Monday, October 29, 2012

How to Live Forever

Do you want to live forever?  Of course you do.  While living forever is impossible, there are things you can do that may prolong your life and enable you to function well into old age. In Sunday's New York Times Magazine, author Dan Buettner chronicles the lives of men and women who live on the Greek island of Ikaria who seem to live forever or at least live very long lives.  "The Enchanted Island of Centenarians." The New York Times Magazine, October 28, 2012. The article reports that the 10,000 residents of the island are two and a half times more likely to reach the age of 90 than people in the United States.

The article discusses the lifestyle that seems to be the basis for the longevity of the people on the island, located about 30 miles from Turkey. The article is derived from a new edition of the author's book, "Blue Zones", which was written with the support of the National Geographic Society. And no, "blue zones" does not refer to the political designation of states in the United States as either blue or red states. 

So, what is the secret. Well, part of it is really no secret any longer.  We have all heard of the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and olive oil. Red wine, coffee and tea are the drinks of choice.  Meat, particularly red meat, is eaten sparingly.  In addition to diet, it appears that a laid back approach to life. Many of the residents do not have watches or clocks. No alarm clocks for them.  They arise naturally and often have a breakfast of yogurt with honey. In the afternoon, they will usually take a nap.  In the meanwhile, they work in their gardens and perform other physical activity.

Another key factor in the islanders longevity appears to be their social interactions with their neighbors.  They attend church together, they get together for various holidays and are very much involved with what is going on in their communities.

While there is no guarantee that you will live as long as the Ikarians if you follow this program, there is no harm in trying and, who knows, you might well make it to the 100 year mark after all!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Monte Carlo Revisited

A week or so, I wrote a blog, The Road to Monte Carlo, and discussed the Grand Casino. As I stated, I would also address certain other sites in Monte Carlo.  These include the aquarium, palace and cathedral. This post should give you a flavor of those.
This is the palace where Prince Albert lives with his wife, Charlene.  Parts of the palace are open to visitors and certainly worthwhile to visit. In one of the rooms, there is an impressive portrait of the Prince Rainier III, his wife, the former Grace Kelly and their children.

These are the tombs of Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace.  They are located inside the Monaco cathedral. The day were there, the Archbishop was confirming several children in a Mass entirely in French, the official language of Monaco.

This is a photograph of one of the impressive specimens in the Oceanographic Museum. Prince Albert is very much involved with the aquarium and it is said to be one of the best in the world.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Why Boomers Love to Travel

Why do boomers love to travel?  The answer is really quite simple. The early Christian bishop, Saint Augustine of Hippo, one of the fathers of the Church, probably said it best, "The world is like a book and those who do not travel, read only a page."

We boomers opened that book when we were young and have kept it open. Our thirst for travel has never waned.  I know in my case, we took only two vacations as a child, but after I was drafted and sent to Vietnam, my desire to see the world was formed and has never left. I believe that there are many others out there like me.  Boomers love to travel and with luck, will never finish that book.

Please let me know what you think.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The War of 1812, Queenston Heights and Fort George

When Americans think of the War of 1812 (to the extent we think of it at all), we tend to think of two things:  the burning of the White House by the British and the Battle of New Orleans. For our Canadian friends, however, it is a very different story. 

This year marks the bicentennial of one of the most famous battles in Canadian history:  the Battle of Queenston Heights.  At that Battle, on October 13, 1812, Sir Isaac Brock, the hero of Upper Canada (or what is now the province of Ontario), was killed during the battle, defending Canada from the American invasion.

Located not very far from Niagara Falls, Ontario and located along the Niagara Parkway a 56 metre high memorial to Major General Brock towers over the horizon, overlooking the Niagara river with simply spectacular views.

At Queenston Heights, there is a small restaurant which serves a varied menu including veal, lamb and Pickeral fillet. Also served are a number of the local wines..  Ask for a table that overlooks the Niagara River.  The view is simply spectacular. If you get a chance, be sure to climb up the Brock statue.  The view from their is even more spectacular.  It is a long climb, however, so be prepared.  It will be well worth your while.

Just below Queenston Heights is a small, but quite interesting museum called the Riverbrink Art Museum.  Located a short distance from the river, this three story museum currently is dedicated to showcasing artifacts relating to the War of 1812. There are also some very interesting Native American portraits. The Native Americans supported the British in that war. Unfortunately, the museum will shortly be closing for the season on October 28, but if you get a chance, see it by all means.

Farther along the Niagara Parkway is Fort George. Located along the Niagara River, Fort George was the most important British outpost in Upper Canada.It served as Canada's protection of the Niagara River which was the easiest water route between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie.  It is in the city of Niagara-on-the-Lake, which I have written about several times. Niagara on the Lake: A Hidden Jewel. .

The Offiers' Dining Room
The fort is a recreation of the original fort and is a wonderful place to gain an understanding of the British or loyalist point of view,  A tour guide will take you through the incredibly crowded and barren enlisted mens' barracks and the luxurious officers' quarters.  Our tour guide, Suzanne, was a real Anglophile and she gloried in her view that the British were the winners of the war.  Others take a different view.  In fact, there is a book called"The War of 1812:The War Both Sides Won"by Wesley B. Turner that is quite good and on sale at the small gift shop just outside the fort.

