www.wvgazette.com Travel http://www.wvgazette.com Gazette archive feed en-us Copyright 2015, Charleston Newspapers, Charleston, WV Newspapers Lost River Trading Post offers eclectic experience http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150426/GZ05/150429573 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150426/GZ05/150429573 Sun, 26 Apr 2015 00:01:00 -0400 This is part one of a two-part series on the revival of one of West Virginia's smallest towns.

By Douglas Imbrogno

Staff writer

WARDENSVILLE - For years, Paul Yandura and Donald Hitchcock had passed through this small dot of a town on the way to their vacation home in Lost River about 20 miles away. The Hardy County town, with a population of about 250 people, really only has one main drag, but it's a classic Main Street, which had been a sleepy one for many years.

In 2011, the Lost River Brewing Co. opened at one end of town, a craft brewery and pub featuring a menu packed with items like pan-seared snapper, sun-dried tomato risotto, bison meatloaf and raw oysters on the half shell. That was an interesting new development in the tiny town.

Now, Yandura and Hitchcock, longtime partners, have bookended the town at its other end with an upscale, eclectic antique store, baked goods, coffeeshop, art gallery and just-about-everything shop called Lost River Trading Post, which they opened in 2013.

Yandura, 46, and Hitchcock, 42, were initially part of the weekend exodus out of Washington, D.C., to Lost River and the Guesthouse Lost River, popular among D.C.'s gay community as a place for weekend getaways and vacation homes. The New York Times even noted the trend in an October 2013 article, "In the backwoods of Lost River, a Gay Retreat."

But Yandura and Hitchock had other ideas than merely a retreat from D.C.'s hustle and bustle.

"We were coming out all the time. Weekends started to become Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Then Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday," said Yandura. "We were always trying to be out here as much as possible."

Yandura was burned out from working in D.C. He'd started young, as a 23-year-old assistant in the Clinton administration. So young that he'd earned the nickname "Grasshopper," a reference to what Master Po called his young student in the "Kung Fu" TV show.

Hitchcock had also been deeply enmeshed in D.C. political life, first as a civil rights activist working on gay and lesbian equal rights, then a stint with the Democratic National Committee and then in his last four years in the city as a medical device salesman.

They kept their D.C. jobs while earning real estate licenses to use in West Virginia.

Their first commercial listing was for a 1940s building in the town that had been a Southern States feed store and most recently an antiques shop.

Today, it's "the building we now have here for Lost River Trading Post," said Yandura. "It was just a fluke. We kept thinking, 'Boy, if you built an all-American-made or locally made-from-scratch bakery/coffeeshop and put it in this old feed store, it'd probably be a big draw.' We were actually using that to sell the building, that business plan."

Then they thought, why not do it themselves? After all, said Yandura, more than 4,000 cars a day pass through Wardensville on average, and it's a gateway from the east into the state.

"So, we found a way not to actually just come out on weekends but to be out here full-time," said Yandura.

The trading post's merchandise is constantly evolving, featuring a wide variety of local and regional crafts from jewelry, handwoven rugs, heirloom Fiesta dinnerware, rocking chairs fashioned from branches and tables made from recycled barn woods to tin signs, hand-painted axes and possibly the only disco ball for sale in all of Hardy County. There's also a small art gallery named for Yandura's past: The Grasshopper Gallery.

They stock a wide variety of craft beers and wines, and area foods like honey made in the town and chocolate from not-too-far-away Warrenton, Virginia.

They initially thought their main clientele would be the stream of gay travelers heading in on weekends and traveling through the town on their way to Lost River, gearing their days open - Friday, Saturday and Sunday - to the influx.

"We actually thought that would be our major audience - to get some of the gay market to come in here and shop," said Hitchcock. "And it has been a major part of our audience. But we've really expanded who we know in this area. We are surprised how many people welcome us outside of that community.

"The reality is we're really getting a lot of families coming through, going skiing," said Hitchcock. "We're getting a lot of young couples that are going hiking for the weekend. So, we're getting a lot of diversity coming through here. And we're getting a lot of people that live here, either full time or they've either retired here or they relocated here. And they're really excited - you know, you can get a really good cup of coffee. You can hang out and use our wi-fi. We've introduced vegan products, and gluten-free and raw products, to this community."

Last year, they bought a house next door to the trading post, hanging a rainbow flag out front. They helped launch a Main Street Initiative and have lobbied in Charleston on behalf of Wardensville, along with Mayor Barbara Ratcliff. They have worked with a host of people, young and old, to revitalize the town and to make Wardensville a destination stop.

"When The New York Times did their story, I thought it was too focused on gay and lesbian couples coming out here," Yandura said. "Because the truth of the matter is, this town, Lost River, they're just open and friendly. And so, it's really a place where everyone could come.

"Our hope was always that we'd have a high-end client coming through. We just didn't know who that was. We knew one segment of that has always been talked about it. Even that article missed the bigger picture of what's happening here," said Yandura.

"Lots and lots of people who want to get away from the city, want to get away from the hustle and bustle and stress of Washington or Baltimore or Virginia or anywhere - and they come out here and they kind of decompress. And they're like, 'Wow, this is amazing.' The secret really is that."

And some now are saying they want to retire in the area, he said.

"They're working from here, now that there's fiber-optic Internet. Yeah, we weren't sure and we took a big risk. But, you know, it has paid off for sure."

The store acts as a "dragnet," said Yandura. Customers come in, hear the 1940s music playing - in homage to the building's vintage - buy some food, or coffee, knickknacks or antiques or check out the real-estate listings that can be seen on a rotating computer screen or on a board out front of the shop.

They are constantly changing up the shop. "Every time you come in, it's changed," said Yandura. "We move things all the time. This isn't supposed to be a grocery store where you know where the lemons are and you know where the salt is. For me, it's like, you should come in here every time and be disoriented and try to figure out where everything is and how to find it because then you might see something that you didn't before. It's 5,000 square feet of stuff.

"People say, 'Well, I don't know if I need that.' I'm like, 'Well, we don't sell need. We sell want.' If you need what we have, there's probably a problem. Really, we sell what you want, not what you need."

Yandura and Hitchcock both say moving to small-town West Virginia as a gay couple has gone smoothly.

"Being new is one thing. Being not from here is another thing. These are all hard things," said Yandura.

"Being gay is a whole other thing. But so many people have gay people in their families, now it's less and less of an issue. If we would have done this 30 years ago, I'm not sure we would be feeling as safe as we do."

Whether people like it or not, the world is changing, he said. "So, the question really becomes, can we all work together or not?

"But since we've been so involved, the pastors here, the people who grew up here, they've been very supportive. I know that there are people who are not. We didn't come here to change their mind. We came here to start a business. We came here to make this place a destination."

Lost River Trading Post is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday through Sunday. Call 304-8740-3300 or visit lostrivertrading post.com.

Reach Douglas Imbrogno at douglas@cnpapers.com or 304-348-3017.

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WV Travel Team: Old city has 21st-century appeal http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150426/GZ05/150429611 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150426/GZ05/150429611 Sun, 26 Apr 2015 00:01:00 -0400 By Jeanne Mozier WV Travel Team LANCASTER, Pa. - When my editor offered a Pennsylvania Farm Getaway Weekend where I could help plant the garden and work with animals, I laughed. I do that at home, like many West Virginians.

What I had in mind for a quick getaway was urban. A city that art was turning into a 21st-century hot spot. So, we headed for Pennsylvania anyway - not to famed Amish Country but to Lancaster City, population 60,000 or so.

Lancaster has added another "A" to their check list of attractions with "Art" taking its place along with "Antiques" and "Amish." Three colleges, the downtown art scene and frequent trains to Philadelphia and New York make the city a magnet for that prized twenty- and thirtysomething demographic searching for a vibrant urban location that is still appealing for families. Once they arrive and become the business community and audience, a place becomes even more vibrant.

The resulting numbers in Lancaster are impressive - more than 200 places to shop and 100 indie bars, restaurants and cafes at which to eat.

The smoldering core is 12 square blocks centering on King, Prince, Duke and Queen streets, a sure giveaway that Lancaster is an old city. They claim to be one of, if not the, oldest inland cities in the country.

The architecture - an irreplaceable partner in the art designation - bears out the history time line. With more than 14,000 buildings spanning the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, Lancaster is one of the largest urban historic districts in the country.

Victorian brick townhouses define many of the downtown neighborhoods. Devoted to the creed of adaptive reuse, historic buildings are preserved, primped and polished. Even new construction, like the Marriott at Penn Square and its attached convention center, worships at the altar of the past.

The $177 million project to build the nearly 300-room hotel with adjoining convention center was already underway when Lancaster's first archaeological dig unearthed a remarkable relic from the Underground Railroad directly in the pathway of the convention center main entrance. What was thought to be a stone water cistern in the law office of famed abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens turned out to be a hidey-hole for runaway slaves.

The project was stopped and the area was excavated and turned over to the historical society to interpret. It can be seen behind glass in the convention center lobby.

Two other historical wonders underscore the realization that this is not a standard Marriott in the heart of Lancaster. Developers chose to retain the 1898 historic facade of a notable department store and, even more intriguing, captured intact an elegant, three-story Federal-style mansion in the hotel lobby.

A perfect convergence of art, food and adaptive reuse is the Lancaster Art Hotel, which opened less than a decade ago in an 18th-century tobacco warehouse. The 63 rooms, 12 suites and intimate lobby are filled with more than 250 pieces of local, and not-so-local art in a variety of mediums.

Original brick walls, wood floors and retained industrial wood columns make it obvious that this hotel is something out of the ordinary. Magnetic room door signs are part of the charm, proclaiming "Artist at Work, Do Not Disturb" and "Messy Studio, Please Clean." Like much of the city, the boutique hotel is eclectic and sophisticated while welcoming and relaxed.

The Art Hotel's indie on-site restaurant John J. Jeffries exploits some of the world's richest farmlands just up the road in its pioneering devotion to farm-to-table organic fare, including an artisan meatloaf using local grass-fed beef and pork.

On the other side of the hotel's walled-in patio is a linear park and bike trail, a city-owned wonder with tunnels, playgrounds and gardens along the way to the heart of downtown. Art Hotel guests happily borrow bikes complete with wicker baskets to travel for an afternoon of shopping.

Centerpiece of the art renaissance in the city is Gallery Row, a 15-year exercise in businesslike civic virtue. "Thank heavens for Dennis Cox," said Karen Meacham, proprietor of Art & Glassworks, a certified old-timer and anchor of early ventures into branding city blocks.

Cox, a downtown businessman, launched his Broken Windows project and bought up two blocks of dilapidated buildings between the Fulton Theater and Pennsylvania College of Art and Design.

He turned them into galleries, renting space to artists at modest prices that increased with success. Today, nearly a dozen galleries are there; one or two, like artist Christiane David, have graduated from renter to owner.

It's not all visual art, or even architecture on Prince Street. Built in 1852, the Fulton Theater is a palace of 600-plus seats celebrating its 163rd season. Some years the Fulton was a vaudeville house and its halls are lined with photographs of the greats who appeared there, from Mark Twain to Harry Houdini.

Today it's a regional professional theater with six main stage productions a year cast out of New York and Chicago, plus a black box space.

Next door is the newly constructed Ware Center, a public performance space for Millersville University and the last building designed by noted architect Philip Johnson. The Ware is a presenting venue for nearly 50 one-night traveling shows featuring everything from dance to a wide range of music. The perfect acoustics of the Ware auditorium were apparent at the performance we saw of Ed Asner as FDR.

Art museums are also in evidence, including Demuth Museum, featuring Lancaster's most famous artist, Charles Demuth, friend of Georgia O'Keeffe, who would come to Lancaster to paint with him. Next door is another Demuth enterprise, the oldest tobacco shop in the United States, operated since 1770 by a series of Demuths, currently Christopher, son of Henry.

Monthly First Friday ArtWalks with 35 downtown stops make plausible Lancaster's claim to more working artists per square mile than the Big Apple. The big Artwalk of the year is coming up on the first weekend in May.

Joining the permanent gallery attractions is the Senior Show that fills all four floors of the Pennsylvania College of Art & Design on the edge of Gallery Row. Music Fridays, on the third Friday of the month, showcase the performance aspect of the art scene with musicians inside and out.

Building momentum over the past quarter-century, Lancaster now makes the top 25 indie shopping hot spots with a staggering array of homegrown shopping venues that include both the galleries and a funky pair of blocks on Queen Street, where they stage their own block party the second Sunday in June with music, food, arts and crafts.

The award for best shopping goes to the city-owned and nonprofit-managed Central Market, the oldest continual-use farmers market in the country, a bona fide social hub in the way no standardized supermarket will ever be. Housed in a spectacular Romanesque Revival structure built in 1889, Central Market has more than 60 gleaming stalls occupied by producers from the county offering everything from chickens and grass-fed meats to organic produce and specialty baked goods for pets.

The market is open year-round but only three days a week, allowing vendors time to prepare their products.

