www.wvgazette.com Travel http://www.wvgazette.com Gazette archive feed en-us Copyright 2014, Charleston Newspapers, Charleston, WV Newspapers WV Travel Team: The Homestead is a water world http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140831/GZ05/140839995 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140831/GZ05/140839995 Sun, 31 Aug 2014 00:01:00 -0400 By Jeanne Mozier WV Travel Team CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The most encompassing experience in the centuries-old quest to "take the waters" is just over the state line in the mountains of Virginia along the edge of George Washington National Forest.

Fortunately for my luxury-seeking nature, we saved the spartan historic soak for last, and first indulged in a frenzy of 21st-century aromatic showers, hot whirlpools, herbal cocoons, reflexology walks and an outdoor water park. Water temps ranged from the 90s to 104 degrees and at least nine mineral springs source the water treatment variations.

The venerable Homestead - a destination since its first iteration was built in 1766 - has been owned by Omni for the past year, changing only its first name. Healing Springs and Warm Springs are siblings in the Warm Springs Valley. Historically, they each supported hotels, but today, it is only the Homestead at Hot Springs that remains as Virginia's sole springs resort.

As we luxuriated in hot whirlpool tubs, we heard rumors and rave reviews of adventure sports including kayaking on the Jackson River, golf at three different courses, falconry and shooting.

We enjoyed excellent meals in two of the resort's restaurants. We relaxed in our comfortable room.

But, for both my husband Jack and me, the Homestead experience was all about the water. I have to admit, had we stayed longer, I may have taken the Cascades Gorge Tour and seen its pools, streams and 12 waterfalls.

I was wet all through the first day. Not only from sampling every water experience available but also from nearly constant rain showers. Who cared? The rain was warm. I was wet. Sky water, earth water - water was the point.

The 2-year-old water park was my first stop. It's a major reason why the Omni Homestead is a magnet for family travel. After getting suitably heated up in a spacious hot whirlpool tub with waterfalls, I set out for the pair of 100-foot water slides - my first. I could have ridden down all day if not for the steps required to climb back up. Jack decided it was all too fast for him.

Next came the "lazy river" with an obliging current pushing the translucent inner tubes round and round and round and under bridges along the snaking 400-foot course of warm spring water. Back to the whirlpool to heat up, and then a stroll across manicured lawns and past spring houses to the Homestead Spa.

There were two aspects of the Spa new to me even after decades of tracking thermal springs and their resorts around the country. One was the Spa Garden; the other, the Aqua Thermal Suite. Both had historic resonance.

When today's spa building opened in 1892, it was one of finest hydrotherapeutic spas in the world, staffed with Swedish masseurs and European spa experts. Baths were medicated, mud and Turkish; massages were hands-on and mechanical.

There were hot air and hot vapor treatments as well as various spouts including an alternating hot and cold Scottish shower. The adjacent Pleasure Pool was added in 1904 and then transformed from wood-framed to mosaics a few years later. An orchestra played during daytime bathing.

Today, the Spa is a mad scientist's dream of water-based pleasure, and its Aqua Thermal Suite is a contemporary update of the European spa treatments. The large indoor pool is still filled with water naturally heated by the warm springs. In fact, all water throughout the Spa is warm unless it's hot.

If you want cool in the Aqua Thermal Suite, you dial up Arctic Mist in the S-shaped tiled experiential shower area with a rock floor laid for reflexology or slip across the tile hall to an open alcove named The Chill and dial up treatments that range from 45 to 60 degrees. The experiential shower also offers sound and light effects with choices like Atlantic Storm and Caribbean Storm. Since this is a self-guided treatment, I tried all the shower flavors sequentially and then repeated the Caribbean Storm. It had thunder.

Moving farther into the Thermal Suite, I slipped onto a contoured heated lounger and almost stayed. But there was more to do, so I entered the aromatic steam room. At 113 degrees and 95 percent humidity, it was too hot for me, so I fled to the next room. The Herbal Cocoon was better. Mimicking the fetal curl of a woman in one of the four womblike nooks, I relaxed into the 108-degree heat with only 40 to 60 percent humidity.

Fortunately, all the temps are helpfully posted outside the rooms.

The Spa also has expected active fun - yoga, Zumba, indoor cycling - as well as scrubs, wraps, anti-aging treatments, facials, manis, pedis and a variety of massages. Days could pass and you would never notice.

The outdoor adult Spa Garden was Jack's favorite water location. He hung out most of the day, moving from a large, hot whirlpool to a Finnish dry-heat sauna paired with a natural cool spring shower activated by presence. There are cabanas and a poolside bar. Decanters of chilled spring water are everywhere.

Two unique water experiences elevate the Spa Garden to sublime, and both are sourced from the Octagon Spring.

The River Reflexology Walk is a unique new treatment designed to stimulate points in the feet.

The Octagon Pool, named for its distinctive shape, is the most historic bathing location at the resort and has natural stones lining the bottom. The water is naturally warm, effervescent and highly mineralized.

Untreated, it flows constantly through the pool. As pleasurable as the churning hot whirlpools are, the natural water texture of the Octagon stands out.

The outdoor Spa Garden and most of the water park areas are open year-round. In winter, two of the water park pools turn into ice skating rinks, cheek to jowl with the steaming hot whirlpool.

Jefferson Pools

Part of the Omni Homestead, the Jefferson Pools are five miles north of the resort proper, situated alongside the highway in the Bath County seat of Warm Springs.

The historian in me was thrilled in anticipation. Thomas Jefferson spent more than three weeks at Warm Springs, taking the waters three times each day. Mrs. Robert E. Lee had a special chair device constructed to lower and raise her nearly crippled body into and out of the pool.

The Gentlemen's Pool House dates from 1761, making it the oldest springs bathhouse in the country. The ladies got their own in 1836.

Even knowing the limitations on modifying antiquarian landmarks, somehow I never imagined historic meant virtually unchanged. I would not have been surprised to see Mrs. Lee's initials carved in the flaking whitewash on the walls of the changing room that holds her chair.

The Ladies' Pool House is circular, 150 feet around. It holds 66,000 gallons of constantly flowing, 99-degree water. The Men's Pool has an octagonal shape and holds 43,000 gallons.

Almost 2 million gallons flow through the pools each day. The sound of the flow provides the only break in the eerie silence imposed by posted signs during certain hours - in my case, the hour I was there. It was still spitting rain when we visited, and drops pocked the pool surface, falling through unrepaired openings in the historic roof.

The wall signs also announced "no swimming," which made the nearly five-foot depth with no ledges for sitting a bit of a challenge to maneuver.

Brightly colored foam noodles were provided as flotation devices - and one of the few indicators of current civilization. Mastering them was no easy task in spite of, or maybe because of, the water's buoyancy. I kept tipping over. I would have laughed but there was that silence, even though a half-dozen other women shared the pool.

Jack reported it also was silent in the Men's Pool. Other folks shared firsthand accounts of being shushed for talking as well as being deafened when a clutch of schoolchildren ricocheted around the pool.

The quality of the water makes everything else fade away. It's untreated, and as Jefferson wrote, "of the first merit." The magic of its organic essence is alive and working. There are two different springs, with the women's pool spring a single degree warmer than the men's. The high mineral content causes the buoyancy, and the water is so sparkling clear you could read through it.

There is a greater variety of minerals than any of the waters at Hot Springs. Bath attendants are replete with stories of cures, past and present.

The Jefferson Pools are open daily from early April through mid-October.

Getting there, the land and everything else

There is no easy way to arrive at the Homestead. The fearsome 18th-century carriage ride is scarcely less thrilling in a 21st-century automobile winding its way up, down and over the mountains.

The trip is a challenge even for the multitude of staff traveling daily over the mountains from West Virginia who make up a goodly portion of the usual well-trained staff that Omni seems to have as a hallmark of their properties.

There is also an international flavor, with a legion of young people who travel across seas and oceans coming from Jamaica and European countries. They fill the gaps in high seasons of both winter and summer.

We ate dinner in Jefferson's Restaurant. There were no reservations available, but a shy Czech hostess found us a table. The most memorable part of a tasty meal was the skillet potato hash that came with my perfectly roasted chicken half - perhaps the best version ever of one of my favorite vegetables.

Jack gave three thumbs up to the tasty she-crab soup. Paper-thin Virginia ham and salami accompanied by fig jam and a spicy cheddar ball could have come from Jefferson's own banquet table.

Everyone in the main dining room has a buffet breakfast, and the Homestead's most popular accommodations package includes breakfast.

Blueberry and maple syrup sausage patties, sweet potato pancakes and signature Homestead doughnuts top the list of specialty items.

My only dining room criticism is that they do not claim credit for all the locally sourced food, which includes Highland County lamb, Virginia grass-fed beef, Allegheny mountain trout and Chesapeake crab. I can only assume that the Homestead has been doing this so long, they scarcely think it notable. Warning: This is a Southern resort of historic proportions - jackets are required for gentlemen having dinner in the main dining room. Otherwise, it's casual clothes everywhere.

Who comes to the Homestead? In the past, 22 U.S. presidents, European royalty and Gilded Age railroad magnates. Today it's families, lots of families. Most of the folks I cornered during our stay were first-time visitors, several driven there because of hurricanes in Hawaii or severe rain along the Atlantic beaches.

One mother decided she was happy to trade the ocean and sand beach for the pleasure of knowing her preteen sons could safely enjoy themselves without her constant attention.

Once advertised as America's Greatest Health Resort with a Manhattan booking office and the Hot Springs Rail Car departing from Pennsylvania Station daily, today the Omni Homestead ranks near the top of many lists for resort, golf and history.

For more information about the Omni Homestead, call the resort at 866-354-4653 or visit www.thehomestead.com/.

Jeanne Mozier's several books include the recently published fourth edition of "Way Out in West Virginia," a must-have guide to the Mountain State; "West Virginia Beauty: Familiar and Rare," with photographer Steve Shaluta; and a political thriller novel, "Senate Magic."

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New owners, but same (haunted?) history for General Lewis Inn http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140831/GZ01/140839930 GZ01 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140831/GZ01/140839930 Sun, 31 Aug 2014 00:01:00 -0400 By David Gutman LEWISBURG, W.Va. - Take Sparrow and Aaron Huffman's ages, add them together, and they're still 18 years younger than the inn they just bought. And the married couple is a good 113 years younger than the building, originally a house, that became their "new" inn.

Sparrow, 35, and Aaron, 32, bought the General Lewis Inn in Lewisburg nine days ago. (The two were married at the Inn five years ago.) The Inn, which opened in 1929, had been owned and operated by three generations of the same family for the last 85 years.

"The first couple days were a little surreal," Sparrow Huffman said. "It's an amazing thing to be part of this iconic center of Lewisburg."

The Huffmans, originally from Pocahontas County, but longtime Lewisburg residents, said they're pretty much over the shock and novelty of running a 25-room hotel and a full service restaurant, but a few slips of the tongue show that might not quite be the case.

"When they do weddings, they set up a big tent back here," Aaron said as he showed off the Inn's gardens.

"They, as in us," his wife corrected him.

Yes, he agreed.

"We talk about how they have good fried chicken here," Aaron said.

"I know," Sparrow continued, "And then I say, no, we, we have good fried chicken."

Sparrow and her mother own the Stardust Café, about a quarter mile from the Inn in downtown Lewisburg. Aaron is a local contractor.

Last spring, the couple was looking for another project. They thought about buying a house to run as a bed and breakfast or as a wedding venue. They considered properties in both Lewisburg and in Puerto Rico.

"Nothing felt quite right," Sparrow said.

One day in April, Sparrow was going for a run near their house on Lafayette Street, two blocks from the General Lewis.

"I came home and I said to Aaron, 'You know I think the Inn is for sale.'"

The next day they emailed Nan Morgan, the Inn's owner. It was indeed for sale.

The day after that they spoke with former Charleston Mayor Jay Goldman, who was selling the property for Morgan.

With the help of a guarantee from the federal Small Business Administration, they secured a loan from Lewisburg's First National Bank and bought the property for $1 million.

Four months after that fateful run, just in time for Labor Day weekend, the Huffman's were inn owners.

They said they plan to make minor tweaks, but the character of the Inn won't change. They'll add a small bar, where guests can get drinks to enjoy in the living room or the garden. They'll host more weddings and will serve more local food - they're already getting liquor from Smooth Ambler Spirits in Maxwelton and eggs and poultry from Rainbow Farms in Sandstone.

But, the dining room, which serves breakfast and dinner seven days a week, is still the original house, which was built in 1834. The house was expanded to an inn in 1929, using beams salvaged from a backyard stable that was as old as the house.

There have been modernizations along the way - every room now has a bathroom and a television - but the inn still looks much as it always has.

Every room is furnished with antiques. Beds have new mattresses, but rest on wood and rope frames.

A hallway, "Memory hall," is festooned with tools and trinkets, some as old as the building itself.

The front desk is even older than the building. It dates to 1760, and both Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson registered at it at the Sweet Chalybeate Springs Hotel in Virginia, before the pine and walnut desk moved to the General Lewis.

"The quirkiness is what makes the Inn the Inn," Sparrow said. "It is unique, it's not like staying at a Days Inn or a Hampton Inn."

That quirkiness extends to legends that the General Lewis is haunted.

According to several entirely unconfirmed internet reports, there are at least three ghosts roaming the Inn - the "Lady in White," who haunts room 208; the ghost of a slave named Reuben and an unnamed little girl ghost who has been seen and heard on the second floor.

Sparrow Huffman is ambivalent. "I don't know what the right angle to take is," she said when asked about the ghosts.

"I haven't met the ghost," she said. "I live in harmony with the universe, so I'm not too afraid one way or another. Having them or not having them is fine with me."