                                                     The View from Fort George

Monday, October 22, 2012

On the Road to Monte Carlo

Monte Carlo.  The very name conjures up visions of men in black tuxedos playing baccarat with stacks of  black hundred dollar chips in front of them and beautiful blonds dripping with pearls urging them on as they gamble away their inheritances.  Wait a second. That's the movies---Sean Connery as James Bond, even Steve Martin in the movie, "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels".  Unfortunately, the reality is much more mundane.

The Grand Casino in Monte Carlo, which just happens to be the capital of the small independent country, Monaco, is located on a hill in a building which doubles as the opera house.  There are lots of tourists outside snapping pictures of themselves in front of the casino. Inside it is quite a different story.  First of all, there is a charge for entry.  Just a few euros, but nonetheless, annoying since the whole purpose in going to the casino is to gamble.  You should not have to pay for the privilege to lose your money! Interestingly enough the residents of Monaco are forbidden by law from gambling at the Grand Casino. 

Although we had read that a jacket was appropriate for men and a dress for women, we were overdressed when I wore my blazer and my wife wore a cocktail dress.  Everyone else wore typical casual clothes.  Now, admittedly, we visited in the middle of the day, but still.  Inside the casino were rather large cavernous rooms, which were mainly empty. There were a few scattered blackjack and craps tables and a few players,but most of the main room was filled with slot machines of the 1 euro variety.  Although I had gone there to "break the bank at Monte Carlo" with my blackjack skills, we ended up playing the slots for half an hour and left. By the way, the slots were quite accommodating and we were able to pay for our lunch at the nearby Cafe de Paris with our winnings.  The restaurant, where it is said the French dessert, crepe Suzette was invented, was quite good.

After leaving the casino, we decided to walk down the hill to the port, where our cruise ship lay at anchor. It was a fascinating walk as we went through the tunnel and the course where the Monaco Grand Prix Formula 1 race is run each year. The stands were already set up for the race which was to take place in just a few weeks.

Although the casino was somewhat of a disappointment, Monte Carlo had several interesting places which we will describe in another post. These include the Palace (which is open to visitors), the Cathedral where Princess Grace and her husband, Prince Rainier are buried and the Oceanographic Museum, which has one of the best aquariums in the world.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Boomers Beware: Reverse Mortgages Can Be a Disaster

We have all seen the ads on television where celebrity spokesmen tout the benefits of reverse mortgages for those individuals who are 62 or older and own their homes. These mortgages are supposedly free money as they allow the owner to borrow against the value of their home and not have to pay the money back until they move or die. The spokesmen tell us that the money can be used for vacations and other fun things.  What they do not tell the viewer is that there are fees associated with those mortgages which if not paid can lead to eviction.

The New York Times today reports that the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is preparing new rules to help regulate those mortgages.  According to the Times, there are more than 750,000 such loans outstanding.  See "Loan Lifeline for Retirees is Taking Toll,"

If you have a reverse mortgage now or are considering obtaining one, take a look at this article as soon as possible. And remember, "there is no such thing as a free lunch."
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Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Chapel at Notre Dame

                                                     The Chapel at Notre Dame

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Going to Florida this Winter? Consider the Auto Train.

If you are planning a trip to sunny Florida this winter from the snowy Northeast, you might want to consider taking Amtrak's Auto Train. The Auto Train runs on the CSX Transportation line tracks from Lorton, Virginia (just outside Washington, D.C.) to Sanford, Florida (just outside Orlando).

My wife and I recently were traveling to Southern Florida for a short visit. We had previously driven to Florida  and found it to be a long almost three day trip.Neither of us had traveled long distances on a train, so we looked into the Auto Train. As the name implies, the Auto Train takes you and your vehicle, automobile or motorcycle, on a train.  You travel on a large, very modern railroad car and your vehicle travels separately in a railroad car with other vehicles. It is said that when fully occupied, the Auto Train is approximately one quarter mile long, making it one of the longest passenger trains in the world!

There are several levels of accommodations from a coach seat up to a family bedroom sleeping two adults and two children.  We opted for the standard bedroom which consisted of a chair and two sleeping berths, bunk-bed style. For the two of us and our car, the cost was about $640. While this seems pricey, consider that driving takes two to three days from the Northeast, requiring hotels, meals, gas, etc.  The Auto Train price includes everything, including two meals.

The station at Lorton is quite large with a newstand and small cafe where we had lunch. The Amtrak personnelwe met at the station and on the train were very courteous and efficient.

We were advised to arrive at least two hours before the scheduled departure time of 4 pm. When we did arrive, it appeared quite a few of the 600 or so people who were riding the train were already there.

Upon arrival, you are greeted by the parking crew, who slap a number on the side of your car, film it ( we think for insurance purposes) and you are given a few minutes to retrieve your luggagefrom the trunk and go into the station itself. There you present your ID and are given your  tickets while waiting for the boarding call. Boarding was very orderly despite the large number of people.

