Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

Archive for the ‘Trip Tips’ Category

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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Cruising for Bargains

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sailship
By Cecil Scaglione

A recent conversation with a travel agent revealed cruise packages can be had for as little as $75 a day.

But hold on before you pounce on the phone or crouch by your computer to nab the first bargain you can find. Taking a cruise takes a bit of thought.

First of all, where do you want to go? If you can’t answer that, ask yourself where don’t you want to go. If you aren’t comfortable in cold climates, booking a voyage to Antarctica isn’t going to be enjoyable even if it costs only $1 a day.

Once you’ve settled on some sailing sites, check on what you’ll need to pack. You won’t be getting a bargain if you have to stretch your plastic to the limits to acquire the proper cruise costumes.

You also have to ponder what you want to see. If you choose a Mediterranean package, do you want to see the pyramids in Egypt, Vatican in Italy, or castles in Spain? The on-board bargain price does not necessarily translate into inexpensive excursions. On-shore outings can be brutal, both physically and fiscally.

Choices range widely from line to line. Is your interest archeology or architecture, churches or
cuisine? If you pick a Caribbean cruise, do you want to splash in the surf or go shopping?
Do you want to grab photographs of such renowned icons as the leaning tower in Pisa
or Parthenon in Athens, or would you rather pick out spots not pictured on postcards?

There are some caveats.

You could wind up in port with one or two other liners, which means hordes of hundreds of cruise customers milling around the community competing for cafe tables and native crafts at the same time. Check schedules while you’re hunting down bargains.

In major cities, end-running the tours touted by the cruise line’s excursion director can be
rewarding. You can probably get your own ground transportation to an attraction without having to be packed into a tourist-packed van or bus. This will also give you freedom to investigate on your own rather than being locked into the schedule directed by the guides.

On our first cruise several years ago, we found a few couples who shared our interests so we arranged to share cabs and other group costs when we left the liner. This was not only cheaper than the ship-sponsored tours but we avoided the lines of the debarking crowd and had more time to experience and explore on our own.

Doing some homework can save you dollars at the docks but, if all you want is to enjoy being catered to, booking a cruise can be worth the experience at any price.

Mature Life Features, Copyright 2010

Written by Cecil Scaglione

September 6, 2015 at 10:52 am

Carib Cuisine Tour Begins at Cruz Bay, St. John

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By Cathy Jacob Gaffney

Mature Life Features

I don’t travel to the Caribbean to eat the same fare I can get back in the States so forgive me if I sound a bit snobbish. Unfortunately, the immense popularity of St. John, the smallest and least-developed of the three U.S. Virgin Islands, which also includes St. Thomas and St. Croix, has made this vacation paradise a victim of its own success.

Case in point: Over the past few decades, the swelling throngs of honeymooners and sun worshipers who flock here during the December-to-April peak season have fueled a demand for menus ballyhooing  buffalo wings, jalapeno poppers and — gasp! — hamburgers

So what do we  dyed-in-the-tastebud foodies, who enjoy exploring  the culinary oases of down-home joints boasting true West Indies fare as well upscale venues home to aspiring young chefs making bold new statements of gastronomic Caribbean creativity, do?

We take strength from the good news that St. John still boasts a smattering of eateries from both sides of the spectrum. But it pays to know where to look.

Arguably, the oldest and most respected fine-dining spot on the island is the fusion-oriented Asolare, a romantic gem overlooking Cruz Bay. The view is spectacular at night and, as might be expected, reservations are a must. Executive Chef Jonathan Balak was busy in the kitchen knocking out globally-inspired versions and visions of the traditional Indian samosa during our visit. This is prepared with black beans, sautéed Honshimeji mushrooms and red-curry Spanish romesco sauce, all of which arrived at our table as easy on the eye as it was pleasing to the palette.

Asolare’s eight-item menu reflects Chef Jonathan’s emphasis on quality over quantity: “I’d rather have a few things and do them really, really well, than have a large menu any day.”

