www.wvgazettemail.com Travel http://www.wvgazettemail.com Gazette archive feed en-us Copyright 2017, Charleston Newspapers, Charleston, WV Newspapers 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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WV House votes to push for daily Amtrak service http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170322/GZ01/170329872 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170322/GZ01/170329872 Wed, 22 Mar 2017 14:16:58 -0400 Phil Kabler By Phil Kabler Legislation to promote daily service for the Amtrak Cardinal passenger train passed the House of Delegates Wednesday on a 95-5 vote (HB2856), with advocates saying it would benefit tourism and economic development in Southern West Virginia.

"It's going to be a wonderful thing for tourism. It's going to be good for economic development," Delegate Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, a train engineer, said of prospects of expanding Cardinal service from three to seven days a week.

Boggs noted that the current three-day a week operating schedule is an obstacle that discourages ridership both for residents and tourists visiting the state, and particularly affects business travel.

The bill would authorize the state tourism commissioner to enter into compact agreements with other states served by the train and with the National Railroad Passenger Corp., the company that operates Amtrak, in order to improve the quality and frequency of Cardinal service.

It also would authorize the commissioner to set up a special revenue account where funds deposited could be used for promoting enhancement of Cardinal service - a fund that drew objections from some more conservative members of the House.

"I find it very interesting we would be setting up a new special revenue account to subsidize a company owned by the federal government that's bled cash for years," said Delegate Michael Folk, R-Berkeley.

"There's a lot of things we can't afford. The taxpayers can't afford it," Delegate Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley, added.

The National Railroad Passenger Corporation is a for-profit corporation that receives some federal funding. According to Amtrak, in fiscal 2016, the rail service covered nearly 94 percent of its operating costs, with an operating loss of $227 million on $4.3 billion of capital and operating expenses.

Delegate John O'Neal, R-Raleigh, the lead sponsor of the bill, pointed out that the legislation sets up the account but directs no state funding to it.

"This bill does not allocate or appropriate $1 out of our budget," he said.

"As taxpayers, we subsidize airports, we subsidize roads," Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, responded. "This is one of the least polluting and most convenient forms of transportation in the country."

In West Virginia, the Cardinal travels through the New River Gorge and serves communities including White Sulphur Springs, Hinton, Charleston, Huntington and Prince.

Delegate Ed Evans, D-McDowell, said numerous Boy Scout councils from around the country will be taking the Cardinal to Prince for the Scouts' National Jamboree in July, and said Scouts from around the world will be flying into Washington, D.C., and taking the train to West Virginia for the World Jamboree in 2019 at the Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve.

"They'll be able to take the Amtrak straight into Prince," he said.

Currently, the Cardinal operates between New York City and Chicago, serving communities in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland, and along the Northeast rail corridor. In the West Virginia portion of the route, the Cardinal operates on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays, with eastbound trains arriving in the morning, and westbound trains in the late afternoon and evening.

Amtrak began Cardinal service in 1977, originally operating between Chicago and Washington, D.C., with the name referencing the state bird of all six states then served by the train.

Delegates Folk, Howell, McGeehen, Paynter and Wilson voted against the bill, which goes to the Senate.

Reach Phil Kabler

at philk@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1220, or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.

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Irish hills a reminder of West Virginia comforts http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170318/GZ0506/170319549 GZ0506 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170318/GZ0506/170319549 Sat, 18 Mar 2017 16:47:30 -0400 By Michele Savaunah Zirkle Marcum Special to the Sunday Gazette-Mail By By Michele Savaunah Zirkle Marcum Special to the Sunday Gazette-Mail Kissing the Blarney stone and seeing a fairy or two were on my wish list when I visited Ireland last summer, but I never expected a West Virginia-style welcome.

My husband and I popped into a pub and, upon venturing to our table, heard the live band singing John Denver's "West Virginia, mountain mama, take me home, country roads." Here I was, 3,500 miles from home, and feeling as welcome as I would at a tailgate party in the Mountain State in which I'd grown up.

As I ventured from St. Steven's Green in central Dublin to the remote Ring of Kerry to the east, quaint towns and majestic shorelines streamed by like flashes of postcards. From Wicklow County's Blarney Stone - which bestows eloquence on the one whose lips touch it - to the Dingle Peninsula with waves no surfer would brave, my journey was filled with awe and the vague sensation I'd been there in another life.

The smell of mystery, of ancient Gaelic traditions where nature was more than one's environment, it was healer and refuge, surrounded me. Castles offered a peek behind the veil to a time when people used herbs from their gardens to treat ailments, and trees were revered for their medicinal value as well as their ability to inspire insights to many a seeker and rhymes to many a poet.

Ireland's green pastures reminded me of West Virginia's lush countrysides. Even the winding roads in the Celtic territory were similar to the ribbons of concrete wrapping the state referred to in Denver's song as "almost heaven."

One of those curvaceous Irish roads carried us into the quaint town of Enniskerry, 17 miles south of Dublin, where we strolled the grounds of St. Patrick's Church - not­ ­ the famous cathedral - a small church a stone's throw from the town square.

The saint who is credited for converting the Pagan nation to Christianity must've had the gift of persuasive speech even though the Blarney stone tradition hadn't yet begun. Legend has it St. Patrick explained the Godhood of the trinity by comparing it to a shamrock.

Although considered one plant, it has three leaves just as the one God is the father, son and Holy Spirit. The three are equally important, just as our own mind, body and spirit. For us to thrive, all three aspects need to be nourished.

As I ventured from The Cliffs of Moher, the setting for one of the Harry Potter films, to the Newgrange megaliths that are older than Stonehenge, I fed all three of mine. I hiked and laughed and ate. I developed an affinity for fresh figs and learned I loved black pudding, even though it isn't pudding at all - it's sausage with oats and pig's blood.

I also learned the reason the color green is associated with St. Patrick's Day has absolutely nothing to do with the lush green hills or with the green shamrock. Green is a bitter reminder of the more than one million Irishmen who died during the 1840s potato famine. Those who were starving resorted to eating grass. They died with green mouths.

When I heard this, I silently thanked God I didn't need to eat grass. I had pig's blood in my belly.

I absorbed the views of cattle and castles and wished those people who had perished could've enjoy the bounty that now rises high on the sheep-filled hills and wheat-strewn fields. I stood hoping before they had laid their precious, lifeless heads on the ground, green mouths gaping wide, they had reconciled the three pieces of divinity represented by the shamrock and allowed the oneness of truth to herald them to their heaven.

I felt like I was already in paradise as I chatted with locals in the many taverns along the way. I learned a bit of traditional Irish language like "sláinte," posted on the wall, means "good health," and "go n-eiri an bothar leat" means "may the road rise up to meet you."

I'm not sure the road rose to meet me as the blessing states, but the tree branches scraping alongside my car window certainly did. The skies were wide, but the roads were so similar to the dirt roads prominent in rural Appalachia, I felt it just as likely the Mothman would swoop by as would a dragon.

Even the Celtic legends of banshee - female spirits who wail at the death of a loved one - reminded me of a folktale my dad told me of a woman's screeches heard by many a traveler on Red Lane, in Mason County. The story that circulated the hills in Clifton is she and her baby had died during childbirth.

If, despite the creepy tales, you should get bitten by the Irish bug, you may want to check out West Virginia's own town of Ireland, where the first Irishmen to West Virginia settled and which hosts an Irish Festival every year - complete with a rock for kissing and a unique game of road bowling.

Ohio also hosts the Dublin Irish Festival each fall, where you can hear Mike O'Malley's world-class Irish stories, hang your heart's desires on the traditional wishing tree or choose a souvenir from one of hundreds of vendors.

During my visit to Ireland, the fairies - if there were any - remained sequestered in the glens. I did kiss the stone that bestows eloquence on the person who ventures to do so. Had I known the locals get a kick out of peeing on it, I contend I would've still dared to plant my lips. Communication means the world to me.

I returned to the states, my mountain mama heart singing. Both Ireland and West Virginia are almost heaven, and both are conducive to balancing mind, body and spirit in the hills of green.

From the feeling I'd lived there in another lifetime to the triskelia tattoo on my forearm, Ireland made its mark on me just as distinctly as did the Appalachian hills where I grew up. I'm tickled to have just moved back to West Virginia from Ohio, where I lived the last two years.

May whatever road you find yourself on rise up to meet you.

West Virginia native Michele Savaunah Zirkle Marcum is the author of the recently released "Rain No Evil." The book is available at www.rainnoevil.com.

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Photo of the Week: A view worth the journey http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170318/GZ05/170319560 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170318/GZ05/170319560 Sat, 18 Mar 2017 16:27:34 -0400 It takes a 3-mile, round-trip hike on the Delicate Arch trail in Utah to see the Delicate Arch up close.

Lisa Paddock said the hike is difficult, especially with temperatures above 90 degrees, and has a 600-foot gain in elevation. The view at the top, however, makes it worth it.

"I will never forget it," she said.

The arch is located in Arches National Park, Utah.

nnn

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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Offseason travel in WV can be a real bargain http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170315/GZ0506/170319734 GZ0506 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170315/GZ0506/170319734 Wed, 15 Mar 2017 15:07:36 -0400 By Michael Virtanen The Associated Press By By Michael Virtanen The Associated Press ROANOKE - The sky faded toward cobalt over the rolling horizon and its bare hardwood forest, the faux street lamps in the foreground lighting the outdoor walkway and swimming pool. One man lingered in the adjoining Jacuzzi despite the 30-degree chill that blew mist off the heated water.

The moon gradually cast a narrow, shimmering line across the lake. I sat at a high bar table sipping peach moonshine watching through picture windows as winter dusk fell in the Appalachian Mountains.

The state of West Virginia owns this resort, called Stonewall, along with other upscale resorts with golf courses, indoor pools, Adirondack-style lodges and miles of scenic hiking trails for laid-back getaways in the offseason. Thanks to offseason bargains, a stay can be had for as little as $50 a night.

The wood fire in the large stone hearth threw heat into Stonewall's high-ceilinged lodge. Guests drifted in and out, warmed at the fire, or lounged on the sofas. Soft jazz played in the background. A couple nestled in the dark-paneled library next door reading in club chairs under lamps.

The downstairs restaurant and tavern were busy. The bartender said she had only two kinds of moonshine at the moment - peach and coffee-flavored - and poured the peach into a small cordial glass. Several small distillers produce versions of the liquor in West Virginia, where it traditionally came from corn mash in Prohibition-era stills.

The winter cold had driven me and my companion in from the outdoor fire pit, where more wood was burning. Fixings for s'mores were offered: chocolate bars, marshmallows and graham crackers. The s'mores were gratis, as was the upgrade we got to a lakeside room, though we'd booked an ordinary room at a $40 discount, for $129. The resort was half-full on the weekend with about 200 people. Staff couldn't have been friendlier. Desk clerks checked us in four hours early. Taxes and a resort fee added $30 to the bill.

