www.wvgazettemail.com Travel http://www.wvgazettemail.com Gazette archive feed en-us Copyright 2017, Charleston Newspapers, Charleston, WV Newspapers Man who shares birthday with WV celebrates by traveling to state parks http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170619/GZ0506/170619551 GZ0506 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170619/GZ0506/170619551 Mon, 19 Jun 2017 17:52:16 -0400 Rick Steelhammer By Rick Steelhammer How does a lifelong West Virginian celebrate his home state's birthday when it falls on the same date as his own?

Longtime Budget Tapes & Records manager John Nelson, of Charleston, makes it a practice to visit a West Virginia state park with his family when June 20 rolls around.

This year, to celebrate his 60th birthday and West Virginia's 154th, Nelson and members of his family are camping at Audra State Park, along the Middle Fork River about 10 miles west of Belington and astride the Barbour-Upshur county line.

"It's a beautiful but kind of out-of-the-way park that none of the rest of my family has visited," Nelson said shortly before departing. "We plan to do some swimming and hiking at the park, exploring the Buckhannon area, and maybe try out a fairly new section of rail-trail near Lost Creek."

The tradition of celebrating his birthday and West Virginia's with visits to state parks began about 20 years ago, Nelson said. While he was unable to maintain the tradition every year since then, he frequents state parks and forests at other times of the year, as well.

"I've visited probably 90 percent of the state parks, by now," he said, many of them on multiple occasions. "I just love West Virginia's great outdoors, and our state parks offer a great way to spend time there, while reconnecting with family and friends."

Nelson's connection with state parks began at age 9, "when Mom and Dad and their five kids made our first trip to Watoga," he said. He and his family have made a number of return trips to that Pocahontas County state park since then, including one memorable visit several years ago when, on a hike to a viewpoint, they encountered a man filming a black bear at the edge of a clearing.

"We watched the bear roam around for about 10 minutes, stopping occasionally to enjoy the view at sunset, like we were," Nelson said.

Nelson said he considers Babcock State Park to be his favorite and most frequently visited unit of the state parks system, having made countless day trips to the park with the oft-photographed gristmill. One of Nelson's favorite activities at Babcock is hiking the trail that follows the rim of Manns Creek's canyon for views of the park's rugged interior.

Nelson said his most vivid childhood memory involving his shared birthday with his native state took place in 1963, at age 6, when, accompanied by his mother, he attended a speech delivered by President John F. Kennedy on the Statehouse steps to commemorate West Virginia's 100th year of statehood, and to express gratitude to the state's voters for their pivotal role in winning him the Democratic presidential primary. Later that day, Nelson took part in a downtown centennial luncheon hosted by Gov. Wally Barron, to which West Virginians born on June 20 were invited.

Nelson said he expects to eventually visit all West Virginia state parks during his birthday celebrations and nonbirthday ramblings.

Lost River State Park, in Hardy County, with its numerous hiking and equestrian trails, mountaintop vistas and cabins with fieldstone fireplaces built by Civilian Conservation Corps workers in the late 1930s, is the so-far unvisited park Nelson most wants to see.

"It's great to have so much natural beauty available to relax in without having to travel very far," he said. "You combine that with all the friendly people I've met visiting the parks and it helps keep balance in your life."

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com, 304-348-5169 or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.

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WV Travel Team: Life at Capon Springs defined by family tradition http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170612/GZ0506/170619907 GZ0506 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170612/GZ0506/170619907 Mon, 12 Jun 2017 09:25:00 -0400 By Jeanne Mozier WV Travel Team By By Jeanne Mozier WV Travel Team CAPON SPRINGS - When I first wrote about Capon Springs in the late 1990s, it was a secret, tucked away in the far Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia at the edge of Hampshire County. It's not a secret any more. An avalanche of state and national attention is bringing lots of interest.

Now the concern is how to stay a hidden gem but find the right people to enjoy the unique experience of the family camp style that is the Capon way. Accurately but affectionately describing our overnight stay at the Hampshire County resort should help.

We arrived from the west, entering what seemed like a small village with green-trimmed, white, Victorian-style resort buildings lining the road. Later, we found out people coming from the east were sent over a twisting dirt mountain road with no signs - and they loved it.

Arriving through monumental cliffs and eccentric rock outcroppings to find the resort village pop up before them is apparently a thrill too great to pass up, even for picturesque but paved West Virginia roads.

Soon after we checked into our comfortable room in the Pavilion, complete with a rushing stream of spring water at the edge of our deck, we heard the old iron bell ring to call everyone to lunch. We walked over to the main building, outdoor music playing as another meal signal, and followed the crowd inside.

Dining may be the most honored of the many traditions at Capon Springs. Everyone eats together in a homey, sun-filled room. Meals are served family style at the same time every day. Tables are assigned, and the menus for each day have not changed in 34 years.

Actually, there was a change recently when fried chicken was moved from Tuesday to Friday, and there was nearly a revolt. When folks come the same week every year for a couple of generations, they build expectations. Changing fried chicken night can be a crisis.

Food is abundant, bread is fresh-baked and seconds are encouraged. The desserts are a real prize. We enjoyed excellent fresh-baked cherry pie at one meal and chocolate cake at another.

One recent change in the dining program has not inspired any resistance. For decades the food has been cooked exclusively by local ladies from traditional comfort-food recipes. Now there's a chef as well as the ladies. But as owner Jonathan Bellingham proudly said, "He fits into the Capon way."

Though Capon Springs maintained extensive gardens to provide food for the table before it became trendy, it has recently expanded farm-to-table with its livestock operation. It has a herd of beef, about 40 piglets and pigs, and a large flock of about 800 egg-laying chickens. A pair of longtime guests with whom we shared breakfast one day were impressed to learn their eggs came from Capon Springs chickens. Feeding the pigs on Saturday is a major guest event.

There are other new things happening. Capon Springs has an appealing nine-hole golf course guests can play anytime, as much as they want, no tee times necessary. Now that there is a golf pro, day players are allowed, and the pro can arrange tee times for them and is available for lessons and clinics. But the sloping lawns of the golf course are still used as a playground for outdoor events in the pavilion on top of the hill.

About a decade ago, the resort hearkened to its past and added Hygeia, a spa using brick for the walls to reflect the 19th-century baths and highly polished wood floors for today's spa look.

My husband, Jack, and I indulged ourselves in the exquisite large private blue-tiled baths with jets. Water is heated to 102 degrees, and my improved damaged knee can attest to its healing power; maybe it's the lithia emerald. Family nights are popular, and a larger swim spa with cooler water is ideal for frolicking children and water aerobics.

During its 19th-century heyday as one of the prominent Blue Ridge spa resorts, Capon Springs' four-story Mountain House was one of the largest structures in the South, and its oval pool of pure spring water was the largest in Virginia.

The Mountain House burned in 1911, but the pool remains and was recently voted Retreat Central's Best Retreat Center Pool - no added chemicals, just fresh spring water that bubbles out of the ground at a constant, if chilly, 65 degrees. The pool is emptied and cleaned regularly, initiating walking the bottom, another tradition.

"Unplug" is a common description in visitors' comments. For now, conference and meeting rooms in the Meeting Hall are the places to go for television and Wi-Fi, and cell service is spotty but improving. Fortunately, other activities fill the time and space. There are six hiking trails on the 4,700-acre resort, a shale pit ideal for digging fossils, a well-stocked library, the ever-popular sport of porching and a campfire circle every Saturday night, where hot dogs are part of the program even though everyone had a turkey dinner earlier.

Being unplugged thrives on the family reunion ambiance of the resort, where everyone acts like the cousin you haven't seen in a year who wants to catch you up on what they've been doing.

The basic appeal of Capon Springs remains its family tradition from the owners - now in the third generation with the fourth moving up - to the guests. Multiple generations coming for multiple years to the same lodging place at the same time each year is a standard practice, but space is always available for folks to come and enjoy Capon Springs for the first time. The big news this year is that four weekdays in early October have opened with no previous dibs on rooms, providing a prime opportunity to grab a space and start your own tradition.

The 120 rooms at the resort come in various configurations from cabins, cottages and private rooms to dorm rooms in the main building with a central bathroom.

The dorm rooms are surprisingly popular, with guests feeling very possessive and putting up hooks and other personal touches. The corner and adjoining rooms are often the informal happy hour location for the bring-your-own resort. The most recent addition is four fully handicap-accessible rooms with private baths and air-conditioning.

Personalized service comes with every room. Many staff members are third and fourth generation, and relationships blend: staff, owners, guests. Folks stay in touch with their server at dinner. People hunt with the maintenance workers. One surprising feature is that no pets are allowed.

"Maybe the fourths will find a way to make that work," Bellingham said.

Tradition is not exorbitantly priced at Capon Springs, and best of all, there are no nickel-and-dime annoyances. One personal check (or credit card) at the end of a guest's stay covers everything.

The Capon way is home and family down to the molecular level. Life is casual, with dressing up, even for dinner, discouraged. Newcomers are quickly absorbed. Not that we want to turn anyone away, but be aware, fancy amenities are not part of the program, and hot nightlife means sitting too close to the fire circle.

Occasionally guests choose to venture outside the historic district and explore the neighborhood. Capon Crossing is a working farm and music venue up the road. Buddy and Aliza Dunlap have a farm market with local products and their own grass-fed beef, lamb and chickens.

Mid-month bluegrass concerts in the barn draw hundreds for the music, the brisket sandwiches and the exceptional music, then buy some local beef to take home.

The closest real town is Wardensville, where there is a miracle of 21st-century development taking place. It was started by the folks at the Lost River Trading Post, which is a must-stop for just about everything from West Virginia wines to antique oddities.

It expanded to a mile of road front-bounded by the Cacapon River across the highway, where its Farm Works Wonders Foundation has a remarkable work-study program for local teens. There's an indoor market, a farm outdoor market and a bakery with coffee.

It grows heirloom produce using organic methods, maintains a greenhouse and has the only high-tunnel growing space with a disco ball. Workshops are staged every weekend.

Jeanne Mozier, of Berkeley Springs, is the author of "Way Out in West Virginia," a must-have guide to the wonders and oddities of the Mountain State. She and noted photographer Steve Shaluta have released the second printing of the coffee-table photo book "West Virginia Beauty, Familiar and Rare." Both books are available around West Virginia and from WVBookCo.com.

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WV Book Team: Beach reads beyond the best-seller lists http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170612/GZ0605/170619908 GZ0605 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170612/GZ0605/170619908 Mon, 12 Jun 2017 15:10:00 -0400 By Elizabeth Fraser and Dana Smook WV Book Team By By Elizabeth Fraser and Dana Smook WV Book Team If you're looking for a breezy beach book to take with you on summer vacation, there are plenty of popular choices from the best-seller lists. But we wanted to offer something a little different this year. So here is a list of quirky, fun, and absorbing books just right for summer reading.

Merriam-Webster boasts one of the hottest and sassiest Twitter feeds right now, and anyone who appreciates that kind of word-nerd humor will also love, "Word by Word: the Secret Life of Dictionaries," by Kory Stamper. This entertaining book, part memoir and part history, explores what it is like to work at America's oldest dictionary publisher.

As grammar-obsessed lexicographers get worked up about the correctness of words like "irregardless," or the newness of phrases such as "on fleek," readers are reminded that language is evolving in fascinating ways. With a down-to-earth writing style, Stamper will surprise readers with never-ending insights about language in a way that isn't overly academic or dry. Charming and very funny, "Word by Word" will help you discover a new appreciation for dictionaries.

A glass of wine on a summer night can be a pleasure, but do you know why a wine is good or bad? "Cork Dork" author Bianca Bosker wondered the same thing.

After watching a competition for elite sommeliers - trained wine professionals - she wanted to do more than just write about wine as a tech reporter for the Huffington Post. She wanted to become a sommelier and earn the certificate of the Court of Master Sommeliers.

"Cork Dork" is a backstage pass to the wine world, and after reading this entertaining and eye-opening memoir you'll definitely be ready for your next summer wine tasting.

In "Dead Letters," debut novelist Caite Dolan-Leach plunges readers into the swirling uncertainties facing Ava Antipova after her twin sister Zelda dies. Ava has spent two years building a life of her own in Paris as an attempt at running away from her highly dysfunctional family, only to return home to upstate New York to help plan Zelda's funeral. But is Zelda really dead or just on the run?

Bewildering emails from Zelda begin to arrive, and Ava is left wondering: What did Zelda get herself into? Working out the messages from A to Z, Ava can't quite understand what Zelda is trying to tell her.

Part baffling crime mystery, part gothic family saga, Dolan-Leach's crafty and atmospheric thriller will delight fans of domestic psychological page-turners like "Gone Girl" or "Girl on the Train." Perfect for beach-goers who enjoy a good, dark mystery.

