Saul Schwartz

15 POSTS

Basse Terre is the western of the two major island of Guadeloupe. Staying at the Langley Hotel at Fort Royal on Basse Terre turned out to be a tremendous choice.  Once owned by Club Med, the sprawling hotel overlooks stunning, picture postcard views of the blue green Caribbean Sea.  The hotel is situated directly alongside a long, sandy yellow golden beach.  The beach is shaded by coconut palms and is populated with umbrellas and comfortable beach chairs, next to a large pool.  We enjoyed the bed and breakfast rate, which included a daily French-style brunch buffet (e.g., a variety of cheeses and breads, cereals, fresh croissants, etc.).  At the base of a tropical forest, the resort adjoined a pleasantly shaded hiking trail with views of Caribbean coves and inlets.  We indulged in light meals at the beach bar, where we relaxed to live music several evenings.  Two evenings we participated in free yoga classes on the hotel terrace as the sun set with vivid orange and red hues in the sky over the Caribbean Sea.

The interior of Basse Terre is largely a national park, with a rain forest and volcano.  On one day, we drove over two hours south of our hotel on the national highway to see the majestic Carbet waterfalls (Les Chutes du Carbet).  Two vertical waterfalls are on top of each other, each plunging more than 300 feet of cascading water.  The national roads (designated N) along the coasts were good for the most part, with winding turns providing majestic views of mountains on one side of the road and the Caribbean Sea or the Atlantic Ocean on the other.  The side roads (designated D), like the roads to these waterfalls, were steep and narrow with repeated jaw dropping turns and they were not well paved.  The pace on these islands was slow, except when cars passed us on the roads, as we ascended and descended hills.

Near Deshaies, we spent a delightful afternoon wandering through the paths of the botanical gardens (Jardin Botanique), which featured trees and plants from around the world, as well as an aviary with multi-colored tropical birds. There is a small restaurant/snack bar at the top of a man-made waterfall, overlooking the gardens.  We enjoyed three scoops of sorbet, with refreshing flavors of coconut and passion fruit.

Further south, near the town of Bouillante, we traveled on a glass bottom boat to the Jacques Cousteau Underwater Reserve. Beneath the boat we viewed an alien world, populated by weird shaped sponges, coral and colorful schools of fish in various sizes and shapes.

North of Fort Royal, near the base of a mountain, we toured a medal winning rum distillery, Le Domaine de Severin. The large property includes a mini-train ride and paths through gardens, a water wheel, rum making equipment, crayfish breeding ponds, a sauces and spice factory and prototypical houses of rum workers.  The tour ended with a tasting of strong dark rums and refreshing cool light rums.

As a department of France, the official language spoken in Guadeloupe is French and the signage was exclusively in French.  At the museum of cocoa (La Maison du Cacao) near Pointe – Nore, the tropical gardens featured explanations of the history, care and variety of cocoa products with some English signs.  We patiently waited for the English language samples tasting and demonstration, which turned out to be presented in rapidly spoken French with a few English words sprinkled in!

The signage throughout Guadeloupe was limited, even for the tourist attractions. Indeed we never found one elusive waterfall despite several attempts on different side roads.  Although the staff at the Langley Hotel was fluent in English, outside our resort we had few conversations with anyone in our native language.

 

There were a few “freaky” moments on this trip. After landing in Ponte a Pitre at night, we drove to the hotel through Sainte Rose during a carnival night.  We were taken on a detour through town, stopping to let the locals walk past in very scary masks.  On our return from a drive on the national road early one evening, our car was briefly surrounded by a group of rowdy teenagers in masks probably wanting money from us.  We floored our small rental car and drove by them, but we were a little shaken up.  Based on our drives through side roads into small communities, there clearly was some poverty on Basse Terre in the more remote and rural areas.

Even within the resort, we had to often brake so as to not run over the roster families and dwarf goats on the property. It often surprised us to see animals grazing on the sides of roads where there were no gates.

We spent our last full day (a Friday) in search of the one synagogue in Guadeloupe, Or Samaech.  On the eastern large island of Grande Terre, the small shul is largely unmarked on a side road in Gosier.  With Fern’s persistent and directions from local police, we came upon a house/compound topped by barbed wire and a security system.  After a maintenance worker admitted us into the complex, we met the French and Hebrew speaking rabbi, he directed us upstairs into the lovely sanctuary, filled with ritual objects and memorials to former members of the small Jewish community.  The population of the Guadeloupe islands is estimated to be around 425,000 with around 300 Jewish residents.