Heading to our room later, we saw families still playing in the indoor half of the pool and its adjoining Jacuzzi, kept at 88 and 103 degrees, respectively, same as the water outdoors where we swam earlier.

In the sunny afternoon, we walked out on the boardwalk that crosses part of the lake, heading toward the marina and the campground already booked solid for the summer. We decided against a longer walk on trails through the woods. Instead, we drove 15 minutes to see the sprawling, gothic Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston. Built in the 1800s as a sanctuary for the mentally ill, it housed 2,500 patients in the 1950s and closed in 1994. It's now a national landmark. We didn't take the tour.

Stonewall's golf course with Arnold Palmer's name on it was empty except for a few swans, the golf shop and its restaurant closed until spring. The lodge's health spa was open, taking appointments for facials and massages, discounted to $50 on Thursdays in March. The resort is a about two-hour drive south from Pittsburgh.

That was also the cost of a winter room at West Virginia's Twin Falls Resort State Park, where we stayed in February, after the desk clerk knocked $25 off our reserved low winter rate and upgraded our room. It's located up a winding road in southern West Virginia's coal country, on a mountaintop surrounded by its own golf course and hiking trails through forests that are a nature preserve. There were few other guests midweek in February. We saw three at breakfast. The lodge has 47 rooms and an indoor pool.

West Virginia has eight other resorts in the state system, all with lodges, most with cabins or cottages and campsites to rent as well.

According to state officials, the parks had about 7 million visitors last year and nearly 700,000 overnight guests. Discounts include golf passes for any of the four resort courses, a $50 rate for any standard room at any lodge in January and package offers updated monthly.

A West Virginia friend recommended Pipestem Resort State Park, in the state's southeastern corner, which has two lodges, one open year-round with balconies and views of the Bluestone Canyon gorge, and a second lodge open from May to October and reachable only by an aerial tram. Room rates start at $75.

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Washington in bloom as spring comes early http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170311/GZ0506/170319894 GZ0506 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170311/GZ0506/170319894 Sat, 11 Mar 2017 21:32:42 -0400 By Thomas R. Fletcher Special to the Sunday Gazette-Mail By By Thomas R. Fletcher Special to the Sunday Gazette-Mail Spring has arrived earlier than scheduled this year in Washington, D.C. A recent article in The Washington Post referred to it as "false spring" because it is just too early.

Spring in the capital city means cherry blossoms. This unusually warm weather has the cherry trees ready to burst forth in all their glory. You do know about the beautiful cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C., don't you?

The original cherry trees were a gift from Mayor Yukio Ozaki, of Tokyo, Japan, presented as a symbol of friendship between Japan and the United States. The first shipment of trees arrived in 1910. Unfortunately, those trees arrived diseased and dead.

Undeterred, a second batch of 3,000-plus trees was sent in 1912. On March 27, 1912, first lady Helen Taft and the Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, planted the first two cherry trees on the bank of the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park. The rest of the trees were planted around the Potomac River Tidal Basin in East Potomac Park and on the White House grounds.

Each year Washington, D.C., celebrates the blooming trees with the National Cherry Blossom Festival. The month-long festival covers four weekends and brings an average of 1.5 million visitors to the city (not all at the same time, thankfully).

Last year's event was reported to have hosted 3 million visitors. Due to the exceptionally warm weather, the starting date of this year's festival was moved up five days earlier than planned to coincide with peak bloom. The festival starts Wednesday and runs through April 16.

The National Park Service, which tracks dates of the blossoms, is predicting peak bloom Tuesday through Friday, though that may be pushed back a few days depending on the weather this weekend and over the next few days. Check cherryblossomwatch.com for the latest updates.

Peak bloom occurs when 70 percent of the Yoshino cherry trees (the majority species) surrounding the Tidal Basin are in full bloom. The blooming period starts when 20 percent of the trees are in bloom and lasts until the blossoms fall off and leaves appear. On average, the blooming period is 14 days but varies based on a variety of factors.

The cherry blossoms can be temperamental. Too much sun, too cold, too windy or too rainy and the blooming period will be shortened.

National Park Service officials say this year could set a record for the earliest peak bloom. The peak depends upon several factors and varies each year. The earliest recorded peak bloom was March 15, 1990, and the latest on April 18, 1958. Last year's peak was March 25.

The National Park Service offers daily updates on the cherry blossoms so visitors can plan ahead. Determining peak bloom is not an exact science, and thus predictions are modified as needed due to weather conditions. Some blossoms started appearing in February this year due to unusually warm weather.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival has many events scheduled. The Tidal Basin Welcome Area & ANA Performance Stage will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily with performances from noon to 6 p.m. (no entrance fee). Free parking is available, but sometimes it's difficult to find a space. Arrive early in the morning to ensure finding an open space.

National Cherry Blossom Festival

1250 H Street NW

Suite 1000

Washington, D.C., 20005

Phone: 800-442-5666

Email: ncbf@ncbfdc.org

A native of Webster County, Thomas R. Fletcher is a photographer and writer whose work has appeared in newspapers across the U.S., including Dallas Morning News, Anchorage Daily News and the Charlotte Observer. He writes about travel and the outdoors, and his photography has been published nationally and internationally in several publications such as BBC Wildlife and National Geographic Traveler. His work can be seen online at thomas-r-fletcher.pixels.com or on Facebook at ThomasRFletcherPhotography. His book, "Essays on Faith," was published by Tate Publishing: www.amazon.com/Essays-Faith-Thomas-R-Fletcher/dp/1627467319.

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WV Travel Team: Maple Day, the sweetest day in the mountains http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170311/GZ0506/170319895 GZ0506 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170311/GZ0506/170319895 Sat, 11 Mar 2017 21:31:34 -0400 Compiled by the GoToWV Team By Compiled by the GoToWV Team

Mountain State Maple Day showcases the sweetest industry in West Virginia: maple syrup. Get ready for flapjacks, delicious samples and demonstrations.

If you're like most people, you probably associate syrup with Vermont. But did you know more untapped maple trees grow in West Virginia than anywhere else in America?

That's a sweet opportunity for the state, and it's getting even sweeter. Almost 90 West Virginian syrup producers participated in last year's USDA survey. They reported an average yield of 125 gallons per tap - a total of 6,000 gallons.

Syrup producing is still a niche market, though. That's why the West Virginia Maple Syrup Producers Association exists.

"We provide workshops throughout the year in order to give producers the tools and resources they need to grow the maple industry," said Cathy Hervey, secretary.

Mountain State Maple Day looms large on her calendar. The annual event, Saturday, March 18, through Sunday, March 19, this year, is a statewide celebration that introduces folks to the wonders of pure syrup.

"Most people are only used to the store-bought kind or fake ones made of corn syrup," Hervey said.

There's nothing like organic sugar from the wild, though. A classification system describes four different types of syrup: golden, amber, dark and very dark. Lighter ones are best for candy, while darker varieties enhance cooking recipes.

Syrup from West Virginia is distinctive, too, with a robust, full, rich flavor.

"It's also unique in the sense that it's not specific to one region. It's made in all areas," she said.

Fortunately, syrup sells itself. You don't need to convince many folks to try it, even if they've been raised on the grocery variety.

Mountain State Maple Day hits all the right notes, too. The 2017 festival will have all the pancakes you can eat, plus syrup tastings and delicacies like maple candy, maple cream and maple-coated nuts.

You'll also learn how this golden treat is harvested - Hervey's favorite part of the festival.

"I love it when folks of all ages realize that pure West Virginia maple syrup comes directly out of a maple tree and that it's boiled down to the correct consistency with nothing added," she said.

As you'll find out, collecting syrup is no easy feat. Depending on the sugar content of a tree, you might need 50 to 70 gallons of sap just to make 1 gallon of pancake topping. It's a time-consuming and laborious process, too. Fortunately, modern devices - like miles of tubing, reverse osmosis machines and vacuum pumps - help.

Other highlights include a kids' scavenger hunt (with free maple cotton candy) and sugar shack demonstrations. The warm, inviting aroma of maple from the evaporators is simply delicious.

"The smiles on everyone's faces as they arrive and depart are priceless," Hervey said.

If you can't get enough local maple syrup, check out West Virginia's farms. Most have online shops. Order anything from syrup to sorghum.

n Frostmore Farm in Dunmore has a sugar shack that's more than 100 years old. Besides maple syrup, it has flavored treats like candy, nuts, cream, balsamic vinaigrette and soda.

n Family Roots Farm in Brooke County has been in the Hervey family since the 1770s. It has syrup (which earned a perfect score at the International Maple Conference), candy, sorghum syrup and vegetables in season.

n Cedar Run Farm in Pleasants County sells syrup by the quart and pint. You can also order keepsake glass jars and, best of all, cinnamon-infused maple syrup.

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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Savoring the best of Savannah's sweet spots http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170304/GZ0506/170309750 GZ0506 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170304/GZ0506/170309750 Sat, 4 Mar 2017 21:44:34 -0400 By Martin W.G. King Special to the Sunday Gazette-Mail By By Martin W.G. King Special to the Sunday Gazette-Mail At first glance, when walking down West River Street on the Savannah, Georgia, waterfront, you might think the city, famed for its Southern beauty, might have done the impossible and snatched defeat as a worthy travel destination from the jaws of victory.

The street, touted as a main draw, is a mess of tourist-trap stores and overpriced seafood restaurants that pale in comparison with some stellar new eating establishments.

And the much-vaunted City Market, the shopping area a few blocks from River Street, is only somewhat better, with stores selling such things as pralines, a Southern candy made with nuts and huge quantities of sugar, and mediocre art at exorbitant prices.

But then you venture just a little bit farther and find the real Savannah, a city with remarkable parks and 22 city squares draped with a silvery canopy of Spanish moss, great monuments to Revolutionary War and Civil War heroes, excellent museums, and a plethora of historic houses.

My wife and I visited Savannah in late October, the beginning of its low season, although the city, with a cool but seldom cold winter, attracts visitors year-round.

A little research before our trip tipped us off to the rooftop Top Deck Bar at the Cotton Sail Hotel, built in the shell of an old waterfront warehouse, where we made our first stop. We sat outside in brilliant sunshine with a sweeping view of the Savannah River and giant container ships heading upstream to the city's port as we enjoyed a hummus trio sampler and icy drinks.

We decided to take a trolley trip to get our bearings. An Old Savannah Tours trolley was leaving the oddly musty Visitors Information Center as we got there, so we hopped aboard. Anna Santos, our cheery driver and guide, entertained us with a comedic spiel as she expertly navigated tight Historic District corners.

