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, June 25, 2012

Toronto's CN Tower Edgewalk

Despite my best intentions to challenge my fears,I didn't complete the Edgewalk around the top of  Toronto' s CN Tower. I am still trying to determine what made me chicken out at the last minute -but I had an easy out. There was a mistake made in my reservation and when I arrived I learned that they had me down for a tour, not the walk itself. They tried to fit me in, but only six people at a time can actually do the walk and despite the cost being $175, they were sold out. My alternative was to wait for someone who changed his/her mind at the last minute... and while I was there, that didn't happen. I sat in on the briefing and the suiting up for the walk, which is pretty serious since the Tower folks keep safety and security as their highest priortiy. Those intending to walk around the five foot wide rim are given flight suits and shoes if their own aren't suitable for gripping. All jewelry, even wristwatches and pierced earrings,  must be removed, glasses and sunglasses are attached to a cord that is part of the red-orange flight suit, and even barettes must be removed from hair. Long hair must be tied back.Everyone is issued a locker for their belongings. If I had been able to secure a cancellation I would not have been permitted to take my camera or Flipcam video camera out on the platform, nor bring a pen and notebook. They take no chances that anything will fall off.
A safety cord is attached to the back of the flight suit and then to a railing above the walker, who walk to circumference of the Tower more than 1,100 feet above the street.

It was a beautiful sunny day with very little wind. The walkers all seemed to have great resolve with no second thoughts, though I was almost sure a 60 something woman who was doing the walk with her 15 year old grandson was the most likely to cancel. I tried to speak to her, but was discouraged from that by management. Many people do the walk as a special occasion, I was told, doing it as a graduation gift, as the perfect place to propose marriage, or for a milestone birthday. The oldest walker was 90. Once I'd given up hope that someone would change their mind, I was given a great tour, including a visit to a viewing place several stories above the walkers. I leaned way out and tried to get photos of the group that included the mother and grandson. I could see the buildings of Niagara Falls across Lake Ontario, and that cloud on the horizon could have been the Falls spray. The group's guide to the walk wore a video camera and still camera on his hardhat to capture images of each group's walk, which are included in the price. The walk itself takes about a halfhour, but a total of 90 minutes is needed for the briefings and suiting up. I'll have more about the walk and the other wonderful opportunities there are at the CN Tower in the August  Travel section. You'll find out why I think the Tower should be considered a must for every visitor to Toronto. 

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Orgasms on every page, she writes

Johns Palmer' Bistro 44 has a new take on book talk. It's a party at 8 p.m. Wednesday to discuss Fifty Shades of Grey, the runaway best seller by first time author E.L. James. Billed as erotica and aimed at women, it's part of a trilogy and is selling well although many reviewers hate it.. The Wednesday event at the Concord Twp eatery will include drink and food specials with a glass of Christian's Sangria or Ana's Sauvignon Blanc included in the $10 price. Contests also are promised.

"If I wrote like that I'd use a pseudonym too," writes one reviewer who counted125 "blushes and flushes" 9 references to Christian's hooded eyes, and 25 to how hot he is. She counted 199 uses of the word "murmur," 195 "whispers" and 18 breath hitches with intense, body shattering, delicious, violent, and all consuming orgasms on just about every page.  I have not read the book but the John Palmer's party sounds quite interesting, especially the part that urges rsvps by Saturday "or you may be asked to enter the playroom."

Reach John Palmer's at 440 350-0793 for that rsvp.

Then there's a Twitter wine tasting being hosted by Whole Food Market that takes place next month. I'm something of a newbie at Twitter and have only just figured out a little about hash tags, which are # followed by words. Guessing that those of us tasting will be tweeting our response to the different wines we'll be tasting and I'm all for that. I learned a lot about wine on my recent visit to France's Languedoc, where some very good wines are being made.

 More will soon be revealed, I'm told,  and I'll fill you in. My Twitter name? handle? is jpodolakatwork, so stay tuned. 