"It preserves the intimate connection between buyer and the person growing or making the food," explained market manager Jessica Mailhot.

No city can claim hot-spot status in the 21st century without marquee food appeal, and Lancaster has that.

Overabundant buffets filled with Pennsylvania Dutch comfort food have been a mainstay for those visiting surrounding Amish countryside. But in the city, the offerings are contemporary and diverse with new restaurants opening daily.

Specialty taste treats score high with a pair of breweries, a boutique distiller, wine tasting rooms and bakeries. Even the visitors center posted along the highway outside of town has a taste treat available: a permanent trailer of Mr. Stickey's, cinnamon buns big enough for a meal, laced with brown sugar and a choice of nuts.

If you could create the ideal pub to have as your hometown hangout, Annie Bailey's would be a perfect model. Once an iconic men's clothing store housed in a 1905 building, it was transformed into a lush Irish pub about a decade ago and is now on its second owners.

Josh and Jake Funk are poster children for the new wave of downtown revival. Third-generation Lancastrians, they are restaurant professionals who returned home after learning the business in several major cities. With live music every weekend, an erudite bar inventory and excellent pub fare including soups that could be a meal, Annie Bailey's is always busy.

Down the main street a couple blocks is Aussie and the Fox, another new eatery in a well-restored building. Co-owner Julie Garber, unlike the Funks, had no experience in the restaurant business but hired those who do and keeps out of their way working there as hostess. The fun, playful but sophisticated energy of the place is palpable. Garber does her part in keeping downtown hopping with music on Tuesdays and movies on Wednesdays.

Among the most lauded of several Asian eateries is Sa La Thai, firmly ensconced on the 300 block of Queen Street. Its authentic and extensive menu of traditional and specialty Thai dishes, more than a dozen noodles, soups, salads and appetizers, makes it a welcome addition for those seeking both vegetarian and gluten-free fare.

Observing the bustle of downtown Lancaster, one of the most notable sights is what is not present: street trash. Streets are impressively clean and sidewalk décor seasonally changed.

For more adventure and the familiar attractions of Amish Country, Lancaster County is a cornucopia of more than 25 small towns, many with cultural scenes and major attractions of their own from Adamstown, the antiques capital, to Lititz to Amish centers in Intercourse and Bird in Hand with country craft shops, buffet restaurants, buggy rides and tours. DiscoverLancaster.com has it all online.

Jeanne Mozier lives in Berkeley Springs. She is author of the popular "Way Out in West Virginia." Considered a must-have guide to the wonders and oddities of the Mountain State, it is available in bookstores throughout the state and from wvbookco.com.

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Charleston announces tourism award finalists http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150419/GZ05/150419370 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150419/GZ05/150419370 Sun, 19 Apr 2015 00:01:00 -0400 CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Voting is underway for the final round of the Charleston Tourism's People's Choice Awards.

After receiving nominations by residents and visitors to Charleston, the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau announced the finalists in the 10 award categories.

People can log on to the CVB's website, www.charlestonwv.com, until April 24 to vote on their favorite restaurant, attraction, event and more.

The finalists in the third annual People's Choice Awards are:

Favorite restaurant: Brick Salt Bar + Kitchen, Pies & Pints, Lola's Pizza, Black Sheep Burrito

Favorite attraction: Clay Center, "Mountain Stage," Appalachian Power Park, Capitol Market

Favorite event: FestivALL, Live on the Levee, Wine & Jazz Festival, Charleston Restaurant Week

Favorite family activity: Live on the Levee, West Virginia Power baseball, FestivALL, Magic Island Movie Night

Favorite specialty drink: Sangria, Lola's Pizza; Moscow Mule, Celsius; Moscow Mule, Brick Salt Bar + Kitchen; Raj IPA beer, Black Sheep Burrito/Charleston Brewing Co.

Favorite food dish: Grape pie, Pies & Pints; fried feta, Adelphia Sports Bar; Almost Heaven roll, Ichiban; Boom Boom Shrimp, Brick Salt Bar + Kitchen

Favorite dessert shop: Ellen's Homemade Ice Cream, Sarah's Bakery, Charleston Bread Co., Sugar Pie Bakery

Favorite retail/boutique: Kin Ship Goods, Heidi Dylan Boutique, Collage, Cornucopia, Tony the Tailor

Favorite lodging: Charleston Marriott Town Center, Charleston Embassy Suites, Four Points by Sheraton, Brass Pineapple

Favorite nightlife spot: Empty Glass, Boulevard Tavern, Vino's Bar & Grill, Bar 101

The winners will be announced in conjunction with National Tourism Week, May 2-10, at the B&D Gastropub, 200 35th St., Kanawha City, on May 7 at 5 p.m. The awards reception is open to the public.

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B&O Museum looks at W.Va.'s role in Civil War http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150419/GZ05/150419371 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150419/GZ05/150419371 Sun, 19 Apr 2015 00:01:00 -0400 By Howard Swint For the Sunday Gazette-Mail BALTIMORE - Does West Virginia exist because of a private railroad that originated in Maryland? And did just one viaduct on that railroad in Preston County determine the outcome of the Civil War?

Those questions and many more about antebellum western Virginia are explored in the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore.

The museum is a restored railroad roundhouse where a perfectly balanced center turntable still allows vintage locomotives to be repaired and set on alternate tracks with the pull of a rope.

It is a marvel in and of itself, but the rolling stock is the big draw to the museum. On display are some of the earliest transportation vehicles in American history - and most have ties to western Virginia.

There is a replica of a Conestoga wagon that once plied the Great Wagon Road down the Shenandoah Valley through the Eastern Panhandle, and a restored stage coach from the National Road Stage Company that carried passengers from Baltimore to Wheeling, on the nation's first interstate highway.

For railroad aficionados, some of the earliest locomotives are preserved as original equipment - as the B&O was the nation's first commercial rail carrier with its mainline from Baltimore to Wheeling and a spur from Grafton to Parkersburg.

But it is the exhibit "The War Came by Train," commemorating the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, that significantly broadens the museum's experience, including for children.

American history buffs of every stripe will be drawn to the various exhibits that are richly detailed and rigorously researched, in keeping with the high standards of the Smithsonian Institution, which co-sponsors the exhibit.

For West Virginians it should be nothing less than a pilgrimage, as western Virginia's critical role in the Union effort is a common thread throughout the entire exhibit.

One display shows how the B&O telegraph line - a technological marvel in its own right - sent news of John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry almost instantaneously to Washington, resulting in a quick response from then-Col. Robert E. Lee of the U.S. Marines.

Another display is devoted to the Blockhouse, a raised hexagonal fortification that was hailed as a "force multiplier," due to a field report that stated "a single company of infantry could hold off an entire regiment of cavalry as long as it did not have artillery."

The first blockhouse was deployed adjacent to the Tray Run Viaduct on the B&O mainline near Rowlesburg, a massive iron bridge whose strategic importance was so great then-Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee stated its destruction would be "worth to me an army."

Gen. Stonewall Jackson's Great Train Raid of 1861 in Martinsburg is chronicled whereby 56 locomotives and 386 railcars were either destroyed or disassembled and transported down the Valley Pike by horse and oxen for the Confederate cause.

That raid was so devastating the B&O was forced to accelerate an advanced design and construction program for replacement locomotives, the first of which, the Thatcher Perkins, launched in 1863, survived the war and is now displayed inside the roundhouse.

Yet another exhibit profiles the 1864 Greenback Raid on one of the B&O mainline passenger trains by the fabled Mosby's Rangers in Duffields. It is considered the most lucrative of the war when Confederate forces commandeered $173,000 and pocketed $2,000 each.

But perhaps the most compelling story of all is the B&O Railroad itself.

Conceived out of economic desperation by Baltimore civic leaders who feared they'd lose the race for western commerce to the C&O Canal, they embarked upon one of the biggest economic gambles of their generation.

With the ceremonial laying of the first stone in Baltimore on July 4, 1828, by Charles Carroll, the last remaining signatory to the Declaration of Independence, the railroad would take 25 years to construct to its charter's terminus in Wheeling in 1853.

And when completed, it resulted in the most technologically advanced transportation system in the world, rendering both the National Road and the still-under-construction C&O Canal obsolete and giving Baltimore direct access to the all-important Ohio River.

Its physical construction techniques revolutionized engineering and brought economic prosperity to virtually every town and city it served, especially in northwestern Virginia.

One display includes an antebellum photograph of Martinsburg's roundhouse where the B&O's new iron-constructed pot hopper railcars are on display, heralding the opening of western Virginia's coalfields to Eastern markets.

So sweeping were the railroad's industrial and economic advances that historians have stated they were tantamount to the nation's moon shot a century later.

As to whether the successful defense of the Tray Run viaduct in Preston County - then the largest in the world and featured in the London Times - determined the outcome of the Civil War is hard to say, but its importance to the Union effort earned the mainline the moniker "Lincoln's Lifeline."

And as to whether West Virginia owes its very statehood to the B&O Railroad? Probably - but that's difficult to conclude. What is certain is that the railroad and the viaduct are forever memorialized on the seal of the governor and the reverse side of the Great Seal of West Virginia.

Howard Swint is a Charleston-based commercial property broker. He can be reached at hfswint@frontier.com.

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WV Travel Team: Our hills are alive with the sound of music! http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150419/GZ05/150419413 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150419/GZ05/150419413 Sun, 19 Apr 2015 00:01:00 -0400 By Amy Shuler Goodwin WV Travel Team CHARLESTON, W.Va. - This week I celebrate another wedding anniversary with the man from Jackson County I married a long time ago. Together we enjoy a couple of really cute kids, a house cluttered with hockey sticks, muddy running shoes, band equipment strewn everywhere, and a sweet Lab from the animal shelter named Gus.

While the normal pull and tug of life keeps us hopping, we are healthy and happy.

Life is good.

Every anniversary I am asked, "How did you meet your husband?"

My short answer: He was the drummer in a band I used to go and watch when I was in college.

The long, and more truthful, answer goes something like this:

One of my best friends in college, Aly Goodwin Gregg, was often bribed by her father, Steve, with $10 to go watch her cousin, Booth, play a show in Morgantown. As her supportive and poor roommate, I was always up for a "parent-sponsored" evening out.

While the bass player caught my eye, it was the drummer boy in the back who kept pace for this incredibly talented, funky, alternative band - all while wearing a white polo and khakis - who stole my heart.

Music brought us together then - and is important to us now.

I walked down the aisle to "Simple Gifts."

And our kids did KinderMusic before they could walk.

We have downloaded thousands of songs to our kitchen iMac so we can jam to new and old songs while cooking dinner.

We also listen to live music every chance we get because nothing beats a live performance.

What we know now, through research recently conducted by the West Virginia Division of Tourism, is people will travel to hear live music. Millennials, Gen X'ers and the Baby Boomers all want to experience live music because it's authentic. It's real.

While West Virginia has a base of folks who know about our rich music scene, one of our new focuses is to help share the hidden - and not so hidden - music treasures held within our 55 counties.

One of the strongest travel motivators revealed in the 2014 Longwoods Image and Advertising Accountability study was that a location had "lots to see and do."

Travelers aren't just coming to whitewater raft, bike or see a show. They want options. They want to know they have something to do in the evening - something that will make their experience more enjoyable and more meaningful.

The late John Denver said, "Music does bring people together; it allows us to experience the same emotions. People everywhere are the same in heart and in spirit. No matter what language we speak, what color we are, the form of our politics or the expression of our love and our faith, music proves: We are the same."

Music has played a big part in West Virginia's history, bringing people together to mourn, celebrate and dream.

The West Virginia Music Hall of Fame has created a great website showcasing and honoring the best of the best from throughout the state.

The site www.wvmusichalloffame.comfeatures an interactive map allowing users to experience music from noted West Virginia artists. Executive Director Michael Lipton has also provided West Virginia educators an outstanding resource for students to learn about the history of mountain music.

For more than three decades, "Mountain Stage" has been the home of live music on public radio. Produced in West Virginia by a bunch of crazy-talented folks like Vas Scouras, Jeff Shirley and Paul Flaherty, "Mountain Stage" can be heard across 130 stations in America and around the world through their website, www.mountainstage.org.

Whatever your passion - blues, rock, indie, pop or zydeco - "Mountain Stage" records music legends and upcoming stars in front of a live audience. Adam Harris, the producer for the show, overdelivers every single week.

Host Larry Groce is reason enough to attend a show. For more than 30 years he has shared his talent, passion and knowledge for all things that rock. Larry is so widely recognized they've made him into a bobblehead - a true sign of success.

If you haven't been to a live performance or listened to a live performance of "Mountain Stage," put it on your bucket list. It's the real deal.

While some of the best mountain music can be found live from "Mountain Stage," along U.S. Route 219 lives the Mountain Music Trail. Check it out online at www.mountainmusictrail.com.

Fueled by the true passion of promoting traditional music, dance and the folkways of the Allegheny Mountain region, the Mountain Music Trail brings folks together to experience our culturally rich heritage.