In between her jokes, Santos told us about the city's history. It was founded in 1733, the first city in the British colony of Georgia; was the destination of choice for thousands of Irish immigrants, attracted by Savannah's ship-building industry, during the Potato Famine (the city's St. Patrick's Day Parade is eclipsed in the United States only by New York's); was occupied by Union troops for four years during the Civil War; and served as the backdrop for John Berendt's monumental nonfiction work, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," which helped put modern Savannah on the map.

"The Book," as locals call it, is the story of a murder in a quintessential Southern city - Savannah - inhabited by some highly eccentric residents.

Indeed, walking back to our hotel from the Cotton Sail, we passed by Club One, where Lady Chablis, a central cross-dressing character in the book (who played herself in the "Midnight" movie) performed for decades. Chablis, known as the empress of Savannah, had died just a couple of months earlier; a window bore a tribute, sure to be one of many memorials.

Our first stop the next morning was the museum of the Savannah College of Art and Design, which occupies historic buildings throughout the city. Its students were everywhere, studying outdoors, biking to classes and sipping colorful drinks in coffee shops.

The museum, which focuses on contemporary art, was considerably larger than we'd expected, though far smaller than the place it evoked - the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Because two exhibits were being installed, admission was free. I peeked into one of them, where famed New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham's photographs of the 1973 Grand Battle of Versailles fashion show were being hung. (Cunningham died last summer.)

We soon cast our itinerary aside in favor of wandering the streets, exploring the city's sun-dappled squares, sitting in coffee shops to enjoy the local vibe and taking pictures. We ogled the city's historic houses. They sit chock-a-block in the Historic District around every park and square. They include not just the Owens-Thomas House, but such preserved beautifies as the amber-colored Greek Revival Sorrel-Weed House, near Madison Square, which at one time housed Civil War Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and, shortly thereafter, a resident who was not as welcome, the Union side's Gen. William T. Sherman.

Ghost tours are big business in Savannah. Those of the Sorrel-Weed House, which is said to be haunted, are particularly popular, judging by the ticket lines outside the slave quarters where you buy tickets both for ghost tours and guided tours of the house.

Shopping in Savannah is good as well. ShopSCAD, the art school store just off Madison Square, displays the work of students, faculty and alumni - everything from paintings to ceramics to a line of shoes designed by a 2007 industrial design graduate.

Up the street, Folklorico offers whimsical Latin-American crafts. A nearby space, the Downstairs Art Gallery, sells goods made by a local artists' collective. Saints and Shamrocks, located near Chippewa Square on, what else, the St. Patrick's Day Parade route, sells all manner of Irish imports, with some Southern things thrown in.

No visit to Savannah would be complete without sampling its array of good restaurants. One of the best is The Grey, housed in the imaginatively restored old Greyhound station. We dined in the romantically lit former waiting room on a shrimp appetizer, impeccably grilled; seared duck breast, served with roasted turnips and grapes, a seemingly odd combination that worked perfectly; and a rich country pasta with ricotta and heirloom tomatoes (enjoyed by my wife). Dessert - one we'll long remember - was a shared piece of sinfully sweet caramel almond cake.

The gastronomic high point of our visit, however, was a tiny place open only for breakfast and lunch - the Back in the Day Bakery and Café, a couple of miles from downtown near a SCAD classroom building.

There, a crowd of all ages, including buzzing hives of SCAD students, noshed on sandwiches and salads and sipped coffee. Enticed by the cafe's reputation as the purveyor of outstanding Southern baked goods, I ordered from the build-your-own biscuit menu.

While many toppings and fillings are offered, I settled for a buttered biscuit to go with my delectable Happy Days Salad, which included cranberries, spiced nuts and Pecorino Romano cheese. The hot biscuit was mouth-watering, reminding me of the biscuits my mother made years ago while I was a young child growing up in Canada - but better.

I ordered another - and went back the next day for one more. When I asked Michele Petak-Calhoun, who was working behind the pastry counter, about what made the biscuits so good, she replied simply they "were made with love."

One other thing made with love in Savannah was the music of an older man, who told me his name was Willie, singing blues from a bench in verdant Forsyth Park near its famed fountain.

"Go ahead," he said, when I asked if I could take his picture, "but stay for a few minutes to enjoy my music."

His hospitality was typical. In some cities, it's all about the food. In Savannah, it was all about the friendship of strangers.

Martin W.G. King is a freelance writer.

Savannah, home to a dozen Irish heritage organizations, pulls out all the stops for St. Patrick's Day, March 17. Celebrations date to 1824, and its annual St. Patrick's Day Parade will celebrate its 187th anniversary in 2017. The parade starts at 10:15 a.m. and proceeds through the Historic District.

The parade, second largest in the United States, after New York's, culminates weeks of festivities; they include an Irish festival in the last weeks of February; the investiture of the grand marshal on the first Sunday of March; a family event, Tara Feis, in historic Emmet Park; and a Celtic Cross Mass, usually held the Sunday before the parade.

For more information: 912-233-4804, www.savannahsaintpatricksday.com/parade-info.

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Hutte restaurant at heart of Helvetia tradition http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170228/GZ05/170229530 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170228/GZ05/170229530 Tue, 28 Feb 2017 20:14:45 -0400 Carlee Lammers By Carlee Lammers HELVETIA - Clara Lehmann hugged a gray recipe box close to her chest and smiled.

"This is special," she said running her fingers through the box of hand-written recipes passed on through the generations in her family.

The contents of the box are a well-kept family secret.

And if you want to try some of them, you'll have to travel to Helvetia, a small Swiss village in the mountains of Randolph County.

At the center of the small town (population 59 by the last count) stands the Hutte, a Swiss-German restaurant originally owned by Lehmann's late grandmother, Eleanor Fahrner Mailloux.

Lehmann, donning a traditional Swiss skirt and blouse, spent Saturday working at the Hutte for the town's biggest annual celebration: Fasnacht.

Fasnacht is the pre-Lenten tradition of burning Old Man Winter. The town - and hundreds of guests from across the state and the country - come together for the event each year on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday, which is Wednesday.

Similar to Mardi Gras, or fat Tuesday, Fasnacht is a celebration filled with food, music and dancing. The festival has roots in the Swiss Winterfest.

"It's exciting for us," Lehmann said. "We've kind of been in hibernation mode, generally. This year has been kind of mild weather. Helvetia is kind of one those places that's really free but sometimes suffocating. You're in this little ravine and you don't get out much. If the weather is really bad, you don't get out for a week or two.

"All of a sudden the colors come. The influx of people. It's fresh and new. Everyone's happy and excited and little bit drunk," Lehmann said, laughing.

"There's just this happy atmosphere of, 'I love you, and I'm so glad that winter is almost over.' I think that's my favorite part. There's just this feeling of freedom in expression but combined with this feeling of almost being emaciated until that point."

There were no worries about being emaciated Saturday in Helvetia.

Before a night filled with dancing, music and the burning of an effigy of Old Man Winter, locals and guests alike gathered at the Hutte.

The restaurant, which was built in the early 1900s, was filled with burning wood stoves, hungry guests and a bustling staff for the festival.

The Hutte served its Sampler Platter for Fasnacht guests. The platter is a smaller version of the restaurant's famed Sunday buffet.

The dish included the Hutte's sausage, a family tradition made with secret ingredients.

"It's our very own sausage," Lehmann said. "Some of it's secret, but it's a pork sausage with a red sauce. Lots of ingredients. A laundry list of ingredients."

The platter also included a traditional bratwurst, green beans, sauerkraut, applesauce, parsley potatoes and an onion quiche known as Bolleflade.

The dish also included a curry chicken with a sweet and spicy curry pineapple on top.

Serving curry chicken might seem strange for Swiss Germans, Lehmann admitted, but it's a testament to Mailloux, her grandmother.

Mailloux, who was known as "Mutter" to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, traveled to Asia often, Lehmann said. There, she discovered a love for the spices and flavors, which inspired dishes like her curry chicken.

For dessert, guests enjoyed a homemade peach cobbler before they went off for a night of dancing.

"The Hutte is kind of like the hub. We are in the center of town," Lehmann said. "It's kind of nice. We feel like the passageway to happy bellies and happy hearts. It's a good feeling to see people come and eat, clean their plate and go out. They'll have a good night."

The kitchen at the Hutte is a well-oiled machine. Family by blood and "family by association" gathered Saturday in the kitchen to feed the masses for Fasnacht.

It's second nature for the group of women running the show.

Everyone knows his or her duty and what needs to be done, and no one stops working until everyone has been fed.

"Everybody here is very kind," Lehmann said. "The staff enjoys feeding people. We like to see people enjoy our food. There's a feeling of ownership, whether you own it or not. There's a pride with that."

Swiss artifacts - both collected and donated to the Hutte - hung on the walls and sat on display throughout the restaurant.

The Hutte is very intimate, making guests feel like they're enjoying a meal at grandma's house.

For Lehmann, who grew up inside the restaurant and now lives on the floor above it with her husband and twin daughters, Fasnacht is a celebration of the town she loves - and it's a celebration of her grandmother.

Lehmann went away for college and then moved to Chicago after graduating. She and her husband own a post-production company that they run out of Helvetia - a place she hopes to stay for years to come.

"Eleanor, my grandmother, she trained every single one of us to wash dishes, launder the dirty napkins. We didn't all learn how to cook certain foods, but we all are very familiar with the processes. There are three of us in the family that are very familiar with the recipes. Waitressing, serving, cleaning the Beekeeper Inn - we've all done that from age 12 on," she said.

"We all spread our wings and go away for a while. Some of us return home and continue to help. I feel very lucky to have done it. When I left here, a piece of me was missing. I couldn't wait to get back."

After a meal at the Hutte, festival-goers wandered over to the Helvetia Star Band Hall for drinks and music.

Fasnacht traditionally features a masked parade to the community hall, where guests enjoy a night of dancing before burning Old Man Winter.

Guests enjoyed snacks and homemade doughnuts while at the dance, prepared for the "farming women," Lehmann said.

The homemade masks are large and often frightening and artistic. Masks this year ranged from Nemo, from the movie "Finding Nemo," to unrecognizable monsters.

At midnight, the effigy of Old Man Winter was cut down from the ceiling of the Community Hall, carried on the shoulders of the celebrants to the bonfire outside and burned to signal the end of winter

At the end of the night, festival-goers gathered around the fire and sang John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads" before turning in for the night.

"We can enjoy the fun elements like today," Lehmann said. "I feel very lucky."

Reach Carlee Lammers at carlee.lammers@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1230 or follow @CarleeLammers on Twitter.

Crust:

2 cups flour

1/4 cup butter

1 egg

1 package of yeast and few drops of milk

1/4 tsp salt

Filling:

2 lbs onion chopped fine

1/4 lb bacon cubed and lean

1/2 pint sour or sweet cream

3 eggs

2 tbsp flour

1/2 tsp salt

Work dough like bread dough. Let rise, then roll out and place in large form. Let rise, briefly then put in filling.

