Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

Archive for November 2009

Train Trauma

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You should take lessons on how to debark in a train in Europe. There’s no problem when you get out with groups of passengers because someone knows how, or if you’re in a busy terminal where the train doors are opened automatically or from the outside. But when we arrived in Chiusi around midnight and were the only passengers getting off, we got a quick train-training session.

We were in the vestibule at the end of the car and the train stopped and … nothing happened. We started looking for something, anything, and then saw a little red handle that we started twisting and turning and tugging and pulling and pushing and, finally, an observant gentleman heading for Florence who had anticipated our plight – we greeted him and spoke briefly when he took a seat in our compartment and he became aware that we weren’t Italian – came to our assistance and rotated the handle, just like you used to crank old automobiles to get them started.

The door opened and the steps dropped down and the conductor outside, ready to open the door from the exterior, shouted “bravo” and said something to the affect that we had made it. We shouted a “grazie’ to the man from Florence and headed down the stairs under the “binari” (tracks), through the station, onto the street and to the parking lot to get our rented Mercedes.

A similar incident occurred in England a few years ago when we headed back to Crawley, near Gatwick, from London. When the train stopped, nothing happened. A chunky lady shouted at us to open the window. “How?” She pantomimed, so we grabbed the handy straps and pulled the window up. That wasn’t big enough for us to get out. She hollered at us to turn the handle. “What handle?” It was outside, she yelled. So we reached out and turned the handle and fell out of the train in time.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

November 30, 2009 at 7:25 am

Posted in Europe, Trip Tips

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Siciliana

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“Take a week and visit Sicily,” everyone tells us. “ You have to see Palermo. Drive around the island and stop wherever you wish. The food is good.” We sorta agree that’s next time. U-T oldtimer Frank Saldana has visited the island a few times and he loves it. Any time of year is fine because of the climate but Mariolina said she likes February best because the blooming almond trees cover the hills with color.

Packing Them in in Panicale

Oil festival weekend of Nov. 21 – 22 was touted as a “gastronomic experience” of new wine and olive oil of the region. There are those who say, without argument or declamatory tones, that Trasimeno olive oil is the best in the country. You have to keep in mind that everything here is a festival. Bologna even had a Festival for Festivals, sorta leaving you with the feeling that, if there isn’t a reason for a festival, we’ll have one anyway. It brings in the booths and the tourists and the dollars. This little village has transformed itself into a tourist-dollar magnet. Prices are aimed at the transient, not the local. Friday’s weekly market was about half the size of those recalled from the past. And most of the ex-pats, from Europe as well as U.S., head home for the winter.

Met Santa Claus

Ran into entrepreneur Bobbie (a Swedish ex-pat whose last name I forget) in the piazza this morning (Nov. 19). We chatted for about half an hour until his wife, Ann, came to retrieve him. He’s growing a beard to be Santa Claus Dec. 24 for the kids of the village.

Napolitania

Wot a trip! Simone met us at the station, introduced us to his friends – sculptor/artist Dario Correale, girlfriend Maria, their roommate Tulia, and acrylic painter Rosario – who showed us the real Naples after we walked to and into some of the sites after a 90-minute hop-on/hop-off bus tour around this metropolis built at the foot of Vesuvius: “Christ in the Veil,” Santa Lucia, Little Calcutta, Piazza Plebescito, Palazzo Reale, Parque Virgiliano, Pozzuolo e Camu. The last is a 3,000+-year-old archeological site that few folks visit. We walked thru a long tunnel/warehouse to the Apollo sybill’s niche and then climbed to the acropolis to walk around the Temple of Apollo and, at the top, the Temple of Jove, with a magnificent view of the Med shore, and the islands of Proscida and Ischia. Ruins not as impressive as others but quiet and easier to visit. It was where the Greeks established their first sites for vacation homes on the Italian peninsula and founded Naples later. Harness racers were putting their horses thru their paces on the beach while we were enjoying the vista.

And we supped and sipped our way thru pizza margharita, birra Moretti, lemoncello, grappa, spaghetti and clams, fried pumpkin blossoms, fried shrimp, fried mozzarella, fried pasta cakes, mozzarella napolitana, mussels, lagostina, Dario’s parents gave us cookies and grappa and lemoncello and mandarino and, to take with us, a bottle of lemoncello and two bottles of home-made red wine for my birthday.