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Edgewalk atop CN Tower

Headed for Toronto on Saturday to check out the new Edgewalk, 1,168 feet above the street on top of the CN Tower. My appointment to walk the walk is at 11 a.m. and I hope I don't chicken out. But I'll be taking pictures and shooting video, so it's all good.  The first of its kind attraction harnesses up six folks at a time and attaches them to an overhead safety rail for a half  hour walk around a five foot wide ledge that encircles the deck of the downtown tower. It's sure to include great views of the Toronto Islands and out over Lake Ontario, maybe even to the other side.  Wish me luck and comment here if there's something else you'd like me to check out while I am in town.

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Friday, June 15, 2012

Overnight in the South of France

David and Sandrine Ausset 

Overnights spent in the south of France can be a large part of the experience, especially if you choose a place such as Domaine des Clos, an 18th century farmhouse planted squarely amid acres of grapevines on the outskirts of Beaucaire.

Lovingly restored by its owners, David and Sandrine Ausset, it has a great swimming pool set amidst gardens, delightfully imaginative play areas for children, tables and chairs temptingly tucked beneath the shady canopy of 200-year old trees and lots of intimate spots for lounging and sipping wine over end-of-the-day conversations.

There are lots of great places to lounge and relax such as this intimate spot on a porch.
Among its rooms are several apartments, each with a complete kitchen, so it’s ideal for families or others who are watching their expenditures and  looking for a central location from which to explore by car. Accommodations are air conditioned ‑ important in the hot and sunny summer weather in the south of France.
Although set along an unpaved country road probably little changed through the centuries, it’s within less than 20 miles from Nimes, Arles, the Pont du Gard, Provence and many lovely wineries and restaurants.  It makes a great headquarters for a week-long stay and that’s just what many folks do, coming from throughout the world, year after year.

When Sandrine prepares one of her twice weekly dinners and serves it in the large dining room it’s abuzz with a half dozen languages, although English is always among them. Sandrine is  a wonderful cook and our small group of writers enjoyed a dinner and a lovely breakfast there. As David showed us a scrapbook filled with photos of the restoration process we spotted preserved details that revealed the dining room had once been a stable for probably a dozen or more horses.
We played a rousing game of Foosball at the edge of the dining room, which had been transformed from an old stable. By the looks of this little guy, it's a game dating at least from the '50s.

Although wi-fi service was sometimes spotty, it was easy to put the modern world away in exchange for a rousing match of Foosball on a non-automated device probably dating from the 1950s or a round of ping pong outdoors near the courtyard.
Most will agree that prices are reasonable. A week in a spacious apartment for four guests goes for about $900 at current exchange rates, for instance.  As is the case throughout France, breakfast is included in room rates.
The breakfast table awaits in the dining room.

Tripadvisor contributors review Domaine des Clos at and the inn’s own website offers an English translation with full descriptions and the opportunity to book online.  Go to to see Tripadvisor reviews and find the Ausset’s own website at

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Friday, June 8, 2012

New meaning for packing light

I fly with carry-on but discovered that packing light now has a new meaning for international travel.. On my recent AirFrance flights to and from Paris I was limited to 12k in weight for both carryon and personal item. My bags are small, easily fitting in the overhead and beneath the seat, so of course I questioned the agent, who  directed me to a nearby scale. Sure enough my two bags totaled 28 pounds, more than the 26.4 pounds that equals 12 k. So one bag had to be checked.

I was relieved to be able to check it all the way through to Montpellier. If I'd had to claim it and recheck it, as international passengers must do upon arrival in the U.S., I almost surely would have missed my connecting flight. But Passport Control in France is much simpler than this country's customs and immigration, so it turned out to be no big deal. After a brisk walk between Charles de Gaulle airport's Terminal 2F and 2E I arrived in time for my flight to Montpellier and found my bag in good shape on the baggage carousel when I arrived.