Toss bacon cubes and chopped onions in frying pan until floppy, not yellow. Mix cream and eggs, bacon, onions, flour and salt well. Spread on dough and bake at 350 degrees until crust is golden and filling has set. Serve hot.

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One Month at a Time: February a month of history, haggis and kilts http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170225/GZ0507/170229666 GZ0507 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170225/GZ0507/170229666 Sat, 25 Feb 2017 17:00:00 -0400 Bill Lynch By Bill Lynch More than a year ago, I stumbled into the idea of taking a month to explore a topic I didn't know much about, and then writing about it. One topic led to another and then another and so on.

It's taken me some interesting places. I've learned what it's like to give up meat and to study yoga. I've fired handguns, danced with the ballet and zip-lined off the New River Gorge Bridge.

Each month, I'm just trying to broaden my perspective a little, discover things about myself and the world around me.

This month, in advance of Charleston's Celtic Calling, which arrives in Charleston March 3-5, I've learned about all things Scottish - or at least a lot of them.

Through the month, I've read Celtic folk tales, watched films vaguely based on Scottish history and worked on my Sean Connery accent.

From the Kanawha County Public Library, I checked out the BBC's "A History of Scotland," which did wonders for explaining the country to me - and destroying any belief in the historical accuracy of Mel Gibson's "Braveheart." No. Just no.

I wondered, however, about what Scotland was like now.

Since my request to get the newspaper to book me a flight to the United Kingdom was met with a fit of giggles, I contacted Visit Scotland online and arranged a call with Michael McCuish in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Michael was an amiable guy. We laughed about Gibson's movie and chatted about visiting "the old country."

It turns out West Virginia and Scotland have a lot in common. They're comparable in size. West Virginia is a little more than 24,000 square miles. Scotland is 30,000 square miles.

Both are largely rural, though the cities in Scotland are much larger with denser populations.

Scotland has plenty of ocean-front property. West Virginia secretly annexed Myrtle Beach in the 1970s.

Each place is frequently remembered for its beauty.

"People often say Scotland looks otherworldly," Michael said.

Scotland is a land of fairytale scenery - jagged, stony mountains, rolling green hills, misty valleys leading to deep lakes - including Loch Ness, the home of the Loch Ness Monster.

Scotland has often been used as the backdrop for many films including "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," "Rob Roy" and several James Bond movies.

The country has a history of war, which led to the building (and then sacking) of many castles. Some of the ancient structures are just ruins, but a lot of them are still mostly intact.

Michael said visitors often feel a strong connection to Scotland.

"We hear often that people feel when they come to Scotland that they're coming home," he said.

It's a good marketing slogan, but Michael pointed out while the population of his country is a little over 5 million, 50 million people worldwide identify as having Scottish heritage.

Most people, Michael said, fly into Edinburgh.

"Right when you get to Edinburgh, it can hit you - this great, imposing castle next to an old, extinct volcano."

But it's not all old stones and history.

"Edinburgh has fantastic food and drink, restaurants with Michelin stars," he said.

Scots, Michael said, are generally friendly, very sociable and chatty, especially at the pubs.

"It can be difficult if you don't like talking to people," he said.

Kilts are still fashionable.

Michael said he still wears a kilt, but he really enjoys wearing his kilt when he comes to the U.S., particularly in New York City.

"You'd be surprised at the number of drinks you get there," he said.

I told him I'd be very surprised at that, but promised to give it a try sometime. Maybe.

My bagpipe lessons didn't go particularly well, but I did get to spend time with Bill Holmes of the Beni Kedem Highlanders, a local bagpipe band.

Bill encouraged me with my studies, told me to keep practicing and would sometimes spin into a lecture on musical history.

He's really a fascinating guy who wears a kilt better than me, though the gigs he gets to play his pipes and wear his kilt are sometimes difficult.

Bill is sometimes called on to play the bagpipes at funerals. Often, he said, they only ask for a song or two, but, if they'd let him, he'd play a lot more.

"It's just the way I am," he told me.

At the end of one of our last lessons, while I cheerfully murdered a basic scale on a borrowed practice chanter, Bill invited me to a funeral in Hugheston, near Cedar Grove. A young fireman had died, and Bill had been hired to play the pipes.

"I'd do it for free, if I could," he said, full of regret. "But I had to take off from work to go, and I have to pay my bills."

I'd never been to a fireman's funeral or to any funeral where bagpipes were played. So I went.

Zachary Feltner was an EMT and served with the Whitesville Department. He was 31, and I think he died of lung cancer.

They held the ceremony at the Hughes Creek Community Church. I left the kilt and the T-shirt at the house and came in a shirt and tie. This was more out of respect than to blend in.

Mourners packed the sanctuary of the mid-sized church. The left side was filled by volunteer and professional firefighters, paramedics and a few police officers; uniformed service people.

The right side was all family, friends and community members.

Every pew in the main space was filled. Others sat in the balcony.

I took a seat toward the middle by the aisle and kept a watch on the door in case it became apparent I needed to give up my place.

I found myself feeling a little envious by the size of the crowd and how loved and respected Zach had been. People had come from all over. I'd never seen a funeral party so large for someone without a television show.

I shouldn't have known a soul. Services were well outside of Charleston and among people I didn't know, though I didn't feel entirely out of place. Some of my oldest friends are paramedics and firefighters. I'd also been a volunteer fireman years ago - though only for about a year. I'd trained, taken the tests and gone to the weekly meetings at the firehouse, attended the annual Christmas party, but had only been on a handful of calls.

None of them had been life threatening.

While I sat musing about the likely attendance at my funeral and the general reasonableness of this based on a number of factors, an old friend from college walked up wearing a fire captain's dress uniform.

Chris Lana and I had gone to Concord College together. He'd been the managing editor of the student paper, The Concordian, while I'd written a weird little entertainment column. He'd also lived two doors down the hall in the dorm, which means I probably still owe him money.

Solemnly, Chris walked to where I sat. He shook my hand and asked, "Was he a friend of yours?"

In a low voice, I said, "Well, no. I'm here because of my bagpipes teacher."

My old friend looked at me, sighed, and said, "Of course you are, Bill."

Chris returned to his duties.

It was a fine service. At the end, as the coffin was being loaded on top of a fire engine, Bill appeared with his bagpipes, played a song and people wept.

According to Scotland.com, the bagpipes began to be used in funerals for firefighters and policemen in the mid-19th century.

During the heavy immigration from Scotland and particularly Ireland in the 1800s, many businesses refused to hire the Irish. So immigrants took jobs others wouldn't do, jobs that were particularly dirty and dangerous - like with a city police or fire department.

Deaths on the job were common. Their surviving friends in these fire brigades and police units played the highland pipes to honor them.

Playing the bagpipes became tradition, regardless of where the deceased was born.

Bill told me he was proud to be called on to play for the families at funerals.

"It's a privilege to share that part of their life," he said.

While I was no great shakes at bagpipes, Bill said he was always looking for ways to use the pipes to help his community.

"I'm trying to get flamethrowers for them," he said, grinning wildly. "Wouldn't that be something? I want to use flame throwing bagpipes to raise money for kids with burns."

I promised to ask around.

Between the silliness of wearing a kilt and the solemnity of the funeral, February came in like a lion and went out like a lamb, a good precursor for March and the Celtic Calling.

I learned what I liked: I enjoyed the Glenlivet Scotch, traditional dance and listening to bagpipe music, if not actually playing the bagpipes. I may be a loss when it comes to playing anything other than a car radio.

I enjoyed vegetarian haggis.

I didn't particularly enjoy the kilt - at least not on a regular basis.

Wearing a kilt wasn't much different than wearing a pair of very baggy shorts. I really only had the one incident with the wind, which could have ended in charges being filed, but it was never physically uncomfortable.

Mostly I hated being stared at for being weird.

Finally, this month got me back to running (very, very slowly) as I trained for Saturday's Kilt Run. This is also my first step toward the long-term project of running a Spartan Race at the end of August in Fayette County.

All in all, it was a good month. I have a better handle on what the fuss is about being Scottish and feel ready to really dive into Celtic Calling even if I'm probably going to be mostly walking the kilt run.

Reach Bill Lynch at 304-348-5195

lynch@wvgazettemail.com, or follow

@LostHwys on Twitter. Follow Bill's blog at wvgazettemail.com.

He's also on Instagram at

instagram.com/billiscap/.

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WV Travel Team: Ski-school fun without the winter weather http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170225/GZ0506/170229667 GZ0506 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170225/GZ0506/170229667 Sat, 25 Feb 2017 15:55:25 -0400 By Jeanne Mozier WV Travel Team By By Jeanne Mozier WV Travel Team MASSANUTTEN, Va. - Massanutten Ski School alumni are legion. Not only is the ski school impressive with classes designed for every age and skill level, but its location helps.

It's easier and less expensive to bring the family to this Shenandoah Valley resort to determine whether they like skiing than it is to jet off to the Rockies or Switzerland. And the ancient sandstone mountains that top out at 3,000 feet are far less intimidating.

We discovered another appealing fact about the four-season resort on our early February visit. Sometimes, all four of the seasons are scrunched together into a single three-day period. We watched people skiing down the 14 ski slopes and snow-tubing lanes, then observed golfers from our condo balcony. Folks were also hiking the undeveloped western slope without heavy snow attire. The resort may wish for consistent weather, but for casual guests, the diversity of offerings is tantalizing.

Massanutten had its genesis as a vacation community with skiing in 1972. Now it has evolved into a playground with so many options it's impossible to imagine running out of things to do. More than a million people a year concur.

In winter, snow sports dominate even on those occasional out-of-season spring days. There are the slopes and tubing areas as well as two park settings for snowboarders. The Family Adventure Park has a three-sided climbing tower as well as a mega-zip line of 800 feet and a 100-foot one for kids.

During the summer, there's a Kids Adventure Course in the park area. There's even a petting farm stocked with several breeds of miniature animals as well as a camel, ram and African tortoise. Warm weather turns the slopes and lifts into downhill mountain-biking courses.

Since my husband, Jack, and I are not skiers - or any kind of winter sports enthusiasts - we were interested in one of the resort's newer attractions. The elaborate indoor-outdoor water park is just a decade old. There are eight water slides, lots of spraying water from various devices and a flow river that made me appreciate the heavily staffed water park. I got trapped spinning around a center piece that looked like some pagan idol and had to be rescued by a lifeguard to break me out of the spin.

Lots of lifeguards are moving around the various areas as well as stationed by particular activities. They were always ready to help. I particularly liked the extensive network of rope-webbed walkways into the heart of water world.

There is no denying the energy and noise level of the water park is extremely high. If you are looking for less raucous activity, come in the late afternoon and find your way to the secluded hot tub area. The temperature was ideal, and jets were strong enough to be therapeutic. The entire water activity expands outside in warmer months. The year-round temperature inside is 84 and 86 degrees respectively for air and water.