Reach David Gutman

at david.gutman@wvgazette.com, 304-348-5119

or follow @davidlgutman on Twitter.

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WV Travel Team: Every weekend is a celebration in Cincinnati http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140824/GZ05/140829943 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140824/GZ05/140829943 Sun, 24 Aug 2014 00:01:00 -0400 By Mitzi Harrison WV Travel Team Looking for a quick trip out of town this fall? Cincinnati offers a lot of fun for families and couples, delicious food and great fall festivals.

Only 3½ hours and 200 miles from Charleston, the Cincinnati area may be the escape you need for a relaxing fall weekend.

Cincinnati is home to festivals galore. From local Catholic Church festivals to large-scale city celebrations, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy wonderful food and live entertainment, plus share some good times with friends and family.

One of the most popular festivals in the Cincinnati area actually celebrates the end of summer and the transition to autumn. Riverfest takes place annually on the Sunday before Labor Day, which this year is Aug. 31. Taking place on both banks of the Ohio River, Riverfest is a family-friendly event that features delicious local food, local music acts and the annual Rubber Duck Regatta.

The highlight of Riverfest is the spectacular fireworks show, which is one of the largest in the Midwest and draws nearly a half-million people to the Ohio River banks of both Cincinnati and Newport, Kentucky. The nearly 30-minute show is choreographed flawlessly to a soundtrack heard on WEBN-FM (102.7) and is led off by "crowd wars" between the Ohio and Kentucky sides of the river. Dazzling fireworks are launched from barges on the Ohio River, as well as two bridges that span the water.

This isn't an average fireworks display - this close-range show features special effects, including fireworks held in the sky by parachutes and fireworks that dangle from the bottom of the bridges.

One of the trademark special effects is the waterfall of fire, where fireworks stream off the bridge and into the river below, creating an amazing stream of light. If you've seen this fireworks display before, rest assured that each annual display is entirely different.

AAA tip: The best viewing spots often are claimed more than 24 hours prior to the 9:05 p.m. fireworks display, but don't let this deter you from attending. Even arriving a couple of hours ahead of the show will provide some fabulous vantage points.

If you're traveling to Cincinnati in mid-September, break out the lederhosen and celebrate Cincinnati's German heritage by attending Oktoberfest Zinzinnati - the largest Oktoberfest in the United States, and the second largest in the world. Held in downtown Cincinnati on Fifth Street the weekend of Sept. 19, the celebration hosts over a half-million people who eat, sing, mingle, drink and even polka.

More than 30 food vendors serve over 200 dishes, including metts (skinless smoked sausages), bratwurst, sauerkraut, sausages, potato pancakes and strudel.

And of course, what German celebration is complete without beer? Oktoberfest has plenty - the festival typically dispenses over 1,300 barrels of beer each year.

Several trademark events have helped make Oktoberfest the massive occasion that it is today. The keystone event is the World's Largest Chicken Dance, which has been led by celebrities such as George Takei, Joe Morgan and Homer Simpson.

The Running of the Wieners is also a popular event, which crowns a dachshund as "King of the Wieners." Other popular events include the Stein Hoisting Championship, the Gemuetlichkeit Games and the Larger Than Life Glockenspiel.

AAA tip: If you plan to stay in downtown Cincinnati for this event, be sure to book your room early. Due to the popularity of this event, many of the hotels in close proximity to the festival will sell out well in advance of the tapping of the kegs.

In addition to these major festivals, several local churches, communities and rural areas have festivals of their own that are worth attending - be sure to check out a community calendar to see what festivals are occurring.

Here's an easy and exciting three-day itinerary for your visit:

Day one

The Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal, a National Historic Landmark, is the perfect start to any visit to Cincinnati. Union Terminal, still an operating train station, is worth the visit in itself as an architectural marvel. The exterior is a classic example of the art deco style the Cincinnati area is famous for.

Visitors are greeted by a 180-foot rotunda with a series of tile mosaic murals featuring the culture and industry of the Cincinnati area in the early 1900s.

Three museums and an Omnimax Theater occupy space at the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal.

AAA tip: AAA members can show their cards and save $1 per ticket when purchasing admission to the Cincinnati Museum Center.

The Cincinnati History Museum offers a glimpse into the important roles the tristate has had in defining American history. Visit a replica of the Cincinnati Public Landing circa 1850, including a replica of 94-foot steamboat, or check out the exhibit which showcases contributions Cincinnati made during the World War II era.

Another key exhibit to see is the large model of the city of Cincinnati from 1900-1940, which features working trains and inclines.

Consistently ranked one of the top 10 children's museums in the United States, the Duke Energy Children's Museum features hands-on activities for kids of all ages.

Start out at Kids' Town, where kids can take charge and explore a town their size, including a post office, diner, grocery store and veterinarian clinic.

The Energy Zone is the perfect spot for kids to learn about simple machines and energy forces - several activities help children work together to fill a ball bucket, and when the bell rings, all the balls come tumbling to the floor.

Finally, for the young explorer in your family, be sure to get lost in The Woods - the three-story area features hollow logs, slides, rope bridges, treehouses, climbing walls and more.

The Museum of Natural Science and History provides a hands-on experience with science and a look at our prehistoric world. The Dinosaur Gallery features dinosaur skeletons and fossils, including a 20-foot allosaurus.

Another major highlight is the replica of a limestone cave which spans 500 feet and two stories. The cave features a path for beginners and advanced cavers, and explorers will see a waterfall, underground stream and bat chamber while making their way through the exhibit.

After leaving Union Terminal, set sail on one of two types of river cruises, which depart from Newport. Either will provide a great view of the city of Cincinnati and share the history and architecture of the area.

Historically, one out of every four steamboats built in the United States was built in Cincinnati, and you can celebrate this history with a river cruise on B&B Riverboats. Their fleet of two riverboats offers sightseeing, dinner and themed cruises at various times of day.

AAA tip: B&B Riverboats offers AAA members a 10 percent discount on lunch or dinner cruises.

Another family-friendly choice for river cruising is Ride the Ducks of Newport. The amphibious boats provide a land and river tour of the Cincinnati area and cover all the major highlights.

Get the opportunity to view Great American Ball Park (home of the Cincinnati Reds), Paul Brown Stadium (home of the Cincinnati Bengals), the Roebling suspension bridge, the World Peace Bell, the Cincinnati skyline and more. It's a fun, educational and entertaining way to learn about the history of Cincinnati.

Round out the day by getting some ice cream at one of the many Graeter's Ice Cream locations around the city. Once named one of Oprah's Favorite Things, there are many flavors to tempt your taste buds. Graeter's uses a French pot process, which requires them to make small batches, unlike most other types of ice cream.

AAA tip: The raspberry chocolate chip ice cream should not be missed.

Day two

Start your day 25 minutes outside of Cincinnati in Fairfield, Ohio, at Jungle Jim's International Market. Yes, it's a grocery store, but it's not like any other grocery store you've been to before. Jungle Jim's features a themed 200,000-square-foot shopping experience with more than 150,000 different products.

While many local Cincinnati favorites, such as baked goods from The BonBonerie and goetta (breakfast sausages), are available, Jungle Jim's is widely known for its diverse selection of international produce, meats, seafood and more. Many travel from miles away just to pick up a few hard-to-find items. The kids will love the hidden gems found throughout the store, including the Breakfast Club and Robin Hood and the Sherwood Forest.

AAA tip: Check out Jungle Jim's calendar of events to take advantage of food festivals and cooking classes throughout the year. Also, don't forget to bring a cooler.

After filling up your shopping cart with delicious treats, head back into the city to the Cincinnati Zoo. The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is the second-oldest zoo in the nation and is consistently ranked as one of the top zoos in the country.

The zoo is most renowned for its endangered species and birthing programs. Check out more than 580 animal species, from gorillas to reptiles, and more than 3,000 plant varieties on the sprawling 75-acre grounds.

Some of the most popular exhibits include cheetahs, Sumatran rhinos, elephants and gorillas. Stop by the welcome center for animal feeding times and details about special animal encounters to help make the visit to the zoo a success. Be sure to take the family for rides on the Safari Train and the Conservation Carousel, and check out one of the zoo's 4-D experiences.

AAA tip: Discount tickets to the Cincinnati Zoo are available at Cincinnati-area AAA offices to AAA members.

Finish your day with a first-class musical experience.

Cincinnati is home to world-famous performers, including the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Pops, Cincinnati Ballet, Cincinnati Opera and the May Festival Chorus. They all call Music Hall their home and are each recognized as being one of the top organizations in the country in each of their respective fields.

Music Hall in itself is a gem - the historic brick facade covers beautiful ballrooms, and the historic performance hall is decorated with large, glittering chandeliers. A trip to Music Hall - and tickets to a show if there's a performance during your visit - are highly recommended.

Day three

Start off the day by visiting one of Cincinnati's many parks - most of which feature scenic overlooks, playgrounds for the kids and hiking trails. Eden Park, clustered around Mirror Lake, is the closest to downtown and is home of the famous Cincinnati Art Museum, which is free to all guests (there is a fee for parking), as well as Krohn Conservatory.

Ault Park, located in the Mount Lookout neighborhood, is perfect for hikers, with several trails traversing the wooded hillsides, and has a great playground for kids. For great views of the Ohio River and Lunken Airport, Alms Park is the best choice.

Move from the outdoors to the indoors by visiting the Newport Aquarium, named the Best Aquarium in the Midwest in the Zagat Survey's U.S. Family Travel Guide in 2004.

Major exhibits include the Amazon, Coral Reef, Frog Bog, Shark Ray Bay and Jellyfish Gallery - but two exhibits are not to be missed: Turtle Canyon showcases more than 14 species of turtles of all sizes from three continents. Guests are even allowed to pet some of the turtles using the two-finger touch technique. And the Kroger Penguin Palooza offers guests the opportunity to learn and view one of the most diverse penguin collections in the United States, and makes for a great photo opportunity.

Finish your day with a superb dinner at Montgomery Inn. Famous for its barbecue sauce and for hosting many U.S. dignitaries, the Montgomery Inn is a perfect spot to enjoy a rack of ribs and Saratoga Chips.

Ready to go?

Ready for some food, fun and festivals in Cincinnati? AAA can help make it a reality. Stop in 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 for assistance with lodging, purchasing tickets to Cincinnati-area attractions, plus planning a tailor-made trip. They can also provide up-to-date information on what's new, plus provide information about any special events, such as festivals and shows, taking place during the time you plan to visit.

AAA Fuel Gauge

Curious how much the drive to Cincinnati will cost? Here are the round-trip fuel costs for a trip to Cincinnati, based on the Aug. 17 prices in the AAA Fuel Cost Calculator, available at www.fuelcostcalculator.com:

Compact car (such as a 2013 Toyota Corolla): $58.66

Compact crossover (such as 2013 Ford Escape 4WD): $66.32

Sport-utility vehicle (such as 2013 Ford F150 AWD): $101.68

Mitzi Harrison manages AAA Travel for the Charleston area and divides her time between Cincinnati and West Virginia.

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Delta adds larger jets to Charleston-Atlanta route http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140822/GZ01/140829740 GZ01 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140822/GZ01/140829740 Fri, 22 Aug 2014 11:50:44 -0400 Staff reports CHARLESTON, W.Va. - One of Delta Airlines' four daily round-trip flights to Atlanta from Charleston's Yeager Airport will be upgraded to provide additional seating, more legroom and a first-class cabin option.

Starting Sept. 2, a Charleston-Atlanta flight currently being operated with a 50-seat regional jet will begin using a 76-seat Bombardier CRJ-900 regional jet with a first class cabin, "economy comfort" coach seating and on-board Wi-Fi service, Yeager officials announced Friday.

Delta's daily Charleston-Atlanta service includes a morning flight using a 126-seat Airbus A319, the only full-size "mainline" jet now serving Yeager. With the 76-seat CRJ-900 upgrade, the airline is able to offer first-class service on two daily flights to and from Atlanta.

Atlanta is Delta's largest hub, offering 970 daily flights to 205 destinations.

"The increase in capacity by Delta Airlines provides greater access to travelers flying to and from West Virginia," said Ed Hill, chairman of Yeager Aiport's governing board. "Having a first-class cabin is a great option for travelers using Yeager Airport."

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WV Travel Team: B&Bs follow farm-to-table trail http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140817/GZ05/140819558 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140817/GZ05/140819558 Sun, 17 Aug 2014 00:01:00 -0400 By Toni Harvey WV Travel Team CHARLESTON, W.Va. - At bed and breakfasts and inns all across West Virginia, it's all about farm fresh and local - to enhance each guest's culinary experience, contribute to West Virginia's culinary landscape, support local growers and honor traditional ways of life.

In an informal poll of members of the West Virginia Bed & Breakfast Association, 90.9 percent actively use their own vegetable or herb gardens to prepare breakfasts, lunches or dinners for their guests, and 98 percent purchase local produce, meats or eggs from local growers or West Virginia farmers markets.

On the WVBBA Farm to Table Trail, the Cider Mill House Bed and Breakfast is nestled in the Eastern Panhandle in Berkley County and sits in the heart of the 200-acre Will Run Farm, where history, land and hospitality blend.

A working and mechanized farm, Cider Mill House and Will Run Farm offer guests the opportunity to "fall back in time" with today's conveniences. Four beautifully restored and decorated period guest rooms reflect the farmstead lifestyle of the 18th century.

Owners Kat and Ed Cimaglio create seasonal breakfasts that reflect their commitment to the preservation of the farming lifestyle of both today and 200 years ago.

Guests are encouraged to "commune" with the Pygora fiber goats, Rhode Island Reds and guinea hens, which are all an integral part of the historical and working farm property, walk in the woodlands or pick black walnuts from the walnut trees in the fall.

