A Fairy Tale Wedding in Milan

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After a grueling trip in “Cargo” Class on Air France from LA to Paris to Zürich and then by car from Zürich to Lugano for the night and then by train to Milan, I finally arrive to my destination!

Milan is not known for its beauty, in fact, many say it’s quite ugly and dirty, specially when compared to all the other ridiculously beautiful Italian cities, but I beg to differ! Growing up in Lugano, Switzerland, just 30 minutes away from Milan, I spent a lot of weekends in this city and once you get to know it, you will find it to be one of the chicest and most fun cities in Europe.

I was amazed to find so many hotel deals in Milan when I checked Expedia.com to book a room; I guess the world recession has had a big influence on the european hospitality industry, with the exception of Switzerland of course, where you can’t even find a deal at a hostel. After checking all the new superstars like the Bulgari Hotel, the Armani Hotel and the Four Season Hotel, all sadly out of my budget, I was happy to discover that the old “Grand Dame” of Milan: the Hotel Principe di Savoia (www.hotelprincipedisavoia.com), was offering a great deal on a few rooms for the weekend, so the choice was made. Once I checked into my room I quickly realized why I got such a great deal; turns out that most of the hotel and its rooms have been newly re-designed to the nines; some rooms, however, are still the old crusty ones from the sixties, and that’s exactly what I got, with complimentary views of the air-shoot in the inner court. Even so, at 1/5 of the price of the other rooms, I gracefully succumbed to the dated, yet still very luxurious and very comfortable “Retro” room.

I did visit the new hotel across the square, Piazza della Repubblica, with the odd name: NH Milano Touring (www.nh-hotels.com), where, for just $100 a night, you can get a really nice size modern room with high ceilings, cool decor, window with a view of the square and, are you ready for this, the entire mini bar is included. Turns out that the mini bar only has a 2 waters. 2 sodas, 2 beers and a kit kat bar, even so, great place for the money and great location.

 

Hotel Principe di Savoia

 

The newly re-designed rooms at the Hotel Principe di Savoia

 

My room…just kidding!!!!

 

Being at the Principe di Savoia Hotel brings back one of my fondest memories of this city. It was in the late eighties, when I joined my “then” step-mother Joan Collins on a 3 day trip to Milan at the Principe di Savoia. She was invited as a celebrity guest to appear on a popular variety and musical show (the kind Italians love so very much and are still producing to date, even though they went out of fashion in the sixties worldwide), hosted by the italian icon: Raffaella Carra.

The day we arrived, I was beside myself to find out that we were invited to dinner by non other than Gianni Versace, who at that time, when I was a serious young fashion victim, he was my number ONE idol! My mom, who was living in Lugano at the time, came up to Milan to join us and we all went to Gianni’s Milan home in Via Gesu, for an intimate dinner with just a few of his inner circle. I remember just sitting there, staring in total admiration of this monument of global fashion, breathless with anticipation.

The day after, the plan was simple: Joan did her guest appearance, after which we were to go to a glamorous party in her honor, given by the owner of the network: Silvio Berlusconi…yes the recent president of Italy! All I know is that Gianni, who seemed to be mesmerized by Joan the night before, also invited us for another intimate dinner, this time inside the kitchen of the original Bice Restaurant (www.bicemilano.it), with Bice herself. To the horror of all the Italian high society, waiting in anticipation to meet the infamous Alexis Carrington, Joan  decided to ditch the Berlusconi event, who’s drivers were outside the Principe di Savoia waiting to take us there, and escape through the back of the hotel in Gianni’s  waiting car. It was a scene out of Bonnie & Clyde that unfortunately made front page news the following day!

The Gianni Versace love story continued the next day with lunch at his famous and “über” fabulous villa in lake Como, followed by a party at Donatella Versace’s Milan home in the evening in honor of Sly Stallone and a myriad of gorgeous models. That weekend changed my life: never before had I experienced such visual stimulation, filled with so much beauty and sophistication, elegance and design, art and architecture; oh…and the models too! I remained friends with the great Gianni until his untimely and tragic death in Miami.

This time around however, I am here for my sweet and beautiful friend Hannah Colman; a british beauty who has found her Italian prince charming and is about to get married in the most elegant way imaginable. When you combine the President of Jimmy Choo with the italian King of denim in marriage, you are sure to experience nothing short of perfection! This weekend wedding extravaganza started with a private dinner at Nobu at the Armani Hotel (www.noburestaurants.com) for the 200 close friends coming from abroad. Reconnecting with all my english contingent: Tamara Mellon and her guest Michael Ovitz, Tamara Beckwtih and her hubby Giorgio Veroni, the incredibly silly and adorable Waggi, the incredibly crazy Caroline and Elika, Arabella & Glen, etc…, was a great treat! Tamara Mellon & Tamara Beckwith or “T&T”, as I call them; have been my best friends since God knows when; we practically grew up together.

 

Robert Kass, Tamara Mellon and Michael Ovitz at Nobu

 

After Nobu, I was dragged by the very beautiful Caroline Stansbury to the hottest new club in Milan: Byblos (www.byblosmilano.com). The club indeed lived up to its reputation; it was packed with gorgeous, well dressed Italians with lots of attitude, who were coming up with the best lines ever, as only Italians do, to get Caroline’s attention. A flurry of invitations arrived from every table, so we just gracefully stumbled from one to the other, shamelessly flirting for a glass of “Plonk”!