If you're looking for a sweet summer romance, we recommend "The Undateable," by Sarah Title. This quirky, witty novel follows a feisty feminist librarian named Bernie who unexpectedly becomes a meme when a photo of her scowling face goes viral online.

Colin works at an online fashion magazine as the lone straight man offering his perspective on dating and fashion. But when his role at the magazine is questioned by an ambitious co-worker, he knows he needs a big story to help him attract new readers. He jumps on the chance to write a story about finding true love for Bernie, the internet's favorite "Disapproving Librarian."

Full of witty banter and featuring characters that are relatable and well-formed, "The Undateable" might be this year's top beach read for anyone who loves modern romantic comedy. And who can resist a lovable librarian character?

Vibrantly set against Florida palm trees and Gulf Coast views, "The Shark Club," by Ann Kidd Taylor, is a great summer read whether you're on the beach or just wish you were.

Mixing romance, marine science and a bit of mystery, "The Shark Club" follows logical marine biologist Maeve, who returns home to Palermo, Florida, after traveling the world for her work studying sharks. Maeve's existence revolves around sharks. She's been striving to understand them for her entire life after being bitten by one as a child.

While Maeve has thrown herself into her professional passion, her personal life is a bit more complicated. When her childhood sweetheart returns to work as a chef in her grandmother's hotel, Maeve must reckon with past loves and the ways in which her endless obsession with sharks impacts her personal relationships.

"The Shark Club" may be full of sharks, but it also features delightful characters, a happy ending and a seaside setting. It is a wonderful novel that is ultimately about navigating human connections.

Whether you're at the beach, at the pool, or in your backyard, summer reading is a state of mind! Pick up an easy-going book, kick back somewhere warm and enjoy. Looking for more beach-worthy reads? Just ask your friendly local librarian! We are always happy to help.

For more information on these books or others, contact the main branch of the Kanawha County Public Library at 304-343-4646 or visit www.kanawhalibrary.org.

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WV's Palace of Gold is an escape from modern life for Hindu community http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170610/GZ0506/170619994 GZ0506 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170610/GZ0506/170619994 Sat, 10 Jun 2017 08:30:00 -0400 Bill Lynch By Bill Lynch Moundsville - The drive to the Palace of Gold at the New Vrindaban Community in Marshall County can be tricky if you're not a local.

A comment on the Facebook page for the Hare Krishna community near Moundsville warns potential visitors not to trust their GPS, which the commenter promised would lead them along dangerous dirt roads.

The Hare Krishna community's website also tells people not to plug the address into a GPS, but instead to head toward Bethlehem, then drive to Limestone and take a left on McCreary's Ridge Road.

Still, it's easy enough to get turned around, even if you're on the right road. Signs from the highway point in the general direction of the palace, but one wrong turn and (with a bit of stubborn denial) you can end up in the charming little town of Claysville, Pennsylvania.

The true road leading to the Palace of Gold is a winding two-lane that, until a couple of years ago, wasn't even paved.

Over a hill, the golden roof of the palace pokes up, which tells you you've come to the right place.

Early in the week, there's plenty of parking near the palace and nothing like a crowd to explore the expansive grounds. It's quiet, except for the muffled sound of Indian music coming from inside the palace or the shriek of one of the several, iridescent peacocks wandering near the upper lake.

Peacocks hold a special place in Indian culture, featured prominently in religious stories, and the bird is a protected animal in India. Krishna is often pictured wearing a peacock feather on a headdress.

The birds at New Vrindaban are practically tame and don't immediately flee when approached by visitors. Mostly they just stare back, likely hoping for a snack.

The peacocks can be surprisingly noisy, however.

On the weekends, around holidays and Hindu holy days, it gets busier at the temple, said Vrindivan Das, the communications director for the community.

"We see more than 30,000 people a year," he said. "People come because they are curious. They come to see the beautiful palace, and, also, because they are pilgrims."

Visitors, he said, come from all over the country and Canada, Europe and India.

"We get a lot more corporate people," he said. "They come for the meditation and to relax."

Along with the palace, there's a community temple that could easily hold several hundred, a gift shop, a yoga studio, an inn and a vegetarian restaurant, which serves Indian food and pizza.

Adherents to the Hindu faith do not eat meat because they believe it attracts negative karma. However, dairy products are permitted. The New Vrindaban Community has a small dairy.

Cows peacefully chew grass in a huge field.

"We do not take milk from the baby cows," Das explained. "They get the milk first. We take what's left over."

Cows are revered among the faithful, and the community keeps about 50 of them, some of which are rescue animals.

The group cares for the cows, whether they give milk or not.

"They are very tame," Das said. "You can go up and hug them."

Maybe not the bulls, though.

"They can be a little grumpy," he said.

New Vrindaban was founded in 1968 by Abhay Charanaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the spiritual leader and founder for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, a Hindu sect.

Born and raised in India, the guru came to the United States in 1965 on a kind of mission of mercy.

Das explained the West had plundered India's wealth. Specifically, the British empire had stolen the country's riches, taken its resources and exploited its people for labor.

"They had taken so much," Das said. "But they had missed out on the spiritual wealth, the love of God. He came to bring that to the West."

By the 1960s, the old British Empire was mostly just a memory. America had taken its place.

The mission to the U.S. was difficult. The guru was 70 years old, in poor health and Das said he couldn't have picked a worse time to come to America.

"He arrived in New York in the winter," Das said, laughing. "He was dressed in traditional robes and it was very cold."

He knew no one, only had a couple of dollars in his pockets, but he still managed to gather followers and ignite a new faith in the West.

In 1968, he established New Vrindaban and continued to spread Krishna consciousness around the world.

"He traveled the world 14 times," Das said.

Meanwhile, the day-to-day operations and local leadership fell to Kirtanananda Swami, an American-born disciple.

Seclusion fit the aesthetics of the faith, which focuses on devotion to the many-faced Hindu god Krishna, meditation and a renunciation of attachment to worldly possessions.

The palace was originally intended as a home for Prabhupada, but it was scarcely begun by the time the guru died in 1977. Instead, the residents of the community built the palace as a shrine to venerate the man.

"They did this all themselves," Das said.

However, most of the devotees were untrained laborers. They learned as they went, with mixed results.

Outside, the palace is worn and frayed around the edges, the results of shoddy workmanship. Repairs are underway, but they will take years to complete.

Still, it is an unusual sight to behold, an Eastern palace hidden among the hills of West Virginia.

"You should come in late June through mid-July," Das said. "The flowers are most beautiful then - the lotuses, in particular."

Inside, the palace has weathered time and the elements better. Guides point out the stained glass, much of it made in the Mountain State, and the many kinds of ornately cut marble, which was imported from around the globe.

High points include a 200-year-old chandelier that contains French crystal from the court of Marie Antoinette.

The palace is small, and the rooms were built as if Prabhupada might live there still. There's a bedroom, a bath, a study and a receiving room where the guru would have spoken to followers. Statues of the man can be found in several rooms.

The Palace of Gold became a popular tourist attraction in the 1980s, just as the community of the faithful grew to a peak of more than 500 people.

Kirtanananda envisioned New Vrindaban as a "spiritual Disneyland." It even had a young elephant on the premises that entertained visitors, but the high aspirations never became a reality.

"We had some bad leadership," Das said, wearily. "We had some challenges."

The subject continues to be a sore spot, he said, though the community would like to get past it.

"All religions have had their bad times," he said.

In the mid-1980s, Kirtanananda veered from the mainstream teachings of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). He embraced an interfaith ideal and sought to remove many of the Indian elements from Hare Krishna practices in favor of an approach he believed was more appealing to Westerners.

ISKCON objected to the changes and excommunicated Kirtanananda and the New Vrindaban Community.

In 1990, the Kirtanananda Swami was indicted on five counts of racketeering, six counts of mail fraud and conspiracy to murder two rivals within the Hare Krishna movement.

There were also accusations of child molestation, though no official charges.

Kirtanananda was convicted of nine of the charges and put under house arrest (the jury failed to reach a verdict on the conspiracy charges), but the convictions were soon thrown out on appeal.

Kirtanananda returned to the New Vrindaban Community, but he was ousted not long after returning.

In 1996, he was retried and pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering. He served eight years of a 20-year sentence. After his release, he moved to a temple in New York and then finally India, where he died in 2011.

Through the scandals and legal troubles in the 1990s, the community shrank from about 300 to a little more than 100, where it currently remains.

Under new leadership, the New Vrindaban Community was brought back into the fold and reinstated into ISKCON in 1998, but during the next decade it faced lawsuits and mounting debt.

The property suffered. The inexpertly constructed buildings crumbled. The community was falling apart.

The natural gas boom helped rescue New Vrindaban and the Palace of Gold. A few years ago, community leaders entered into lease agreements with natural gas companies, which helped inject much-needed money into the religious community's coffers, allowing for a steady rehabilitation of the property.

One of the gas companies even paved the road leading to the palace and the temple, which makes the trip to the Palace of Gold more accessible.

"We're looking forward now," Das said.

Restoring the palace, he said, is good for the faithful, but it is also good for the local area. The palace gives people another reason to visit the area, shop and spend money.

While the intentions aren't to turn the land into a religious theme park, Das said the community is still a great destination for people looking to escape some of the stresses of modern life.

The religion is there, if anyone is interested. At the temple and in the entryway to the palace, there's literature for sale about Krishna consciousness and the teachings of Prabhupada.

Das and the tour guide at the palace also speak glowingly about their religion.

Visitors are even welcome to take off their shoes and attend services, held several times a day at the temple, but there's no pressure to join in.

Nobody minds if people come just to watch.

Das said the religious community has tried to learn from its mistakes.

In the old days, he said, outsiders came to visit the Palace of Gold, but the people living around it remained insulated from the rest of the world and kept secrets.

Das said they're more open now.

"We're part of the community," he said. "We do a lot of things here. Everyone is welcome. Families come just to enjoy the grounds and have picnics."

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5195 or follow @LostHwys on Twitter.

Follow Bill's One Month At A Time progress on his blog at blogs.wvgazettemail.com/onemonth/.

He's also on Instagram at instagram.com/billiscap.

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WV Travel Team: Exploring the split personalities of West Palm Beach http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170605/GZ0506/170609813 GZ0506 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170605/GZ0506/170609813 Mon, 5 Jun 2017 09:38:00 -0400 By Martin W.G. King WV Travel Team By By Martin W.G. King WV Travel Team Rippling turquoise waters lapped at the palm-lined causeway taking me across Clear Lake from the South Florida mainland to downtown West Palm Beach.

Ahead, tall office and condo towers with faux cupolas atop pitched-tile roofs provided a respite from the low-rise sprawl and tangle of highways I was leaving behind.

Farther ahead, on the far side of the city's downtown, a bridge took me across the Intracoastal Waterway to the storied island enclave of Palm Beach, home not just to President Donald Trump, but to legions of celebrities, modern-day robber barons, and heirs to old and new money.

The city of West Palm Beach, however, is quickly becoming a destination in its own right.

West Palm Beach has a split personality. Vibrant urban neighborhoods sit cheek-by-jowl with vast stretches of empty lots, the detritus of urban development schemes that crashed during the Great Recession.

The striking Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, which draws stellar productions, sits near a gargantuan empty block once earmarked for the much-ballyhooed Opera Place apartment tower, which was never built.

Nearby, however, is City Place, a retail and residential center filled with 80 tony shops and upscale restaurants. Across the street, the Palm Beach County Convention Center is anchored by the gleaming new Hilton West Palm Beach.

While West Palm Beach lacks Palm Beach's panache, it offers a lively, pint-sized downtown centered on Clematis Street that's chock full of restaurants and bars.

Among them is the lauded, if noisy, Avocado Grill, a small-plates restaurant whose menu finds inspiration in - but is not limited to - its namesake fruit. Another, Pistache, has earned kudos from diners as one of the best French bistros in the area.

Food tours are popular, as are pedal buses that take revelers on bar tours. More upscale imbibing can be had at the Hilton's cocktail lounge. The hotel is a favorite of baseball teams playing at the nearby Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. On one recent Saturday night, two sleek buses disgorged the New York Yankees, some of whom patiently posed for selfies with fans gathered at the hotel entrance.

West Palm Beach also offers a burgeoning art scene. The Norton Museum of Art offers exhibits worthy of a much larger city. It's undergoing a $60 million expansion. Admission is free until the end of construction, expected in December 2018.

South of the Norton, new art galleries, antique stores and edgy restaurants are rejuvenating Old Dixie Highway, breathing new life into the ragtag thoroughfare. Among the restaurants, Table 26˚ (named for the city's latitude) was a game-changer.

Grato, Italian and especially popular with a hip crowd at night, beckons from a soaring space in an old warehouse, serving new takes on traditional dishes.

Old-time residential neighborhoods abut the new businesses. One, Flamingo Park, is especially enticing because of its modest homes - often set in beautiful gardens - built in the area's Spanish hacienda-style heyday of the 1920s and 1930s.