I also  had encountered that weight rule on my return flight from New Zealand last fall so I guessed, correctly, that it's a rule that's now something most airlines observe. Air New Zealand has a 7k limit (15.4 pounds)
An online search reveals that these limits are mostly for economy class flyers. Fly first or business class and you can carry on more weight.  Check it out yourself at

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Great shortcut for air travelers

A flight on an Airbus 380 is like none other, with nearly 600 passengers aboard a 2-level plane that's 78 yards long with a 260-foot wingspan. A 25-member flight crew services passengers on two levels.

I flew both ways between Washington Dulles Airport and France aboard an AirFrance A380 and largely enjoyed the experience. I don't know how many airlines have them but even for a frequent flyer like me it was something different.

When this behemoth hits turbulence, for instance, it moves from side to side rather than the bouncy up and down motion most familiar to passengers. As usual my westbound flight from Paris back to Washington D.C. took about an hour longer than the eastbound flight, because the plane must fly against the prevailing jet stream. (Scroll down four blogs for more about the flight to France on the A380) 

When the flight is over everyone really wants to get off, stretch their legs and get on with their lives. In my case it meant a $65 transfer by taxi from Dulles to Reagan National Airport to catch another flight home to Cleveland so I was probably a little more anxious than others. The window of time between the two flights was close enough that heavy traffic on the Beltway around Washington, D.C. might cause me to miss my  flight from National.

But unloading a plane with that many passengers seated on two levels is not a quick process. I wish they had thought to open a rear door as well as the front one so it could have gone more quickly.

We may have been the only flight unloading passengers to retrieve their bags and go through customs or perhaps there were passengers from another fight or two there that afternoon. But the lines were really long, making me wish that I'd fulfilled a promise to myself to join the Global Entry program, a partnership between the TSA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection that whisks its members through the process.

Membership is $100 for five years and requires an interview for eligibility, but after that it's a matter of checking in at a kiosk and forgoing the usual lines and interview with a customs officer. Not all airports participate but more and more are joining up and the advantages extend to those traveling domestically.

Members also can leave their shoes on, keep their liquids in the plastic bag without removing it from the carry-on, and leave their jacket and belt on when they pass through TSA checkpoints.


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Saturday, June 2, 2012

Rescued by security and an app

Rough night last night.

We're staying at Les Jardins de Saint Benoit, a big contrast to the smaller inns where we've stayed as we cross the south of France. It's a modern tourism village of its own on the outskirts of the medieval stone village St Laurents with 180 2-bedrooom villas, each with its own lovely patio planted with the wild rosemary, lavender and other plants that make this probably the most fragrant part of the world I've ever visited.

 When I explored my villa to discover how to turn on the air, I quickly learned it's confined only to the upstairs bedrooms. Since it's been between 36 and 38C throughout the day,    I KNOW it's hot even if my ability to switch between celsius and fahrenheit is challenged. So I switched on the bedroom air to allow it to cool off, then set out in my swimsuit to find the pool. A quick swim was a welcome cool down before dinner but when we gathered for our drive to a neighboring village we discovered that every one of us had trouble figuring out how to lock and unlock our villas. Success comes after first raising the door handle, turning the key, lowering the handle then turning the key the rest of the way. Very obscure. Over dinner we discussed the vagaries of French door locks and shower systems, which have been different at each place we've stayed. We rolled back in at 11, way too late for me as anyone who knows me is aware.

I climbed my circular staircase to bed, leaving my packed bag in the living room below while planning to gather my things in the morning.  I toddled up to bed with only my purse and cellphone on airplane mode so I could use it as my alarm clock without risking receiving expensive international calls. The room was nicely cooled, so I closed the door and settled in for sleep. Half hour later I realized I'd forgotten to take my evening meds, so got up to remedy that situation in the adjacent bathroom, where I'd left them,  my contacts and my cosmetics.