The big day has arrived! The wedding party is held at the Palazzo del Senato, built in 1554; today the location of Milan’s state archives though originally founded by Cardinal Borromeo as a Swiss College…those fellow Swiss sure get around! From the moment you enter the building , you feel like stepping into another time and place; the inner courtyard was so beautifully decorated and filled with very chic people in their long gowns and black ties. The intimate dinner of 400 guest followed under a massive “Marquis” tent built in the Palazzo’s sprawling back garden. I sat with my old pals Tamara Mellon and Tamara Beckwith, along with Michael Ovitz, my favorite Italian: Giorgio Veroni; Arabella and Glen Spiro, Caroline Stansbury and Amanda Kyme. It was a true fairy tale wedding and we all danced the night away until 4am, when they stopped the music and kicked us out. No one is more deserving of a night like this than Hannah herself; so much love was in that room it was intoxicating.

Next day, off to Switzerland to see my family! Tootles…

 

Entrance to the Palazzo del Senato

 

Interior of the Palazzo del Senato

 

Reception area with amazing Italian Hors d’Euvres

 

Polenta with Baccala or Gorgonzola…divine!

 

Robert Kass with Tamara Beckwith

 

With the very silly Waggi Wags

 

Being serenaded by the “Gipsy Queens”

 

Thank you!!!!!

I can’t believe it’s been only 4 days since my blog went live and the response I’ve received from everyone has been overwhelming and incredibly positive!  I had such deep reservation about doing this, but your reaction has convinced me that I should jump into this, head first!

I am packing my bags and leaving for Milan in the morning. You will hear form me very soon! Oh, and sorry for all the typos…

Switzerland-Spain-Turkey, Summer 2012

Just days after my BIG 40ish birthday celebration at one of my favorite restaurants in the world: CUT in Beverly Hills (wolfgangpuck.com), hosted by my longtime BFF, Gelila Puck; I’m embarking on a month long trip through 3 different countries and over 10 cities. First leg of the trip is LA to Zurich. Every time I fly to Switzerland there is only one choice of airline: Swiss Airlines (swiss.com)! Not only it has one of the few direct flights to Zurich, but it is also, by far, one of my favorite airlines in the world.

Just like everything else in Switzerland, this airline runs like a well-oiled machine: perfect service, great planes, incredibly friendly & efficient, good food, great movie selections, etc. When booking my flight this time around, Swiss was asking for way too many miles for a first class ticket, so I choose to fly Business class, which is almost as impressive as “first”. Seats go down to a flat bed position and if you don’t mind having your feet imprisoned in a small hole between the seats in the row in front of you, you are just fine (I’m quite fidgety, so I felt a little contrived).

A great tool I always use when looking for the best seat on any given plane and airline, is seatplans.com. Just type in the flight number and airline and this super-handy site will give you the lowdown you need to make the right choice. Just as important, is knowing how to get the most out of your miles; for that I sometimes use: thepointguy.com; It’s a jungle out there with all the different travel awards, restrictions, penalties, special offers. etc; you really need a hand in sifting through all of it! If you do your homework, you really can fly a better cabin class, better airline, fewer lay-overs for less mileage than you would spend without doing your due diligence.  Of course the best option is having your own personal travel agent who already knows all the secrets and shortcuts and that for a reasonable fee, can make miracles for you: I have a few amazing ones I can suggest if anyone needs one!

 

 

Business class seats

 

My travel routine to Europe is always the same: Since you always leave in the evening from LA to Europe, I look forward to a delicious dinner with an unusually high number of glasses of wine, 2 movies (I start with an action movie followed by a “sappy” one once the wine kicks in), topped by 1 “horse dose” sleeping pill and before you know it, I’m waking up just minutes before landing in Zurich, with a cappuccino, a fresh croissant…and yes, a Swiss chocolate!

 

Switzerland

Zurich:

Going through passport control and luggage claim at  Klöten Airport, or any Swiss airport for that matter, is always “easy, breezy”and pain free! The Swiss extraordinary organizational skills are evident in every aspect of this country’s infrastructure; why can’t the rest of the world learn from these people???

My childhood friend Bertrand, with whom I stay when visiting Zurich, is waiting for me at arrivals and after the usual hugs & 3…yes 3 kisses on the cheek (that’s how it’s done in Switzerland: “when in Rome…”) we leave for his gorgeous penthouse apartment in one of the nicest areas in central Zurich: Bellevue.

This apartment is stunning! If you survive the 3 stories climb up the stairs with 2 suitcases weighing in at over 90Lb each (no elevator in this turn of the century building); you will eventually marvel at the magnificent view of all of Zurich from the massive terrace. I can’t think of anywhere else I would rather stay…though a lake-view-room at the Baur au Lac would also do…or the Storchen Hotel…or the Dolder…all right, enough!

 

Limmatquai

 

 Other side…

 

Statue of a Swiss sausage on the Banhoffstrasse…don’t ask.

 

Zurich is a magnificent city and the most vibrant in Switzerland; Any culture who places a 6 ft. tall Veal Sausage sculpture in their main shopping street, has a place in my heart!!!! I’ll be talking a lot about Switzerland in my blog, not only because I’m from this beautiful country, but I also use it as a hub every time I come to Europe for it’s close proximity to all major European cities, while giving me the opportunity to do a quick visit with my family in Lugano.