Our room was small, but comfortable. In addition to the seats, which the porter would turn into the bunks while we were at dinner, there is a small toilet/shower combination, which for a tall man like me was too small, and a sink with mirror. We were on the upper level of the two decker car, which gave us an excellent view of the countryside as we rolled through Virginia, North and South Carolina, as well as Georgia on into Florida.

The train left on time (actually a little early) and arrived in Florida about an hour early, at 8:30 a.m. the next morning. All in all, it is about an 17 to 18 hour overnight trip.  While on board, we had a wine and cheese party upon departure and dinner in the dining car at one of three sittings, beginning at 5 pm and ending at 9 pm. Dinner was served on fine china and consisted of a choice of entrees ( I had the salmon with lobster sauce, which was quite good) and my wife had the flank steak.Dinner came with dessert and plenty of red wine (white is also available).

After dinner a movie was shown in the lounge car. We returned to our room and were able to sleep intermittently. My wife was generous enough to sleep in the upper bunk. In the morning we arrived at the Sanford station and immediately before that we were served a continental breakfast of cereal, corn muffins, coffee or tea.

After we disembarked, we went into the station and waited as the numbers of the cars were called. They seemed to be in no particular order but ours was about the middle of the pack and we picked up our car in the parking lot and were off for Southern Florida.

All in all it was a very interesting experience. The train also runs between Sanford and Lorton going North. We would definitely consider taking it again.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Gramercy Tavern

Gramercy Tavern, in New York City is a landmark New York restaurant where we dined recently while visiting our son for his birthday.. Located at 42 E. 20th Street, near Park Avenue, Gramercy Tavern was just awarded one star by the prestigious Michelin guide.  That recognition just confirms our conclusion that the restaurant is one of the best restaurants in New York.

Gramercy Tavern is in reality two separate restaurants.  In front of the restaurant is the bar area with a number of tables fairly close together. No reservations are taken for the bar.  The rooms behind the bar are the main attraction.  This was were we had our dinner. There, reservations (well in advance usually) are required.  212-477-0777.  The tables in the formal dining room are farther apart and there is little noise.

The menu is what has been called "nouveau American."  In the formal dining room, the menu consists of two prix fixe choices, one 3 course dinner for $88 and a six course dinner for $116 per person. A vegan menu is also offered at $88  Unfortunately, everyone in the party must agree to either the 3 or 6 course dinner. No mixing of the menus is permitted.  This was the only somewhat sour note on an otherwise wonderful evening on a rainy night.

We opted for the 3 course menu and a fairly priced Tyler Pinot Noir wine. The first course was carpaccio.  The thinly sliced beef just melted in my mouth.  The second course was the red snapper, which appeared to be poached, and was superbly prepared. For dessert, I had the apple tart with butter pecan ice cream.  Just thinking about it makes my mouth water.

As with the Del Posto restaurant that I recently wrote about, Gramercy Tavern is quite expensive and probably is best visited for special occasions.  Those occasions, however, will be all the more special as a result of your visit.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Del Posto

In one of my recent posts concerning New York City, I promised to review two well-known restaurants in New York, Del Posto and Gramercy Tavern.  To do justice to both, I decided to write a separate post on each.  This post is about Del Posto.

Del Post, located at 85 10th Avenue in the meatpacking district, is an Italian restaurant with a flair that is unmistakable. Owned by the television chefs, Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich and her son Joe, it reaches for the stars and manages to get there. As you enter the restaurant, it immediately reminds you of a library in a fine men's club, with panelled walls and  marble seemingly everywhere. In addition to the main restaurant floor, there is also a balcony and we were told, additional space in the basement. In all, we were advised it can hold over 500 people!

At dinner, Del Posto offers two prix fixe menus, one five course for $115 per person and the other, $145 per person.for seven courses.  Obviously, at those prices, it will have to be a very special occasion. Unlike Batali's other New York City restaurant, Babbo, which does not accept reservations, reservations for Del Posto are a must.

We opted for the five course dinner, which involves an antipasto, an entree and a dessert.  In addition, the table shares two pasta dishes. I had the vitello tonnato as an antipasto.  It was a very interesting combination of veal and tuna. For my entree (or secondi), I opted for the lobster.  It was well-prepared with funghi, celerine and balsamic vinegar, among other savory ingredients.

The table shared two pasta dishes, including a superb gaargannelli with a bolognese ragu. It was of the melt in your mouth variety.

For dessert, we each had the tartufo, with cherry vanilla ice cream  covered with dark chocolate. I have to say it was even better than the tartufo that I had in the restaurant in Rome in the Piazza Navonna where the dessert was invented.

The wait staff is quite solicitous and knowledgeable about the menu.  The head waiter explains what each course contains since it is not always obvious given the tremendous variety of ingredients.
The sommelier was extremely helpful in helping us pick out an inexpensive red wine, which he indicated was one of his favorites, a Bravia Barolo. It was ours also after tasting it.

The restaurant is expensive but given the atmosphere, quality and uniqueness of the food and the helpfulness of the staff, I would recommend it for those special occasions that merit a step up from the ordinary to the extraordinary..

The phone number for Del Posto is 212-497-8090 and their website is, where you can view the entire menu.

Buon Appetito!

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