Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

Archive for November 2012

French Canals Create Barging Experts

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By Joan Rattner Heilman

Mature Life Features

If, like us, you’re slightly worn adventurers who have given up black-diamond ski slopes, camping trips, and outdoor plumbing but are still game for a good challenge, rent your own canal barge.

You can skipper and live aboard your own traditional narrow-beamed barge or a cabin cruiser for a week or two while you chug along canals at five or six miles an hour as folks did to get around the country before the advent of railroads.

It’s all called barging and you stop wherever, whenever, and for as long as you please. It can be for lunch, dinner at a local restaurant, a good night’s sleep, a walk around a quaint village, a bike ride into town for groceries, or a hike to a nearby castle.

Your boat provides much the same facilities and equipment as a land-based recreational vehicle. There’s no laundry service and nobody’s going to make your bed.  The size and cost depend on the number of people it can accommodate.

France, with its network of waterways that covers most of the country, is probably the most popular choice, although other favorites are England, with its miles of recently restored canals that were built during the industrial revolution, along with The Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany.

If you’d rather stay closer to home, upstate New York’s historic Erie Canal is the best-known waterway with boats for hire.

For our French canal cruising, my husband, Mortimer, and I picked up our 30-foot rental at the Crown Blue Line’s base station in the hamlet of Boofzheim on the Canal de la Marne au Rhin, not far from Strasbourg in Alsace.

“Don’t worry,” we were told during our half-hour meet-the-boat session, “It’s very easy.” And if we had a problem, “you can call us.” Our only requirement was to turn up at a village called Hesse 106 kilometers (a little more than 60 miles) away in exactly one week.

Armed with these instructions, a guidebook, map, and emergency telephone number, we gurgled off at five miles and hour.

We learned quickly that you can’t get into too much trouble at that speed. The water is always flat and calm, the canals are just wide enough for boats to pass in opposite directions, and it’s almost impossible to get lost.  We did encounter a couple of boaters who required emergency engine service, which is provided by a van traveling on the towpath that runs alongside the entire length of the canals.

It took us three hair-raising attempts, with much crashing into the sides of the gates, before we managed to inch into our first lock, tie up to a stanchion, pull a green lever, and, when the lock filled with water, chug out the other end while dodging a large barge coming the opposite way.  We became experts by the time we had negotiated the 43 locks on our route, two long dark tunnels carved through the mountains, and one apparatus that lifted three boats at a time 400 feet up the side of a hill.

We decided to tie up for our first night and calm our nerves at Plobsheim, a typical Alsatian farm town five locks upstream. “What you have to do,” Mortimer told me, “is jump off and tie up.”  I was to grab the bow line, leap over a low wall from the rear deck onto the grassy bank about a foot below, drive a metal stake into the ground with a mallet, and tie the line firmly to it.  Then I was to do the same for the stern line.

When I told him, “I’m not jumping,” he inched ahead to a spot that was level with our lower deck, allowing me to step off onto the grass and fulfill my assignment.

We unpacked our bags and explored the three sleeping cabins, two bathrooms, showers, linens, a galley equipped with pots, dishes, silverware and glasses, the living-dining area, and upper sun deck. The boat was provisioned with breakfast foods, beverages, a crusty loaf of bread, butter, milk, a bottle of wine, and a few other staples. Steering was done inside the cabin or up on deck where there was a table, umbrella, and four chairs, plus the two bicycles we arranged to carry along.

Heaving the bikes over the side onto the towpath, we rode into town to scout out a restaurant, where we tried our first tarte flambee, the Alsatian version of pizza — a paper-thin crust topped with cheese, ham, and onion.

The cabin was cold in the morning until we started the engine, left it in neutral, jumped back into our narrow bunks, and waited about half an hour for the quarters to warm up.  After breakfast at our dining table, it was onward to Strasbourg, the picturesque capital of Alsace.  At the Plaisance Club, a small marina designed for self-drivers, we backed into the last remaining spot along the wharf for the night. It was a short walk over a bridge to a three-star restaurant in the heart of the city. We stuffed ourselves for the first and last time on the Alsatian national dish – a huge pile of choucroute (sauerkraut) topping a couple of wursts and thick slabs of pork with a side of crusty potatoes.

We always ate breakfast aboard, lunch sometimes, and dinner once by default because restaurants in the French provinces are open only on certain days and certain hours. We traded groceries with fellow boaters, most of them entire families, we met along the way. They were Danish, Australian, Dutch, Israeli, and American. And we had twilight
drinks together on one boat or another.

By the time we reached Hesse, the tiny farm town where Crown Blue Line is the major industry, we were addicted to barging.  We were already making plans for barging in Burgundy, or the Loire Valley, or maybe even the Avon Canal in England.

Mature Life Features, Copyright 2004

Written by Cecil Scaglione

November 22, 2012 at 12:05 am

Listen to Alzheimer’s Victims, Then Talk

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By Cecil Scaglione

Mature Life Features

A friend has a running gag in which he tells someone he received a solicitation for a contribution to the Alzheimer’s Association but he forgot where he put it.
The association does  more than request donations. It offers advice to Alzheimer’s sufferers and caregivers. The organization suggests strongly that each family plan for the onset of this frustrating disease by one of its members.

The AA urges victims to be candid about their disease and, at the appearance of its signs, to discuss symptoms with relatives and friends.