This time around I’m in Zurich looking for locations for a new restaurant & bar I’m working on (which we will talk about at another time), so the majority of days will be spent with my real estate agent/friend Darko (Croatian? Hummm…); and the evenings, well…they will be spent doing whatever people do in the evenings in Zurich! In my case, Darko was kind enough to take me to 10…yes ladies & gentlemen, 10 clubs and bars around the city till 6AM! Needless to say, I don’t remember much of what happened that night nor do I want to!

Thankfully, the day after, my friend Bertrand, who knows me like the back of his hand, brings it up a few notches and surprises me by taking me, along with his beautiful girlfriend Claudia, to my favorite restaurants in Zurich: Kronenhalle (kronenhalle.com). Indeed an institution for almost 100 years, serving up local specialties in one of the chicest restaurants in Europe! Dining in these early 20th century rooms with mahogany paneled walls and white marble tables with legs designed by Diego Giacometti, one can only marvel at its renowned art collection by Picasso, Klee, Kandinsky, Chagall and Miro just to name a few (I heard a lot of the collection got sold over the yearts…sigh!).

Personally, since I’ve been coming here with my dad since I was a kid, I can’t wait to dive into my favorite dish in Zurich: Zürcher Geschnetzeltes!!! Ahhhhhh, words cannot describe this sinful veal dish with mushrooms and lots and lots of cream and butter, served with the Swiss version of “hash brown”: Rösti. Add a lovely Tignanello (one of my favorite Italian wines from the Antinori family in Tuscany), a deliciously crunchy Bürli (a classic Zurich bread roll), an apple sorbet with Calvados to finish up…et voilà…COMA!

Great food, great company, great history, chic atmosphere and impeccable service make this landmark a once in a lifetime “must”! Just remember that this place is not cheap (not that anything is in Switzerland). You might have to take out a small loan to dine here, unless of course you are very rich in which case you will also be seated in the main dining room and not in one of the other, more “pedestrian” rooms in the building.

 

Entrance

Main Dining Room

 

Zurcher Geschnetzeltes

 

Bürli

 

Zürcher Geschnetzeltes Recipe

Ingredients:

1 onion

1 ½ cup mushrooms

1 lb. 4 oz. veal (from the leg)

flour

¼ cup butter

1 glass of white wine

6 oz. heavy cream

salt & black pepper

chopped parsley

Preparation:

Cut veal into bite size thin slices, then turn them lightly in flour. Peel and chop onions, clean and slice mushrooms. Heat butter in a skillet and sear meat quickly and remove from skillet, keep warm. Fry onion until transparent then add mushrooms. Pour in wine and cream and quickly heat before adding the veal. Add salt and pepper to taste, sprinkle with parsley and serve with Swiss Rösti.

Enjoy!

 

Rösti Recipe

Ingredients:

2lb potatoes

1 onion

salt

olive oil

Preparation:

Cook potatoes in their skins until tender. Rinse them with cold water, then peel and grate them coarsely. Peel onion, chop it finely Add olive oil into skillet, then add potatoes and press them down to form a cake. Fry until golden brown and crunchy then turn and fry other side. Serve.

 

Clearly, I spend the next morning at the very trendy Silhouette Gym in Bellevue, just above Globus (the Swiss Macy’s) with the most beautiful view of the lake, running on a treadmill in the effort of burning some of the 15,000 calories I had the night before.

After a few days looking at restaurant locations, it’s time to leave for Barcelona and embark (literally) on a one-week boat adventure in the Spanish Mediterranean, with one of my dearest friends, James Moore.

One cannot leave Zurich without a visit at my beloved Sprüngli (sprungli.com) on the Bahnhofstrasse for a cappuccino and 2 fresh Gipfeli (the Swiss version of croissants): I’ve been going to Sprüngli for as long as I can remember; it is a Swiss staple of quality and tradition and by far the best “Confiserie” in the world since 1836!!!!!

 

Sprüngli on the Banhoffstrasse

 

 

 

Spain

Barcelona:

Every time I arrive in Barcelona, I’m always baffled by the shear size of that terminal…it’s just enormous!!! After walking what seemed to be 5 miles to the baggage claim, I grab my scaled down, yacht size, Luis Vuitton suitcase and get into a car for the 20 minute ride into Barcelona. .

“Barcelona has always been at the cusp of the country’s creativity with pioneers such as Catalan chef Ferran Adrià (Restaurant El Bulli), who has had a profound effect on the world’s restaurant culture, much as Salvador Dalí did with art and Antoni Gaudí with architecture. And while Picasso wasn’t Catalan, he considered Barcelona his spiritual home and his artistic muse. Indeed, the very urban fabric of Barcelona is deliriously vital: grand with medieval design, playful with impish street art and ablaze with Modernista colors and furbelows”

After a quick lunch at Los Caracoles (www.loscaracoles.es), established in 1835; one of my mom & dad’s favorite hangouts in Barcelona in the 60’ and 70’, where they serve the most delicious snails (I know…not too popular in the US) and Spanish tapas; I must go to my favorite square in Barcelona: Plaça Reial for a coffee and people watching.

Plaça Reial 

 

Gaudi’s influence on this palm tree-lined plaza extends no further than the lampposts, but with hotels, restaurants, nightclubs and outdoor cafes maintaining a constant buzz, day and night; it’s a great place to visit, specially if you are trying to escape from the hustle of Barcelona’s most famous tourist trap: Las Ramblas. After getting lost several times at the Barrio Gotico (the old quarter), a 14th century maze of tiny houses, stately palaces and funky shops, we make way to the port and onto the “Vessel”, as my good friend Matthew Mellon calls them.

