Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

I Bought an Air Canada . . .

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. . . Phoenix-Toronto roundtrip ticket Jan. 30, 2020 — almost two years ago.

As the world knows, all Air Canada flights were cancelled when COVID-19 landed. After much shrugging-it-off and Canadian government haggling, I received an email last April (that I printed out) telling me I was going to get a refund for what I paid for the ticket, which was more than $1,000. I received my travel insurance refund many months ago.

I’ve called Air Canada several times and finally got to a person yesterday. She wasn’t in customer service but was delightfully helpful and patient and, after getting my ticket number and case number and ticket purchase date and some other stuff, got a third person on the line and tennis-talked with them and me.

I was finally told, “You’re still in the system. You’ll be getting an email when you’re refund is processed.”

Written by Cecil Scaglione

December 10, 2021 at 3:00 am

Posted in Canada, Travel

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Italy’s Heart Beats in Umbria

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PANICALE, Umbria — Umbria is comfortable perched in the shade — not the shadow, the shade — of its more renowned neighbor, Tuscany.

While the Etruscans fashioned a culture that became identified as Florentine, Umbria wove its history through such hillside towns as Assisi, Gubbio, Orvieto, Perugia, Spello and Todi, all within an hour from this castle-cum-village plunked atop a hill midway between Rome and Florence.

Umbria wraps around most of Lake Trasimeno, the fourth largest lake on the peninsula, on the edge of the Pisa-Florence-Sienna triangle. Hills quilted with chestnut, oak, olive and grape roll away from its shores and house dozens of villages.

Panicale is also called the Balcony of Lake Trasimeno because of its panoramic view of the lake.

It also offers a peek into both medieval and modern living. Piazza Umberto I is built around the town’s 500-year-old fountain and is the town’s living room.

Newlyweds have wedding photos taken here. Locals begin and end their days here over espresso and wine. They stop gossiping only to stand up for crucifix-led funeral processions chanting the Pater Noster (Our Father) on their way down from the massive 1,000-year-old Umbrian gothic Church of St. Michael the Archangel that dominates the town.

Most of their city shopping in the Tuscany town of Arezzo, less than an hour north. Sometimes they shop in the capital and commercial hub of Umbria, Perugia, just 30 minutes away.

On a hillside within viewing distance from Perugia is Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis, the founder of the religious order that established the string of 21 missions forming the backbone of California.

His remains are housed in the basilica named after him, as are those of St. Clair entombed in the church named after her at the opposite end of town. Both churches are decorated with heart-stirring frescoes, which are everywhere — inside and outside buildings in every community throughout the region.

A small church in Panicale (the town once had seven) houses a famous fresco – The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian. It was painted in 1505 by Piero di Cristoforo Vanucci, known as Il Perugino, whose most famous pupil was Raphael.

There’s a bit of local history story attached to this painting.

On each side of this landmark Renaissance work are two small groups of faceless bystanders watching Roman soldiers fire arrows into the martyr’s body. To make a fresco, the painter puts in the colors while the plaster is still wet. The people in these groups were the patrons of the painting and Il Perugino found out they weren’t going to finish paying him, so he painted their faces after the plaster dried. That’s why they have no faces now.

Il Perugino was summoned by Pope Sixtus IV in 1481 to paint a portion of the Sistine Chapel. His “Charge to Peter” is still on view in the Vatican.

This artistic bent has filtered down to artisans. It’s evident everywhere but you can see it clearly just an hour away in Deruta, the ceramic capital of central Italy. Its shops offer baked and glazed clay in all shapes, sizes, designs and colors.

Gubbio, tucked into Umbria’s northeastern corner at the foot of the Apennines, gives you a look at what medieval life looked like. People still live in 1,000-year-old houses and work in 1,000-year-old workshops. And they attend outdoor productions at a 2,000-year-old 15,000-seat open-air Roman theater.

You can drive here, of course, but trains are best for taking you into the heart of Italy’s major cities.

Taking to the road is not the nightmare some would lead you to believe. Motorists tend to tailgate but all you have to do is get out of the way. There are many roadside pull-over areas to let drivers get by. They’ll even give you a beep-beep “thank you” as they pass.

Rather than drive, we walked four kilometers (about 2 1/2 miles) to the neighboring village of Paciano for lunch. And that’s another part of what fun things to experience besides the heart and history of Italy– the cuisine.

The food merits a story in itself — local pastas, regional salamis, veal, gelato, wild boar, roast rabbit, truffles, guinea fowl, fresh produce and salads, piquant olive oil, wine without additives, the list is endless.

A Yorkshire resident who visits Umbria regularly, said it all: “You just can’t find bad food here.”

Written by Cecil Scaglione

December 6, 2021 at 3:00 am

Posted in Italy

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Air Canada Sent me a Note …

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… several months ago telling me how much they owe me for cancelling my round trip flight to Toronto.