Stress and lowered self-esteem are sidebar symptoms of this disease, according to experts.

Maintaining open lines of communication with people doomed by dementia are critical to keeping victims, caregivers, relatives and friends on as even a keel as possible as the disability progresses.

So listen

That’s first of a half dozen steps recommended by the AA to everyone around an Alzheimer’s sufferer: listen.

Communicating with an Alzheimer’s victim requires patience and understanding, so those around such a person must be good listeners. And they must let the sufferer know they are listening, are being patient, and are trying to understand what he or she is saying.

And be a comfort, not a critic.

If the person is having difficulty finding the right word or phrase, encourage him or her to take time and continue to explain. Don’t cut in and correct the speaker. You can repeat what was said if you feel some clarification is needed.

Without adding to the Alzheimer’s sufferer further, you can often guess what he or she means or wants, even though incorrect words have been used. Don’t argue with a person affected by Alzheimer’s because that only exacerbates any emotional turmoil

Be open to feelings, not just facts

This is probably the most important matter to remember when dealing with anyone suffering the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Many times the emotions being expressed by the victim are more important than the words used. The tone of voice can help you search for the feelings behind the phrases.

Words often are unnecessary.

If you don’t understand what’s being said, ask  the Alzheimer’s-afflicted person to point or gesture to let you know what he or she wants.

Mature Life Features, Copyright 2004

Written by Cecil Scaglione

November 19, 2012 at 12:05 am


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. . . if you don’t get caught napping.

— Cecil Scaglione

Mature Life Features

Written by Cecil Scaglione

November 13, 2012 at 12:05 am

Posted in A Musing

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Rails Ring Around Switzerland

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By Igor Lobanov, Mature Life Features

ZERMATT, Switzerland — There were a couple of dozen of us and a friendly family dog in the large gondola that swooped down the cable before climbing sharply over a rock wall and nestling in a building that appeared to be glued to the sheer granite face of the mountain.

We stepped onto the summit of Klein (Little) Matterhorn, where we had a 360-degree view of sparkling snow fields on the surrounding Alpine peaks and could look straight across at its renowned relative. Below us, the village of Zermatt basked in the sunshine and skiers schussed down the broad glacier flowing from the Matterhorn.

Switzerland, slightly larger than Maryland, is crammed with lakes, rivers, lush valleys sprinkled with grazing cattle, and picture-postcard-neat villages. Linking them all is a railroad network that operates on to-the-minute schedules.

Aiming to circle the country counter-clockwise by rail, we were on a train within minutes of landing at Zurich and heading for Lucerne to spend the night and walk to its best-known attraction: the Chapel Bridge. It’s a roofed wooden walkway built over the river Reuss  in the 13th century, and rebuilt after a 1993 fire. The original Water Tower was used to store treasures from foreign wars, as a prison, and even a torture chamber.

Our 2 1/2-hour journey from Lucerne to Grindelwald by way of Interlaken took us past lakes whose glass-like aquamarine waters mirrored the mountain peaks and passing clouds. The overriding word for this route is green. Grindelwald sprawls along a narrow valley whose miles of hiking paths meander over and around nearby slopes, most notably on the lower reaches of the 13,000-foot Eiger, which looms craggily over the community.

For a bird’s-eye view, we took the five-minute gondola ride up to Pfingstegg, where a tiny restaurant clings to the cliff hundreds of feet over the valley. Nearby, you can ride a small toboggan down a metal chute to the valley floor and be towed back up again.

Our next stop was the 13,642-foot Jungfrau that, with its sister peaks Eiger and Month, offers one of the more dramatic ice-and-rock settings in Europe. Cogwheel trains depart Grindelwald at regular intervals to Jungfraujoch, the country’s highest railroad station, called The Top of Europe. The two-hour trip takes you over meadows, past small towns, and through a long tunnel. Clinging to the mountainside at 11,225 feet is a small complex that includes a restaurant, exhibit area, and viewing platform.

Then it was a six-hour train trip to Zermatt. Those who choose to drive must leave their cars in the nearby resort of Tasch and ride shuttle trains the last few miles. People here mostly walk public transportation is provided by electrically-powered taxis and horse-drawn carriages.

There are two ways to get close to the Matterhorn: the large gondolas to Klein Matterhorn, or small gondolas to Schwarzsee and its restaurant at the foot of the major peak. Klein Matterhorn and the Jungfraujoch offer tunnel-and-cavern complexes carved deep into glaciers, with niches containing ice sculptures. For another take on these peaks, you can visit the climbers’ cemetery at Zermatt’s St. Maurizius Church.

A day-long ride east from Zermatt on the Glacier Express took us to Switzerland’s preeminent hideaway of the rich and famous: St. Moritz. And our journey around Switzerland ended where it began, in the nation’s business and financial capital, Zurich, whose tree-lined Banhoffstrasse, with its chic, world-famous boutiques is cited as one of the world’s finest shopping venues.

The Limatt River separates the city’s two best-known churches. The Grossmunster, a former monastery said to have been founded by Charlamagne, has striking stained-glass windows by 19th century artist August Giacometti. On the opposite river bank, visitors to the former convent and church of Fraumunster will find a series of Old- and New-Testament representations in glass by the 20th century master, Marc Chagall. The best viewing in both churches is with morning sunlight.

Mature Life Features, Copyright April 2004

Written by Cecil Scaglione

November 5, 2012 at 12:05 am