We were invited to have lunch in the kosher café downstairs. We feasted on a delicious meal of challah bread, fish (bass), salad, roasted potatoes and two scrumptious desserts, a chocolate lava cake and a lemon pie.  During lunch we engaged in limited English conversations with the local Jewish residents.  We learned that the congregation was Sephardic (i.e., Jews descended originally from Spain and Northern Africa) and held worship services on Friday nights.

Our drives were majestic with stunning views of the Caribbean Sea or Atlantic Ocean on one side of the car and fields of sugar cane or mountain peaks on the other side. The large volcano (La Soufriere) was often visible.  At all times at the hotel, we listened to the peaceful crashing of the Caribbean waves coming into the beach.  We’ll long remember relaxing while just starring out at the natural beauty of these islands.

My wife Fern traveled for work to San Jose and I decided to go along in the luggage. Years ago, I had a work trip to San Jose and was unable to see the sites outside of the office – not this time!

San Jose, not San Francisco, is the third most populated city in California, after Los Angeles and San Diego. San Jose is situated within the Santa Clara Valley, which became known as Silicon Valley in the 1970s as home to computer hardware, software and high tech firms.

With technology as a backdrop, our first stop was to stroll through the campus of Google (called Googleplex) in Mountain View. The corporate headquarters resembles an upscale college campus, where Google employees – looking only slightly older than college students – played volleyball, worked out in fitness centers, ate at one of the many cafes and worked at stand up desks in open floor plan offices.  When we googled google, we learned that without an employee escort we could not go inside the buildings.  Instead we talked to several employees who told us about the bikes loaned to employees for traveling across the large campus, the free buses for employee transport home and how much they loved their jobs.

Within the valley, I strolled through three parks. The highlight of Overfelt Gardens (no charge) is the Chinese cultural garden which contains a series of statues, memorials and pagodas emphasizing Chinese culture and architecture.  A large statue of Chinese philosopher Confucius overlooks one of the park’s ponds.  Within a slightly run down area of San Jose, the park is easily accessible with street parking available.

Alum Rock Park ($6 for a day pass) offers scenic views of the valley and mountain ranges. I hiked along a flat trail parallel to a stream.  Along the trail I saw several black tailed deer and smelled hot mineral springs.  Throughout the park there are signs pointing out the park’s past glory days as a nationally known health spa.  Alum Rock Park itself is peaceful, but its facilities are in need of some updating.

On the site of former mines, Almaden Quicksilver Park (no charge) contains numerous hiking trails. At the base of the park, displays demonstrate the mercury (quicksilver) mining activities that took place on this site.  Also throughout the park are various remnants of mining structures.  I enjoyed a vigorous scenic hike within the mountain range.

In the evenings, Fern and I ate our way through San Jose. The lavishly decorated Moroccan restaurant Menara provided both entertainment and a feast.  The Casablanca dinner ($38/person) included 8 courses starting with Moroccan salad, ending with Baklava and Mint Tea, with chicken, fish and cous cous dishes in between.  To my surprise, the belly dancer induced me onto the floor.  The restaurant is lavishly furnished in Sahara style.

We spent several hours at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum ($9) which features an outstanding collection of Egyptian artifacts. The exterior of the museum is designed to resemble an Egyptian temple, including a peace garden authentic to ancient Egypt (with gardens and an ancient Egyptian board game).  One highlight was the 45 minute guided tour within a replica of an Egyptian rock tomb.  With the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in the United States, we found the museum collective to be very extensive.  The free audio tour was useful to focus us in on key objects.

Finally, with San Francisco only an hour car drive away, we spend one full day in San Francisco, doing the one day highlights itinerary. We were joined by my daughter Danielle, who flew up from Los Angeles.  After riding the cable cars to Fisherman’s Wharf, we had lunch, bought chocolates at Ghirardelli Square and downed Irish coffee at the Buena Vista.

We ended our trip back in Silicon Valley in Mountain View, which has a nice row of international restaurants on Castro Street.

