Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

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Time-Travel Czech List

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Vltava River hugs Bohemian village of Cesky Krumlov

By James Gaffney

Mature Life Features

CESKY KRUMLOV, Czech Republic – The Australian flag waving from the window of the Moldau Hilton youth hostel seemed a little out of place in this medieval Bohemian village. The owner, a chain-smoking 50-something woman with a raucous, Phyllis Diller-like laugh, put everyone on the inside track.

“It’s the 52 pubs here,” said Jana Perina. “That’s why this place is so popular with Aussies.”

One of her Australian guests was a young artist who gave the accommodation its unofficial moniker when he painted the mural above the entrance. The mural depicts a trio of cherubs holding aloft a banner emblazoned with the words, “Moldau Hilton.” The name pays tribute to the hostel’s location on the banks of the meandering Vltava, known as Moldau in German, the river immortalized by the 19th-century Czech composer Bedrick Smetana.

Nowadays, when people in this country advise foreign travelers to get away from overcrowded Prague to experience the real Czech Republic, they’re probably referring to Cesky Krumlov. New life was breathed into this town of 15,000 nestled 100 miles south of Prague and 30 miles from the Austrian border when it was designated a World Heritage Site. Before the fall of communism in 1989, the community had deteriorated into a drab slum, according to locals.

The town now insinuates a hundred fairy tales with its renovated Renaissance and baroque gables, tapered roofs, old stone stairways, balconies and oriel windows. This is especially true during late afternoons when shadows half-darken mysterious lanes filled with centuries-old facades adorned with sgrafitto, artistic designs etched into the outer layer of plaster revealing the different-colored underlying layer.

Dating to 1253, Cesky Krumlov is a medieval time-capsule of winding streets squeezed into a tight S-bend of the Vltava. The historical center, a jumble of colorful stone houses, is an island- like pedestrian area linked to land and the main castle — the second largest in the Republic – by three bridges, creating a sequence of mini-waterfronts dotted with wooden walking paths, outdoor cares, touristy boutiques, and small, affordable pensions. It’s easy to explore the entire town on foot in a day.

By dusk, the day trippers and tour buses have disappeared and chatter from inside the town’s dimly lighted riverside taverns echoes in the cobblestone alleys. Couples fill cozy sidewalk café tables bathed in the soft glow of candlelight.

There is no question this is a place that takes visitors back in time. A hilltop path that leads around the tree-shaded perimeter of its medieval castle presents a bird’s-eye perspective of the town’s red-riled roofs rolling down to the calm Vltava. Nothing in this panorama reveals its Internet cafes, ethnic restaurants, or souvenir shops with traditional Czech marionettes hanging in the doorway.

Mature Life Features, Copyright 2003

Written by Cecil Scaglione

September 3, 2011 at 4:26 pm

Posted in Europe, Travel

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Add Color to your Trip

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America’s Brightest Hall of Fame


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

Spoons Dish Out Welsh Soul

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By Sandy Katz

Mature Life Features

Cardiff Castle (British Travel Authority)


To be born Welsh is to be born privileged.

 Not with a silver spoon in your mouth,

But music in your blood,

And poetry in your soul.

–Wilfred Wilson






CARDIFF, Wales — In the heart of this Welsh capital, I dropped into the Castle Welsh Crafts shop to learn more about Wales’ soul by poring over spoons made out of wood rather than silver. These utensils with variously designed handles are known as love spoons and date back to the 17th century, when a young man would carve one to present to the young lady he wished to woo.

The symbols carved on the spoon have particular meaning. For example, a heart signifies love; a wheel, work, and a shield, protection. They’re still given out as a lasting token of affection.

Most of the Welsh are descended from people who began settling in these western reaches of Great Britain thousands of years ago. The earliest were the Iberians followed by invasions of Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Normans, and English. Struggles against these marauders and efforts to earn a living from the harsh, rugged land helped shape the strong, independent Welsh character. Their eloquence, warmth, and imagination have been attributed to their Celtic forebears.

Wherever you roam in Wales, you’ll encounter the Red Dragon. This symbol of bravery and victory over countless invaders has been emblazoned on shields and standards since the Middle Ages as the emblem of the Welsh people.

Pubs play an important role in social life here, but Welshmen proudly maintain close family ties and are deeply religious. They love to sing and are famous for their excellent choirs and glee clubs. It’s not surprising that they turned out to be quite a theatrical and poetic bunch. Consider such well-known actors as Sir Anthony Hopkins and Richard Burton, singer Tom Jones, and, of course, poet Dylan Thomas.