The Cimaglios host seminars on dying fibers using native plants gathered from the farm and workshops in Sustainable Agriculture Research Education. www.cidermillhouse.com, 304-754-6643.

The Farm to Table Trail continues in the enclave of Yellow Spring in Hampshire County. Situated on 23 beautiful acres, the Asa Cline House serves as the centerpiece of the community. The 220-year-old historic home offers "the country life" with three spacious and tastefully decorated rooms furnished with antiques and handcrafted furniture designed by West Virginia artisans.

A separate Carriage House is also available. Guests are welcome to explore the grounds, sit by the pound or stargaze from each room's private porch.

For 16 years, innkeepers Merrie and John Hammond, stewards of the land and have tilled and cultivated their vegetable and herb gardens. On any given day during the growing season, Merrie may be found picking heirloom, roma or plum tomatoes; snap beans; beets or squash to create culinary delights for her guests.

As an accomplished cook, the morning aromas that come from Merrie's kitchen are blends of a perfect cup of coffee, Morning Glory muffins and a delightful breakfast. Saturday dinners are served to guests and feature locally sourced all-natural grass-fed beef complemented with bounty from the gardens.

An expert weaver, Merrie has her own supply of wool from the Asa Cline sheep on the property which guests are encouraged to visit. Sheared each year, Merrie cleans and spins the wool to create wearable art sold at local and national galleries. www.asaclinehouse.com, 304-874-4115.

The Log House Homestead, in Cairo, Ritchie County, designed, created and decorated by owners and innkeepers, Martha and Dick Hartley, is a two-story hand-hewn log house with wide pine floors. It replicates a house of the 1800s but with modern conveniences and amenities. Relive another era in the two bedrooms with period furnishings and textiles.

Dick, a retired county extension agent, and his wife, Martha, a retired home economics teacher, have always had gardens. As food historians, each have extensive backgrounds and knowledge in the field which they enthusiastically share.

"Gardening and farming is just a way of life," according to Martha.

One of the Log House Homestead gardens is a fenced 24- by 26-foot foursquare German raised-bed garden. Vegetables (some grown nine months out of the year), herbs and edible flowers serve as the foundation for breakfasts and meals for guests. www.loghousehomestead.com, 304-628-3249.

WVBBA members will once again have the fortunate opportunity to partner with the WVU Extension Service Small Farm Center for the 2015 Annual Conference in February at the Charleston Civic Center. Exciting agritourism and agricultural presentations are offered, such as "WVFarm2U, A Collaborative for the 21st Century Appalachia," by Dr. Allen Arnold, founding director; "The Etiquette of Service," by James Allen, retired White House usher; "Community Farmers Markets," by Cindy Martel, WVDA; and "Owning and Operating a Bed and Breakfast," by Melody Urbanic, Café Cimino Country Inn.

WVU Extension Service Small Farm Center leader Tom McConnell eloquently explains, "bringing West Virginia Bed and Breakfast Association members together with WVU Small Farm Center programs is a perfect blend of the burgeoning West Virginia agritourism industry."

The Winter Blues Farmers Market and Local Foods Dine Around is a wonderful venue to discover new West Virginia farmers, artisans and food vendors.

When not in their own gardens, WVBBA members can be found scouring farmers markets throughout the state for West Virginia's bounty to create the freshest offerings for their guests.

Find Jesse Halpern and Gary Robinson selecting carrots at the Lost River Farmers Market for Ginger Carrot Soup at the Guesthouse Lost River; Kay Leslie, with The Judy House, Petersburg, searching for top-quality blueberries at the Grant County Farmers Market in Petersburg; Martha Hartley, Log House Homestead B&B, Cairo, finding the perfect zucchini for zucchini bread and muffins; or Joanna Reeves, A Nature's Song B&B, Mannington, choosing spinach for baked eggs.

If you see an individual at a West Virginia farmers market taking or writing notes on an iPhone, iPad or clipboard, ask which WVBBA property they are from and make a reservation! Visit the WVBBA website, www.wvbedandbreakfasts.com for a listing of WVBBA properties throughout the state.

Here are some WVBBA farm-to-table recipes:

Asa Cline House Broiled Tomatoes

By Merrie Hammond. Serves 4.

4 roma tomatoes cut in half lengthwise

Dry bread crumbs

Butter

Sprinkle romas with salt and pepper, dry bread crumbs and top with a pat of butter. Broil until brown on top.

Eggs Cline

By Merrie Hammond. Serves 4.

4 ounces cream cheese

8 farm-fresh eggs

4 tablespoons finely sliced sorrel

Put cream cheese in freezer ½-hour before serving.

Beat eggs with salt and pepper. Chop cream cheese into ½-inch pieces and add to eggs.

Melt butter in nonstick skillet. Add eggs to skillet and stir frequently.

When eggs begin to set, add half of the sorrel. When cooked, sprinkle with remaining sorrel and serve with Asa Cline House Broiled Tomatoes and Canadian bacon.

A Nature's Song Baked Eggs with Fresh Lemon Thyme

By Joanna Reeves. Serves 2.

3 tablespoons butter

Spinach, fresh from the garden or a West Virginia farmers market

6 medium sprigs lemon thyme, freshly picked

4 farm-fresh eggs

4 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

¼ cup Parmesan cheese

Place a 9- by 12-inch casserole dish with 1 inch of water in oven at 325°.

Place two ramekins into water, with 1½ tablespoons butter in each ramekin and allow butter to melt.

Pull ramekins from oven and cover bottom with fresh spinach leaves and season with fresh lemon thyme.

Return to oven and allow wilting down, about 5 minutes and pulling from oven.

Add two eggs to each ramekin. Top with 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream. Return to oven and bake for 8 minutes for soft set or 10 to 12 minutes for firmer eggs.

When ready, top with fresh grated Parmesan cheese a little more thyme and serve. Based on the seasons, fresh kale or chard may be used.

Toni Mathias-Harvey is the President of WVBBA. She and her husband, Ted, are the innkeepers at The Inn at Lost River, General Store & Café in Lost River (www.theinnatlostriver.com/). Comments and questions can be sent to stay@wvbedandbreakfasts.com.

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Writer's retreat aims to rewrite W.Va. narrative http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140810/GZ05/140819993 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140810/GZ05/140819993 Sun, 10 Aug 2014 00:01:00 -0400 By Judy E. Hamilton CHARLESTON, W.Va. - When Charleston natives Amy McLaughlin and her husband, Shawn Means, decided to renovate a historic building in downtown Fayetteville last year - and turn it into four deluxe vacation rental properties named Lafayette Flats, they had even bigger dreams than anyone imagined.

This month they will begin taking applications for a Winter Writer's Residency they hope will change the way their home state is sometimes viewed by outsiders.

"The main reason we created Lafayette Flats was to create an alternative narrative about West Virginia to visitors traveling to our beautiful state. We hate the tired old stereotypes and want to show the world a new, exciting side of West Virginia," McLaughlin said.

"A big part of our mission is accomplished through the local visual arts and literature we display in the Flats, but my husband came up with a great way to expand our mission by creating a Winter Writer's Residency. Essentially, we are going to cover the expenses of having a writer retreat to Lafayette Flats for three full months this winter to enjoy the natural beauty of the New River Gorge, small-town living, and have the peace and quiet to work uninterrupted. Our hope is that the chosen writer will also help create an alternative narrative about our state," McLaughlin said.

Means admits that his efforts to challenge the "tired old stereotypes" about West Virginia sometimes make him "a little tired."

But he said he and his wife are determined and "energized by the enthusiastic response we get when we tell others of our 'alternative narrative' mission. It seems like every West Virginian carries a spark of this idea within them and are pleased when they find the affirmation."

"We feel fortunate to have the opportunity to directly influence the opinions of people who stay at Lafayette Flats - folks who come to Fayetteville from all points of the compass - and send them home with a different impression of West Virginia than the one they arrived with."

Writer's retreats are intended to provide a writer with a place to write, think and be inspired without the distractions of their normal life.

The Yaddo retreat in Saratoga Springs, New York, brags of having artists who have won 67 Pulitzer Prizes and 61 National Book Awards.

The West Virginia couple may not have aspirations this great just yet, but they do hope to make the retreat an annual offering.

"While this is the first year we will offer this residency, we hope it will be an annual event that soon will become a coveted and prestigious fellowship for writers; and that prestige will itself become part of the alternative narrative," Means said.

"First, we hope that by simply suggesting the possibility that an alternative narrative might exist, it will cause writers to consider the idea more carefully. When a writer approaches a subject, the easy route is to accept the presumptions and go from there. What we're hoping to do is to get people to think past the stereotypes and find out the reality of what West Virginia culture is really like.

"The writer who is chosen for the residency will directly help us in our mission by collaborating on our blog, but it is our hope that when writers across the country read about our residency program - and apply - it will cause them to think differently as well," Means said.

Fayetteville is a mountain town of about 3,000 citizens. Its reputation as a tourist attraction was solidified in 2006 when it was selected for inclusion in Budget Travel magazine's "Top 10 Coolest Small Towns in America."

Last year, it was named "Best River Town 2013" by Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine.

"Fayetteville is a different kind of small town. A large segment of its population are people from other places who have chosen to live here because of the outdoor opportunities it provides. So a lot of the Appalachian stereotypes are less visible here because of the 'melting pot' effect. Perhaps this might make objectivity a little easier. Interacting with this community will also enable a writer to see the place through other eyes who have come here by choice. We hope that this contact will inspire the writer to tell this story to a wider audience," Means said.

Before committing to the retreat idea, the couple asked a seasoned writer - and their Arlington Court neighbor - Colleen Anderson, for her opinions about hosting a writer's retreat.

"Colleen told us that having such an opportunity is an extravagance that is rarely afforded to writers, but that it is vital to the creative process to have time and space away from the pressures and distractions of regular life. Colleen is a fellow of the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico, and she told us that her time in that program was one of the most important times in her creative life," Means said.

"In most of the writer-in-residence programs we researched, the quarters provided are spartan or communal. We felt that providing a writer with aesthetically pleasing private living quarters, in an equally aesthetically pleasing geographical area would be doubly beneficial."

Spartan is not a word that could describe the lavish accommodations of Lafayette Flats or the natural beauty of the surrounding countryside.

Lafayette Flats' slogan is "The coolest place to stay in West Virginia's coolest small town."

It opened to lodgers this spring and from the plethora of positive comments on the Flats website and blog, their guests agree.

"Natural beauty inspires many writers, and the natural beauty of the New River Gorge is vast and accessible. The winter season offers not only stunning vistas unrestricted by foliage, but also the solitude of the tourism off-season," Means said.

"There is also the benefit of close interaction with other artists. The emerging arts community in Fayetteville has some cool community activities like drum circles, and the Poetry, Prose and Plainsong events hosted by The Secret Sandwich Society during the offseason. There seems to be an openness to collaboration here that will benefit creative people whatever their discipline may be," he said.

"We were both born and raised in Charleston. My family came to the Kanawha Valley in the early 1800s. My father instilled in me a love of outdoors - primarily hunting related - and took me just about everywhere in the state in pursuit of game. My mother taught me to value the culture - the cooking, the music and the uniqueness of its people. Both gave me a sense of pride about my state, primarily tied to the beauty of the land and the strength of its people.

"As for Amy, her father is an avid hiker, naturalist and historian; her childhood was filled with endless trips to points of historical and botanical interest throughout the state. Both of us have had opportunities to leave West Virginia, but we have stayed because we have a real desire to help people understand what a special place this is," Means said.

For additional information about the Winter Writer's Residency at Lafayette Flats, call 304-741-1857 or visit lafayetteflats.com or facebook.com/LafayetteFlats or layfayetteflats.blogspot.com. Instructions are also available for download at tinyurl.com/kxg62ka.

Reach Judy E. Hamilton at judy.hamilton@wvgazette.com, 304-348-1230 or follow @JudyEHamilton on Twitter.

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WV Travel Team: Celebrate the fall of the wall http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140810/GZ05/140819990 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140810/GZ05/140819990 Sun, 10 Aug 2014 00:01:00 -0400 By Ted Lawson WV Travel Team CHARLESTON, W.Va. - On Nov. 9, 1989, international news media began broadcasting images of German citizens demolishing the Berlin Wall, the stark symbol of Cold War dissent that stood for 28 years.

One of the most important events of the late 20th century, universal media coverage turned the fall of the wall into an iconic image of social change and civilian empowerment.

The physical barrier created by the Berlin Wall was impressive, but the real barrier was far more formidable - the barrier of isolation, totalitarianism and fear.

The fall of the wall was a time to celebrate, not only for the sake of East and West Germans, but for the sake of personal liberty around the world. It was a watershed event helped along by regular Germans showing up at the wall with their own tools, taking change into their own hands and knocking down their oppressor.

The event symbolically unified the long-divided city in a week-long street party that was viewed internationally as a symbol for hope, reunification and peace. This year, Berlin invites the world to celebrate with them as their year-long 25th-anniversary Fall of the Wall Celebration culminates on Nov. 9 of this year.

Berlin already presents plenty of reasons for international travelers to visit, including world-class museums, historic and cultural attractions. In fact, it has eclipsed Rome in popularity for foreign tourism in Europe, standing only behind London and Paris in annual number of visitors.

It has become particularly popular with travelers 25 to 35 years old, who are drawn by its quirky neighborhoods, distinctive flavor and history.

For the anniversary itself, key attractions have been planned and smartly marketed by the German National Tourist Board.

Media made Americans fall in love with the people that took down the wall 25 years ago, and the GNTB has geared up an impressive social media campaign to target the 25- to 35-year-old international market specifically looking to visit for the anniversary.