Main Dining Room

Bar with hanging Jamon Iberico 

 

The most amazing wood burning, 18 century stove, still used to date

 

Jamon Iberico aging from the ceiling

 

I settle into my lovely stateroom, unpack: arranging all my shirts and pants in equal distance between each hanger, arrange all my toiletries in linear formation on the glass bathroom counter (yes, I have a problem…), quickly breeze through the Ship’s safety booklet (no worries, I watched Titanic a million times; I know what to do: have plenty of cash in your pocket at all times…) after which, I make my way up to the main deck for a welcoming bottle of champagne and a “plotting” session over the week to come with James.

James and I are great travel companions; we seem to like all the same things, most of which, the thrill of travel and a genuine curiosity towards all that is “good living”. Additionally, my hyperactive, “slightly” eccentric personality seems well meshed with his cool and collected New England demeanor; he’s extremely witty and together we are a lethal combination…not to be meddled with!!!!!

 

Marbella:

First stop is Marbella; not one of my favorites cities, though I have some of my dearest friends who live here. My dad and my step-mother had a summer home in Marbella in the 70’ and all I remember is the scary nanny who would chase me around the house with a knife (…just kidding; was it a gun?) and being left at the pool with my brothers & sisters at the Marbella Club (www.marbellaclub.com) for hours on end while dad & Joan pollinated around the hotel with the beautiful people “du jour”.

Through the years I returned to Marbella several times and I will admit, I had lots of fun dancing to the wee hours at Olivia’s or yacht hopping during the day from one mega yacht to the other (they all seem to have one), or doing what people in Marbella do best…socializing and dressing up!

This time we are here for only 5 hours during lunch time, so the only thing we can squeeze in is Nikki beach! Perfect place to go for a beach & sun filled afternoon; chaise lounging on the sand, gorging on the “famous” Sushi Boat, feasting on Mediterranean oiled-up beauties and dancing the day away to the latest Euro sounds!!!! Nikki Beach is always a sure thing if you are looking for a party environment and beach beauties! After a lovely lunch and a great visit with my old friend Ahmed Ashmawe, I am back on the boat and off to “Sodom & Gomorrah” AKA Ibiza!!!

 

Trumpet Player at Nikki Beach

 

Nikki Beach

 

Ibiza:

Next stop, the infamous island of Ibiza! I swore I would never come back here after my last trip 8 years ago, where I got stuck at Amnesia Club till 11am, up to my chin in bubbles, in a room of 15,000 people high on ecstasy, grabbing everything in site…including my bits!

In truth, Ibiza is really beautiful place and has definitely secured the spot for “Most fun” place in the universe…hands down!!! Of course it all depends on what kind of fun you are looking for, but in Ibiza you can have it all: absolute madness or shear beauty and peace. I’ve done both many times and I find myself gravitating more towards private villas with good friends and lazy days on the beach or on the boat, rather that 24 hour marathons at Pacha, Space or Amnesia…age perhaps?

After arriving at the port, my little group of friends decided to have a stroll through the old town followed by dinner at Olivo, just inside the Castle walls. I just never get tired of those beautiful cobble stone streets and that Balearic architecture that is so typical of the Spanish Islands. After dinner we did the usual “tour de force” of, what seemed, every bar in town, until the inevitable…what club to go too!!!

I was happy to retire to my room and be fresh as a “Rosa” the following day so I could enjoy the many daytime wonders Ibiza has to offer. Unfortunately the evening took a different turn and around 2am, after protesting vigorously, I was dragged against my will, kicking and screaming, to Space (www.spaceibiza.com) where I was sworn that I would be staying only for a few drinks!

9am…I’m walking out of Space after dancing uninterrupted for 7 hours to what seemed to be the best music I have ever heard in my life!!!! No drugs ladies & gentlemen, just a dozen cocktails and good shoes…this old battleship can still give those kids a run for their money!!!!!

After a refreshing 3 hour sleep, I drag myself out of bed, slip into a bathing suit (maybe “slip” is a bit of wishful thinking…more like “stuff myself”), hide the bloodshot eyes behind extra large YSL glasses and join the rest of the group at Las Salinas Beach.

“Las Salinas is another of Ibiza’s beaches that has become rather popular with the very wealthy and the very beautiful. If you’re having a fat day then it’s probably not a good idea to go to Las Salinas as most of the beach’s occupants will be strutting around wearing as little as possible and showing off as much as they can. By way of example, the beach is particularly popular with footballers and footballers wives – not an option then if you haven’t fake-tanned yourself orange or achieved that golden Ibiza glow yet”.

Usually I prefer hanging out in the little island of Formentera during the day, which you can only reach by boat, and lunch at the fab Juan y Andrea Restaurant, but this year we opted for something more accessible: that is before we found out it takes 2 hours to find a taxi to take us back from the beach into town.

Lunch at El Chiringuito (www.elchiringuitoibiza.com), right on the beach, is truly amazing: the Jamón Ibérico, flambéed mussels and the grilled squid is to die for; pair that with a ice cold glass of Sangria and you’re off to a good start!  All the gorgeous, tanned bodied Spaniards in their skimpy swimsuits and larger than life personalities give this joint my seal of approval!!