Less appealing, and a striking point in contrast, are the two twin Trump Plaza condominium towers that puncture the West Palm Beach skyline and typify the upended shoebox style of architecture popular in the mid-1980s, when the buildings were built.

The skyline of Palm Beach, reached by three drawbridges across the Intracoastal Waterway from West Palm Beach, is topped mainly by palm trees and flagpoles. With a predominantly pastel palette, the town is a chic counterpoint to brash and plebeian (but livelier) West Palm Beach. Here, in gargantuan seaside mansions, live the country's moneyed elite, the target audience for local television commercials that extol the virtues of Bentleys and Maseratis.

The mansions, which mimic everything from Tuscan villas to Greek temples, are worth a good look. The most stunning march south of downtown along coastal South Ocean Boulevard.

But don't even think of heading there when Trump is making one of his frequent visits to his 126-room, 39-bathroom mansion, once the home of cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post. (Trump's many improvements included installing four gold-plated bathroom sinks at a cost of $100,000).

When the president is in town, South Ocean Boulevard is closed to all but local drivers with identification, causing consternation for residents and disappointment for tourists.

Worth Avenue, the town's counterpart to Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, stretches from a clock tower at the city's magnificent public beach west to the Intracoastal. Shops include Tiffany, Emilio Pucci, Kate Spade, Armani and Worth Avenue Yachts, which offers to put you at the helm of your own snazzy vessel.

Mere mortals just gawk at the window displays, but a sister-in-law from California spied a dress she liked and, for the fun of it, tried it on. It was a perfect fit but, at $5,000, didn't go home with her.

Other shops line bougainvillea-draped arcades. Addison Mizner, the architect who pioneered South Florida's ubiquitous Mediterranean-style architecture, once lived atop one of them.

Like Clematis Street in West Palm Beach, Worth Avenue and its environs have a good number of watering holes. Ta-boo, has been host to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Frank Sinatra, President John F. Kennedy and any number of present-day socialites, often of indeterminate age.

On a recent visit, hair, eyelids, teeth, cheeks and other body parts seemed weirdly perfect, the consequence, I guessed, of expensive surgery. The bar, which sports a monkeys-in-the-jungle motif with zebra-striped upholstery, is one of the few places in town open for afternoon snacks and drinks.

Meanwhile, the Leopard Lounge at the exclusive Chesterfield Palm Beach Hotel attracts well-heeled patrons intent on discretion (to protect the privacy of guests, no photography is allowed), while the legendary Colony Hotel offers New York-caliber entertainment in its Royal Room. At the northern end of town, the fabled Italian Renaissance-style Breakers hotel's HMF Lounge packs in hotel guests and a younger set.

"HMF" refers to Henry Morrison Flagler, the tycoon whose railway opened South Florida to development in the late 19th century. (Flagler also built The Breakers.) His 75-room, 100,000-square-foot beaux-arts mansion, Whitehall, built in 1902, is open to the public.

Nearby, Trump wed spouse Melania in 2005 at the Gothic revival Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea, when the presidency was just a gleam in his eye. It's also where, in 2013, Michael Jordan married model Yvette Prieto. The church's Cluett Memorial Garden, a two-tiered, 1/3 acre plot, was designed for restful contemplation.

That garden, however, is just one of a number of parks and gardens that some consider the area's crown jewels. Among them, Mounts Botanical Garden in West Palm Beach, near Palm Beach International Airport, delights visitors with 2,000 species planted along winding trails. There are also butterfly and fragrance gardens.

Another, the Ann Norton Sculpture Garden and Museum, exhibits sculpture in a jungle setting. On a recent dank Sunday, Curatorial Manager Cynthia Inklebarger led a tour through the tropical forest. Her easy-going personality and expert narrative commanded her guests' rapt attention as she discussed the pieces on display, primarily Norton's towering sculptures and the work of the internationally acclaimed Sophie Ryder, who likes to depict human emotions in the form of giant centaurs, hares and greyhounds.

Inklebarger was also nuanced in the flora, especially a huge collection of cycads, giant leathery plants with sharply spiked leaves that date to the Jurassic Era and that, Inklebarger suggested, were probably once used as swords.

If Mounts and the Norton Sculpture Garden are the crown jewels of the cities, the Four Arts Garden, near the foot of the Royal Park Bridge in Palm Beach, is the crown itself. (The Four Arts Society, proud owner of the garden, is a charity focused on providing art, music, drama and literature to area residents.)

The gardens were designed and planted in the 1930s by seven society matrons (with the help of one gentleman) to display the diversity of plants suitable for gardening in South Florida's warm climate. They provide a pristine welcome to Palm Beach visitors. Destroyed by hurricanes in 2004 and 2005, the park was redesigned and replanted.

As at the Norton garden, sculpture is interspersed among the flower beds and architectural features. One piece is especially popular - a life-size bronze of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill seated on a bench with space for a visitor to sit between them. They were the statesmen of their time, when the world was a very different place.

Martin W.G. King is a freelance writer based in Delray Beach, Florida, who enjoys writing about travel destinations of interest to West Virginians.

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West Virginia pilot helps group rescue cats from Guantanamo Bay http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170602/GZ0506/170609932 GZ0506 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170602/GZ0506/170609932 Fri, 2 Jun 2017 09:00:00 -0400 Douglas Imbrogno By Douglas Imbrogno The caterwauling from the back of the twin-engine Cessna came from a crowd of unwilling passengers.

Cats. There were 25 of them stashed in cat carriers bearing their names on strips of tape, among them Gomez, Groucho, Diablo, Droopy and Morticia.

They were howling their objections to being flown against their wishes from their home along Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to America.

"They made some ungodly kind of sounds on takeoff and landing," said Mike Plante.

Plante took part in what must be one of the fuzziest international rescue airlifts ever when he flew his Cessna 310 out of Charleston's Yeager Airport on May 12.

With a stopover to pick up a friend, he flew to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base at the southeastern end of Cuba to pick up his cargo of cats.

The American Naval base - known as Gitmo - is best known for its controversial wartime prison, housing detainees in a complex skirted by a Cuban minefield. But the 45-square-mile base is also home to a thriving population of abandoned and feral cats.

An American contractor who'd lived on the base for 26 years had been touched by the plight of the base's free-range cats, Plante said. The policy on the base is to euthanize them if owners cannot be found for the friendlier ones, he said.

But the contractor, a woman named Ruby Meade, had opened her home, yard and business to 23 of the cats to go with the two house cats she already owned. People who knew she offered safe harbor for felines without families would drop them by her home or the machine shop she and her husband, Glynn ran on the base.

"You'd come in one day, and there'd be a new little kitten, all scrawny, trying to get something to eat. You'd coax 'em out and take them to the vet," Meade said in a phone interview.

Here was the rub - actually, there were lots of rubs, given all the cats accumulated by the couple through the years.

Meade, who first came to Guantanamo as a Naval enlistee and ended up as a government contractor, had decided to retire and move back to the states.

What would happen to all her cats?

Who ya gonna call?

Operation Git-Meow.

By day, Plante runs a public relations firm, whose clients include Yeager Airport. On the side, he has for years helped a friend, Steve Merritt, the president of Bahamas Habitat, which lines up private pilots for disaster relief in the Bahamas, Haiti and Mexico. Merritt also works with the Virginia-based nonprofit Helping Paws Across Borders, an international veterinary and animal-rescue program.

When Operation Git-Meow offered Meade help with her cat quandary, the group reached out to Merritt, who reached out to Plante.

The result: a multi-cat airlift from Cuba originating in West Virginia.

But it took a crew of volunteers, a cross-Guantanamo cat caravan, and many months and mountains of military paperwork to pull off.

The wrangling with officialdom included a special exception granted by the Guantanamo commander to allow Plante to drop his Cessna onto the tarmac of the restricted-access Naval base.

"There's no commercial service, per se, to Guantanamo," Plante said. "If the Navy and the military arranged for charter flights in and out in order to get the cats back to America, it was going to cost something like $1,000 a cat."

To be sure, Ruby Meade loves her some cats. You get a glimpse of her value system in the black T-shirt she wore the day of what might be called the "cat-lift" on May 14. In big letters, the shirt read: "CATS (because people suck)."

On the other hand, a $25,000 cat-lift to rescue Pepe, T-3, Boo, Baby and the other cats was a little beyond Ruby and Glynn's government contract income.

So, the Operation Git-Meow effort, which involved a pro bono private pilot from West Virginia, matched with a successful $5,000 GoFundMe campaign and a clutch of cat-rescue volunteers, was just the ticket.

Erika Kelly is president of Operation Git-Meow, a group pushing for changes in how Gitmo deals with its homeless cats, with help from the global animal rescue group SPCA International.

Kelly hopes the recent cat-lift will bring publicity to Git-Meow's proposal for a different way of dealing with the base's feral and abandoned cats.

It is beyond the scope of this article to get too deep in the weeds in the jockeying between Gitmo and Operation Git-Meow over how the base might better handle its homeless and feral cats.

But as for Ruby Meade's 25 cats, the worry was that should they be left behind, they'd go feral and be euthanized, Kelly said.

"Doing the airlift of Ruby's cats was to help get them off the island" and to avoid that fate, she said.

Git-Meow has offered to bring to the base a three-year TNVR program - to trap, neuter, vaccinate and release abandoned and feral cats for whom homes cannot be found. The idea was nixed by the base commander, but Git-Meow has appealed to upper-level Navy brass, Kelly said.

"We think we can reduce the cat population there by 50 percent because of it being a closed-off small base," she said.

The issue has gotten press in the Miami Herald by one of the paper's Guantanamo beat reporters, Carol Rosenberg. She has interspersed her coverage of the base's prison for alleged terrorists with a couple articles on Gitmo's cat euthanasia policy. Earlier this year, the Herald even filed a Freedom of Information Act request to force the base to reveal how many cats had been euthanized in 2016 - a total of 186, according to base records.

The base's feral cat problem has grown perhaps because of house cats abandoned by soldiers after their nine-month tours of duty, Kelly said. Or perhaps by semi-social wild cats befriended by the base's Filipino and Jamaican workers, or perhaps they wandered through the Cuban mine field that rings part of the base without being blown up, she said.

The base officially estimates it is home to about 500 feral cats, but Kelly and others peg the number higher, at perhaps 2,000.

"You can see at Guantanamo how quickly a couple of abandoned cats adds up to a big feral cat problem," Kelly said.

As for the Guantanamo 25 ­- Ruby Meade's cats - they got a bunch of help moving up to high-class new digs in the U.S.

A base veterinarian had to come to Meade's trailer the week before and then the day of the airlift to make sure their shots were up to date and to check them for a verboten screwworm they might carry into America.

Volunteers showed up at her home at 5:30 a.m. that Sunday to load the cats into carriers and stock them inside a small yellow bus. Off the bus went and then onto a ferry for a 30-minute cruise across Guantanamo Bay to the airfield on the other side. The bus drove onto the tarmac, right up to Plante's Cessna where volunteers handed the carriers up into the plane.

And the cats took this trip well?

"No, they were not happy at all," Meade said.

She tried to comfort them, sticking her fingers into the carriers for a nose scratch, trying to soothe them. Meade objects to the label of "feral" for her felines.

"I wouldn't call them feral because I can pick up every one of them. They would have been feral cats of we hadn't taken them in," she said.

Then, after wheels up, Plante and Merritt flew the cats off into the wild blue yonder. If they could have looked out their carriers, the cats would have seen below only the shoreline of their former home because the Cessna was prohibited from flying across Cuban airspace and had to skirt the island.

While they were quite vocal about the flight as it began and ended, they were fairly mellow cats in the air, said Plante. "At altitude, they were all pretty quiet and not making much noise."

Two local TV crews greeted them at touchdown in South Carolina to celebrate the successful cat-lift.

More volunteers helped ferry the cats back to their new home in Lancaster, South Carolina, where the Meades have retrofitted an old barn. It's equipped with heated beds and things for the cats to climb on. A cat door leads into an outdoor fenced pen with 8-foot walls and rabbit wire across the top to keep out predator birds who might turn a happy ending into one not so much.

All the cats are fixed and vaccinated with microchips under their skin in case they ever get lost ­and found ­again, said Git-Meow's Kelly. "They've got this big huge area to live out the rest of their lives."

Speaking from her now cat-filled property, Meade said the Guantanamo 25 are getting acclimated to being U.S. residents. Six cats live in the house and the other 19 in the upgraded barn.

"They're all different," Meade said. "Everybody thinks, 'How do you tell them apart?' Well, they all have different personalities. They know their names."

She said she is still amazed and appreciative of how the cat-lift was pulled off with so much persistence and international cooperation.

"If somebody had told me this was going to happen six months ago..." she said.

One thing hasn't changed from when they were Cuban cats, she said.

"They walk around with me."