Four-hour train ride (26 euros each) got us home shortly after midnight tired and happy, in need of a shower and happy, a bit sad we left but happy we went.

Rain Routine

Our first rainy day here was almost welcome. It gave us a chance to rest, especially since we were invited to, and accepted, an invitation for cake – it was a gorgeous-looking and tasty chestnut cake with layers of meringue and cream that looked like a lady’s expensive hat — and cards with Riccardo and Mariolina. Invite was for 9 p.m. and we stayed until after midnight.

The wet weather cut down the size and time of the weekly Friday market in the piazza. It also gave Carla, who takes care of the church (Chiesi de San Michel) the opportunity to wash her car. She sweeps off the muck and mud  with a broom.

Downpour also prevented Simone (Aldo’s son) from putting out and plugging in the all-red-light Christmas tree in front of his osteria — Il Gallo del ????

We spent most of the day reading and napping and eating and napping and reading and napping.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

November 28, 2009 at 2:46 pm

Posted in Europe, Travel

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Tipping Tip

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Had a great meal of spaghetti alla carbonara e coda (oxtail) at family owned and operated Locanda di Marcanzia in Castiglione di Lago Tuesday night. Bill was 21 euros each. We just divvied total five ways – Bev, Barb, Mariolina, Riccardo and me – regardless of who had what. Then Riccardo explained you don’t tip the owner. When you tip help, it’s loose change . No tips reach 5 percent anywhere in Italy. So I can start saving a few euros here and there.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

November 19, 2009 at 5:27 am

O Sole Mio

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Had a shoe problem almost immediately on our departure. I spent time and effort settling on an old pair of thick-rubber-soled Clarks that would be wear-on-the-airplane-and-walk-around-the-village-and-perhaps-leave-here pair. But didn’t want the following to happen.  The rubber apparently has been rotting over the years and the sole on the right shoe split open crossways in Las Vegas. So I went to the little all-kinds-of-stuff store off the Mandalay Bay lobby and bought some Krazy Glue. Jammed some of that stuff into the crack and it worked. As have subsequent applications to chunks of rubber trying to chip themselves off other parts of the sole and heel. So a quick lesson here: never leave home without duct tape and Krazy Glue

Written by Cecil Scaglione

November 19, 2009 at 5:26 am

Posted in Europe, Travel

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Still Catching Up

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Got our porchette (salty roast-pork sandwiches) Monday morning at the Tavernelle market, picked up some victuals and then over to Riccardo’s for cards — scoppone – all p.m. He gave me his WEP for wi-fi connection and finally got a chance to clean out e-mail but no time to get to bloggin’ and respondin’. Gonna do that.a.s.a.p. Did pick up on latest gossip about Riccardo-Mariolina split from Margaret Leon on Sunday and Riccardo Monday. Poked our heads into the osteria opened by Aldo’s son in the apartment we stayed in our first time here. Prices are outrageous. As are the prices at Aldo’s. Tatin restaurants open Tuesday – the one on the hill at the edge of the piazza and the former French café they bought recently on the piazza – but their prices are also over the top. Based on seeing non-Panicalese milling about the piazza and staring at the church and their discussions between oohing and aaahing, I opined that Aldo and the rest of the town are aiming their business at the tourists, with tourist prices. Riccardo agreed. “No one from Panicale goes there any more.” The wintertime card tournaments Aldo used to stage at his Bar Gallo to not only maintain his business but to keep the town entertained are a thing of the past.  There is a drop in rentals and the bulk of folks returning to the castle are from Australia and New Zealand.

Riccardo knew we were going to Rome at some time so he gave me something I can wear in Rome – a laurel wreath. Heh!

Weather’s been mild and gentle so far and today was gorgeous featuring Il sol d’Italia feasting on the Umbrian colors.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

November 19, 2009 at 5:23 am

Posted in Europe, Travel

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Bologna Bit

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Bologna Airport is small and busy but customs and immigration weren’t open. Got into Hotel Mercure about  22:30. Cab driver said it would cost about 16 or 17 euros. The meter read 13.40, so we gave him 18. Had a note from Barbara in 448. Our room was 412 for 65 euros a night. The rate card above the desk said double rooms cost 160 euros a night. We got the internet rate. Bev and Barb not impressed with Bologna; people not as friendly as Panicale, and Rome, etc. Food’s good, tho. Prices have gone up in this country. Bologna is expensive and we saw higher prices in Panicale, too.