Hands-down the newest kid on the cutting-edge dining block is Cruz Bay’s La Plancha de Mar, a casual, airy den. A trio of young chefs and co-owners – Mike Prout, Jonathan Fritts and Jason Howard — prepares everything on a traditional Spanish-style flat-top grill and draws inspiration from the culinary traditions of both southern Spain and southern France. All of which explains the uncommon pairing of French-style moules fritte (mussels in saffron-fennel broth served with garlic-herb fries) on the same menu as a Spanish-flavored romesco-stuffed chicken and a dish called Deconstructed Paella (risotto served alongside a skewer of shellfish, chorizo sausage, and braised chicken in a paprika broth).

If the crab-claw-shaped pastry filled with parmesan-and-bleu-cheese mousse is on the menu, order it.

Another don’t-miss upscale spot is Coral Bay’s Sweet Plantains, which specializes nightly one of several rotating West Indies-style fusion cuisines, including French-Caribbean and Indo-Caribbean. The latter features a memorable cardamom-spiced tapioca dessert.

To enjoy bona-fide Caribbean flavors St. John’s inhabitants began creating at home more than a century ago requires a brief drive from Cruz Bay to Windy Level Restaurant. Owner Glycerus Hernan oversees a special board of time-honored family recipes handed down over the generations that include curried goat and Creole-stewed chicken (both served with rice and peas), oxtail, and a hearty side dish called Provisions — a mix of cassava, plantains, yuca and banana. Wednesday’s outdoor barbecue grill draws a colorful mix of local laborers and in-the-know visitors.

Tucked into the east end of St. John since 1979 is Vie’s Snack Shack, a roadside stop operated by 11th generation resident Violet “Vie” Mahabir. On the menu are traditional island staples like garlic friend chicken and johnnycake, a New Orleans-style beignet that replaces powdered sugar with syrup.

Back in Coral Bay is Sylvia’s New Clean Plate Kitchen. Bob Marley plays on the stereo while St. Lucia native-owner Julietta Messon and her Jamaican-born cook Sylvia Nicholas woo patrons with tried-and-true West Indies staples ranging from jerk pork with bammie (cassava bread) to fungi (okra hush puppies) and Jamaica’s national dish of fresh salt fish and ackee. Wash it all down with a drink called Brush, a blend of bananas, molasses, strawberry and cream.

 Mature Life Features, Copyright 2012                                                                                  

 

  Photos  by

James Gaffney

 

West Indies-style curried goat with bammie

                      Asolare’s samosa 

 

 

Written by Cecil Scaglione

April 14, 2012 at 9:19 am

Go Ahead, Live Abroad

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By Igor Lobanov

Mature Life Features

 

  The 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City’s the World Trade Towers and on the Pentagon a decade ago heightened Americans’ concerns about their safety, both at home and abroad. More than 3 million Americans live in foreign countries, according to some estimates.

  If you’re still mulling such a move as part of your retirement dream, there are plenty of information available in books and online. For example, you can type “The Grown-Up’s Guide to Retiring Abroad” into your search engine. Author Rosanne Knorr who, with her American husband, has spent several summers in France’s Loire Valley and winters in Florida, outlines factors to be considered if you’ve longed to live in a foreign land.

  Americans who choose to live outside the United States have a variety of reasons for choosing a particular country. First there’s the environment or ambience.

  Knorr points out that, unlike vacationers who stay at a resort or condominium complex where daily needs are easily met, you need to consider how close markets and shops are and what your social life will be like when you live long-term among the local populace. Will you want to spend time only with fellow foreigners who may be there for only a short time? Or will you make an effort to blend into the rhythm and routine of the community. If you choose a resort area, you’ll have to put up with crowds of visitors during the season and possibly empty streets and shuttered shops the rest of the year.

  Then there’s the climate. The warm and cozy days of summer may turn cold and miserable when winter arrives. Don’t take others’ assessments. Get information on the weather in all seasons and, if possible, visit at various times of the year. For example, you may decide the south of France, which is known for its warm weather, is unbearably hot in the summer.