 

El Chiringuito Restaurant, Playa Las Salinas

 

After lunch it’s off to the beach for that golden Ibiza tan. Unfortunately, seeing how we are seated just 30 ft. away from the neighboring “Nudist” beach, what was supposed to be a relaxing time has now become an extremely distracting time! I’m all for self expression and natural living; but why…I ask? Why it is always the oldest, fattest, un-trimmed, dirty, most visually unattractive people that choose to bear it all at these nudist beaches???? I mean, there is not one, slightly pleasing human being ever to be found in these places; I guess I come form a generation with a clear, un-spoken rule: “If Mr. Gravity hasn’t been to kind…cover it up!!!!”.

By 7pm it was time to head back to the boat for our overnight journey to Valencia, land of Paella!

 

Valencia:

I wake up to the sound of sirens (no, not the ones living in the ocean…) and realized we have arrived in the bustling port of Valencia. Valencia is a beautiful city with lots to see, but if you have just a day like I have, than the choices are clear: the Cathedral with it’s famous treasure: the “alleged” Holy Grail, believed to be the cup from which Jesus drank from at the last supper; the Miguelete octagonal bell tower that we so idiotically decided to climb all the way to the top, gasping for air while risking our lives on the super narrow & crammed, marble stairway that leads to the roof top (seemed like 5000 steps), and the “Mercado Central”, the 1928 covered market is one of the biggest of its kind in Europe and is a good place to walk around and pick up some food while experiencing the local culture. The market is full of stands run by local vendors and the foods are usually produced nearby; finally…Paella!!!

Of course Valencia offers much more than that, but our half-day visit allowed for just these options!

 

Mercado Central

 

Paella Valenciana

 

Being the “Gourmand” that I am, I was not getting back on that boat without having my Paella; thankfully, when it comes to food, James is always on board and as exited as I am; the rest…who cares!

We ask the locals for the best Paella joint in town, and the same name comes up over and over (always ask the locals where to eat unless you already know; most guides will send you to all the tourist traps), La Marcelina. We had to wait till it opened at 2pm, that is when everything shuts down for lunch till 4pm (bless the Europeans who still value a 2 hour lunch and siesta much more than making more money by staying open those few extra hours). The place was extremely charming and so typical of Valencia; the paella however, did not impress me at all: good but not fantastic! My mom’s paella is still the best I have ever had; I think she learned how to make it in Menorca, the third of the 3 Baleare Islands in Spain, where we had a summerhouse for many years during my youth. Even so, I am glad I got to have my Paella, buy my Spanish hot Paprika at the market and work out my calves on the buggery octagonal tower we climbed just before lunch. After an afternoon walking around town in scorching 110-degree temperature, we finally make our way back to the vessel to start our voyage back to Barcelona for the last leg of this trip.

 

Barcelona:

At last back to where we started from; just enough time to go for a bite at the fabulous market: Mercado de la Boqueria (they sure know how to display their stuff in this extraordinary market) and off to the airport to catch a plane back to Switzerland.

 

Mercado de la Boqueria

 

Mercado de la Boqueria

 

Switzerland

It’s time to go to Lugano, the Swiss jewel on a lake in the Italian part of Switzerland, where I was born and raised and where most of my family still lives. I will be working here for 10 days re-designing my brother’s restaurant, Etnic Café (www.etnic.ch), for it’s 15 year anniversary.

Once you land in Zurich, there are several choices of transportation to go from Zurich to Lugano: the super clean & efficient Swiss train is probably the best choice; however I decide to take the two and a half hour drive, in my friend Bertrand’s 1978 Mercedes Benz SL convertible…talk about “retro”!

Almost 40 years later this roadster is still an amazing ride (sounds just like me…), except the failing seat springs that barely lift you up enough to see out the window!

Driving through the most beautiful countryside on earth is an overwhelming experience; one beautiful lake, green hill after the other, bridges so tall that one wonders how they were built, the world famous Swiss cows with their glamorous bells around their neck, and, oh yes, the venerable and majestic Swiss Alps!

In the summer one might drive through one of the few mountain passes that zigzag to the top of the alps and back down on the other side: beyond amazing!!!

Been there, done that to many times; I choose the Gotthard tunnel, a 10.2 miles tunnel right through the Alps, that links the German part of Switzerland to the Italian. Once the longest tunnel in the world; today it also serves as a bunker for the entire Swiss population in case of nuclear holocaust…how about that for planning ahead?

 

Lugano:

I arrive in Lugano around 9pm, just in time to drop off my suitcases at my brother Jonathan’s home, kiss my 3 beautiful nephews, and off to the center “Piazza” where the “Lugano Jazz festival” is in full swing; one of several festivals in Ticino (the Italian part of Switzerland) during the summer, attracting a vast array of talents from Jazz to vocal to pop and rock. Just 30 minutes away in Locarno, Elton John and Lenny Kravitz were performing a week later. When I arrived at my friend’s Guido’s front row table, as one does; Macy Grey, who’s a friend and client of mine, was performing on stage dressed as a Christmas tree. By the time “Chic” (talk about memories) got on stage after midnight, and 10 “Aperol Spritz” later (see recepe below…), I was dancing on tables to the sound of: “Le Freak” and “Dance, Dance, Dance” (BTW, dancing on tables? Not considered appropriate behavior in Lugano…). Funny enough, when Chic came to the world for the first time, I was dancing to their tunes in Lugano, where I was living at the time, barely 10 years of age…talk about full circle!