Reach Douglas Imbrogno at douglas@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-3017 or follow @douglaseye on Twitter.

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Laws for Paws: Know beach rules before taking your pup on vacation http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170531/GZ0507/170539941 GZ0507 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170531/GZ0507/170539941 Wed, 31 May 2017 09:56:00 -0400 By Patti Lawson Laws for Paws By By Patti Lawson Laws for Paws Summer is soon upon us, and the exodus from West Virginia to Myrtle Beach and beaches beyond will begin.

If you plan to take your four-legged companion with you, it's important you know the beach laws where you are going. Every state, county, town, city or municipality has ordinances that govern the behavior of dogs, and that includes beaches.

Most beaches on the Atlantic Coast prohibit dogs from being on the beach from Memorial Day until Labor Day, except for certain hours. Certain areas have leash laws on a restricted basis.

For example, most United States beaches now have an area they call Dog Beach. On these designated stretches, dogs are allowed to run leash-free. Owners, of course, are responsible for their dogs, and the entity that governs the beach usually assumes no liability for injury to your dog.

You could still be held liable if your dog causes injury to another dog or property on the beach.

BringFido.com lists pet-friendly beaches. On the website, local beach laws are provided for some of the beaches, but check the beach restrictions for dogs. These can be found on the website for any pet-friendly vacation rental company at your destination beach, the particular town's website where the beach is located or on signs on the beach.

Many beaches impose strict and often expensive fines for breaking their rules. Since ignorance of the law is no excuse for people, it's not for your dog either (even though it can't read).

For example, at Caswell Beach on Oak Island, in North Carolina, you'll be fined $100 if you or your dog walk over the dunes, $25 if you don't carry a waste bag and pick up after your dog, and $25 if your dog isn't on a leash. Common restrictions for dogs on beaches often include the following:

n Many beaches do not allow dogs on the beach during warm months from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. This is to protect the dog from heatstroke and other heat-related health problems.

n Usually waste disposal bags are located at beach entrance areas.

n Some beaches only allow dogs off leash during certain time periods, other beaches never allow it and some allow it all the time.

n The number of dogs one person may have on the beach, usually one dog per adult.

n Breeds with aggressive tendencies are often banned, even in places without breed specific legislation.

n Leaving dogs unattended.

n Requiring a collar with current tags including ID and rabies tags.

n Age restrictions usually ban dogs under six months old.

n Female dogs in heat are not permitted on most beaches.

n Having an adequate supply of water with you for your dog.

n No spiked collars on dogs.

Rules change depending on the time of year and are usually more lenient from September to the end of May and stricter from June through August in many states.

Some beaches require permits, which include paying a fee. Dewey Beach, in Delaware, is such a beach and charges $10 for an eight-day pass and $5 for a weekend pass. Residents can buy a lifetime pass for their dogs for $35. Check ahead so you'll be in compliance with any local fees.

n Myrtle Beach: Dogs in public must be on a leash at all times.

n Myrtle Beach: Any animal on the beach must be on a hand-held leash no longer then 7 feet and under the control of the person in custody of the animal.

n Myrtle Beach: Animals are not permitted on the beach or on Ocean Boulevard from 13th Avenue S. to 21st Avenue N. in Myrtle Beach during any time of the year.

Dogs only are permitted on the beach anytime from Labor Day through April 30. They are not allowed on the beach from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., May 1 through Labor Day.

n North Myrtle Beach: Dogs must be on a leash at all times. Dogs are not allowed on the beach from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from May 15 to Sept. 15.

n Surfside Beach:  Dogs are not allowed on the beach at any time May 15 through Sept. 15.

n Georgetown County: Dogs are allowed on public beaches if accompanied by the owner or keeper and under the physical control by means of a leash or similar restraining device, or under the control of a responsible person to whom the dog is obedient on command.

n Pawleys Island Beach: Dogs must be on a leash from May through October.

n Huntington Beach State Park: Dogs must be on a leash at all times. In areas designated for the protection of endangered species, dogs and cats must be on a leash at all times.

It is extremely important that you know these rules before you go. Dogs get overheated very easily, so the laws keeping them off the beach during the hottest time of the day is essential.

If you take your dog and discover the rules after you arrive, it can have a serious negative impact on your vacation. Most hotels and rental properties forbid leaving animals unattended in their facilities.

Finding a boarding kennel in a strange place is both difficult and risky. Leaving Fido at home with a trusted dog sitter or a reputable kennel is sometimes the best vacation for everyone.

Or consider a fall beach vacation. Rates are cheaper, rules are relaxed and it's still warm, but not too hot for your dog.

Patti Lawson is an award-winning author and attorney. She has written for the Huffington Post, AOL Paw Nation, the Charleston Gazette, and other publications. She lives in West Virginia with her two beloved dogs, Sadie and Rusty, and one amazing husband. Visit her website: www.pattilawson.com. Her recent book, "What Happens to Rover When the Marriage is Over? And Other Doggone Legal Dilemmas!" is available locally at book stores or on line at Amazon.comand other locations.

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WV Travel Team: A beginner's guide to Las Vegas http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170528/GZ0506/170529654 GZ0506 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170528/GZ0506/170529654 Sun, 28 May 2017 08:00:00 -0400 By Crissy Gray WV Travel Team By By Crissy Gray WV Travel Team There's only one place in the United States where you can experience New York, Paris, Italy, Egypt, China or countless deep sea adventures, visit animal exhibits, and see nationally recognized entertainment. Las Vegas is the perfect spot for a long weekend.

While the trip to Las Vegas from Charleston is scenic, the 30-plus hour drive time doesn't make it a convenient getaway. However, flight schedules out of Yeager, with a connection, can have you to Sin City in just over six hours for a fun weekend you won't soon forget.

There is no standard on or off-season in Las Vegas, but plan your trip around the weather. Highs in the summer often exceed 100 degrees, but the low humidity can make the conditions slightly more tolerable. Winter can be a bit chilly, with nighttime temperatures in the low 40s. Strong winds off the mountains can happen year-round, so be sure to bring a sweater.

Hotels are typically more full in July through October, and other events, such as New Year's Eve, the Super Bowl, March Madness and spring break, can also lead to larger than average crowds.

Las Vegas features two main tourist areas. The Las Vegas Strip, located along South Las Vegas Boulevard generally south of Sahara Avenue, is home to flashy resorts and attractions. However, recent investments in downtown Las Vegas, along Freemont Street, have brought a lot of life back to what many consider an old-school Las Vegas experience.

McCarran International Airport is conveniently located near the strip and has plenty of transportation options to get you to and from your destination. The airport also offers a diverse selection of dining and shopping and features slot machines to help you pass the time while you wait for your flight.

Before you plan your Las Vegas getaway, be sure to take a look at the acts you want to see. Whether you're drawn to Cirque du Soleil, comedy shows or a concert by your favorite artist, check venue schedules before booking. Many shows operate only a couple days a week or for specific weeks out of the year.

One of the most frequent challenges travelers want assistance with is picking a resort that's appropriate for them. We picked our lucky 10 resorts to share.

n Aria ($$$): Centrally located on the strip, this property is a modern resort with a rare find in Las Vegas - natural light. Guests are greeted by a three-story atrium full of natural light, and every guest room features floor-to-ceiling windows. A central control pad operates everything in the room, from curtains to lighting.

Check out the art collection, including Maya Lin's Colorado River, an 84-foot sculpture of reclaimed silver that replicates the route of the waterway. Aria is also home to high-end shopping, including Prada, Tom Ford and Harry Winston, and a plethora of great restaurants. Also enjoy "Zarkana," Cirque du Soleil's take on a modern-day variety show.

n Bellagio Las Vegas ($$$): Most Las Vegas visitors know Bellagio for its dancing fountains choreographed to music, but the resort offers a simplistic elegance that is hard to match. Rooms in the main tower are top of the line, with Italian marble and luxury fabrics.

The resort also has some of the best service on the strip, with a higher staff-to-guest ratio than most properties. Be sure to check out the gardens of the indoor botanical conservatory, which are best viewed around Christmas and Chinese New Year.

Bellagio is home to one of the best pools on the strip, as well as one of the top spas, offering high-end treatments for both men and women. This is one of the most popular resorts on the strip but the crowds can make it difficult to get into activities or restaurants quickly.

n Caesars Palace ($$$): This resort offers an over-the-top, iconic Roman experience. Guests are greeted with statues of Caesar, Cleopatra and Michelangelo's David in addition to plenty of classic Roman architecture. Rooms at Caesars are lavish and available at multiple price points. Guests can stay in the Octavius or Augustus towers for $70 to $100 in a deluxe room, while Villas can go for up to five figures per night. Check out the spa, which includes Arctic ice rooms (a cold sauna that's always 55 degrees) and the Garden of the Gods Pool Oasis. Caesars has one of the smaller casinos of the strip resorts.

n Excalibur Hotel and Casino ($): Excalibur is easily recognizable with its medieval-themed castle exterior. Popular with families because of its basement arcade and Tournament of Kings dinner show, Excalibur has an expansive casino floor with low table minimums for gamblers. While dining options are somewhat limited compared to other resorts, Luxor and Mandalay Bay are easily accessible by monorail providing guests with more options.

n Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino ($): The Golden Nugget can be found in downtown Las Vegas as a part of the up-and-coming Freemont Street Experience. While this iconic property is the best in downtown Las Vegas, it doesn't have all the amenities and luxuries of its strip counterparts. Be sure to enjoy The Tank, a pool with a shark tank and three-story water slide. Gamblers will enjoy the popular poker room, frequently seen on poker television shows.

n Luxor Las Vegas ($$): You've seen the pyramid known for its rooftop xenon light beam that burns brighter than any other in the world, and guests who stay at the Luxor can experience an Egyptian-themed resort with unique-shaped rooms. Opt for a room in one of the 22-story towers next door - they feature brighter rooms with great views of the pyramid without the awkwardly shaped walls of pyramid rooms.

Check out "BODIES... The Exhibition" to get an up-close view of the human body. Also, enjoy one of the largest pools on the strip, featuring cabanas and VIP poolside treatment, such as iced aromatherapy towels.

n Mandalay Bay ($$$): The Mandalay Bay boasts three properties: the Mandalay Bay, Delano Las Vegas and the Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas. Each is incredibly different. Mandalay itself is reminiscent of a South Seas beach resort, with soft beach scents and pagodas throughout the casino floor. Rooms are spacious with large bathrooms complete with soaking tubs and separate showers. Enjoy access to the property's wave pool, lazy river, three pools and real sand. Mandalay offers plenty of live music between its concert venue and the House of Blues Music Hall. Don't miss the Shark Reef Aquarium, featuring 1.6 million gallons of saltwater with more than 2,000 different animals.

n MGM Grand Hotel & Casino ($$$): The MGM Grand is one of the largest hotels in the world and can be a maze. But guests will enjoy being greeted by the iconic MGM lions while relaxing in rooms at a variety of price points in five different towers. High rollers will enjoy the suites and Skylofts. From upscale and well-known restaurants to nightclubs, there is no shortage of things to do. The Grand Garden Arena hosts big-name concerts and boxing matches, and the comedy club at MGM brings in top acts on a regular basis. MGM has one of the largest pools in the world. The MGM's Stay Well program includes air purification systems, vitamin C showers and dawn simulator alarm clocks.

n New York-New York Resort & Casino ($$): It's as close as you can get to the East Coast on the West Coast - complete with a mini-Manhattan skyline including scaled-down replicas of the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Chrysler Building and more. With generally standard rooms available in several classes, New York-New York has one of the best locations on the strip central to many attractions. Check out the roller coaster that darts through the New York skyline, called the Manhattan Express - it's easily one of the best rides on the strip.

n Paris Las Vegas ($$): The iconic Eiffel Tower rising above the resort isn't the only homage to the City of Lights you'll see at the Paris Las Vegas. The interior of the rooms have custom French-inspired furniture and fabrics. Standout restaurants are the buffet featuring dishes from five French Regions, Gordon Ramsay's steakhouse and Mon Ami Gabi Bistro. The octagonal Soleil Pool and French gardens are a great place to relax on a hot afternoon. Check out the collection of authentic French boutiques and the other nods to France, including the replicas of the Arc de Triomphe, the Paris Opera House and the Louvre.

n The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas ($$$): Known for being a different kind of trendy experience in Las Vegas, the Cosmopolitan combines technology and sophistication to bring guests a welcoming and rare experience. Many of the rooms and suites have private terraces, a rarity on the strip. Another rarity, many other rooms also have a kitchenette with a mini-fridge and microwave for guest use. Check out The Chandelier - a three story central bar featuring a giant chandelier, a restaurant and live entertainment. To really treat yourself, book a room that faces the fountains at the Bellagio - it's money well spent.

n The M Resort ($): One of the best kept secrets off the strip, the M Resort is located about six miles south, in Henderson, with regular shuttle service to the Tropicana Resort. The property offers modern rooms with dark wood and carpet featuring sweeping views of the entire strip or the mountains. Rooms are extremely spacious with modern designs. The large bathrooms feature a tiled shower and additional soaking tub with direct views out of the room through the floor-to-ceiling windows. The restaurants and Studio B Buffet offer a wide selection of quality dining at very reasonable prices.

n The Venetian Las Vegas ($$$): A marvelous recreation of Venice, the Venetian features some of the best shopping, dining and atmosphere in Las Vegas. The over-the-top shopping and dining area, complete with authentic canal featuring gondolas, is a great place to cool off on hot summer days, and no detail is missed - all the way to the life-like frescos and clouds painted on the ceiling. Rooms are massive and plush.

