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Paris: Splendors of the City of Lights and Amour

ParisCity of Lights: it’s called this because Paris was one of the first cities to become fully electrified. It’s called City of Amour because, well, simply put, the French know something about amour. Any visitor leaves forever remembering the sites – and the sites in the night lights. 

The Place de Concorde is the gateway to Les Tulieries and, nestled at the very front, are huge Rodins and the Musee de l’Orangerie [home of Monet’s “Water Lilies”], which houses hundreds of works by Impressionist masters.
Lighting enhances the stunning beauty of the world’s most famous/visited museums, the Louvre, the former palace where art lovers view such objets d’art as the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, and Venus de Milo. You might also call Paris the City of Museums. In addition to l’Orangerie and the Louvre, there’s the huge post-Modern high-tech steel and concrete Centre George Pompidou, with the largest collection of modern art in Europe; the D’Orsay; the Picasso; and prized private collections at the Jacquemart-AndréMarmottan-Monet, Nissim de Camondo, and Louis Vuitton Foundation Musees to name but a few.
Passing the palatial Grand Palais and its Palais de la Découvérte science museum, and adjoining Petit Palais is a marvelous sight by night, but
leaving Paris without a visit would be a huge mistake. You mighgt even consider lunch at the reasonably-priced bistro overlooking the Palais gardens.
You will feel the majesty of Napoleon and the history of France at L’Arc de Triomphe. From there sail the well-heeled shopper’s paradise along the Champs Elysees, with a detour to the famed George V Hotel [soon to unveil its multi-billion Euro renovation]; then, pass tributes to Presidents Washington, Roosevelt, and Eisenhower, and statue of Churchill.

While only the super, super rich can afford the magnificence of the Hotel de Crillon [upward of $1,300 a night, continental or full breakfast included; where Who among the world’s Who’s Who hasn't stayed], which has just reopened after its first major/total facelift in nearly 100 years, you can freely admire the lighted facade, even make a pit stop to admire the grandeur of its 18th Century lobbies, dine at the patio restaurant, and, by day, visit the garden. 

In the center of it all is the stately Palais Opera Garnier. Purchase tour/guided tour tickets to be swept away by the sweeping 19th century architecture, which includes the grand staircase, and galleries and salons which redefine the definition of regal grandeur. It’s home to the eight-ton bronze and crystal chandelier with 340 lights. Don’t miss having a photo taken in front of the box reserved for the phantom! Nearby is the ultra-modern Opéra Bastille.    
At the pinnacle of the Latin Quarter is the stunningly lit by night and worthy of a visit by day Panthéon.   
After viewing the fountains of the Gardens du Trocadéro  with a magnificent view of the dazzling light show on the Eiffel Tower, cross the Pont d’Léna to the Left Bank, where you can marvel up close at Alexandre Gustave Eiffel’s 1889 tower of steel -- even elevator up to the top for dinner and a dazzling city view. Not far away is the Musee D’Orsay, the breathtaking home for more breathtaking Impressionist masterpieces.
Across the Pont Neuf or Pont Notre Dame on its very own lle da la Cité  in the Seine is lofty, medieval Notre Dame Cathedral, where kings and emperors were crowned, with its flying buttresses, gargoyles, towering bell towers [with 10 named bells of various sizes that can do notes from A to G], stained glass masterpieces that include the renowned Gothic-Rayonnant Rose Window, magnificent organ with 8.000 pipes, gigantic doors, and French Gothic interior -- one of the world’s most visited tourist sites. 

Even gaudy, seedy Pigalle, in Paris’ 18th arrondissement, offers standout lighting: of the famed windmill atop the Moulin Rouge, on its present site at 82 Boulevard de Clichy since 1915.  Head northeast to Montmartre and one of the city’s highest points  to the famed “stairway to heaven” stairway leading to the monumental Sacré-Coeur basilica [if you happen to be touring by car, your driver will know how to get you on the much closer upper roadway]. Day or night, it’s a great spot for taking photos.
Only a few miles outside the city, stay to experience the twilight radiance on Versailles, including the Petit Trianon, Grand Trianon, and gardens.
Paris is a walking city, and then some – with steep hills and stairways to climb; and labyrinth Metro stations.  So, wear very comfortable shoes.

In July, 2017, one Euro equaled $1.15, which bodes well, especially when eating out [an advantage over the Pound].

If you have travel plans for summer and can wait until the “Magic Airfare Days” of the dog days of August, when air fares begin segueing to lower Fall prices, you’ll save upwards of $100 booking August 21 on domestic air; booking August 22 international air, over $600.