 

Piazza Riforma

 

Macy Grey performing on stage

 

I spent the rest of this trip in Lugano working at my brother’s restaurant Etnic in the center of town, that I am redesigning for it’s 15 year anniversary. This project started several months ago and we are just finishing up all the final installations before the Grand Opening in a week’s time.

Getting work done in Lugano is quite a challenge: you see, everyone is rich, including the electrician, the wood worker, the painter, and the plumber…nothing wrong with that! However, trying to get them to actually commit to working on your project within a reasonable time and price is close to impossible! I’ve designed and constructed a dozen restaurant/bars in Los Angeles and never, I mean never, have I run into a situation when the construction workers got to pick when they would have time for you and your project, not to mention the price tag these jobs came in for. It takes great patience, cleaver manipulation and old friendship’s help to get my project finished by the deadline. One thing is sure about Swiss workmanship…it’s second to none…if you can get it!

One of my favorite things to do in Lugano, is dining at a “Grotto”. One of the best kept secrets of the Italian part of Switzerland, a Grotto is a summer, make shift restaurant, run from a small home, or farm house, that opens only during summer, in most cases, and serves up local delicacies such as freshly cut salami, luganiga, prosciutto, soft cheese from the Valle di Muggio, or hard cheese from the upper Ticinese Alps, along with rabbit and my favorite: brasato al Barolo with polenta nostrana (braised beef with Barolo wine and rustic polenta). These restaurants are mainly in the woods or local mountains, or on the lakeside only reachable by boat; and dining is mostly outside on long stone tables and stone benches under centuries-old linden trees. It was a family favorite each summer growing up in Lugano and it is a treat I wish for everyone to experience at least once in a lifetime!

 

Classic Grotto exterior

 

Classic Grotto outdoor seating

 

Classic Grotto interior

 

Grotto specialties: Carne Secca, Salame Nostrano, Lardo, Pancetta, Formaggini, etc…

 

This time around I went with my childhood friends: Fabrizio and Gigi, and his beautiful wife Barbara, to a grotto on the lake Lugano, just passed the Swiss border in Porlezza, Italy: Crotto del Lago. It has a beautiful open terrace right on the lake; usually we would get there on Gigi’s boat, but he was concerned with the weather forecast predicting some evening rain, so we go by car. Not too long after sitting at our table around 8PM, I began noticing the sky getting very dark, very quickly. Half way into reading the menu, all hell brakes loose and a storm, the likes of Armageddon, unleashes it’s fury onto the beautiful, flowered, white linen and fully booked terrace with rain the size of walnuts and hurricane winds. Quickly, the owner and his helpers rolled down the terrace awning to protect the diners, but the wind was so fierce that not only it blew the awning off it’s hedges but everything else, including, napkins, table cloths, chairs, bread sticks and hair pieces started flying across the terrace like projectiles. It was pandemonium!!!!

I love this sort of disaster scenarios so I am having the time of my life feasting on the spectacle of it all. I even fight with the owner to allow us to stay outside for dinner once the rain subsided a little; sadly we are forced inside with the rest of the soggy patrons. Dinner takes for ever to come, since they had to set up the entire indoor dining room; but it’s well worth it and absolutely delicious! Even though my new Tom Ford blazer gets soaked and shrinks 2 sizes; I have the best time…ever!!!

The day of the Anniversary Party finally arrives and it is a huge success; my older brother David, the sweetest of the three brothers, does an amazing job organizing the whole event, with incredible hors d’oeuvres from all around the world (most of which from my mom’s recipes) mixed in with great music and…ohh yes: a gorgeous new interior design!!! Believe me, Luganese people are not easily pleased, but this night they are having the time of their life!

The event brings out all sorts of old faces from my past, most of which I am so happy to see and re-connect with; though some are definitely best left in the past.

Earlier in the day I was doing my daily gym workout at the stunning Principe Leopoldo Hotel, leopoldohotel.com (where the GM Reto, with whom I went to school with, so kindly let’s me use) when I suddenly slipped off the bench and fell on my right knee; nothing to it…got right up and continued my workout. Later in the evening, just before leaving to the opening party, I noticed bruising on my knee, but once again, I paid no attention! Well, not even 1 hour after arriving to the party my knee starts to hurt really bad; I just keep drinking more Aperol Sprits and pop aspirins like Tic Tac’s to numb the pain but finally, around 11pm, not only I can no longer walk, but the pain is so excruciating that I have no choice but to go to the emergency room! I lived in Switzerland 21 years and never ended up at  an emergency room!!!!

My poor brother Jonathan has to leave his own party to drive me to the hospital and literally carry me, in head to toe Givenchy, through the hospital’s parking lot and into the emergency room. Now, emergency rooms in Switzerland are like the lobby at the Four Season Hotel “sans” Jeff Letham’s floral arrangements, and they are never crowded: I guess people are healthy and carful in Switzerland, what can I say! Sure enough there are only 2 people in front of me, but, as my luck would have it, the guy in front of me is definately  a few fries short of a happy meal (must have been a foreigner…) and held up the line for what seemed hours. I don’t know if it was the anger or the Aperol Sprits or the intense boredom, but after 1 hour waiting for this fruitcake to stop talking to the receptionist, the pain is subsiding and before I know it I can walk again. I have to convince my reluctant brother that I am, in fact, feeling much better and finally make our way back home (reminder: go to doctor and check knee when back in LA).