And they still owe me.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

November 6, 2021 at 5:24 am

Roman Festival Brightens Umbrian Hillside

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“Why not drop around on Sunday,” Riccardo suggested, “We’ll have a few artichokes.”

The retired Alitalia pilot was our landlord when we arrived in Panicale, a medieval central-Italy castle-town. He and his wife, Mariolina, were friends when we left.

This fortress overlooks Lake Trasemino, the peninsula’s fourth largest lake, to the north, the manicured Tuscan countryside to the west, and the rolling Umbrian hills to the south and east. This body of water still soaks some 25,000 thousand Roman soldiers drowned here by Hannibal more than 2,000 years ago.

Our landlords opted out of big-city living in Rome several years ago and occupied our spacious apartment while they built a picture-book home in a hill-clinging olive grove just below the town’s centuries-old walls.

“I bought this apartment because when I look out that (living room) window, that’s Umbria,” he said.

The Umbria you see is the reddish-yellow brick-and-rock front of the Church of St. Michael the Archangel (one of seven churches in this village) leaning on a restaurant by an archway that frames the main piazza with its 500-year-old fountain and bars, hair salons, stationery and gift shops, and small groups of standing and sitting locals sorting out the various problems of the day.

We knew we were in for something special as we approached the lane sloping into their farmyard. It was like breaking into an opera.

About three dozen people wearing the full array of bright yellows, reds, greens – pick a color – were milling about chittering, chattering, and chanting in that Italian sing song from which arias emerge. The accompaniment was provided by Riccardo’s tractor as it hauled dead olive branches to a pile resembling a titanic tumbleweed.

“You don’t work, you don’t eat,” was Mariolina’s mandate.

Our immediate chore was to gather mint leaves off the plant stems and chop the stocks off the artichokes – shopping-cart-sized mounds of them. Then the mint leaves were minced with garlic and olive oil. The artichoke are given a good slam on the ground to soften them so their hearts centers can be opened up and crammed with the mint-leave-garlic-oil mixture.

Through all this, you had to balance wine with oil-soaked bread, cheese, fresh fava beans, and more wine before the fire is ready.

It was at this point that Mariolina explained these artichoke afternoons are a traditional Roman ritual because the plant originates in the region south of the capital.

The giant pile of shrubbery is burned and the ashes raked into a flat lava-like bed of coals.

Then you have to tuck your artichoke into the coals to cook. You only get to eat the one you cooked.

Again, the operatic metaphor arose as each person displayed a distinctive dance pirouetting around the blistering mound. It takes about 45 minutes for the artichokes to cook in this manner, which gave everyone time to sample more wine with the sausages and pork barbecued on a fire fed with larger chunks of trimmed olive wood.

Then flowed the desserts, all of them home-made.

This operatic event marked the end of our five week stay that included jaunts to the nearby cities and towns that dot our imaginations and the Italian landscape – Assisi, Siena, Orvieto, Cortona, Spello, Perugia, all within an hour’s drive of here – and Rome, Florence, and Pisa, each a couple of hours away.

But we also took a harder look out our window. There it was Panicale. Umbria. Italy.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

November 4, 2021 at 5:00 am

Canceled flights and crammed cabins …

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… prove that the skies may be friendly

 but airline companies sure as heck aren’t

Written by Cecil Scaglione

November 3, 2021 at 5:00 am

Posted in Travel

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Dolphins Dance off Clearwater

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Everyone scrambled to the back of the boat as the captain gunned the vessel to create a wake he claimed the dolphins can’t resist.

More than half a dozen bottlenose dolphins pranced in, out, over, and under the stern swell as the 40-foot tourist-laden tugboat roared through the emerald Gulf of Mexico waters less than a mile off Clearwater.

After listening to passenger squeals and squeaks of delight for about 20 minutes, he cut the speed and the cavorting cetaceans with the constant grin skittered off.

Dolphins play and prey along this coast of Florida but they also become victims.

A celebrated case is Winter, which lost its tail to a crab trap. It was about three months old when found near Cape Canaveral in late 2005 tangled tightly in the trap’s buoy line.

Rescuers took it to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. The mangled flukes fell off but tender loving care restored the mammal to health.

Winter made history because a coalition of several agencies and experts worked on designing and fitting the dolphin with a prosthetic tail.  A movie was made of the entire development.

This marine attraction preaches and practices the three Rs: rescue, rehabilitate and release. Dolphins, otters, sea turtles, sharks, and sting rays are returned to the wild.

It also monitors sea turtle nests that abound on the barrier islands that protect much of this shoreline. The egg-laying season begins May 1 and the last hatchlings head for the open sea in late August.

Many of these newborns need help to guide them to the water because they use the moonlight to get there but city lights and other illumination can confuse them.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

October 30, 2021 at 5:00 am

Posted in United States.