You don't have to look far for homegrown talent in each region of the Mountain State.

If you are in the Eastern Panhandle, check out the Christian Lopez Band. The lead is 19-year-old Christian Lopez, a kid who has played piano since he was 5 and guitar since he was 6 and whose lyrics will make you jump out of your seat. I recently saw the band play to a packed house in Nashville. The band's drummer, Michael, played a two-hour set on a wooden box, and Chelsea B is a banjo wizard. It was an unreal show. Visit their website at www.christianlopezband.com.

On Thanksgiving day in 1928, when tickets to a live show were just 60 cents, the Capitol Theatre in Wheeling (capitoltheatrewheeling.com) opened its doors. Today, the newly reopened theater hosts a variety of entertainment including Broadway shows, concerts and the Wheeling Symphony.

If you haven't experienced a live show on Charleston's levee, make plans now - the schedule is at liveontheleveecharleston.com. And take those small people who live with you. Dancing is expected and encouraged!

For night owls, The Empty Glass (www.emptyglass.com/) sneaks in some wildly talented musicians. The Charleston band Qiet and Bob Thompson should also be placed on your bucket list. If you haven't seen the Carpenter Ants play - well - you've blown it. Run, don't walk, to find their next gig. Guitarist Michael Lipton has mad skills.

Fortunately for me, my children have embraced my husband's love of music.

My guest bedroom, which I worked so hard on to make beautiful years ago, is now filled with drum kits - yes, plural. The piano is out of tune, but it doesn't deter the little fingers that are still learning the elements of proper hand position. Acoustic guitars and bass guitars line the window ledge in the playroom.

A few weeks ago we took our budding musicians to a live show. My 13-year-old turned to me and said, "This is really cool. I want to do that," referencing the drummer in the back.

Yup - very cool.

Amy Shuler Goodwin serves as commissioner of tourism and deputy secretary of commerce for the state of West Virginia. For more information about activities, events and lodging in West Virginia, visit www.gotowv.com or call 800-CALL-WVA (800-225-5982).

To find a listing of live shows visit calendar.wvgazette.com/.

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Women revel in educational travel adventures http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150419/GZ05/150419446 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150419/GZ05/150419446 Sun, 19 Apr 2015 00:01:00 -0400 By Douglas Imbrogno CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Pamela Bowen had never been on one. Rose Marie Ritter had been on 45.

So it was that last May 21, Ritter set out to share with Bowen just why she was hooked on traveling the country and the world to take part in the far-flung programs of Elderhostel.

The fruit of their 21-day sojourn was not only a lot of learning, fun, education and sightseeing, but the memento of a self-crafted book of their travels, now available on Amazon.com.

"There's a big, wide wonderful world to learn about," said Ritter, who at age 79 has decades of Elderhostel experiences behind her.

Actually, the programs of the parent nonprofit organization, known since its founding in 1975 as Elderhostel, were renamed in 2010 as "Road Scholar" educational adventures.

Ritter doesn't much like the new name. Throughout an interview both she and Bowen referred to the programs they've attended by the previous name. But the new name did contribute to the title of the book they compiled, complete with color photos: "Scholars on the Road: The Cross-Country Adventures of Rose and Pamela."

They headed out of Huntington, where both women live, and went first to Idaho for "Floods, Fossils and Fissures: Geology of the Snake River Plain," and then to Utah for "Rockhounder's Dream: Dugway Geodes, Sherry Colored Topaz, Wonderstone."

For Bowen, a great fan of geology, it was her cup of tea. Or box of rocks.

The first program in Idaho was mainly about the geology of the state, said Bowen, a former features editor and copy editor for the Huntington Herald-Dispatch.

"The hot spot that is now under Yellowstone came through this part of Idaho and created, among other things, Craters of the Moon [National Monument and Preserve]. So we learned all about that. I found it just fascinating.

"Then, when we went to Utah, it was about gemstones and fossils. We had one day full of lectures. Then, all the other days, we were out in the desert searching for things. The experience ranged from walking around picking up little tiny sunstones, to sitting on big rocks in a quarry with a hammer, hitting shale that popped open and there were huge trilobites inside. It was just really neat."

For Bowen, 68, the experience was the beginning of her exploration of the huge variety of Road Scholar programs, which span the globe.

For Ritter, a former Overbrook Elementary School teacher, it was yet another jaunt to add to a long list of jaunts.

"I got in on it early when it was actually called Elderhostel, not this silly name. But then they decided that maybe by changing their name they could attract younger people," she said, adding that she doesn't think it has quite worked yet, judging from her experience.

Whatever you call it, Ritter has made good use of the programs.

"It's one of the most amazing ways to travel that has ever been invented," she said. "For many years, we would string together several of them in Arizona or Wyoming. I've gone to Antarctica with them. I've bicycled Europe. I've done Holland and Germany with them."

She noted that some people don't get why you would go on a vacation to learn something.

"There are people who don't like them. Several people have said to me, 'Why would you want to go learn anything?' They do involve lectures - wonderful, wonderful lectures."

Not always just lectures, though, but visits to nearby sights, explorations, adventures and thousands of other permutations on the theme of listening, learning and doing.

The Elderhostel program was founded in 1975 by Marty Knowlton, a world-traveling social activist and educator, and David Bianco, the director of residential life at the University of New Hampshire. Knowlton, who had walked Europe for four years, was impressed by its system of youth hostels - safe, inexpensive lodgings where fellow travelers stopped along their way.

Knowlton was also intrigued by Scandinavian folk schools, where older adults pass along folk art, music and other cultural lore.

According to a history on the RoadScholar.org site, Knowlton wondered why well-informed older Americans back home didn't have a similar opportunity to play an active role in their communities. He shared his thoughts with Bianco while at UNH, who responded: "This campus ought not to be having a youth hostel; it ought to be having an elder hostel."

The name stuck. The initial programs were cheap, single-fare experiences with inexpensive lodging in college dormitories. That has changed over the years, as people wanted better lodging and prices rose. But the basic experience of learning something while traveling somewhere has not.

"They have the active ones and they have ones where you can listen to music," said Ritter. "You can choose whether you want to hike 30 miles a day with full pack or if you want to go kayaking in the Antarctic or if you want to listen to music and read poetry. It's there."

The lodgings can be an experience in and of themselves. For the Idaho program, the two women stayed at the Monastery of the Ascension, a small Benedictine monastery of about a dozen monks, located beside a dairy cow feedlot in southern Idaho, which made the air aromatic, to say the least, said Ritter.

"We walked in the front door and there seated behind the desk was the monk in his brown robes. Very quiet. And very solemn. I thought, 'Oh my God.' He tells us where our rooms are. There's no mirror. No TV."

But they hadn't come for TV. The next morning they met the monk who'd greeted them, Father Hugh, in quite different garb out on the trail.

"This time he was in cutoffs and sandals and a sweaty T-shirt. And he wasn't nearly as intimidating. He was wonderful. He had two or three PhDs, he taught around the world. This is another plus of Elderhostel: You meet the most unusual people. And Father Hugh is somebody I will never forget," said Ritter.

She also got to mark another thing off her bucket list, she said.

"There's several things I've always wanted to do. Every time I pass construction on the highway, I want to drive one of those big old machines," she said.

Ritter said she was "very much an environmentalist and anti-strip mining. We were out there fighting them when it was called strip mining back in the '70s," when she was married to state senator and activist Si Galperin.

But still, she had a fascination with big earthmovers and excavators, and during the Utah Road Scholar program her wish was granted as part of a field trip to a fossil quarry called Udig Fossils.

"When we went to the quarry where we were digging that rock, I got to sit on the seat of that big old machine and pull these levers and scoop up dirt and swing it and dump it. They told me I could go home to the union and get my license," she said, laughing. "So I got to mark that off my bucket list."

The book the two women compiled looks like something from a small press but is really an extension of something Bowen has been doing for a long time.

"For 20 to 30 years I've been keeping a journal. And at the end of the month I turn it into a letter to friends and I put pictures in it and print it out and actually mail it. I do that with every trip we make," she said.

But since the Elderhostel journey was such a long one, she decided to get a bit more ambitious.

"We came up with the idea of turning it into a book because Amazon owns CreateSpace.com, which is a service that allows you to print your own books, CDs - that sort of thing. And it's really easy."

So they wrote up the tale of their adventures, chose some pictures. Bowen's husband, Charlie, designed a cover and they uploaded it, she said. "They send you a book to proof. You get it like you want it and then push 'publish' and then it's listed on Amazon. And you can order as many copies as the author wants for cheap to give to our friends. It's nice to have a souvenir like this."

Pamela and Charlie Bowen have already gone on other Road Scholar trips, including one to Natural Bridge, Virginia. "It was a series of lectures on all sorts of things - the meaning of liberty through the ages; the diet of the American Indians; the Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War - a wide variety of topics, some of which we didn't think we'd be interested in at all. And they were all fascinating. The teachers were all wonderful."

Ritter, who seems to have an unquenchable desire for new experiences, is already planning a new Road Scholar experience to mark her 80th birthday this summer (she went skydiving for her 70th). "I'm going up to Oregon and I'm going to ride on the sand dunes and I'm going to go see Crater Lake and all around Oregon," she said. "I love to learn."

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Holocaust trip teaches grim, important lessons http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150412/GZ05/150419978 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150412/GZ05/150419978 Sun, 12 Apr 2015 00:01:00 -0400 By Marta Tankersley Hays Staff writer CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A handful of George Washington High School students got the history lesson of a lifetime over spring break this year, traveling to Europe as part of a Holocaust class lead by history teacher and U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Fellow Brian O'Connell.

"Going and seeing these places, it was hard to conceive, but I got a better idea of what happened there," said Alex Deardorff, 16.

Landing in Munich, Germany, and traveling by train to Berlin, the group of students and adults visited museums, monuments and, naturally, the ruins of concentration camps where the Nazis carried out their "final solution" to eradicate Jews during World War II.

"We learned so much. It was a life-changing experience," said freshman Kate Curry, 15, who added that she usually takes a trip to the beach during spring break and wiles away the hours relaxing in the sand and surf.

This trip was different.

The entire group of 18 agreed that what they learned on the trip was a lesson everyone should learn.

"These are real places," said Marc Slotnick, president of the Federated Jewish Charities of Charleston, who organized the Holocaust Remembered Lecture Series in the fall of 2014. He made the trip with O'Connell in 2011 and again this year accompanied by his wife, Ellen, and 17-year-old daughter Jennifer.

O'Connell believes an education in history is the key to understanding our place in the world today. His year-long course at GWHS "covers the Holocaust from its origins to the genocides occurring in the world today."

"We study the rise of Hitler, the Nuremberg Laws, the escalation to violence, the Wansee Conference, resistance, rescue, liberation and the aftermath through the formation of the state of Israel," O'Connell said.

"I believe that if you do not understand the past that you will never understand the present. History is much more than empty dates and events; it is a road map of the human experience. If you understand the past, you understand - as much as you can - the present and can make some predictions about the future."

"Inside Auschwitz, there are vacant chimneys and you can feel an essence," Slotnick said. It's estimated that up to 3.2 million people were murdered at the concentration camp in Poland.

"The last day of the trip, at the camp, it was mentally and emotionally tough to basically walk through the concentration camp," said Parker Boggs, 16, "but everyone needs to experience it."

Jennifer Slotnick said she imagined what it would have been like to have lived in Europe during that time.

"The day at the concentration camp was really emotional for me, being Jewish," she said. "If I had lived there back then, I could have been there."

Retired high school counselor Lynn Gattlieb, another Jewish adult who made the trip, added a very personal reality to the experience.

"Twenty-five of my family members were murdered in the camps," she said.

One of her relatives narrowly escaped the death camps.

"He was on a train headed to Auschwitz, but he survived because the train was diverted to Vienna instead."

There he worked as a slave laborer until the end of the war, she said. Then he immigrated to Israel and later to New York.

The group paid their respects to Gattlieb's family members and the millions of others who died there by holding a memorial service on the "rubble of a crematorium," Marc Slotnick said.

O'Connell, who has led four similar educational trips in the past nine years, made certain the travelers weren't overly bombarded with the realities of the Holocaust by providing other types of cultural activities as well, including overnight accommodations at small, independent hotels instead of internationally known establishments.

"For every harsh truth that the students look at, I like a soft and fun activity to smooth things out," he said.

Shopping at an open market in Krakow, Poland, was a hit for Averi Brogan, 14.

"It was a highlight for me. I got to roam around and experience the market," she said. "It was not like a normal shopping mall."

Haley Lambert, 17, said she was surprised that so many people were willing to communicate with the group in English.

"There was a woman on the train to Warsaw, a Polish woman, who spoke broken English," Lambert said. "She taught us phrases in Polish, like please, thank you, excuse me, yes and no."

Nick Penix, 16, who was born in Moscow and adopted by American parents, speaks a little Russian.