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Opera Garnier
It’s Charles Garnier’s monument to a bygone era. We will never see the likes of buildings like this one again. You enter into the rotunda and can’t help being astounded by the jawdropping beauty of the 98.5-foot-high tri-color marble vault and the famed Grand Staircase, where you’re greeted by two female allegories holding torches, that leads to the foyers, grand salon, theatre tiers, and private boxes [where one is permanently reserved for the phantom, a legend actually based on the deformed architect, who while helping Garnier secretly built “an underground lair” for himself adjacent to the lake.]
The view from the Grand Staircase, with light from outside and mirrors, is spectacular-plus. The Belle Époque galleries feature classic paintings of “dancing bacchantes and fauna, along with tapestries illustrating different refreshments as well as fishing and hunting.” The magnificent-beyond-description ceiling is by Clairin. The foyer vault, with a ceiling painted by Baudry and a copy of a bust of Garnier by the sculptor Carpeaux, features themes from the history of music. It’s covered with mosaics of shimmering colors on a gold background.
In the tradition of Italian theatres, the horseshoe-shaped seating is designed for audience to see and to be seen. The majestic ceiling, painted by Chagall, hides the steel structure supporting the eight-ton bronze and crystal chandelier. The curtain, which has been duplicated twice, was created by theatrical painters Auguste Rube (1817-1899) and Philippe Chaperon (1823-1906), following Garnier's instructions. The backstage areas are vast and flies soar up to the gods.
Once a sort of “secret place to court” and for well-heeled subscribers celebrities to mingle during intervals with Champagne and caviar, the Foyer de la Danse, adjacent to the stage which served as inspiration to painters and writers, including Degas and Balzac, is now a salon used by artists, musicians, and the corps de ballet for warm-ups.

Throughout the house, the lyre decorates the capitals of the foyers and salons, even heating grids and doorknobs. The Grand Vestibule, “watched over by the statues of Rameau, Lully, Gluck, and Handel,” leads to the exit.
For more information on the Opera Garnier, 8 rue Scribe, schedules, tour/guided tour tickets, and reservations for the very expensive Opéra Restaurant under one of the vaults, visit

The Panthéon
This magnificent and vast Sixth Century colonnaded orthodox cross-shaped edifice high up in the Latin Quarter, across from the Sorbonne, dates to 1744. Built in the neo-Classical style, it’s filled with huge, still vividly-colorful murals of French history. It was the brainchild of Louis XV, who when he became seriously ill and made a vow to build a monument for Saint Genevieve, patron/protector of Parisians against invasions and hunger, should he be cured. He chose the architect Soufflot [and, following his death, his colleague Rondelet] and paid for the tons of marble, soaring Corinthian columns, mosaics, and the columned porch inspired by Rome’s Pantheon of Agrippa, with a royal lottery.
At the time of the French Revolution, the church hadn’t been consecrated. In 1791, the Assembly decided to make it a Panthéon, “a lay temple destined to harbor the labors, struggles and tombs of France’s great men.”
For more information, on the Panthéon, Rue du Panthéon at Rue Clotilde, visit Small admission charge.

Enjoying Miami's Cadet Hotel in South Beach at Year’s End

As part of any trip to the Miami area, a visit to the Cadet Hotel in South Beach, Miami Florida is perfect for either a vacation or business stay. The Cadet is an oasis from the frenzy of South Beach,  from its lobby entrance to the front desk, its quiet and elegant, all the way from the small bar that leads on through to your room. 

Temple Emanu-ElBefore exploring South Beach, the peaceful atmosphere and warm welcome from the Cadet staff — under the direction of General Manager Ardicio Galvao — sets a friendly and professional tone. And once you’ve settled into your room, you can then enjoy a bit of quiet, uncrowded bathing in The Gazebo, the Cadet's pool area where you unwind in a garden paradise. 

At one point, Miami’s South Beach area went into decline so that by the 1980s, it looked like it was ready for either demolition or renovation. That certainly was the case for the Cadet, where work had begun by its longtime owner Dr. Vilma Biaggi who lovingly renovated this historic hotel to its current beauty. 

Most important is the Pied a Terre Restaurant which has, over the years, received much acclaim for its fine modern French cuisine created by a special arrangement through visits by carefully chosen top French chefs with their latest creative contributions.

Wine Spectator Award of ExcellenceThe Pied a Terre has flourished over the years with a top ranking among Miami's ever-changing restaurant world. It has won top awards and has one of the finest wine lists anywhere, having been carefully selected from around the world by Pied a Terre General Manager Patrick Gruest. This fascinating Frenchman described how he chose the wines as well as the finest ingredients from around the world for his dinner selections. 

As an example, and a perfect opportunity to sample the wonders of the Pied a Terre's dining experience, check out its New Year’s Celebration 2017 menu. While you might not have time to travel to this wonderful restaurant in time for the festivities, the menu gives you an example of the dedication to excellence you'll experience at the Cadet.