Spending the day with the kids at the water park is a popular choice. The three-story facility has several locations for food including the Hideaway Lounge that permits comfortable viewing of all the activity. Nearby is an expansive arcade. Although there are abundant safety vests freely available for use while at the park, bring your own towel. They are not provided, although a towel can be purchased.

Searching for more indoor fun, we explored the two recreation centers on the resort. Le Club, on the mountain side of the resort has an Olympic-size pool, whirlpool, indoor basketball court, elaborate game room and an outdoor ice-skating rink. On the golf side of the resort where we were staying is the Woodstone Center with a smaller pool than Le Club, but also a sauna and whirlpool. Kids Club activities are based at Woodstone, and nearby is the spa with its emphasis on deep-tissue massage for stressed ski muscles, facials designed for winter winds, nails and scrubs.

Our condominium was in the Woodstone area. Spacious and comfortable, it had a balcony overlooking the golf course, a fully equipped kitchen and a whirlpool tub in the bedroom. It's all those fully equipped kitchens that make restaurants on the resort less of a priority, except for carry-out, which is quite popular. There is a stand-alone umbrella bar at the ski lodge along with a cafeteria and an indoor-outdoor bar and grill with regular live entertainment. The resort is renovating the former Fareways into the Camp Fire Grill, opening this spring.

We quickly found our way to the main road that brings travelers from Interstate 81 to Massanutten, where there are several dining choices. We discovered the ping-pong operations of Hank's Smoke House and nearby Thunderbird Café. Owned by the same folks, you can take your receipt from one and get 10 percent off at the other - and keep it up as long as you're around. Both had good food.

At Hank's, Jack's soup and half sandwich was substantial, and the Brunswick Stew was tasty. I had meaty and perfectly cooked wings with Hank's flavorful whiskey sauce. We did breakfast at Thunderbird, and I enjoyed the exceptionally good sausage gravy - light, not gluey - on homemade biscuits.

In the same commercial area as Thunderbird, we chose Romano's Italian Bistro for dinner. It was a good choice with garlic bread that we enjoyed to the last crumb. I had penne in vodka sauce that had just enough bite. Jack selected what could be labeled the cheese-lovers lasagna. Portions of everything were substantial, making those condo kitchens useful for leftovers.

For families staying a week or more, which is commonplace in summer, there is an extensive list of activities from classes and workshops to yoga, aerobics and ski clinics. Entertainment includes movie nights, and Texas Hold 'em poker night. Activity cards make it all easy to use.

The single limiting factor to choosing Massanutten is that it does not allow pets.

For more information check massresort.com or call 540-289-9441.

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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On Retirement: Nothing seems to slow sister-in-law from travels http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170220/GZ0507/170229979 GZ0507 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170220/GZ0507/170229979 Mon, 20 Feb 2017 14:42:20 -0400 By Evadna Bartlett For the Gazette-Mail By By Evadna Bartlett For the Gazette-Mail Neither age nor accidents (yes, plural) have discouraged my sister-in-law from lengthy solo drives to visit her siblings.

Sharyn was here last month in a rental car after an ice-driven collision battered the transmission and put her own car in the shop.

That was minor, nothing like the wreck slightly more than seven years ago that left medical professionals predicting Sharyn would never walk again.

But her determination, faith and optimism proved the doctors' forecasts wrong. She doesn't even use a cane!

She is an inspiration and fearless, or, one could argue, foolish, for driving solo for six to seven hours each winter to visit siblings. It's certainly not something we will do even without her experience with accidents.

We did make long trips from West Virginia to New England to visit my husband's and her parents while they were living. Not since. True, she is 13 years younger than my husband, but even at 69 it seems to me a challenge.

Early each year Sharyn drives more than six hours for the visits, first to their sister and then what is now another hour or more to spend time with us, and, after a few days, straight through for roughly seven hours on the return trip to New Hampshire.

We learned more this year about the 2009 wreck that catapulted her vehicle's engine into her lap, ripped a hand almost completely off, destroyed one hip and most of the other. Doctors built a bionic hip from scratch, replaced bones in the other and reattached the hand. Amazing, it seems to me. Even more remarkable was her eventual return to walking unaided.

Sharyn, single, was first sent home struggling to manage from a wheelchair and unable to do much for herself. One of her two daughters lives nearby and, while juggling jobs and family, visited daily. Members of Sharyn's church also stepped up, offering more than prayers. They built a wheelchair ramp and, until she was able to prepare food, brought meals to her.

Eventually Sharyn mastered trips to the nearest grocery, first for about a year rolling in a wheelchair and then another year with a walker.

Not only is Sharyn now walking, albeit carefully, and driving again, but she's open to new experiences.

She went with me to the nearby, hour-long, early-morning workout officially titled an Aging Gracefully Exercise Class. Three days a week certified trainer, Kelly, leads both an 8 a.m. class that involves standing and sitting workouts with weights and bands for strength and balance and a slightly less rigorous 9 a.m. session primarily from chairs.

We went to the later class.

We didn't use the nearby pool as I was unaware Sharyn, no longer seeing physical therapists, now works regularly in the water to maintain mobility. She didn't pack a swimsuit as I failed to suggest there was a pool close to us.

And, of course, we did the usual. A little sight-seeing. Tours of the area. A visit to a couple stores, in part for a gift Sharyn could take to a friend caring for her cat.

She and her brother reminisced, although they don't share a great many memories in common of childhood in Massachusetts. She was merely 4 years old when he left home for a four-year tour with the Navy, and then college and career in Western states for many years.

They also spent time bent over at a card table making progress on a 1,000-piece jigsaw dog puzzle, a Christmas gift for retirees from our daughter. (We put the last piece in place a week after Sharyn returned to New Hampshire.)

It was a great time together. Even the weather was good, both when she was traveling and at our homes.

We are grateful for her, both for her visits and her inspiration.

Contact writer Evadna Bartlett at evadna@wvgazettemail.com.

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WV Travel Team: Make the airport security experience fast and easy http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170219/GZ0506/170219517 GZ0506 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170219/GZ0506/170219517 Sun, 19 Feb 2017 00:01:00 -0400 By Crissy Gray WV Travel Team By By Crissy Gray WV Travel Team Through years of frequent travel, I feel I'm fairly accomplished at being prepared for airport security and usually make it through the security checkpoint in pretty quick time. Normally, I employ this strategy to get through airport security:

n I check my boarding pass to see if I had the unexpected surprise of receiving TSA PreCheck.

n I scan the lanes to see which appears to be going the fastest, and I pick lines that have fewer first-time travelers or families that might be unsure of Transportation Security Administration practices.

n I wear clothes that allow me to get through security faster, including slip-on shoes.

n I also wait to put on my watch until after I'm through security.

n I double-check to make sure I have everything after I exit the security lane before heading to my gate.

On a recent trip, I thought I had made a strong choice for a fast-moving lane. That was until I realized I was behind a magician who was going to attempt to put a case of live doves through the X-Ray machine. But it was too late. I had already committed to the lane and was prepared to view the heated discussion between the passenger and the TSA agent.

While my experience with the magician and doves is less than typical, there is a lot you can do to prepare yourself for airport security to make things go as quickly and smoothly as possible.

Having an organized packing process can make your TSA experience much easier. To begin your packing process, check with your airline to view what carry-on baggage allowances are allowed on your flight.

For most domestic flights, the general maximum size for a carry-on bag is 22-inches-by14-inches-by9-inches. In addition, passengers are allowed a personal item, such as a purse or laptop bag, that can be stowed under the seat in front of them or in an overhead compartment.

When packing, keep in mind that if you're on a smaller regional jet, such as a CRJ200, your larger carry-on roller bag will likely be valet checked. This means as you enter the jet bridge during the boarding process, your bag will be taken by an airline employee and will be stowed under the plane.

Upon arrival at your destination, it will be waiting for you in the jet bridge as you leave the plane. As a result, make sure you do not pack any medicine, important travel documents, car keys or other valued items in your larger carry-on in the unlikely event your bag gets lost.

AAA tip: Always put something on the exterior of your roller bag so you can identify it quickly among the other valet bags, such as a neon luggage tag or ribbon. Nothing is more difficult than finding your black roller bag in a sea of 12 identical bags.

Another rule that is important to note as you pack is the liquids rule. Per the TSA, passengers are allowed a quart-sized bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes in their carry-on that will be screened at the airport security checkpoint.

Each liquid item must be less than 3.4 ounces, excluding medicine and breast milk. When packing, put your bag of liquids in an easily accessible place, as it will need to be removed during the X-ray process.

AAA TIP: Pressure changes during flight can often cause your liquid items to leak from their containers. Consider placing sticky liquids in an additional plastic bag before placing them in your quart-sized bag to avoid a potential mess.

Also, consider using a product such as a GoToob for your liquids that is made from a more flexible material than standard plastic that can withstand pressure changes.

As you pack a carry-on, also be sure to check www.TSA.gov for a current list of items prohibited from being placed in a carry-on. This can include items such as firearms, certain scissors or tools.

I've personally found during my packing process I like to have specific homes for items that need to come out of my bag during security screenings or that I want quick access to at the airport. I always make sure I have an exterior pocket in my briefcase for my cellphone, keys, ear buds and travel documents, so I have quick access to them.

As you pack, it's also important to pre-select the right outfit for the airport. Whether you're traveling for business or pleasure, wearing the right attire can expedite the security screening process at the airport.

Unless you have TSA Pre-Check, all passengers must remove their shoes at security. As a result, selecting a slip-on shoe will make the security process faster. Avoid wearing flip-flops or sandals if you're a germaphobe, as you'll be going barefoot through security otherwise.

As you go through security, you will be asked to remove any coats or heavy sweaters to send them through the X-ray machine - consider keeping these items in your carry-on bag until you get through security to make things easier. It's also worth employing a similar strategy for jewelry that could require additional screening.

One of the most common questions AAA travel agents hear is, "When should I be at the airport?" It's not an easy question to answer, as there are a lot of factors that can influence this answer.

Typically for domestic flights, passengers should arrive at the airport 90 minutes to two hours before their scheduled departure. This does not include the extra time it may take to park, or to take a shuttle to the terminal. For international flights, arrive at the airport three hours before your scheduled departure.

As you prepare for the line at security, make sure you have two things in your hand and ready to go: your identification (driver's license or passport) and your boarding pass. Both will be required prior to going through security screening. Check your boarding pass - occasionally, you may get lucky and receive complimentary TSA PreCheck.

AAA TIP: If you have trouble keeping track of a paper boarding pass, consider downloading your airline's mobile app. Here, you can check in for your flight and view your mobile boarding pass, which security will accept.

Once you have clearance to go through security screening, choose your line carefully. As you stand in line, pay close attention to which lines are moving the fastest. If you're in a hurry, consider avoiding lines with first-time flyers or families with young children that may take longer for security to screen.

