Friday, July 24, 2009

Under Paris Skies

If I could live (and die) in a department store, it would be Galleries Lafayette in Paris. The terrace offers up a 360 view of City of Lights. Each of the stores three buildings are filled with tantalizing restaurants, cafes, patisseries and wine bars. Along with a beauty salon, a full service spa, contemporary and designer clothing, menswear and home furnishings. Show your U.S. Passport and receive a 12% tax refund and a free fashion show on Fridays.

Divine B&Bs in the Holy Land

The best and most affordable way to see the littlest big country in the Middle East is to stay at a B&B. I found a furnished two bedroom apt with a view of the Old City in the quaint Yamin Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem for less than half what I would pay for a single room at any hotel.
Just remember, Israeli B&Bs range from a spare bedroom with shared bath in someone's apartment to a private apartment with vacant owners. Go to

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sweet Memories

I cannot pass a bakery window without falling in love. Especially in France where the art of the local patisserie often surpasses the offerings of the Louvre. This photo was taken in Nancy, France in Alsace Lorraine.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Flying High

Flying back east out of LAX on the Red Eye, I noticed frost bite on my fingers and asked the flight attendant for a blanket. He blinked and said crisply, "That'll be seven dollars." WHAT?

I know everyone, including Ruth Madoff, is tightening their belt but this struck me as excessive. "Okay, then. How about turning down the air-conditioning so that my teeth stop chattering?" He smirked and went back to hawking stale sandwiches for - uh - seven dollars. They were not moving well but he sold out of vodka before seat 14D.

Somewhere over "the fruited plain" a jittery line formed to the one working toilet in the back of the plane. There seemed to be some kind of rucus at the front of the line. I heard cursing and loud voices but couldn't figure it out until I was next in line and the haughty attendant said, "That'll be seven dollars please."

"For what?" Why for using the john! "But, but, you have to let passengers pee!" I cried. "Actually, ma'm, according to the FAA, we don't," he sneered. "It's up to each airline to decide. Now will that be cash or credit?" In a hushed voice he added, "I can get you into the First Class toilet for fifty bucks."

I staggered back to my seat, determined to hold "it" in for another three and half hours. I took an Ambien and tried to sleep but it wasn't easy. The passenger next to me was getting a lap dance. It's amazing what seven dollars will buy at 50,000 feet.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Art Nouveau-to-Go

The world's greatest museum of Art Nouveau isn't the Musee des Beaux Arts in Nancy, France. It's the city of Nancy itself.

Here is where the originators of the Art Nouveau Movement decided that functional design - furniture, lamps, houses - should incorporate the sensual qualities of Nature. Each street, each fountain and lampost is a work of art.

Located an hour and a half east of Paris via the TGV high speed train, Nancy is a great escape from the crowds, back to a more romantic time. Daum crystal is made here. Baccarat and Limoge are nearby. Oh, come on. What's more romantic than shopping???

Cinema MacMahon: Play It Again, Sam

Woody Allen loves Paris. Probably because it loves him back. Cinema Mac Mahon in the 17th arr. always seems to be showing a retrospective of his films. But there's another reason to go there. Opened in 1938, Cinema Mac Mahon is one of the last single-screen movie theaters left in Paris. Its Art Deco facade is an architectural gem. Located in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe, Cinema Mac Mahon should be on every film lovers tour of the City of Lights.

Hotel Canto das Aguas: Lencois, Brazil

It's a six hour drive from Salvador to the sleepy town of Lencois in the heart of the Chapada Diamantina - one of Brazil's most popular eco-tourism destinations. While my traveling companions crawled through caves, rappeled waterfalls and climbed mountains, I discovered my Inner Paris Hilton at Hotel Canto das Aguas.

This isn't the kind of luxury boutique hotel you'd expect to find in a town so small you can walk up and down every street in 15 minutes. Built over a waterfall, you can hear the "singing" waters from just about every room. I tried out the Amazonian hammock on my private patio, hoping to entertain one of the Spider Monkeys that swing down from the trees at dawn and twilight.

While I struck out with the monkeys, I scored BIG with a Tree House Massage. I've had my share of massages with recorded sounds of waterfalls and birds but this was the real deal. While a masseuse dressed in white like an Indian Yogi worked on my trapezius muscles, I breathed in the scent of jasmine, mint and honeysuckle and listened to the calls of 150 species of tropical birds. You can have your extreme sports in Lencois and your extreme indulgence too.

Convento do Carmo: Get Thee to a Nunnery

Running off to a convent was never an option. First, I'm Jewish. Secondly, I don't deal well with authority, even from above. But when I walked into Hotel Convento do Carmo in Salvador, Brazil, I thought, "Oh, my God! I could get used to this!"

The former cloister, now a 5-star hotel is located in the historic Pelhourino section. Outside, the streets seeth with African drums, art galleries, cafes and shops. Inside, in an air of hushed elegance, guests lounge around the courtyard pool and sip high octane cocktails at the bar like characters out of a Bogart/Becall film.

Rooms are HUGE, beautifully decorated and offer charming views of candy colored houses or the bucolic courtyard. If you must seek absolution - there's a spa, free Internet and a tantalizing breakfast buffet. (Their coconut cake is so moist it is positively sinful!)