Upon our arrival in Stockholm, via Wow Air and Flybus, we navigated the subway and buses without difficulty. Although signage in English is limited, English speaking transportation workers did not hesitate to direct us to the correct line when asked.  Throughout the week we found local Swedes quite willing to talk to us in English.

Prior to our trip, we purchased the 5 day Stockholm pass. This pass provides free admission to approximately 60 major attractions, museums and tour.  The pass is also available in 1, 2, or 3 day versions.  The 5 day adult pass was about $135, but the pass is periodically on sale at 10 percent off.  If you intend to see a large number of sites, the city pass provides a great value.  One particular advantage of the Stockholm pass included unlimited hopping on and off the 24 stops of the site seeing bus each day of our pass.  The pass can also be purchased in Stockholm.

Our stay at the Hilton Slussen greatly enhanced our visit. Located on the island of Sodermalm, the Hilton is situated directly across from the old town (Gamla Stan), providing dramatic day and night views of the Stockholm old town with its beautiful medieval architecture and the mighty city hall (Stadshuset) on the island of Kungsholmen.  The hotel location provided easy access to Stockholm sites by public transportation or by foot.  The large fitness center is part of a local fitness club and included, without charge, a great variety of cardio and weight equipment and fitness classes where instructors led sessions in English and Swedish.  For European standards, the rooms are decent sized.  Our hotel rate included an extensive breakfast buffet with hot and cold offerings and evening appetizers in the executive lounge, with a wide array of American and Swedish style food, as well as drinks.

We took the Lonely Planet Pocket Stockholm everywhere. The neighborhood-by-neighborhood layout provided focus on top sights and the maps were easy to follow.

Our top ten activities and favorite moments:

Changing of the guard at the Royal Palace (Kunglia Slottet): With over 600 rooms, the palace dominates the old town (Gamla Stan).  The Royal Palace is the largest royal castle still used as home to royalty and as a working government building.  Most days at the outer court yard of royal palace at 12:15 p.m. you can view the elaborate changing of the guard rituals.  This is a magnificent and dramatic ceremony, fully of pomp and circumstance.  The guards, clad in blue or black military uniforms, move with precision along with a band.  In one of our two viewings, the band marched with fanfare while sitting on top of beautiful horses and the ceremony honored one of the Swedish recipients of an Olympic silver medal from Rio.  We toured several portions of the palace open to the public, including the royal chapel and the royal apartments.

Boat tours: Stockholm is called the Venice of the north and we really enjoyed getting on the water to fully experience the area.  The city covers 14 islands, with bridges everywhere.  Lake Malaren in the west gives way to the Baltic Sea in the east.  Taking the three hour boat tour to the Archipelago provided us with a scenic ride as we wandered in and out among the thousands of rocky islands.  Most of the islands are uninhabited with forests and fields of wild flowers, but the inhabited islands are dotted with attractive holiday cottages and boats of various sizes.

We traveled one hour by boat to the summer residence Drottningholm Palace (Slott) for generations of Swedish royalty families, on the island of Lovon. Although the 17th century palace was closed for a royal function, we strolled for several hours in the vast geometrical garden parks, which are often compared to Versailles.  The pretty palace gardens contain sculptures and immaculately manicured greenery behind the striking Renaissance style palace.  We enjoyed lunch on the palace grounds at a café.

Eating lunch al fresco at the Kaffekoppen café. Set in the heart of the old town’s main and oldest square Stortorget, we twice enjoyed lunch on the outside terrace across from the Nobel Museum. The lunch portions were large, fresh, tasty and reasonably priced.  After talking extensively to the very welcoming proprietor, he served us –without charge – several yummy deserts.  The terrace is perfect for people-watching, and live street music played in the background.  The café is set in a brightly painted red historic 15th century building with 82 white stones on the exterior honoring the members of the Swedish nobility and clergy who were killed by the Danish king Christian II in a bloodbath in this square during three days in November 1520.

Biking through Djurgarden: Once a royal hunting ground, this island connects by bridge to the center city.  The setting is a park-like oasis in green, a smaller version of New York’s Central Park.  We rented three speed bikes through Stockholm City Bikes at the stand just behind the Abba Museum.  The rental lasted for three days and was inexpensive (about $17 for the 3 day card).  We wandered around quiet trails and roads, passing by herons, goats, gardens, various bodies of water and a series of museums.