Many in that age bracket remember the fall of the wall as the first piece of international news that they had ever noted; the cultural impact of the occurrence is evidenced by the high prices pieces of the wall still fetch on online auction sites.

Some additional events that add to the many attractions of Berlin this year (you can read more at www.germany.info/fallofthewall):

n The Berlin Wall Memorial opens a new feature, "25 Years After the Fall," with a ceremony on Nov. 9.

n The Lichtgrenze light installation along the former path of the wall through the city center will trace the division of the city over a stretch of 7.5 miles with thousands of illuminated balloons as an impressive work of art and history.

n Hundreds of exhibits of rare photography from East Germany, as well as "divided art" are found throughout the city.

n Spymuseum Berlin - a new museum dedicated to espionage and secret services in the times of the Cold War in Berlin.

n A week-long music festival of German schlager music.

n A public concert to mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall at the Berliner Philharmonie concert hall.

n Countless plays, art exhibits and smaller venue dedications leading up to the anniversary.

Of course, symbolically, the fall of the Berlin Wall marked the end of the Cold War and communism in Eastern Europe. Practically, it also opened up tourist destinations to American markets that have become extremely popular in the past 25 years.

Beyond Berlin (and Germany), Eastern European cities have become hot destinations for all age ranges and economic brackets of travelers. Accessible from Berlin by train or airplane, cities like Prague, (Czech Republic), Budapest (Hungary), and Ljubljana (Slovenia) draw increasing numbers of discerning travelers with beautiful architecture, unique cultures and thriving art communities.

Who couldn't be romanced by the idea of going to celebrate 25 years of freedom with 3.5 million Berliners? Contact your travel agent or visit www.germany.travel/en/index.html to plan the trip of a lifetime.

Ted Lawson in the president and CEO of Charleston-based National Travel and a member of the WV Travel Team who contributes regularly to the Life & Style travel page.

Follow National Travel on Twitter at @NatlTravel and on Facebook. For questions or comments on this article, contact Ariadne Moore, executive assistant at National Travel, at ariadnem@nationaltravel.com.

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Music guides womanSong chorus on tour of Italy http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140810/GZ05/140819988 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140810/GZ05/140819988 Sun, 10 Aug 2014 00:01:00 -0400 By Maria Young CHARLESTON, W.Va. - What do you do when you find yourself in a foreign land where you don't speak their language, and they don't speak yours?

Never mind those frantic scribbles that are supposed to resemble a hotel, a bathroom or food.

As members of the Charleston-based choral group womanSong found out during a concert festival trip to Italy this summer, perhaps the best thing you can do is to sing.

"Hans Christian Andersen wrote, 'Where words fail, music speaks.' Music has the power to transcend people out of the complexities of life, across cultures and language barriers," said Emily Capece, the group's artistic director. "It strikes to the heart of who we are as humans. It knows no bounds of race or economic class or any bias."

Capece was instrumental in securing a spot for womanSong in the Cantate Adriatica, held in San Marino, Italy, roughly six miles from the Adriatic coast.

"We can all experience music as a global community. And we did just that. Our choir from Appalachia was able to communicate with other singers from all over the world because we all speak the common language of music," Capece added.

Held at the end of May and early June, there were 12 choirs in all, from Austria, France, Italy, Switzerland, Slovakia and the United States, that "came together to celebrate the beauty of choral music in festival venues that included a vineyard, two churches and a concert hall," said Marsha Klusmeyer, president of womanSong.

It was their first international festival. There were 19 singers, along with several relatives, for a total of 28 travelers from West Virginia. They were the only group from the United States.

Before it began, the group flew to Venice and took some time to get to know the country they would be performing in, touring the city by plane and bus, by water taxi and gondola.

In San Marino, they were treated to a tour of the oldest sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world, and one of three of the smallest republics in the world (along with Monaco and Vatican City).

"High atop the peaks of Monte Titano sits an imposing fortress where soldiers with crossbows defended the country. Now, in modern times, it provides visitors with a commanding view of the small towns below and the Apennine Mountains in the distance," wrote Klusmeyer in a report to members about the trip.

"Totally surrounded by Italy, San Marino has its own parliament and military, and is not a member of the European Union. By special agreement, San Marino uses the euro as its currency with its own design on the national side of the coin," she added.

Having reached their destination, the group was both exhilarated and exhausted, perhaps a bit giddy, she said, and burst into a rousing rendition of "Alleluia" on the old stone steps of a corner church in town.

It still stands out as one of her favorite moments of the trip.

"It was so special to be there, and I think surrounded by the history and beauty, we were just overcome by emotion. I know I was, and there was really nothing to do in that moment but just to sing," she said.

The first official performance came that evening at Chiesa S. Maria Goretti, a church in nearby Cesenatico.

A much bigger performance was the next day in Dogana, the capital of San Marino, in a large community theater.

The Charleston group sang "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," followed by one of West Virginia's official state songs, which had many in the crowd clapping and singing along.

"Not surprisingly, they all loved 'Take Me Home, Country Roads.' That song is known throughout the world!" Capece said.

As womanSong's artistic director, Capece had long felt it was time for them to go overseas, "not only share our music with others, but to experience what other choirs are doing across the globe."

After all, the group has just marked its 17th year.

The idea, though, was three years in the making, and started at the American Choral Directors Association conference, where tour operators market a wide variety of musical tours.

"We had a lot of discussion about it, and Italy seemed like a great first tour. Who doesn't love Italy?" Capece asked.

"For some of our singers, this was the first time across the pond. Italy is a wonderful introduction to Europe!"

The Appalachian songs, both Klusmeyer and Capece agreed, were among the favorites that were performed during the festival.

The group also "performed a set of music from the Sacred Harp, the earliest book songs written in America, which really have a unique style and sound. We were proud to sing that music, as it showcased our early choral culture in the United States," Capece said.

For her, the moment that stood out on the trip came at the end of the festival, during a closing dinner with the other singing groups.

"Each choir got up spontaneously and started singing, first toasting songs, drinking songs, choral songs, silly songs. It became a bit of a sing-off, to see how many other tables your choir could get singing your song," she said.

The West Virginians were particularly amused when the French group, with thick accents, sang "Barbara Ann," a song made most famous by the Beach Boys, who released it in 1965. It was a worldwide hit, and the biggest hit the sandy-haired Beach Boys ever had in Italy, where it reached No. 4 on the charts.

"By the end of the night, we were all trading flags, sharing music, dancing and hugging. A choir member from a women's chorus in Switzerland even gave one of our singers her bracelet," Capece said. "It was a great, heartwarming night."

"Music truly is an international language that unites people in ways that transcends language barriers," Klusmeyer added, "and womanSong members were grateful for the opportunity to represent the U.S.A. and especially, Charleston, West Virginia."

WomanSong is gearing up for a new season, and holding auditions for new members. For more information, visit www.womansongchorale.org, email capeceem@gmail.com or call 304-925-4963.

Reach Maria Young at maria.young@wvgazette.com, 304-348-5115 or follow @mariapyoung on Twitter.

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Kilt, castle and kiss: Dream wedding in Scotland http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140809/GZ05/140819989 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140809/GZ05/140819989 Sat, 9 Aug 2014 00:01:00 -0400 By Maria Young CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Most weddings symbolize the end of one journey and the beginning of another.

For Charles "Chad" Scott and Anna Dingess Scott, there was one more trip to be considered: from Charleston, where they live, to Maybole, Scotland, 3,614 miles away, where they were married July 12 at Culzean Castle, on the country's southwest coast, about 50 miles from Glasgow.

"Who would pass up an opportunity to get married and stay in a castle? No one!" said Anna, who describes herself as "a hopeless romantic."

Still, there were several factors in their choice of destination.

There was practicality ("We'd been yearning for a trip to Europe for a few years and had not yet found the perfect time to visit") and a certain process of elimination ("We're not avid beachgoers, so ... we immediately dismissed the idea of a tropical locale").

"We both loved medieval stuff, dragons and castles and things like that, so we were like, 'Wouldn't it be cool to get married in a castle?'" Chad recalled.

In the end, though, it came down to family ancestry and roots.

"Both of us have Scottish heritage. For Charles, the Scottish lineage stems from both his mother's and father's sides of the family. For me, the Scottish heritage passes down through my paternal grandmother, Lucy Belle McCloud Dingess," Anna said.

Beyond that, a little research showed that it was much easier to get married in Scotland, as opposed to some other countries in Europe.

A castle was the obvious choice - but which one?

"After countless online searches and many failed attempts to find a venue that would agree to a Saturday wedding for just two people, I found Culzean Castle," Anna said. "A 'Just the Two of Us' package was prepared for us upon request."

A quick read-through of what was included sealed the deal: two nights in the castle's Eisenhower apartment, meals for both days cooked by Culzean's private chef, a bottle of celebratory champagne post-ceremony, a Scottish-style wedding cake, a bouquet and "buttonhole," known in the U.S. as a boutonnière, a Scottish piper and their choice of where on the castle grounds to hold the ceremony.

"Almost without hesitation, I secured the venue by putting down a deposit. This choice seemed fitting and very much meant to be," she said.

Culzean (pronounced koh-LANE) is a bit off the beaten path. The former home of the Marquess of Alisa, the chief of Clan Kennedy, it is now owned by the National Trust for Scotland.

In 1945, the Kennedy family gave the apartment at the top of the castle to Dwight D. Eisenhower for his service as supreme commander of the Allied forces in Europe during World War II.

Chad and Anna stayed at the Alisa Suite, one of six total suites within the apartment, overlooking the courtyard and the Atlantic Ocean.

"In the vast distance, you could see the Isle of Arran, the largest island in the Firth of Clyde," Anna said.

Still, there were details to attend to, among them, applying to be married in the United Kingdom and a visitor's marriage visa. The staff at the Ayr Registrar - equivalent to the county clerk's office - turned out to be extremely helpful and courteous, which made the application process "a breeze." Even securing the visa was not as challenging as either of them expected.

Once approved for the marriage, they were assigned an officiant and set up a meeting to take place the day before the wedding.

The trip itself began when they flew out of Charleston July 9 via U.S. Airways and arrived in Edinburgh around 9 a.m. local time on Thursday July 10.

"During my advance preparation, and through sheer luck, I was able to secure both a photographer, Linzie, and a hair and makeup stylist, Joanna.

"Neither of them required me to put down a deposit in advance of my arrival, trusting me on blind faith alone," Anna said.

"Over the course of several months, I communicated with both ladies quite often and even became Facebook friends."

Anna's dress was a vintage-style lace wedding gown, while Charles' outfit was the traditional Scottish wedding attire: a Prince Charlie jacket, waistcoat and a kilt that was handmade for him in the Scott Clan tartan by a company located in Edinburgh.

"I mean, why not?" Chad said, laughing, of the idea of wearing a kilt.

"I joke, how else are you going to get out of wearing pants at a wedding? But really, researching my family history and seeing how much Scot influence is in my ancestry, I had always wanted to get a kilt and this gave me a really good reason to go and have one made."

After photos, they set out toward for the ceremony at the Camellia House, a Victorian garden house nestled in a wooded area on the castle's grounds. Charles set up a video camera to record the ceremony for family and friends.

Afterward, someone cued the bagpipe player and they made their way to the castle for a champagne celebration complete with traditional Scottish wedding cake.

"It had almost like a jelly or jam layer in between the two layers of cake. Instead of it being more of a moist, traditional cake like we have here in the States, it was more like a pound cake, or a sponge cake," Chad said.

"It was good. And we were actually surprised at how big it was. We thought they would bring out this really small thing for two people, you know?"

After touring some other key parts of Europe, including Paris, they headed back to Charleston, and had a wedding reception with family and friends on Aug. 2.

"I wasn't sure what Scotland would be like, but everybody went out of their way to be of some help, the landscape was beautiful, everything is 500 to 1,000 years old, and it's amazing to see the architecture and structures that have withstood that amount of time," Chad said.

"We had expected some bad weather, but every day was perfect, and I've been telling everybody, if you have the chance to go, go.

"I can't wait to go back," he added.

"It isn't every day that one meets their soul mate. It also isn't every day that one gets married at a castle by the sea in a land far away," Anna said.

"I know I am a hopeless romantic, but, to me, this is reality. We will never forget our experience and hope that this story inspires other romantics out there that desire their own fairytale wedding. Always shoot for the stars - we often fail to realize how close they actually are."

Reach Maria Young at maria.young@wvgazette.com, 304-348-5115 or follow @mariapyoung on Twitter.

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WV Travel Team: Blue Ridge spa tour reaches Pa. http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140803/GZ05/140809995 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140803/GZ05/140809995 Sun, 3 Aug 2014 00:01:00 -0400 By Jeanne Mozier WV Travel Team CHARLESTON, W.Va. - For more than a century, fashionable society were at their leisure while they "took the waters" for their health, making summer-long pilgrimages to a string of resorts that lined the edge of the Blue Ridge. The southernmost spas included Sweet Springs and The Greenbrier at White Sulphur Springs.

Farther north, it was Warm Springs and Berkeley Springs. The northernmost spa was Bedford Springs.

Whether it was Antebellum and the spas were all in Virginia, or post-Civil War when the circuit was divided into Virginia and West Virginia, Bedford Springs remained the odd man out - it was in Pennsylvania.

Today, the venerable Bedford Springs Resort is still in southern Pennsylvania, nestled on 2,200 acres, less than an hour's drive from the northern boundary of West Virginia.

It offers 21st-century travelers the same healing waters their ancestors found, now packaged with contemporary luxury.

The narrow entry road was once a stagecoach toll road from the town. It tracks Shober's Run, a prized spring-fed trout stream. Around the final bend, the vista of a many-windowed low-rising white hotel unfurls. Even the most sophisticated traveler can barely suppress a gasp of pleasure.