A short drive can lead you to some of the best kept secrets in the Las Vegas area. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy Red Rock Canyon National Conservation area. For a small fee, visitors can drive a scenic one-way, 13-mile loop with stunning views and hiking trails with varying degrees of difficulty.

Approximately half an hour away, be sure to visit the Hoover Dam. Taking years and countless lives to build, the dam hosts nearly two million visitors a year. Check out the art deco architecture, or take a tour of the entire facility by a seasoned guide.

Near the Las Vegas Strip, take the opportunity to visit the Lion Habitat Ranch, home to more than 45 lions that roam the 7-acre ranch located roughly 10 minutes from the strip. You can even feed the lions, or experience the Trainer-for-a-Day program.

Stop by the AAA Store in Charleston or call one of the AAA travel professionals - Janice Adkins, Lia Ireland, Amy Sisson, Becky Wallace and Barbara Wing at 304-925-1136 - for assistance planning your Las Vegas getaway.

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WV Travel Team: Take a budget-conscious trip to Mexico http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170521/GZ0506/170529977 GZ0506 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170521/GZ0506/170529977 Sun, 21 May 2017 07:00:00 -0400 By Molly Murphy WV Travel Team By By Molly Murphy WV Travel Team

When it comes to traveling in a foreign country, staying off the beaten path, away from the beach, in a smaller hotel - maybe one that's locally owned and operated - and renting a car are definitely not options for the light hearted.

But, if you are looking for a budget vacation and an adventure, these are some great ways to cut your costs and maybe have a less touristy experience.

We stayed at a very inexpensive hotel in Mexico, The Hotel Ibis, in Cancun Central. With a 3.5 TripAdvisor rating, it was only around $60 per night. The rooms were clean, and the breakfast buffet was adequate but definitely not as lavish as the all-inclusive properties. If budget is your main concern, this is a great option, especially if you plan to focus your time on tours and sightseeing during your stay rather than being at the hotel often.

If you choose to stay off the beach and away from the all-inclusive resorts, you will need a way to get from place to place. The major U.S. rental car companies all give you estimated prices when making reservations, but keep in mind insurance is a requirement in Mexico and is not included in these price estimates.

The international rental insurance could add several hundred dollars to your total bill, depending on how long you plan to stay. There are some local Mexican companies that include this insurance in a lower price, but unless you speak Spanish, this could be difficult and you could get swindled. Keep to the major well-known companies, but call ahead so you are prepared for added costs.

Make sure you understand the driving rules, as the roads will be different from what you are used to, and the speed limit signs are in kilometers, not miles. If there is even an inch between cars, the locals will make another car fit in between.

Also, be prepared to pay for parking at the main beach areas, or have small change to tip the locals who help you park. They watch your car to ensure there are no breaks ins, so definitely give them several pesos. Cancun has workers who fill up the gas tank for you, just make sure you have plenty of pesos since the gas is per liter, not per gallon.

With many lifeguards on duty, the best long stretch of public beach in Cancun is Playa Delfines, also known as Dolphin Beach. It is about a 20- to 25-minute drive from downtown, but the drive is well worth it. You will find many vendors selling food and drinks.

Bring your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer so you can freely enter the bathrooms without paying for anything. If you do not bring your own, be prepared to pay a few pesos, as toilet paper is not an included amenity.

Turtle Beach, or Playa Tortugas, is a beach to stay away from. It seems appealing due to proximity to downtown, but the beach is almost nonexistent. The sandy area is filled with restaurant tables and local businesses. There is little room to lie in the sand, and the area becomes very rocky after the small section of beach.

If you are more adventurous and looking for water activities, go to a beach club where they have chairs, many amenities, nice bathrooms and optional activities at a cost. At Playa Maroma, Maroma Adventures offers access to the beach and amenities for an entire day for a small entrance fee.

Maroma Adventures is about 45 minutes south of Cancun, but it is located in the beautiful Riviera Maya section of beach. Being a marina, the water could be a little walk, depending on where you decide to sit. We recommend arriving early to better your options for beach chairs and umbrellas.

After spending the day at Maroma Adventures, end the day with an evening at Playa Del Carmen. I much prefer this area for shopping and nightlife to downtown Cancun. There are high-end malls, local handicrafts and handmade jewelry, virtually any range of options you could want for shopping.

There is also an entire street of bars and nightclubs on Fifth Avenue. My personal favorite is Coco Bongo, which is an all-inclusive show and nightclub. Once you pay the entrance fee, you have drinks all evening along with the shows and dancing. If this is up your alley, you definitely want to be early so you can beat the crowd in getting a table and have the waiters bring you drinks instead of fighting your way to the bar.

Excursions are the best reason to not do all-inclusive. If you are planning to do many activities away from the resort, save the majority of your money to spend on these tours. I have been to several and can attest to their amazing aspects. My favorite tours and places to explore are:

n Chichen Itza: This Mayan Ruin is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Cancun, but it can be combined with other tours to make a great day trip.

n Tulum: Another Mayan Ruin with beautiful views of the sea is closer to Riviera Maya and less than to hours from downtown Cancun.

n Xel-Ha: An ecological park with zip-lining, an all-inclusive option for all meals and drinks, snorkeling gear, an area of hammocks to lounge in, lockers to store your belongings, optional spas in caves, swimming with the dolphins, a zoo with local wildlife, and much more.

For those travelers wanting to stay closer to the downtown area, there is shopping in the hotel zone, as well. There is a high-end mall, La Isla, in the hotel zone that has great shopping.

While shopping, you may be approached for a tequila tour. Remember no tequila is actually made in Cancun, so your tequila tour will be a tasting of tequilas from different parts of Mexico, not a tour of an actual place where the tequila is made.

There are many incredible restaurants in Playa Del Carmen, but also some closer to downtown Cancun. The ones that have a great lagoon view and incredible food are at La Isla shopping complex, which is about a 25 minute drive from downtown Cancun.

There is much to explore and experience, whether you are going to Cancun for a family trip, a honeymoon, a getaway vacation or any other reason.

Be sure to know ahead of time where you want to spend most of your time and money. This will help determine your answer to the all-inclusive versus noninclusive question. Remember your travel agent is here to help guide you to the best option for your dream vacation.

For more information or to speak with a travel specialist call 800-642-3603 or email vacationplanner@nationaltravel.com.

Molly Murphy has been a Leisure Travel Specialist with National Travel for nearly four years. She recently was named a Certified Travel Associate. For questions on this article specifically, email sales@nationaltravel.com or call Andrea at 304-357-0801.

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WV Travel Team: 7 adventures the kids (and you) will never forget http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170513/GZ0506/170519808 GZ0506 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170513/GZ0506/170519808 Sat, 13 May 2017 10:15:00 -0400 Compiled by the GoToWV Team By Compiled by the GoToWV Team

What better way to spend time with the kids and grandkids than to relive fond memories from your childhood? These fun activities across West Virginia will entertain all ages.

In the early 20th century, the mighty steam locomotives of Cass Scenic Railroad were used to haul lumber to the mill in Cass. Today, those same Shay engines pull cars of sightseers up the mountain, past breathtaking overlooks and stop for passengers to disembark and tour a recreated 1940s logging camp.

The Exhibition Coal Mine in Beckley was once a working drift mine. Although it's no longer producing coal, you can still ride a mantrip deep below the surface, where veteran miners serve as guides to demonstrate how coal was mined. There's also a period coal camp to explore and, if you have more time to spare, the Youth Museum of Southern West Virginia is right next door.

Pack the canoe with fishing gear or just enjoy a lazy day on the river. Both the Cheat River Water Trail and the Coal River "Walhonde" Water Trail have plenty of access areas as well as rentals nearby.

Or, on those super hot summer days, grab an inner tube and cool off in the water. The Greenbrier and Shenandoah rivers are popular tubing rivers served by outfitters at the Greenbrier River Campground and River Riders.

Griffith & Feil Drug Store and Soda Fountain serves all kinds of delicious ice cream treats at its restored 1920s soda fountain in Kenova. You can also get burgers, sandwiches, salads and old-fashioned hand-mixed sodas, called "phosphates."

The Corner Shop in historic Bramwell is known for its homemade ice cream sundaes, shakes and cones, as well as its signature "Johnny Cash" Millionaire Burger.

Fall is the best time to visit Gritt's Farm in Buffalo. That's when the owners set up their annual Fun Farm with a pick-your-own pumpkin patch, corn mazes and play area.

At Orr's Farm Market in Martinsburg, kids can pick a pint of strawberries or pick their own special pumpkin (depending on the season) as well as get a close-up look of the farm's herd of bison.

The West Virginia State Wildlife Center houses a collection of native and introduced species - from river otter to black bear - along a 1.25-mile path through the woods.

If you time your visit to Hovatter's Wildlife Zoo just right, you might get your picture taken with one of the zoo babies.

A train runs through the middle of The Good Zoo at Oglebay Resort, where you can visit more than 50 species including rare and endangered animals.

The Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences has several fun interactive exhibits, from the three-story Ashton's Climbing Sculpture to My Town - a miniature version of Charleston where kids can play grownups at the diner, vet clinic, grocery store, bank and more.

Trace the history of West Virginia from prehistoric times to present as you travel through the Discovery Rooms at The State Museum of West Virginia.

For more information, call 800-CALL WVA or visit GoToWV.com. Share your Real. West Virginia stories on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with #GoToWV and #RealWV.

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WV Travel Team: Tips for taking better photos on your next trip http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170506/GZ0506/170509779 GZ0506 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170506/GZ0506/170509779 Sat, 6 May 2017 08:45:00 -0400 By Lauren Townsend WV Travel Team By By Lauren Townsend WV Travel Team When traveling, documenting through photography can help preserve your memories and allow you to share them with others. Follow these simple tips to take the best travel photos on your next trip.

How will you use your photos after the trip? Are you looking for family photos that you can share online to document your trip, or will you create an album that showcases the details of the destination? Knowing your end goal early is important and should guide the types of photos you take, the size of the image and the style of the shot.

Often a destination lends itself to photographic themes that will follow you through your trip. The subject is completely up to you. It could be colored doors, cats in their natural setting, spectacular city views, food or sunsets. No matter what your theme is, it will give you an opportunity to tell a unique story about your travels.

Look for opportunities to frame a scene with texture or a stationary item nearby. This could be foliage, a stationary object or a textured wall. Experiment using different items that are close and far away, that can work in unison together. Varied approaches to framing your photo in a unique way creates more interesting images.

When photographing people, find an interesting angle to vary from the traditional front-and-center smiling shot. Try a few with an interesting background and the individual off-center. When photographing a scene, consider capturing a reflection in a window, off of water or another reflective surface. Both approaches create a photo with more depth.

The subjects of the photo should have the light facing them, with the sun to the back of the photographer. This ensures the light is more consistent across the subject and doesn't glare. Watch for shadows on faces, these can sneak in and ruin a group photo.

Give it a try with and without the flash. Natural light can often provide a better photo than with a flash, even in a dimly lit scene. Try it with both to be sure you get the best shot. You can also use low-lit scenes to capture movement of a subject.

An iPhone or Android can take excellent photos and is more portable than a camera with a larger lens. Experiment with different filters such as black and white, tonal or chrome. You can also take time-lapse photos or panoramic shots to capture a wide scene. Play around with it when you have time and try the same shot with different filters or treatments to see what you like best.

Apps like Instagram and Hipstamatic give you many more options to play with filters, frames and treatments. They can capture a scene like none other, making you feel like professional photography is in your near future. You can also save these photos in your Photo Library to use in your album post-trip.

Most of all, take a lot of photos, experiment with different approaches and don't forget your camera, the best shot will come when you least expect it.

Start planning your next journey so you can document your vacation with these photography tips. Stop by the AAA Store, in Charleston, or call one of the AAA travel professionals - Janice Adkins, Lia Ireland, Amy Sisson, Becky Wallace and Barbara Wing at 304-925-1136.