Touring city hall (Stadshuset): Stockholm’s impressive skyline includes this striking brick landmark building with its massive tower and internal courtyards.  English language tours were frequent and very detailed.  The tour included the golden hall with its beautiful gold and marble mosaics, the Italian style blue hall – site of annual Nobel prize banquets and festivities, the dramatic fresco painting of the lake view (The City on the Water) which faces windows opening to the actual lake view and the council meeting chamber.

Exploring museums: Like Washington D.C., Stockholm is a city of museums, mainly situated at the entrance of Djurgarden.  Daily English language tours were informative and enlightening.  Our favorites was the Vasa Museum (Vasamuseet) which is literally built around a massive salvaged ship which sunk in Stockholm harbor within minutes of setting sail on its maiden voyage in the 17th century.  The tour was a Titantic experience!  Abba The Museum is simply a fun and entertaining tribute to the best known Swedish rock group, with costume displays and videos.  The Nordic Museum (Nordiska Museet) was mostly enjoyable for the building itself with its massive indoor space and its design as an enormous Nordic castle, and to understand how the cultural collection of all things Swedish was initiated as the passion of one man, Artur Hazelius.  The photography museum (Fotografiska) in Sodermalm housed in a converted customs hall showcased four different exhibits, including one of celebrities shot by singer Bryan Adams.  This museum is open late into the evening with its top level containing a lively bar and café where locals were partying the night away.  The Nobel Museum, temporarily housed in the old town (Nobelmuseet), focuses on the history of the recipients and their discoveries, as well on Alfred Nobel who became very wealthy based on his discovery of dynamite.  The café includes chairs signed by Nobel awardees, including Presidents Clinton and Obama.

Admiring cathedrals: In the old town, right next to the Royal Palace, the gothic cathedral Strorkyrkan – built in the 13th century – contains dramatic sculptures, medieval paintings, high ceilings with bells and royal pews which have been used for royal weddings and coronations.  We were particularly impressed with the life size wood St. George and the Dragon sculpture, created to honor victory over the Danes in the late 1400s.  Lutheran services are open to the public on Sundays.  On the nearby island of Riddarholmen, the interior of the 13th century Riddarholmen Church is more in the nature of a cemetery for royal families.  The church contains the vaults of kings, queens and their families.  Sweden’s monarchs are buried under the floors and within majestic crypts.

The Ice Bar: Just like you have to go to the Blue Lagoon while in Reykjavick, Iceland, one trip to the Ice Bar in Stockholm is a must.  The Ice Bar is located within the Nordic C Hotel in city center.  Created by the Ice Hotel in northern Sweden, the Ice Bar is totally a creation of ice, containing ice etchings and sculptures of Nordic creatures, just perfect for photo ops.  Patrons borrow  parkas with hoods and thick gloves to keep warm.  Admission includes one drink in a shot glass made of ice!  The 45 minute experience was a little tacky but very cool.

Walking tour of the old town (Gama Stan): Starting from the tourist center, the daily English language tour guided us along the charming cobble streets.  The narrow streets still wind along their 14th century lines and included one lane less than one meter wide (Marten Trotzigs Grand).  For the history buff, the guide told stories of Stockholm’s beginnings.  She showed us Viking ruins from an early settlement that are part of a building foundation, as well as sites from Danish and Germanic influences.

What we missed: Several buildings were not open to touring during our stay.  We visited the grounds of the Great Synagogue on a small street near city center, an impressive building which contained a large menorah, a holocaust memorial plaque and a dramatic sculpture of the lifting of the torah.  Since the synagogue is only open to the public for Shabbat services on Friday evening and Saturday morning, we were not able to go inside.  Stockholm has the largest Jewish population in Sweden, but there are only about 20,000 Jews in Sweden.  Not far from the old town, we repeatedly passed by the large Swedish Parliament Buildings (Riksdagshuset), but were not able to tour because the buildings were only open on one weekend day for a limited time period.

Final thoughts for a perfect trip: The fall weather is surprising pleasant in Stockholm.  The currency is easy to convert, with ten krona being worth approximately one U.S. dollar.  Although roads seemed well maintained and driving is on the right side of the road, we saw no need for a car rental since we did not venture outside of greater Stockholm.  The city is one of Europe’s most beautiful!  We had a tremendous adventure.  In one week, we covered all of the major sites.

