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.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

World's happiest cities

Only one of the world's top 10 happiest cities is here in America, according to information I've just received. It's based on a world-wide perception survey plus factors such as number of attractions, shopping centers and cultural locations.

I was baffled that weather doesn't seem to have been a factor at all.

But I'm not at all surprised to learn that San Francisco is the city chosen by those surveys. I'll never forget how happy I was one March day when a wayward breeze in Golden Gate Park showered me with petals of cherry blossoms. And what a great feeling it was later that same day to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge and actually feel it sway beneath my feet when I reached the middle.
I've visited some of the other happy cities and I agree that Paris, Melbourne, Madrid, Barcelona and Rome all deserve a place on this list .I can think of wonderful experiences I've had in all of them.

 I haven't yet been to  Buenos Aires but its spot at Number One certainly makes me want to go.


Labels: , ,

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Preventing virus spread serious concern on cruise

The captain and officers aboard the Crystal Serenity refrained from shaking hands in receiving lines during my September cruise as one of the cruise line's many efforts to prevent the spread of viruses.
Hand washing takes on a new importance as those around us fall victim to the flu.  I'm also avoiding those shared baskets of crackers at wine tastings and bowls of chips and popcorn passed around at gatherings.

Not only is the flu laying folks low but there's also an intestinal virus and something like Noro virus going around. It's enough to make you stay home.

On my September Mediterranean cruise aboard the Crystal Serenity hand sanitizing was everywhere - as you entered dining areas, as you came back aboard the ship after shore excursions and even at a captain's reception, where a sign reminded us why he wouldn't be shaking  hands

We also observed ship's staff constantly cleaning railings, chairs and everything in sight. Gloves were worn not only by food service employees, but also by housekeepers,  bartenders and other members of the ship's staff. Each public washroom had a small paper towel dispenser next to the door with a small  sign designating a towel be used when opening the door.

Crystal wants to make sure a virus doesn't  get started aboard its ships.

I gained a good appreciation for the affects of a Noro virus when, along with about 300 others, I contracted it at a professional conference in Dallas. Within just a few hours we were falling like flies, and the local health department got involved while trying to determine if  our severe intestinal distress was related to food poisoning.

The conference was for travel writers and it included a good number of  folks 70 and older. Some of  them became so dehydrated they needed to be put on IVs. Noro virus was the diagnosis and most of us spent two or three days very close to the bathroom before the virus vanished as quickly as it occurred.

I can  only imagine how bad something like this would be on a cruise. Although I was among those complaining of dry hands because of all the sanitizer used during my Mediterranean voyage, applying hand lotion was certainly less of a problem than a Noro virus would have been.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Puppy love

Do you babytalk your puppy? Cuddle in with your cats? Include your parrot in your vacation plans? Prepare dinner for your dog?
Have you had an extraordinary experience or two convincing you that you’re loved and cherished in return?
Tell us about your animal friends and how they enhance your life. We’re looking for folks willing to be interviewed about their experiences. Share your story along with your contact information in an email to, in a postcard to Janet Podolak, News-Herald, 7085 Mentor Ave., Willoughby, Oh. 44094 or in a phone message to 440 954-7199. Refer to PUPPY LOVE. And please let us hear from you in January.

Fishermen's dilemma

Katie O'Donnell tells me that fishermen have as many weather and climate related challenges as farmers, when it comes to their catch.
"Seasons around the world impact restaurants here," she told me when I interviewed her for a story about cold water fish. "For instance the halibut season in Alaska is a little different each year depending on the quota. Fishermen got an extra week this year year because they lost time in November when storms prevented them from going out."
Those who set the fishing seasons are trying to assure that certain species aren't over fished, she explained.
Katie is with Cleveland's Catanese Classic Seafood and helps to provision many area restaurants.
She said skate, which is more popular among Europeans than Americans, is not often found on menus here even though it is delicious.  Divers and other fish watchers know skate as a ray, as in sting ray, manta ray, other so-called winged fish. It's been overfished in Europe so restaurants there now import their skate from America where its is abundantly found in the Atlantic.
It's been a terrible season for stone crab, she said. I never knew stone crab, which is harvested in Florida waters, ever got to Ohio at all. It does, but apparently it hasn't been found here for more than a month.
"The water has been very warm in Florida this year and that caused a proliferation of octopus which ate the stone crab," she told me. "When fisherman go out to retrieve their crab traps and find empty shells and a lot of octopus they soon stop going out to check them."
 They know their investment in time and gasoline to reach the traps will be wasted. So scratch off stone crab this year.
The story about cold water fish appears in Thursday's News-Herald. Those who read it online will see it even sooner.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Anticipating Montenegro

I'd really been looking forward to our day ashore in Montenegro , one of the world's newest countries. It was formed in 2006 when its citizenry took  back control and voted for independence from Serbia with which it had aligned after the breakup of Yugoslavia. I knew that until fairly recently it had closed its doors to the outside world and become a lawless haven for smugglers.
After cruising with the Crystal Serenity on the Adriatic down the long fjords to reach Kotor, it was easy to understand how it could remain isolated. Tall rugged mountains plunge to the sea with the mirror-like surface of the water resulting from its protection by the land.