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Reading Stretches From Peanuts to Pagoda

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READING, PA – Like prime real estate, Reading’s major attractions are location, location, location.

As an industrial center, it forged its place in history as a major player in the formation of this nation and a source of Conestoga wagons that played a vital role in the drive to develop the West.

Its geographic position in the shoulder of Mount Penn on the banks of the Schuylkill River is an hour’s drive or less from the fecund and food‑filled Lancaster County, capital of Amish country; the glitter and gourmet seafood of Atlantic City and the New Jersey shore, the historic sites of Valley Forge and Gettysburg, and Independence Hall, the cradle of our constitution in Philadelphia.

This manufacturing city designed in 1748 by William Penn’s sons, Thomas and Richard, is to outlet shopping what Bethlehem is to Christendom. It brags that it’s the Outlet Capital of the World, citing the opening of its first manufacturer’s outlet surplus sales shop more than half a century ago.

“America’s Oldest Brewery” is just up the road in Pottsville, the boyhood home of author John O’Hara, where the Yuengling family has been fermenting barley and hops at the foot of the Appalachian Trail since 1829.

This cozy complex that opened in the early 1700s as a food stop for muleskinners hauling barges along the Schuylkill River Canal System is still home to the ghosts of at least one of the owners, an owner’s mistress, a Revolutionary War soldier and a young girl who died of a respiratory ailment.

“We’ve had waitresses who’ve seen these ghosts and think they’re customers,” we were told.

A network of riverside walking and bicycle trails links the heart of this city of 80,000 with the countryside and much of its history. Donald Linderman, a nearby resident pedaling with a local group through a covered bridge leading to a former wagon works transformed into a museum, informed the group why there are no windows on covered bridges.

“They were built to get horse‑drawn wagons across the river and horses get skittish when they see anything moving under them. There are no windows so horses wouldn’t see the water rushing under them.”

After that lesson, it was time for a stop at downtown’s best‑known watering hole and power‑lunch stop ‑‑ Jimmie Kramer’s Peanut Bar. First‑timers tend to shuck peanut shells back into the bowl on their table. “Throw ’em on the floor,” sang out our server.

Before leaving this seat of Berks County, we headed up Mount Penn to the Pagoda on Skyline Drive for a semi-bird’s-eye view of this food- and fun-filled historic corner of our world.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

October 23, 2021 at 5:00 am

Train Ticket to Luxury

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By Cecil Scaglione

The tongue-in-cheek survey taken by the couple from Texas to determine “which railroad yard had the best graffiti” went off-track as the quarter-mile-long train skirted the base of oooh-inspiring Mount Shasta.

It took most of the morning to get by California’s highest peak while the American Orient Express occupants collected “AOE souvenirs” – small bruises collected on both arms while bouncing from wall to wall in the clattering cars.

Mount Shasta

Nobody complained. They were too distracted on this week-long land cruise that encompassed wineries and waterfalls as they trundled through the West Coast’s major cities. It began with a quick tour of starting-point Seattle followed by plenty of free time in Portland to, among other pastimes, browse through the renowned Powell City of Books after a morning clambering around Multnomah Falls, which overlooks the Columbia River gorge and claims to be the second tallest waterfall in the country.

The scenery was a major improvement over the wake-up view of the warehouse in Klamath Falls where the train rested overnight. Which prompted the unofficial survey mentioned earlier.

There was plenty of train time for talk and the adventures and advantages of the train trip was a recurring topic. And, like taking an ocean cruise, “There’s nothing to worry about,” like protecting your valuables or how to get to attractions.

This AOE experience is no longer available but was aimed at travelers seeking the sumptuousness of the luxurious legendary train that began carrying countesses and courtesans, philosophers and philanderers between London and Istanbul about a century ago.

After the train snaked south along the Sacramento River, which gushes out of the foot of Mount Shasta, passengers were bused through the grape-glutted Napa Valley for a wine-tasting session at a French-like chateau overlooking the rolling vine-covered hills before crossing the Golden Gate bridge to overnight in San Francisco.  After lunch the next day on Fisherman’s Wharf, everyone re-trained in Oakland’s Jack London Square to compare notes on their vistas from Twin Peaks and Presidio Park.

The hilltop view from Hearst’s San Simeon, the next stop, was equally impressive for those who took a moment to stray from the overabundant opulence of the late newspaper magnate’s Medieval memorial of amassed art.

The slide alongside the Pacific into Los Angeles was a restful respite at the end of a relaxing trip.  Rather than stop to sample some of attractions on their own in this megalopolis – Disneyland, Hollywood, Rodeo Drive, Santa Monica Pier, for example – a couple of fellow travelers chose to cover the rest of the U.S. Pacific shore. They picked up tickets in Union Station for the two-hour coastal leg to San Diego.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

September 29, 2021 at 1:30 pm

Escorted Tours Offer Safety, Mobility

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By Cecil Scaglione

Travel in any form can be rewarding, whether its hitch-hiking solo around the world or cruising the Caribbean in a luxury liner loaded with hundreds of folks.