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This fall Southwest Airlines offered great promo fares from Baltimore – Washington Airport to Providence, Rhode Island. With fares at just over $100 for a round trip, we decided to explore as much of Rhode Island as possible over the three day Veterans Day weekend.  At 48 miles long and 37 miles wide, you can cover quite a bit of this state in a few days!

In November, the fall foliage through Rhode Island remained quite colorful, with trees blazing in oranges and reds. Using a hotel in downtown Providence as a base, we spent time in Providence- the capital, ritzy Newport and small town Bristol over the three days.

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Our top activities and favorite moments:

  • “Cottages” of Newport: In the 1800s, Newport became a summer resort, attracting the country’s wealthiest families. Nineteenth century barons and magnates had extravagant mansions built along Bellevue Avenue. Much like European palaces and castles, the summer cottages are constructed with precious metals and contain collections of art and lavish furniture. The Breakers Plus package covered admission to the Breakers and any one of several Newport mansions. We toured The Breakers and Marble House, both built for Vanderbilt family members. The audio tours provided extensive information about the family and the gilded age when these elite families brought the rich and famous to Newport. The grounds and gardens are lovely, overlooking Easton Beach and Bay.
  • Federal Hill, Providence: Close to downtown Providence, Federal Hill is a charming community full of restaurants and shops. After noting its Italian heritage, we had dinner at an exceptional Italian restaurant, Pane E Vino, on Atwells Avenue, the main street of Federal Hill. The focaccia bread, eggplant and the pasta were exceptionally tasty. The extremely courteous and welcoming wait staffs made us feel as if we were dining in Italy with family!
  • RISD Museum, Providence: Within downtown Providence, the Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design provided us with several hours of entertainment. The museum collection is varied, including Egyptian mummies, as well as ancient Greek and Roman sculptures. We particularly enjoyed the rooms of French impressionist paintings. Contained within five buildings and a courtyard, this museum experience was not overwhelming, but did allow for pleasurable wandering between furniture, paintings and sculptures from classical to modern.
  • Strolling through Bristol: On the eastern border close to Massachusetts overlooking Narragansett Bay, Bristol provided us with a small town USA feel. Unfortunately Blithewold Mansion was closed (despite advertisements to the contrary), but we were able to walk through the grounds, which included landscaped gardens and a magnificent view of the bay. The recommended seafood restaurant (Quitos) was also closed for the season, so we viewed the lovely upscale 18th and 19th century homes and read signage showing massive destruction from the 1938 hurricane and tidal wave.
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  • Touro Synagogue, Newport: Although not open for tours during our stay, we walked around the oldest surviving Jewish synagogue in the United States. Built in 1863, Touro is the only remaining Jewish house of worship from the Colonial era. The simple exterior is European in style. A small orthodox Jewish congregation holds services at Touro.
  • Brown University, Providence: Just above the downtown, we walked up the hill and entered the beautiful ivy-league campus through one of its gates. Founded in 1764, Brown is the seventh oldest college in the United States. We walked on Thayer Street, which runs through the campus, with its many quirky shops and restaurants. Inside the John Carter Brown Library, we quietly toured the plush reading room, with its tapestries and exhibits showing the French colonization of the United States.
  • Seafood, Providence: The culinary highlight of our weekend took place over dinner in Hemenway’s restaurant in downtown. The interior was elegant. We enjoyed a wide variety of seafood and fish. The waitress was exceptionally knowledgeable and friendly. IMG_2849
  • A very brief stop in Massachusetts: Traveling from Providence to Bristol, we passed through Fall River, Massachusetts. We just had to see the Lizzie Borden home, where in 1892 Lizzie’s father and step-mother were murdered by blows from an ax. Although Lizzie was arrested and jailed, she was acquitted. In the bay, Battleship Cove contains a collection of historic naval ships, including PT boats from World War II.   Also overlooking the bay, we lunched at the Cove restaurant, which featured fine seafood in an open attractive dining room.

 

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Photography by Saul Schwartz

On the evening of our first night in Hawaii, after a brief struggle, I found a secluded spot on Waikiki beach to propose to Fern.  This took place while we were forcing ourselves to adjust to the six hour time difference from our Washington, DC area home.  Writing out my ten line proposal in advance proved to be good foresight.  I didn’t fumble though carefully chosen words even though my foggy brain was suffering from jet lag.