It wasn't far from the walled town of Dubrovnik, which I last visited three years ago on a small-ship voyage among Croatia's islands, but it proved quite different.

 The walled town of Kotor is attributed to the Venetians who dominated the Dalmation coast to he north and this coastline from the 15th to 18th centuries. The iconic Venetian lion guards the fortress on its sea side and also seems to protect the clock tower within its gates. The impressive wall,  60 feet high, 30 feet thick and three miles long, was begun in the 9th century and not completed for 1,000 years.

Somewhat daunted at the steep terrain, I still wanted to visit the fortress above the bay. I figured the climb would help me work off some of the calories I'd added during the cruise. So we asked abut the path and were pointed to the eastern walls, where the serpentine path wound upward to 900 feet above the bay. "It's 1,350 steps," the woman at the tourism kiosk  told us. "But the most people believe the views are worth it."

Already tired from scrambling over steep cobbled streets, my daughter and I sat down on a bench outside the walls to consider our options, when she fell ill. That scary chapter in our trip is recounted in the following blog.

Needless to say I never made the climb. So Kotor is now on my list of places to which  I must one day return.

Hitting the wall in Kotor

Passengers step ashore in Montenegro to explore the walled Venetian style city of Kotor, just steps from the pier.

Steep cobbled streets have staircases for foot traffic. Despite its pretty scenes, Kotor is a lived-in village. 

Sascha makes the acquaintance of a friendly stray

After Sascha became ill ashore we opted for lunch on our balcony overlooking Kotor.
It happened in Kotor on a lovely sunny morning.
Out of the blue, after exploring the streets and shops of this Venice-like walled port city of Montenegro, Sascha and I sat down on a bench in the shade.
The next thing I knew my daughter was slumped over. Her eyes were unfocused and her speech was slurred. Her chin bobbed onto her chest.
Of course I’d known about the neurological disorder that blindsides her when least expected. It’s the reason she hasn’t traveled much and had almost declined the invitation to join me aboard the Crystal Serenity in the southern Mediterranean.
But I’d never before witnessed it happening.
“I’m fine,” she kept telling me, although she obviously wasn’t. “Just let me sit here for a moment.”
After a few minutes of my fretting and handwringing, she seemed slightly better. I knew she really hates hovering, so I left her sitting on the bench while I popped into a nearby farmer’s market, to look over the mid-September grapes and other produce. I was gone just a few minutes. But when I returned she was lying on the bench and retching. She’d attracted attention from hovering bystanders who seemed relieved at my arrival.
Instead of panicking, I helped her to sit and gave her some cool water to drink. “We must go back to the ship,” I told her. “Do you think you can walk a few blocks or shall I try to find help?”
I knew that the place where the Serenity’s tender had brought us ashore was just a half a block from where we sat. I knew that it would be staffed and I could easily get help if I needed to.
But asking for help is as difficult for my daughter as it is for me.  So taking it slow and easy, her arm around my shoulder as mine wrapped her waist, we approached the dock just as the ship’s tender pulled in. Crew members noted our disability and helped us both get aboard the tender, back aboard the ship and to our stateroom with little fuss. It was obvious to me they’d handled folks with disabilities before and displayed just the right balance between care and embarrassing over care.
“So much for our lunch and shopping afternoon ashore,” Sascha said.  “Now I just need to get into bed.”
I knew there was no telling when she’d be better. She might not be able to leave the bed for the rest of the voyage or she might awaken in a few hours and be fine. She’d been there before and we’d talked about the possibilities before we left home.
But I’d sailed with Crystal Cruises before and knew that the ship would provide every comfort and amenity. If she needed a doctor, there was one, although she declined. “It took years to get a diagnosis,” she said. “I know what to do better than anyone.”
A quiet, darkened room and sleep were the best treatment, so I left her safely in the care of our butler, who had told us to call him Papa. “Please just look in on her in an hour or so,” I asked.
So she snuggled in to those silky 500-thread-count sheets, pulled the down comforter up to her chin, drew the drapes and went to sleep. When I returned after going back ashore for a few hours, she was awake and much more bright eyed. “I just ordered lunch,” she said.”We can eat it on the balcony.”
So I quickly added my order to hers, and we spent the rest of the afternoon looking at Kotor from our balcony and watching the port traffic come in and out of the narrow channel. The waterway was almost fijord like, with mountains coming down to the sea and we were close enough to land to hear neighborhood dogs barking.
As day faded to evening, we both agreed it had been a lovely day - all things considered. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

My 2013 resolutions

I thought I'd share these resolutions for 2013. Feel free to borrow any of them.

Fear less; hope more
Eat less, savor more
Talk less, say more
Hate less, love more.

Thanks for reading

Janet Podolak