Picked up our rental. We asked for a compact and they upgraded us. That’s all they had. Good for us because of all the freakin’ luggage. No problems on streets and roads. Italians drive like I do. : “Get the f— outta the way.”

Left the hotel at 11 and, after some rain, fog, a couple of dozen tunnels through the Appenines, a coffee stop, and picking up some essential groceries, we walked into Aldo’s bar at 14:30. Don’t know how the heck we’re going to make it back to our hotel when we go back to Bologna. Aldo’s barista Camilla called Riccardo and Mariolina came to the bar. Had coffee and emptied car and headed to Riccardo’s for wine and chat. And met his son Lucca. Both M and R look peaked and worn. They’ve had a bad year. One of their long-time dogs died in their car and Riccardo broke his hip and is still on crutches. And, when you stand back and look, there’s more but we’ll have to wait and let the tale unfold.

Headed for Maselino’s for dinner BUT THE PLACE IS CLOSED – until Dec. 3.  Bev’s initial prod to come was to celebrate the restaurant’s 50th anniversary Nov. 20, my birthday, Christmas, New Year’s, and Little Christmas (Jan. 6).. We learned just before we came that Maselino’s is going to celebrate in the spring, “when there are more people.” And Bev also had planned to have a nice dinner there on my birthday Dec. 2. So we had some great cold cuts at Aldo’s. At a great price – 45 euros. If someone charged us that in PB for cold cuts, we’d call the cops. Got to Chiusi station at noon Sunday and checked times to and from Naples. It’s about a 4 hr train trip and round trip costs about 59 euros. Don’t save money with roundtrip ticket so buy one way and pick your train. Think we’ll go next Sunday because parking lot looked like it had plenty of spaces today. To Margaret Leon’s in Paciano, after lunch at La Brucciatta l’Oca, and delivered her peanut butter and voltage converter.  She had a “pre-holiday” sale of her photos and we met some of the local ex-pats. Interesting people but not the type who would enjoy a beer with me – and, more importantly, vice versa. MTK….

Written by Cecil Scaglione

November 17, 2009 at 6:24 am

Posted in Europe, Travel

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Made It

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It took a good night’s sleep in “our own bed” in Panicale to drain away a good portion of the travel thickness that weighed upon our minds and muscles. We got out of Las Vegas with some of its money – not me, but Bev‘s  purse was about $80 fatter and Ross cashed several hundred dollars worth of tickets before he drove us to the airport on is way back to San Diego. I dropped $19.65. Our Mandalay Bay room was only $35 (a special Bev got thru her many jaunts into Las Vegas via airlines and online). Our Virgin Atlantic premium economy seats were just fine for the 9hr 6 min flight. We were among the 44 passengers sitting in the 747 bubble right behind the cockpit. And we had two flight attendants.

Landed in Gatwick with plenty of time to catch a 1 p.m. BritAir flight to Bologna. There was space on it but our tickets weren’t changeable, even with a change fee, and we were told, “We’re very sorry but you’d have to buy a new ticket for 199 pounds — each.” I asked if that was both ways and she just winced. This is typical unwavering British Air bureaucracy. Polite but thoroughly customer unfriendly. So we opted to stick with our original plan and spend 9 hours in the airport. (When we booked the flights, we asked Virgin res agent  if we would make that 1 p.m. flight since our Virgin sked called for landing in Gatwick at 10:30, a 2 ½ hour gap. He said, “It’s possible but not likely” since any delay – Las Vegas weather or problems, Atlantic storm, problems at Gatwick with landings, customs, anything  — would throw us way off schedule. So we booked the 19:30 flight and, as it turned out, landed in Gatwick shortly after 10, about 30 minutes early..

On an earlier Virgin flight from Vegas, we had a 2 ½ hour window for a connecting flight to Pisa but we ran late ‘cuz of a delayed takeoff and some weather and flight attendants had to let us dash out first so we could make our flight. That would not have worked this time because we booked all legs of the flights online ourselves and would have had to await our bags before heading to the connector.