"I liked seeing the other languages on signs along the streets," he said. "Knowing Russian helped me to read signs in Polish."

Lambert said going to a jazz cafe provided a much-needed emotional release after a day at Auschwitz.

"It was designed to be a trip where every minute was planned and we made the most of the time, walking 8 or 9 miles a day," Gattlieb said.

William Pierson, 16, said he didn't realize how "massive" the concentration camp was, and Will Cooke, also 16, said comprehending what was "allowed to happen there" is difficult.

"It's important for kids to go so they can tell their kids and this isn't forgotten," Ellen Slotnick said. "Then it won't happen again."

Ginna Taylor, another adult who made the trip, agreed. "We need to examine what happened and why, but we know some questions will never be answered," she said.

With tears in her eyes, Ellen Slotnick remembered a site where the Nazis burned books.

"It really gets me," she said.

Her husband then quoted Heinrich Heine, a 19th-century German journalist and poet who said, "Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings."

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WV Travel Team: A world of recreation in Va. http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150412/GZ05/150419984 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150412/GZ05/150419984 Sun, 12 Apr 2015 00:01:00 -0400 By Mitzi Harrison WV Travel Team CHARLESTON, W.Va. - You don't have to drive far from Charleston to find the latest amusement park thrills, a beautiful beach and America's oldest history all in one place. At just six hours away, Greater Williamsburg, Virginia, is ideal for a family day trip or a weekend getaway.

Greater Williamsburg consists of three areas of monumental importance in American history: Jamestown, the first permanent British settlement in the New World; Williamsburg, which became the capital of the colony of Virginia; and Yorktown, where Gen. George Washington won the battle that ended the War of Independence.

Jamestown Settlement re-creates early-17th-century America, whose Powhatan Indian culture experienced the arrival of European colonists and all that they brought with them. With extensive gallery exhibits, Jamestown Settlement showcases hundreds of objects from the early 1600s, including archaeological artifacts from Europe and Africa. The museum theater presents "1607: A Nation Takes Root," a dramatic documentary film, every 30 minutes.

Visitors can board a replica of one of the three ships - Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery - that sailed from England to Virginia in 1607. In a re-created colonial fort, you can try on armor or play a game of quoits. A re-created Powhatan village showcases activities that Pocahontas would have done, such as grinding corn. Costumed historical interpreters take guests into the past.

In partnership with The Mariners' Museum, a Jamestown Settlement exhibition, "Working and Racing on the Bay: the Chesapeake Log Canoe," is on display through Sept. 8.

Just 10 minutes from Jamestown Settlement is the restored area of Williamsburg. More than 20 guided and self-guided daily walking tours include the homes, shops, taverns and government buildings of Williamsburg's 18th-century residents. Visitors can also see the city by carriage. Rare animal breeds in the pastures and colonial gardening tips help bring the era to life.

This is a glimpse of a city on the verge of revolution. Historical re-enactors work, dress and talk as they would in Colonial times, demonstrating various aspects of life in the past. Admission to much of the historic district of Williamsburg is free, but tickets are required to see some arts and crafts demonstrations and outdoor performances such as the Revolutionary City programs.

Many of the buildings, including the Courthouse, Magazine and Wetherburn's Tavern, have stood in Williamsburg since the 18th century. Others, such as the former capitol and governor's palace, have been reconstructed on their original foundations.

History buffs on a budget will find the Yorktown Victory Center well worth the modest price. More than one shot was "heard 'round the world" during the American Revolution - for example, the final shots at Yorktown, site of the battle that ended the war.

The Yorktown Victory Center, a museum of the American Revolution, has exhibits highlighting the different nationalities at the Siege of Yorktown and documenting the story of the Betsy and other British ships lost in the York River during the siege.

Located near the Yorktown Battlefield, the center also has outdoor "living history" exhibits, including re-creations of an encampment by the Continental Army, which features daily artillery demonstrations, and a farm from the Revolutionary era.

Even history needs change once in a while, and the Yorktown Victory Center has begun construction on a new museum building and is expanding its outdoor program. Scheduled to be complete by late next year, the renovations will also bring a change in name: American Revolution Museum at Yorktown.

For a more focused history experience, tour some of the elegant plantations in Greater Williamsburg.

Shirley Plantation, founded in 1613, is the oldest family-owned business in North America. Eleven generations of one family have owned, operated and worked on this grand Colonial plantation. Shirley Plantation has survived Indian uprisings, Bacon's Rebellion, the American Revolution, the American Civil War and the Great Depression.

Completed in 1738, the mansion, referred to as the Great House, is largely in its original state and is owned and resided in by direct descendants of founder Edward Hill. The guided tour of the Great House highlights original family furnishings, portraits, silver and hand-carved woodwork as well as stories of the Hill Carter family. A self-guided tour of the grounds includes formal gardens and eight original Colonial outbuildings.

Sherwood Forest Plantation was the home of the 10th U.S. president, John Tyler, from 1842 until his death in 1862. The property has been the continuous residence of the Tyler family since the president purchased it. The longest frame house in the United States, it is over 300 feet long.

The self-guided grounds tour encompasses the exterior of John Tyler's house and 21 numbered stations representative of a 19th-century plantation. Each station's description and history is in a pamphlet available at the main entrance. The fee for the tour is $10, with children 15 and under admitted free. House tours are only available by appointment.

Westover was built circa 1730 by William Byrd II, the founder of Richmond. It is noteworthy for its secret passages, magnificent gardens and architectural details. The grounds and garden are open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, but the house is not open to the public.

Berkeley Plantation, a 1726 Georgian mansion, was the birthplace of Benjamin Harrison, who signed the Declaration of Independence and served three terms as governor of Virginia. The plantation was also the birthplace of William Henry Harrison, ninth president of the United States. Costumed guides conduct tours of the house, while tours of the grounds are self-guided.

For modern-day excitement, Busch Gardens is near the banks of the James River, surrounded by the Historic Triangle of Colonial Williamsburg, Yorktown and Jamestown and only an hour away from Virginia Beach.

The kids - and more daring parents - will want to experience The Tempesto, the new roller coaster that opens April 25 at Busch Gardens. The Tempesto hurls riders into tight turns at 63 miles per hour and turns them upside-down at 154 feet in the air. With three different launch experiences, roller coaster fans will want to spend the day on The Tempesto, as if there were no other attractions at Busch Gardens.

There are, of course.

In addition to wild roller coasters, Busch Gardens has kid-friendly rides for the youngsters and their parents. Kids can also sing along with Elmo from Sesame Street and hold a lorikeet.

The theme of this theme park is classic Europe - the streets of Paris, Germany's Oktoberfest celebrations, Scottish hamlets - a total of nine villages with a taste of six countries to be explored.

When you're ready to sit for a breather, you can enjoy live shows, including "London Rocks," a musical journey exploring the roots of rock 'n' roll; "Celtic Fyre," a celebration of Irish singers, musicians and dancers; and "The Secret Life of Predators," a presentation of North America's fiercest hunters.

Busch Gardens is a place for fun but it has a serious mission too, dedicated to conservation. Visitors can see and learn about gray wolves, bald eagles and Clydesdale horses.

AAA Tip: AAA members can visit the AAA office in Charleston to purchase discounted tickets to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg.

The average high temperature in Williamsburg in May is 78 degrees, the average low is 54 degrees. Maybe you'd like to soak up the sun alongside the beautiful Atlantic Ocean. Virginia Beach is world famous for its combination of three different kinds of beach experiences. The Guinness Book of World Records lists the city of Virginia Beach as having the longest pleasure beach in the world.

There's Sandbridge, Virginia Beach's southern shore, which features a secluded island-like environment with breathtaking views of the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, plus local shops and restaurants.

There's the "bay getaway," a quieter vacation on the Chesapeake Bay Beach, known for its tranquility along the scenic, calm and shallow waters of the Chesapeake Bay.

And then there's the Virginia Beach Boardwalk, a three-mile esplanade lined with hotels, museums, bars, restaurants and shops. In addition to a large walking path, there is also a bike path for people on bicycles, tricycles and skates. Designed to welcome everyone, the boardwalk has handicap ramps at every block, leading down to the sandy shores.

Kids can ride a Ferris wheel and amuse themselves in a video arcade.

Beach Street USA is a recurring program from June until Labor Day, offering a Mardi Gras-style atmosphere. On the boardwalk you'll find sculptures, stages for live entertainment - everything from jugglers and magicians to puppets and live concerts.

You'll also find history. The Virginia Legends Walk, located along the boardwalk, presents information about some of the state's most famous citizens, including Thomas Jefferson, Robert E. Lee, Edgar Allan Poe and Ella Fitzgerald.

If you're a golfer who likes a challenge, you'll want to play Hell's Point Golf Course, named one of America's 100 Best New Courses in 1982 by Golf Digest magazine. This 6,766-yard par-72 course designed by Rees Jones includes lakes, interesting fairway angles, challenging greens and 61 sculpted bunkers.

Virginia Beach is also home to several state parks. False Cape State Park and First Landing State Park offer camping facilities, cabins and history and nature tours. First Landing State Park is one of the northernmost parts of the United States that is home to Spanish moss. False Cape State Park is home to a pod of dolphins all year round.

While in Virginia Beach, don't forget to visit the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center. In addition to 800,000 gallons containing marine life, the center includes hands-on exhibits, an outdoor aviary, a nature trail and marshlands.

Hunt Club Farms, also in Virginia Beach, is a petting zoo on a 28-acre family-owned farm that raises chickens, goats and other livestock and provides educational field trips and features. The Hunt Club's Farm Market sells high-quality plants, gardening supplies and novelties.

Finally, make time for the Williamsburg Pottery Factory, one of Virginia's top tourist attractions since 1938. Located about five miles west of Colonial Williamsburg, the Pottery Factory began on a half-acre of land, selling handcrafted salt glaze pottery. Dinnerware and glassware were later added. After a major revitalization, the Pottery Factory now covers 19 acres and includes three separate buildings with nearly 160,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.

Mitzi Harrison manages AAA Travel for the Charleston area and divides her time between Cincinnati and West Virginia. For more travel information, 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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2014 People's Choice winners http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150408/GZ05/150409429 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150408/GZ05/150409429 Wed, 8 Apr 2015 00:01:00 -0400 Favorite Event: FestivALL

Favorite Specialty Drink: milkshakes, Ellen's Homemade Ice Cream

Favorite Food Dish: grape pie, Pies & Pints

Favorite Lodging: Charleston Marriott Town Center

Favorite Retail/Boutique: Taylor Books

Favorite Dessert Shop: Ellen's Homemade Ice Cream

Favorite Nightlife Spot: The Empty Glass

Favorite Family Activity: Live on the Levee

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Lewisburg Chocolate Fest features cocoa spiriters http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150405/GZ05/150409716 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150405/GZ05/150409716 Sun, 5 Apr 2015 00:01:00 -0400 By Marta Tankersley Hays Staff writer CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Visitors to the ninth annual Lewisburg Chocolate Festival this coming Saturday can expect a chocolate wonderland full of sweet treats and unexpected delights, thanks to inventive chefs like Gina Lang, of Greenbrier Valley Baking Co., who plans to dazzle taste buds with her white chocolate whiskey butter truffle.

"My mentor at culinary school didn't drink at all, but she said, 'Boozy sweets are the best thing,'" said Lang. "Alcohol by itself can be quite bitter. I mean, if you add whiskey to sugar, it's amazing. If you add kirschwasser, which is a cherry brandy, the minute you add it to chocolate or anything sweet, it's perfect on your palate. It's a great thing."

Most people agree. Chocolate is a great thing, no matter how you prepare it.

Our love affair with chocolate, which has been proclaimed as both an antidepressant and an aphrodisiac at one time or another, began long ago.

Used as currency in the Americas during pre-Columbian times, the cocoa bean has been celebrated throughout time. Spanish and Portuguese explorers brought it to Europe in the 1500s where it remained a virtual secret from the rest of the continent for almost 100 years.

Served as a frothy drink available almost exclusively to the European aristocracy for centuries, chefs began experimenting by adding sugar and other spices to develop flavors more suitable to their palates.

The first chocolate bars, made for use in drinks in the mid-1800s, convinced a few visionaries that chocolate could be eaten too. By the turn of the century, Milton Snavely Hershey, of Pennsylvania - Hershey, Pennsylvania - introduced his now-famous milk chocolate bar and the Hershey's Kiss - bringing the elusive flavorful delight to the masses.

A new industry was born and is approaching $93 billion in sales globally, according to MarketsandMarkets.com, a Dallas-based research firm.

Back in Lewisburg, Kristy Godby, a Chocolate Festival committee member, said the city will raise about $20,000 for United Way during the one-day event.

"That's about 10 percent of our budget, so it's a big income maker for us," Godby said.

She is expecting more than 5,000 people to flood the downtown area to take advantage of the many activities planned.