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American testing move to regional jets for flights to, from Yeager http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170426/GZ03/170429676 GZ03 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170426/GZ03/170429676 Wed, 26 Apr 2017 16:57:59 -0400 Rick Steelhammer By Rick Steelhammer American Airlines' decision to replace 37-seat Dash 8 turboprop aircraft with 50-seat regional jets on its eight daily flights connecting Yeager Airport with airports serving Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Charlotte, North Carolina, would potentially make an additional 28,000 seats a year available to Charleston area travelers, bringing in more revenue for the airport and the communities it serves, according to Terry Sayre, Yeager's executive director.

The upgrade, announced on Wednesday and set to begin on June 2, is a trial run, currently scheduled to end on Aug. 21.

"But we are confident we can show the airline we can fill enough of the additional seats to make the change permanent," Sayre said.

Boardings at Yeager have increased in five of the last seven months, including the first three months of 2017, despite having the number of available seats decrease by four percent, he added. Between Jan. 1 and March 31 of this year, a total of 45,776 passengers have boarded commercial aircraft at Yeager Airport. The current upturn in boardings is the longest and steadiest since early 2012. Sayre said it is the result of a marketing campaign in which bargain fares and destinations accessible from Yeager are discussed during television news programs by National Travel executive Ted Lawson and Yeager Marketing Director Mike Plante.

American Airlines' use of regional jets instead of turboprop aircraft will reduce travel time to the three cities it serves from Yeager, and provide passengers with more comfort, according to Lawson, who spoke during Wednesday's announcement of the airline's equipment upgrade.

Flights between Charleston and Washington, D.C.'s Reagan National Airport will be about 30 minutes shorter than they are now, Lawson said, adding that the regional jets fly on higher routes, reducing passengers' exposure to turbulence.

Sayre said a meeting arranged by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, late last year between officials from American Airlines and the Charleston airport led directly to the upgrade.

"This is a game changer for Yeager Airport," said Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper. "Regional jets not only offer more seats, but they are a huge step up in comfort, convenience and reliability."

Reach Rick Steelhammer

at rsteelhammer@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5169, or follow

@rsteelhammer on Twitter.

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EDA OKs excess revenue for improvements to Cacapon Resort State Park http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170420/GZ03/170429954 GZ03 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170420/GZ03/170429954 Thu, 20 Apr 2017 19:18:57 -0400 Max Garland By Max Garland The Cacapon Resort State Park may finally get its chance to carry out long-awaited improvements.

In its monthly board of directors meeting Thursday, the state Economic Development Authority approved a resolution to issue excess lottery revenue bonds worth up to $25 million to the 6,000-acre park.

Funding for Cacapon through the bonds was at risk during the legislative session. Senate Bill 535, a bill reorganizing the state Division of Tourism, received an amendment by Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, that would have cut funding for Berkeley Springs' Cacapon and Beech Fork State Park, located in Barboursville, if the bonds weren't sold by Jan. 1, 2018.

Funding for the parks originally was approved by legislators in 2012, but the decline of lottery revenue meant the bonds never went to market.

However, the bill received another amendment near the end of the session to remove the risk to funding. It currently awaits Gov. Jim Justice's signature.

Sam England, chief of West Virginia State Parks, said the hotel industry's "standards of hospitality" have changed since many of Cacapon's lodges and cabins were built in the 1950s.

With the bond, Cacapon will be able to fund various improvements, England said. These may include: the creation of new lodge guest rooms, relocating the lodge kitchen and dining area, adding a spa and possibly a new pro shop, various renovations and infrastructure improvements.

England said he expects the new additions to bring in around $3 million in revenue for the park and help attract people from the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore areas.

"When we build it, it will be a premier product that we can show to businesses and families," he said.

The board also did not approve another loan application from America's Best Block. The recently formed company in Mineral County had a $3.6 million loan application tabled last year. EDA Executive Director David Warner said at the time that there wasn't enough information on the company's plans and product to approve the loan.

Warner declined to discuss why the proposed loan was not passed Thursday, but said the company will have another opportunity to apply.

The board also gave final approval for a $2.25 million loan to the Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle. It will renovate a machine shop once owned by ArcelorMittal Steel, and then lease the building to Bidell Gas Compression, a company that will sell, lease and service natural gas compression equipment in the shop.

Reach Max Garland at max.garland@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4886 or follow @MaxGarlandTypes on Twitter.

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WV Travel Team: Exploring Mother Nature's wonders in West Virginia http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170417/GZ0506/170419675 GZ0506 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170417/GZ0506/170419675 Mon, 17 Apr 2017 07:00:00 -0400 By Jeanne Mozier WV Travel Team By By Jeanne Mozier WV Travel Team Over countless millennia, nature's forces have made West Virginia a one-of-a-kind place, a state in constant homage to natural quirks and deviance. Here is a sampler of some of the wonders that remain:

Everyone knows about Mother Nature's over-achievements - the New River and Seneca Rocks.

The New River carves a 14-mile gorge through 330-million-year-old sandstone, making it second in geologic age only to the Nile River. It is one of only three North American rivers that flow "uphill" - south to north. It is also deviant in being the only river that rises east of the Eastern Continental Divide then crosses it to empty eventually into the Gulf of Mexico.

The New River Gorge is a wonder in its own right, plunging up to 1,300 feet deep and a mile wide. Today, 53 miles of river, cliffs and gorge are protected as a national river, and there are 1,400 documented rock-climbing routes.

Over the past 400 million years or so, natural forces eroded away a geologic fold so nothing but a three-pronged mountain root remained. Called Seneca Rocks, it is more than 900 feet of Tuscarora sandstone. Then, with no warning on Oct. 22, 1987, the 25-foot chimney of hard rock that made up the third prong fell, disappearing forever.

One might ponder whether the 10,000 climbing pins left in the ancient cliffs that map out 375 major routes lessened the great rocks' great karma.

Although not in Seneca's class, there are other rock wonders to visit.

The main street of Pineville would be directly on the rapid-filled Guyandotte River if it weren't for the dramatic 100-foot pinnacle of layered sandstone that sits in the middle of town. Called Castle Rock, it has two levels. The first, reached by 55 uneven steps carved from the rock, is a plateau with a picnic table and walkway around the base.

Just east of Bramwell is Pinnacle Rock, a 364-acre state park built around a 2,700-foot remnant of an ancient geologic fold. Climbing a rugged stone staircase nearly to the top, you are rewarded by a panoramic view of the swath of mountains along the Virginia border and Jefferson National Forest.

The grid pattern on the 300-million-year -old Waffle Rock, prominently displayed at Jennings Randolph Lake, is fractured and leached sandstone. Hard to believe it's natural, but government geologists claim it's so.

Raven Rocks is 1,230 feet on North Mountain. A giant Oriskany sandstone outcropping on a boulder-strewn peak populated by giant black turkey buzzards, it provides a spectacular view of the rolling countryside of Hampshire County. The rock formation is part of the 149-acre Ice Mountain Nature Conservancy area designated a national natural landmark in 2012.

Historic reports claim ice was cut year-round at Ice Mountain, described by one writer as "a huge sandstone refrigerator." Samuel Kercheval, 19th-century author of "The History of the Valley of Virginia," described "pure and crystal-looking ice, at all seasons of the year ... in blocks of from one or two pounds to fifteen or twenty pounds in weight. If this be true, it renders this place still more remarkable and extraordinary. The order of nature in this immediate locality seems to be reversed; for when it is summer all around this singular spot, here it is covered with ice of winter and vice versa."

Contemporary descriptions claim there are about 60 small vents and openings at the base of a 1,250-foot rock talus that release cold air all summer with ice present well into May. On my trip to the rare and sensitive cold-producing mountain slope along the North River in Hampshire County, I found the ice to be nonexistent and the chill to be far less dramatic when I stuck my hand into one of these vents.

It looked like an animal burrow surrounded by clusters of misplaced arctic flora - bunchberry, Siberian prickly rose and twinflower - all in their lowest elevation and southernmost location. Allegedly 38 degrees, it felt no colder than good air conditioning. I found no ice. No core samples have ever been taken and no one knows why the area is cold producing.

Walking the boards is a popular wonder in Pocahontas County.

The 107-acre Beartown State Park is well disguised from its entry road to the initial stretch of park boardwalk. There are few hints of the remarkable assemblage of house-size boulders and astonishing rock formations broken from the sandstone cap of Droop Mountain. Hemlock and rock cap ferns bathe the area in iridescent green complementing the pervasive quiet as the boardwalks meander around the rocks. A half-hour walk takes you in, through and out of the wind - and rain - eroded rock city, with different views at every twist and turn.

Whether bears actually hibernated among the fanciful rock formations or not is a disputed point, but the notion gave rise to the name long before the park was established in 1970.

Virgin stands of timber with trees hundreds of years old are rare anywhere on the planet, but even more so in West Virginia, which was virtually denuded of trees by timber companies during the past century. The unique feel of virgin stands - weighty, old and pure - can be experienced in Cathedral State Park, a registered natural landmark just off U.S. 50 east of Aurora, and the only stand of mixed virgin timber left in the state.

Its 133 acres includes virgin hemlocks - huge, straight, blue-green giants with lacy needles that are the remnants of vast Appalachian hemlock forests. Some are 500 years old. Very accessible, you can drive through Cathedral or walk along a forest floor where rhododendron and ferns are the only underbrush.

For tree huggers, this is the ultimate destination. These trees are so big around - up to 21 feet - it takes two people to hug one.

The state's caves are of great recreational interest. Limestone deposits along the eastern edge of the state led to a region riddled with caves, more than a thousand in Greenbrier County alone. Many are long and large because of the unique uninterrupted quality of the limestone deposits. Today, spelunkers count more than 4,200 caves in West Virginia, with wild ones being discovered every day. The number includes six of the 25 longest caves in the country.

A commercial cave in Greenbrier County, Lost World Caverns is home to several unique features. In its former incarnation as the wild Grapevine Cave, the huge, multi-room cavern was known worldwide through the tabloid press as the original home of Bat Boy. The world also focused on the cave and its star rock formation when two guys named Bob decided to stalagmite sit in 1971. The half-million-year-old War Club is a stalagmite 28 feet tall with a base diameter of 2-and-a-half feet.

Bob Addis of Parkersburg built a platform attached to War Club and sat for 15 days, 23 hours and 22 minutes for what he claims is the Guinness World Record. His partner, Bob Liebman would bring Mexican food from Clem's Diner in Lewisburg. The Greenbrier East High School band came to play and enjoyed the great sound in the cavern.

Although the cave was not discovered until 1942, bear bones more than 10,000 years old were found in what is now Lost World Caverns. Registered cavers can still drop 120 feet by rope through the natural entrance.

At the turn of the 20th century, workers digging post holes for a livery stable in the heart of downtown Charles Town made an incredible discovery. The limestone underpinnings of the town George Washington's brother built were riddled with caves. The workers also discovered a 60-foot deep, 3-acre lake. Opened in the 1930s as a tourism destination, boat rides were given on the underground lake.

Today the entrance is hidden, riveted beneath a metal plate on the floor behind the lunch counter at the Liberty Street Cafe. The tiny blue building - and, it is assumed, the underground expanse - are owned by the town.

A nearby three-room cave reportedly has George Washington's signature carved in a back room. Tradition has it that the cave was the first Masonic meeting place west of the Blue Ridge. In the 1920s the cave was a commercial venture complete with a free tour for every hot dog purchased. Today permission is needed to enter George Washington's Cave and see the signature.

Smoke Hole Caverns boasts the world's longest ribbon stalactite. It hangs from the cavern ceiling and weighs 6 tons. Nearby are unusual side-growing helectites and the second highest ceiling of any eastern cavern - 274 feet.

The caverns in Grant County have always been popular, used by Seneca Indians to smoke meat, by Civil War soldiers to store ammunition and by moonshiners who appreciated both the abundant supply of spring water and the single entrance cavern. Today's visitors on guided tours can watch formations taking shape drop by drop in this still active cave.

One of the oddest natural wonders is heightened by its location just a block or two from a major shopping center in South Charleston. The boiling spring on Trace Fork Canyon Trail is one of the few burning springs remaining. Odorless natural gas makes the water bubble so no lighting a match near it. Caves, mill remains, strange rock formations and a waterfall also mark this slice of wilderness.

Jeanne Mozier, of Berkeley Springs, is the author of "Way Out in West Virginia," a must-have guide to the wonders and oddities of the Mountain State. She and noted photographer Steve Shaluta have released the second printing of the coffee-table photo book "West Virginia Beauty, Familiar and Rare." Both books are available around West Virginia and from WVBookCo.com.

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WV Travel Team: History and innovation mark visit to Detroit http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170413/GZ0506/170419844 GZ0506 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170413/GZ0506/170419844 Thu, 13 Apr 2017 08:15:00 -0400 By Crissy Gray WV Travel Team By By Crissy Gray WV Travel Team West Virginians love a good comeback story, and there's no better example of this than Detroit. Once a bustling metropolis with more than 2 million residents, Detroit is now home to a population of less than 1 million, but it has a renewed spirit that makes it a great tourist destination.