Could have bought some time – 3 hours for 30 pounds each – in the Avianca public lounge, which included some fruit and snacks and a well-stocked self-serve bar. Because it was so slow, the attendant said we could stay as long as we want. Problem was, I didn’t seek it out until about four hours before our departure and it wasn’t worth spending all that dough that late in the day. Did pick up a bottle of duty-free scotch and we had a quiet meal before taking off. More to come…

Written by Cecil Scaglione

November 17, 2009 at 6:19 am

On the Brink

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Our luggage is enroute to Las Vegas with Ross. We’ll be the same tomorrow (Monday) afternoon. Bev’s looking forward to sharing some quiet moments with a casino machine and settling into a brightly lighted meal afterwards. I’ll sink my limit and then people-watch until it’s time to go to bed. We’ve arranged for Ross to bring back “laundry” – the clothes we wear on this first step of the trip.

Picked up a voltage converter for Peg Leon, for whom we also packed away a jar of peanut butter. She has an old printer and it needs a converter, which was smashed just a week ago when it tumbled onto the tile floor of her home in Paciano, a neighboring village about 3 ½ kilometers from Panicale. Picked up an all-purpose plug with a built-in surge protector for myself to use with the netbook. Had purchased a converter and grounded plug at Radio Shack with assurances from the staff that they would do everything I was asking: the converter serves the printer and the grounded plug works throughout Europe. Bev read packages at home and made it clear to me that the converter was for NON-ELECTRONIC appliances only and spelled out clearly it was not to be used with computers, telephones chargers, laptops, printers, etc. The grounded plug I bought was made for use throughout Europe EXCEPT Switzerland and Italy. No questions please, because I didn’t get any answers when I returned them. All I can tell you is that the round prongs on the Italian plug are “thinner” than those on the all-Europe type. Got the correct ones (replacing the grounded plug with the all purposes plug with surge protector) at a nearby travel-supplies store.

Niggles like these can gnaw at you when you’re on the road. Before our freighter trip. Bev went to multi troubles to make certain she had a phone that works anywhere in the universe. When she tried to make a call in Southampton, the port where we boarded the vessel, it didn’t work. So she called the service number and spent an hour or so chatting with a pleasant service technician and followed all instructions and it was working in Southampton. It never worked after that. Back home, we learned that the knothead who sold Bev the phone hadn’t opened a switch enabling international calls, which Bev made clear and emphasized as the priority when she bought the thing. Similar thing happened to friend of ours from Toronto when he spent a couple of weeks with us in Panicale. So you buy telephone cards.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

November 8, 2009 at 12:49 pm

Posted in Europe, Travel

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A Little Help

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Our son Ross is driving to Las Vegas Sunday to spend a couple of days supporting the Nevada economy. But the good news is he ‘s taking our luggage with him. He’s staying at the Luxor and we’re booked next door at the Mandalay Bay, both at the south end of The Strip. So we don’t have to manhandle our luggage for the first leg — San Diego to Las Vegas — nor do we have to pay USAir the baggage fees for that flight. We fly there Monday afternoon for an overnight and board Virgin Atlantic Tuesday afternoon for Gatwick, spend much of Wednesday there and get into Bologna Wed night where Barbara Brill will be waiting for us. She gets there, from Amsterdam, a half dozen hours ahead of us. We plan to eat our way around town Thursday and Friday and picking up our car Saturday morning just around the corner from our hotel — Hotel Mercure, across from the railroad station. It’s about a 3 1/2-hour drive to Panicale.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

November 7, 2009 at 12:38 am

Posted in Europe, Travel

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Airlines Check in

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E-mail notes from Virgin Atlantic and British Air remind us of our flights next week: Virgin from Phoenix to Gatwick, BA from Gatwick to Bologna. All is A-OK, altho we cannot select BA seats until 24 hours before boarding in other words, when we can book on-line. No seat selection when you buy your ticket. We’re set to leap on line from our Vegas hotel to book both Virgin and BA. Will have to do BA from Bologna on our two-hour return flight and again from Crawley (Gatwick) for Virgin and USAir (from Phoenix to San Diego). We’ll see how it works.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

November 5, 2009 at 12:59 pm