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Two versions of the slow life in Central and Southern Italy

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My mad geniuses were now leading me across the incredible Piazza Maggiore to Bologna’s oldest pub, Osteria del Sole, around since 1465. It doesn’t serve food these days, but does have convivial low ceilings and long tables, and serves its own brand of wine for 2 euros, or about $2.30, a glass. After a scary brush with foreclosure, the place has cleaned up a bit — no more sawdust on the floor — but the prices have stayed about the same, Bianchini said.

Dinner was a nice long walk under Bologna’s many porticos to Osteria da Mario, founded in 1900. “This restaurant, once it was just an old man named Mario with a lot of salumi and a knife and a lot of wine,” said Comi, wistfully recounting Mario’s gruff demeanour. Now it’s a hip gastro pub with white tablecloths and a backlit bar and caricatures of dearly departed Mario lining every wall. We paid tribute to him with an antipasto plate — prosciutto di Parma, mortadella — paired with incredibly creamy cheeses. And a lot of wine. You might sense a theme to our night.

Like so many other places in Bologna’s city centre, Bianchini said, Osteria da Mario has had to compromise, transform into a modern version of a traditional osteria, to keep up with tourism. High-speed trains and a location in the centre of the country, along with draws like the newly opened FICO Eataly World (a giant mall for eating and learning about Italy’s food production), have made this city a regional hub. The students who congregated nightly in piazzas have been forced to move outside the city wall, replaced with temporary visitors like me, heading to Airbnb with their roller suitcases click-clacking on cobblestone streets.

That rebel spirit, though, still persists. We found it at Mercato delle Erbe, a food market by day that fills with mostly crowds of residents at drink stands by night, and while nursing negronis next to a Fidel Castro poster at Osteria del Montesino, and also while munching on fried Sardinian street food after one last, ill-advised glass of grappa.

I’d been charmed by Bologna earlier in my trip, the pink buildings that glowed even pinker at sunset. The pace of living that seemed so slow and unforced. But with Comi and Bianchini that night, I felt like I was seeing it for the first time. Did you know that those porticos were a genius way of expanding the city’s housing stock — building apartments on top of the porticos — without losing sidewalk space? Or that you can find three arrows stuck in the roof of a portico on Strada Maggiore from a robbery gone wrong? Or that there’s a canal in the middle of town if you just know where to find the right window to peer upon it?

That night, Bologna felt like home, with endless surprises. But maybe that was the negronis talking.

A warm welcome in Matera

Luggage still in hand, two minutes after arriving in one of the oldest sectors of the ancient southern Italian city of Matera, I wandered onto a viewpoint balcony near the main square of Piazza Vittorio Veneto and into utter awe.

Below me and before me were tiers upon tiers of buildings in pale gold and white stone, leading to a valley of more pale stone, and another steep hill in the distance filled with tier upon tier of the same. It felt like looking at a city on the moon, or standing on the world’s largest wedding cake. The sheer feat of human endeavour that had created this gleaming expanse was overwhelming. I was shocked to find out it has never been used as a shooting location for the Star Wars universe. But it has been a double for ancient Jerusalem in many a biblical movie, including Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, which filmed here in 2004 and is credited for being a major factor in boosting the city’s tourism profile.

At the moment, though, I had more pressing things to think about, namely if I was going to have to sleep on that balcony.

Matera lies in the far south region of Basilicata, at the arch of Italy’s boot. Getting there had been so logistically exhausting — a four-hour, delayed train trip from Bologna, to an overnight pit stop in Salerno (the southern entrance to the Amalfi Coast), to a three-hour bus ride at 5 a.m. — that I was almost there, on a bus without Wi-Fi or cell signal, when I realized I’d neglected to book a place to stay.

If there’s one overarching lesson from my time in that beautiful, economically challenged city, though, it’s that Matera takes care of people. It hit me when I was in a cellphone store buying a SIM card and a woman overheard my housing dilemma, called her cousin, Simona, who owns a bed-and-breakfast, and within 10 minutes I had a room at one of the most charming places at which I’ve stayed on this entire tip.