First-time visitors to Detroit will notice residents have a proud, creative, innovative attitude, and they are eager to show you the leaps and bounds the city has made in recent years.

Detroit makes an excellent road trip choice, with a drive time of just under six hours from Charleston. Not only can you experience the automotive history the Motor City is known for, but there is a bustling arts and culture scene and plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy.

The Motor City's automotive attractions do not disappoint. Whether or not you're a car enthusiast, it will be easy to take pleasure in the automotive history Detroit features. While the area is still at the forefront of automotive technology and is home to the North American International Auto Show, Detroit features historical sites recognizing milestones in American automotive advancement.

It may look like a step back in time, but Ford's Model T was revolutionary. It transformed not only how automobiles looked and operated, but also how they were built. The Ford Piquette Avenue Plant is where the Model T was manufactured beginning in 1908. Guests can tour the plank floors worn from years of automotive manufacturing, view vehicles and learn how the building was restored.

Also showcasing Detroit's automotive history is the Henry Ford Museum, whose mission is to recognize the genius of everyday people and preserve the objects they used. Packed with amazing exhibits, the museum is full of America and Detroit's automotive history. View several presidential limousines and the Rosa Parks bus in addition to other great automobiles. Next door, visit the Greenfield Village living history museum for a trip into America's past.

To see the automotive assembly process firsthand, check out the Ford Rouge Factory Tour. Guests can immerse themselves in a working auto assembly plant, watching the Ford F-150 come together. The self-guided tour features a five-part experience, including a film about the history of the facility, a multi-sensory film about how the Ford F-150 is built, an observation deck tour, an assembly walking plant tour and a gallery of cars manufactured at the facility over time.

For another glimpse into the current automotive industry, visit the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit, which is home to General Motors. The building is a group of seven skyscrapers, which includes office space, retail, the second tallest all-hotel skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere and the world headquarters of General Motors. The facility offers weekday tours twice a day.

First-time visitors to Detroit will notice the history in the city's buildings, with a variety of architectural styles in place.

The Guardian Building, in the Financial District, was built in 1928 and is a bold example of Art Deco architecture. Thirty-six stories tall, visitors are greeted by award-winning renovations in the three-story vaulted lobby decorated with Pewabic Pottery and Rookwood Pottery tile.

Nearby, built and designed for the Fox Films chain in 1928, Detroit's Fox Theatre is a classic example of Asian style. With more than 5,000 seats, it features Egyptian, Far Eastern and Indian styles to create a movie theater that provides an architectural experience like no other. The lobby stretches half a city block and is six stories high. Check out the Wurlitzer and Moller organs while you're there.

Also in Detroit is the second-oldest continuously operating Roman Catholic Parish in the United States, Ste. Anne de Detroit Catholic Church. The Gothic Revival cathedral-styled church was originally established when the area was part of a French colony and was built in 1886.

Diana Ross and the Supremes. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Steve Wonder. The Temptations. The Jackson Five. These names and more made up an unprecedented era in music, and their sounds all originated from Detroit, with their music bringing together a divided country, transcending age and race.

Berry Gordy's legendary Motown had more than 180 No. 1 songs worldwide. Today, you can visit the Motown Museum and tour Hitsville U.S.A. You can stand in the same space where many of your favorite Motown artists recorded their hit songs and view Motown memorabilia.

As a part of Detroit's resurgence, there has been an increased emphasis on shopping local. From restaurants to stores, there are a variety of places to try to make you feel like a native Detroiter.

A commercial district in Detroit, the Eastern Market is located near downtown Detroit and is the largest historic public market district in the United States. With a wide variety of produce, meats, spices and flowers, Saturday is the most popular time to peruse local vendors, though the area's specialty shops are open Monday through Friday. The market also features a variety of local shops, art galleries and restaurants.

Just north of downtown Detroit is the Midtown area of the city - a resurging cultural center and home to Wayne State University, the Detroit Masonic Temple, the Detroit Public Library, the Detroit Institute of Arts and several historic homes.

Originally home to some of Detroit's most wealthy residents from the late 19th century and mid-20th century, the area has quickly become a hub of urban arts and culture in its various districts. Check out the local stores, pop-up shops, galleries and restaurants throughout Midtown, or catch live music at the numerous concert venues.

There are several great local eateries to tempt your taste buds in Detroit. In Corktown, get your fill of Southern-style barbecue at Slows Bar BQ, known for their three-meat combination plate.

If you're looking for a more upscale experience, try Selden Standard, the first upscale farm-to-table restaurant that churns its own butter. Of course, all locals are familiar with the coney - a hot dog smothered with chili and onions, which is a Detroit specialty. While several restaurants offer a coney, Lafayette Coney Island is one of the most popular choices. Be sure to also visit the area's craft breweries.

The Detroit metro area offers plenty of opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors, whether it's on the numerous lakes or the Detroit River.

One of the most popular outdoor spots is Belle Isle, a State Park on an island in the Detroit River. With great views of the Detroit skyline and Canada, the park offers plenty of attractions the whole family can enjoy, including a small zoo and golf range.

Be sure to check out the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, which is the oldest continually operating conservatory in the country and features 13 acres of floral beds, a Palm House, a Tropical House, a Cactus House and a lily pond garden.

Another highlight of Belle Isle is the aquarium, which is the oldest in the United States. Check out more than 115 species and more than 1,000 fish in this historic building designed by famed architect Albert Kahn.

In addition, Belle Isle offers plenty of opportunities for recreation, including bike trails, canoeing and kayaking, fishing, and hiking.

Just northeast of Detroit is the Lake St. Clair Metropark. Offering stunning views of the water and distant views of the Detroit skyline, there are plenty of outdoor activities, including biking and walking trails, a pool and splash park, boating, and more. It's a great park for grilling along the water in the summer.

Between Lake St. Clair Metropark and Belle Isle, drive along the famed Lake Shore Road in Grosse Pointe. You'll see stunning mansions on one side of the road and get great views of Lake St. Clair brimming with small boats and yachts alike.

Consider stopping at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House for a tour of the mansion, grounds and gardens.

Are you ready to enjoy the sights and sounds of Detroit? A trip to the Motor City will be something you'll remember forever, as you take in the city's undeniable spirit.

Stop by the AAA Store in Charleston or call one of the AAA travel professionals - Janice Adkins, Lia Ireland, Amy Sisson, Becky Wallace and Barbara Wing at 304-925-1136 - for more information.

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WV Book Team: Local authors recall Ireland in story, poems and photos http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170408/GZ0605/170409567 GZ0605 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170408/GZ0605/170409567 Sat, 8 Apr 2017 19:15:00 -0400 By M. Lynne Squires WV Book Team By By M. Lynne Squires WV Book Team Ireland. It's a country many dream of visiting, their dreams filled with thatched-roof cottages, ginger-haired men in elbow-patched wool coats and lassies with curls of auburn hair tumbling down their backs.

Perhaps thoughts of experiencing Irish coffee, tankards of stout, Irish stew or black pudding on Irish soil are appealing. If you are among those longing wistfully for Ireland, check out these recently released books:

"Looking for Ireland - An Irish-Appalachian Pilgrimage" (Mountain State Press), by Huntington author and photographer Laura Treacy Bentley, is a visual and literary delight. If you are a lover of good poetry, you will be moved by Bentley's words.

Bentley encapsulates vivid word pictures in short, yet thoughtful verse. In the poem "Went Missing," she writes:

"Silence steals from horizon to dark horizon. I lift smooth rocks from a limestone wall to enter a strange field. Stone by stone I put them back, weighing the very heft of time. Closing the gate ..."

If poems aren't your cup of Irish tea (with cream, hold the sugar), the photographs will capture you. Bentley's eye for composition is superb. Her use of shadow and light captures moments in time that stay with you long after the book is closed.

West Virginia and Ireland share as many similarities as differences. Size, climate, terrain and population are major parallels between the two English-speaking areas. Although her expressive work is representative of both, you will be hard-pressed to draw the distinction.

Coffee table books are wonderful formats for work such as this. But this book delivers the same impact with a couple of significant differences. It's infinitely more portable and easily affordable.

Bentley's goal was to share her words and pictures from time spent on each side of the pond in a format many can enjoy. She hits the mark with this delightful volume. Let's hope there are more books of this caliber from Bentley.

Bentley is also the author of "The Silver Tattoo," a psychological thriller set in Ireland, and "Lake Effect," a poetry collection. Her work has been widely published in the United States and Ireland in literary journals such as The New York Quarterly, Art Times, Poetry Ireland Review, Antietam Review, Kestrel and numerous others.

She received a Fellowship Award for Literature from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts, and her poetry has been featured on the websites of A Prairie Home Companion, Poetry Daily and O Magazine. She served as the writer in residence for the Marshall University Writing Project and taught creative writing at the 2013 West Virginia Governor's School for the Arts.

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For lovers of historical fiction, Patricia Hopper delivers with "Corrib Red" (Cactus Rain Publishing). A Morgantown writer hailing from Dublin, her work is infused with the authentic flavor of Ireland. From the peat bogs and cottages of the commoners, to mansions and finery of the gentry, Hopper deftly weaves a story of love, betrayal, deceit, family ties and distinction between the classes.

Set in the 1880s in rural Ireland, it is centered on the O'Donovan family estate, Kilpara. Threading through the story is the escalating political tensions for Irish Home Rule.

The story follows Grace, the younger of two O'Donovan teenage sisters. Grace's sister, Deidre, has just returned from a year abroad studying art in Switzerland. The outgoing Deidre leaves as budding young woman and returns a quiet shadow of her former self.

Of the age to be betrothed, she is courted by several bachelors befitting her family's status. Grace is horrified when Deidre is engaged, seemingly against her will, to Cecil. Cecil presents a loving front, but Grace knows he has his own agenda.

Grace seeks to understand her sister's odd behavior and seemingly reticent acceptance of Cecil's plans for their future. Deidre is hiding a secret, and Cecil learns of it, thus cementing his place in her world through the promise of his silence. The O'Donovan family wrestles with truth and deceit, denial, and tacit acceptance. The situation they find themselves in tests the strength of their family bonds.

"Corrib Red" is the second in a three-book family saga. The first book, "Kilpara," follows the previous generations of the O'Donovan family across the Atlantic and back in a battle for their family home. Yet "Corrib Red" also stands alone as a wonderful story steeped in Ireland's history and culture.

Patricia Hopper Patteson earned bachelor's and master's degrees from West Virginia University, where she received the Waitman Barbe Creative Writing Award and the Virginia Butts Sturm Award. Her work has appeared in Amore Magazine, Appalachian Heritage, Hamilton Stone Review and Ireland's Own, among many others.

M. Lynne Squires' latest book is "Mid-Century Recipes from Cocktails to Comfort Food."

Check it out at mlynne.com.

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WV Travel Team: National Harbor is a dream made manifest in Alexandria http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170401/GZ0506/170409947 GZ0506 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170401/GZ0506/170409947 Sat, 1 Apr 2017 20:15:00 -0400 By Jeanne Mozier WV Travel Team By By Jeanne Mozier WV Travel Team When a dream comes to life, the spicy aroma is magical. That perfume wafts through hundreds of acres of National Harbor just across the Potomac River from Alexandria, Virginia.

In scarcely a decade, Milt Peterson and the Peterson Company transformed a century-old farm with a billion-dollar view into a celebration city complete with convention hotels, downtown streets of distinctive shops and choice eateries, a brand new casino, countless pieces of public art, and even a giant Ferris wheel.

We stayed at the Gaylord Hotel, a brand famous for creating magical environments within the hotel. Our atrium room looked out over the main attraction of National Harbor - the view.

We could see not one but two Washington Monuments from our balcony - the famous one on the Mall in downtown Washington, D.C., and the newer Masonic Washington Monument in Alexandria. Yes, on a clear day, from the right vantage point, you can see forever.

The largest non-gaming convention center and hotel on the East Coast with nearly 2,000 guest rooms and more than half a million square feet of meeting space, the Gaylord has a spectacular, 19-floor atrium. With an all-glass facade and curved roof line, the view is everywhere.

In addition to shopping and dining, the Gaylord has a sleek, chic spa where aromatherapy massage, hydrofacials and nails are the most popular treatments. Its custom-made salt scrubs can be sampled in all the hotel's public bathrooms.

Gaylord was the pioneer property at the National Harbor opening in 2008. The most popular time to visit is the holiday season from mid-November to Jan. 1, when it has the traditional Gaylord ice sculpture display and the expansive atrium is decorated with a suspended 60-foot Christmas tree centerpiece and indoor snowfall.

At sunset, we took the next step and watched the view slowly spin past as we rode in one of 42 heated gondola cars of the nearly 200-foot-tall Capital Wheel. Although the wheel turns slowly with virtually no discernible movement, there is a panic button to allow people off mid-ride.