The morning after, hung over and disheveled and still limping, I drive myself to Zurich airport and after a huge fight at the Swiss Airlines counter with an evil faux-blonde woman who is trying to make me pay $200 for a few pounds of excess baggage (that’s what happens when you fly private too often…you loose prospective: “What do you mean I have to pay for 100lb of excess luggage?”); Helas, I’m on a plane to Istanbul, Turkey, for the next leg of my trip and $200 poorer!

 

Turkey

Istanbul:

I’ve been going to Turkey every year for over 20 years; it is by far one of my favorite places in the world! I’ve been fighting un up hill battle for years convincing my western friends to discover this amazing country and all of it’s beauty, most of their reluctantcy was based on a old classic movie from the 70’: “Midnight Express”, where Turkey is portrayed as an unsafe, lawless, utterly scary place, where no Americans should go to, specially if you’re planning to smuggle drugs out of the country…doesn’t that apply to most countries?

Thankfully, the west has caught on, and for the last 10 years you can finally see plenty of westerners enjoying this magical country. That, of course, also comes with the arrival of all “American”: Hyatt’s, Holliday Inns, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and so forth.

My main reason for visiting Turkey is to spend time with one of my “families” I have around the world; a family with whom I have been very close for many years and that I lovingly call Mom and Daddy. This trip is no different; I’ll be spending a few days in the south of Turkey on daddy’s boat and then another few days in Istanbul, before flying back to Los Angeles. Now, traveling with my Turkish family gives Jet Setting a whole new meaning: I arrive in Istanbul International Airport where I am met by daddy’s “greater”, who looks like “Fester” from the Adam’s family. He assists all of his guests with going through the visa & immigration process, luggage and into the awaiting car.  Believe me, it’s a real treat considering the alternative is waiting in line for a visa for 2-3 hours in the sweltering heat!

A helicopter is waiting for me to fly me to the private airport where the family is awaiting on the jet for the short flight to the South of Turkey. Joining us on this weekend trip is the Puck family: The Über-Super-Duper Chef Wolfgang Puck, his stunning Ethiopian wife Gelila and their 2 “super models in the making” sons. The Pucks are very dear to me and have been part of my life for a long time; I consider them too, one of my few “families” I’ve adopted around the world, outside of my own.

The flight to Gocek is only about 1 hour and once there, a caravan of vans takes us to the port where our captains are awaiting for our arrival.

 

My luggage on it’s way to the Heli

 

Our ride

 

Never travel without your chef…

 

Göcek:

Göcek has long been a desirable destination for both Turkish and foreign yachtsmen, as well as a favorite stopover for jet-setters and celebrities alike. Named ‘Kalimche’ in ancient times, this small town is one of the Lycian settlements found between Caunos (Dalyan) and Telmessos (Fethiye). It is not just world-class yachting that makes Göcek a special place; it is the way the culture and natural surroundings blend in such a serene way. Strict development laws ensure that this very unique setting is protected; and since there is no oversupply of hotels, it is never crowded”. Needless to say, if you don’t have a boat…you are out of luck! There is very little activity in the main land, especially when compared to it’s neighbor to the South, Bodrum, a bustling beach resort, offering everything and anything to the non-yachter.

Once at the port, 2 dinghies are waiting to bring both families and little ‘old me, to their respective boat. The Pucks are staying on on a classic Turkish “Gulet”, that you can rent for a reasonable price (compared to a classic yacht), to sail the Turkish sea’s with a full staff, catering to all your needs (make sure you do your homework when picking a Gulet, for some of them are pretty ugly and un-kept and others are simply gorgeous).

I’m staying on daddy’s “Über Yacht”, an Italian made Benetti with the most wonderful staff in the Mediterranean. Service on a private yacht is indeed an experience of it’s own; it makes a 5 star hotel look like a youth hostel! The attention to details you get on these boats is truly amazing: from unpacking all your stuff, to laudering, to knowing your eating habits, likes & dislikes, having drinks available to you at all times before you even think of asking, day or night, to assisting you with all water activities or anything else you might need. A staff member seems to always be just around the corner, ready to help you with anything you might need. It is customary in the yacht “protocol” to tip the staff when you leave the boat: a simple envelope with some cash and a thank you note, left in your room to their attention will suffice (if you’re planning to leave $20…don’t bother…just run!).

 

Daddy’s boat

 

Lounging on the top deck overlooking Göcek

 

After sailing off to one of the many spectacular natural lagoons that Gocek is so famous for, the next three days are jammed packed with water activities for all the children and adults alike: Jet skiing, canoeing, water skiing, doughnut rides, banana rides…you name it! It is important that you remain active while yachting, for it is common to over eat on boats and unless you balance your food intake with lots of water activities, you’ll be wobbling off that boat looking like “Jabba the Hutt”.

One of the highlights of the weekend was going to the turtle sanctuary in Iztuzu Beach, where we watched and fed live shrimps to the endangered and protected Caretta turtles; I’ve never seen sea turtles and I felt like a kid again. They are truly spectacular creatures…I’m signing up with WWF!

Sadly, it’s time to leave this paradise and jet back to Istanbul.

 

Istanbul:

As I mentioned earlier, Istanbul is one of my favorite cities in the world; I have so much to share about this citiy, but I will write a whole chapter on this city later on my Blog. This time around, it’s a short stay with much of my time spent in my 2 favorite places: The Grand Bazaar, and at my Turkish family’s gorgeous Yali, a term used for these very rare, old Ottoman homes on the Bosphorus dating back to the 18th century.