Once the Summer White House of Pennsylvanian James Buchanan, Bedford Springs Resort even has a charming small town a couple miles down the curving road.

The attractive streets of Bedford are lined with prosperous shops, trendy restaurants and businesses ranging from plumbers, chocolates and quilts to an art deco gas station and a 200-yea-old inn. Bells ring regularly. A coverlet museum is on the walking edge of town and a 1925 giant coffeepot at the entrance of meticulous fairgrounds.

Within a few miles, visitors can explore everything from the living history of Old Bedford Village to caverns to the Flight 93 9/11 Memorial to nine covered bridges.

Development of Bedford Springs Resort followed the familiar pattern for the historic Blue Ridge spas. Indian tribes used the waters, and colonists soon followed.

Seeing the need to lodge those who came for health cures, Dr. John Anderson established the resort in 1796. By 1804, there was a cluster of warm- and cold-water bathhouses, and the first lodging house was built.

The railroad arrived in 1872, launching a major expansion and building boom. Pavilions and colonnades ideal for the matchmaking of that resort era proliferated. A golf course was added in 1895 and continues to provide a major attraction.

As the 20th century closed, so did the resort - achieving the dubious status of "endangered landmark" in the process.

A group of investors stepped in, spending $120 million to renovate the resort to original plans, and it became the Omni Bedford Springs Resort. Part of that investment included balancing the historic facade with a new spa wing.

The bonus? They discovered the Eternal Spring, bringing the resort's total to eight.

Water remains a hallmark of Bedford Springs. Where once there was a "serpentine circuit" of the seven original springs, marked in the 19th century by fanciful pavilions and spring houses, now it's a rustic hiking trail.

The footbridge to the centerpiece Magnesia Springs is transformed to an engineered bridge. Walking sticks were traditionally kept at spring houses for use in navigating the springs circuit. Now a pair of walking sticks is placed in every guest room.

Negotiations with regulating authorities are underway to revive the 19th-century bottling of still and sparkling water from the springs.

An elaborate outdoor water course including an outdoor swimming pool was part of the recent renovation and there's a secluded spring-fed lake for fishing. Indoors, the Edwardian elegance of the 1905 pool was described as a "magnificent labrum, scrubbed clean and freshly filled daily from Caledonia Springs."

Today's regulations add a chlorinated aroma to the restored splendor.

The Bedford Bath Ritual that comes with every treatment in the 30,000-square-foot Eternal Spa evolved over the centuries from the original system developed by Dr. Anderson and the Bedford Cure of the 1930s. It uses water from all eight springs, a rare experience in spadom. A deluge shower, aromatic steam and alternating hot and cool soaks are all part of the ritual, which concludes with a botanical mist.

The extensive menu of spa treatments has facials, pedicures and massage. Flavors for treatments span more than two dozen botanicals, gems and caviar.

I encountered a quartet of women at the resort for a spa getaway. They were enthusiastically pleased with their stay at Bedford which included a complimentary upgrade to one of the two-bedroom suites.

Discovering I was from West Virginia, they wanted to know how Bedford Springs compared to The Greenbrier. I was prepared. I'd been making that comparison myself.

"The Greenbrier is grander and much bigger," I explained. "Bedford Springs is elegant but homier."

The intimate feel comes from endless nooks, crannies and sitting rooms tucked into curving hallways. Walls are hung with photos like family albums - except that they are images of 19th- and 20th-century guests, shown at hay rides and surrey outings, card games and cake parties.

"Miss Hiles' Willow Party" is captured in sepia tone next to a tally-ho party at the Colonnade. For someone not steeped in 19th-century hotel lore, a tally-ho was a type of stagecoach often used to transport guests from railroad to hotel.

Museum-quality display cases are filled with artifacts ranging from original 19th-century guest registers to a collection of hats.

The path from the dining rooms and central lobby to our rooms in the spa wing passed through my favorite public space. A library is often found in historic hotels. This one was not only lined with books and boasted a chiming grandfather clock, but had two standing-height tables devoted to jigsaw puzzles - and they were always occupied. Since I never saw a completed one, I assume people whiled away a period of time before moving on. For the puzzle-addicted, the official shop has two sizes - mini and full - of hand-cut wood puzzles of the resort.

There are also touches of grandeur. One of the most striking features is original to 1842 - the grand staircase, a Chinese puzzle of levels and flights crafted for dramatic entrances. A three-floor span and giant skylight illuminate the entire lobby.

Both sleeping rooms and dining areas benefit from 21st-century upgrades. The Frontier Tavern is now part of the circa 1806 Stone Inn, first on the property.

High-backed overstuffed leather chairs huddled around tables create privacy. Its two levels are strewn with sturdy glass dividers that double as showcases for antique implements and tools. Dark wood gives it all a tone of wealth that is old and comfortable. Walls of windows look out on the manicured grounds and a nightly fire pit.

We enjoyed a memorable dinner in the 1796 Room, adding a few dishes to the tasting menu. Tastes and textures were complex, portions substantial, and the pace leisurely as we lounged on a side-by-side couch served by solicitous black-clad staff.

The giant seared scallops served with corn puree and decorated with pea shoots and bacon lardons were perfect. My husband's spinach salad was filled with giant raspberries.

He decided on truffle dressing, then asked me as soon as the server left, "What are truffles?" I had no idea how they would taste but responded with confidence, "They're like mushrooms, only rare."

My wild mushroom dish was exceptional - a rich, full-bodied soup with slightly woody flavor. I muttered about the pan-roasted quail on smoked cheddar grits and the time wasted eating a bird of such minute scale, but even the teeny wings were tender.

The robust side dish of Cajun crayfish macaroni and cheese stretched our imagination and was virtually a meal in itself. Be warned: executive chef Dave Noto makes this a restaurant for eaters, not those who choose to admire three droplets of food artfully arranged on a plate.

During our dinner in 1796, I watched our young waiter ponder for a second whether to continue clearing the next table or respond immediately to my request for more water. When he chose correctly to serve the present guest, I wanted to tell him, "Good boy; you made the right choice. Your supervisor would be proud."

I felt validated in my almost immediate impression that the most notable feature of Omni Bedford Springs Resort is not the elaborate hotel, the spa or even the food. It's the impeccably trained staff from attentive front desk and concierge to restaurant workers and valets. The 19th century could not have done it better.

Learn more about the Mountain State's oddities and wonders in Jeanne Mozier's popular book "Way Out in West Virginia," now in an expanded and updated fourth edition. The second printing of "West Virginia Beauty: Familiar and Rare," by Jeanne Mozier and photographer Steve Shaluta, is scheduled for release later soon. Both books are available from the West Virginia Book Co.

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WV Travel Team: A summer weekend in Chicago http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140727/GZ05/140729661 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140727/GZ05/140729661 Sun, 27 Jul 2014 00:01:00 -0400 By Mitzi Harrison WV Travel Team CHARLESTON, W.Va. - As the summer months begin to come to a close, many of us across the area are looking for a final opportunity to get away for a long weekend. If you're looking for a destination that provides family-friendly activities, great shopping and a metropolitan feel, look no farther than Chicago.

With a driving distance of just under 500 miles and a driving time of roughly 7½ hours, Chicago has plenty to do to keep your family busy as they celebrate the end of summer.

Known for its diverse architecture and collection of museums and attractions, Chicago has plenty of sights guaranteed to keep your family busy.

One of the major draws in Chicago is the Shedd Aquarium, on Chicago's Museum Campus.

Open daily, the Shedd Aquarium hosts over 32,500 different species of animals and fish, from whales to snails and tarantulas to turtles. Guests to the Shedd Aquarium are greeted by the Caribbean Reef exhibit, where you can get eye-to-eye with several species of saltwater fish and watch divers feed them.

Be sure to check out the award-winning Abbott Oceanarium, where you can encounter beluga whales, sea lions and sea otters.

The Polar Play Zone has great activities for kids, in addition to underwater viewing areas for the beluga whales and penguins.

If you make it to the Shedd Aquarium this summer or early fall, be sure to take advantage of Stingray Touch, where guests can pet stingrays as they glide through the water.

AAA tip: Be sure to arrive at the Shedd Aquarium early, as the line to enter the facility can occasionally exceed 30 minutes. Saturdays are especially busy.

Staying on the Chicago Museum Campus, the Field Museum provides the opportunity to travel through time to view 4.5 billion years worth of history. With more than 26 million artifacts, the Field Museum is home to exhibits such as Sue, the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex ever found, as well as a collection of 23 Egyptian mummies.

Also on the Museum Campus is the Adler Planetarium, America's first planetarium. Home to NASA's Gemini 12 space capsule, the planetarium is a great destination for families.

The Planet Explorers exhibit provides hands-on fun for kids, and there are plenty of shows and theaters sure to keep a family of all ages busy.

Destination Solar System is the Adler's premier show, but many guests also enjoy being able to experience the night sky over Chicago as it appeared in 1913 in the historic Atwood Sphere.

A bit farther south of downtown Chicago and accessible by bus, car or taxi is the Museum of Science and Industry. The largest science center in the Western Hemisphere and open daily, the Museum of Science and Industry boasts a large transportation collection, including the submarine U-505 - the only German World War II submarine in the United States.

Other exhibits include a coal mine, where guests descend into a mine and ride the rails to learn the technology behind coal mining, and Toymaker 3000, an area where guests can watch 12 robots assemble toys from start to finish.

AAA tip: Visit the Motion Simulator and Omnimax when first arriving to the Museum of Science and Industry to secure reservations.

Navy Pier, nestled along Lake Michigan, is home to the Chicago Children's Museum and features great dining and shopping options.

While at Navy Pier, be sure to take a ride on the Navy Pier Ferris wheel, which lifts riders 150 feet into the air while they witness stunning views of the Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan shoreline.

AAA tip: Don't miss out on the Wednesday and Saturday night fireworks displays at Navy Pier if visiting during the summer months.

While in downtown Chicago, be sure to check out either 360 Chicago in the John Hancock Center, or Skydeck Chicago in the Willis (Sears) Tower. Both attractions offer exceptional views of the Chicago skyline and either attraction has fuel to feed your inner daredevil.

360 Chicago's Tilt attraction tilts guests downward toward the Magnificent Mile from the 94th story of the John Hancock Center, while Skydeck Chicago features The Ledge - glass-floored balconies that project out of the 103rd story of the Willis Tower.

Chicago also boasts an excellent arts scene. Home to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Art Institute of Chicago, many visitors will enjoy taking in one of the many shows that are a part of the Broadway in Chicago series.

One of the best ways to view Chicago's architectural marvels is to take a cruise along the Chicago River.

Cruise lines such as Shoreline Sightseeing offer fantastic architecture and history cruises that provide riders with an insider's glimpse into the buildings, architecture and engineering that made Chicago famous. Cruises leave from a variety of locations, but the easiest place to catch a cruise is from Navy Pier.

Of course, no trip to Chicago would be complete without visiting the Magnificent Mile, a prestigious portion of Michigan Avenue devoted to shopping and dining.

The shops along the Magnificent Mile are as diverse as the goods they sell, featuring designer studios and trendy favorites.

There are plenty of lodging options in Chicago at a variety of price points. Many opt to stay in downtown Chicago along the Magnificent Mile, close to transportation, shopping and dining. There is a variety of hotels in this area, and the benefit to staying along Michigan Avenue is its proximity to all the major Chicago attractions.

AAA tip: Be prepared to spend at least $40 per night to park a vehicle at a hotel in downtown Chicago - very few hotels in this area offer complimentary parking.

Another area to consider staying is near O'Hare International Airport. Just under 20 miles from downtown Chicago, the Rosemont area offers many hotels at lower price points than properties in downtown Chicago.

Many hotels, such as the Renaissance Chicago O'Hare Suites, are just steps away from the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Blue Line, making the trip into downtown Chicago simple without having to ever set foot in the car after arriving to the hotel.

Deep-dish pizza and hot dogs are two food staples Chicago is famous for, and there are plenty of opportunities within the city to try both.

What makes a Chicago-style hot dog unique? It's an all-beef hot dog on a poppyseed bun, garnished with mustard, relish, chopped onion, tomato slices, pickle spears, "sport peppers" (hot green peppers) and celery salt. One of the best places to try a Chicago-style hot dog is at Portillo's Hot Dogs, near the Magnificent Mile at 100 W. Ontario St.

If Chicago-style hot dogs aren't your thing, Portillo's has a variety of other hot dogs and sandwiches guaranteed to satisfy any appetite.

An exceptional place to have dinner and experience Chicago deep-dish pizza is at Giordano's, a block off the Magnificent Mile at 730 N. Rush St. Locals recommend Giordano's because they offer stuffed deep-dish pizzas. Giordano's also offers exceptional thin-crust pizzas and pasta dishes.

AAA tip: Expect to spend at least an hour at Giordano's for a deep-dish pizza, as preparation takes a minimum of 30 minutes, and pizza orders are typically placed prior to being seated.

Looking to try some trendy spots in the Windy City? Head out to the Wicker Park neighborhood, where a short trip on the CTA Blue Line northwest of the city will provide several dining options, including quick service meals and vegan options.

An outstanding breakfast option is Stan's Donuts and Coffee, at 1560 N. Damen Ave. While offering traditional glazed doughnuts, Stan's also features specialty doughnuts, including the Chocolate Chocolate-Chip, Peanut Butter Pocket and the Buttermilk Bar.

Across the street is Big Star, a first-rate stop for Mexican cuisine. Tempt your palate with a variety of flavorful tacos (the fish tacos get rave reviews), great guacamole, strong margaritas, and a large selection of beer and bourbon.