After witnessing one of these escapes, I asked the attendants about frequency. They said summer was the worst, with an escape nearly every other ride (five spins around the wheel) because of claustrophobia.

On the other side of the expanse is the new MGM Casino. Perched on a slight rise, the casino parking garage (all free) is a short, flat-topped pyramid with a giant cubed screen on top backed by the optical illusion of a glass slab boutique hotel where there are 308 guest rooms.

In addition to a playing floor of 125,000 square feet, the casino boasts a dining mecca with three celebrity chef restaurants and an extensive food court that looks - and tastes - like no other you've seen.

Public art is a hallmark of National Harbor, and not just at the casino. Bob Dylan created his first permanent work of art for the MGM resort, a metal sculpture called Portal at the entrance to the casino floor.

We watched as countless visitors took selfies with the statues of the year-old American Way street museum. In a couple blocks you could choose from Lincoln and Washington in their traditional bronze to painted statues of Marilyn Monroe and her blowing skirt and the World War II Times Square kiss.

The Awakening is a 72-foot aluminum sculpture of a giant struggling to be free of a mini-sand beach by the Capital Wheel. Once residing at Hains Point, Peterson acquired it for his just-emerging city. Not quite art, the many Stonehenge-like stone slabs scattered around the edges are obvious decor.

"The stones come from one of Milt Peterson's homes," my guide said. "He wanted to feel at home in National Harbor."

Next to the view, the most magnetic attraction of National Harbor is its food, and not just the celebrity restaurants at the MGM Casino, where I would have needed to win a jackpot to not choke on a $60 steak.

My husband Jack and I did our research, checked reviews, asked shop and hotel staff, and perused menus to make our choices. We enjoyed two outstanding meals for our effort.

Granite City is a brew pub that crafts nine of its own beers and offers dozens more. In my experience, most brew pubs do not offer first-rate food. Granite City is a welcome exception, and the genre is comfort food.

I had macaroni and cheese with chicken, on which the remarkably tasty cheese sauce was topped with Granite City's craft Bennie's Brew. Jack was very pleased with the signature meatloaf. Service was exemplary, and the dinner price was right, even for brew flights.

Our other dining success was Succotash, a sort-of celebrity chef restaurant where the food is Southern with a touch of Korean spice, and the decor is fusion rustic.

I thoroughly enjoyed the four pieces of succulent fried chicken and waffles with a bourbon-maple favor, while Jack was pleased with the hamburger that had a Korean sauce. Succotash did its regional homework with a West Virginia Chili Slaw Dog on the menu. We went for lunch, when the menu is the same but the prices lower.

As Peterson recruits distinctive eateries, he doesn't skip on the shopping. There is a Tanger Outlet Center near the casino, but we stayed downtown and found several treasures where the National Harbor location joined only two or three others.

The Pepper Palace made me dizzy trying to choose among more than 100 hot sauces, 90 percent of them made at its Tennessee plant. It was good placement to have Stonewall Kitchen almost next door so I could soothe my palate tasting sauces and jams like Strawberry Champagne.

Two shops really stood out: The Peeps Store is located directly on the harbor. The day we visited it was handing out free samples of blueberry Peeps with dipped chocolate bottoms.

The shop has all things Peeps as well as the company's other candy products. It really made me wonder about a manufacturing developer who came up with a three-product line: Peeps, Mike and Ikes, and Hot Tamales.

Local Motors is a stop not to be missed. It created the original 3-D printed cars - yes, real, drivable vehicles - but has moved on to the Olli, the world's first cognitive electric shuttle vehicle that is self-driving and will hold eight.

The National Harbor location is soon to become an Olli Showroom and visitors center. Local Motors gives regular tours, kid-friendly workshops and offers a retail section filled with sustainable and green products, including a line of bags made from bicycle tire inner tubes. The staff is friendly, knowledgeable and ready to chat.

National Harbor is a wonder-filled getaway for families, and, if you have the option of attending a convention, take it. It's not every day you get to play inside someone's vision made manifest.

Jeanne Mozier, of Berkeley Springs, is the author of "Way Out in West Virginia," a must-have guide to the wonders and oddities of the Mountain State. She and noted photographer Steve Shaluta have released the second printing of the coffee-table photo book "West Virginia Beauty, Familiar and Rare." Both books are available around West Virginia and from WVBookCo.com.

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Photo of the Week: Awesome views from Yosemite http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170401/GZ0506/170409957 GZ0506 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170401/GZ0506/170409957 Sat, 1 Apr 2017 16:00:00 -0400 Dottie Hess of Charleston took this photo at Yosemite National Park in California last summer. She was visiting her son and 5-year-old grandson, Michael.

"This place isn't just beautiful, it's awesome!" Michael said at the time.

Thanks for the view, Dottie!

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We want to see pictures of your adventures. Send us your best submissions and you might find them here one day.

Send your submissions, with a few details about the photo, to social@wvgazettemail.com with "Photo of the Week" in the subject line.

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WV Culinary Team: Learn more about a place by tasting its street food http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170325/GZ0502/170329673 GZ0502 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170325/GZ0502/170329673 Sat, 25 Mar 2017 22:30:00 -0400 By Susan Maslowski WV Culinary Team By By Susan Maslowski WV Culinary Team I have many food memories from around the world. The most vivid impressions are not from nice restaurants, but from outdoor vendors. Purchasing and eating food served on the street is an exciting way to experience authentic local culture.

My husband and I visited St. Petersburg, Russia, soon after the fall of communism. There was very little food in stores. It was a time of trouble and hunger. As part of a U.S. relief effort, grocery store freezers contained mounds of unwrapped chicken leg quarters, referred to as nozhki Busha or "[George H.W.] Bush's legs." It was Christmas, and the chlorinated freezer-burned legs were unappealing.

In an effort to provide our host family with some semblance of a Christmas dinner, my husband and I headed to the street where we purchased pig's hooves from a vendor's table. It was so cold, the feet were frozen together in a solid mound. Using a chisel, the seller chipped our hooves from the heap.

We thawed the hooves in the kitchen sink. Babushka boiled them and picked them clean. The meat was used in Studen', a traditional Russian holiday aspic, served with horseradish and, of course, vodka. We also purchased the vodka from a street vendor, making sure the cap had not been tampered because some were known to substitute a lesser grade for premium vodka.

A former Polish exchange student provided an introduction to the best street food Warsaw has to offer. We purchased Oscypek cheese from elderly ladies who had small tables set up on busy street corners.

Oscypek is made of sheep's milk, created only in the Tatra Mountains. It has been handmade by nomadic highlander shepherds since the 15th century. The milk is boiled in mountain huts, and the cheese is formed in fancy hand-carved wooden molds.

Another popular and delicious Polish street food is Zapiekanka, an open-faced toasted sandwich topped with sauteed mushrooms, cheese and ketchup. It gained popularity as a street food during communist regime.

During a stop in the Bahamas en route to Cuba, my husband and I set out on foot to see what Nassau had to offer. It was the opening week of Atlantis Paradise Island Resort, and most visitors had gone there to catch a glimpse of celebrities.

Realizing few customers, a hawker drew us to a stand beneath a bridge where we sampled delicious conch salad. It was the most memorable dish I had while I was there.

Even more unforgettable were the people gathered at the booth who wanted my husband to try conch pistol. With much laughter and bravado, they said it was the conch's male genitalia - the Bahamian Viagra.

Several local men even demonstrated how the pistol was to be consumed. Like oysters, "Don't chew, just swallow," they said, adding the pistols have no flavor and are too small to satisfy one's appetite.

Despite the entertaining performance, the men admitted there isn't any truth to the claim the pistols have Viagra-like properties. There are pistols in both male and female conch, which are actually a part of their digestive system.

Costa Rica is a great place to sample unusual fruits. Pejibaye, the fruit of peach palm, tastes like a blend of roasted chestnuts, pumpkin and buttered baked potato. Sold by roadside vendors, it is caustic in its natural state. Pejibaye is boiled for hours in salted water that sometimes has fat pork added. After boiling, the outer skin is removed and the soft interior is eaten out-of-hand.

In Havana, Mani, white cones filled with fried or roasted peanuts, are a common sight.

Thailand street carts contain exotic, peeled and sliced fruits packaged and carefully laid out on beds of ice to preserve freshness. One can sample durian, since most hotels and other buildings forbid bringing it inside. It is a spiky green fruit, often referred to as "The King of Fruit," known for its pungent, not too pleasant smell, but great taste. Not to be missed are Chinese-influenced steamed dumplings called salapao made of minced shrimp, pork or other meats.

In Hong Kong, street food is serious business, and Michelin Guide now lists places where the best street food can be found. Sampling chestnuts roasted in huge woks over charcoal or, in some cases, toxic black coal cinders will definitely make one's fingers sooty.

Eating street food takes gastronomic courage, but it fills your tummy and feeds your soul. Wherever you go, don't be afraid to try street food for intriguing tastes and experiences.

Until you can book a flight to Poland, put on some Polka music, open a bottle of Zywiec, cook some Zapiekanki and pretend your kitchen is a food kiosk on Nowy Swiat.

Susan Maslowski founded and operates the Mud River Pottery studio in Milton, where she has created utilitarian ware for nearly 40 years. She sells produce at the Putnam Farmers Market, serves on the board of the West Virginia Farmers Market Association and The Wild Ramp, and is an advocate for local foods and farmers. She also writes the Farmer's Table cooking column for the Gazette-Mail's Metro section. Susan can be reached by email at

mudriverpottery@aol.com.

Zapiekanka

Mushrooms and cheese on a toasted baguette

1 baguette, halved

8-10 mushrooms, sliced

1 small onion, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

freshly grated white cheddar cheese

ketchup

butter for frying

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Melt butter and add mushrooms and onions.

Season with salt and pepper.

Cook until onions and mushrooms have browned.

Spread equal amount of mushroom mixture on each baguette half.

Sprinkle grated cheddar on top.

Bake in the oven for 10 minutes until cheese melts.

Garnish with ketchup.

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Disney World's flower festival is a spring celebration for the senses http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170325/GZ0506/170329678 GZ0506 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170325/GZ0506/170329678 Sat, 25 Mar 2017 15:04:41 -0400 By Carla Barfield Special to the Sunday Gazette-Mail By By Carla Barfield Special to the Sunday Gazette-Mail

As spring begins, our thoughts are turning to school breaks, getting out in the sun and planting flowers.

You might even be thinking of a trip to Walt Disney World for your spring break. It is a great time to visit because the weather is nice, and flowers are in full bloom.

It is also time for the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival, going on through May 31.

It really is a festival for your senses. There are flowers for your eyes to see and nose to smell, food to taste, and concerts for your ears.

From the moment you enter the park, you will notice the flowers and topiaries. There are more than 70 Disney-themed topiaries throughout Epcot such as Elsa, Anna, Pluto, Minnie, Snow White, the Seven Dwarfs and, of course, Mickey.

The rose garden is amazing with every kind of rose known. Don't walk past the butterfly tent, where you can interact with different species of butterflies.

When you enter the International Showcase, the smells of the different foods from all the lands will make your mouth water. Like the Food and Wine Festival in the fall, there is a charge for the food (usually $5).

Some examples from this year's festival include: pulled pork sliders with slaw, home-made falafel, meatball parmigiana, beef tenderloin tips, spicy chicken lettuce wraps, sugar cane shrimp skewer, chile relleno di picadillo, ahi tuna poke sesame ginger, plus many more.

There are also many wines, beers and non-alcoholic drinks to try, for instance, a Watermelon Cucumber Slushy - with gin or without.

Behind-the-scenes experiences, seminars and how-to demonstrations are also part of the experience.

One of my favorite things is the Flower Power Rock Concert Series. It generally includes singers or groups from the '60s or '70s. Over the years, performances have included the Monkees, Herman's Hermits, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and Gary Puckett and the Union Gap. There is a different act each weekend.

On tap this year are such entertainers as Jon Secada; Blood, Sweat and Tears; ELO; Starship; The Guess Who; Herman's Hermits; and the Spinners. There are usually three concerts a day at the American pavilion.

Admission is included in the price of your ticket to Epcot. However, some of the experiences, such as behind-the-scenes events, food and drinks, will cost extra.

I would recommend you take more than one day to enjoy this experience, especially if it's your first time at Disney. Also, a good thing to remember is that the weekends tend to be the most crowded because of the local residents, so my advice is to go during the week.

If you want to explore your Irish roots (whether you are Irish or not), head to Disney Springs and have lunch or dinner at Ragland Road. It is an authentic Irish pub. The atmosphere and food are great. I highly recommend making reservations.

There is so much to do at Walt Disney World besides attractions and characters. There really is something for everyone.

If you have any questions or would like to book a trip, contact me on Facebook at facebook.com/disneydiva58 or visit my website at gypsyspirittravelagency.com.

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