Simona’s bed-and-breakfast, Hoplites, was exactly where you want to be, in one of two Sassi, or rock districts, of Matera’s UNESCO World Heritage-protected old towns. Both Sasso Barisano and the even older Sasso Caveoso began as cave dwellings; the city has been occupied since 7,000 B.C. To get to Hoplites, in Sasso Barisano, I dragged my bags up and down cobblestone hills.

Simona, a woman in her early 30s who speaks little English, greeted my arrival with cheek kisses. I got a two-story apartment to myself, with a private roof overlooking all of Sasso Barisano for 70 euros a night. The other rooms are in refurbished caves, as are most lodging options in the Sassi. The shower in at least one of Simona’s rooms is built into a former Roman grain silo from many years before Christ. Simona, her husband, her father and her mother, all of whom I met over breakfast (her mother makes homemade cake for the guests) spent three years turning fetid, pitch-black caves into cosy, white-painted havens.

Later in my stay, I moved to a fancy boutique hotel, La Casa di Lucio, for the chance to stay in a cave, which was painted all white and had a leopard print couch, and was just as fabulous as it sounds.

Anyone in Matera can tell you the story of how far the city has had to come to be a place that has things like BBs and hotels; I strongly encourage making Casa Noha, an interactive museum, your first stop, to hear about the city in dramatic narration with visuals. Matera was once the capital of Basilicata, but a move of the capital to Potenza, and the funds that came with that, began a long descent into poverty. Up until the 1950s, families with six or more children still lived in caves in the Sassi, along with their livestock, and without electricity, running water or sewers. Politics, but also the urgency of a 50-per-cent infant mortality rate, led to the relocation of the Sassi’s 15,000 citizens to nearby modern communities.

The Sassi were empty for 30 years, well into the 1980s, but its citizens never abandoned them. A group of young, untrained citizen archeologists documented its cave churches with their priceless Byzantine frescoes — and then those culture preservers became politicians and began cleaning up the Sassi. UNESCO designation came in the 1990s, as did government programs to practically give away caves to anyone who’d renovate them. Next year Matera is going to be a European Capital of Culture, with a year of celebratory events and an influx of funds for renewal projects.

I had arrived in Matera with grand ambitions to explore the Basilicata countryside, but soon found myself too engrossed to want to go anywhere else. That, and getting myself up and down Matera’s pedestrian-only streets proved so tiring I couldn’t even fathom how I’d get to a car rental.

Every walk that Google Maps told me was going to take five minutes took at least 30, since that app does not account for hills. Or for an entire city being white. Wrong turns led to other wrong turns. But I was too busy taking pictures and gawking at every vista to be bothered.

Finding restaurants, too, proved to be a challenge. By the end of my five-day stay, I had gone to two, the cave bistro Osteria Al Casale, and a modest cafe, L’Arturo Enogastronomia, which had delicious small plates, Wi-Fi and the advantage of being one of the few places in town I knew how to find on a regular basis.

Slowing down, too, allowed for relationships to blossom, which, in the end, is where Matera’s true magic lies. On my first night, I met a photographer, Cosimo Martemucci, who was born and raised here, and, over two incredible evenings, showed me the visual playground — such as the hilltop cave church Chiesa Madonna della Idris — where he learned his trade.

The most magical evening of all, though, might have been when an art restorer named Angelica Malizia took me across a canyon — Le Gravine di Matera — to a lookout called Belvedere in Parco di Murgia Timone for a complete view of the city with all its lights. We had come with her friend, Mariangela Fugliuolo, a tour guide, and their two boyfriends, Alessandro and Marcello, delightful jokesters both.

After taking in the view, we sat at tables near the visitor’s centre, picnicking with wine we’d brought and a local delicacy called panzerotto, similar to a calzone, that we’d picked up on our way out of the city at a fast-food bar called Sottozero. Marcello helps run an outdoor film festival at the visitor’s centre in the summer, and the five of us talked politics and romance and our favourite movies for hours.