The main event at the festival is the Chocolate Tasting Extravaganza, which features unique chocolates at more than 40 downtown locations. While there are thousands of individual samples available, people are urged by event organizers to purchase tickets - sold for $1 each in packs of five - in advance.

"We'd hate for people to show up at 2 o'clock when samples may be running low, and be disappointed because vendors are sold out," said Godby.

"A lot of the merchants have their chocolate tastings inside their shops, so you get to come in, and while you get your chocolate you get to also see what we have in the area," she said. "Our great women's clothing stores and our great antique shops. You can do a little shopping and chocolate! What's better than that?"

Beyond shopping and chocolate, there are many other activities planned for the day.

Events include the HospiceCare 10K Chocolate Chase, a chocolate brunch, free screenings of "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" and "Chocolat" at the historic Lewis Theatre, a bake-off to benefit the Greenbrier Humane Society and more.

Lewisburg Mayor John Manchester - dressed as Willie Wonka himself in a purple hat and coat - will preside over the annual chocolate mousse eating contest hosted by Stella's, a local restaurant.

Twelve contestants in three age groups are chosen to participate via a random drawing. Winners will receive a certificate and are invited back the following year to defend their titles.

"It's a sloppy event, but it's fun," contest organizer Annamarie Visclosky said. "Contestants have to put their hands behind their backs, and they have to eat it. We do have a clean-up station for at the end - so no worries."

Some local eateries are even adding special chocolate dishes to their menus in honor of the festival.

The folks at Del Sol Cantina & Grille celebrate their Latin roots by offering a modern twist on a traditional South American chocolate mole (pronounced MO-lay) - or sauce - during the festival.

"We always do a chicken mole, but this year we decided to try and do a more modern mole concept," owner Tony Juker said. "We're putting an angel hair pasta with a tomato-chocolate sauce and grilled chicken breast on the menu. We're also doing a chocolate martini."

Other restaurants planning to add chocolate to their menus include:

n Food & Friends, where you can try char-grilled beef tenderloin medallions with a Rogue chocolate stout mushroom sauce;

n The Livery, featuring smoked beef ribs with chocolate barbecue sauce;

n The General Lewis Inn's rib-eye with a chocolate stout pan sauce;

n Stardust Cafe, featuring a local pork chop with a chocolate miso marinade; and

n Stella's, whose culinary special is yet to be announced.

Also, executive pastry chef Jean-Francois Suteau, from The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, and pastry sous chef Alex McClenaghan, from the Omni Homestead Resort in Virginia, will host free chocolatier demonstrations, Suteau at 1 p.m. at City National Bank, and McClenaghan at 2 p.m. at the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

For more information on the schedule, tickets and registrations, visit lewisburgchocolate festival.com or call 800-833-2068.

Reach Marta Tankersley Hays at marta.tankersley@wvgazette.com, 304-348-1249 or follow @MartaRee on Twitter.

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WV Travel Team: Living overseas is a lifetime vacation http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150405/GZ05/150409831 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150405/GZ05/150409831 Sun, 5 Apr 2015 00:01:00 -0400 By Ariadne Moore WV Travel Team CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The romance of it is undeniable: Pack a bag, step on a plane and never look back. Call the boss from the beach and - stretching out on the white sand - say you just won't be back on Monday. No sir. None of the Mondays, from here on out.

For most of us, the fantasy is fleeting. We sigh, fill our suitcase with hotel shampoos and head back to our daily lives with memories, sunburns and the knowledge that another vacation is right around the corner. For some people, however, the wanderlust is uncontrollable. Here are the stories of two individuals (and friends of this writer) who decided to take the vacation of a lifetime, that lasts a lifetime.

For the past two years my family has had the pleasure of living in Okinawa, Japan. The experience of living here has had a huge impact on my life, far more than I ever could have imagined. From the people, to the food, to the weather - there is a lot to love about this very small island in the middle of the East China Sea.

My husband and I knew a lot about Okinawa before we actually moved here; we actively pursued the opportunity to live here. After almost 10 years of living in Connecticut, my husband was granted the opportunity to live and work in Okinawa. It was an opportunity we could not pass up, though our lives had changed a lot since we first pursued the move over 12 years ago.

I was nervous - actually terrified - to leave my family, my friends, our kids' friends, schools - everything - behind and start a brand-new life on an island that is 60 miles at its longest, and 4 miles at its widest. But, I began practicing my Japanese, made contact with other Americans here (there are many thanks to the numerous military bases), and jumped into our new life.

I fell in love with Okinawa immediately. The moment I stepped off the plane in the 100-degree temperatures I was in love and knew I wanted to stay on this island as long as possible.

The longer we have been here, the more in love I fall. The people, the food, the weather, the ocean always being close by. I love the safety, and everything my children are learning.

The people are amazing; they are friendly, helpful and always respectful. Their commitment to their work, their studies, their family shows through in everything they do.

My whole family loves listening to the sound of taiko drummers and eisa dancers in the street as the locals parade in the hot summer nights to pay tribute to their ancestors. I love that my oldest son has become so entranced that he has chosen to learn taiko drumming, to become truly part of this country.

Japan, and Okinawa in particular, is exceptionally safe. There are no worries about break-ins or murders or child abductions. I feel comfortable allowing my 8- and 5-year-old kids to walk to school alone, to go to the store alone, to play at the park down the street alone. I feel comfortable and safe going for a run in pitch black early morning or late night. I love that my children are growing up in an environment where they can have freedoms and be safe.

I love that my children are learning a new language, experiencing a culture that is very different from their own. I smile when we go to the park and I see my daughter playing with other children that she can't talk to; it just shows me how amazing children are, it doesn't matter what they look like, or what language they speak, they play together and have fun, and make it work despite the barriers.

The Okinawan people are known for having the longest lifespan on the planet; they have more people over the age of 100 per capita than any other country. This comes as no surprise when you spend some time here. Everyone is outside as much as possible, walking on the seawall, working in their gardens.

The food in Okinawa is exceptional. Sure there are unhealthy options like ramen and curry, which are amazing to eat, but there are so many healthy options as well; from fresh sashimi to salads of daikon and goya.

I love that my children are being introduced to all new cuisine, and actually enjoying it. Two years ago I would not have been able to imagine that my young children would be requesting salmon roe or raw octopus for dinner, to have snacks of sour plum chips and fish crackers. For the expansion of their palates away from chicken nuggets and french fries, I am eternally grateful.

While I love Okinawa, and have no plans to ever leave, there are things about life in America that I miss. I miss perusing the aisles of Target, or Trader Joe's, or a good bookstore. I miss being so far away from family (this has been, by far, the hardest part about living overseas). I miss picking up the phone and calling my mom, or my sister, or my friends without first having to do some time zone calculations.

In the beginning I missed the food - I craved cheeseburgers and Chick-fil-A and a good Philly cheese steak. But as time has passed, I find myself wanting those things less and less. When people offer to send packages, I no longer have a list five pages long of all the goodies that I can't get here.

I miss the smell of a fireplace burning on a cold, late November, New England evening. I miss apple picking, pumpkin picking and the change of seasons. I miss going to a grocery store and knowing exactly what I'm buying without having to spend 10 minutes trying to translate to see if I am buying sweetened rice crackers or shrimp crackers. (Both are delicious, but biting into a shrimp cracker is quite a surprise if you are expecting the lightly sweetened taste of a rice cracker!)

nnn

Things to love about Okinawa? Tropical weather, beautiful beaches, a culture unlike the rest of Japan, world-renowned cuisine, safe and friendly communities.

Interested in visiting Okinawa? Okinawa is a popular tourist destination for the many reasons detailed by Elizabeth Cozzolino. From high-end resorts to beach bungalows, Okinawa has surprisingly diverse and extensive options. Visiting Okinawa is also a relatively inexpensive option. For more information, contact your travel agent.

Interested in living there? Okinawa has a large expatriate American support community due to military bases.

For the first few decades of my life, I was on the road discovering America. I'd seen both coasts by the time I was 15 and began chronicling my voyages in the form of poetry. In my 30th year, I decided I'd seen enough and wanted to follow in the footsteps of my favorite authors, trying my luck across the pond.

So with a one-way ticket and the dream of a new life, I left for France. Like so many before me, I was intoxicated when I landed in Paris for the first time. Those city lights are completely different than those in New York or Los Angeles. They roll with the landscape instead of towering over it. I knew that very day that I was finally home.

A couple of weeks later, I took my first trip to Amsterdam, where I was introduced to the poetry of Eddie Woods. Taking a chance, I sent him an email explaining that I too was a poet and was looking for advice on finding an outlet to expose my life's work. He replied almost immediately and asked me to send some of my poems.

That day, he sent one of my poems to a small press that then included it in their upcoming anthology. Like that, I had some validation. I was put into contact with a publisher in London who immediately jumped on the idea of doing a book.

In just three years, I have gone from a vagabond unrecognized writer to having two books and countless poems in journals.

I continue to travel in Northern Europe. I've seen the whole of France and go to Amsterdam often, both to give readings at festivals and star in videos of Eddie Woods' poetry. I also do readings in London. I took my first trip to Germany last month and it provided new material, as every bus trip does. It's my preferred way of travel and always has been. The scenery has changed, but my heart feels the same every time I feel the rumble of those wheels beneath my feet.

I've always been searching for new experiences, new places, new friends. Here in Europe, I have more opportunities than I ever could have imagined as a young writer struggling to get some recognition. Every day is an adventure. I am rejuvenated by these foreign cities. The pace is just different here. I've learned to slow down and drink it all in.

I suspect to remain an expat for the rest of my life. There is too much beauty and culture on this continent for me to ever have enough inspiration. I carry all these experiences in my heart of hearts and try to convince others to do the same.

nnn

Things to love about France? Paris, amazing food, culture, easy access to the rest of Europe, history.

Interested in visiting France? Now is a great time to do so, with the American dollar so strong against the euro. A travel agent can assist in finding the right experience for you - from an individualized itinerary to group bus tours, France has something to offer to every traveler.

Interested in living there? Paris is an international melting pot, with expatriates from around the globe. But if you're interested in working there, brush up on your French. French businesses, particularly in Paris, are known for being less than forgiving of foreigners who haven't mastered the native tongue.

Happy travels!

Ariadne Moore works with Charleston-based National Travel and 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, direct email inquiries to vacationplanner@nationaltravel.com or 304-357-0800.

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Zoo babies debut at Wheeling's Oglebay Park http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150329/GZ05/150329327 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150329/GZ05/150329327 Sun, 29 Mar 2015 00:01:00 -0400 By Dawn Nolan Staff writer WHEELING, W.Va. - They might be difficult to spot at first, but clinging tightly to the backs of their furry orange family members are two of the newest additions to Oglebay Park's Good Zoo.

The twin golden lion tamarins ­- an endangered primate species native to Brazil - were born Feb. 18 and are on exhibit in the facility's main building, along with their father, Rio; mother, Carmen; 2-year-old siblings, Tupi and Vasco; and 1-year-old siblings Candido and Godio.

"We haven't named the babies yet because we don't know their sex, and won't until they leave the backs," explained Mindi White, the Good Zoo's curator of animals.

Tamarin babies typically remain on the backs of their mother or other troop members for about six weeks, until they are comfortable and feel safe enough to start venturing on their own, White said.

"All members of the group help care for the infants and take turns carrying them," she added.

"Since the twins can weigh up to 20 percent of the mother's weight, it helps her tremendously to have help from the rest of the group. Younger animals also benefit from the experience when it comes time to raise their own offspring."

Having eight golden lion tamarins, especially babies, at the state's only Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited facility is particularly special since the species has become so rare, because of deforestation of their natural habitat.

"In the 1980s, the number of golden lion tamarins were in the low hundreds," said White. "Now, thanks to captive breeding and release programs, there are probably close to 2,000."

The golden lion tamarins are just one of the endangered species that have been born at the Good Zoo in the last two years.

Three African wild dogs - Mikumi, Shaba and Akili - were born in 2014, to parents Selous and Destiny; Jamila is a Grévy's zebra born in 2013 to parents Johari and Samburu; and a three-banded armadillo, Leonard, was born in 2013 to parents Virginia and Rocco.

All of them are on display and, with the inclusion of the golden lion tamarins, are classified under the AZA's Species Survival Plan, a collaborative effort between "AZA-accredited Zoos and Aquariums, certified related facilities and sustainability partners" that aims to help ensure the survival of threatened or endangered species by establishing a recommended breeding and transfer plan.

"Since our zoo is small, we like to use our space for what is most important to the AZA," White said. "It can be heart-wrenching, especially where transfer is concerned, for the keepers, staff and even visitors, but you have to remember that you're doing the best you can for the species."

The Good Zoo's participation in the SSP program fits with the facility's increasing focus on endangered animals.

"Since the zoo opened in 1974, it has moved from a collection of common North American species to a concentration of breeding rare and endangered species from around the world," said Oglebay marketing director Caren Knoyer. "The Good Zoo curators are helping to save over 20 endangered species and at the same time helping the public better understand and appreciate the diversity and importance of each species life."