 Quickly I found the door was latched shut and no matter how I turned the handle I couldn't open it.  In fact it came off in my hand, trapping me in my bedroom. Knowing that 911 on a cell phone in another country wouldn't do a thing, I used the front door key as a screwdriver, figuring I could trigger the latch once the  mounting screws were off.  I planned to use a pen in my purse to work the latch loose from inside the hole that remained. But a quick crash led me to realize that the handle from the outside had dropped to the marble floor outside and I really was trapped inside.

 It was well after midnight by then, so I cranked open the window and looked to find any signs of security or anyone, soon beginning a quiet call for help so as not to disturb my neighbors. I don't know French but I figured anyone hearing me would understand distress.

 No one was in sight.

My shouts became louder after I saw a car pull into the resort village and drive down the row of villas to stop quite some distance away. By then I'd employed my cellphone's flashlight app, which has a setting that flashes like a police car,  figuring that would get attention.  Finally that and my louder screams for help resulted in the arrival outside my window of  a security man named Etienne, who knew English and had a pass key to enter my villa, climb the stairs and get the door open.

My late night adventure left me very tired this morning - our last full day. But I'll deal with it. We have an 8:30 a.m. departure today for Carccasson, and I'm hoarse from yelling last night.

Here's where we were: If you get Villa 22 check to make sure the bedroom door has been repaired.


Friday, June 1, 2012

blogging from France

The entire processfrom europe leaves .much to be desired.Here they call wi-fi wee-fee and until just a few minutes ago weve been in very rural places where it was unreliable at best.s Yesterday and the day before I filed what I thought were wonderful accounts of my experiecnes in Languedoc, which for marketing purposed theyve dubbed the South of France, But niether of them have showed up and I cant imagine why. So I will try to reproducethem now even tho it means skipping the chance to swim after walking around outdoors all afternon in100 degree heat. I still am not certain about celsius conversation but the thermometr I saw in Narbonne (and otherwise delightful 52,000 person town) read 36 celsius so I figure its' ppetty close. I dont need a thermometer to tel me its really hot. I will catch up with the details in my sty which will run in July, but here's a recap of what was lost in cyberspace.

On Wednesday we were welcomed with freshly picked cherries by Anne, proprietress of Chateau Mougues du Gres in the countryside near Beaucaire, where we began our day (after the cherries) with  a walk around the farm and thecountrysie around it. Its the Costieres de Nime applataion, which was only formed in 1986. Aboutten years prior to that her father in law had planted grenache grape and spaced the widely on a hillside. His wine making colleague questioned his sanity because its a low yie grape and at the time this area was producing quantity, not quality. But now the others have caught up with him and are making lush flav, blending grenache with syrah and a few other varietals.Since terroir is an important concept here, and one reduced to the word microclimtae in America, Anne tookus out into the garrigue, what the countrysideis called here. Driving by it took like nothing more thana lot of scrub bushes punctuated by an occasional live oak tree and lots of shoulder high yellow floers i first mistook for the gorse Id seen in Scotland. But here they smell like honey..

After a few minutes we were smelling the wild roses, thyme. rosemary, fennel, and other plants that. "Some think our syrah has tastes of olive," she told us, adding that the family also takes its oloves to a local cooperative from pressing into olive oil. Large stone, that looked to me like smooth river stones, are part of the soil. They collectthe heat by day and keep the soil warm at nihgt, making it possible to grow the grapes found here. The Collard family's farm is mostly in grapes but also has cherries, apricots, peaches and pears, which are tended by others.
I need to take a break and find out how to turn on the air  conditioning in this lovely but very hot placewhere we are staying. Its obvious to me at least that Frecnh nch devices and I dont get along. I cant even get the phone to work so will have to walk the equivalnet of about 5 blocks the reac hassistance at the front desk.  Then I will tryi to catch up and blog further aboutNimes, the Pont du Gard, Narbonne and Fontfroide Abbey. Till then, here are some resoruces: www.mourguesdugres;; and

Here are some wbistes to chec out B  kThe  comprise the garrigue rytao yide yside orful wines fro  sNdeD