In a few months, the cultural capital events would begin and the whole city might change, but I felt grateful to have had this night, and the kind of warm Matera welcome I hope will last for eons to come.

Practical tips

See: Bologna has an emotional statue of Jesus’ death at Santa Maria della Vita church, and the fascinating San Stefano, an unfinished complex of seven churches. But the real sightseeing thrill is Le Due Torri (The Two Towers), the taller of which, Asinelli, offers a panoramic view of Bologna in all its pink-stoned glory to anyone willing and able to climb 498 steps.

The most eye-opening attraction I saw in Matera was Casa Grotta di Via Solitario, which recreates a furnished cave, complete with a horse near the bed.

Eat: Try the tortellini in brodo at Trattoria del Rosso, where Bianchini took me for lunch. Bologna is where the modern gelato machine was invented and the city is awash with options: Sorbetteria Castiglione, Gelateria Galleria 49, Gelateria Delle Moline, and Cremeria Cavour to name a few.

Down south, make sure you try the pane di Matera, a slow-baked bread with a recipe so old it has an archeological designation. I tried mine dipped in homemade tapenades at the office of Matera City Tour. The rosé wines of the region are also surprisingly dry and delicious.

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Travel & Escape

Why your hotel mattress feels like heaven (and how to bring that feeling home)

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(NC) Choosing the right mattress is a long-term investment in your health and well-being. To make a good choice for your home, take a cue from luxury hotel-room beds, which are designed to support the sound sleep of tens of thousands of guests, 365 nights a year.

“When we’re shopping for a mattress, we do lab testing, identify the best materials, bring in multiple mattress samples and have our associates test them,” explains David Rizzo, who works for Marriott International. “We ask for ratings on comfort level, firmness, body support and movement disruption. It takes 12 to 18 months just to research and select materials.”

Here, he shares his tips to pick the perfect mattress for your best sleep:

Understand your needs. People have different food and exercise preferences, as well as different sleep cycles. So, it’s no surprise that everyone has unique mattress preferences. Not sure whether a firm or a soft mattress is better? Rizzo says the best gauge is to ask yourself, “Do I wake up with aches and pains?” If the answer is no, you’re golden.

Foam versus spring. All mattresses have a core that is made up foam or innersprings or a combination of the two. Today’s foam-core mattresses contain memory foam — a material engineered by NASA to keep astronauts comfortable in their seats. It’s special because it retains or “remembers” its shape, yielding to pressure from the sleeper’s body, then bouncing back once the pressure is removed.

An innerspring mattress has an encased array of springs with individual coils that are connected by a single helical wire. This wire creates continuous movement across the coil that minimizes disruption if the mattress is disturbed, such as by a restless sleeper. According to Rizzo, the innerspring is “bouncier.”

Temperature preference. Consider how warm or cool you like to sleep, and factor in the construction of the mattress to find one with a temperature that suits you. The air space engineered into an innerspring mattress promotes ventilation, which some people find keeps them pleasantly cool. To accomplish the same purpose with a foam mattress (or the foam layer of an innerspring) it may be infused with metal, usually silver or copper, to help dissipate heat and humidity.

Need to test out the right mattress for your needs? Find the right fit during your next trip by booking your stay at marriott.com.

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Travel & Escape

How to make the most of summer travel

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(NC) One of the best parts of our short Canadian summers is the opportunity to enjoy them a little bit extra on long weekends. If you need ideas, check out these creative things to do whether you decide to stay in town or go away.

Do a dinner crawl. Pub crawls are fun for couples, friends and also families with older kids. For an exciting twist that stretches your dollars and lets you taste food from several spots before you get too full, try a dinner crawl. Eat apps at one restaurant, mains at another and dessert at another.

Go on a mini getaway. You don’t need to go very far to enjoy a vacation – exploring a Canadian city over a summer weekend is great way to treat yourself to a holiday. Whether it’s checking out the museums in Toronto or the parks in Vancouver, there’s something for everyone. For upgraded benefits, special experiences and the best rates guaranteed, join Marriott Bonvoy and book direct on Marriott.com.

