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FABULOUS FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Venice, Italy-Writing about entertainment and travel can be taxing especially when you hit 50. The body gets a little bit creakier, the face doesn’t look as fresh it used to and the stampede of travelers from the once “closed” republics of China and the Soviet Union makes for a mob scene just about everywhere. That being said, the big 5-0 is a time for a treat. We decided to make a birthday getaway a harmonious one featuring music by Mozart and the Bach.

In the event that I was still living, breathing and standing on the momentous day in question, you would surely find me in that mesmerizing, magical, lost-in-time treasure we call Venice.

Mid-December is a glorious time of year. The city is yours and you can easily drift through its hypnotizing mazes hearing only the sound of your own footsteps and the soft splish-splashing of gondolas tied to their moors. It’s a time when you can slip into the Frari church and marvel at Titan’s once scandalous Assumption with nary a soul in sight or behold the beauty of the Basilica with ample elbow-room.

After checking into the precious Hotel Flora, which has been my home away from home for almost 20 years, I was happy to catch up with long-time Venetian pals during a luscious lunch on the Grand Canal. Struggling to fight off the worst jet lag I’ve suffered in years, I was coherent enough to hear my friend Barbara recommend Mozart’s Requiem at the Goldoni Theater. It was an outstanding choice featuring a full orchestra and more than 40 angelic voices on one stage.

Our days were spent discovering new finds and revisiting old favorites. Despite being charged 40 euros for a “birthday dessert” I did not order or even like, I spent an otherwise enjoyable evening at Harry’s Bar over my usual plate of tagliolini gratinati and a Bellini or two. Navigating the dining scene in Venice can be tricky, but if you are ever in doubt, grab your cappotto and head straight for Do Forni where I have never had an experience that was anything less than stellar. Sig. Eligio Paties oversees every aspect of this impeccable operation-a truly top-notch destination where we returned with friends night after night.

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Eventually my husband succeeded in prying me out of my private paradise and taking me to Paris. When we arrived in the City of Light I was cranky. All was forgiven when I found myself amid the elegant Pierre Frey covered walls of the Hotel San Regis. A real find off of the Avenue Montaigne, this beautiful 44-room hotel has hosted everyone from Lauren Bacall to Gene Kelly and has become a sweet and discreet retreat for many Malibu locals of note.

Like the Requiem, Bach’s Oratorio de Noel was superb, but perhaps the real entertainment came later on at Brasserie Lipp. This fin de siecle Parisian institution is right out of Central Casting. A place where the waiters scurry around in long white aprons, mutton chop sideburns and eyebrows that would put Martin Scorsese to shame. As our regular waiter at table 66 was not present that evening my husband asked a gentleman if he was our server. “Yes zur,” was his reply. “I am afraid zo.” As always, the scenery and the choucroute did not disappoint.

Although my personal recommendation for the money would be the San Regis, there are plenty of places in Paris to do it up big. Unless you enjoy being treated as tedious, I’d most certainly give the Maurice a miss. The Ritz on the other hand still rocks providing the same attentive service to all whether you’re the most famous face on the planet or just an average Joe or Jacques.

Speaking of doing it up big, we saved the best for last, indulging in a decadent three hour lunch at Taillevent, a three star Michelin that lives up to and exceeds its reputation with not only exquisite food but the warmest and most welcoming restaurant staff you are about to find anywhere in Paris. Every plate is a masterpiece and to make sure we were 100 percent satisfied, they poured us a 1910 port with their compliments. The attention is so spot on, you couldn’t feel more pampered unless they put you to bed and rocked you to sleep. Ahhhh!

These were two magical weeks and as you get older (and hopefully wiser), you try to make the most of every moment. Sure, the body is a little creakier and yes, the lines most definitely longer, but an unforgettable experience is still worth the price at any age.

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