AAA tip: Big Star is cash-only and frequently has a long wait, so plan accordingly.

While Chicago has an expansive highway system, it's not always easy to navigate as an out-of-towner.

Combine this with the high price of parking in the downtown areas, and parking the car will suddenly seem like a great idea.

AAA tip: Most of Chicago's highway system is in the form of toll roads, so bring plenty of cash and watch for periodic pull-offs to pay tolls.

The CTA system is very user-friendly and is highly recommended for tourist use around the city, regardless of where you decide to stay. The Chicago "L" - Chicago's elevated rail system - is easy to navigate with stations scattered all around downtown Chicago and in the suburbs.

With regular schedules, stops are located near major tourist attractions, making it particularly attractive for guests.

One-, three- and seven-day unlimited passes (in the form of electronic Ventra cards) are available for purchase at train stations and local retailers. What makes these passes exceptionally useful is that they also provide unlimited use on the CTA bus system, which traverses the downtown and suburban streets.

AAA tip: If you're unsure of how to navigate the train, there are transit system maps available. There is a variety of apps available for your smartphone or tablet that can also help you with schedules, maps and walking instructions. CTA staff are also always willing to help answer transit questions.

Does a long weekend in Chicago seem like the trip for your family? AAA can help make it a reality. Stop in the AAA Charleston office and talk to a AAA travel expert for assistance with lodging, purchasing a Chicago City Pass, plus planning a tailor-made trip.

They can provide up-to-date information on what's new, plus provide information about any special events, such as festivals and shows, taking place during the time you plan to visit.

For more information on Chicago and other destinations, 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.

Mitzi Harrison manages AAA Travel for the Charleston area and divides her time between Cincinnati and West Virginia.

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Mushroom fest is next weekend http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140720/GZ05/140729984 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140720/GZ05/140729984 Sun, 20 Jul 2014 00:01:00 -0400 By Maria Young CHARLESTON, W.Va. - If you think mushrooms come neatly sliced in rectangular containers covered with plastic wrap at the grocery store, you have a lot of learn about mushrooms. And the West Virginia Mushroom Club (yes, there really is a club for mushroom lovers) would like to help.

The club is holding its 10th annual Fungal Fest, Feast & Foray on Friday and Saturday in the fellowship hall at Dryfork Assembly of God, along W.Va. 32 roughly four miles south of Canaan Valley Resort State Park, in Tucker County, and five miles north of Harman, Randolph County.

"This event attracts people from the D.C. area, Ohio, Kentucky, New York, New Jersey - all over, really. It's become a real draw because we get some of the most well-known mycologists around, and our forays aren't that expensive," said Nancy Ward, one of the organizers.

A mycologist is someone who studies mushrooms. There will be a number of prominent experts on hand, including international mushroom expert and author Gary Lincoff, who will present colorful stories and photos from his previous trips to India; Kyle Weaner, who will present a mushroom cooking demonstration on the exotic world of Indian cuisine; Paul Goland, who will offer a lunchtime shiitake workshop; and Alissa Allen, whose "Fungal Rainbow" workshop will teach participants some of the unique and beautiful things they can create using mushrooms, lichens and other fungi to dye yarns, fabrics and other materials.

The event will also include a mushroom photography foray, a mushroom birder walk, and a number of forays of varying difficulty levels to pick from.

"We go out in the morning and everyone gathers mushrooms, and then you put them out and we'll identify and sort them," Ward said.

"A lot of people's interest comes from, What can you eat? How can you tell a good mushroom from a bad mushroom? And then there are all the different things you can do with mushrooms," she added.

The foray costs $50 per person, with additional costs for lodging. Volunteers get a 50 percent discount on registration fees, and participants under 12 or over 80 attend for free.

For more information or to register, visit http://wvmushroomclub.org/, or call Ward at 304-610-4040 or 304-342-7148 for more information.

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WV Travel Team: Riverfaring in the 21st Century http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140713/GZ05/140719962 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140713/GZ05/140719962 Sun, 13 Jul 2014 00:01:00 -0400 By Ted Lawson WV Travel Team Patricia Rice, of Morgantown, has traveled the dramatic gorges and lush vineyards of the Duoro Valley, explored the ancient cities of Lamego and Salamanca, and dined at an 11th Century Benedictine monastery in Portugal.

She has traced the footsteps of the militaristic Cossacks from the 15th through 18th centuries as they journeyed from Kiev to Odessa, and she has visited the Palace of the Khan in Sevastopol.

She has ventured down the Amazon River, into the jungles of Borneo and deep into the Mekong.

Rice has traveled the waterways of Slovenia and Croatia, Corsica and Sardinia, Belgium and Switzerland, France and Germany.

She has seen the tulips bloom in northern Holland. And while she is an anthropologist, all of these adventures have taken place on vacation river cruises.

Whatever your personal sensibilities may be, river cruises offer a near boundless range of possibilities; with themes such as "Mysteries of Myanmar," "Port Wine and Flamenco" and "Steamboat Historic Civil War Journey," river cruises have boomed from a burgeoning niche market into the hippest travel trend of 2014 by offering deeply intimate, personalized cruise experiences to every imaginable tourist palate.

With more than two dozen new vessels launched in 2014 alone, river cruising promises to be a growing market through 2015, with operators opening into new rivers each season.

So, if the amazing itineraries alone don't intrigue you, why else should you consider a river cruise over a traditional oceanic cruise?

Here are ten reasons to rethink riverfaring:

1. Rivers, in many cases quite tangibly, are the lifeblood of human civilization. From prehistoric sites, to ancient cities and ruins, to modern settlements that range from the most spectacular cities to the smallest villages, our history and culture lies in river valleys spanning the globe. River cruises often offer a unique chance to view the ancient alongside the modern and give a picture of regional culture not captured in city-by-city land tours.

2. Unlike their oceanic cousins, river cruises inherently move at a more leisurely pace. Boats will dock at many ports to allow passengers to explore, but even travelers relaxing on deck will catch vistas that could include castles, farms, villages, temples, fishermen, wildlife or foliage, depending on the river.

3. The ships themselves are small, and carry fewer than 200 passengers. River cruises offer a unique opportunity to meet and interact with fellow passengers, who likely share one's interests. River cruises don't offer the raucous nightclub scene and beach party atmosphere that is presented by many oceanic cruises, and the result is a more serene, leisurely experience for discerning travelers.

4. River cruises draw travelers with the promise of at least a port a day; there are no "days at sea," and every day of the trip will offer the chance to explore local culture. With an advantage over land travel, many river cruisers enjoy the ability to see multiple cities in one tour without ever having to change hotels or repack their luggage.

5. Having marketed largely to a luxury-class, river cruises have exploded with gorgeous cabin accommodations with furnishings as beautiful as the finest boutique hotels, balconies offering sweeping panoramas of the river banks and personalized touches.

6. With their smaller size, river ships have maximized interior space by multi-purposing rooms. Al fresco dining is common and offers a breezier, more casual alternative to stuffy sit-down dinners on oceanic cruises. River ships will more commonly boast an opulent library than an onboard casino, and open deck plans encourage travelers to get out and experience the landscape around them.

7. River cruises often offer an immersive cultural experience, presenting local cuisine as the ship navigates through a region. With plenty of opportunity to get out and explore cities, towns and villages, some cruises even offer the chance to go to the local markets with the ship's chef. Frequent interaction with local culture is key to the river cruise experience, and passengers are sure to leave with a rich appreciation of the regional culture of their tour.

8. River cruising, much like traditional oceanic cruises, tends to be all-inclusive. For many travelers, the ease of knowing one's meals and drinks are included takes the guesswork out of visiting various cities in one trip. River cruises will also let passengers know in advance what tipping expectations are, which helps to avoid unpleasant financial surprises that may come in self-led land-based itineraries.

9. The dress is always casual in river cruising. There are no formal nights and no need to pack that tuxedo.

10. These itineraries are designed for and marketed to a well-traveled, 55-and-older demographic. They don't draw the rowdy 20-something "spring break" crowd that flock to lower-priced cruises to Jamaica, and children are a rarity.

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River cruises will continue to rise in popularity over the next year, with new rivers, ships and itineraries to choose from.

Their higher price point comes with an immeasurably greater value over ocean cruises, delivering unique, tailored, world-class adventures that lend themselves to lifelong memory.

Contact your travel agent to determine what river cruise may be right for you, and to explore the countless options offered.

Ted Lawson in the president and CEO of Charleston-based National Travel and a member of the WV Travel Team who contributes regularly to the Life & Style travel page.

Follow National Travel on Twitter at @NatlTravel and on Facebook. For questions or comments on this article, contact Ariadne Moore, executive assistant at National Travel, at ariadnem@nationaltravel.com.

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Holiday traffic on Turnpike approaches post-Thanksgiving levels http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140707/GZ01/140709524 GZ01 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140707/GZ01/140709524 Mon, 7 Jul 2014 17:17:26 -0400 By Phil Kabler It may say July on the calendar, but traffic on the West Virginia Turnpike on Sunday resembled the Sunday after Thanksgiving -- usually the heaviest travel day of the year.

"We had some delays coming into the toll plazas Sunday afternoon between 2 and 5. It was almost comparable to the Sunday after Thanksgiving," Greg Barr, general manager of the state Parkways Authority, said Monday.

The Turnpike handled about 164,000 toll transactions Sunday, almost double the daily average of 99,000, Barr said.

Overall, traffic during the Fourth of July travel period was up 2.25 percent over 2013. Barr said a combination of factors contributed to the traffic surge, including having the Fourth of July fall on a Friday, creating a three-day weekend for many, as well as additional traffic going to and from the Greenbrier Classic golf tournament, which ended Sunday afternoon.

While the White Sulphur Springs resort is some 70 miles off the Turnpike, Barr noted that hotels and motels in Beckley were sold out over the weekend with people attending the golf tournament and concerts.

He said that for the most part, traffic backups did not exceed two to three miles Sunday.

Toll plazas on the Turnpike are designed so that an extra lane can be added either northbound or southbound, but Barr said traffic in both directions was equally heavy, making it impractical to "flip" a lane.

"We were doing 2,200 transactions an hour northbound, and 1,800 transaction an hour southbound," he said. "We couldn't flip a lane because it would have backed up in the other direction."

Tandem toll booths at each of the three toll plazas were opened to reduce delays, he said.

While there were brief backups at the toll plazas, there were no major traffic stoppages, as occurred after the Fourth of July last year, when a tractor-trailer jackknifed, closing all four lanes of the Turnpike near Sharon that Sunday afternoon.

"Luckily, we didn't have any serious accidents," Barr said.

Because July 4 can fall on any day of the week, Parkways uses an 11-day period to track holiday traffic, going from the previous Thursday to the Sunday after the holiday.

This year, there were 1.43 million toll transactions during the period, an increase of 31,600 transactions from 2013, and up more than 20,000 from 2012.

Barr said that next year, the Turnpike may need to post advisories encouraging drivers to avoid traveling during peak periods on the Sunday after July 4, as is done for the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

"We warn people at Thanksgiving to try to plan their travel to avoid the peak traffic period between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.," he said.

Next year, July 4 falls on a Saturday, again creating a three-day weekend scenario with many workplaces designating the previous Friday, July 3, as a holiday.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.

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WV Travel Team: Tall monuments, taller tales http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140706/GZ05/140709857 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140706/GZ05/140709857 Sun, 6 Jul 2014 00:01:00 -0400 By Jeanne Mozier WV Travel Team CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The quirky nature of some prominent West Virginia monuments is underlined by the occasional question of authenticity.

Generally, the world reserves its effort to create a symbol of a particular civilization to a person or event that actually occurred.

Touring the state brings a traveler face to face with questions - Is the subject real or not? Is the statue who it claims to be? - as well as subjects ranging from monsters to space travel.

Best of all are the monuments important enough to have their own major festival or Hollywood movie.

It's a challenge to decide whether John Henry or Mothman is the most fictitious.

Mothman may be an implausible monster, but there are numerous people still living and working in Point Pleasant who claim to have seen it.

John Henry has a famous song. Widely known through folk tunes, the steel-driving John Henry was memorialized in 1972 by a larger-than-life bronze statue - 2.5 tons and 8 feet tall, to be precise - in a small park above Big Bend Tunnel in Talcott. John Henry allegedly challenged the railroad's track-building machine a century earlier. Witnesses claim the competition was fact and that ex-slave John Henry collapsed after beating the machine, never to work again. The naysayers presume the entire tale is machines-take-men's-jobs propaganda.

The actual tunnel Henry reportedly helped carve from the mountain is 6,500 feet and carried traffic for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway; a twin tunnel was added in 1932 with no legends attached. Two years after erecting the John Henry statue, all rail traffic through Big Bend Tunnel ceased. Talcott's hometown festival in mid-July includes a parade, fireworks and music performed at the mouth of the tunnel.

Mothman is more problematic since it's not even human - but it does have a more contemporary public image, including a major Hollywood movie, and an authentic disaster. Artistically, it has a better statue.

In 2003, Point Pleasant erected a locally sculpted 7-foot stainless-steel statue of Mothman complete with wings and glowing red eyes cast by Blenko Glass. If the town established a photo fee, they could probably eliminate taxes. It's an ongoing photo opportunity in the small square as visitors come from around the world to be photographed with Mothman.

Across the street is the Mothman Museum with a copy of the Death List that includes all the strange deaths linked with Mothman and more than 100 handwritten witness accounts of the sightings. The accounts describe encounters with a giant winged creature in and around Point Pleasant from 1965-68. Witnesses generally agreed that it had red, saucer-shaped eyes. Government-built grass-covered concrete domes used to store explosives - or, later, atomic waste - were reportedly Mothman's favorite perches.