Also, pay close attention to what TSA agents are telling passengers as they may have different instructions from airport to airport. By listening to their instructions early, you can prepare for your security check while you wait in line.

Once you select your line, it's time to prepare for the actual security screening. Make sure you remove all items from your pockets, as even a boarding pass or a coin on your person could trigger additional security screenings. As you clean out your pockets, consider having a designated pocket in your carry-on bag where you can quickly stow items so you can quickly get them back out after security.

While directions may vary slightly from airport to airport, be prepared to remove your belt, shoes and any heavy sweater or coat - these items will be X-rayed. In addition, if you carry a laptop, be sure to send it through the X-ray machine in its own bin.

Once your items have entered the X-ray machine, stand in the designated line for your full body scan. Be sure to follow the TSA agents' instructions as you move through this portion of security, and be sure to let them know if you have a medical condition that prohibits you from going through the full-body scan - alternative security checks can be made available for you in this case.

Following your security screening, be sure to collect all of your belongings, including your boarding pass. As you repack your carry-on or personal item, it's easy to leave items on a bench, so double-check the area before you proceed to your gate.

Many frequent air travelers prefer to skip the hassle of security by enrolling in TSA PreCheck. For $85 for a five-year membership, you can enroll in the program and use a dedicated line at security that allows you to keep your shoes, belt and jacket on. In addition, you don't have to remove your laptop or liquids from your carry-on.

While the added convenience is nice for travelers, I know many less-frequent travelers who use TSA PreCheck as an insurance policy of sorts. As the TSA PreCheck lines are generally much faster than standard airport security checkpoints, this can save you time if you're running late for a flight. As a traveler who has encountered a flat tire on the way to the airport, it can be nice to recoup some time if you encounter an unexpected situation on the way to the airport.

Apply online at www.TSA.gov and schedule an appointment at an enrollment center across the country. During your 10-minute in-person appointment, a TSA official will run a background check and take your fingerprints. Upon completion, you will be given a Known Traveler Number that can be applied to your future air tickets, giving you TSA PreCheck clearance.

For personalized assistance in planning your next travel adventure, stop by the AAA Charleston office 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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Photo of the Week: Head scratcher http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170218/GZ05/170219528 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170218/GZ05/170219528 Sat, 18 Feb 2017 16:06:53 -0400 On a recent trip to Walt Disney World, in Florida, Debbie Keener and family met this guy at Animal Kingdom during a safari ride.

"The gorilla pictured just wandered down the compound and lay down right in front of us," Keener said.

Looks like he wanted to take a break to ponder a little.

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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Appalachian farmstead's history runs from John Brown to James Brown http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170218/GZ0506/170219530 GZ0506 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170218/GZ0506/170219530 Sat, 18 Feb 2017 16:02:50 -0400 By David Dishneau The Associated Press By By David Dishneau The Associated Press DARGAN, Md. - From John Brown's raid to James Brown's wail, a stream of hot-blooded American history runs through a 19th-century farmstead in the Appalachian foothills of western Maryland.

The John Brown connection is well-known. The restored log farmhouse near Dargan is where the abolitionist launched his ill-fated, 1859 seizure of a federal armory in nearby Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

Historians cite the failed attempt by Brown and a band of fervent followers to raid the federal arsenal as the opening salvo in the Civil War because it incited strong passions, especially in the slave-holding South. The farmhouse was designated a national historic landmark in 1973.

But the John Brown plaque and roadside marker 75 miles west of Baltimore don't mention the dazzling array of black entertainers who performed on the same site a century later, during the racially segregated 1950s and early '60s. James Brown, Ray Charles, Chubby Checker, Etta James, Otis Redding and dozens of others headlined at John Brown's Farm, a stop on the so-called Chitlin' Circuit before white audiences embraced rhythm-and-blues and soul music.

The now dilapidated concrete-block dance hall was built by an African-American fraternal organization, the Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World - also known as the Black Elks - who bought the 235-acre property in 1950 for a retreat memorializing John Brown. The site's history is documented in a new book, "From John Brown to James Brown: The Little Farm Where Liberty Budded, Blossomed and Boogied."

"I think it should be considered the No. 1 black history site in the United States," said Ed Maliskas, author of the self-published volume.

Maliskas, a historian, musician and retired evangelical pastor, spent nearly eight years researching and writing the book after hearing about the R&B connection in a casual conversation in 2008, shortly after moving from Miami to Hagerstown.

His interview subjects included Al Baylor, 78, of Bunker Hill, West Virginia, who remembers donning a suitcoat and tie to dance to Frankie Lyman, Ike and Tina Turner and B.B. King.

"Anybody that was anybody came to John Brown's Farm," Baylor told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "I was in hog heaven."

Young black people from bordering states, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., met at the farm, said Hagerstown native Reginald Johnson, 74, who now lives in Rochester, New York.

"The people showed up on the weekend. That was our gathering place," Johnson told the AP. He remembers paying $2 to attend dances that Maliskas said drew 400 to 500 people despite the farm's remote location down winding, country roads in a valley known as Frog Hollow.

The shows were part of the Black Elks' plan for creating a national shrine at the site for annual membership meetings, said the group's unofficial historian, Peggy Coplin of Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania. The organization - itself a product of racial segregation - built the auditorium, two cottages and a stone entrance arch before financial constraints and convenience prompted a move to Winton, North Carolina, now the group's national headquarters.

The Elks sold the Maryland property in 1966, seven months after James Brown starred in the last show, on Labor Day weekend 1965, Maliskas writes.

Coplin told the AP in a telephone interview that the group would like to see the site's Black Elks history promoted, but the organization has no money for it. Membership has fallen to about 250,000 from a mid-century peak of 450,000, she said.

Both the farmhouse, known as the Kennedy Farm, and the dance hall are now owned by South Lynn, a Washington-area wood-flooring contractor, and his son and business partner South Lynn Jr., who share an interest in history.

The younger Lynn told the AP in a telephone interview that he put a new roof on the auditorium last summer but the building needs much more work. Through the broken window of a peeling red door, one can see stacks of flooring materials that the Lynns are storing there.

"I think it would be great to promote it," Lynn said, "if Maryland's into it."

Neither the Maryland Historical Trust nor the National Park Service, which helped restore the farmhouse, are aware of any publicly funded efforts to preserve or promote the dance hall, officials of those organizations said. But the nonprofit group Preservation Maryland hopes the state will at least provide funds to further document the building, which reportedly also served as a gay nightclub or disco in the 1970s, Executive Director Nicholas Redding said.

"It's just another layer of history we need to add to these places," Redding said. "From a preservation standpoint, it's just about telling a richer and more comprehensive story about our state, which is, I think, a positive thing for everyone."

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Journey to my second home in Iran http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170211/GZ0506/170219883 GZ0506 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170211/GZ0506/170219883 Sat, 11 Feb 2017 20:35:54 -0400 Editor's note: Charleston native and resident Shiva Shafii traveled to Iran on Dec. 11, 2016, to visit her grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins. She returned home Jan. 13 and agreed to write a travel story for the Sunday Gazette-Mail. Two weeks later, on Jan. 27, President Donald Trump signed an order temporarily barring people from seven countries including Iran from entering the United States - a move he says is necessary to ensure travelers to the U.S. don't pose a security risk.

By Shiva Shafii

Special to the Sunday Gazette-Mail

Name a place with astounding architecture, exotic landscapes, a rich culture and a lot of rugs. The rugs might have given it away: I'm talking about Iran.

My relationship with Iran is almost certainly different from that of other West Virginians. Although I was born and raised in Charleston, Iran remains a second home to me.

Maybe it's because that's where my family is from. Or maybe it's because whenever I visit, I'm aware that I'm walking on ancient lands entrenched with deep history dating back to the Persian Empire. Full of beauty and warm people, every journey back to my roots provides a grounding experience.

I was fortunate enough to recently spend a month in Iran, and I whole heartedly believe it should be on everyone's travel bucket list. Even after traveling the country extensively during my visits, I still feel like there is more to be discovered.

"Your room smells like America," my aunt lovingly joked with me as I was packing clothes for a family party in Behshahr, a city in northern Iran.

I asked her what it smelled like. She described it as clean and fresh, but she had first-hand experience. My aunt and uncle, now dual-citizens of the United States and Iran, recently moved back to Iran after living in West Virginia for about 10 years. They became green card holders through an intensive two-year vetting process to provide a better opportunity for their children, my cousins, who still live in the U.S.

We were traveling to Behshahr, in Mazandaran, about a five-hour drive from Tehran,  for my cousin's engagement party, and stayed an extra couple of days to explore this gorgeous city known for its lush scenery. It's close to the Caspian Sea and near the foot of the Alborz mountains, so the hills and humidity made me feel right at home.

It was a bit chilly, but my family took me up a road on a mountain in the middle of the jungle that surrounds a lake with a destroyed castle and garden called Abbasabad that once belonged to Shah Abbas I from the Safavid Empire around 1588. Being in this part of the world that's so rich in history is something you can feel in the air.

The next day, we went to another lake just in time for the sun to set. On the road, we passed a shepherd and his sheep, and I went back to speak with him after we arrived. He told me about the value of his sheep and how thankful he was for them, for they were his lifeline.

Living off the land and appreciating the family line of work you were born into was something his father instilled in him from a young age. His gratefulness was humbling.

We returned to Tehran in time for Shabe Yalda, a traditional Persian holiday celebrating the longest night of the year. The celebration dates back prior to the advent of Islam, when a majority of Persians were followers of Zoroastrianism - one of the oldest of the world's single-god religions. The holiday is meant to represent the arrival of winter, the renewal of the sun and the victory of light over darkness.

Following tradition, my grandmother had put together a lovely spread of fruit, nuts and other Persian pastries. Some have specific purposes: Pomegranates are reminders of the cycle of life - the rebirth and revival of generations. The purple outer covering of a pomegranate symbolizes birth or dawn, and its bright red seeds represent the glow of life.

We stayed up late into the night reading poetry by the ancient Persian poet Hafez, which included one of my favorites:

"Even after all this time,

the sun never says to the earth,

'You owe me.'

Look what happens with a

love like that

It lights the whole sky."

Later in the week, my aunt and I ventured to the old Grand Tehran Bazaar, where there are a few walls and passages that date back 400 years. You read about the exchange of goods in the Middle East as a child, and it's incredible to experience the continuation of this extensive legacy in its current form.

I saw handmade silk Persian rugs, exquisite textiles, spices galore and gold as far as the eye could see sold by proud Iranians who are fiercely in tune with the richness of their culture.

Rasht, another city in northern Iran is close to the Caspian Sea and home to one of my uncles. We were traveling for my cousin Pouria's wedding, and I could only picture him as a 5-year-old incapable of getting married.