In most cases, people seem to enjoy traveling with other people. Cruise lines, tour operators, travel agents and the internet offer endless choices on destinations, levels of comfort, length of time, variety of activities, and type of lodgings.

If you wish to avoid the crowds participating in most of the above, you can seek out an escorted tour that is tailored more closely to your tastes.

They can make travel much simpler because your trip is preplanned and you have the safety and security of traveling in a group. When any problem arises, the tour escort handles it.

These group travelers no longer have to spend their trip packed into a bus between stops to take photos of their sites.

Now they feed the animals on the farm they visit if they wish and there is plenty of free time to tour the villages they visit on the backroads they travel.

An attraction right off is that the cost of such a tour is an all-in-on package that’s much cheaper than booking all the components yourself. The price includes transportation, meals, lodgings and activities on your schedule.

Among the major attractions of an escorted group tour is the ability to focus on a particular destination, event or activity.

You can be part of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem or to the Olympic games in a country you’ve always wanted to visit.

Or you can be among a group that settles comfortably into Tuscany or southern France for a few days to sip and sample their wines.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

September 18, 2021 at 6:33 am

Posted in Trip Tips

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Swiss Sun Parlor Has Latin Lilt

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By Cecil Scaglione

Mature Life Features

LOCARNO — While the scenery in the Swiss “sun parlor,” the country’s southern­most canton of Ticino, may not overwhelm you with dramatic alpine vis­tas as some more-rugged sec­tions of the coun­try do, it carries a lingering charm. Life in this polenta-pasta-and-palm-tree finger of land poking into northern Italy has a leisurely Latin lilt.

Conversation is punctuated with ges­tures not seen in the more sedate sec­tions of Swit­zer­land. Grappa, a po­tent Italian li­quor, is the tradi­tional after-dinner Ticino tipple.

Lake Lucerne

Not only do Ital­ian, French and Swiss cultures min­gle here, it’s also the geographical point at which the great plate of the African continent shoulders its way into the European conti­nent, rumpling the land­scape into what we call the Alps.

We rolled into this vista of val­leys, vineyards and vil­las, fol­lowing a couple of days in the magnificent Ho­tel Dolder Grand in Zurich. A lei­surely day-long boat-and-train trip carried us almost the entire width of this nation.

A short walk from the Locarno’ train terminal is the Grand Ho­tel Locarno, overlook­ing the crisp, cool waters of Lago Maggiore. We took the time to sip a satis­fying local merlot in the wine cellar of this historic hostelry, where the fragile treaties de­signed to keep a lasting peace in Europe following World War I were drafted.

Then we boarded a bus to neighboring Ascona, a lakeside town that peers up at the border vil­lage of Brissago, renowned for its hand-rolled cigars.

 A 30-minute train trip through Centovalli (Hundred Valleys) and a ca­ble car took us to a grotto (country ca­fe) in the pocket community of Raza. There we energized ourselves with a hearty meal of beef stew, polenta, red wine, salad and espresso, all washed down with a healthy belt of grappa.

It’s only a one-hour drive from Locarno to Lugano, Ticino’s largest city, but we took a bit lon­ger by stop­ping for lunch in the canton’s capi­tal, Bellinzona. Three medieval cas­tles here still guard the Magadino Plain, his­torically a ma­jor entrance to Europe’s heart­land.

Lugano, the third major Swiss finan­cial center after Zurich and Geneva because of its perch on Italy’s northern border, embraces its name­sake lake. Along its shores are a choco­late museum, curi­ously the only one in this country, and a smuggler’s museum.

This resort city is within a couple of hours by auto, bus or train from Milan, Genoa, Geneva, Lucerne and Lausanne.

Menus in many Ticino restau­rants are fixed and feature the freshest mixture available of hearty peasant cuisines.

Polenta, mentioned earlier, is a regional favorite. This traditional Italian corn-meal dish is served in endless ways: as a side dish like rice or potatoes, sliced cold and re-fried with an entree, or as a dessert swimming in syrups and sauces. Its distinct smoky fla­vor results from slow stirring as it simmers over an open fire.

Via Nassa is Lugano’s Fifth Ave­nue. As in Locarno, there are ex­cellent boutiques and inexpen­sive stalls sprinkled throughout the town offering local crafts and items toted over the border from Italy.

When we went shopping we looked for the Migros stores.

Three large Ms across the front of the building means a full-service and full-variety de­part­ment store; two Ms, a su­per­market, and one M, a conve­nience shop.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

September 12, 2021 at 8:00 pm

Posted in Travel

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