In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
Notre Dame Cathedral brushes up for 850th birthday
Quasimodo would be overjoyed.
Notre Dame Cathedral has had its lighting improved, a new viewing platform erected to appreciate its Gothic facade, its organ renovated and is about to have new bells made for a year-long 850th anniversary celebration that kicks off this week.
The graceful and inspiring Catholic church that has dominated Paris since the 12th century, survived the Hundred Years War, the French Revolution and two World Wars is being readied for an invasion of camera-wielding birthday visitors.
Nestled on an island in the Seine river, Notre Dame is a beloved religious, cultural and historical site in the City of Light that has no shortage of breathtaking showpieces.
“For 850 years this cathedral has been a symbol of beauty, truth and goodness which attracts generations to the water,” said Monsignor Patrick Jacquin, rector and archpriest of Notre Dame, speaking beneath it on the bank of the Seine.
With its graceful flying buttresses, imposing facade and famous bells – immortalised in Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” by the ungainly bell-ringer Quasimodo – the church has enthralled visitors since the first stone was laid in 1163 in the presence of Pope Alexander III.
From Dec. 12 through Nov. 24, 2013, Notre Dame expects to welcome up to 20 million pilgrims, tourists and others for its celebration – a step up from its average of 14 million per year.
On the vast plaza outside the cathedral, visitors will be able to follow a walkway that leads to an elevated viewing area from which the face of Notre Dame can be better appreciated, before entering the cathedral itself.
A series of concerts and religious and cultural colloquiums are planned throughout the year, and architectural and other renovations have been timed to the anniversary.
A traveler’s plea: Turn off your devices on vacation!
Gab, gab, gab. Type, type, type. Tweet, tweet, tweet.
And, waitress, can you get me a Mai Tai?
Increasingly, Americans are not truly vacationing when they go on vacation.
We leave home — and sometimes spend thousands of dollars for a week or longer in a beautiful spot — but are tethered by so much technology we never achieve true relaxation. We might as well remain in our basements, glazed eyes glued to the iPad, which shines just like the Florida sun on our pale faces.
As we head into winter vacation season, I am begging you, control your electronic usage. Either leave everything at home, or give yourself a one-hour window per day to go online and see what disasters you’ve left back home.
You cannot possibly live in the moment or have an original thought if you are spending every second photographing yourself and tweeting or posting about how you feel.
In fact, the most annoying tweets in the world are from travelers: “At Miami airport checking luggage.” Who cares? Go live your life.
To counteract this irritating development, Marriott International has come up with a new idea — “Braincation” zones at seven of its most beautiful resorts in the Caribbean and Mexico. These public zones are off-limits to cell phones, iPads and laptops.
“Some of the zones are on the beach, some are on the patio, one is on a fourth-floor common area, but all are in picturesque places that can be blocked off for quiet time,” says spokeswoman Christa Romano.
Sir Richard Branson makes £1m challenge to Willie Walsh
Sir Richard Branson has thrown down a £1m challenge to Willie Walsh about the future of Virgin Atlantic.
He has been spurred into action by suggestions from Mr Walsh, chief executive of International Airlines, the BA and Iberia group, that Virgin Atlantic could soon be consigned to history if a planned deal involving Delta Airlines goes through.
Sir Richard strongly denied the Virgin name will be dropped and has offered to pay BA staff £1m if the brand name has disappeared within five years. If he wins he wants BA to make a £1m payment to Virgin staff.
Delta is at an advanced stage in talks to buy the 49pc stake held by Singapore Airlines in Virgin Atlantic and an announcement is expected shortly.
Mr Walsh said the Virgin Atlantic name was likely to be ditched by Delta once the deal is finalised. “I can’t see Delta wanting to operate the Virgin brand because if they do what does that say about the Delta brand?”
But Sir Richard, stung by Mr Walsh’s comments, has hit back, using a blog on the Virgin website to reject the suggestion that he is ready to see the brand name disappear. He wrote: “This is wishful thinking and totally misguided. Will BA never learn? Let’s see how much they believe this. Let them put their money where their mouth is.”
He says he will hand over £1m to BA staff if Virgin Atlantic disappears within five years and “if not BA pays our staff £1m.”
Last night, Mr Walsh retaliated at a press conference in Seoul, saying: “Branson is a billionaire banker, allegedly. I’m not a billionaire. So maybe a bet that would have as much pain to me as it would to him – a knee in the groin.”
Sir Richard and BA have a long history of soured relations and legal action. Virgin won the last legal encounter in a case involving ‘dirty tricks’ and Sir Richard split the money awarded to the company among his staff
Spend a night with the dead at historic Peru cemetery
When Presbitero Matias Maestro cemetery in Lima received its first body in 1808, the best plots went to the elite, unless the noble had been dishonored or disgraced.
Thus were the Marquis Torre Tagle and his wife relegated to niches in a wall of crypts.
He had attempted to betray independence leader Simon Bolivar and died of scurvy after living on rats for 13 months in a military fort near the Pacific Ocean.
Visitors to the 54-acre cemetery just 20 blocks from Lima’s presidential palace, one of Latin America’s oldest, are treated to such tales in a three-hour, nighttime guided tour run by its owner, Beneficiencia de Lima, a charity administered by the city.
”There have been 220,000 burials since the 19th century. Are there tormented souls?” asks tour guide Guben Chaparro.
”Yes, there are souls, above all at night.”
Some visitors shudder. They turn the lights of their cellphones on a parade of tombs, crosses and statues of angels.
”I want to get a fright, listen to stories and walk without light,” says Julia Lopez, a 33-year-old store clerk who came with friends for the weekly walk.
As visitors enter, the grim reaper – OK, an actress in a costume – stands cloaked and holding a scythe at the entrance. Photos are snapped.