How the bride and groom came to be is nothing short of an adorable love story. Pouria fell in love with a girl in his neighborhood, Arefe. He wanted to get to know her, and her family told him to stay away, so he pledged he would be back when he was worthy of their daughter.

Pouria was accepted to the No. 1 college in Iran, the University of Tehran, became a petroleum engineer and fulfilled his promise to come back for Arefe's hand in marriage.

Rasht was a stunning city, with palm trees that made me feel like I was in Miami, at times. Because it is close the Caspian Sea, Rasht is known for its impeccable seafood.

We were traveling through the bazaar when my cousin and I stopped to listen to an older gentleman singing to himself in his shop. He was the epitome of the warmth and natural joy that exudes from Iranian people. Graciously, he changed his tune and invited us to buy some of his fish in his new song.

On the way back from Rasht, we stopped in the historic village of Masouleh. Established nearly 1,000 years ago, Masouleh was once part of the Silk Road and is incredibly designed. The cottages, constructed of clay and wood, are tucked neatly in the mountainside, where each house's courtyard is another house's rooftop. Forever covered in fog, its beauty was undeniable.

My final week was about three days exploring the palaces in Tehran that belonged to the Pahlavi Dynasty prior to the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Persians have an affinity toward luxury, and the palaces built in Tehran were nothing short of glamorous.

From the engraved crown on every golden door handle in the entire complex to the intricate design of hand-placed mirrors, every detail was lavish. Being in those spaces and thinking about the incredible talent it took to build them was astounding. Iranians are so creatively refined in the arts.

Experiencing arts in Iran was the theme for the rest of the week, as I was invited to attend a performance by the Tehran Symphony Orchestra., led by Maestro Shahrdad Rohani, a beloved Iranian-American composer and conductor from a prominent musical family in Iran.

Rohani is dedicated to reviving the TSO after its doors were shut during the Islamic Revolution, he has taken great strides in making orchestral music accessible throughout Iran. I was fortunate enough to have breakfast with him and explore the Museum of Iranian Music that housed fascinating instruments up to 600 years old.

When it came time to say goodbye to Iran, my heart was heavy. It's often difficult being halfway around the world from those you love. Time passes quickly, and each trip ends with the same shuddering thought of whether or not it will be my last time seeing my grandmother.

How can a place that has such warm people, such stunning beauty and such a rich culture be portrayed as one that only breeds fear, terror and hate? There is light and dark in every part of the world. I long for a day when Americans feel a desire to visit this part of the world because I know they would be welcomed with open arms and lots of tea.

Shiva Shafii is the marketing director for the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra and a classical radio host on WTSQ 88.1 FM. She also writes a blog at shivashafii.com. She can be reached by email at shivashafii@gmail.com.

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Perfect dates in 13 cities around the world http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170211/GZ0506/170219886 GZ0506 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170211/GZ0506/170219886 Sat, 11 Feb 2017 20:31:58 -0400 The Washington Post By The Washington Post A global guide to romance - from restaurants to boat rides to chartered planes - just in time for Valentine's Day.

Book a table at: 101 Dining Lounge and Bar at the One and Only Resort on Dubai's iconic palm-shaped island. Located in the resort's private marina, this overwater restaurant has panoramic views of the city's Marina skyline. Enjoy Mediterranean tapas and cocktails as you watch private yachts pass by and a DJ spins up some chill, electro ambiance.

Before dinner, if it's a weekday: Make the most of Dubai's pleasant winter weather before the summer heat sets in. Take a water taxi - or even better-charter your own boat and cruise through the city's newly-built and aptly-named Water Canal. On your way, you'll pass colorful waterfalls, the famous Burj al Arab hotel and World development. Get off at the Jetty Lounge where you can relax over beachside cocktails.

After lunch, if it's the weekend: Unwind at the palatial Talise Ottoman Spa in the Jumeirah Zabeel Saray hotel. Enjoy a relaxing couples hammam in this opulent take on the centuries-old Turkish bath. When you're feeling totally de-stressed, you can head to the nearby Atlantis Hotel - a carbon copy of the original on Paradise Island, Bahamas. Grab some sushi at Nobu before hitting Nasimi Beach Club on the shores of palm-shaped island where you can party with Dubai's cool set.

Book a table at: The Sidewalk Café on Vredehoek's Derry Street. It's intimate and informal, has panoramic mountain and harbor vistas, and the bistro-style food is eclectic without being overly fussy. Our recommendations: prawns in pastry, a perfect pan-fried steak with Cafe de Paris butter, and a slice of light-as-air lemon soufflé cheesecake.

After dinner, if it's a weekday: Go whisky tasting at the Cape Grace Hotel's Bascule Bar, on the edge of the yacht marina. With 500 bottles on stock, it has one of the biggest collections of whisky in the southern hemisphere, and the sommelier can select six for you to try. (While it's still available, ask for the 50-year-old Glenfiddich Bottle No. 400-a very limited production that collectors have snapped up for $40,000 a bottle .)

After brunch, if it's a weekend: Take a guided kayak trip off the Sea Point promenade to see the resident dolphins and African penguin. If you're lucky, you might spot a sunfish-they weigh up to 4,400 pounds and are named for their tendency to sunbathe at the water's surface.

Then head to Clifton, for four of the world's most pristine beaches, each in its own cover separated by boulders: for quieter moments, climb down to Clifton First, gays and lesbians aim for Third beach, and style-casters for the Fourth. You may risk hypothermia by rinsing off in the Atlantic, but it's worth every second.

Book a table at: Borkonyha, a Michelin-starred restaurant specializing in Hungarian wine and local cuisine. The bistro-style restaurant is a two-minute walk from the city's famous St. Stephen's Basilica, and much like its menu, combines traditional aesthetics (ornate chandeliers, bentwood coat racks) with a sleek, updated aesthetic. As for ordering, don't be put off: veal brains as a starter won't ruin your evening.

Before dinner, if it's a weekday: Make your way from work to the Chain Bridge, the most beautiful crossing over the Danube River, and hop on the funicular that takes you directly up to the former Royal Palace. Take a romantic walk on the cobblestoned streets of the Castle District and peer out from the Fisherman's bastion for one of the best views of Budapest. Then get a pre-dinner drink at the wine bar Divino, which has unbeatable views of the Basilica.

Before dinner, if it's a weekend: Spend some time at the Rudas Bath on the bank of the Danube for some seriously leisurely R&R. Wallow in the thermal waters under the Ottoman-era dome and then head to the rooftop and the recently renovated wellness section and take a plunge in the open-air pool with stunning views of the city. Don't forget to book a massage (or two).

Book a table at: Restaurante Limosneros, a romantic spot in the city's Centro Histórico (Historic Downtown), where chandeliers hang from the ceiling, and its thick walls are built from 400-year-old stones. The menu is much more modern, with Mexican dishes like bean soup with bacon dust and duck with a black cherry sorbet, apples, and raisins. For dessert share berry-filled tacos in a chocolate tortilla.

Before dinner, if it's a weekday: Stroll through the 16th century San Idelfonso College, which has been transformed into a museum. In the 1920s Diego Rivera painted murals here; now there's the chance to view some of his work. Afterwards, grab a capirinha as sweet as the panoramic views from the rooftop bar of the boutique Downtown Mexico hotel in one of Mexico City's oldest buildings.

Before or after dinner, if it's a weekend: Attend a concert in the nearby Palacio de Bellas Artes. The white marble building's neo-classical architecture and murals, by some of Mexico's most famous artists, are worth a visit on their own, but scoring balcony seats to watch a ballet or opera in the concert hall is as romantic as it gets in Mexico City. (For several days in February, renowned violinist David Garret will perform there).

Book a table at: Chou in the neighborhood of Pinheiros. Set in an old residential building, the vibe is relaxed and homey, with a bright, clean and modern interior (think white walls, light wood floors) and a back courtyard strung with fairy light. In other words: the makings for the most romantic of summer evenings. The food, cooked over wood and charcoal fires, places an emphasis on fresh meat and fish brightened up with plenty of fresh herbs.

Before dinner, if it's a weekday: Get pre-dinner drinks at Bar Baretto at the Fasano Hotel, a low-lit, wood-paneled space with leather chairs, polished wood tables, and a piano and performance area, where artists serenade guests.

Before dinner, if it's a weekend: Pick up a nice bottle of white wine and a blanket and watch the sun go down at Praça pôr do sol (literally "Sunset Plaza"). Then, if you like to live on the edgier side, take a romantic stroll down the elevado minhocão to work up an appetite before dinner; the elevated highway closes to car traffic every night from 9:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m.

Book a table at: Bombay Canteen, a Mumbai favorite for a reason. There, Chef Floyd Cardoz-who also runs one of New York City's most successful Indian restaurants, Paowalla-whips up lesser-known regional specialties like Kashmiri leg of lamb that are perfect for sharing. Make sure to ask for a table with a view of the open kitchen.

After dinner, if it's a weekday: Head to Aer, the 34th-floor rooftop bar at the Four Seasons, where the views of the city and the Arabian Sea seem to extend forever. While weekends there are clubby, weeknights are more relaxed-and the cardamom- and pineapple-infused Mumbai Kiss cocktail sets the mood for romance.

Before dinner, if it's a weekend: Since nothing builds a bond better than a common goal, take a sailing lesson with Aquasail Yachting Academy, based at the Gateway of India. At worst, you'll cruise around the harbor on an intimate, masted ship; at best, you'll line up five more dates, since it takes six classes to master the art.

Book a table at: L'Oiseau Blanc, on the top floor of the Peninsula Hotel and home of the city's most expensive suite. Other spots have great views over the City of Love but this one, with unobstructed views of the Eiffel Tower from its 16th arrondissement perch, is one of the very best. (Give in to the cliché.)

The French menu, overseen by Chef Sidney Redel, includes guineafowl from Landes, Ossau Iraty cheese, monkfish from Brittany, and Douarnenez crab. There's a special Valentine's Day six-course prix fixe as well.

After dinner, if it's a weekday: Take a 20-minute stroll and stop by the flower installations at the Four Seasons George V where Jeff Leatham, the hotel's celebrated artistic director, arranges 12,000 blooms every week.

Then head for a nightcap nearby at the Le Bar du Plaza Athénée, where wreaths of fabric hide the soaring ceiling and provide a soft counterpoint to the heavy wood-paneled walls.

Seal the deal with an El Diablo-a mix of 10-year-old Laphroaig whisky, Patron Silver, and blackcurrant-at the futuristic-looking bar made of see-through resin.

Before dinner, if it's a weekend: Start at the Frank Gehry-designed Fondation Louis Vuitton, located in the Bois de Bologne, which is currently hosting the exhibition "Icons of Modern Art." The show includes many artists, such as Vincent van Gogh and August Renoir, who painted scenes of daily life from the same park during their lives.