Of course, South Beach is the Art Deco capital of the United States and, as with the Cadet, the neighborhood is a feast for the eyes in many respects. Art and great style are all around here. There's plenty to see and do within an easy walk from the Cadet; the beach is a few blocks away and Lincoln Road stores close by to the south. 

Fillmore ShowsNearby are the Miami Convention Center, the Fillmore Auditorium and the New World Center — home of the New World Symphony — as is all the club activity on Collins Avenue north and south of the hotel. 

On a recent visit, my wife and I had a wonderful time there and hotel room prices are very reasonable considering everything including the location, furnishings, decor and attentive staff. A beautiful room with king sized bed was $109 until holiday prices had kicked in. 

To learn more, go to:

Cadet Hotel
1701 James Avenue (at 17th Street)
Miami Beach
Florida 33139

Travel Tips for the Young & Young at Heart


Authors of Vagabonding Through Retirement: Unusual Travels Far from Our Paris Houseboat, Bill and Ina Mahoney have led the life of quintessential wanderers. They’ve not only traveled around the world, but actually lived in places from Laos to Bolivia, the Ukraine and France

Mahoney began hitchhiking across the country working odd jobs at 13; then he sailed the Atlantic as a merchant marine and the Pacific in the navy. He hopped trolleys, trucks, automobiles, and trains. Once he graduated from an adult high school he earned a B.A. at UCLA and an M.A. at Boston University. For 10 years, Mahoney taught world history in Paris. His second book, Is Muldoon Still in Paris, recounts his delinquent childhood and a third book, Mission Paris, is appearing soon. Bill speaks five languages and can tell a story in a dozen others.

Ina Garrison Mahoney grew up in the small Texas town of Blooming Grove. She then graduated from Southwestern University with a BA in speech and drama and an MA from the University of Houston. Taking a year’s leave of absence from her teaching job in Victoria, Texas, she went to France in 1958; when she returned to the U.S. five years ago, she had to relearn how to live as an American once again.

vagabondArmed with passion and a remarkable sense of adventure, this duo seeks out the world through the eyes of people of other cultures. In order to share how they create lifetime memories from traveling, they put together a quick guide to how to have memorable experiences through travel.

Here are their seven steps to get you on the way for your own set of “unforgettable memories.”

  1.  Browse through the library and bookstores guidebooks. Look for those authored by non-US writers. Both the Rough Guide and the Lonely Planet series were started by young Brits whose clientele weren’t seeking luxury. They have a vested interest in chocking their guides full bargains.

  2. While visiting those “not to be missed” sights mingle with the natives. Learn their customs. Visit their markets. Dine on their authentic cuisine. These experiences could go a long way toward giving you a better understanding of the numerous ways to do everyday things other than the American way.

  3. Search newspapers, as well as the guidebook, for bargain flights. Some airlines provide free overnight accommodations and food for long distance flights—quite a saving if you’re going to Southeast Asia.

  4. Lodging will be your main cost so search for alternatives to hotels. Guest houses are a great recommendation for Thailand. They have all the necessary facilities and with their constant turnover of young backpackers eager to share their latest travel experiences their recommendations are golden.

  5. An even cheaper travel option is a visa length stay in a city or country of your choice. Thailand and Bali are favorites, but any country has a great deal to offer.

  6. Search for alternatives to taxis such as pickup trucks with benches in the back. Motorcycles are easily rented, but helmets are not normally required. Driving on the left side of the road can present problems for Americans. It is often safer to be a passenger than a driver.

  7. Pack light, very light. “Same shirt, different day” is a great byline to keep in mind for any type of independent travel as handling your own luggage saves tip money. Clothes should be functional. Leave your expensive jewelry at home. It is an invitation a thief looks for.

  8. Be flexible. If your carefully planned trip falls through, don't fret—reschedule or forget it. Something else could be serendipity.

To  learn more, visit:

[Vagabonding Through Retirement: Unusual Travels Far from Our Paris Houseboat is available through all major booksellers and can be purchased from Amazon, Barnes & Noble]

Tibet: Five Fast, Fun & Fantastic Facts


Few countries in the world evoke the mystique of Tibet. Many people know the name but few know much about this country. Nicknamed the "Roof of the World" (it shares Mount Everest -- the world's tallest mountain -- with Nepal), most people simply know it as the former home of the Dalai Lama. For centuries, Tibet heavily restricted outsiders and it wasn’t until 1924 that the first European woman, Belgian–French explorer Alexandra David-Néel, visited Lhasa, the capital. 