The Good Zoo will be open daily, weather permitting, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. beginning Wednesday. Admission is $8.95 for adults, $5.75 for children ages 3 to 12 and free to members and children age 2 and younger. For more information, visit www.oglebay-resort.com/goodzoo.

Reach Dawn Nolan at dawn.nolan@wvgazette.com, 304-348-1230 or follow @dawnmnolan on Twitter.

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WV Travel Team: Wheeling - chic, historic and oh so tasty http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150329/GZ05/150329447 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150329/GZ05/150329447 Sun, 29 Mar 2015 00:01:00 -0400 By Jeanne Mozier WV Travel Team WHEELING, W.Va. - If Charleston is West Virginia's Washington, then Wheeling is its New York, with a nod toward Philadelphia, thanks to Independence Hall.

I'm certain that growling readers want an explanation for that outrageous assessment.

Let's begin with Independence Hall, enjoying a well-deserved time in the spotlight during the sesquicentennial of the Civil War years that birthed our state. From the restoration of exquisite art trim on the ceilings to the state-of-the-art Civil War Battle Flag exhibit to the discovery of the first governor's piano buried in backroom rubble and now on display, Independence Hall is worthy of West Virginians' awe both on its own merits as well as its irreplaceable historic role.

One of the most remarkable experiences is found in the restored third-floor federal courtroom where thousands of visitors exclaim over the high-gloss walnut and oak wood. Except that it's not. The bar, the panels, the benches are all poplar, like the originals were - poplar grained to look like finer woods. And the fine-grained wood shutters on the windows? Metal. Cast at Eagle Foundry in Wheeling, also grained to look like wood.

The biggest news for Independence Hall is yet to come. On West Virginia Day 2015, the state's only statue to its first governor, Francis Pierpont, when we were Loyal Virginia, is to be unveiled to stand bronzed and gleaming outside Independence Hall. "There are three statues to Stonewall Jackson in the state," explains site manager Travis Henline, "but none to the first governor. Now there will be."

That's why Philadelphia. Another major restoration project, the Capitol Theater, lays the groundwork for the New York claim. Although the country tones of Jamboree are heard no more at the famed 2,200-seat theater, thousands of visitors each year attend everything from Broadway shows and the Wheeling Symphony, to major concerts like Chubby Checker, coming in April. Country fans can still experience a scaled-down version of Jamboree at Wheeling Island Casino.

Wheeling Island is another support of the New York claim since the jammed-packed neighborhood setting with a dog racing, casino and entertainment resort anchoring one end, is the country's second-most populous river island after Manhattan.

It even has its own iconic bridge. The Wheeling Suspension Bridge - with thousands of vehicles crossing the Ohio River on it every day, as well as intrepid walkers - is almost a century older than New York's George Washington Bridge.

There is more amazing architecture in the city including a treasure trove of six historic districts and more than 900 townhouses that make Victorian Wheeling very visible. Stained glass, brick, stone, tile, wood, chandeliers and even the nails were crafted in Wheeling. Eckhart House is one of the most public, recently adding high teas to their house tours.

The single most popular activity for most vacation travelers is dining, and they prefer the type of eating they cannot get at home. More than any other destination in the state, Wheeling measures up to expectations. Best of all, folks who live there experience this diverse dining treasure every day and are more than willing to share their opinions and evaluations.

While most towns are fortunate if their chain grocery store has a bakery, Wheeling is overflowing with real bakeries. Centre Market, long known as the home of world famous Coleman's Fish Sandwich, also supports several sweet locales, including Oliver's Pies and Centre Bakery inside the market hall and Cookie Pops on the adjacent street.

Just a few blocks away, Lebanon Bakery is a not-to-be-missed stop with a half-dozen types of handcrafted baklava including pecan, almond, walnut and chocolate pistachio as well as a variety of hand-held meat and spinach pies. Remembering they are in West Virginia, Lebanon Bakery breaks new ground in the pepperoni roll quest with ones that are, in fact, a crescent-shaped half a standard pie.

Everyone I asked agreed that the best chocolate chip cookies could be found at the Vagabond Kitchen, sharing space in the historic McLure Hotel downtown. I bought out their remaining supply and must concur. Vagabond makes one impressive giant chocolate chip cookie. "Sea salt is our secret ingredient," whispered the counterman.

Vagabond is also the premier farm-to-table eatery in Wheeling, with an artisan menu that includes everything from Mexican house-fried pork rinds and Korean pulled-pork tacos, to summer squash sliders and a Sonoran hot dog. Their burgers include West Virginia-raised lamb and beefalo.

More sustainable local food is in the future as plans are underway, through Grow Ohio Valley, to revive the concept of Earl Oglebay's early-20th-century progressive-method Waddington Farm by planting orchards and developing greenhouses downtown.

On the more traditional side, we thoroughly enjoyed both the daily buffet breakfast at Oglebay Resort and their sensible and delicious small-plate dining menu.

The dispute in dining comes with pizza. Being committed to researching all claims, we set out to determine the competing "best" ratings of DiCarlo's and DeFelice Bros., both local chains.

We made our determination agreeing with the Italians who awarded their first prize to DeFelice's. Their thick-crust pizzas are cooked in cast iron, and the cheese melted during the cooking process, in contrast to DiCarlo's thin crusts and mozzarella added after cooking.

We were assured by insiders that DiCarlo's was a traditional favorite because that's what everyone in Wheeling grew up eating. There was no disputing that a long line of people came and went at the DiCarlo's we visited, lugging stacks of boxes filled with pizzas. My professional advice: Do your own taste test while you're in Wheeling.

The next most popular activity is shopping. Wheeling has some unique offerings and not just the world-famous Cabela's east of the city.

My birthday was on the calendar, so I got to choose the shopping venues, and I confess to having eclectic tastes. There are outstanding local art venues at both the Artisan Center and Centre Market, and fabulous costumes at Stages downtown, but I made my purchases at Imperial Teachers Store, the Jeweled Bird and Puddleducks. Our biggest purchase was at Jebbia's Market, in the produce business since 1886 and still operated by the family.

There are numerous places to stay in Wheeling, with long-term hotels popping up like spring flowers thanks to the oil and gas boom. Wheeling Island Casino has its own hotel. The locally owned Hampton Inn on National Road repeatedly rates best among the couple thousand of its brand-name siblings primarily for its exceptional personal service. Most impressive to me is the Monday-night Manager's Special, where a buffet dinner is set out free - including wine and beer - for guests. No wonder they have a loyal following among corporate visitors.

We stayed at Oglebay Resort, which is a world unto itself, rating at least a page's worth of superlatives, from the world's largest punchbowl in its Glass Museum, to home of the state's largest model train display.

In the past couple of years, the venerable resort has seen a frenzy of upgrades. Its wood-paneled guest and public rooms earn it the title of best example of rustic chic in West Virginia. Acres of manicured grounds include three 18-hole golf courses, a picturesque lake and hundreds of exhibits "turned on" during the Winter Festival of Lights, a must-see event for more than a million people.

I freely admit that I'm drawn to oddities as much as I'm drawn to bakeries. The strange concrete ruins at Mount Wood overlook were irresistible, as was the view. Jack and I could not figure out what it was. There were no interpretive signs or mentions in tourist publications.

In one of those serendipitous connections that occur in a state like West Virginia where the "degree of separation" is closer to one than six, I ran into a woman at Lebanon Bakery I'd met the previous week at the West Virginia Museum Conference. Chatting about what we'd seen and done, I mentioned Mount Wood and it turned out she was the local expert on what is a bona fide mystery. The "urban legend" that it was a castle begun and then abandoned unfinished by a besotted husband for a bride who died was so eerily familiar that I laughed out loud.

The bottom line? No one knows, although years of research continue, the nearby Mount Wood Cemetery is being restored, and the view of downtown Wheeling and the Ohio River remains incomparable.

From its Wheelin' Feelin' days of sin and splendor, to a lively Reinvent Wheeling energy palpable everywhere you go, the city at the top of the state's maps is tops as a place to visit.

For tourist information, visit www.visitwheelingwv.com or call 800-878-3097.

Jeanne Mozier lives in Berkeley Springs. She is author of the popular "Way Out in West Virginia." Considered a must-have guide to the wonders and oddities of the Mountain State, it is available in bookstores throughout the state and from wvbookco.com.

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WV Travel Team: Take me to the river http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150315/GZ05/150319719 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150315/GZ05/150319719 Sun, 15 Mar 2015 00:01:00 -0400 By Mitzi Harrison WV Travel Team CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Face it: Having fun can be exhausting.

Driving on vacation can mean long hours working the highways. If you're touring the country, you have to pack and unpack at every new city you visit.

Ocean cruises can feel like a theme park that never closes - fun, to be sure, but it takes a lot of energy.

River cruises are growing in popularity because they offer a more relaxing and intimate vacation experience, taking you to places that ocean liners never can, and with a much smaller group of fellow passengers.

Throughout history, civilization has grown around rivers. Paris is along the Seine. Varanasi, India, sits beside the Ganges. Memphis is on the Mississippi. River cruises give travelers a close-up look at cultures, nature and ways of life that can be had no other way.

The growth in the popularity of river cruises - an estimated 500,000 people a year take one, according to Viking River Cruises - means specialized voyages are creating exciting new itineraries.

You can sip Bordeaux almost anywhere, but a river cruise will take you to the vineyards to see how it is made. A river cruise can take you to the castles along the Rhine, where you'll see the glories of Germany's past. A river cruise to the ancient Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia provides an experience that is timelessly fascinating.

Because river cruises are more leisurely, you'll find the time to visit the art museums, sample the local fine dining and hear renowned orchestras.

The onboard experience is different from that of ocean liners. Instead of 3,000 passengers on board, you'll be one of fewer than 200. Gone are the lines and crowds, replaced by personal service: the way your bartender has your drink prepared at just the right moment, handwritten directions to the oldest coffeehouse in Vienna, an appointment at the best spa in Prague or dinner reservations at one of Lyon's Michelin-star restaurants.

Onboard dining is more intimate on river cruises, because meals are served at set times, and most don't offer room service. This enables you to get to know fellow passengers, who come from all parts of the world.

River cruises generally do not have programs for children. Most of your fellow passengers will be looking for history, art and an immersion into a distinct part of the world. Viking and Uniworld are both known for onboard cultural enrichment programs and experienced guides for walking tours at ports along the river.

So where can a river cruise take you? In short, to the most fascinating places on earth.

AAA Tip: One new trend in particular is the relaxation of strict dress code requirements. While most ocean liners have dress codes for the dining room, river cruises suggest only business casual, including jeans.

Viking River Cruises offers 19 options to see Europe.

The most popular is the Grand European Tour, a voyage from Amsterdam to Budapest, featuring 15 days in five countries along the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers. Start with the windmills in Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Move on to the Roman ruins and Chocolate Museum in Cologne and then to a tour of World War II sites in Nuremberg. Stop off in Vienna, where you'll visit the Hofburg Palace and the world-famous Opera House. After a visit to Bratislava, you'll end up in captivating Budapest. Packages start at $3,562.

More-compact itineraries give travelers a more intensive experience. Viking's Cities of Light cruise, for example, is a 12-day journey that includes two nights in Paris, where you'll see the Champs-Élysées, the Arc de Triomphe and the magnificent Louvre; and two nights in Prague, the City of a Hundred Spires, with guided tours of St. Vitus Cathedral and Prague Castle. In between you'll visit Luxembourg; Trier, Germany's oldest city, on the banks of the Moselle River; and Old Town Bamberg, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Packages start at $2,956.

In addition to sampling various nations on a single cruise, Viking River cruises also offer the opportunity to focus on and enjoy a single country. Portraits of Southern France is eight days sailing along the Rhone and Seine rivers through the beautiful French countryside. You'll see the Roman ruins in Avignon, where the Papal Palace once filled in for the Vatican during a time of religious warfare, and the gorgeous Provence fields. When you dine in Lyon, you will think you've never had such food - and you'll be right. Packages start at $1,956.

For passengers looking for luxury in Europe, Uniworld specializes in boutique river cruises characterized by stylish décor, outstanding cuisine and luxurious staterooms. The all-inclusive packages offered by Uniworld, unlike other river cruise lines, include all gratuities on shore and onboard, plus unlimited beverages and entertainment and cultural enrichment programs onboard.

Uniworld's Portrait of Majestic France is a 15-day journey from Paris to the countryside of Normandy and Bayeux, home of the famous 11th-century tapestry depicting the Battle of Hastings. Packages start at $5,999.

Uniworld's Grand European Explorer is 19 days from Prague to Bucharest, visiting eight countries, including visits to seven UNESCO World Heritage sites. You can enjoy the Vienna, City of Arts tour, the Hungarian National Museum in Budapest and lunch on a family farm in the Croatian countryside. Enjoy the neo-baroque and neo-rococo architecture of Ruse, Bulgaria, and the cave churches of Basarbovo and Ivanovo. Packages start at $8,299.