 

A stunning example of a Ottoman Yali on the Bosphorus

 

My “Room with a view” 

 

A big surprise this trip was dinner at a new Steak House: Nusr-Et. Turkey is not known for it’s beef and yet, this place has an amazing array of meats that are grilled and cut at your table. The owner personally served us all his specialties at the table and allowed Wolfgang to go in the kitchen and pick the cuts of meat that we would eat for dinner. Though this eatery will feed you until you are ready to kneel over, don’t leave without having the Baklava…it is life changing! The highlight of the evening in this rich-red meat-menu-ed restaurant, was discovering a defibrillator mounted “Ohh so casually” on the wall, just out-side the men’s room!!! Hey…don’t knock it; might seem a little uncouth, but in a 3rd world country, if I have a heart attack, I rather have a defibrillator handy in the men’s room than waiting for the ambulance to arrive!!!

 

Best Baklava in the world

 

Being stupid by the defibrillator…

 

Next day: Grand Bazaar…Woohoo! “The irrepressible hubbub of the Grand Bazaar is key to its appeal and much of that bustle is from its determined shopkeepers luring customers. Standing out front of each of the stores is at least one salesman—never women—whose job it is to get you inside to look at his wares and have a chance to perform. Haggling for a better price is an essential and expected part of the buying and selling that goes on in the Grand Bazaar. Nothing has price tags, after all, so everything is up for negotiation. Just remember that they have been doing this for thousand of years so don’t get to frustrated if you find out you paid more than your friend for the same item at a few shops down. But the experience itself is really fun and manic. First they need to get your attention above the constant din; they routinely try English first, followed by German. Persistent rather than pushy, it’s all remarkably good-natured, and often inventive. Mostly, it’s variations on the usual: “My friend, would you like to look at my shop?” or “it’s my turn to try to sell you something,” but every now and then there’s a more creative approach. In our wanderings we heard: “are you a tourist? or a terrorist?”, “the shortcut is through my shop,” “sir, you want to spend some money? Yes, make the lady happy,” and even a nonsensical “shish kebab” (it was a clothes store). And, of course, flattery is a staple. You can’t accuse them of not trying”.

I am looking for Turkish lanters for my brother’s Restaurant in Lugano, some Turkish cotton towels (the best in the world) and a few vintage “Suzani” for a friend. Suzani is a type of embroidered and decorative tribal textile made in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries, they usually have a cotton (sometimes silk) fabric base, which is embroidered in silk or cotton thread. Suzanis were traditionally made by Central Asian brides as part of their dowry, and were presented to the groom on the wedding day. I discovered Suzani’s over 20 years ago at the Grand Bazaar, and no one had ever seen anything like it anywhere else; today, you can find this unique design reproduced just about anywhere, including Pottery Barn…Sigh!

 

Antique Suzani at the Grand Bazaar

 

Turkish lanterns at the Grand Bazaar

 

Grand Bazaar

 

Great Turkish towel shop by the Old Bazaar

 

Through the years I have found so many amazing and unique items at the bazaar that I’ve brought back to the US and used in my home at the restaurants I designed. It is truly an indoor magical kingdom with thousands and thousands of shops; you have to have the time and the patience to sift through all the “crap”, readily available for tourists, to find the good stuff; and believe me…you will!

After just 3 days in Istanbul. It is time to fly back to LA and get back to what I do: selling houses!!! BTW, if you need a house in LA…call me!!!

 

 

Aperol Spritz, Summer 2012

 

One glorious June evening in Lugano around 6PM, just after a long day working on my brother’s new restaurant in Lugano: Etnic Café, that I am designing; I was finally having some relaxing time lounging in Jonathan’s manicured garden chatting with his wife Daniela, when suddenly Jonathan announces that he has prepared an “Apero”, which stands for “Cocktail time” in Switzerland, with delicious local nibbles, such as cold cuts and cheeses, and pre-dinner drinks.

Low and behold, here comes this bright orange drink (quite fluffy looking, if you ask me) served in large wine glass with plenty of ice and an orange wedge.

“Did you ever try an Aperol Spritz?” he asked.

Well “Hot tamales”, I never even heard of an Aperol Spritz!

This is from someone who’s got more mileage than a 1934 Bugatti and who opened and owned more than 8 restaurant & bars in the US alone!!!

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it was like trying Nutella for the first time; “I think I just found my perfect summer drink!”.

Growing up in the Italian part of Switzerland, I knew Aperol as one of those Italian digestives like: Campari, Fernet-Branca or Negroni that I never quite took a liking too; too bitter for my taste. Probably due to the fact that It’s made with bitter orange, gentian, rhubarb and cinchona.

However, the combination of Aperol, Prosecco and soda water is genius! It’s sweet and bubbly with a slight bitter after taste and it’s extremely refreshing and light on the alcohol (…and sneakers too, I presume).

It’s the kind of drink you can order over and over without getting past “tipsy”, which comes handy when you have an early start!

Coming from someone who can’t drink 1 glass of wine during the day without passing out on the nearest curb, this drink is perfect for summers, especially when you are “pressured” by all your mates at the beach into drinking at lunch, through the afternoon and into the night!

Turns out the Aperol Spritz is one of the most popular summer drinks in Europe and to my delight, readily available in many high-end restaurants in LA (where I live)…who knew!!!

Since then, I can’t get to that bar fast enough to order my Spritz; and if they don’t have it…I’m “spritzing” autta there!!!