This being West Virginia, scores of folks came out to try and shoot it. Today, the domes are part of a wildlife station, eerie and overgrown with brush and trees. Organized tours, often with a Mothman witness as a guide, can be arranged.

During the midst of the sightings, on Dec. 15, 1967, the collapse of Point Pleasant's Silver Bridge and the resulting deaths of 46 people brought the town to the attention of the world.

It was the worst bridge disaster in U.S. history. Soon after the collapse, Mothman disappeared. Did Mothman cause the bridge collapse, or come to warn of it?

The annual Mothman Festival draws thousands in September. So far, no one has been able to book the monster for a return appearance to face questions about the Silver Bridge.

Located in the same town as Mothman and also linked to the Silver Bridge disaster is one of West Virginia's monuments to its American Indian roots.

Cornstalk was one of the great Shawnee chiefs and leader of the Northwestern Confederacy of Indian tribes. In October 1774, he led nearly 1,000 Shawnee and other warriors to engage an equal number of Virginia militia in a fierce, day-long battle on a thumb of land between the juncture of the Ohio and Kanawha rivers. Hundreds of Indians and Virginians were slaughtered in the hand-to-hand combat. It was the biggest Indian battle to take place on West Virginia soil and turned out to be the end of the Indian wars in West Virginia and the Ohio Valley.

Cornstalk led his men away undefeated, but later was murdered by Americans when he went to warn them of an Indian alliance with the British. Legend has Cornstalk cursing Point Pleasant with his dying words. The collapse of the Silver Bridge within sight of the historic battlefield is linked to his curse.

Today, the 4-acre Tu-Endie-Wei State Park, in Point Pleasant, is dominated by an 86-foot granite obelisk honoring the fallen Virginians and dedicated in 1909. Almost as an afterthought, nearly a decade later a smaller monument was erected to Cornstalk and eventually moved to the park from the courthouse. His bones are in a metal box at the base of the monument. Later the state park placed restrooms nearby - hardly a way to relieve the curse.

Chief Logan of the Mingo tribe is another notable American Indian honored in various sectors of the state. There is a large statue of him deep in Monongahela National Forest at Mingo in Randolph County.

A little farther along the same road is another historic statue which claims to be a rare, clean-shaven, young Robert E. Lee but is most likely one of more than 30 generic Confederate soldier monuments in West Virginia. Logan trumps the supposed Lee, being both clean-shaven and bare-chested.

Of course, we'll never know if Logan was as "ripped" as the statue makes him.

Before we leave our Indian heritage, mention must be made of a monument that could be billed as John Henry meets Cornstalk. Tucked along a roadside in Calhoun County is a shrine to legendary mountain man and fighter Mike Fink. It commemorates Fink and an unknown Indian, noting: "Killed each other - 1780."

Another Confederate monument with a debatable story is the impressive one in Monroe County. Anticipating continued growth, in 1901, town fathers of Union placed the 20-foot Monroe County Confederate Monument in an empty field south of town. The Italian marble statue carved in Hinton remains on its native blue limestone base in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by grazing cows.

For more than a century, Devil Anse Hatfield starred in print media as patriarch in America's most famous feud. Then came Kevin Costner and the History Channel's award-winning miniseries "Hatfields & McCoys" that broke viewer records.

Fortunately, Devil Anse's lifesize Italian marble statue in the family cemetery near Sarah Ann is sufficiently impressive for an enduring global superstar.

Another Hatfield monument is somewhat less traditional. Down the road in Matewan, bullet holes in the brick walls of the old Matewan National Bank building are memorialized, marking the deadliest gunfight in American history.

In 1920, Sid Hatfield was chief of police in Matewan. He sided with the miners and locals in a May 19 battle against a coal company and their Baldwin-Felts detectives.

A year later, Hatfield was gunned down by retaliating detectives on the McDowell County Courthouse steps in Welch. Later in the month, miners staged a violent uprising at Blair Mountain. John Sayles captured this bloody chapter in his film "Matewan."

The Eastern Panhandle has two fascinating monuments to a pair of important early American heroes who were closely connected - George Washington and James Rumsey.

George Washington's Bathtub in Berkeley Springs State Park memorializes America's first president and its premier land developer. Washington's footsteps crisscross the state that was his favorite piece of 18th-century real estate.

He eventually acquired 30,000 acres in "West Augusta," a common colonial designation for the trans-Allegheny area now known as West Virginia.

The world's only monument to presidential bathing is appropriately located in Berkeley Springs, where Washington's journals note several occasions of his traveling there to "take the waters." Promoters acknowledge the hollow lined with stone and sand that encloses one of the noted springs is a "historic re-enactment" of conditions when Washington first came to bathe in the 1750s.

George Washington's Bathtub always puts a smile on visitors' faces and is a hugely popular photo opportunity. A mid-March Washington's Bathtub Celebration features local history events and $1 shopping.

Washington met James Rumsey, one of America's earliest and most prolific inventors on a visit to Berkeley Springs. Rumsey was part-owner of a local inn and was working on his steamboat. He later moved to Shepherdstown, where he successfully demonstrated the world's first steamboat in 1787, more than 20 years before Robert Fulton.

Devotees of Rumsey included Benjamin Franklin and a group of 20th-century Shepherdstown residents that revived Franklin's 18th-century Rumseian Society. In 1914, the Rumseians erected a sleek Ionic column of granite topped with a globe atop the cliffs along the Potomac to celebrate their hero's achievements.

Three unusual mid-20th-century monuments celebrate air and space travel, not usually attributes connected to West Virginia. America's first memorial to an aviator celebrates Weston native Louis Bennett Jr., organizer of the West Virginia Flying Corps, who was shot down during World War I.

The bronze figure on a granite base in Wheeling sports period leather helmet and goggles as well as a surprising full-size pair of wings.

Native son Chuck Yeager was the first man to break the sound barrier in an airplane. His impressive monument is a white-tipped rocket, erect and ready to fire.

An authentic NASA rocket was obtained by Coalwood's most famous son, Homer Hickam, and placed in a new municipal park. Hickam's childhood memoirs became a popular book and a hit movie, "October Sky," making the coal camp and slag pile where he designed his prize-winning rocket a tourist attraction.

An October Sky Rocket Boys Festival was spawned in Coalwood and is now held in Beckley.

The most recent memorial is one of the most compelling. The Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster of 2010 killed 29 men. The disaster led to an inspired black granite monument outside Whitesville. "Faces of the Mine" has silhouettes of coal miners on the mountain ridge with the names but not faces of those who died.

Learn more about the Mountain State's oddities and wonders in Jeanne Mozier's popular book "Way Out in West Virginia," now in an expanded and updated fourth edition. The second printing of "West Virginia Beauty: Familiar and Rare," by Jeanne Mozier and photographer Steve Shaluta, is scheduled for release later in July. Both books are available from the West Virginia Book Co.

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Rollin' on the river in grand elegance http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140706/GZ05/140709778 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140706/GZ05/140709778 Sun, 6 Jul 2014 00:01:00 -0400 By James A. Haught CHARLESTON, W.Va. - West Virginians who live near the Ohio River - at Huntington, Point Pleasant, Ravenswood, Parkersburg, St. Marys and other towns along the meandering path - sometimes see a spectacle: a colossal sternwheeler that looks like a floating palace, making one of its Pittsburgh trips.

The American Queen is awe-inspiring.

It's 418 feet long, six stories high, with room for 436 passengers in ornate staterooms, plus 160 crew.

It has all the perks of a mammoth cruise ship in a far more intimate setting: an elegant theater, a gracious dining hall with 20-foot vaulted ceiling, a Mark Twain river lore gallery, a topside swimming pool, a spa, nightly entertainment shows, daily history lectures, antique furnishings, champagne receptions and various other luxuries.

It's a genuine steamboat, burning diesel fuel to boil the steam that drives two monster pistons. They in turn move the enormous sternwheel that churns the ship upstream or down.

The ship is so tall that its twin smokestacks lie flat for passage under bridges, and its pilothouse can be lowered 9 feet, like an elevator.

Advertising brochures call it "the largest, most opulent riverboat in the world." That's believable to me.

Taking a waterborne vacation on this behemoth is an adventure.

My wife and I boarded at Cincinnati for a four-day jaunt to Louisville, Kentucky, and back, and it was marvelous.

We didn't join bus tours of riverside cities, because it was joyful simply to stay aboard and relish life on the wide Ohio River.

Dining is sumptuous, with five-course dinners nightly. Overeating is a temptation.

The boat's wisecracking pianist said people "arrive as passengers and leave as cargo."

I assume that cruise-takers tend to be older, like us. On our trip, the boat was full of retirees, many using wheelchairs, walkers or canes. Some were accompanied by grown children or grandchildren.

I also assume that cruise-takers generally are affluent, because prices are steep. As a couple, we paid $2,000 for the smallest stateroom - while many others cost twice or three times as much.

Floating resorts are expensive. After years of plying the Mississippi and Ohio, the Queen went bankrupt in 2008. It was purchased for $15.5 million by new owners, who spent $6 million more on refurbishments.

Although gambling boats have sprouted around America, the Queen has no casino.

We felt one minor aggravation: The Queen's cruises are arranged so that guests spend the first night in a luxury hotel, boarding the boat next day. The stay at Cincinnati's Hilton Netherland Plaza had some difficulties, with oldsters on walkers required to stand in long registration lines. Maybe the Queen's owners can simplify and quicken the sign-in process - or just let passengers drive directly to the boat.

Once we became waterborne, the trip was magical. Watching the passing shoreline, going through locks, and other river experiences were charming. It was an adventure to remember.

Reach Charleston Gazette editor Jim Haught at 304-348-5199 or haught@wvgazette.com.

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W.Va. Public Radio debuts 'Travel with Rick Steves' http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140706/GZ05/140709720 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140706/GZ05/140709720 Sun, 6 Jul 2014 00:01:00 -0400 CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Got the travel bug? Tune in to West Virginia Public Radio for "Travel with Rick Steves," part of a new stepped-up weekend schedule. The show will air on Sundays at 4 p.m., beginning July 6.

For decades, Rick Steves has been the go-to guy for travel through Europe, offering the detailed advice on attractions, tours, guides and more. As the story goes, Steves took his first trip to Europe in 1969, visiting piano factories with his father, a piano importer.

He began traveling on his own, saving money for his travels by teaching piano lessons, and opened Rick Steves' Europe in 1976.

Today he's a guidebook author and travel TV host with a staff of 80, has a weekly syndicated column, and produces more than 50 guidebooks on European travel.

Now Steves is extending his interest to include more global topics. "Travel with Rick Steves" is billed as a weekly one-hour conversation about travel, cultures, people and the things around the world that give life its extra sparkle.

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WV Travel Team: Smoky Mountains are a hot spot http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140629/GZ05/140629514 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140629/GZ05/140629514 Sun, 29 Jun 2014 00:01:00 -0400 By Mitzi Harrison WV Travel Team The Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge destination is like no other, and one that truly offers something special to people of all ages.

It's the ideal choice for those who are looking to satisfy a diverse group of travelers with unique interests.

The mountain's earliest inhabitants, the Cherokee Indians, called the area "the place of blue smoke."

The gray-blue haze that often cloaks the top peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains creates a mysterious allure to this magical place.

Nestled snuggly in the Smokies are the Tennessee towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, and both offer an amazing variety of things to do amid a backdrop of breathtaking scenery.

First things first, and the first thing that beckons visitors to the area is the Great Smoky Mountains, among the oldest mountains in the world.

The United States has 58 national parks, and fewer than 25 percent are located east of the Mississippi River. Great Smoky Mountains National Park spans two states (Tennessee and North Carolina) and includes more than 800 miles of hiking trails spread among the 521,895-acre park.

The mountains are home to an estimated 100,000 species of plant and animal life, and some varieties, like Jordan's red-cheeked salamander, call no other place on Earth their home.

The mountains are renowned for the abundance of plants and are home to more than 1,600 species.

From mid-June to mid-July, extravagant displays of mountain laurel, rhododendron and azalea flower en masse, especially at higher elevations.

Another natural wonder of the park is the many waterfalls. Possessing the two essential ingredients for waterfalls, ample rainfall - an average of 85 inches in the high country every year - and an elevation gradient, waterfalls can be found on nearly every river and stream in the park. At 120 feet, Mingo Falls is one of the tallest.

There are many ways to enjoy the park, including some that offer access for those with limited physical abilities. Visitors can hike, bike, go by horse or by car.

For the best view, head to Clingmans Dome, at 6,643 feet the highest elevation in Smokies. Overlooks along U.S. Highway 441 provide excellent spots to enjoy sunrises and sunsets.

Regardless of your mode of transportation, keep your eyes peeled for one of the 1,500 black bears that live in the park, and also for elk - the park's largest inhabitants. It goes without saying these animals are dangerous and are best enjoyed at a safe distance.

Of the park's neighboring towns, it's hard to choose a favorite, so most people don't - they visit both. Each town offers a wide-ranging variety of things to do, see and eat.

Although Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are neighbors, bordering one another, each town offers some special things that are uniquely their own.

Dolly Parton, a beloved east Tennessee native, is someone well known for supporting and promoting the area where she was raised.

Two iconic Pigeon Forge attractions boasting Dolly's name are Dollywood (of course) and the Dixie Stampede. If this is your first visit to Pigeon Forge, Dollywood and Dixie Stampede are on the "must-do" list.

Dollywood's theme park offers rides, entertainment, dining, crafts and shopping. Firechaser Express, Dollywood's answer to thrill-seeking families, opened in March and is the nation's first dual-launch family coaster, blasting riders forward and backward.

If coasters aren't the go-to ride for your family, Dollywood has time-honored favorites like the Scrambler and Demolition Derby bumper cars.