Cardiff sprang from the wealth fueled by the region’s thriving 19th-century coal empire. In the city’s center stands the 1,900-year-old Cardiff Castle. Restored in the 1800s by Victorian architect William Burges, the citadel is an extravaganza of color and exquisitely detailed craftsmanship. East of the castle stands the aristocratic structure called the National Museum of Wales. Amidst its art, natural history, and science displays is a spectacular exhibition on the evolution of Wales, complete with animated Ice Age creatures and a simulated Big Bang. The fourth-floor gallery houses paintings by such Impressionist masters as Degas, Manet, and Pissaro.

To learn more about the Celts, we headed for Celtica, a recently restored mansion in the village of Machynlleth just south of the mountainous Snowdonia National Park. Exhibits illustrate Celtic beliefs and culture, as well as their poetic, inventive, and heroic nature.

Anyone who dotes on browsing in musty bookshops will find nirvana in Hay-On-Wye on the Welsh-English. The tiny settlement proclaims itself as the second-hand-book capital of the world. Virtually all the shops, including the town’s former theater, offer books on every conceivable subject. The village’s reputation for beguiling bibliophiles owes a fair amount to the somewhat eccentric bookseller Richard Booth who, among other things, once declared himself the King of Hay and that his minute realm was to be independent from England.

To the west, beyond Camarthen in the village of Laugharne, Dylan Thomas devotees will find his Boathouse where he wrote his most famous work, “Under Milk Wood.” Built into the hillside a 15-minute walk from the town, “The Shack,” as he called it, is a shrine to the poet that houses photos, manuscripts, and recordings.

Local legend says Merlin the Magician was born in Carmarthen and raised by his mother and nuns in the Church of St. Peter. His mother was said to be the daughter of the King of South Wales and his father was described as a spirit who lived between the moon and earth. Merlin was thought to have spent most of his adult life in the area of Caerleon advising King Arthur.

Copyright 2003



Written by Cecil Scaglione

August 25, 2011 at 10:06 pm

Ship Shape for Photos

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By Igor Lobanov

Mature Life Features

So you like to take pictures of all those places you visit on a cruise. What about the ship? “Not interesting enough,” you say?

You may want to re-think that.

Life aboard a cruise vessel, which is really a floating city, presents a panoply of picture possibilities: deck areas, lounges, and hidden nooks you’ll find on any ship worth its salt. To capture these scenes effectively, you’ll want a wide-angle lens. One with a 20- to 25-millimeter focal length will do to shoot interiors, spacious open decks, and dramatic white superstructure against the blue sky. You may want to include a railing, deck chairs, portholes or other elements of the vessel to add interest to your composition.

The upper decks are built-in vantage points for photographs of the shorelines, harbor activity, and other watercraft. You might look for a zoom lense to zero on these scenes. The general range of zoom lenses you should consider are 24 to 85 mm, 70 to 200 mm, and 200 to 400 mm. Many current cameras have built-in wide-angle and zoom lenses.

For shots of the ship taken from shore, put a person in the scene — your companion, a new-found friend, a crew member, or even a dockside vendor or local resident — to provide a sense of scale.

If you’re in the tropics, where the sun is unusually bright, you may want to use a polarizing or neutral-density filter to darken a blue sky and reduce the sun’s reflection off the water. The polarizing filter is fitted with a ring that lets you rotate it to see if you’re getting the sky too dark or eliminating all the reflections on the water.

At mid-day, when the sun in directly overhead, scenes will seem to be flat, with colors mostly washed out. Colors are more vibrant and shadows more dramatic before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m.

To photograph friends and family on board, try to catch them in some activity, such as around the pool, or sunning themselves on the upper deck.

Keep in mind that salt water can harm cameras and video equipment by eating away at the electronic circuits and metallic gears. You’re pretty safe using the camera high up on the ship’s decks during calm seas. But remember that winds carry bits of salt that leave an oily film on equipment. When you go ashore in one of the ship’s tenders, where salt spray is almost inevitable, protect your camera in a water-repellent plastic bag. Clean all the exposed metal surfaces with denatured alcohol at regular intervals during the cruise. Use lens cleaner and lens tissues to clean glass surfaces.

If you want to take long-exposure photos, use a tripod because a ship is always in some sort of motion, even when docked. You can cut down on movement by setting your camera on a pillow. Of course, the longer the cruise, the more photo opportunities there are bound to be.

Mature Life Features, Copyright 2002

Written by Cecil Scaglione

August 10, 2011 at 10:24 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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