Half a world away is another world altogether, best experienced on the rivers of Asia, from the Yangtze in China to the Mekong in Cambodia and Vietnam. You'll see the remnants of some of the world's most ancient civilizations and enjoy perhaps the most exotic cuisine on the globe.

Memories of Mandalay, offered by Viking River Cruises, is a 16-day journey featuring 14 guided tours of Thailand and Myanmar. See the Grand Palace in Bangkok, where the king of Thailand has reigned for more than 60 years. During 11 days on the Irrawaddy River, you'll understand what inspired Rudyard Kipling's poem "The Road to Mandalay." Marvel at Buddhist artifacts and sculpture from the sixth to ninth centuries in a museum in Pyay, Myanmar. Packages start at $5,799.

Viking's Imperial Jewels of China is a 13-day cruise showcasing everything from the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City in Beijing to the beautiful Three Gorges region of the Yangtze River and the thousands of soldiers that make up the Terra Cotta Army of Xian. Packages start at $2,992.

Viking's Magnificent Mekong is a 15-day exploration of ancient and modern Cambodia and Vietnam, everything from the French colonial capital of Phnom Penh to the old city of Hanoi. In Cambodia, you'll marvel at the carvings of Shiva and Vishnu in Banteay Srei (Citadel of Women), a 10th-century Hindu temple. History buffs will enjoy the Reunification Palace in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, marking the site of South Vietnam's defeat during the Vietnam War. Lighter amusement will be found on Dong Khoi Street, the main shopping boulevard in the old colonial section of the city. Packages start at $3,499.

Uniworld offers three river cruises in Asia, including India's Golden Triangle and the Sacred Ganges. During 13 days you'll see more mysteries, encounter more distinctive cultures and hear more native languages than in any other country in the world. India is, after all, the second-most-populous nation on Earth, home to 638,000 villages and the founding place of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Visit the unequaled splendor of the Taj Mahal, resting place of a beloved Moghul empress; and see the humble home and tomb of Mother Teresa of Kolkata, recently named a Roman Catholic saint for her work among the poorest of the poor.

While India was once part of the British Empire, other European countries also had influence. This cruise will take you to Chandannagar, where the French ruled for 275 years. Just as surprising is Murshidabad, where around the river's bend appears Hazarduari Palace, with a thousand doors - some real, some fake - and art and antiques from the British colonial period. Packages start at $7,599.

Spreading across Asia and Europe, Russia is increasingly popular for river cruises. Viking offers a choice of two. Waterways of the Tsars is 13 days spanning St. Petersburg to Moscow, much of the trip along the mighty Volga River. Moscow is a study in contrasts, with the centuries-old St. Basil Cathedral on Red Square and the Cosmonaut Museum, commemorating the first human voyage into space and subsequent aeronautical achievements. In Madrogy, visit the Vodka Museum and experience a traditional Russian bathhouse. Sail the Neva River to St. Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city and former capital, home of the Winter Palace and the Hermitage Museum with its immense collection of art, antiquities, jewelry and sculpture. Packages start at $5,496.

St. Petersburg is so spectacular that Viking also offers a cruise that stays in that city for eight guided tours over the course of eight days, including an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at the Hermitage's storage facility, where paintings by great masters, a collection of imperial carriages and furniture, sculptures and icons are kept when not on display.

At the Mariinsky Theater, you'll enjoy a ballet, opera or symphony concert. The Catherine Palace in the village of Tsarskoe Selo, summer residence of many czars, is named for Russia's first empress, Catherine the Great. Packages start at $6,999.

Uniworld's Imperial Waterways of Russia is for adventurous travelers who want to sail the country's great rivers and lakes, with stops along the way in world-class cities and timeless towns. This voyage offers everything from UNESCO World Heritage sites to stunning architecture and legendary art. Cruising Lake Rybinsk, you'll see Yaroslavl, the "Heart of the Golden Ring" and one of Russia's most beautiful cities. Visit the exquisite Church of Elijah the Prophet and sample local produce at the farmers market.

On Kishi Island you'll find Transfiguration Church, constructed entirely of wood - without a single nail. You'll end your voyage in St. Petersburg, home of the Hermitage, whose 3 million pieces include classical Russian art and works by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Packages start at $5,399.

Both Viking River Cruises and Uniworld offer seasonal specials, discounts on airfare and a range of staterooms.

AAA Tip: You'll need passports, visas and travel documents, depending on your itinerary when taking a river cruise. Your AAA travel adviser can help you determine the requirements for your cruise.

Of course, you needn't fly to other continents to enjoy a river cruise. Why not stay in the United States and see a side of America you've never experienced? American Cruise Lines specializes in personalized, small-ship river cruises throughout the United States. You'll see the sights, hear the sounds and taste the regional delicacies of Americana in a way you've only read about.

American Cruise Lines offers five different classes of river cruises that traverse the vast stretches from sea to shining sea.

The Mississippi River is so large that you can choose from 10 different itineraries, ranging from New Orleans in the south to St. Paul, Minnesota, in the north. Three new paddle wheelers give you such options as an eight-day tour focused on New Orleans, with visits to Natchez and Vicksburg, Mississippi (starting at $4,450); or 22 days traversing the entire length of the nation's largest river, visiting 10 states along the way (starting at $12,550).

Columbia and Snake river cruises take eight days to explore the route taken by Lewis & Clark and feature the natural wonders of the Columbia River and Mount St. Helens, along with guided tours of Fort Clatsop and the frontier town of Pendleton, Oregon. Packages start at $3,975.

The New England Islands Cruise is eight days in such historic places as Nantucket Island, Martha's Vineyard and Providence, Rhode Island. Learn the region's maritime history and savor its seafood. Packages start at $3,440.

American Cruise Lines has a variety of special theme cruises, including Civil War cruises, Puget Sound Tulip Festival cruises, a Chesapeake Bay Crabfest Cruise and Food and Wine Cruises of the Pacific Northwest.

AAA is hosting a Viking River Cruise event at the Charleston Marriott Town Center from 5 to 8 p.m. April 30. Participants will enjoy a river cruise-themed experience that will offer a taste of one of their more-popular itineraries. Space is limited, so if you are considering a European river cruise in the fall of 2015 or 2016, call 304-925-1136 today to RSVP.

Mitzi Harrison manages AAA Travel for the Charleston area and divides her time between Cincinnati and West Virginia. For more information on travel 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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The List: Five early spring festival road trips http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150308/GZ05/150309435 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150308/GZ05/150309435 Sun, 8 Mar 2015 00:01:00 -0400 By Bill Lynch CHARLESTON, W.Va. - As the state thaws out from the winter, there are plenty of good things to look forward to, like the annual spring festivals.

We rounded up five that sounded like just the thing to shake the cold off in time for spring.

1. West Virginia Maple Syrup Festival, in Pickens, Randolph County, March 21 and 22: The festival hosts a big pancake breakfast both days, plus has crafters, vendors, live music and maple syrup. Details at pickenswv.squarespace.com.

2. New Era Kite Festival, Mineral Wells Elementary, Mineralwells, Wood County, March 21 and 22: A festival for the hardcore kite flying fans and for people who just want to enjoy the warming breeze of spring and lots of family fun. Free kites for the first 50 kids; fancier kites will be available for purchase. For more information, call New Era Kite Club at 304-481-4752.

3. Lewisburg Chocolate Festival, Greenbrier County, April 11: A citywide smorgasbord of all things chocolate, with chocolate tastings and special chocolate offerings at area restaurants and bars. For details, visit www.lewisburgchocolatefestival.com or call 800-833-2068.

4. Parkersburg Scottish and Celtic Festival, Wood County, April 18: While not the earliest festival celebrating Scots and Irish, it does have the advantage of being in the spring. For details about it, including ticket prices, call 304-488-8009.

5. Spring Mountain Festival, Grant County, April 24-26: Held mostly at the Tri County Fairgrounds, a town parade, cornhole championship and a car show are just a few of the highlights. For details, call 304-257-2722.

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

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In Short: March 5-11, 2015 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150304/GZ0601/150309625 GZ0601 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150304/GZ0601/150309625 Wed, 4 Mar 2015 13:44:05 -0400 Mardi Gras in Dunbar

The city of Dunbar is sponsoring a Mardi Gras Mirth and Merriment event Saturday beginning at 7 p.m. at the Dunbar Recreation Center, 2601 Fairlawn Ave.

Entertainment will be provided by Marshall Petty and the Groove.

The evening features dancing and gaming tables for fun, and Louisiana food will be sold.

Tickets are $5 per person or $25 for a table of six and are available at the door, or in advance by calling 304-766-0223.

Engineering family fun day

Explore robotics, launch an Alka-Seltzer rocket and lots more at the Clay Center's Discover Engineering family fun day, this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The all-ages event features interactive activities and displays by local engineering firms, colleges and universities, as well as demos on topics like robotics, aluminum boat building and alternative energy.

All activities are included in gallery admission, which is free for members or $6 for children and $7.50 adults.

For more information, visit www.theclaycenter.org or call 304-561-3570.

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WV Travel Team: Amazing architecture in West Virginia http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150301/GZ05/150309956 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150301/GZ05/150309956 Sun, 1 Mar 2015 00:01:00 -0400 Wealth in West Virginia tended to be transitory, never staying long enough or within the state's boundaries to fund grand and lasting metropoli.

It did trickle down to create workingman towns and small cities. The state's relative isolation during the development-crazed years of the past generation or two has allowed working artifacts to flourish, not yet eliminated by the bland sameness of national franchises.

There are nearly 150 historic districts in the state and most are intact, retaining both the architecture and the social fabric of the original communities. In some towns, a few provocative new buildings are scattered in between the antiques.

Among the must-see Historic Districts is Victorian Wheeling, a treasure trove of six historic districts and more than 900 townhouses built between 1837 and 1891. Every decade of Victorian style is represented.

Stained glass, brick, stone, tile, wood, chandeliers and even the nails were crafted in Wheeling. Many of the buildings have the pressed, stamped metal ceilings for which the city was famous, known appropriately as "Wheeling Ceiling."

Parkersburg's jewel is the Julia- Ann Square Historic District, dominated by the state's most concentrated grouping of Italianate Second Empire and Queen Anne mansions, all along brick streets. Still splendidly lived in today, the district is an easy morning walk from the historic Blennerhassett Hotel.

Tiny Union in Monroe County has twenty-nine antebellum structures on two main streets within its six- block downtown area.

Shepherdstown's German Street thrives with blocks of working artifacts - 18th and 19th century commercial and residential buildings now housing contemporary businesses from organic groceries and coffee houses to successful dot-coms.

The 18th century town of Martinsburg is the state's fastest growing city as the 21st century begins. Its historic buildings offer an almost unbelievable array of architectural styles and periods from colonial to early 20th century arranged in livable, walkable blocks as the town expanded.

Bluefield was booming in the 1920s and 30s and the merchant princes designated Parisian-trained architect Alex Mahood as their architect of choice. A driving tour showcases more than a dozen Neoclassical Colonial Revival homes. Downtown has the integrated look of a city that was built within a short time span.

A walking tour of Charleston's historic East End ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous. St. Paul's is a distinctive cruciform Gothic church resplendent with stone parapets. The Stephenson-Toovey House is an ornate pink and purple Queen Anne style Victorian.

The non-descript first floor brick structure that houses the Empty Glass Cafe is topped by a four-square two-story house that was moved there to make room for the State Theater in 1939. Also part of this neighborhood is three parallel city blocks, each half a mile long, making them among the country's longest.

Often the most eccentric architectural nuggets stand alone as historic restorations or working artifacts with interesting stories.

In Fayette County, Camp Washington Carver, the first African-American 4-H camp, boasts the largest chestnut log structure in the United States. The Great Chestnut Lodge is 110 feet long and built with 534 logs - corpses harvested from the chestnut blight.

Built by the WPA from 1939-42, it is irreplaceable. Those giant chestnuts are gone forever.

The Pocahontas Opera House in Marlinton opened in 1910, and is one of the oldest reinforced concrete structures in the country. Meticulously renovated, it presents music and other productions year 'round.

The Round Barn of Mannington was built as a dairy barn by Amos Hamilton in 1912 for $1,900 and today is a prize-winning restoration project and museum operated by the West Augusta Historical Society. The barn was built with a spring fed watering system that the cows could turn on and off.

Natural gas deposits on the farm are still used to heat the barn. A Shaker invention, first built in 1826, round barns purportedly kept the devil from hiding in the corner. More prosaic, the extra large loft allowed for hay storage.

The privately owned Rankin Octagonal Barn built between 1890 and 1905 has a cylindrical cupola and can be seen from the road near Ravenswood. The Kuykendahll Polygonal Barn near Romney has 15 sides. Built around 1906, the barn has a silage car that moves by an overhead crane on a circular wooden track.

The McDowell County Courthouse in Welch sits atop granite steps leading up the hill. The impressive four-story, ivy-covered granite Romanesque Gothic building also boasts a hand cut stone wall, a tower and a bell that rings each day at noon.