If you're visiting Dollywood on a hot summer day, you may want to consider spending at least some of your time at water park, which has more than 23 slides and thrill rides. The theme park and the water park offer rides and things to do for all ages. Visit www.dollywood.com to find out more about the park and learn about age and size restrictions.

When tummies get rumbly, the park offers fair-style favorites like funnel cakes and Dippin Dots, but if a more substantial meal is called for, Aunt Granny's All-You-Care-To-Eat Buffet is the place to satisfy appetites of all sizes.

This buffet is full of delicious country delights that include fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn bread and biscuits. You probably want to save this treat for when you're finished riding the amusement park rides.

Dixie Stampede is not your run-of-the-mill dinner theater. It's Appalachia's version of dinner and a show. The food and the show are "country-style" and will be thoroughly enjoyed by those of any age.

Sometimes audience members' enthusiasm is nearly as entertaining as the show itself. A 3-year-old boy standing with a chicken leg in one hand and waving a flag with the other hand, cheering on his "side" can be a real show-stealer.

If you plan to attend the show with a group of friends and family members, you'll need to choose which side to root for, the North or the South. Be sure you go in with the knowledge that things may become a little competitive.

The Dixie Stampede can accommodate groups of all sizes, and the show offers bluegrass and country music, 32 horses and a cast of top-notch riders and thundering hooves giving the heart-pounding feel of a real stampede.

Two important tips: Be sure to get your tickets ahead of time (especially for the 6 p.m. show), and, if eating with silverware is important to you, consider bringing your own - utensils are not provided with dinner. Don't worry though. The food is prepared and served in a manner where utensils aren't required to enjoy the fabulous feast.

Gatlinburg has so much to offer that they have a cable television channel dedicated to sharing all the adventures you can have while visiting. Once you settle in to your accommodations, tune in to cable channel 69 for ideas on what to do next.

Gatlinburg, also known as the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community, was established in 1937 and is the perfect place to learn about Appalachian culture and history. The community consists of more than 100 quaint shops and restaurants, boasting the largest group of independent artisans in North America.

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies is an unexpected gem, where visitors can get up-close views of 12-foot sharks, giant sea turtles, playful penguins and thousands of sea creatures. The clear underwater tunnels allow visitors a chummy, get-to-know-you view of many of the creatures.

Gatlinburg has plenty of accommodations for those seeking quiet, relaxing getaways, including secluded cabins, chalets, spas, tranquil hiking trails, quiet dining spots and stunning views.

Quiet Reflections Spa generated 58 "excellent" TripAdvisor reviews from the 61 people who reviewed it. A frequent Gatlinburg visitor and AAA travel expert said dinner at The Peddler Steakhouse restaurant is a must for every visit. "The steaks are incredible and the glass wall at the back offers stunning views of the woods" - ask for a riverside table.

Those who want to put a little more oomph into their Gatlinburg visit can choose ziplining, whitewater rafting, lazy river tubing, the Earthquake Subway Ride and arcade game fun.

Gatlinburg's Aerial Tramway provides stunning views of the Smokies. The 120-passenger tram transports visitors from downtown Gatlinburg to an elevation of 2,700 feet to a mountain resort that provides a full day's worth of exciting things to do.

And there's more - Gatlinburg has five miniature golf courses and two full-size golf courses, a haunted house and ghost walks, a mirror maze and a store with a 25-foot indoor climbing wall and swinging rope bridge.

There is also an impressive number of breweries, distilleries and wineries in the area, including Smoky Mountain Winery - east Tennessee's oldest producer of premium wines.

For many years, mountain moonshine makers were secretive about their special craft - but today, some producers have "gone legal," and visitors can take home bottles of Tennessee's finest beverage.

n The Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster puts you in control your own personal coaster. With more than a mile of track, it's the longest downhill ride in the U.S.

n There are Ferris wheels, but none like the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel. Standing tall at 200 feet, this is the world's largest Ferris wheel. Due to the height and slow movement, the Skywheel is considered to be more of an observation wheel than Ferris wheel. The gondola walls are made out of glass providing stunning views of the Smoky Mountains from every seat during the eight- to 10-minute ride.

n Fans of "family-style" dining will appreciate the Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant. If you're not familiar, family-style dining is all-you-can-eat, but it's not a buffet. Large bowls of food are served up and gladly refilled upon request, allowing you get your fill of your favorites. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and offers a Sunday-best menu too. All menus are available online along with a few recipes so you can take a stab at re-creating your favorite dishes at home. Visit the Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant website: www.applewoodfarmhouserestaurant.com.

Accommodations abound, and the limitless choices run the gamut from primitive campsites to high-end luxurious condominiums and chalets that boast amazing mountain views, granite counter tops and over-the-top ensuite bedrooms.

People visit the region for many different reasons such as weddings, reunions, annual group getaways and family vacations, and there are properties available to accommodate most any need, including intimate, romantic spaces and cabins with 12 bedrooms or more, large enough to accommodate groups of considerable size.

AAA Auto Travel Service representatives can provide all the important details and help travelers find the perfect place for their Smoky Mountains visit. Before you go, visit the AAA office in Charleston to:

n Purchase discounted Dollywood and Ripley's Aquarium tickets (discount available to AAA members).

n Pick up a complete guide to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

n Get visitor guides for the entire Smoky Mountains region.

n Get help from AAA Auto Travel Service representatives with help planning a tailor-made trip - if this isn't your first visit to the area, the AAA travel experts can bring you up to date on what's new since your last visit and tell you about any special events, such as festivals and shows, taking place during the time you plan to visit.

Mitzi Harrison manages AAA Travel for the Charleston area and divides her time between Cincinnati and West Virginia.

For more information on Gatlinburg and other destinations, 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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WV Travel Team: Wine and dine at W.Va. B&Bs http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140621/GZ05/140629979 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140621/GZ05/140629979 Sat, 21 Jun 2014 23:00:00 -0400 By Toni Mathias-Harvey WV Travel Team Ignore the milk and cereal or cold plastic-wrapped pastries.

At West Virginia Bed and Breakfast Association inns and properties across the state, breakfasts may range from goat cheese and spinach omelets or roasted vegetable frittatas to Belgian waffles topped with West Virginia maple syrup, fresh raspberries, strawberries and blackberries or homemade biscuits and ramp butter.

What most people don't realize, though, is that when staying at a WVBBA property, it's not all just about the breakfast.

From the Eastern Panhandle to the New River/Greenbrier Valley, bed and breakfast inns across the Mountain State offer culinary venues from fine dining to picnic lunches, from wine pairings or casual dinners on the porch to romantic dinners for two.

It's arguably one of the best-kept secrets in the state, but many WVBBA owners are also chefs de cuisine, sous chefs, pastry chefs, Master Sommeliers or Certified Wine Specialists.

Their culinary backgrounds and education are as diverse and expansive as their properties, from training at the Pennsylvania School of Culinary Arts in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (chef Justin Meyer, Hillbrook Inn), Gevrey Chambertin in Burgundy, France (Ed Fischer, North Fork Mountain Inn), or attending classes at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, to establishing and contributing to the development of the culinary curriculum at Pierpont Culinary Academy in Fairmont (chef Tim Urbanic, Café Cimino Country Inn).

If you were to do a culinary B&B tour of the state, you might start in the Eastern Panhandle at The Hillbrook Inn & Spa, situated on 30 sprawling acres in Jefferson County.

As part of the Select Registry network, Hillbrook Inn's guests are able to choose from 18 suites and cottages tastefully decorated in a European style.

Under Justin Meyer's direction, the inn's culinary team artfully prepares five-course candlelight dinners every night from the chef's selection of prix-fixe menus.

Additional three-course dinners are served on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. "Mindful Menus" are also available to accommodate specific dietary needs.

In addition to extraordinary culinary offerings, join one of Hillbrook Inn's three expert chefs for a hands-on professional cooking class in their beautiful and newly renovated Hawthorn Estate kitchen.

Recipes are provided and, of course, each prepared dish is tasted and evaluated by the chef and class participants. Choose from foundation skills classes, such as basic knife skills or sauces, or skill building classes to create pastas or pastries.

Discover a weekend of culinary immersion in historic Charles Town. From there, travel southwest to North Fork Mountain Inn in Grant County, also on the Select Registry, and surround yourself in the Monongahela National Forest.

You will find expansive wraparound porches with majestic views of the Smoke Hole Canyon and an education in pairing wine with culinary delights.

Before starting your day, place your order for one of the North Fork Mountain Inn's popular gourmet picnic lunches. With your basket in hand, get ready to indulge at nearby Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area.

Casual dining is presented Sunday through Friday evenings, with a variety of salads and entrées to choose from.

On Saturday evenings, fine dining is a very special event at the inn.

The evening begins with a complimentary and guided wine tasting of five to six wines from around the world. There are approximately 140 professionals who hold the title Master Sommelier in North America, and owner Ed Fischer is one of them.

"Wine tasting and appreciation is very much a subjective experience," Fischer says. "I would invite each person to start their journey of wines around the world discovering why they enjoy the wines they do. What is most important is to enjoy wines that you like and not necessarily those that the experts say are the best."

Travel southwest to the next stop on your tour - Café Cimino Country Inn in Braxton County.

Specializing in southern Italian cuisine and Euro/Mediterranean dishes, world-renowned chef Tim Urbanic's reverence for food, the land and the quality of the dining experience demands that each guest's dinner is thoughtfully prepared especially for them.

Executive sous chef Eli Urbanic is upholding and expanding the family tradition.

Pastas with heritage Italian sauces, handcrafted gnocchi with morels and ramps, or homemade lasagna are followed by desserts that are prepared daily.

On Tuesdays, Café Cimino Country Inn offers a "Cimino Little Dish" menu in the bistro on the banks of the Elk River.

The Italian-style tapas menu offers guests the opportunity to sample enticing appetizers, breads, olives or cheese plates with fine wines, their favorite cocktail or artisan beers.

As Melody Urbanic explains, "Café Cimino Country Inn offers upscale dining in a relaxed country-inn atmosphere, where guests can enjoy a great breakfast and also wonderful dinners, a river view bar and great wines from all over the world.

"Chef Tim and I are celebrating our 15th year in hospitality, and love the opportunity to offer an elevated dining experience in the relaxed atmosphere of a quaint little West Virginia town."

There are many WVBBA properties throughout the state that offer culinary delights with dinners, lunches and special meals for guests and travelers. Visit the West Virginia Bed and Breakfast Association website at www.wvbedandbreakfasts.com for information to plan your culinary travels at WVBBA properties.

Toni Mathias-Harvey is a West Virginia innkeeper and president of the West Virginia Bed & Breakfast Association. Comments and questions can be sent to stay@wvbedandbreakfasts.com.

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Travel Notes: June 22, 2014 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140621/GZ05/140629993 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140621/GZ05/140629993 Sat, 21 Jun 2014 23:00:00 -0400 Bluegrass festival

SUMMERSVILLE, W.Va. - The 34th annual Music in the Mountains Bluegrass Festival at the Summersville Music Park, on Webster Road, runs June 25-28.

The outdoor music event is dedicated to the memory of co-owner Edgar Kitchen who, along with his wife, Eunice, 96, has often been recognized for contributions to the state's musical heritage. This year, however, Eunice Kitchen will be recognized for her undying commitment to bluegrass music in a unique way.

She will be crowned Queen of the Festival.

"I never thought anything like this, being crowned queen of this festival, would ever happen to me," Eunice said.

The 2014 musical lineup includes bluegrass legend Dr. Ralph Stanley, whose career has spanned more than 60 years and is known for popularizing the song "Man of Constant Sorrow" in 1951; five-time Grammy nominee singer-songwriter Rhonda Vincent; International Bluegrass Music Hall of Famer Doyle Lawson and other bluegrass greats.

Cast members Corby Patton and Rufus Keeney of the History Channel series "Appalachian Outlaws" will also make appearances.

For more information, contact Betty Dotson-Lewis at 704-929-3118.

July Fourth in Ripley

RIPLEY, W.Va. - "The USA's Largest Small Town 4th of July Celebration," Ripley's 2014 festivities include a concert by West Virginian Adam D. Tucker, who headlines a full day of entertainment on the Jackson County Courthouse square.

Morning activities will start with a pancake breakfast from 7 to 10 a.m. at Calvary United Methodist Church, followed by the 10 a.m. opening ceremonies on the courthouse lawn. This year marks the 16th running of the Firecracker 2 Miler race at 11:30 a.m. in front of the thousands of spectators who will be lined up for the parade at noon.

Dreama Denver, widow of TV celebrity Bob Denver, of "Gilligan's Island" fame, will serve as grand marshal.

Other highlights will include a carnival by Gambill Amusements (July 1-5), a 7 p.m. pig roast at Country Rhodes Bed & Breakfast, and a 10 p.m. fireworks display.

Visit www.Ripley4thofJuly.us for a complete schedule of events. Call the Ripley Convention & Visitors Bureau at 304-514-2609 or 844-772-8850 for information.

Sternwheel Regatta

POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. - The annual Point Pleasant Sternwheel Regatta takes place along Main Street and Riverfront Park, Point Pleasant, June 26-28. Admission is free, and events include entertainment, food, dinner cruise and a pageant. For more information, visit www.pointpleasantregatta.org/, email hill86@suddenlink.net or call 304-593-2404.

Road bowling finals

IRELAND, W.Va. - The top male and female bowlers from each of two open qualifiers will compete in the West Virginia Irish Road Bowling Association's state finals next weekend in Ireland, Lewis County. Semifinals will take place all day Saturday, and the finals will be Sunday afternoon.

For more information, visit www.wvirishroadbowling.com or call David Powell at 202-387-1680 or 202-905-1959.

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