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U.S. Postal Museum Opens in Washington

August 15, 1993|KIM UPTON

The Smithsonian Institution has opened a new museum--its first since 1987--dedicated to the history of the U.S. Postal Service. It took $15.4 million and three years' renovation to convert the former Washington, D.C., City Post Office, adjacent to Union Station, into the new Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Funding was provided by the U.S. Postal Service, which will share the museum's operating costs with the Smithsonian Institution. The 75,000-square-foot museum--opened two weeks ago--is more than a collection of stamps, although some of the world's rarest are on display. Visitors are given a chance to see mail planes, a stagecoach and a railway mail car, as well as to participate in more than 30 interactive areas, including video games that invite viewers to choose the best mail route between various cities in the 1800s. In addition to the world's largest library of postal history, the museum contains a 1931 Ford mail truck, Charles Lindbergh's application to be an airmail pilot, an envelope carried by aviator Amelia Earhart and even the uniform worn by Cliff Clavin, the letter carrier from the television show "Cheers." The museum is at 2 Massachusetts Ave., N.E. Admission is free.

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Travel Quiz: Which is closer to the Equator, the Tropic of Capricorn or the Tropic of Cancer?

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What's Up for Smokers: Freedom Air--a new airline for smokers--will make its first round-trip flight between Los Angeles and Chicago Sept. 28, with two additional flights scheduled for Oct. 5 and 12. More flights and routes will be added if the Los Angeles/Chicago market proves profitable, according to Freedom Air founder Edward Hall, a retired United Airlines pilot who is a smoker. Hall started the airline, he said, because "I think there should be options for people who smoke." Chartered airplanes will be used for the LAX-O'Hare flights, which will cost $446 for round-trip, 14-day advance-purchase tickets, and $333 one way--about $100 more than advance-purchase fares currently available on other airlines. Although you don't have to smoke to fly on the airline, it is necessary to be 21 years old or over, since the company is organized as a charter club for smokers who fall into that age group and pay a $20 lifetime membership fee. For information: (800) 858-9768.

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Famous Beirut Hotel Gets a Renovation: Inter-Continental Hotels of London will reopen and manage the Phoenicia Inter-Continental Beirut, closed since 1975 but once among the best-known and largest hotels in the Middle East. The opening is planned for January, 1995. The list of heads of state and celebrities who have been guests there is long and includes Presidents Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon, King Hussein of Jordan, King Faisal, Sean Connery, David Niven, Mickey Rooney, Omar Sharif and Brigitte Bardot. The facade of the 600-room hotel will remain the same, but the interior will be gutted and renovated at an estimated cost of $60 million. The hotel, which overlooks the Mediterranean Sea, is owned by the Lebanese developer Society de Grands Hotel du Liban. Guests are expected to be international travelers. The U.S. government currently prohibits Americans from using U.S. passports to travel to Lebanon. *

Higher in San Francisco: Starting today, San Francisco hotels will cost travelers 1% more--the result of an increase in the city's hotel taxes from 11% to 12%. But an Oct. 1 tax hike from 0.3% to 7% for cars rented in San Francisco (rather than at the airport) will be absorbed by the car rental companies, since law prohibits them from passing on that tax to the consumer. The car rental companies are appealing that tax.

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Less is More at Buckingham: The number of tickets sold for entry into Queen Elizabeth's London home, Buckingham Palace, will be limited to 4,500 a day--considerably less than the 7,000 the palace had anticipated distributing--to avoid crushes inside and long lines outside, according to a palace spokesman. Eighteen of the palace's 600 rooms opened a week ago and will remain open until Oct. 1. During the first two days, the palace gift shop rang up $107,000 in sales, outpacing revenues from the $12-per-person entry tickets. One Japanese visitor was reported to have spent more than $1,500 on mementos, which range from chocolates and coffee mugs to jewelry and silk ties.

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Quick Fact: Despite the fact that sheep numbers in New Zealand are falling, the government reports that there are still more than 15 animals for each person.

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