Let’s start with the basics:


The Size of Tibet

Many believe that Tibet is a small country like neighboring Nepal or Bhutan. Actually, Tibet is huge. The Traditional Tibet (U-Tsang, Kham and Amdo provinces) is 965,000 square miles. This is over four times larger than France and a whopping 25% of the land mass of China, which is a good reason why the Communist Chinese invaded Tibet on October 6, 1950 only 10 months after winning the Chinese Civil War and declaring the People’s Republic of China. Since 1965, China recognizes only the much smaller Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) which comprises U-Tsang and the western area of Kham (474,300 sq. mi).

This Tibet is autonomous in name only because it is strictly governed by the Chinese Communist Party. Furthermore, China has steadily relocated Chinese into Tibet and there are now more Chinese (7.5 million) in Tibet than Tibetans (6 million). This does not bode well for Tibetans. The Tibetan flag and national anthem are banned and they can be imprisoned simply for possessing an image of the Dalai Lama. Over a million Tibetans have been killed and 6,000 monasteries destroyed since the Chinese invaded their country.


Tibet’s Altitude

Tibet is the highest country on Earth with an average elevation of 13,000 feet. Altitude sickness is more prevalent here than anywhere else on the planet. If you visit Tibet, it’s recommended you give yourself at least 3-5 days of complete rest for your body to complete acute acclimatization or you can pay a heavy price. 

The most common type of altitude sickness, Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) occurs at elevations above 7,500 feet. The two fatal varieties, High-Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) and High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), can occur at 12,500 feet. The elevation in Lhasa is 12,000 feet and 16,732 feet at Rongbuk Monastery. (On a personal note, I grew up surfing in South Florida and thought skiing in Mammoth, California (base elevation 8,000 feet) would be a cinch. I jumped right in and was having a blast until I suddenly became dizzy and couldn’t get my bearings. Ten minutes later, I was gasping for breath as attendants sledded me down the mountain like a deer carcass strapped to the hood of an F-150.)


The Dalai Lama

The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the fourteenth Dalai Lama and the spiritual leader of the Yellow Hat Tibetan Buddhists. The first Dalai Lama was born in 1391 and each succeeding Dalai Lama is believed to be the reincarnation of his predecessor. Tenzin Gyatso was chosen when, at the age of two in 1937, he correctly selected all items presented to him that had belonged to the recently deceased 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso

However, the Dalai Lama today believes his lineage is much older and that he is the seventy-fourth reincarnation that can be traced back to a Brahman boy who was given a crystal rosary by Buddha himself (567 BC - 484 BC). Many Tibetans remain steadfastly loyal to the Dalai Lama and hold him in extremely high reverence which is a good reason why the Chinese won’t be stamping his passport anytime soon.

Longevity and The Quest for Immortality

Life extension has never been as popular as it is today. In 2015, Google’s Sergey Brin announced that he was investing billions of dollars into his Project Calico, Google’s attempt to “cure death.” In 1696, a monastic medical school was built upon the summit of Chakpori Hill in Lhasa. In 1959, the Chinese destroyed it with artillery during the Tibetan Uprising claiming the Tibetans had posted a couple of cannons outside the school. 

Some of the substances taught at Chakpori Hill reportedly had the ability to extend mortality far beyond that of the average human life span and at least two of them are in popular usage today. Himalayan dried goji berries are readily available in health food stores and shopping chains such as Trader Joes and Whole Foods. Li Qing Yuen subsisted mostly upon them (he also consumed ginseng, licorice root and gotu kola) and claimed that he was 267 years old when he died in 1930. Shilajit is an ancient tar-like substance of vegetable origin that oozes from the rocks in the mountains of Tibet. It has been reported to contain at least 85 minerals in ionic form, as well as triterpenes, humic acid and fulvic acid. The ancient Vedic Hindu text, the Charaka Samhita (200 BC), claims there is no disease that cannot be cured by Shilajit.


The Sky Burial

On the flip side of immortality is death and the Tibetans have a unique method for dealing with the deceased. The Sky Burial or Jhator was first mentioned in the 12th century Tibetan Book of the Dead. The ground in Tibet is too hard for traditional burial (solid rock or permafrost is only inches below the surface) and most of the country lies about the tree-line making traditional burial expensive and impractical.  

Beginning at dawn, rogyapas (body-breakers) hack the deceased to pieces and then use rocks to pound the flesh and bones into a paste with tsampa (barley flour mixed with tea and yak butter) before lighting incense to summon hordes of giant Griffin vultures who swoop in to feast. The immediate family may be present, but usually during a nighttime ceremony that does not include a view of watching their beloved reduced to mush. Tibetan Buddhists believe the corpse is nothing but an empty vessel devoid of spirit and giving sustenance back to nature in this manner is an act of generosity that is essential to their beliefs. The practice is in decline due to restrictions in urban areas and the diminishing number of Griffin vultures in Tibet.

[David J. Castello is the author of The Diary of an Immortal (1945-1959)]

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