Host a potluck. Perfect whether you’re staying at home or going to your cottage, gather friends and family together for some food and fun. A potluck is an easy and affordable way to host a big get-together and lets everyone try something new and swap recipes. Make the festivities extra special with a fireworks potluck, too – ask everyone to bring some fireworks or sparklers and put on a light show. Just be sure to follow local regulations for consumer fireworks.

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Travel & Escape

Lottoland: Here’s why Canadians love it!

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Lotteries have been in existence for many centuries now and it’s an open secret that most people enjoy playing a good lottery.

Asides from gauging your own luck, the thrill of playing, the anticipation of the results and the big wins every now and then is something most people look forward to. Since 1982, the lottery has been in Canada, but now there is a way to play both the Lotto and other international lotteries from Canada, all from the comfort of your home.

With Lottoland, all you need to do is register and get access to numerous international lotteries right from their website. The easy-to-use interface has all the information you need, and great amount of care has been taken to ensure that the online experience is similar—and even better—than if players were to visit each location personally.

The Powerball and Mega Millions lotteries are hitting record highs with their prize money, in what the organizers claim to be the largest jackpot in the history of the world. However, the U.S. has gambling laws that are state controlled and buying your ticket through an online broker can be considered gambling.

“No one except the lottery or their licensed retailers can sell a lottery ticket. No one. Not even us. No one. No, not even that website. Or that one,” Powerball’s website says.

Therefore, to stand a chance to win the $1.5 billion-dollar lottery jackpot it means you have to purchase your lottery tickets directly from a licensed retailer such as Lottoland.

Since 2013, Lottoland has been operating in Canada, rapidly growing in popularity amongst Canadians. Due to its easy of use and instant access to lotteries that were previously considered inaccessible—as Canadians had to travel all the way to the U.S. to purchase tickets in the past—Lottoland has attracted lots of visitors.

Currently, there about 8-million players on Lottoland, a figure that points to the reliability of the website.

One of the core values of Lottoland is transparency and that’s why a quick search on the website would show you a list of all of their winners. Recently, a Lottoland customer was awarded a world-record fee of $137 million CND.

Also, due to the incredibly slim chances of winning the grand prize not everyone would take home mega-dollar winnings, but there are substantial winnings every day.

Securing your information online is usually one important factor when registering on any platform and as the site explains, “Lottoland works very hard to verify your information.”

The site has a multi-verification process that will ensure that you confirm your identity and age before giving you a pay-out. However, in the rare case that a player has immediate luck and wins a lottery before completing the verification process, Lottoland will hold on to the winnings until they complete your verification.

While this might seem like a tedious process, it is very important as these safety features would ensure that your information wasn’t stolen and ultimately your winning routed to another account.

Lottoland is licensed with the National Supervisory Bodies For Lotteries in several countries such as the United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden, Ireland and Australia—where it is called a wagering license. Typically, most gaming companies don’t establish insurance companies as it entails that their activities have to be transparent and the must be highly reputable in the industry.

Nonetheless, Lottoland has no issues meeting up to these standards as they have established themselves as the only gaming sector company who has its own insurance company—an added advantage for new and existing users.

Lotteries aren’t the only games Canadians enjoy playing and Lottoland recognizes this by providing players with other types of gaming. As an industry leader, video designers of online games often make them their first choice when it comes to publishing their works.

Online games such as slots, blackjack, video poker, baccarat, keno, scratchoffs, roulette and many others are always on offer at the Lottoland Casino. There’s also the option of playing with a live dealer and a total of over 100 games.

Lottoland has received numerous rave reviews from its growing list of satisfied customer and their responsive customer service agents are always available to answer any questions users may have, along with solving challenges they may have encountered.

More and more Canadians are trooping to Lottoland in droves due to the unique experience of going to a casino without having to leave the comfort of their homes.

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