me to stay there again (my friend had won a free night's stay there on Twitter), but I'd recommend it if that's in your price range.
What I didn't get to do (and what has made my list for my next trip) is checking out the views from the Willis Tower. Our guide from the boat tour has me convinced that should be on everyone's bucket list.

What are your favorite things to do in Chicago?

-- Cheryl Sadler | | @nhcheryl

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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Bonaire then and now

This Pride of  Barbados bush was among those attracting hummingbirds to the gardens around Sorobon on Bonaire.

 Looking around at the folks waiting with me at Newark airport for the midnight flight to Bonaire, it was apparent that all of us were headed for an island quite a bit different than many of the others in the Caribbean. Instead of resort sun dresses and high heeled sandals to showcase pretty pedicures, most of my travel companions wore jeans,  Tshirts and sturdy footwear. They knew we’d be welcomed by a desert island, not a palmy beach lined shore, where coral outcroppings and cactuses demand sensible shoes.  I traded robins, squirrels and white-rail deer for flamingos, wild donkeys and iguanas when I left Northeast Ohio for Bonaire.


We'd forgotten to bring carrots when we encountered this wild donkey who approached our car seeking a handout. The animals remain from the days when they worked at salt production on Bonaire, 

I’ve heard Bonaire called the Galapagos of the Caribbean — not far wrong when you include the many parrot like birds, interesting bats, and abundant sea life that awaits on its reefs. It’s a sleepy island, without a single traffic light but now has three service stations.
This sweet little trunkfish  seemed to be posing for my underwater pictures. They blow into the sand to uncover their dinner, which they suck up through their puckered lips.

It had been six years since I last visited and seeing what was new was at the top of my to-do list. Two years ago Bonaire became like a state of Holland as its neighbor islands, Curacao and Aruba, opted instead for greater independence.  Since then the U.S. dollar has been adopted as Bonaire’s official currency but since most goods on the island come there on twice daily KLM flights  from Amsterdam,  purchases reflect those prices in euros. Property owners, such as the friend I stayed with, claim that prices have increased dramatically in the past two years. But reasonably priced produce is brought by boat from Venezuela, 50 miles away, and yummy beef comes from Argentina. 
Sorobon is one place that’s changed since I was last on the island and I wanted to check it out. It’s on Lac Bay, on the opposite side of the island from Kralendijk. Jibe City, known by windsurfers throughout the world, is right next door. The two properties are just about the only things at that end of the island.
When I was last there Sorobon was a nude resort and as much as I wanted to experience its beach I wasn’t comfortable doing that. But now it is a family resort and clothes are needed.

These men are about 70 yards off shore at Sorobon where even the windsurfers beyond them enjoy the shallow water protected by a reef. The ropes protect the sea grass, a habitat for turtles.

 Bonaire is not an island known for its beaches but the beach at Sorobon is world class... a long stretch of snowy white sand and water so shallow a child could walk into the sea for a hundred yards and still not be more than waist deep in water.
 It’s a perfect place for a family with accommodations in 28 pretty seaside cottages, each air conditioned and with its own fully equipped kitchen. My friend and I had a lovely lunch at the beach restaurant there and walked through its gardens where hummingbirds flitted among bright tropical flowers.

 Tranquil describes all of Bonaire but Sorobon is REALLY quiet.   Most everyone comes to the island to enjoy its diving and snorkeling so most visitors are out in the water by day and exhausted from the activity and the sunshine at night, when there’s very little night life.   I’m an early-to-bed early -to- rise type who loved every minute of my week there.

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Monday, April 2, 2012

My favorite place is underwater

I've been all over the world writing about travel for The News-Herald and I'm often asked about my favorite place.

I love a lot of places, but "Underwater," is probably my most frequent answer. I enjoy scuba diving and snorkeling more than almost anything else, although I rarely have an opportunity to indulge while on a travel writing trip. I'm a Pisces (of course) and to help me celebrate a recent landmark birthday my daughters and my nephew collaborated to buy me an airline ticket to Bonaire, one of the greatest underwater destinations in this world. My late brother had a winter home there for more than a dozen years so I've been there before and even introduced friends to this 24-mile long desert island just 50 miles from the coast of Venezuela.

 Last month I stayed a week with a friend  who bought a condo there after I introduced her to Bonaire about a decade ago.Some things have changed  in the six years since my last visit. Some of the near shore coral has been bleached by either storms or over development,  but it's still the underwater paradise I remember. Reefs encircling the island come close to shore so it's possible to step into the shallow water, lie down on your stomach and peer through a snorkel mask at colorful orange and yellow sponges and corals, parrot fish, sergeant majors, angelfish, squirrel fish and lots more. Go with a sharp-eyed native or someone like my friend Karen and you' ll likely spot octopuses, eels, lobsters and many more underwater dwellers.

My fellow snorkelers, all Scientologists from the ship Freewinds,  prepare to enter the water from the Woodwind.

On my March 19 birthday we booked a snorkel trip aboard the Woodwind, a sailing vessel that took us to the uninhabited offshore islet of Klein Bonaire where sea turtles are known to dwell. We arrived on time but had to wait for a group from the Freewinds, a cruise ship that was anchored nearby
at the port of Kralendijk.

The Freewinds, it turns out, is owned by the Church of Scientology and is where followers of  founder L.Ron Hubbard get much of their training during cruises that a make a circuit among the islands of Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire. That these are people of faith was underscored for me by the fact that several of them didn't swim but had booked the snorkeling experience anyway. Our guides provided them with flotation devices and they seemed fine, although they were obviously not very accustomed to being in the water. My friend and I got kicked a few times before we learned to hang back from our six-person group.

A free diving guide heads toward the bottom to point out something for the snorkelers hovering above.
This young Hawksbill turtle became my first underwater photo.

Each group was accompanied by a free diving guide who would dive down to point things out. The water was crystal clear and about 10 to 15 feet deep for most of our snorkel. The guides probably kept us at that depth so those not familiar with being in the water wouldn't walk on the reef and destroy coral that took a hundred or more years to grow..


Seeing an endangered Hawksbill turtle was the best creature I saw that day. I also got to use the underwater function on my camera so I could show you, the folks at home


 Even though I promised my husband I wouldn't work on this trip, and  my sharp-eyed friend was watching to make sure I didn't take notes, to me an after-the-fact blog doesn't really count as work.There's lots more I can tell you and if your comments indicate to me that you are interested, I'll share more about Bonaire and my birthday trip.

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