The Quaker State Windmill in downtown Parkersburg was driven by a car engine and its sole purpose was as an attention getter for the service station. Now serving food as a family restaurant, the windmill still catches the eye.

West Virginia Wesleyan in Buckhannon is a movie-set college campus. Built in 1890, the twenty-three modified Georgian brick buildings occupy an eighty-acre square with Wesley Chapel, the largest in the state, at its center.

Built at the turn of the 20th century, the palatial mansion of Vancroft is now a bed and breakfast and assisted living facility. The Opium Room loft high above the dining room retains its Oriental Décor.

Impressive collections of original Gustav Stickley furniture and Native American artifacts and photographs remain. The estate overlooking the city of Wellsburg and Ohio River also includes a horse racing track and fieldstone grotto.

Additions and studios at the Huntington Museum of Art are the last designs by Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus School. His famous clerestory windows bathe the rooms in natural light.

The Upper Market House of Wheeling's Centre Market is the only cast-iron columned market house in the country. Built in 1853, and in continuous use since, its fifty-four hollow Doric columns are set so that every other one acts as a downspout for the roof.

The Queen Anne style Cooper House on Main Street in Bramwell has the first copper roof in America, as well as a doghouse built into the outside chimney. The house, with one of the first indoor swimming pools in the state, was built in 1910 of orange brick imported from England.

Ramsey School, the oldest in the city of Bluefield, is built on the side of a hill. Its seven entrances on seven levels earned the school a mention in Ripley's Believe It or Not.

Odd churches abound in the state including Ruble Church in Wirt County, one of the oldest still attended. Built from massive hewn logs in 1835 by Aaron Ruble, it is heated by a pot- bellied stove and lit by kerosene.

Antebellum graves are in the churchyard. The church stated, "All are welcome here except those of Northern Principles."

For those who consider geometry divine, tiny Alberts Chapel in Calhoun County is a find. Built in 1903, it is the only octagonal church in the state. The bell tower is also octagonal and carrying out the theme of odd geometry, windows are triangular-headed.

Wheeling is a city of massive churches including the state's original Catholic cathedral, St. Joseph's. The Romanesque structure was designed by noted architect Edward Weber of Pittsburgh and constructed in 1926 on the site of the original church built in 1847. It stands 148 feet to the top of the dome.

There are many more personal favorites among the state's scattered array of quirky architecture from the pointy-roofed Tamarack, the white splendor of the Greenbrier and Gothic Moundsville Penitentiary to numerous churches, mills, courthouses, hotels and private homes. Take this as only a small taste inspiring architectural tours of your own.

Jeanne Mozier of Berkeley Springs is the author of "Way Out in West Virginia." A must-have guide to the wonders and oddities of the Mountain State, it is available in bookstores throughout the state and from wvbookco.com.

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Low-fare Spirit service to resume at Yeager http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150301/GZ03/150309976 GZ03 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150301/GZ03/150309976 Sun, 1 Mar 2015 00:01:00 -0400 By Rick Steelhammer More West Virginians than ever are expected to be boarding Spirit Airlines, the no-frills low-cost carrier with the "you get what you pay for" business model, after it resumes its nonstop seasonal service to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, from Charleston's Yeager Airport on March 14.

After beginning this year's seasonal service with flights to and from the popular beach destination Wednesdays and Saturdays, Spirit will add for the first time a third weekly flight on Mondays, starting on April 20, and lasting through Sept. 9, this year's end date for Myrtle Beach service.

"The new Monday flight will give people more options for their Myrtle Beach visits," said Brian Belcher, Yeager Airport's marketing director. Since the Charleston-Myrtle Beach Spirit flights continue on to Fort Lauderdale starting on April 18, the Monday flights also make more seats available to Charleston passengers for the Florida destination, Belcher said.

Last year, 6,501 passengers boarded Spirit flights departing Yeager Airport for Myrtle Beach and Fort Lauderdale.

"I think this market is kind of starved for low-fare service," Belcher said. "Spirit carries a lot of passengers from here who wouldn't be flying at all had it not been for their low fares."

Spirit has the lowest fares,and the highest profit margins of any domestic carrier. Nationally, the airline also tops the charts with the highest rate of consumer complaints, due mainly to add-on fees charged to everything from bottled water ($3) to printed boarding passes ($10 each) and carry-on bags (at least $35).

"Some customers feel duped by baggage fees that are clearly announced on Spirit's website but not on such third-party travel sites as Orbitz and Travelocity," wrote The Washington Post's Chico Harlan last fall.

"Our fares are fully unbundled," the airline explains on its website. "No 'free' bag. No 'free' drink. Other airlines bake those options right into their ticket price. We don't. A ticket with us gets you and a personal item from A to B."

"Spirit doesn't pretend to be the be all and do all for everyone," Belcher said. "They're saying, 'We provide low fares with no free extras. If that's what you want, we've got it.'"

As far as customer complaints go, Belcher said not that many come from Spirit's Charleston area customers.

"When other airports ask us about Spirit's service, we tell them we don't hear many complaints here," he said.

Part of the reason for the relative absence of complaints from the Charleston market may stem from the fact that Spirit's ground crews and ticket agents are all Yeager employees, working for CRW Services, the airport's ground services contracting arm, which also works with charter flights.

"They wear Spirit uniforms, but they're our employees, trained to handle Spirit flights, and we make sure they provide great service here," Belcher said.

Meanwhile, although America's airlines are experiencing lower fuel costs and higher aircraft occupancy rates, U.S. fares have generally continued to rise, while fares have decreased at airlines based in Europe and Asia.

According to the Washington Post, data released last year by the U.S. Department of Transportation showed that inflation-adjusted air fares have increased at eight of the 10 most heavily used U.S. airports since 2011. Fares are up 16 percent at Atlanta, 11 percent at New York's LaGuardia and 9 percent at Chicago's O'Hare International.

Spirit fares vary depending on travel dates and how far in advance reservations are made. While most reservations are made online, the Spirit ticket counter at Yeager Airport is open daily from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to assist customers in making reservations and learning about the best fare offers. Below online-posted fares are sometimes available by checking at the ticket counter.

Spirit inaugurated its seasonal Charleston-Myrtle Beach service in 2006, but discontinued it in 2008 following a spike in fuel prices. The airline resumed operation on the route in 2011.

Last year, Spirit was rated the nation's most profitable airline, in terms of operating margin (16.2 percent) and return on capital investment (26 percent).

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.

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WV Travel Team: Mountain State reminders http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150222/GZ05/150229990 GZ05 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150222/GZ05/150229990 Sun, 22 Feb 2015 00:01:00 -0400 By Amy Shuler Goodwin WV Travel Team CHARLESTON, W.Va. - When I first heard the song "You Remind Me of West Virginia," by Pocahontas County native Wyatt Turner, I knew right away I'd found a wonderful opportunity to highlight the natural beauty of our wild, wonderful state and its people.

The very next day I shared the song - singing it of course - with the GoToWV team, and it became the inspiration for our photo contest (the song, not my singing - although I think I sing very well).

Contestants were asked to submit a photo and a brief description of a special someone who reminded them of West Virginia. The finalists were determined by public vote, which closed Jan. 31.

We received more than 200 loving tributes to relatives, sweethearts and best friends accompanied by cherished photos taken in places across the Mountain State.

It was truly awe-inspiring. The grand-prize winners were randomly drawn and each will receive dinner and a two-night stay, courtesy of our partners including the Bavarian Inn and Café Cimino.

I appreciate all of our partners who helped to make this contest a success. And a special thank you to Wyatt Turner for sharing the song that has inspired folks from across West Virginia.

Find your adventure in West Virginia at www.GoToWV.com or by calling 800-CALL-WVA. You can also join the conversation and share your wild, wonderful stories on Facebook at www.facebook.com/GoToWV or on Twitter and Instagram @GoToWV with #GoToWV.

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Amanda Rhodes, Morgantown:

It's surprising to think that a man from Pennsylvania could remind me so strongly of West Virginia and completely captivate my heart. He reminds me of West Virginia in his passion for nature; his appreciation for the simple things in life; in his kindness to all he encounters despite their attitudes toward him; in that he loves me with all of his heart. Like West Virginia, he provides a comfort unlike any other and he assures me that I am loved and where I truly belong. He may not be bred and buttered, but he's truly a wild and wonderful man.

Photo location: Dorsey's Knob, Morgantown

Lodging choice: (to be determined), Ohio County

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Christi Phillips, Beverly:

My someone special is my husband; he's my "wild and wonderful." He supports me in any adventure I desire and loves me through it all. Just like West Virginia, he's real and honest and comforting, and always in my heart. Being with him and living in West Virginia is more than "almost heaven"; it is heaven on Earth.

Photo location: along the Highland Scenic Highway

Lodging choice: Bavarian Inn, Shepherdstown

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Helen Durgin, Winfield:

In every season, I love my West Virginia man! He is wild and wonderful! Whether we are by the river, on a mountaintop, in a cavern, in the valley, on a country road or anywhere in Almost Heaven, West Virginia - the treasure is right in my own back yard.

Photo location: Winfield ("my yard")

Lodging choice: The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs

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Jennifer Ballard, Hansford:

This picture was taken about a mile down the Hawks Nest Rail Trail in Ansted through knee-deep snow. The crystal-clear water flowing through the pure, untouched snow was simply spectacular. West Virginia is truly almost heaven, just like my husband. Like a twig on the shoulders of a mighty stream, he goes with the flow.

Photo location: Ansted

Lodging choice: Canaan Valley Resort State Park, Davis

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Jennifer Perry, St. Marys:

My husband and I met in Illinois, where I lived. He was there working and lived in West Virginia. Thirteen years later we are happily married and live in St. Marys. Every year for our anniversary, we go to the mountains. It's our favorite getaway, and we are now searching for our own property there! This photo was taken on top of Dolly Sods with our tripod. Every year we watch the sunrise there on our anniversary! We also have several different trips planned for this year. We love the West Virginia Mountains! And I love my West Virginia man!

Photo location: Dolly Sods

Lodging choice: Blennerhassett Hotel, Parkersburg

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Marlene Colebank, Fairmont:

Site of our "home sweet home."

Photo location: Simpson

Lodging choice: Café Cimino Country Inn, Sutton

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Misty Sine, Wardensville:

"Take me home, West Virginia," always comes to mind when I see this picture. This is my daughter and her best friends, and this picture was taken in Wardensville at the Lost River Trading Post. When I see these girls, I see four West Virginia country girls. They love to hunt, fish, go four-wheeling and basically anything outdoors and even mud. They don't get any more "Wild and Wonderful West Virginia" than these four West Virginia country girls.

Photo location: Wardensville

Lodging choice: Four Points by Sheraton, Charleston

Amy Shuler Goodwin serves as commissioner of tourism and deputy secretary of commerce for the state of West Virginia. For more information about activities, events and lodging in West Virginia, visit www.GoToWV.com or call 800-225-5982 (800-CALL-WVA).

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In Short: Feb. 19-25, 2015 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150219/GZ0601/150219281 GZ0601 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150219/GZ0601/150219281 Thu, 19 Feb 2015 00:01:00 -0400 Bob Thompson at La Belle

The "D" Street Art & Music Series presents The Bob Thompson Quartet in concert on Saturday at the La Belle Theater, 311 D St., South Charleston.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m., with a showing of work by local artist Wesley Eary, and the concert starting after 7 p.m.

Admission is $15 and tickets are on sale at the theater, the Capitol Market Wine Shop and the South Charleston Wine Shoppe.

Call 304-744-9711 for more information.

Filmfest fundraiser

The W.Va. International Film Festival will host its second annual Oscar Party fundraiser starting at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Fireside Bar and Lounge, upstairs at Little India, 1604 Washington St. E.

Tickets are $15 at the door and the event includes hors d'oeuvres, a cash bar and a viewing of that night's Oscar awards.

Oscar-inspired attire is encouraged (but not required) and prizes will be awarded for "Best Dressed," "Best Hot Mess" and "Best Celebrity Wanna Be."

Call 304-720-3616.

All Good returns to W.Va.

The All Good Music Festival and Camp Out is coming back to West Virginia after leaving for Ohio in 2012.

The 18th incarnation of the festival has announced its lineup for the July 9 to 11 event, to be held at the Berry Hill Farm, in Summit Point, W.Va., near Charles Town.

The lineup includes Primus, Moe, Cake, Thievery Corporation, Lotus, Soja, STS9, the John Butler Trio, Greensky Bluegrass, Dark Star Orchestra, The Word, Keller Williams, the Yonder Mountain String Band, JJ Grey and Mofro, Lettuce, Twiddle, Elephant Revival, The Bridge, Pigeons Playing Pingpong, Turkuaz, Cabinet and Tauk.

Advance Early Bird Tier 1 tickets for all three days are now available for $179, with VIP, RV passes and other ticketing options also available.

Visit allgoodfestival.com for more information.

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