Our trip began with a lovely dinner at a beachfront restaurant facing the wide white sand beach looking toward Diamond Head.  We shared our first fruity mai tais in the Hawaiian Village.  Starving since there was no food on our flight from Arizona, we hungrily feasted on grilled mahi mahi sandwiches while dining al fresco.  The fish was substantial, meaty and did not taste oily or fishy.  During the meal, watching throngs of tourists and locals walking along the beach on a pleasantly warm night, I scanned the adjoining high-rise hotels to find a private place for a memorable moment.

Underneath gently swaying palms, we then strolled out to the Pacific Ocean to watch the force of the waves and feel the seventy degree ocean temperature with our feet and hands.  I then scouted an artificially lit pole where I was able to retrieve my written proposal and read it with passion to Fern.  After she said yes, I took the sparkling ring we had picked out together and placed it on her finger.  After one year of dating, we were fiancées.

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Shortly after Fern and I met at a widow/widowers group she told me that Hawaii was on her bucket list of places to see. Our trip was planned to overlap with the anniversary of our first date in April of 2014.

This was my third trip to Oahu; it was Fern’s first.  Since it had been ten years since my last trip, I really did not remember how much Oahu is an island of contrasts.  After verifying that Tokyo was one thousand miles closer to Honolulu than Washington, we then realized why Waikiki streamed with at least as many Japanese tourists as from the American mainland.

In the mornings, I jogged by the large high-rise, high-end resort hotels and the wide streets lined with glitzy retail stores.  The paved path aligned with Waikiki beach for about half of my jog, and the rest of the time I ran by  designer brand retailers, surf clothing stores and restaurants along the very commercial Kuhio Avenue, the main street.

Our excursions on the north shore of Oahu were eye-opening.  One evening we ate on picnic benches eating shrimp and scoops of rice from one of the food trucks.  The shrimp was tasty but unpeeled and very messy to eat.   As I wandered to the rest room behind the truck, I walked by a large group of feral cats and run down shacks that stood less than one mile from stunning ocean front houses.

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On the north shore we made our way to the Polynesian Cultural Center and spent several hours wandering among the six villages featuring the island nations of the South Pacific and Hawaii. The highlights included a canoe tour through the lagoon and the canoe pageant.  In the pageant, each island featured music with colorful, traditional costumes worn by the dancers who performed atop the canoes.  Ironically we learned that the performers were actually students from nearby Brigham Young’s Hawaii campus.  In many situations, students live on one of the islands and working at the cultural center was part of their student experience.

In reflecting on Oahu, I think of one of my favorite Yogi Berra quotes.  “Nobody goes there anymore.  It’s too crowded.”  Certainly at times, we were delayed in Honolulu traffic and annoyed by the big city aspect of Oahu.  Indeed, our Honolulu airport experience was tense and we had to rush to make our flight out when we left the island.  But there were many more magical moments when as an engaged couple we could be alone, listening to the waves rolling and enjoying the serene beauty of the beach.   We may have been the only adult couple riding the Pineapple Express through the Dole Plantation, but the experience was surprisingly romantic as we kept ourselves warm and dry by huddling together during a tropical rainstorm.

Five nights on Oahu provided us with an overview of the islands’ highlights.

Our trip to Pearl Harbor gave us another study in contrasts, as we watched tourists from Japan and the American mainland stand side-by-side in somber reflection on the terrifying destruction inflicted. While touring the Arizona memorial, we learned that servicemen and women who survived the sinking of the battleship were entombed with their fallen comrades when they died years later.  Clearly that was the defining moment of their lives.

We flew from Honolulu to the Big Island, where we spent another five days.  The highlight there was the fiery orange lava flow in Volcano National Park.  The black rock prevalent throughout the Big Island reminded me of the lunar landings I had seen back when men landed on the moon!

Fern and I plan to travel to the other populated islands of Hawaii.  We’ll never forget the excitement of getting engaged on Oahu.

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Who: Saul Schwartz (author) and his newlywed wife, Fern Bradshaw of Alexandria, Virginia.