Then, take the scenic route to the restaurant along Avenue Montaigne and window shop the world's biggest fashion designers, from French stalwarts such as Dior and Chanel to international stars ranging from Valentino and Bulgari.

Book a table at: Odette, a two-Michelin-star restaurant, at the National Gallery. With less than 40 seats in what was formerly a side chambers of the Supreme Court, the intimate service is as exceptional as the ambiance.

Book early and opt for the 8-course tasting menu. Acclaimed chef Julien Royer brings magic to modern French cuisine, raw scallops with Perigord truffles and hazelnuts; guinea fowl with celeric risotto and foie gras; and beets with a piquant sorbet.

Before dinner, if it's a weekday: Take a leisurely stroll from your office through the Civic District of Singapore, where the country's colonial past and modern present come together in a romantic setting. Enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail and plate of oysters at Aura Sky Lounge, as the sun sets and the Marina Bay skyline glitters alive in the distance.

Before or after dinner, if it's a weekend: Soak in some music with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra who call Victoria Concert Hall home. Highlights from the month include a weekend of Beethoven and, in March, a free outdoor concert in Gardens by the Bay featuring scores both classic (Mussorgasky) and pop (John Williams). Pack a picnic and make a whole day of it.

Book a table at: Foreign Cinema. First, feast your eyes on the impressive oyster list of this Mission District institution. Then feast on the oysters as paired with Champagne-the De Sousa Blanc de Blancs Brut Réserve, maybe.

Next, make out intermittently while eating your main course during the nightly movie screening. And then, because the film showing through Feb. 19 is Dirty Dancing, you'll have had the time of your life.

Before dinner, if it's a weekday: Pre-game while gaming at Coin-Op Game Room, brand new in SoMa from owners who've previously taken their concept to San Diego and Sacramento. You'll find a host of arcade classics beeping and blooping in Coin-Op's 10,000-square-foot space and a bevy of California microbrews flowing from its 16 taps. The multi-player cocktails are sized to share.

Before or after dinner, if it's a weekend: Re-visit the dates of your innocent youth and tee off at Urban Putt, a 14-hole miniature golf course housed inside a renovated mortuary in the Mission. The owner, PC World editorial director Steve Fox, worked with industrial designers and robotics engineers to create such course features as a roulette hole and an earthquake simulator. The drinks, which include both Pimm's Cup and Moscow Mule on tap, are above par.

Book a table at: Cantaloupe Sky Dining, on the 24th floor of the Foster & Partners-designed Troika building. A tasting menu consists of 24 dishes by chef Christian Bauer, ranging from geoduck carpaccio, roasted beef marrow, and a sweet-and-savory combination of yuzu watermelon and miso. But it's really the interiors, by Melbourne designers Hecker Guthrie, that accentuates the restaurant's uber-romantic views out over KLCC Park and the twin Petronas Towers.

After dinner, if it's a weekday: Stop over at live jazz bar No Black Tie for music and drinks. The club, a favorite among KL-ites, is just a five-minute cab ride away from the restaurant and shows can range from more traditional acts, such as drummer extraordinaire John Thomas, to more pop-friendly shows that pay tribute to David Bowie and Justin Timberlake. For Valentine's Day proper, the bill features local pianist-violinist duo A9 Strings.

Before dinner, if it's a weekend: Sign up for a two-hour cooking class at the newly-opened ABC Cooking Studio for a hands-on lesson on making food the Japanese way. Classes are small, limited to four students for every instructor, and you can choose to make anything from sushi, ramen, and sesame matcha bun from scratch. This month, a one-off class offers guidance on how to make a heart-shaped chocolate cake.

Book a table at: Hawksworth in the celebrated Rosewood Hotel Georgia, which brought luxury to the young Canadian west coast city in the '20s and whose guests have included British royalty, Nat King Cole, and Marlene Dietrich (and her 40 suitcases).

Equally as lauded, chef David Hawksworth's contemporary Canadian cuisine with a focus on fresh ingredients and Asian accents, such as a black peppered tuna tataki with mushroom dashi, crispy rice, lotus root, and water chestnut. Before leaving, snap a romantic photo under the massive, hand-assembled crystal chandelier in the elegant, four-room eatery.

If it's a weekday, before dinner: Hop on over to Harbour Air's downtown seaplane dock for a 30-minute charter flight. Take in the stunning views of Vancouver's skyline, Stanley Park, the North Shore mountains and Coal Harbour. For those with a little more time, ask for the one-hour Glaciers tour that includes a stop on a secret alpine lake.

If it's a weekend, before dinner: take a private helicopter to the fir-covered peak of Grouse Mountain, a favorite among Vancouver's outdoorsy set. Look out across eye-popping views of the city and the Gulf Islands as you marvel at how unbelievably accessible snowshoeing, skiing and hiking is from Vancouver-even without the helicopter, you could be back in downtown in half an hour.

For those feeling less athletic, enjoy a bottle of vino at the mountaintop Observatory, choosing from its voluminous list, a consistent winner of the Wine Spectator's award of excellence.

Book a table at: Oriole, a Michelin-starred destination down an industrial alley in the West Loop. Don't be deterred by the freight elevator-like entrance. Once the door opens, you'll be transported into the perfect date night in a softly lit dining room with lots of nooks and crannies.

The tasting-menu-only evening starts with a complimentary cocktail (currently a warm apple cider with barley shochu) and progressing through 16-odd courses, such as capellini with truffles, squab with wild blueberries, and Santa Barbara sea urchin.

Before dinner, if it's weekday: Enjoy some aperitifs at Cindy's Rooftop at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, a Venetian Gothic landmark from the 1890s that recently underwent a classy, ultra-slick renovation.

Clink glasses and stare into each other's eyes when not taking in the sunset's pinks and oranges reflected across Millennium Park and Lake Michigan. Note for the chilly: The house hot chocolate features a white velvet speculoos mixed with green chartreuse.

Before or after dinner, if it's a weekend: see what all the fuss is about with a matinee or evening performance to Hamilton, one of the hottest Broadways shows in recent memory, now on tour.

Unlike in New York, you won't have any trouble getting tickets. Alternatively-or heck, stoke your passions and make it a double feature-the Lyric Opera is playing Carmen, the classic French tale of vital, dangerous love and fiery independence.

Book at table at: Fred's, the restaurant of the moment for Sydney's movers and shakers. Chef Danielle Alvarez, formerly of Chez Panisse, centers her French country cuisine on seasonal produce and old-world techniques. A special Valentine's Day menu features rose veal, blood plum, Clair de lune oysters, saffron tagliatelle, and wood-oven snapper. The 60-seater restaurant in Paddington feels so intimate and warm you'll forget you're not in a friend's kitchen (at least until the bill arrives).

Before dinner, if it's a weekday: Embrace the balmy summer eves with a wander around the gardens of the century-old Strickland House in the eastern suburb of Vaucluse. Afterward, lounge on quiet Milk Beach, a small, secret inlet nearby, and watch the sun decline over the horizon. The view of central Sydney across the water is nothing if not romantic.

After brunch, if it's a weekend: Pre-order the perfect picnic from Pop-up Picnic and set a late-afternoon delivery time for Bondi Beach. You'll be whiling away the afternoon at Bondi Icebergs Club, with laps in the azure pools, a sit in the sauna, and a therapeutic massage.

The famous health club has been a fixture at the south end of Bondi Beach for more than 100 years. After grabbing a glass of white on the deck, go find your patch of sand for your sunset sandwiches.

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Photo of the Week: Views from the trestle http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170211/GZ05/170219889 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170211/GZ05/170219889 Sat, 11 Feb 2017 20:23:22 -0400 While standing on the CSX railroad trestle that crosses the Guyandotte River in Man, photographer Mike Adkins snapped this picture. The railroad bridge was decked last summer by the Hatfield McCoy Regional Recreational Authority, making it the longest ATV bridge in North America.

ATV's, UTV's and dirt bikes are allowed to legally ride the trestle to and from the town of Man and the Rockhouse Trailhead of the Hatfield McCoy Trail System.

In the far distance on the right is the old C&O freight depot on the banks of the Guyandotte River, built in the early 1900s. It was renovated 12 years ago and is now The Depot Lodge, providing overnight accommodations for trail riders visiting from all over the United States.

The Guyandotte flows north and empties into the Ohio River at Huntington.

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 Travel Team: Make the most of a road trip with these I-79 stops http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170211/GZ0506/170219891 GZ0506 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170211/GZ0506/170219891 Sat, 11 Feb 2017 20:20:35 -0400 Compiled by the GoToWV Team By Compiled by the GoToWV Team

Interstate 79 truly gives travelers a little taste of about everything that makes West Virginia great: mountains, rivers, cities, historical sites, restaurants and more.

Whether you're exploring or just passing through, here are some of the best stops to consider on your next trip up (or down) I-79:

Just about 10 minutes outside Charleston, Coonskin Park is one of West Virginia's largest municipal parks. Depending on the time of year, you can birdwatch, hike, bike, golf (both regular and disc golf), swim and more. In the summer you might catch an outdoor concert or soccer game, and in the winter don't miss the holiday lights display.

If you're passing through West Virginia's capital city, there's no better pit stop than the Capitol Market. Inside, the long building is lined with a collection of unique shops complete with a coffee shop, artisan works, books, wines, chocolates, local foods and snacks, and fresh meat, sushi, and seafood. Bonus, it's also home to one of the city's most popular restaurants, Soho's.

One of West Virginia's quaintest little towns is just a couple minutes off I-79. Situated along the Elk River just below a reservoir and wildlife management area, Sutton's historic downtown has beautiful houses along a brick-lined main street.

Catch a movie at the town's restored Elk Theatre and coffee shop, and definitely don't miss dinner at Cafe Cimino Country Inn, one of West Virginia's finest restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts with a world-renowned chef.

This reconstruction of a 1774 Revolution-era fort transports visitors back in time to the frontier, where backcountry settlers sometimes had to huddle behind its walls for protection from Native American raids.

Today, the state park is a center for living history in West Virginia. You can wander around the grounds and cabins within its 100-square-foot walls and watch as colonial re-enactors weave, spin, blacksmith and more.

For a dose of eerie West Virginia history, it doesn't get more interesting than the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. From the mid-1800s until 1994, this sprawling hospital complex housed up to 2,400 patients at a time.

You'll need a few hours to take it all in - it's the second-largest hand-cut stone masonry building in the world after the Kremlin. The Asylum has both historical heritage tours and spooky paranormal ghost tours.

Pull into Morgantown, the hip, happening home of West Virginia University, for a great selection of local eateries on High Street and beyond.

If you just want to relax with some great food and unique brews, check out Atomic Grill just outside of town. It serves kicked-up comfort food, steaks and burgers. House specialties include BBQ Ribs, Appalachian Bruschetta with cornbread crostini and seasonal toppings, organic local chicken wings, Fried Green Tomatoes, Pork Skins and Collard Greens.

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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