  Local culture and way of living also are important. In Spain, for example, restaurants customarily don’t begin serving dinners until 10 p.m. or so. The Spanish love dining late. You may not. Many restaurants in Spain do start to serve earlier, but chances are your fellow diners will be mostly tourists.

  Language also plats a role. Can you order from a menu that’s all in Greek? Or Japanese? Other considerations include a country’s cost of living, its transportation network, and its legal code. The latter could be vital in its application to how your estate will be distributed if you die over there. Finally, there’s health care. A key reason that many American expatriates decide to return home is the availability of superior medical care here.

  It’s important to do your own research into areas or countries that interest you. Sources include guide books, travel magazines and videos, websites, tourist offices for the nations involved and books, such as Knorr’s, that discuss moving to or living in a foreign locale. For up-to-date information on safety and security in areas you’re considering, go to the State Department’s Citizen’s Emergency Center at www.travel.state.gov/travel-warnings.html. Local newspapers, which you or a friend can pick up during a visit, often contain classified ads for homes or apartments to rent. Call the country’s embassy or consulate for rules governing an extended stay.

Mature Life Features, Copyright 2003

Written by Cecil Scaglione

September 18, 2011 at 12:05 am

Add Color to your Trip

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latimes.com

America’s Brightest Hall of Fame

| CECIL SCAGLIONE |

We smelled it as soon as we swooshed through the cool glass doors from the oppressive Pennsylvania humidity into the revitalizing air-conditioned low brick building.

“Crayons,” my wife said. She always says things like that before I do.

This nasal nostalgia triggered a rainbow of reminiscences: my first Christmas crayons and coloring book, the shopping sprees for the opening day of classes all through grade school, and the comfortable, colorful clutter of books and chopped-up crayons around the house as my children were growing up.

We had entered the Crayola Hall of Fame in the Binney & Smith corporate complex nestled in a high rolling Easton meadow close by the New Jersey border.

It was a timely visit because, for the first time in history, eight traditional tones were to be retired and a similar number added to the colorful contingent. To make room for the new hot hues – dandelion, wild strawberry, vivid tangerine, fuchsia, teal blue, royal purple, jungle green and cerulean – the traditional tints of maize, raw umber, blue gray, lemon yellow, green blue, orange red, orange yellow and violet blue were ensconced in the hall of fame.

I lobbied for the enshrinement of a violet orange I developed when an old crayon melted in my water color set long ago. But I couldn’t get enough weighted votes.

The move to modernity was made after interviews with Crayola’s major consumers – kids – revealed a need for brightness among the 72 official corporate colors.

We asked our guide, a retired Crayola craftsman, if there was any move to add a scent to the product. “Are you kidding?” was the response. Studies show that crayons are among the 20 most-recognized scents in America. Coffee and peanut butter top the list. And the most popular 32-color Crayola carton is to coloring what Coke is to soda pop.

While the scent is readily recognizable, it isn’t easily discovered. Plan to add at least 30 minutes for getting lost when you book an appointment for a tour of the coloring complex. The directions and map accompanying confirmation of your tour aren’t much help. Be prepared to ask local residents how to get to the Binney & Smith plant.

Inside, it’s almost disappointing to see how such colorful pieces of my life could be the product of such a small, spotless and constantly-clattering plant. It was like discovering that Santa’s workshop is in a carport.

Workers do display an elfin quality in the care and concern they show in making sure all those Crayolas have straight labels and perfectly pointed tips. My palms itched and ached to rake over those pristine-pointed columns of color. While there are more than half a million Crayolas on the floor at any one time, there are only a dozen or so workers attending clackety-clacking molding and packing machines. They produce 1 billion Crayolas a year. Another billion are produced at plants in Kansas, Canada and England.

Color is splattered all over as paraffin is recycled in large globs, colorful paper sleeves await the cylindrical sticks of color, and the familiar orange-and-green boxes of various sizes house the hundreds of thousands of Crayolas ready for shipment to more than 60 nations.