We chose April in Paris for our honeymoon; this was our first trip to the French capital. The day after our wedding at Lansdowne in Leesburg, Virginia, we flew nonstop from Dulles Airport to Charles De Gaulle Airport.  We spent one week in Paris traveling within many of the twenty arrondissements (districts).  Fern and I quickly learned to navigate the sixteen numbered lines of the busy but extensive metro, along with the commuter rail lines, enabling us to tour many world class art museums, beautiful architectural wonders; as well as religious, historic and cultural sites.  We purchased the Paris Pass in advance, which included unlimited travel within central Paris on the metro or train, along with entry for most attractions (but not the Eiffel Tower).

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High points: A romantic three course dinner at 58 Tour Eiffel, located at the first level of the 986 feet Eiffel Tower proved to be our culinary highlight, as we enjoyed a panoramic view of Paris transforming from day to night as we celebrated Fern’s birthday.  On the banks of the Seine in a corner of the Tuileries Gardens, we discovered our favorite art museum, Musee de l’Orangerie, which displays eight spectacular water lily murals by Monet in two oval rooms, along with works of the major impressionists.   Climbing the 387 steps to the top of tower of the French gothic Notre Dame Cathedral rewarded us with close-up views of its stone gargoyles on the ledge, 13th century church bells, dramatic stained glassed windows, but no hunchback.   We spent a full day exploring the vast grounds and grandeur of the Palace of Versailles,  strolling through some of the 250 acres of manicured gardens with fountains and statues and Marie Antoinette’s separate chateau – the Petit Trianon – many acres away from the castle and the king (Louis XVI).

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Cultural connection to Washington, D.C.: L’Enfant’s design of Washington, D.C., with circles, grand avenues, monumental architecture and public gardens parallels the layout of central Paris.  The Arc de Triomphe, engraved with names of military leaders, is a dramatic tribute to French soldiers lost in wars, standing in the center of Charles de Gaulle plaza.  From the viewing deck of the triumphal arch, after climbing 234 more steps, we observed a series of twelve wide avenues radiating out.  Similar to the layout of the Washington Mall from the Capitol to the Washington Monument and then to the Lincoln memorial, the Arc di Triomphe is on a historic axis through a sequence of monuments and grand boulevards to the courtyard of the Louvre museum and a smaller arch.  Like Parisians we strolled through the grand central alley of the Tuileries Gardens, lined with statutes, fountains and varied plants and trees, from the Louvre museum to the massive Concord plaza.  This outing reminded us of walks along the Washington Mall.

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Biggest revelation: We did not find the French to be overly warm or inviting when we sought information such as directions from the hotel staff or restaurant suggestions.  An exception took place during our dinner at an informal Italian restaurant near the Eiffel Tower, Firmine.  After we showed the restaurant staff an article where the restaurant had been mentioned (that they had never seen before) they treated us royally, but – no free dessert or appetizer was offered even when we returned for a second meal the next day.

Our 21st century reality: In 2016, first hand observation of police presence in Paris was to be expected given recent world events.  However, we did not expect that our on our way from Charles de Gaulle airport to the hotel our Paris shuttle driver would be pulled over by police for making an illegal turn and then he was interrogated. During our visit to the Jewish Museum of Art and History in Marais the Jewish quarter, heavily armed camouflaged police patrolled outside the entrance.  Although the museum is located in a beautiful mansion, the collection is simplistic and lacked focus on modern day life for Jews in Paris.  Throughout the trip we heard French police sirens.  When we left Paris, we had to be rerouted from Paris to Zurich to Frankfort to Dulles because of the delayed security check of every passenger on a flight from Paris to Brussels.  As a result, we were in four countries on one very long day of return!  We unexpectedly enjoyed Swiss chocolate and a Bavarian pretzel.

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Fondest memory: On a Sunday morning, we wandered through Montmarte, a bohemian neighborhood, home to artists throughout the centuries and the Moulin Rouge cabaret.  We ascended the largest hill in Paris, walking by peddlers selling Eiffel Tower models or trying to engage tourists in find the ball gambling games.  At the top we briefly attended the service within the majestic white domed Basilica of the Sacre-Coeur.  As we began to descend the steps, a harpist began to play the Canon in D, which was the song Fern and I had walked down the aisle to in our wedding exactly one week earlier.

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