When Did You Last See a Mandrake?

October 6, 2015: I am told a “Mandrake” is a “anthropomorphic” plant—we’d most likely refer to this as a palm tree—well if you visited one of the world’s largest and oldest Botanical Gardens in Mantova you would be in the presence of one of the oldest in the world. This palm-like bushy tree is said to date back to 1585 and is one of the many finds in these gardens—that also include a multi level indoor bio structure that features rain forest and plant settings from just about everywhere in our world. All well worth the visit! -Mantova, Italy


Michelin Star Gelato?

October 5, 2015: What do you get when you mix a couple of Michelin two star chefs together to produce and open Gelato shops – a damn taste sensation! Light, favorable, refreshing, tantalizing – need I say more! Being a professional gelato expert I can truly say this might be the best ever – Pretto Gelato Arte Italiana shops feature dozens of flavor choices—as well as blended treats. Please please please – come to America.

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Wait – Here’s a Taxi Ride You Won’t Forget!

October 3, 2015: It wasn’t a bad taxi ride from my hotel in Padova to the train station, just unusual as to what the driver was doing during the ride. My non-English speaking chauffeur, in no hurry as traffic was heavy, was alternating his attention between reading the newspaper comics and doing a crossword puzzle—really! Italians seem very good at multi-tasking you know?

-From Padova, Italy



September 29, 2015: The best food in Italy is not in the over-rated expensive restaurants, but the small bistro like cafes found street side. This one in Padova—just 30 minutes from Venice—run by four recent graduates from the University here—specialize in just about everything Italian, and at prices that won’t fracture your Euros! Why over pay for the linen napkin and snotty service? When visiting Padova—it’s Cafe Vento’s four locations.IMG_2777

September 28, 2015: From planes (The Dreamliner) to trains—and Italy’s government owned rail system Trentitalia—there is a hard to find competing high speed private rail service called Italo that’s sometimes less expensive but less convenient in pricing options and popular multi day rail passes. Do yourself a favor and use Trentitalia’s online timetables only as a guide—times and number of stops more than often vary from the actual services listed. Best way is just go to the train station and ask. And if you can, use the station’s self-ticketing machines—especially in larger cities—otherwise you queue first to get a number and then a long wait to talk to an agent. The service for the most part is very efficient, coaches are clean, services on shorter trips somewhat limited (pack a snack or meal) from the station and enjoy the scenery. As in most of Italy, English speaking assistance is very limited—but unlike the U.S. of A, rail service is a nice treat. All Aboard!

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Boeing’s 787 – Really a Dream to Fly!

September 25, 2015: Wow—Neat—Really Cool:  The Travel Curmudgeon’s first time on the new 787 Dreamliner (Toronto to Milan) really does reach new highs in travel comfort.  Wide aisles, spacious over head compartments large enough for a small luggage trunk, lavatories that you can actually turn around in, individual seat lighting that more than lights up what you’re reading and doesn’t disturb other passengers and the most overly high tech individual seat and inflight entertainment choices and controls ever.  In business class, where travelers sit in individual “resident” pods, you have control of just about everything you could desire – from wide screen entertainment and lighting to seat back massage and fully reclining seats that can become full flat beds.  Only criticism – mostly from inflight crews—is the plane is so technically advanced that it becomes confusing and burdensome – especially during inflight food and beverage services.  And one of the surprise comforts—during flight—extremely quiet!  Maybe it’s fun to fly again?boeing

A message from new United CEO Oscar Munoz

September 21, 2015: Big “shake up” at United last week – the current president, who came from Continental as part of the consolidation package and, by the way, had a terrible reputation with employees and travelers – replaced by a United Airlines Board member with really no airline experience. Maybe a call by UAL stockholders to Richard Branson at Virgin to come save this airline?

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New Vacation Destination — How About an Oil Rig?

September 16, 2015: Over the next few years thousands of off shore oil and gas drilling rigs will reach “mandatory” retirement age and be abandoned and decommissioned — and while they serve as a valuable resource to enhance reef life there’s not much else of value. Well some innovative folks are proposing that these rigs be used as holiday destinations for those adventure seekers looking for the unusual and out of the way destination — just about any where in the world. Ideas include super max prisons, private homes, energy producing windmills, etc. But the best ideas are to use the rigs for fish farms or vacation destination scuba schools. The North Sea, off the coast of Britain, has more than 470,000 tons of offshore facilities — platforms, pipelines and wells. Places like the Arctic and numerous areas in Asia offer unlimited use opportunities. One group, Seaventures, is promoting a hotel and scuba school on a converted oil rig in the western Pacific near Borneo. Wonder how long it will take Rick Steves to publish a guide book on Oil Rig Vacations?


American Airlines — Do You Know Your Way?

September 15, 2015: WOW—have you read the recent stories about American Airlines flying the wrong plane recently from LAX to Hawaii? Now that’s scary and shows a real lack of operational management and confusion as the airline prepares to take final steps in its consolidation with USAir — actually, the other way around and I’m just being nice. Anyway, the airline operates two different Airbus A321 jets — the A321s (note small s) and the A321H (note capital H) — with only the H model currently certified to fly long distances over water. There are different operating standards for twin engine jets that fly long haul routes over water — and some how plane scheduling got confused and the wrong plane was sent — the one not certified for over water flights. The airline didn’t make a big deal out of this and did fess up to the FAA on the error — although did take their time in doing so. I normally like to try and travel with American — as the remaining US carriers go, they seem to be most consistent with service and schedules — although do try and avoid any Airbus planes as they are built to be totally uncomfortable. Gotta wonder though — you would think the pilots who notice they were flying the wrong plane?

American Airlines accidentally flew the wrong plane from L.A. to Hawaii last month

Will US Airlines “Get Sweet” on Us?

September 12, 2015: Have you all ever heard about those popular Sugarfina candy stores that are popping up in major US cities? Word is that a couple of the more passenger friendly US air carriers are talking to this Beverly Hills based chain about using some of their candy products as a special treat for passengers. Flavors like Champagne gummy bears and Peach Bellini gummies might be served — as well as some regulars that include caramels, licorice and chocolate coated nuts! Sugarfina packs the candy selections in Lucite boxes — might make it easier to pass them through TSA check points?