Crayolas have rolled out of this site since the first eight-color pack was produced in 1903 and sold for a nickel. The trade name Crayola derives from the French word craie for chalk and the Latin oleum for oil. Crayolas are made of paraffin and pigment. And crayon is the generic term for a colored writing stick. Anything else you ever wanted to know about Crayola and crayons can be obtained by writing to the company or by visiting.

The one person I hunted for but never found: the inspector who checks for crayons that stay inside the lines.

Scaglione is a San Diego free-lance writer.

April 07, 1991

Written by Cecil Scaglione

September 2, 2011 at 7:03 am

Jettison Jet Lag

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By Igor Lobanov

Mature Life Features

A not-so-funny thing happens sometime when you fly across several time zones. You can arrive feeling disoriented, irritable, a bit addled, and with a headache and swollen feet. It’s commonly called jet lag. But what, exactly, is jet lag?

To begin with, it occurs throughout your body. Science has made it public that various body organs and processes function according to individual biological clocks that operate on different schedules. Thomas Wehr, chief of the biological rhythms section at the National Institute of Mental Health, offers the following explanation. From New York to London, you fly through five time zones.

When you step off the aircraft in the British capital, “your brain is pretty much there, but your liver is out over Iceland.” From the point of view of your other body clocks, “All your organs are kind of spread out across the Atlantic Ocean.”

Getting all those mechanisms back into the pattern they’re used to back home can take time. Some observers say you should allow one day for each hour of time change. There are a number of things you can do to prevent or minimize the out-of-synch symptoms. Tactics range from the somewhat exotic use of scented oils (aroma therapy) that said to use our sense of smell to enhance mood to changes in diet and a bit of exercise.

On the day before departure, cut back on fatty and high-protein foods in favor of carbohydrates and vegetarian dishes, which help you relax. Try to get in some exercise, such as a brisk walk or a swim. Do that again when you arrive. Even more important is the exercise you do en route.

To get blood and oxygen circulating through your muscles and organs, walk up and down the aircraft’s aisle. On a wide-body plane, make one or two circuits of the cabin. While seated, do some simple stretches that won’t have you bumping the passengers around you. These can range from putting your hands behind your neck and pushing your elbows up in front of you to wiggling your toes and rotating your feet. Wear loose-fitting clothing and, to avoid swollen feet, doff your shoes for the flight.

Pressurized cabins in jetliners are extremely dry, so you’ll need to keep your body hydrated by drinking lots of water, fruit juices or sodas. Go easy on the alcohol, which dries out your system, and coffee, which acts as a stimulant. Keep a bit of Vaseline or lip balm handy to ease lip and nostril dryness.

Try to get in some naps, but avoid going to sleep sitting bolt upright in your seat — a position that, if unchanged for some time, can let blood pool in your lower legs and bring on dangerous blood clots. A better way to get some rest is to turn sideways and, if possible, try to scrunch down so your head is almost low enough to reach the arm rest, with one of the airline pillows or a piece of clothing rolled up as a pillow. If you have stowed carry-ons under the seat, drag them out to use as a foot rest. Again, don’t invade the space of the people around you. Your objective should be to put your body into a position that approaches horizontal.

Wrap an airline blanket around you for warmth, slip on an eye mask and, if needed, use ear plugs. With luck, the drone of the aircraft engines will carry you to off dreamland. Some long-distance travelers swear by over-the-counter sleeping potions, especially for red-eye flights, but some doctors warn that when you’re crossing multiple time zones such medications can delay the adjustment process.

Scientists now recognize that daylight can help reset your body’s clocks, including letting your brain know that it’s time be “with it.” If you’re traveling eastward, try to get exposure to the sun in the early morning after landing to help your body advance its clocks to the new time. Westbound, look for that dose of brightness late in the day.

Copyright 2002

 

Written by Cecil Scaglione

August 19, 2011 at 7:31 pm

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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